Friendship, loss and life on the road

Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain (left) by Nessa Anwar (above) is about four friends who grow up in the motorbiking community.
Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain by Nessa Anwar (above) is about four friends who grow up in the motorbiking community.PHOTOS: WILD RICE, COURTESY OF NESSA ANWAR

Nessa Anwar seizes on her rough and tumble life as part of the motorbiking community here to spin a tender tale of friendship, loss and the highs and lows of life on the road.

In her first full-length play, Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain, the 26-year-old multimedia journalist with SPH Razor unites two of her greatest loves: biking and theatre.

Motorbikes and actors share the spotlight in this play about four friends who grow up in the motorbiking community. While it is a life coloured by adrenaline and fellowship, it is also one dogged by pain and anguish.

Nessa, who started riding in 2009, has had her fair share of scrapes and close shaves.

She says: "I have a lot of scars on my legs from riding, so I'm always wearing jeans."


Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain (above) by Nessa Anwar is about four friends who grow up in the motorbiking community. PHOTO: WILD RICE

When she was 20, she got into her most serious accident, breaking a vertebra in her spine during an off-road riding trip in Punggol.

 

She still recalls the blistering pain as she lay strapped to a steel bed for 48 hours: "I couldn't move. It was the worst pain I'd felt in my life. I remember screaming, crying like crazy. I remember wanting to die."

But years of riding have left not just her body battered - she has also dealt with the deaths of loved ones. One of her dearest friends died six years ago, after a car ran a red light and barrelled into him on the road.

"Death is not a stranger to us. I knew if I wrote a play about bikers, I'd have to write about death."

Riders Know When It's Gonna Rain is directed by Aidli Mosbit and is part of a double bill with Hawa, a look at death, faith and sexuality by Johnny Jon Jon.

Nessa - who stars in the play as Risha, the only girl in the gang of four - says she at first gave her character scant attention.

But festival dramaturg Alfian Sa'at and director Ivan Heng convinced her to commit more to the character, she says. "They made me realise people out there want to know about me. They want to know what it's like for girl riders."

She is, after all, a female rider in a motorbiking culture long dominated by men.

Her love affair with bikes, Nessa says after a long fit of laughter, started when she was 14 and dating an older guy who rode a scrambler.

"It was this orange bike and I was like, 'Wah, this is really lawa,' (using the Malay word for pretty).

"It's been more than 10 years since that relationship ended, but I'm still riding."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh


BOOK IT / DOUBLE BILL: RIDERS KNOW WHEN IT'S GONNA RAIN/HAWA

WHERE: Creative Cube, 1 McNally Street, Lasalle College of the Arts

WHEN: June 30 to July 3, 8pm (Thursday and Friday), 3 and 8pm (Saturday and Sunday)

ADMISSION: $35 (through Sistic, excludes booking fees)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2016, with the headline 'Friendship, loss and life on the road'. Print Edition | Subscribe