“The lady stood quietly in the middle of the garden. She was deep in contemplation of the short bush that separated the neighbor’s coop with the house’s lawn. Spring came late this year and left a clear but humid weather behind before finally making room for the idle summer. The blazing August’s sun didn’t stop scented and brilliantly-colored flowers from blooming. Instead, the late sunlight was then sparkling on every petal, making the low uncared-for bush stand out from all other plants that resided in different corners of the garden.
Long had she not come back to this house, at least not as an inhabitant. She wondered if the flowers had had the same colors and elegance when she had been taken away from the place three years ago. She, sure, hadn’t changed at all. Or so she thought. With her back to the veranda, the lady’s slender body gave a three-dimensional effect to the flat scenery of the summer afternoon. It was as if the space was cut in half by her athletic figure: On one side of the garden, where she was facing, the sunlight fell warmly on the flowers; while the existence of the veranda on the other side remained ridiculous. The azure dress moulded to her body, brought out the stiffness in her every slightest movement and trait. Her clear skin that glistened under the sun somehow didn’t make the lady look any more feminine. Quite the contrary, it accentuated the presumptuous character that her posture suggested. She kept on waiting as the voices kept chattering under the veranda. Time had definitely stopped passing for good, she thought.”
I sat on the veranda, looking at my bike that was standing in the middle of the garden as my parents were drinking their aperitif with my step-grandfather, and wondered how many romantic novelists had been able to come up with a masterpiece thanks to any banal object of the daily life. On the way biking to my grandparents’ garden, I had been musing on the best way to describe the bike, for I would have to part with it on that day. Despite having taken dozens pictures of the bike, I still wanted to express gratitude to it with my own words. The bike wasn’t for me any simple object, but a friend and a fellow traveler. At that very moment when the last sunlight was shining on one side of the lawn, the azure coated bike appeared to me like a self-conceited but reticent lady who is characterized by straight and non-feminine lines instead of attractive curves. A city bike as it was, the sturdy two-wheel vehicle always motivated me on long roads while comforted me with compassion and a woman’s thoughtful attitude when tiredness set in.
It was actually not my own bike. Three years ago, when I decided to settle permanently in Belgium, it was inevitable that I had to depart without the bike that I got during my years at secondary school in Hanoi. Luckily, my step-grandmother in here let me borrow her bike because she, due to circumstances, wouldn’t be able to make use of it for a long time. Since then, the bike has slowly become my new fellow. It took months till I got used to riding it, for my old bike back home was simply a female utility bicycle. Now, after three years, when I can jump on and off the bike at all ease, it’s high time that it came back to my step-grandmother, who can from this moment onward enjoy her bicycle trips on tarred roads and in fair wind again.
Here’s my beautiful lady
My biking experience began quite late, when I was 9 years old, and when all of my friends were already able to go to school or to ride around the neighborhood on their own bicycles. After having learned to ride steadily, I even stopped any contact with the vehicle, for I was forbidden to ride a bike outside of the play garden: Hanoi is a city with extremely busy traffic, and my mother and maternal grandparents were overly concerned that I would one day run into a careless motorcyclist and have a grave accident. The worry seemed to cease when we moved further away from my school (I was then at the age of 13). I needed a bicycle to go to school, and it was only fair enough to let it happen. Thus I received my first bike ever, though in a pure white color and feminine style, which disappointed me a little at first. My life then suddenly became attached to this first bicycle: We went to school together, carried my best friends on the pillion, took part in some childish races with other students on the street, rode against the traffic, skipped traffic lights and mounted overpasses in gang just for the fun of laughing with friends afterwards,… It was indeed dangerous and just exactly what my parents were worried about, but those were part of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. Even though my bike back then was not professional or anything extraordinary, I, together with other students, often felt like we were true racers, and that we would be able to discover the whole world one day with only two wheels and a bottle of water against the heat. Then, not long after this period, when the graduation examinations came close, I developed a liking to just drifting around the district with my bike after school, without knowing where I was heading for, while playing the tactic game of dodging other vehicles on the streets on the peak hour.
My first bike ever. I was quite proud of those double front lights that looked like binoculars.
A bike has therefore always meant much to me.
As for this second bike, which actually belongs to my step-grandmother, I’ll surely miss the time we’ve spent together during my first days in Belgium like a fish out of water. The bike accompanied me on uncovered roads and to every corner of this new world. Though the cycle routes in here are much safer than in my home town, there were still other challenges to take on. With this bike, I learned to ride faster, longer and to switch gears more efficiently. It was with this one fellow that I, for the first time in my life, had covered 20 kilometers uninterruptedly. The number gradually increased in greatness until it reaches 60. This may means nothing to other people, but was of great significance to me, as I was once labelled as a weak and passive child who had no skill in any activity that required physical movements or balance. At the same time, I learned not to give up immediately when feeling tired. My endurance became better after each ride. At times, I felt like the bike just floated in the air, or the wind might at any moment lift up both of us, and the azure color of the bike’s frame would just become one with the sky when we had finally reached the clouds.
Yesss, we will soon be flying, my dear
Another memory: The bike accompanied me to go sketching in the park
The moment I parted with this bike was also that historical moment when I met my third companion. My new bike, unlike the two previous, is no longer a lady. As a friend of mine and I went on a cycle trip earlier this week, I pointed at my bike and told her: “This is my new boyfriend, for he is big, fast and he often lifts me up like a princess!” She chuckled, because the bike was indeed quite big for me: I could hardly reach the ground with the tip of my toes when I sat on the saddle. Yet the big guy meets my needs and our new adventures together sure seem promising.
My new boyfriend
The season is now changing again. Riding around in town, I can see leaves changing their colors and the first golden ones have reached the ground. Corns are growing high, and soon what I’ll hear while riding is no longer solely the sound of wind, but also of crispy dry leaves that shatters under enthusiastic wheels.
To how many bikes will have to say goodbye in my life? I have no idea, but one thing is for certain: No matter how great the number gets, I’ll never forget the valuable experiences that I’ve had with my old companions. Maybe one day, as in my once childish dream on the first bike, I’ll really be able to discover every corner of the world on two wheels and with just a bottle of water (and maybe this time also with one toolkit).