Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A short story: Great bike, no brakes!

There are nearly 100 posts here and they are all fact-based. I suppose it’s about time I took a little diversion and used my blog to post my first fictional piece. A blog can be many things, including a way to publish your own short story for free. Happy reading!

Great bike, no brakes!

At first the slope was gentle and it made pedaling easy and then unnecessary, then the gradient became more pronounced and it made the ride exciting, and then the hill became a steep descent and I felt the bike was just going too fast and it was time to slow down and it was then that I realized the difference between English and German bikes.
My German hosts were charming, caring and generous. My exchange partner and I got on well and we enjoyed a relaxing summer as 17 year olds do. When he suggested we use his and his sister´s bikes to go to spend the day out in the countryside I readily agreed. Could I ride a bike, they asked, of course I could, I replied, have been riding since I was five. I did take a quick look over the bike as they brought it out of the garage and it struck me that there was something different between this German bike and the bikes I had ridden in England but I didn’t work out what it was at that moment: obviously it wasn’t important.
Obviously yes it was important: the difference between English and German bikes was that the second kind had no brakes on the handlebars. Yes it was important and yes I was hurtling down an increasingly steep gradient and it was the second kind that I was riding and why why oh why were there no brakes on the handlebars? There had to be brakes, all the bikes I had ridden in England had brakes on the handlebars, my bike my brother’s bike, even my friend David’s bike, a very fancy one which I had managed to scratch by riding it across the school sports field. Anyway, they all had brakes, expect this bike I was riding now. Because it was German. I could hear my friend, he was shouting something very loud in a very concerned voice a few feet behind me. Yes, I suppose he would have calculated the distance in metres not in feet and yes, safely was the word. But not me, I was feeling increasingly less safe and yes I could  hear the words but no I could not understand the meaning because I was only working towards my A level, I had not actually taken it yet. Maybe if we had got past chapter 1 of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice I would have had the necessary vocabulary to solve this ever nearer Death In Small town in Germany.
Down I went, faster and faster and closer to the bottom of the hill. This should have been a relief, but getting closer meant I could see the STOP sign at the T junction where one road was a minor one and the other was a major one with very fast traffic, cars and lorries which were not required to, and which had no intention of stopping. Faster and faster I went and closer and closer I got to the T junction and its STOP sign and its fast cars and louder and more insistent became my friend’s exhortations to stop, or whatever it was he was saying, I guessed it by the context, which is what our excellent, expert and kindly German teacher had taught us, if you’re not 100% sure take a guess by the context. But she was back in Liverpool, or maybe in Ibiza or wherever it was she spent her summer holiday and I was on a bike bound for Hell.
Whoooooosh, I passed the STOP sign at the side of the road, I crossed the thick white line with STOP in large letters on the ground and I whisked past in front of a car coming at me from the right and I just missed the rear end of a car which had just gone by on the left and I rode on until I came to a stop in a ploughed field on the far side of the road. Stop, I stopped. I can still see the face, and above the scared wide eyes of the driver in the first car, an innocent German, minding his own business one sunny summer afternoon driving in an orderly way along a major highway, only to be stunned by the sight of a Liverpool youth on a girl’s bike flashing past his windscreen. A German girl’s bike, and that is the point. Had it been an English bike, boy’s or girl’s I would have stopped. But most certainly it was not an English bike, it was a German bike, and on German bikes, at least that bike that day in that German small town, you slowed down not by squeezing anything on the handlebars but by back pedaling.
How could I know that? I thought. How could I not know that? He thought, as he looked on ashen face, still safely and obediently stopped at the STOP sign on the other side of the road. And how could he know that I did not know?
We cannot always ask the questions we need to ask because sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know something. I know that I learnt a lot from this experience and I am grateful that my bike ride stopped short in a ploughed field, before getting to you know where…  

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