The Bicycle Thief
fiction by James Blakey
No milk in the fridge, nor much of anything else.
Meant to hit the store yesterday, but stayed late grading papers. Afterwards, a bunch of us TAs gathered at Stuffy’s and closed the place.
My stomach rumbles. Off to find food.
Gray October skies. What happened to the sun? Gust of wind slams me in the face. I throw on a navy-blue hoodie.
I descend the fire escape, reach the ground and stop.
Where my bicycle should be, there is only empty air.
Last night, too tired and tipsy to haul my bike up two flights. Locked it to a utility pole.
The chain lies on the ground, mocking me. I pick it up and rub my fingers over the deformed and broken link.
Small-town girl learns big-city lesson.
They stole my bike.
This isn’t some faceless crime, like distant Belarusian hackers cloning your debit card.
A real person, a horrible person, possibly someone I’ve smiled at while passing on the street, came to my home and stole it.
Had it since sophomore year. Been with me through two moves and three break-ups. It’s my transportation, my recreation, my freedom. It’s a part of me.
And some jerk stole it.
A call to the police proves worthless.
The city is engulfed in a crime wave. Four hundred murders this year, so far. A series of high-profile car-jackings remain unsolved. Open-air drug markets operate in view of elementary schools.
Law enforcement has no time for the degenerate who stole my bicycle.
The practical problem: come Monday, how am I getting to the university?
Hoofing it four miles, one way, through The Borderlands, isn’t an option.
Barely surviving on the grad-school stipend. Even resorting to UberPool would break me.
Not asking Jim. The last thing I want is a lecture.
Going to need a new bike. Well, new to me. The Norway vacation fund gets tapped again. Never going to see Tromsø during the Solstice.
My stomach grumbles. I settle for black coffee while browsing Craigslist for bikes.
I page through ads for mountain bikes, titanium frames, touring bikes, fat wheels, electric-assist bikes, hoping for something nearby and within my budget.
Who are these people who spend $4,000 on a used road bicycle? Wish I ha—Holy Hell!
A fire-engine red women’s Raleigh Detour 2. Just like mine! Eight blocks away and asking fifty dollars. The listing is new, went up a couple of hours ago.
Could it be my bike? Impossible to tell from the photo.
Would the crook be that brazen? Or careless?
I reply to the ad and we arrange to meet.
Me: In case I go missing, I am meeting the guy from this ad at 56th and Montcalm.
Laura: Wait, what?
The seller’s leaning against the gray metal shutters of New No. 1 Chinese Restaurant. Greasy hair. Empty eyes. Too thin for his clothes. Addict written all over him. Propped up against the bus shelter is the bike.
Not the bike. My bike. The mismatched handle-bar grips reveal its true identity.
This malefactor not only stole my bike, but he rode it with his dirty, smelly, drug-addled body.
If only my mind could kill him where he stands.
What to do? My heart thumps. Should have thought of a plan on the way over.
Accuse him? He’ll just deny it.
Fight him? He’s skinny, but still has thirty pounds on me. Plus, he’s half a head taller.
Stall for time and hope a cop drives by?
I nod at the bike. “Why are you selling?”
“Girlfriend dumped me. She left it behind.” He smiles at me. “I’m single now.”
He has all his teeth. Heroin, not meth.
“Do you want it?” he asks.
“Let me take a look.” I make a show of pretending to inspect my bike. “The tires are bald,” I lie.
He doesn’t glance at the bike and shrugs. “Okay, I’ll take forty.”
I kneel and run my finger along the chain. “The links are stretched. Chain is worn out.” Another lie. Preventative maintenance is my religion.
How far can I talk down the price? Delusions of an O. Henry-esque conclusion, where the felon pays me to take my own bike, dance in my head.
“Who are you, Lance-fricking-Armstrong? Forty bucks!” He points a shaky finger at me. “Do you want it, or not?”
Perhaps I should have brought Jim. Don’t the police ever patrol this street? I need a new plan.
“Let me try it out,” I say.
“What?” He looks at me like I asked him to fly me to the Moon.
I stand up, putting my hands on my hips, and strike my best power pose. “I’m not going to buy a bicycle I haven’t ridden.”
He strokes his straggly chin hair. “Okay, but I’m gonna need a deposit.”
“Deposit?” I shake my head. “It’s a beater with bad tires.”
“Nope. You have no leverage.” He sweeps his arm through the air. “The city’s full of buyers.”
My eyes dart up the street. “Cops.”
He takes the bait and turns.
In one swift motion, I grab the handlebars, hop on and pedal off.
I have my bike. And I’m not giving it back.
I shift into high gear, rise off the seat and do my best impression of a Tour De France breakaway.
He’s cursing a blue streak. Throws in the B-word.
I turn and grin. He’s chasing after me.
My heart pounds. I hammer through the gears. He can’t catch me.
I fly through a stop sign. A cab screeches to a halt. The driver honks and shakes his fist. I weave between a delivery truck and a transit bus, disappearing around a corner.
Above, the clouds part. Blue sky for the first time today. The sun emerges, bathing me in its golden rays, as I head home on my bike.
James Blakey is a network engineer in suburban Philadelphia and has climbed 38 of the 50 United States high points.
This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.