Conversations about Bicycles

The limp body hung across the wooden saddle. It must have looked like one of those John Wayne Westerns, where the good guy brings the dead bad guy in on his horse, arms hanging on the right and legs dangling on the left. Head swaying with the movement of the horse.

Life in the village was just that. A cowboy movie sometimes.

One siesta time while all the adults were sleeping, I was bored and scavenging around our house and Old Man Simbonis’ house for something to play with. In the old man’s cellar I found an ancient delivery bicycle. It was black with thick tyres, no gears and metal rods instead of break cables. It was just too big for me at 8 years old, and I had to ride with my right leg below the top horizontal bar through the bicycle triangle.

There was no traffic in the village in those days. At siesta time there was definitely no traffic. So I pedalled past the village fountain, to our house, then up towards the church. Before I reached the church, across from the saddle maker’s house, I turned right to head back to the old man’s house. I was about to complete a triangle. I was on the main road, exiting the village.

I pedalled a bit and then let the slope give me speed. On that hot afternoon I was cool now, with the wind through my shirt and in my hair. I was distracted from the heat by this treasure in a village where we usually played with sticks and old fertiliser bags.

As I gained speed I became nervous. The bike was not well balanced, the wheels a bit buckled and I was standing in the triangle. So I thought I should slow down or possibly stop. I pulled the brake handle and the heavy metal rods moved but nothing happened. There were no rubber blocks on the brake callipers and the heavy bike continued to gain momentum.

My immediate panic was how to stop. They were tarring the main road that year, covering the rutted sand road. A truck had dumped little hills of crushed stone at intervals perpendicular to the road. I thought I would ride into these and the bike would sink and I would stop safely. I did not think to continue into the plain where without any slope I would no doubt come to a stop anyway.

As the thick front tyre went into the stone I realised I was not going to sink! I ramped the mound like Evil Knievel and landed after flying over the next one. I lay there unconscious.

An old lady coming from the fields with her donkey recognised me. She placed me on the donkey and delivered me home. When I came round I remember my father’s worried look. Nothing was broken. There were no cuts. But I was badly concussed.

I never saw that bicycle again. And I tend to check brakes on things before I speed off now.

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