Today’s my dad’s birthday, so I decided to surprise him with something different in addition to a gift card. In a way, this story was the spark of inspiration for this blog. We live in different parts of Ontario, so I wanted to share it with him as easily as possible. This way, he can read it on his tablet at his leisure.
This story is grown from kernels of truth…
Once upon a time, many years ago, a young boy lived in a far-off land with his family. If there was one thing this boy wanted in life, it was to own his own bicycle. Bicycles were so common where he lived that lines of them streamed through the streets all day. Everyone owned one, or at least, that was how it felt to the young boy. The mailman had one. The factory workers rode by on their way to their shifts on them. The family next door had several. Even the minister’s wife rode one around town while making calls, which scandalized the elders and secretly thrilled the church women.
But the young boy did not have his own bicycle yet. He was the odd man out in his class, and he felt it keenly. He knew why he was the only one. It wasn’t because his parents couldn’t afford it, they had several already. No, it was because he’d been sick for over a year and they were worried that he wasn’t strong enough yet. Every time the doctor visited, hopes were raised and then dashed.
But the young boy remained eternally hopeful. He pored over cycling advertisements in the newspaper, cutting out the pictures and details of the models he liked and pasting them into a little notebook. His older brother and sister laughed at his obsession, but not harshly, because they were secretly rooting for him to get his heart’s desire.
That day finally came. The old family doctor had retired, and his replacement paid visits to all the patients in the practice. Mother and Dad told the new doctor about the long illness and convalescence, and the doctor listened to the young boy’s heart and lungs, and then he felt his arms and legs.
“This lad needs exercise and fresh air!” he said briskly. “Get him a bicycle and let him ride it as much as possible!”
To the young boy, it was as if the heavens had opened and every angel burst into song.
“I suppose we’d better go to the shop, then.” sighed Dad. Looking at her son’s face, Mother wisely did not suggest that he borrow his brother’s cycle.
That night, the young boy looked carefully through his clippings. He knew what he wanted: bottle green, with nickel rims and a cruiser brake. A rack was a must, as was one of the new electric lights. Sleep did not come easily to him that night.
The next day was Saturday, so the young boy and his father walked down the hill to the closest cycle shop. Within half a minute of entering, the young boy saw exactly what he wanted. Except….
“It’s too big!” groaned the young boy.
“You’ll grow into it,” said Dad. “And in the meantime, we’ll lower the seat.”
Dad paid the clerk and they walked out of the store, wheeling the cycle between them. The young boy wanted to try the cycle out right away but Dad refused.
“You’ll get your brother to teach you,” he said firmly. “A hill is no place to ride a bicycle for the first time.” So, they walked home together, pushing the new machine up the hill.
That afternoon, the young boy and his brother took the green bicycle over to the schoolyard.
“We’ll start here.” said his brother. “No cars to worry about. Now, the first thing you need to know is….”
“I know how to ride a bicycle!” interrupted the young boy.
“Really? All right, show me, since you seem to be so smart.” His brother shrugged and handed over the cycle.
The young boy straddled the frame. The seat really was too high. Then he tried to put his feet on the pedals, and promptly fell over, with everything all tangled up.
“This isn’t as easy as it looks.”
“Let me show you,” said his brother. “Mother wouldn’t like it if you came home looking like you’d been to the wars.”
The young boy reluctantly gave way and handed over the bicycle. His brother immediately lowered the seat. Then he began to show how cycling actually works. First, balance. Keep a foot on the ground when you’re not moving. Here’s how to push off. How to turn. How to stop.
Then he let his younger brother try. Like many first time cyclists, the young boy kept toppling over, even with a gentle push from behind from his brother. Eventually, without any warning, everything clicked, and the young boy was circling around the schoolyard as if he’d been born on the cycle.
“Good!” proclaimed his brother, who was clearly pleased. “You’re almost ready.”
“What else is there?” asked the young boy in puzzlement. His brother smiled and laid out the rules of the road: how to avoid hazards, how to signal, and much more.
They walked home in the golden light of later afternoon. “Next thing,” said his brother, “We’ll go for some rides.”
And go for rides they did, all through the town, dodging through alleyways and around the carts that clogged the streets. Dogs would bark, children would point and laugh, and the old women just shook their heads. In time, the young boy’s bicycle came to be known as Green Lightning, after how the wheels flashed as they soared down the hill. All that summer, the young boy felt freer than he ever had before.
One day, his sister used her Brownie to take a picture of him with Green Lightning in front of a tree in the garden. She gave him a print of it several days later, she had hand tinted the image so that the colours nearly burst off the page. His mother was so pleased that she framed it and put it with the rest of the family photos in the front room.
