By Callum Dawson
It’s hard to remember the past, drowning in mud and monstrous memories, but I will try my best. Some stories need to be told at any cost, and some costs have stories leaking from their patch repairs. The album Queen: Greatest Hits was playing in the workshop where I was born. I think that must have been where my love affair with the operatic rock band first started. Freddie Mercury always knew how to turn the gears within me. My wheels spin to his sweet, piercing voice:
“Bicycle, bicycle, I want to ride my bicycle…”
I am a bike living in Leuven, and this is my story. Now why should you listen to a bicycle’s story? Does not the inanimate animate you? I have spokes and thus I speak! I was bought in a bicycle shop in the city of Leuven. Like all of us I began my existence thrown into the very middle of life, hurled into the crisscross milieu of Leuven roads and alleyways. I was sold to a young Russian philosophy student named Adam. Adam was an ever-grinning loon, eternally happy, eternally smiling, not like any other Russian in the world. His studies centered on the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, and Adam could languidly rattle off a sentence in ancient Greek, as easy as every other student might roll their eyes.
What can you do with a philosophy degree? Did Adam have any practical capacities? Now, now dear reader, a philosopher is meant to be a lover of wisdom, and Adam had garnered what most students never acquire in their entire lives: some sense in his head! He was a good man, well loved by his friends, adored by his beautiful Russian girlfriend (lucky bastard), and highly respected by his professors. Oh, and he could fix bikes, a skill which to me is akin to having magic healing fingers. Whenever I broke he would fix me; few friends and lovers can claim to have the same relationship. I was his bike, and he my rider. He was good to me; I remember that. In the words of Freddie Mercury, cooing seductively from the stage:
“I want you to know that my feelings are true,
I really love you,
You’re my best friend!”
It was a nice life, but life changes in the blink of an eye; I think a philosopher once told me that. Eventually Adam’s studies sent him to America, the bohemian lifestyle of a philosophy student hurling him far afield. Even in his absence he was still my friend and instead of leaving me to rot on a public bicycle stand, there to be snatched up by bike thieves or reavers, he sold me to one of his friends: a theologian named Brian.
Brian was a different cup of tea: less practical, yet more poetic than Adam (though Adam could be poetic if he wanted to in dead languages). Brian was a theologian and a writer, privy to the deeper secrets of existential existence. He used to talk to me as we rode through the spider web of streets that is our dear beloved Leuven. “Has life value?” He would ask me. “Is there more than this mere mortal life?” A tad melodramatic I think, but talking to me gave him a kind of therapy. He merely voiced the bold concerns sitting in the little dark corners of his human heart. If he had spoken to anyone else they would have thought him crazy. But a bike does not judge, nay, lest he or she be judged tenfold! So for a while I played the inanimate trundling therapist, animated by Brian’s concern. Once we rode out into the closest approximation of Belgian wilderness we could find, and sat by the road, looking up at the sky and chasing the clouds with our minds. We watched the fluffy summer seeds parasail past on meager gusts of wind, filling us with the zephyr spirit of contentment. I loved those countryside rides, sailing like a boat through the ripple of the summer wheat ocean. Oh Freddie, sing for me one more time:
“Here me you lord’s and ladies preachers,
I descend upon your earth from the skies,
I command your very souls you are believers,
Lay before me what is mine,
The seven seas of rhye!”
Brian was a poet yes, but not practical. He could not fix me with the same skill that Adam had done. Whenever a wheel flattened out, or a gear fell off, spinning with a pathetic cry for salvation, he took me to the bike fixit shop. Oh despair, and fie on his lack of skill! One night I was parked in the theology faculty, weighed down by a bike lock and a newly flattened tire. Brian sighed in annoyance when he discovered the flat tire and decided to leave me chained inside the theology faculty courtyard. He reasoned that I would be safe there, double locked and flattened out as I was. I would not run, and no one would think to steal me. He was wrong…
A strange shadow shrouded man came into the faculty at the midnight hour. He had a large pair of bolt cutters balanced on his left shoulder. Five bikes stood abandoned in the theology faculty courtyard, including myself. The shadow man turned to the first and with demonic ease snipped away the lock: “another one bites the dust.” Then casually he cut away the second, “another one bites the dust.” And the third, “and another one gone, and another one gone.” He ‘liberated’ a fourth, “another one bites the dust.” And then he turned to me…
“How do you think I’m going to get along,
Without you, when you’re gone
You took me for everything that I had,
And kicked me out on my own…”
I spent one night on my own in this city and was kidnapped by a monster with a giant pair of iron clippers, who bundled me into the back of a truck and sold me cheaply to dubious and drunken students. They thought of me neither as a friend or a therapist, but a mere scrap bike, a thing to be ridden and disposed of. From that night on I was passed around the city like a cheap metal whore. “Why is your mum like the town bicycle?” I heard a pug eared teenager ask his friend once. “Because everyone get’s a ride,” he and his friends chortled gawkily at the anecdote. I was not amused in the least. I was the town bicycle of Leuven, and every punk with a penchant for theft was getting a turn. And I was not the only one to be abused in such a manner. Daily, I was jammed between terrified tandems and monstrously malformed mountain bikes. We shared stories of our mutual woes, ever fearful of a new bike thief casting a loathsome eye in our direction. My story isn’t just my story dear reader; it’s the story of every bike in Leuven. Is that reason enough for you to pity my addled saddle and simpering rims?
This is where my story ends. One night, under a full moon bright, I woke up at the bottom of the Dilje River, alone and forgotten. Surrounded by the corpses of my compadres: including an infantile, broken tricycle and a proud, decaying Italian scooter I closed my eye’s for the last time, letting silt and mud cover my bones. Despite my failed frame, Freddie’s voice still thrummed beside me beneath the languid river ripples. In my final moments, I dwelt on the good times, Adam and Brian, the Bohemian philosopher and the rhapsodic poet. My life, as it was, had the tinge of a bohemian rhapsody.
“I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Because I’m easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,
Photo by Alexandria Somirs