by Bryan Russell
The Problem with Bicycles
Abbas had a bicycle and so he had always been very fortunate. Transportation was a rare gift. Riding his bicycle was a bit like flight, gliding above the world.
It was not just a bicycle, of course, but a sort of mobile shop. Abbas had fitted it with baskets and bags and straps and hooks and throughout the day his bicycle grew. People waited for him, waited to fill up his bicycle. They had very little, the people, and they had little to do with what little they had, at least without Abbas. A bit of grain or fruit, some corrugated sheet metal, seeds, a bit of cloth… all could be traded, but the town was too far away, and they could not leave or they might lose what little they had.
But Abbas and his bicycle could reach the town where the people had money. He was not tied to his little bit of nothing, but instead rode it along the bumpy paths and roads. One hundred, two hundred transactions a day. His bicycle grew. The sacks and baskets became full, the straps and hooks held new things. He rode slowly, gathering, gathering, looking like some ponderous yet smooth-striding buffalo, a buffalo with a great camel’s hump in the middle. Sometimes Abbas thought like this, thinking I am a camel hump.
Abbas circled amidst the people, gathering, and then he rode to town and released his goods, taking on a bit of money or other items on barter. And then he would circle back, wheels spinning slowly. He was not a big man, Abbas, but he had strong legs and a leopard’s balance, so people said. His bicycle never fell down. Falling is too much a risk, Abbas would always say. Some of his goods might be damaged.
And so Abbas gathered. Some feathers, a bit of braided rope. A few melons. A jar of milk (a few people had joined together to purchase a cow and there had been much rejoicing). Some banana beer.
The soldiers stopped him, waving rifles. They wore no shirts and they took the banana beer and the milk and the melons. They were drunk already, though it was morning. They laughed a lot, so perhaps it was not merely drunkenness. They gave a bomb to Abbas and said he must take it down the road to the other militia men.
Abbas shook his head, no, no, and the soldier put the rifle up against his temple. The round barrel was hot. Abbas thought the metal would melt a round hole through his skull and so he nodded, yes, yes.
He strapped the bomb onto his bicycle and started to pedal. He thought about hiding the bomb somewhere but then the militia might kill him and where would he go anyway? His bicycle knew these paths, these people. He couldn’t leave. He made a little profit each day, each journey. It was a good life.
Abbas pedaled down the road, bouncing over the ruts.
The bomb exploded and Abbas disappeared. The tires bounced down the road and burning feathers drifted through the air.
People waited for him in vain. When would Abbas come? They had little piles of gathered things. An old pair of sandals. Some string. Vegetables. A bundle of rice.
Word about Abbas and the bomb passed slowly, for no one else had a bicycle and time was measured in footsteps.
They said, though, that since Abbas never landed he never fell off his bike. He died with a perfect record, and whatever sorcerer had cursed Abbas could not take that from him.