At first, he didn’t realise that his bicycle was steering itself. He thought ruts in the road must be to blame, or his eyesight. But by the time he unaccountably mounted the pavement, turning through ninety degrees to do it, he had begun to believe that his bicycle might have a mind of its own.
On that occasion, he found himself swooping headlong into a row of bicycle stands, crowded with stationary machines. He was on the floor, painfully, before he knew it. His bicycle alongside him, wheels spinning in the air as though seeking attention.
The following day on his way to the shops, he crashed into a girl and a man standing face to face on a corner. As they gesticulated at each other, he and his bicycle swerved sharply, and lunged between them.
He had just time to shout a warning. He saw the man’s eyes wide. And then bicycle, man, girl and the cyclist were in a heap on the pavement, a ball of arms, legs and bruises. The man was angry, quite reasonably, and had wanted to hit the cyclist, but didn’t seem to be able to rise from the ground. The girl stood gingerly and rearranged her summer dress. The cyclist crouched behind his bicycle, fearing repercussions.
A crowd gathered. There were mutterings, curses and shrieks. The girl, when she saw that the man was incapable of much apart from speech, waved her fist at him and said some terrible things. The cyclist stood, still with the bicycle between him and the man on the ground. Eventually, an ambulance appeared and took the injured man away.
“I can’t thank you enough,” the girl said to him when the crowd had melted away. “What quick thinking, what decisive action, to intervene like that. Most people would have just gone by, and I believe I was in some danger at that moment.” She pushed the hair from her forehead just as the sun came from behind the clouds.
The cyclist, a tall man who had mostly given up on girls, was perplexed, though experiencing for the first time in many days a frisson of excitement.
She smiled up at him, her shiny hair gently waving in the breeze, as though waiting for something. The cyclist’s bicycle bell made a noise, a small flicker of a chime, as though something within it had been released, or wanted to be.
He said, without quite knowing why, “Do you cycle at all?”
The girl blushed. “I used to. I have a bike rather like yours, though I haven’t used it for a long time. I suppose I could have it put in order. The park on Sunday perhaps? At about three? I’d like to get back in the saddle, and I would feel safer with you.”
He had to have a stiff word with his bicycle later that day.
On the way home following the accident, he had found himself – without any choice in the matter - rearing up when pulling away from the traffic lights, standing alarmingly on a front wheel whenever he needed to brake, in a motionless quiver on the pedals when waiting for signals to change.
He found it embarassing. He nevertheless applied oil to his cycle that evening. When he did so, he found the bearings to be almost hot.
“Please,” he said, “you may not even like the girl’s machine. What if she should be in poor repair, tyres ineffectively inflated, uncared for, cables slack, rusty perhaps?”
His bicycle drank the oil. The cyclist carefully wiped the glow back into its paintwork.
There was no reason to suspect otherwise, but on that Sunday when he arrived in the park - promptly at 3pm - she was already there, standing expectantly under the chestnut trees, gazing up and down the lines of intermittent traffic.
When he waved, she stood on tiptoe, waving back and smiling as though she was once more just 14 years old and had begun to notice, behind the presents unquestionably destined for her, the large package wrapped in brown paper. This package (resting on what could only be elegantly slim and dangerous wheels and with handlebar-shaped bulges above) stood coyly half-hidden behind a sofa. Her smile (as wide and as beautiful then as it was now) showed that she had begun to appreciate her gift.
Now, she turned back quickly into the shade of the trees, and then returned, pushing the bicycle that she had received ten years before, a French blue racing model with a tan leather saddle, once more polished so that chromium and paint glistened in the sunlight, mirroring the glow that seemed to surround her.
The cyclist found himself accelerating towards her along the path and, for a moment, he feared yet once more accident. This time though, he screeched to a halt in front of her, the front tyre of his bicycle coming to rest, touching lightly that of the girl's.