Scenes of Life – Week 006

Scenes of life - Week 006

Scenes of life is a weekly personal diary. From moments in my life that have marked the week, to passing feelings and overheard conversations, I record what has made an impression on me or what has caught my attention.
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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.

I forget about the lady in the rush of tidying and cleaning the entire container at the end of the day. My hands and mind are occupied by a frenzy of gestures that are fast becoming habit.
‘See you tomorrow,’ I wave back from my saddle as I exit the centre perimeter. I press on the pedal with my left foot, my right foot flipping the other pedal upwards so I can slide it in the pedal cage. Without another thought, I join the flow of traffic on the road. Effortlessly I glide on the asphalt, curving into a side street as soon as I can and disappearing into the labyrinth of suburban streets, the blue cycling signs my only guide to navigate the landscape. I barely see them today, my commute already well known.
A flock of pigeons fly overhead, dozens of wings flapping together in an unsynchronised aerial dance. They dip behind a building before soaring high up in the sky again. It’s the second flock I have witnessed that day. I wonder what makes pigeons gather and fly together. I normally associate them with lonely birds. In truth, I do not know much about them. All I have learned is from what I have glimpsed in the brief moments they share during my commute, or the scenes I observe while lounging in a city park. This hasn’t happened for a long time. Staying put in a populated environment makes me feel uneasy these days.
I swerve past a city centre hotel, my wheels revolving above the river Frome before I join its side as it emerges from its underground lair. The smell of Himalayan balsam is almost gone. Minutes later I’m whistling my way through poorly designed cycle corridors, gather speed to make it up a hill, and I’m back within my home ground, commuters sharing the path with me. I smile at them, happy to be cycling on this beautiful autumnal day, happy to be back within the flow of society in a way I haven’t been for so long. Many of them smile back. Instinct or happiness, I don’t stop to ask.
Back home, I hop off the bicycle on the grass verge by the red bricks of the house. I think of the lady who came to the centre today and hope to see her again so she too can experience the moments of joy that come from being on a saddle.
I put my bicycle away and fall on the sofa next to my partner.
‘How was your day,’ I enquire automatically.
‘Yeah okay,’ she replies absent-mindedly, her focus on the book she is reading.
I unlock my phone and catch up with social media and e-mails, feeling safe within the confine of my house but knowing all the same it is only an illusion. Everyday I meet a myriad of strangers and so does my partner working in libraries. I have learned to live with this so why can’t I accept her going to a supermarket we’ve never been to before? I ponder the question as my thumb flicks through Twitter, my eyes not registering the barrage of tweets in front of them. Maybe, it is the unknown, the fact that I wasn’t there and couldn’t see for myself that everything was fine, safe enough. Safe enough… I chuckle at the absurdity of this statement. I am safe in so many ways, the luck of my birth having provided a gentle net for me to fall on in all circumstances.
A magpie perches itself on the garden fence, flicking its tail up and down, before flying away. I watch the empty space left behind, the silence around engulfing my thoughts into oblivion. I close my eyes, my phone too heavy in my hands, and take a breath.
I rise from the sofa and open the window a crack, the gentle hum of traffic merging with the shuffling of tree leaves in the breeze.

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