…I don’t know why I’ve agreed to this… but here I am… here we are… he briskly raps the knocker. We’re standing in the corridor by the stairwell, with its dank smell and hollow sounds. There are 3 locks. Each bolt is slowly turned. The door cautiously opened. She peers up at me. “Hello?” her voice falters. She’s very slight, with white wispy hair, in a small bun. Her eyes, egg shell blue would fly away if they could. These two people are so different… and yet…I don’t know. The security chain is doing its job; keeping problems at bay. Doubt there’s much it can do about this one though, the one standing next to me. I imagine he’s not good with door keys. There seems a good chance he hasn’t got any.
He says, “You’re my mum, ain’t you”. “Yes,” she says faintly, “Yes I am.” With a nod in my direction, he declares, “See, like I told you.” I register the tone of one not often taken on his word. “All right mum.” She takes a step back. I stumble, “Sorry…sorry to bother you”. Sorry for not making her life any easier. “Ta mum.” The door clicks shut. Bolts turn. “So you know,” he continues, matter- of-fact, “that I’m not going to lie to you. Not with my mum being a neighbor of yours.” “Okay,” I agree, vaguely aware that if I want my bike back I should stay the course. There are other reasons to be sure… but I’m not clear about them.
We are negotiating for the release of an old red bike that I bought the week before for only £5. The lock cost twice the bike and I doubt I’ll be seeing it again. He’s asking £15 but I’m only going to agree to 10 because then I’ve still only paid 15 for a bike that works, fits my frame and is the right color red. I block memory of the lock because that would remind me that the lad before me is, in fact, the thief… that he’s costing me… and if that’s all I think then the situation begins to irk.
But what to think? If I think of him as the drug addicted son of the poor woman upstairs, then the story is a tragedy. There’s nothing to be done. I withhold the £10 and let him keep the bike. .. or I let him keep the bike and give her the money. I post it perhaps… anonymously.
But the truth is, I prefer to leave out the hapless mum…and not think of her at all…and leave in the feckless son, who’s stolen my bike for the purpose of selling it back to me, on the pretense that he is mediating with the thief, on my behalf. Now this is a story with a comic twist that I can play along with in the spirit of the piece. This way I also stand to get my bike back. He regards the £10 note lying in the palm of his hand and mutters, “I’ll see what I can do”. I have to admire his cheek.
He’d rapped on my door much like he rapped on his mum’s. I opened it on a fair, longish-haired lad, mid 20’s, in a tweedy coat, 70’s lapels. Breath… bated, “Hello. Did you have a red bike locked up outside?” “Yes, why?” “It’s been nicked.” ”Oh …but how do you know it’s been nicked?” “I know the bloke who nicked it. I just saw him wheeling it away.” “Where”? “Over there. But look, don’t worry, I can get it back for you.” “Yes?” “Just give me £15 and I’ll go and talk with him.” “…Look…” I say, with the inertia of someone who knows none of her lines, “… Thanks for your help but…” “…I didn’t take it… if that’s what you’re thinking. My mum lives upstairs. And you don’t queer your own patch, do you.” “…How do I know your mum lives upstairs?” “Come on. I’ll show you.” “I don’t know…”
I’m standing at the bottom of the stairwell, waiting for the son to return with my bike, when three or four lads come hurrying by. As I make way for them one turns to me and says,“Don’t trust that geezer, will you. He’d shop his own mum.” Later, filling the kettle, I think of her upstairs. She too must fill her kettle by the kitchen window, over-looking the market on a Saturday morning…with the hawkers hawking…the murmur and the milling. Waiting for the water to boil…I’ve been here two years and I’ve never noticed her. Two years without a neighbor to talk to. I wonder how she gets by…what with the worry of him. Does it empty her life? Does she love him as much? I wonder what sustains her…if she has any faith. She’ll never trust me now. I know too much.