Make Me Pay
I return on a train from Paris. My bike is gone. I walk up and down the aisles of racks, doubting myself. Two teenage girls scream at the camera of each other’s phone. Three or four times each. Their own bikes stood next to them. It keeps happening. I cannot see my bike. I search first for the wheels, then for the frame, then for the bell. It is dark and screamy. The girls are making me feel like groups of boys usually do. First I notice the wrongness, then the exact sound, then the proximity, the reason, the gender. I want to see the bike corpse. I must walk home in the dark. But when is the bike gone? When is this over? I sigh, because something had to go wrong. Even this main street feels empty when I’m walking it, when the shoppers are gone.
I look for bikes on the internet. I look at prices, frame size. It wasn’t broken; I didn’t want to fix it. I make coffee. I look for second-hand bike shops. I look out my slat of curtain for the weather. I walk to the centre reluctantly, call in at a bike shop. My bike has been stolen, I want help, see me, I want comfort. The man looks at my accent, stares at me. I leave, glare at every bike I walk past like a bike thief. Eye-follow the pedals and torsos of passing cyclists like a bike thief. Walk past bikes in town slowly looking at their locks like a bike thief. I want compensation.
At the second bike shop a man outside is fixing. I stop and linger. I want something, always. My bike was stolen. What happens? What happens here, if bikes come, stolen bikes? How would anyone know? He sees me. I was parked in a bad zone. Nobody tells the foreigner anything. The foreigner must ask all the right questions, always. They drop a breast-milk pump in front of the foreigner and walk away. Pump. They make her pay for ambulances to reach her dying baby. Pump. There is no warning, just the bill through the mail. This is a proud company, sorry, country, where everything works well until it doesn’t. The mother with the almost-dying baby does not get her champagne. No one folds her underwear on Christmas Day. She didn’t make the phone call at the right time, any help she was entitled to has been taken away. The foreigner sits in the same sanitary pad for fourteen hours. Why didn’t she change it? She couldn’t walk, she thought, in her catheter-weakness. She was a patient. Patient, then. They were changing the pads; it was her job to recover. Still, why didn’t she change it? Remember when they took the wheelchair away? Her time was up. She couldn’t walk. Why didn’t she call a friend to help her? Some family?
The bike has been stolen by the council, by the government. This is a punitative culture. I was parked in a bad zone. Never block the shoppers. I am so entitled. I walk to the bike prison to pay the bail, release my baby. I must be punished. At the scene of the crime I found the horseshoe of cut lock. Hurt me. There was a sign. I don’t drive, have never driven. Four hours max. These are not my kind of signs. How was I to know? I could have looked, but I didn’t know I should be looking. Streets are so empty at night when you have to walk home. Never let your guard down. I must be punished for my ignorance. This is how you ingratiate me into your culture. I will pay the fines until I know. Eventually, I will stop flinching.
I walk to the bike prison, warehouse of mistakes. I pay the fine, walk the aisles of bike racks until I see my vessel, hanging on the top row. They put the bike prisons far from the centres, usually in areas with limited access by public transport. You must pay your dues. They leave the cut lock, the wound, hanging from your frame so you remember why they have done this to you. Many bikes are never collected. This is a safe country with professional cutting tools.
Lydia Unsworth’s latest collections are Some Murmur (Beir Bua Press) and Mortar (Osmosis). Her most recent pamphlets are YIELD (KFS) and cement, terraces (Red Ceilings). Work can be found in places like Ambit, Banshee, Bath Magg, Blackbox Manifold, Shearsman, Tentacular, and The Interpreter’s House. Twitter: @lydiowanie
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