The bike is too small for me, but I was riding it.
Eighteen speeds, ridden once in a cross-country marathon, then donated to a charity shop, my wife bought it at half price. It is for my daughter, so definitely too small for me.
I fill the tires with air, pumping them solid. I take the bike down the muddy trail between the houses, the litter-strewn path that leads to the horse pastures and the school beyond.
I climb on the bike, push off, happy to see I can still ride in a straight line. I keep to the left, not the right, test the brakes, shift the gears and all is well. Down the paved cycle path, past the community farm, other cyclists smile and wave at me. I smile back, knowing the bike is too small, but happy that it works well, no grinding gears, no squeaking brakes.
Then I come to a road trailing off through some bushland, a dead zone between the motorway and the industrial port area on one side, farms and houses on the other. The road is barricaded by a piece of concrete sewage pipe. No car can enter.
As I pedal, I see lone men trudging through the wasteland in search of something, maybe a path, maybe each other. I shift gears and keep pedalling. Among some trees in a buffer area next to a motorway off-ramp, three men tug at the leafless branch of a barkless tree. Next to the road are the broken remains of two or three motorbikes, racing red, regal blue, not just abandoned, but dismembered and destroyed. Bubble wrap and cardboard packaging are among the shattered pieces.
My legs hurt. The bike is too small for me, I tell myself. It looks like Desolation Row, a long way going nowhere, so I turn back
On the way out, I see a man walking ahead of me. I slow down and call, “Where does this road lead?” motioning behind us in the direction from which we have both come.
At first, he doesn’t understand. “What’s down there?” I ask, pointing again.
“I don’t know. I have never been.” I was surprised. He looks like a walker and a local, but now I am hearing that English isn’t his first language. He says something about a closed, disused facility and stolen bikes. I think he says the word “trouble.”
“Don’t go down there. Dangerous,” he says. “That road leads to criminality.”
“Okay, thanks,” I say. “Definitely not at night time then.” It is still mid-afternoon, but I want him to know I am not looking for trouble of any kind.
“It’s my daughter’s bike,” I add, in case he is wondering. “It’s too small for me.” I smoothly shift gears and push off.
“Goodbye,” he says with sincerity.
“See ya,” I called back. And I mean it, too.
Neither of us want to go down a road to criminality.