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The Art of Shifting Gears by Chi Yu Rodriguez
Rae de los Santos was en route to a perfect adult life. She knew what to major in, she knew what career path she was going to pursue, and she knew who she was going to be with all the way to the realization of her dreams—until her seamless journey made a turn for the unimaginable and skidded to a stop.
All of a sudden she was facing every roadblock possible, and the people she held dear ended up running over her heart.
For a year, she distracted herself with hot lead and burnt rubber, using karting as a lifeline until she was strong enough to face the world that shunned her.
But during Rae’s junior year in college, she was again blindsided by signs that weren’t supposed to be there. Will Rae go full speed ahead? Or will the seduction of the past slow her down?
There aren’t a lot of people at Manila Kart today. Currently on the track, there’s only Rae and four other drivers. The advisories of rain the past few days probably made other customers think twice about coming in. But not Rae. After all the mess she nearly caused at E-SY and school, Rae decides it’s time to burn some rubber again.
It feels so surreal to be back. She’s been due for another session for a couple of weeks.
It’s still there, the familiar smell, the heat of the track crawling along the edges of her suit, the adrenaline. Her gloves squeak against the steering wheel as she grips it and takes a deep breath. When she exhales, her breath takes part of her stress with it.
As she opens her eyes, the starter pistol explodes somewhere to her right, Rae cracks a smile and zooms away from the starting line.
For Rae, nothing can ever compare to being behind the wheel of a kart. Not even driving a normal car is the same. The feeling of having complete control over this big chunk of metal, the risk of crashing higher—yet the consequences aren’t as grave, it gives Rae a feeling of freedom, and strength. It makes Rae feel as if she can do whatever she wants.
Some may say it’s unhealthy to rely so heavily on this false sense of courage. But for Rae, it’s everything. When her life hasn’t gone exactly as planned, it’s nice to have something to retreat to that she can be absolutely certain about.
Like this oncoming turn, Rae’s favorite, the most difficult curve in the entire track.
She quickly surveys the track. There’s no one ahead of her and no one close behind. In quick succession, she steps on the brakes, turns the steering wheel, then steps on the gas. The swerve causes her to hit the edge of her kart before she’s pushed back against the seat by her sudden acceleration.
The exhilaration fills her from where her foot meets the pedal, to where a drop of sweat is trickling down her forehead. She lets out a yell and pounds against the steering wheel. This is the best time she’s had in days.
And then it happens, like it always does. Something breaks her out of her moment and brings her right back to reality. A kart suddenly zooms past her and catches her off guard. Rae is so lost in herself that it startles her. She steers too harshly, too quickly, causing the kart to skid on the asphalt.
Rae pinballs in her kart until it hits the barricades and everything goes black.
Rae’s mind fades back into years ago, when she was laying on the grass, spread eagle, eyes closed, thankful for the privacy of their aunt’s modest backyard. It was too hot, way too hot. It’s been almost a year and she still wasn’t used to Pampanga. Back in Manila, in their old house, she could just turn on the air-conditioning and she would be fine.
“Ate, have you checked Facebook recently?” Max’s voice was a welcome sound through the haze of Rae’s jumbled thoughts.
“Mine’s been de-activated since we moved here. If that’s another stupid meme, I swear to god…”
When her little brother’s voice trailed off to an awkward silence, Rae finally opened her eyes and tilted her head toward him. She might be looking at him upside down, but that was definitely a furrowed brow.
“What is it?” In no time, Rae was sitting up and Max was sitting down beside her. He was clutching his phone against his lap, screen down, and he was looking at her like he did something wrong.
Max took a deep breath. He looked at his screen one last time before handing his phone to Rae. Something in his face made her hold the phone face down against her lap too, for a second or two at least. She locked gazes with him in those few moments before carefully turning the phone in her hand so she could look at the screen.
What she saw were familiar faces. Photos of two of her friends together, bunched up in a grid. Rae looked at her little brother again, then back on the screen. It was when she swiped down that she saw it.
Tessa Bernal is In A Relationship with Mike Vera Cruz.
The milestone was dated three days ago. Rae swiped back up and there they were again, the photos. This time they weren’t just two of her friends. It was Mike, her first love and childhood crush, Mike, with his lips pressed against Tessa’s cheek. Tessa, Rae’s other kababata, and best friend.
Tessa is in a relationship with Mike.
“Ate, are you okay?”
“Are you okay? Rae! Can you hear me?”
It’s the smell of burnt rubber and gasoline that breaks through the haze first, before the muffled voice of the track attendant she couldn’t recognize right now reaches Rae’s ears. She feels a sharp pain on her side when she tries to shift toward the voice. And then she feels a hand carefully hold her shoulder down.
When she finally opens her eyes, there’s more than one person looking over her. One of them has fingers pressing against her wrist, and the other is still trying to talk her into responding. So she does, with a weak, “I’m okay,” before closing her eyes and saying it again.
About the Author
She prefers making imaginary people go through these feelings for her pleasure. Her muses hate her for it, and they repay her by being forever fickle.
She wrestles with them in her head everyday.