Ongoing Moments: A series in which teaching staff and students from the English Department respond to a photograph of their choice. [Read all entries.] [Revisit the “Interrogative” series.]
The Incomplete History of a Yellow Bicycle
Part One: The Origin Story
Breaking news! Local junior high school was struck by what an insider calls “a bicycle craze”. Hordes of teenagers were seen riding bicycles on the main street after school, reeking sweat and hormones, causing chaos and mayhem. Scientists failed to explain why.
Part Two: The Meet Cute
The boy bowed down to the desire to fit in, went to a shop to pick out a “sweet ride”, with his father in tow. A yellow bike was chosen. The process of selection was dimly remembered. Apparently, the boy wasn’t even that crazy about yellow. Black was more his colour, the colour of his soul, as he likes to think of it.
Paid up and ready to go. The boy had never ridden a bike before. His father had to take the wheel. The boy sat in the back, feeling embarrassed.
Part Three: The Training Montage
If on a summer’s afternoon two boys. One, a master of the non-motorised two-wheeler, the other, blindly enthusiastic, utterly clueless. The boy forgot how he had managed to enlist the help of the master. Was it charm or a bribe? He used to make friends so effortlessly. He wonders what went wrong.
Timber! The boy fell again and again. There was blood, tears and dents on his new bike. Do you have any memories of your first steps as a toddler? The boy doesn’t either. But he remembers the first time he got a bicycle moving. He suspects magic was involved somehow. Near a gas station, he burst out laughing, the kind of laugh that no longer came naturally to him.
Soon after, the master moved to another town, another school. Sometime after that, the boy was passing a crossroad on his bicycle; his eyes met the master’s. There was a spark of recognition. Neither spoke. Another passerby. If on a summer’s afternoon no boy.
On the way to two-wheeler mastery, the boy hit the following items: walls, trees, parked cars, people, side-view mirrors, school gates, other bikers, puberty.
Part Four: The Obvious Stunt Double
The teenage proclivities for self-aggrandisement demand the existence of bicycles, as the bikes become the unsuspecting victims of clandestine revenge plots. Stung by unfaithful partners? Backstabbed by trusted friends? Superglue their saddle! Slash their tires! All in a good day’s work. The boy was an onlooker of such drama, succumbed only to the unreliable narration of the grapevine.
The boy did once get in a fight with one of his classmates. The only fistfight in his life. Pacifist or not, a boy’s got to defend his honour. Arriving at the popular afterschool fighting pit, he parked his bike, they fought. It was all a blur now. The boy didn’t win. But he also didn’t lose. If only he had watched Fight Club. There were no bloody noses, no black eyes, just a split pant leg, and the tenderest of boys.
Part Five: The Anticlimactic Fade-out
Craze fades away. Bike crumbles down. Boy grows up. We all become someone’s reluctant nemesis, waiting for a visit from the Goon Squad.
Part Six: The Convoluted Franchise Reboot
Years later, the boy was home for summer, found the bike standing at the entrance of the staircase, resurrected from oblivion and disrepair. The rim and spokes were rusty, the brakes lost their subtlety and the yellow took on a greasy hue. As if it had been transformed into a foreign object to be analysed and known.
He took it out for a spin, swashbuckling in a capricious landscape that reminded him less and less of his childhood. He had this strange sensation that the world was moving forward and outward without him, that this bicycle was turning him simultaneously historical and ahistorical. Then he had to laugh at how ridiculous and nonsensical he’d become.
Since then, the lonesome bike ride has become a staple of his home visits. Sun-speckled lane, carefully curated playlist, swooshing breezes, oh my. On a clear day you can see who you are.
Part Seven: The Riding off into the Sunset
Sometimes the boy wonders what would happen if he lost the bicycle. There’s this photo of him as a child sitting in a stroller, laughing, fancy-free. He remembers how devastated he was when he thought he had lost this photo, without negative, undigitised. He thinks about the many ways we become attached to people, things and memories. He thinks about the lady who got married to the Eiffel Tower, about people who have lost all their belongings in a fire and how liberated they say they feel. He thinks about the woman who lost her twin, and how she can still see her sister when she looks into the mirror. He wonders if untethered means you are truly free. The singer croons repeatedly: “We’re all gonna die.” He thinks about how comforted and peaceful it made him feel.
Holden Liang Qichao is a PhD student at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all pieces by Holden.]