Scenes of life - Week 006
Week 006 (12.10.20)
‘Have you ridden before,’ I ask trying to make small talk while the card machine connects to the bank to approve the payment.
‘Not since I was 12 and I had balance problem then.’
‘Well, we have loads of bikes you can try to give it a go again.’
‘That’s great.’ She smiles, her eyes darting to the rows of bicycles spread across the ground next to the container I am in.
The card machine rolls out a receipt in a quiet whirr of rollers and electronics. I tear it off automatically.
‘All gone through. Do you want your receipt?’
‘No. It’s okay.’
I slide back the card machine inside the building through the small gap at the bottom of the perspex screen separating us.
‘Super. You can go and have a chat with the cycle instructors.’ I wave in the general directions where my colleagues are waiting for her in their bright yellow safety jacket.
She vanishes from sight but I hear her voice eagerly chatting with one of my colleagues. Not quite automatically yet, I turn to the paperwork and fill in the familiar boxes, trying to remember which ones I can skip and which ones I shouldn’t.
As I put the paperwork away, it occurs to me that I do not remember being taught how to ride a bicycle. I can imagine my father or mother pushing me along in my childhood street, my legs spinning fast to make the small wheels of a child bicycle roll fast enough to retain balance. I no doubt fell a few times and cried. Our street was never smoothly paved.
I remember the rides in the village with my friends, the streets ours to roam away from our parents prying eyes. A makeshift mountain bike track had been built in the woods on the outskirt of the village. I was dimly aware of its existence but that was past the boundary I was allowed to visit. In any case, it was a place reserved for the older kids with loud music and discarded bottle of beers. I was not yet ten and this was too scary a world.
‘Can you bring me a mug of hot water?’ T., one of the cycle instructors asks as she passes the kitchenette open window.
‘Sure thing.’ I extricate myself out of my reverie, boil the kettle and pour the steaming water into a mug, topping up my own mug with the surplus of water. I step outside and walk down to the cycling track. I expect to see the lady cycling, but she is standing by the bench, cycle instructors next to her, bicycles unused.
I hear A. talking about the tricycle as he wheels away one of our four wheels bike. T. is there too. I catch her eye and raise the mug in the air for her to see. She nods and I leave the mug on the fence, white paint peeling away to reveal the wood beneath. She walks past me, ignoring the mug, and ascend the short rise back to the row of bicycles, leaving me alone with our sole customer.
‘How are you doing,’ I ask awkwardly.
‘Yeah… fine… Just need a drink.’ She averts her eyes and slumps onto the bench, the cold metal no doubt sipping through the leggings. I notice how her eyes glisten in the sun. She retrieves a repurposed plastic bottle of Coca-Cola and drinks water from it, her face turning away from me.
‘If you need anything… I’ll… I’ll be in the office,’ I add lamely before turning away.
I glance back as I reach the top of the short climb. She is breathing deeply, her chest rising and falling in long exaggerated motions. Behind her the orange track sprawls in a long oblong shape, the greens of the trees not yet sporting their autumnal glory encircle her from their mound surrounding the track. She looks incredibly small and fragile, as if a gust of wind could carry her off the bench onto the ground.
I hesitate before moving away, back inside the container, but I feel powerless to help, unsure how a stranger could offer any comfort. The instructors will soon be back on the track, but for now they have chosen to leave her alone. I follow their lead and retreat to the office.
I wonder what could have made her so emotional, memories of childhood, teases and failures echoing in her mind? She had been so eager and joyful when she had arrived. But I know, this means very little. I had been happy the day before when my anxiety had bubbled inside of me. My partner had briefly mentioned visiting a supermarket we never go to. At her words, my stomach had tightened, barriers had risen in my brain, narrowing my thoughts to spiralling negativity and visions of danger.
‘I feel anxious,’ I had mumbled, surprised at the sudden onset of anxiety. I had not been foolish enough to believe it had gone, but I had also not thought it could rise so quickly, so suddenly. Tears had gathered in my eyes but I had refused to let them fall.
Back in the office, I automatically spray my hands with the sanitiser I’ve been provided when starting this job, and sit back down at the desk. I unlock my computer and return my attention to work, not wanting to linger on my own anxieties.
Half an hour later, I see the lady walk past the office, her head buried in her phone as she marches towards the exit. Her eyes are dry but I cannot read her expression. I am too far to offer a goodbye, so I simply stand at the window behind the plastic screen, watching her figure move away from where I am until the rows of conifers by the entrance swallow her figure.