Written by: Christine Humfrey (PhD Education, 1979)
‘Another cold morning’, Joan thought as she wrapped her scarf more closely around her neck and locked the front door. She didn’t need to buy much today – in fact she very rarely did these days – but the walk to the shops, the look around the shelves and just the possibility of bumping into someone she knew made the journey worthwhile.
As soon as she turned the corner of the road she looked for the bike and there it was - just as it had been for the past couple of months. It was leaning, alone and uncomfortable, chained to the railings of an empty neglected garden.
"Well, all by yourself again," she said as she moved towards it. She was in the habit now of saying a few words to it each morning. Sometimes it was the only conversation she had all day. "If you stand here much longer it’ll be Easter!" It didn’t reply. She smiled at her foolishness and walked on.
She was amazed that for over two months - through the coldest weeks of winter -the bike had stood unclaimed, cold, wet and, most surprisingly, unvandalised. She knew little about bikes, but she had noticed them in various stages of dilapidation in car parks or leaning against walls with handlebars bent, tyres slashed and lights and bells twisted off. This one was different. On several occasions it had slipped to the ground to hang painfully from its chain, then strangely it was upright and unharmed when she passed it the next time.
One or two of the neighbours had mentioned the bike, intrigued by its presence, unprotected from the elements for so long.
Joan remembered with quiet pleasure, that the lady who lived only a few doors away, had started a conversation with her about bikes and litter. It had lead to their walking together to the shops that day. She had enjoyed that. She hoped she might come across her (was it Sandra or Sally?) again. She had mentioned that she, too, lived alone.
By the time Joan had finished the shopping and carried her bag home, the sky had clouded over and the rain had begun to fall in earnest. Everywhere looked grey and chill. She turned on the television and sat down with her mug of tea. The local news included its usual section on theft, nuisance and vandalism. What a world, she sighed. It never used to be like this - you can’t trust anyone any more.
The next morning the pavements were too slippery for Joan to risk her regular walk but, by the afternoon, the frost had cleared and she noticed the first hazy sunshine. She put on her sturdy shoes and opened the front door, waiting for her daily sight of the bike. Sandra (not Sally she now knew) was standing alongside it. She smiled as Joan approached.
"I can’t understand it," she said, "who’d leave their bike in the open like this? Funny that no one’s made off with it."
Joan nodded. "When you hear everything that’s going on, it’s surprising anything’s safe".
They walked together down to the shops, exchanging tales of noisy teenagers and students who, they thought, generally dropped the pizza cartons as they came back home ‘so late at night’
Neither had much shopping to do and it seemed only sensible that they should drop off at the little café to have a cup of tea and a chat.
Gradually the gloomy grimness of winter gave way to the spring and, although the bike remained steadfast and lonely against the railing, Joan felt a less compelling urge to greet it each time she passed
Perhaps because she was often talking to Sandra. Sometimes now, too, she would be on her way to a coffee morning to meet her other neighbour who volunteered at the Salvation Army charity shop. Joan thought she might do something there as well for one day a week. She wouldn’t want to be actually selling things, as that would mean talking to all sorts of people and taking money standing at the desk where everyone could see her. No, that wouldn’t be right for her, but she could do the unpacking and perhaps putting the clothes on hangers.
Then it was April, and Joan had lost count of the weeks the bike had leant wearily alone against the railings. On the Wednesday of the week before Easter she headed into Beeston for a slightly larger shop than normal. Sandra had gone to her cousin’s for a couple of days, so it was Joan’s chance to buy her a small chocolate egg and get some special biscuits to share with the charity shop and the coffee morning friends. Even though her bag was heavier than usual, she felt brighter and fitter than she had for a good many years. She couldn’t quite explain why.
As she turned the corner, she saw to her amazement a young woman releasing the bike from its chain and starting to wheel it away.
“Hey!"Joan called out. "What do you think you’re doing with that bike?"
The pretty young student looked up and smiled.
"It’s mine," she said. "I’ve just come back from a university exchange programme in Germany. I didn’t have time to find a proper space for the bike on campus before I went. I just parked it here on the morning I caught the plane…"
Joan was incredulous. "But weren’t you worried about it, just left like that. Anything might have happened to it."
The student looked equally surprised. "I suppose I never gave it much thought," she said. "I felt sure it would be safe round here…and it was! I’m glad to get it back but I wouldn’t have missed the last three months for anything. Auf Wiedersehen!!"
And, with that, she hopped on the patient bike and headed back to the campus.