The Bicycle Thief
It’s only two miles, I tell myself as I deposit my dilapidated sandals in the trashcan in front of the post office.
The streets are eerily empty as I begin my barefoot march home. Really, it shouldn’t be a surprise. There aren’t many people who want to be out and about after the last bus has left deep into the wee hours of a Monday night. The white glow of the moon, the stark yellows of the streetlights, and the resonant heat from the day mean it’s hardly unpleasant save for my personal issues.
My feet ache. The cold mottled cement of the sidewalk wears into my heels. The granules of asphalt scrape the bottoms of the my toes as I cross the street. Needles, twigs and organic debris press into the balls of my feet as I plod through the night. The weight of my baggage lilts me left or right as I trade hands trying to keep my shoulders fresh. I focus on each step, tired, annoyed, determined to make it home, knowing I need to be up in mere hours for a long day of work.
I’m halfway home, in a darkened corridor of trees on the sidewalk, when I notice the bike lying in the small stretch of grass between my cement carpet and the street. Without thinking, I lift the bike on to two wheels, sling my suitcase onto the handlebars, and continue walking, my load lightened.
As I cross to the next block, the light from the streetlights casts my shadow on the road in front of me. I blink slowly as I realize that I’m holding the bike, walking slowly home. I look down at my right hand, cradling the handlebars, my bag hanging to one side.
I stole a bike, I think with surprise. I’m stealing a bike, I correct. I glance over my shoulder at the block I just left, wondering what the fuck I’m doing.
And then I start walking once more.
My alarm goes off at a painfully early hour and I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee. As I sip the first cup, I remember the night before, wondering if I had dreamed the bike, if I had imagined it as a mental exercise to make the trip home feel easier. I wander onto the porch with my mug and glance down into the yard. Sitting there is a dilapidated, yet solid mountain bike.
Holy shit, I think. I really did steal a bike.
I don’t have time to correct my actions. I have to be at work. I quickly get ready to go and hop on my bike, making tracks for work. I don’t think about my theft the entire day. When I arrive home that afternoon, worn, tired, and sleep deprived, the bike is still sitting there. Despite my desire to collapse and be done for the day, I change shoes, grab my ill-gotten goods, and begin walking back to the scene of the crime.
I’m no thief, I tell myself. I will return the bike.
My heart is beating fast when I rap on the door. Just leaving the bike isn’t enough. I need to apologize and face the consequences. I could rationalize my actions in so many ways, but I can’t excuse them. I was tired, sore, annoyed, and there were no buses or cabs to get me home, but that doesn’t excuse taking the bike.
I hear footsteps come to the door. It opens to reveal a man in his late forties, brown hair with flecks of grey at the temples, a bit shorter than me. “Can I help you?” he says with a smile. Then he glances down and sees the bike in my hands. His smile quickly fades and his eyes narrow as I begin my apology.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Last night, as I was walking by, I grabbed this bike from in front of your house. I don’t know what I was thinking. I wanted to return it and apologize for taking it.”
His eyes don’t leave the bike. “Twenty bucks and you can have it,” he says quickly and quietly.
“Fine, ten.” He looks up and meets my eyes, a look of fear and anxiousness playing across them.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “I stole the—”
“Listen,” he says as he steps out and closes the door behind him. “Juts keep the bike.” I stand there dumbfounded. “It’s my son’s. He’s a teenager and kind of a fuck-up. Since he realized his bike was gone this morning, he’s been offering to do chores and taking care of his business like a responsible adult, hoping to earn a new bike. I’m hoping this sticks. Just take the bike and get it out of here.”
“But…” I begin.
“Take the bike. Quickly. Before he sees.” He gives me a slight shove on the shoulder and turns to go back inside. He disappears into the doorway without looking back. “Nothing,” I hear him say to the house. “Just the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he announces as the door closes.
I stand there and glance at the bike for a second before hopping on it and riding home.
I stole a bike without thinking last night, I think. And today, it was given to me.