Some weeks later, as summer marched towards fall, the young boy was home for lunch. It was a hot, breezy afternoon, so he was out in the garden enjoying the shade that there just didn’t seem to be at school. The constant rasping of the cicadas echoed in the heat. It was quiet and remarkably still.
Suddenly, one of the dogs next door barked. The world turned upside down, and everything went black.
When he came to, the young boy found himself on the ground. He felt his head and discovered a lump on the back, but there was no bleeding. He got to his feet and slowly looked around. Destruction lay in every direction. The entire back half of the house was in ruins. The young boy looked over the fence and saw a smoking pile of rubble where the neighbouring house had been only a few minutes ago. The dog he had heard before was now barking and whining frantically.
What has happened? thought the young boy. Then…. “Mother? Mother!!!” He picked his way around to the front of the house and headed inside. There, in the front room, knelt his mother. She was tending to their housekeeper, who was bleeding from a wound to the head. His sister was in the corner trembling like a leaf. She started up when she saw her brother.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes…..” said the young boy, still dazed.
“It was an earthquake”, said Mother.
“The worst I’ve ever known” groaned the housekeeper.
The floor of the front room was covered with items shaken out of place. Curios lay in ruins. Pictures had come off the wall. Books were scattered like leaves on the rug, splayed open. Miraculously, the photo of the young boy and Green Lightning seemed unharmed. The young boy picked it up from the floor and turned it over. Not a scratch. Then he remembered. He shoved the frame into his sister’s still trembling hands and ran outside.
He had left Green lightning parked in the back corner of the garden. It had been a quiet spot, with an old mossy stone wall, not far from the back of the house. Now it looked like a giant hand had knocked the stones over like a baby playing with blocks. There was no sign of a bicycle. Green Lightning was gone.
The next few days were full of chaos as recovery began. The school was in ashes. It had caught fire after it had collapsed. The entire city looked like a war zone. Thousands of people had died, including the housekeeper. Ten times more were wounded or homeless or both. This included the young boy and his family. Their house was deemed unliveable, so they were moved to a park where they lived in a tent for a few weeks. They were allowed to take what they could reasonably carry. The young boy carefully packed the picture of Green Lightning in his satchel, but he didn’t bother with his scrapbook. He didn’t see the point.
Several months after the quake, the family moved back to Canada to live with his grandparents, and they tried to put the past aside and adapt to new lives. In time, the young boy, who now wasn’t so young, was given another bicycle. He was glad to have the freedom again, but it wasn’t the same. Nor were any of the cycles he had over the course of his life, no matter how innovative they were. His picture of Green Lightning hung on the wall in every place he lived. And as his children and grandchildren grew, he would take each of them aside to tell them the story of Green Lightning, and taught them how to ride a bicycle, just as his brother had taught him.
Many years passed, and the young boy was now an old man, who hadn’t ridden a bicycle in several years. But Green Lightning was still on his wall and in his dreams. One day, his granddaughter came to see him. He could tell that she was excited about something, but he didn’t want to ruin her fun, so he waited for her to speak.
“Look, Grandpa!” She handed him a tablet that was showing a news story on its screen. The story was dated several months ago. It was about his old town in that country so far away. They had been doing some construction work in his old neighbourhood and when they moved some stones, there, underneath, was a green bicycle. There was a photo with the article. The old man tapped on it to enlarge it.
It was rusted and bent. The wheels were missing spokes. But there was a light on the front. It was utterly unrideable. But it was Green Lightning.
The old man nearly dropped the tablet in his surprise, but his granddaughter nimbly caught it before it fell too far. The old man stared at the photo, then up to the wall, then back again.
“How can this be?” he whispered.
“That’s not all,” said his granddaughter. “Come with me.” She gently steered him outside to the driveway, where he quickly realized that his entire family was gathered: his wife, his sons, his grandchildren, even his infant great-granddaughter. What was going on?
“Dad,” his oldest son started. Was he crying? “We found Green Lightning for you!”
One of his grandsons came from behind, wheeling a bicycle. The same bicycle as in his sister’s photograph from so many years ago, but now with a few battle scars. Whoever had done the restoration work had done a beautiful job. It didn’t look like the bicycle from the news story at all.
The old man was at a loss for word. He reached out and his grandson put Green Lightning into his hands.
“Ride it!” called out a daughter-in-law.
“You haven’t ridden in years!” groaned his wife.
“Nonsense!” said the old man, finding his voice at last. “You never forget.” He carefully swung his leg over the saddle, pushed off and began peddling. He reached balance and was off down the street, free once more. “Next thing,” he shouted back over his shoulder, “we’ll go for some rides!”
Copyright Jessica Allyson 2018