A small dark shape floated in front of her face. She took a step backwards and the shape followed. It was early evening, dinner was over and the night warm. It was ideal for a slow bike ride to soak in whatever cool breeze the night air might offer.
The free feeling of riding a bike is amplified at night. Pace and place have a different relationship. Under the beam of a bike light and the intermittent glow of streetlights, the wheels roll, seemingly faster than in the day, and all attention turns to the path immediately ahead. The night makes black the fences and houses and trees and people that the day brings into clear relief. Now they are shadows, sometimes silhouettes, some moving, some still, one floating in front of her face.
We stopped between two paperbark trees beside the creek near the Pelican sculptures that some years ago were exhibits in the Swell Sculpture Festival. In the twilight sky, the creek water glowed with soft ripples and a pair of Oyster Catchers called – kleep! kleep! – as they flew inland. At first I thought it was a beetle, this suspended shape. But it didn’t have the buzz of a beetle. It floated and it moved when she moved like the two were connected in some way.
‘Don’t move’ I said, seeing the shape that had floated in front of her face had landed on the leg of her hibiscus-patterned shorts. In the faint glow of a streetlight, I could see it was a huntsman spider (about 5-6cms across) and swiftly brushed it from the shorts and out of sight. After sighs of relief and a thorough checking over to see the spider wasn’t still clinging to our clothes, we rode towards home, excitedly recalling how the spider encounter had unfolded.
We neared the tennis courts where four men were playing a game of doubles under a flood of lights. I don’t know why I looked down at the bike pouch that sits near my handlebars, but I did. There was a squeal, and then hands squeezing the brakes before flying off the handlebars, followed by the quickest exit I’ve ever made off my bike. It crashed to the ground and I stumbled onto the grass beside the concrete path; my remote control key for the front gate and two Mentos mints left there from my last visit to the local Japanese café, fell out of my bike pouch, but not the spider that had taken refuge in it and popped out while I was riding past the tennis courts.
It seems that when I brushed the huntsman out of sight at the paperbark trees, I’d swept it onto my bike and ridden with it for about 500 metres. We searched the bike and the poor spider was tucked up under the gear lever, making itself as small as it could. I think it just wanted to disappear and get back to its comfy web between the paperbark trees. I certainly was ready to be home too. I flicked the spider gently off the bike with a piece of bark, had a good look at it, wished it well and we rolled on home… only to find that we couldn’t open the gate. In all the kerfuffle, I’d forgotten to pick up the remote control key.
We raced back, finding the key and the Mentos mints still on the grass by the tennis court and thankfully no signs of the nightrider spider. However, I did find strands of spider web around my handlebars for days afterwards!