An adventure shared with a chair

My daughter, Siri, worked a 9-to-5 office job and lived in a city apartment with her cat. "Anything new?" I'd ask her. "Same old, same old," she'd say. Some variation of this was how our telephone conversations usually began.

I often thought how different her life was now from that of her childhood. With an archaeologist for a father and an itinerant English teacher for a mother, she had adapted to a very different lifestyle.

In Thailand, her bed was sometimes a straw mat on the floor under mosquito netting hung from a rafter of a house built on stilts, her lullaby the lowing of water buffalo tethered underneath. Naptime might be on my back, tied on securely with a colorful sarong, as I followed my husband along narrow dikes between rice paddies, traveling from village to village in search of ancient archaeological sites.

When I was teaching English in Afghanistan, Siri's daily walk to her first school was through a teeming marketplace, past groaning camels and flocks of fat- tailed sheep.

As a 10-year-old, an old hand by now, she accompanied her dad on an expedition to the Philippines. Traveling by outrigger, parallel to a roadless coast, they explored caves, looking for evidence of early man.

At one point, the outrigger swamped when it was caught in opposing riptides coming around an island. Siri clung to a mast as the boat slowly sank. At the critical moment, a fishing boat appeared. They were rescued, but not before the piratical fishermen extracted a ransom from them.

Such are the highlights of my daughter's childhood. It was, therefore, not so surprising that, as an adult, she had chosen a more conventional lifestyle, one in which she could be in one place long enough to have sustained friendships and a pet.

And so it was that our phone conversations were generally about her work, her friends, and the antics of her cat. But one day she called me from the office with something quite different to tell.

Since it had been such a nice day, she had decided to eat lunch outside. She warmed up a burrito in the office microwave, took the paperback she was currently reading, and rolled a secretarial chair outside. Preparing for a relaxing lunch, and a nice read in the sun, she hooked her feet behind the base of the chair. With the burrito in one hand and her book in the other, she wriggled to get more comfortable.

This set the chair in motion.

It rolled down the sidewalk, gathering speed. She was not able to get her feet unhooked from behind the chair, and was therefore powerless to stop it. At the bottom of the incline, the chair veered, and went over the sloping curb between two parked cars.

Her immediate concern, she said, was that she'd either dent someone's car or set off a car alarm. Still clutching the burrito and the book, she tried steering the chair by leaning to one side or the other, as one steers a motorcycle. She thus avoided contact with the parked vehicles.

But the chair zipped on, through the parking lot and into the path of an oncoming truck. The driver stopped with a great squealing of brakes, just as Siri managed to put one foot down. The chair was going so fast by now that it ran over her foot, and tipped over, like the tricycle in the old "Laugh-In" TV show.

The frightened driver saw her sprawled on the pavement. She was unhurt, except for her dignity.

Now a crowd gathered.

Because of the parked cars that had blocked their view, no one but the truck driver had witnessed my daughter's mode of travel. They'd been attracted by the screech of brakes, and approached in time to see the driver jump out of his vehicle to help Siri to her feet. They naturally assumed she was a pedestrian who'd been struck by the truck.

Several people offered to call an ambulance.

She declined politely, but was too numb to offer explanations. "Mom," she said to me later, "the most embarrassing part of the whole thing was when I had to pick up that chair from the pavement and wheel it back up to the office with all those eyes watching me."

When she got back to her office, she peeped through the blinds and saw the truck driver gesturing dramatically to the still-gathered crowd. He was obviously explaining to them how this young woman riding a speeding office chair had shot out of nowhere into the path of his truck.

We laughed for a long time.

Later, I thought to myself, adventure is wherever you find it - even at the office.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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