I never even knew your frame number

by Mel George

I still look twice at every one who looks a little like you, you know. A flash of silver paint in my peripheral vision, the sound of a gear change, and my heart beats a little faster.

They tell me it wasn’t my fault. Even the police told me that, but the slight implication levelled my way by the insurance company is still stuck to my conscience like that towpath mud to your crossbar.

The moment I first found you missing, I think I knew deep down you were gone forever; but denial kicked in, I suppose, and I started searching, believing I’d find you, lost, beaten up, abandoned to your fate in a ditch somewhere. I organised a search party. I offered a reward. I beat a path around all the neighbouring streets, all around town and all the way down the river. I peered off bridges, shooed away the ducks, beat back the brambles so I could scour the riverbed. I expected to see your body down there, half buried in the sludge and waiting for me to bring resurrection – but I never found you.

When I returned home between searches, my mind wandered wretchedly to what they were doing to you. I imagined a circular saw and wreckless screwdrivers; your pedals and gears wrenched apart; your perfect parts sold separately to unscrupulous dealers. No longer the one I knew and loved – just a collection of bits used to save the lives of rusty old Frankenstein’s monsters. It turned my stomach, and I suddenly I was furious that they’d done this.

You were so young and so pretty, and that’s what attracted them. Did they watch you sailing happily past each morning and plot to follow you home one evening? Did they spy on me to see when I’d leave you there alone, with nobody to protect you? Did they wait for nightfall with greedy eyes and itching fingers, longing to get their greasy hands on your body?

I tell myself that I locked you up so carefully; that nobody could have done anything more than I did to keep you safe. I remind myself of that, but I wish I had carried on keeping you in the house. It wasn’t safe for you out there, and I knew that at the back of my mind. I got complacent, and it was you who paid the price.

Oh Spike, they asked me for your frame number and I didn’t even know it. Why did I never bother to find out? I knew your make and model, but any passer-by could have told them that. Even the ones who took you from me knew that. Didn’t I care any more than they did? I know that since I got the car, things were a little different between us, and now I bitterly regret not taking you out more often. But surely you knew that you had a special place in my heart? You were there first, and you took me places no car could ever go.

If I had you back, I’d memorise your frame number. I’d pump up your tyres every other day and I’d clean that mud off you that we picked up at the power station.

Remember when we rode all the way to Reading? You were so kind to me, concealing my unfitness with your lowest gear, and soldiering on through the brambly bridal paths. Remember coming down from Shotover? I swore I could hear you whooping along with me as we dared each other not to apply the brakes.

What do I want the money for anyway? To replace you? Some days I think I’ll just spend it on something else, buy a guitar or a mattress or something. What pleasure would I have in spending the future with some lookalike? But I guess I have to move on. I know you wouldn’t want me to abandon our favourite cyclepaths. So, dutifully, I’ve gone down to the shops, and yeah, a couple of them have caught my eye, but I always leave alone. They’re not you. And on my way home, I realise my eyes are still scanning the hedgerows and the riverbanks for that flash of silver that means you’re coming back to me.

Mel George lives in Oxford, the capital of bike crime.

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