By Christopher Bruce
He lived alone, and he rode his bike. That is all we knew. He wore a bike helmet and dark sunglasses, through wind and rain. Phantom-like, he was a person you thought of only after he had ridden by. You’d scratch your head and think, “Wasn’t that our neighbor from upstairs?”
It had been a long time since we had seen him. You might say too long. Not that we missed him. He lived above us and never spoke to anyone. It was quiet up there, except for an occasional flushing toilet in the middle of the night. Even that was like you’d just had a dream about plumbing.
He’d walk right by you, scrupulously guiding his bike down the hall beside him. He wouldn’t say a word, even if you said hello. I suppose we could have tried harder, but I mean….Okay, once, early on, he and I happened to be in the lobby at the same time. I said, “Hi, I’m your neighbor from downstairs. My name’s Charlie.” He nodded but didn’t stop, and I called after him, “What’s your name?” The elevator door opened. He pushed the bike inside ahead of him, and mumbled, “Jim.”
No one liked him. It was as if everyone had done something to “Jim” at some time in the past, and he was not about to let it go. Or, like someone was after him to get even, and he was concealing his identity. His billowing wind-breaker, the air-brushed mustache, so-called bike helmet, and sunglasses. A prosthetic nose.
He rode with a determined rush and intensity of someone in training, except probably not training for anything that involved other bike riders. But oh, was he ever protective of that bike. It was as if the bike would be jealous if he gave his attention elsewhere. And vice versa. Except the wind. I think he loved the wind. And the bike knew he loved the wind and gave it to him.
Anyway, he died a few days ago. No one knew exactly how long. They had to search his place to find out who he was. And even then, no one knew a thing about him. The police asked around. But all we knew was this: he had a mustache, and he rode his bike. We supposed it would all come out, eventually. In the meantime, there was a vacant apartment upstairs. His bike was now an orphan, or a widow. Windless.
After they left, I started to feel bad about the bike, all alone up there. That night I slept fitfully. I went into the living room and tried to read, but couldn’t. So, I just sat there in the dark and finally fell asleep on the couch.
The next morning, after breakfast, I got a ladder out of the shed. I waited for dark and then climbed up to his balcony. I knew how to jimmy our windows from the time I left my keys inside. He had the same kind of windows, and I got right in.
There it was, in the center of the sparse living room. Aglow in the soft flickering light of the TV, set on Mute. It seemed happy to see someone. Sure, a bit surprised, perhaps. Maybe relieved is a better word.
I thought it might need some water or a squirt of oil. But no, it was the wind. Now I ride the bike. Oh, yes. We ride the streets of town together. Chances are, some of the same streets it rode with Jim. I don’t mind. The wind is my friend.
My wife has all but given up. People I used to know have drifted away. So what? I rarely speak to anyone any more than I absolutely have to. You know: “Coffee, black.” “Yes.” “No.” “Medium pepperoni and mushroom.” Otherwise, what’s the point? Can words convey a smell that reminds you of something long forgotten? Why try to describe the taste of a lemon glazed doughnut? Or the color of a freshly mown lawn?