Tale of the Handmaid’s knee: naked men, a wobbly bike and an accident in Berlin | Brigid Delaney’s diary | Opinion
Ah Berlin! Such a great city for cycling. It was a sunny day in June and two friends and I had rented some of those disposable orange bikes via an app.
We sailed through the Brandenburg gate, around the vast and dappled Tiergarten and then on to a road. There was a lot to take in: within the space of a few minutes, we had not only had to skirt around a far right protest and police in riot gear, but at least six naked men gambolling in a wooded section of the Tiergarten.
It was great, but then heading out of the park going on to the road I felt like a character in The Road. Bad things happen on roads (I had been clipped by a car cycling in Melbourne, had come off my bike and years later was still a nervous rider), but sometimes roads are unavoidable if you want to get to the next park.
My friends Elle and Luke, noticing my fear, kept looking back and checking on me. There was a palpable sense of communal relief when we turned into another park.
I would be safe here – or so I thought.
Deep in the park, a reclaimed rail yard, another cyclist turned a corner and was speeding towards me. In an effort to avoid a collision we both turned sharply – but instead of turning away from each other, we turned into each other.
It’s funny how time slows down before you have an accident.
We seemed to almost leisurely veer towards each other, each turning a wheel towards the flower bed, mouths forming an O, a primal Arggghhh coming out.
I ended up on (or in) the flower bed with two bikes on top of me and, somewhat improbably, the strap of the other cyclist’s handbag twisted around my ankle, like the leg rope on a surfboard. How did this happen, I wondered idly from my prone position, pinned under the frame of two bikes, attached to a stranger’s red vinyl flea market find. And why was the other rider standing up, unscathed? Did she just leap off the bike on to her feet?
From nearby, fräuleins rushed forth to help. Picnics were upset. People were staring. I was asked if I was hurt in German and English.
My friends were pale and frightened looking. “Can you get up? No wait, don’t get up!”
A brisk German woman removed the bikes, and somehow I managed to be hoisted up. I was sore all over and dazed. But apart from a throbbing knee, at least I could walk. And all I wanted to do was walk away.
Trying to get out of the park now, on foot, my friends were scathing of the other cyclist. She was going too fast! they said. She was a selfish hipster – she must be, she was riding a fixie! And her ridiculous handbag with its ultra long strap. NOT SAFE!
We went to the beer garden as planned for lunch and my friends kept asking if I was OK.
“I think you’re in shock,” said Elle.
“Don’t have a beer,” advised Luke. He had a friend who had had an accident, was in shock, and after drinking a beer immediately collapsed.
I had an orange juice and wandered in a daze around the beer garden. There was a place to buy pickles. There was a place braising ribs. But I was not really there. It was only after an hour did I realise my wallet was missing. I must have put it down somewhere after I got my orange juice.
For a frantic 15 minutes Elle and Luke turned the beer garden upside down looking for my wallet.
I wandered around as if in a cloud of ether, feeling strangely disassociated from the drama around me. My friends were checking toilet cubicles and under picnic tables. Only the week before I had been the victim of an internet scam and had my cards suspended. I was overseas surviving only on cash. Which was in the wallet. But strangely, I didn’t really care. I could have died on the flower beds, under the bikes. I could have hit my head. Maybe I had hit my head. Whatever. I was sad about losing my wallet but – somehow – I would survive. Just like I had survived the bike collision.
Not long after this unnaturally stoical moment, Luke came out of a restaurant holding my wallet triumphantly. It had been handed in. The hundreds of euros I had were still in there.
Afterwards the day took on a kind of wondrous sheen. I threw the orange bike against the beer garden fence – GOOD RIDDANCE – and we walked out under a vale of oaks and the high northern sun. The day felt significant somehow. It was a blessed day, a benediction. I could have been badly injured and I wasn’t. Someone could have nicked off with my wallet. It was returned.
The bruises would be epic, I could feel pressure under my skin, and that afternoon, back in my flat in Neukölln, I fell into a deep afternoon sleep that felt dense and knotted with dreams.
There was in all this a feeling that something potentially terrible had happened but I had – for once – averted catastrophe.
A month later in Sydney. My knee hurts. I’m at the physio and she’s playing with my kneecap, wobbling it around like someone moving a computer’s mouse.
“It’s small,” she says. “You have a small knee cap.”
“Oh. That’s good?” I’ve never really given my kneecap much thought.
The physio doesn’t answer.
“Or is that bad?”
I once knew a girl who got an eating disorder because she thought she had fat knees. She ended up losing a lot of weight but her knees stayed the same size.
I think about telling the physio this story while she keeps moving my teeny, tiny kneecap and tapping its surface until I let out a yelp.
She presses down again – the bad spot that has been annoying me for weeks since the accident.
“You have a condition known as Handmaid’s knee,” she says. I’ve never heard of this affliction. It sounds … medieval.
“Handmaid’s knee? Like the TV show?”
“You get it if you kneel a lot. In your case, it was the bike accident. You have to avoid kneeling.”
A few lame jokes cross my mind – about being sent to the colonies and injured Under His Eye, jokes about praying and blow jobs and scrubbing floors.
I go to buy some frozen peas for the purposes of icing it. As it turns out there’s no such thing as walking away unscathed.
• Brigid Delaney is a Guardian Australia columnist