The Bicyclist

A young fellow, who looked no older than twenty-five, was seen riding on his bicycle, the autumn air was blowing, he felt free, at ease, the surge of warm weather was the weather one expected in the summer, this was, what can we say, a privilege for the young man, being free to ride on his bicycle wherever his imagination, his mind, his fancy would take him. It was the case on this particular day something remarkable would happen to him, he would never forget it, how could he? He was riding on his bike as usual, at a slow pace, he did not ride it in the roads but by lakes, in parks and fields, on this occasion he was riding it by the side of a lake where only ducks were present. The man, once he got off his much-cherished bicycle, had this bag on him, in this bag was bread, he, without hesitation, fed these ducks with this bread, as he was doing this, a police officer tapped him on the shoulder. The fellow, whose name was Arthur, quite naturally assumed, as many would, the tap on the shoulder was due to feeding these ducks, which was illegal in this part of the country, as well in all the other parts of the country. The officer, though, indicated it had nothing to do with that but more to do with the bicycle he was riding, well, not the bicycle as such, but because it was a bicycle, he was confused by this, the officer responded not by saying anything, he merely handed him a card, with that, he left. This card said the following: 

If you are reading this the you must have been stopped by the police, but do not worry, there is no need for alarm, it is common practice, just a precaution for the good of society, for the common good, for the national security of the nation. There are wide-ranging methods we use to protect the country from dangerous individuals and whatever else. We are telling cyclists to come and attend a panel of professionals of various disciplines and they will ask you a number of questions. You must attend or a warrant will be issued for your arrest, these questions asked are not required to be met with an answer, but the answer to these important questions will determine what risk you pose to the public. You must attend the panel a week today, the address and details are on the back, make sure you attend, failure to attend may result in a loss of liberties. 

Arthur took this note back with him, he was forever looking at it, all this took him by surprise,  he wondered what all this was about but he did not pay a great amount of attention to this, not as other would, he was not one to be concerned with these things, he would call them trifles, he did not mind it so much because the place this panel would be was some miles from where he lived so it was fortuitous for him to ride his bike at this place, he lived for his bike, he loved nothing better to ride his bicycle. Nobody could shut him up about his bike either, it was bicycle this, bicycle that with him. Even when the police officer gave him this note, he looked at it, paid no significant attention to it, then talked about his bicycle until the officer yawned and walked away. This would be quite unlike how other people would react, others, perhaps, would be mortified, horrified, terrified even, they would throw slurs, they would accuse the state of being a police state, a prison state, a Big Brother state, an Orwellian state, Kafkaesque state or whatever, but not with this fellow, no, he was different, his very character was different, unique perhaps. 

Arthur O’Brien was a twenty-two-year-old bicyclist, he worked in a bicycle shop and had so since he was sixteen. If he would lose his job or quit his job, no doubt he would find another job in a bicycle shop. He was a tall fellow, slim, he wore spectacles and he always had a smirk on his face. He had a very basic level of education, he did not care to read newspapers or books, apart from books about bicycles of course, that is where he interest lay; nowhere else. He did not perceive or understand a great deal, he was not sure what a government did, nor was he interested in what they did, nor did he understand the role of academics, journalists, he just led a simple life who did not consider these things, he did not think ill of anybody, he had never ventured out of his own town, he could name few countries and no capital city, he did not even know the capital city of his own country, England. He did not like to cook, as the instructions on the food confused him a great deal and he would either end up poisoning himself with undercooking it or burning the food, almost burning his home down. He struggled to maintain a conversation, unless it was about bikes of course. He had never done anybody any harm, he had never experienced conflict in his life, he never had thought about anything serious.

The following day after Arthur had been stopped by the police, he attempted to explain the whole affair to the man that employed him and was currently his boss, but he did not do a very good job of it, he was all muddled-headed. So the day following that, he gave his boss the letter the police gave him. When his boss read this, he was quite taken about with it. He read it again then laughed, he laughed for the following reason, he said as much himself:

‘Arthur, it is lunch, sit down on that stool awhile, lock the door and listen, stop thinking about bicycles for five minutes at least, and listen to what I have to say, none of it will go in your head of course because you are a numbskull but I will say it anyway because it needs to be said. George Bernard Shaw, the big-bearded fascist who did not like the word George in his name, well the hell with him anyway – listen Arthur, he was in favour of panels himself: a death panel. So it has finally happened, has it? What did fascist Shaw say? Every five years or every seven years people should be forced to come before a panel and justify their existence, if they cannot justify their existence, he said, there is no reason for keeping them alive. He never shaved that beard off either. Shameless. And now you, my only and honest worker, has to come to a panel, one of these death panels to justify your existence, well, they picked their match, didn’t they? What will you say to their charge that you are a devious law-breaker, a criminal? I wonder. They will have a headache by the time they have finished with you, now come on, lunch!’

All this talk, predictably enough, went over Arthur’s head, just like most things did. Over the period of the next week he spoke to his boss about this infamous panel, but he did not think much of it, he did not even appear to know what it even was. When his boss or indeed anybody else asked him about this panel, he would continue and end the conversation – just like he ended every conversation – with taking about his bike, it was also the case he only told his boss, as with other people about the letter because it gave him an excuse to talk about his bike, but he did not worry about this panel, in fact he was quite looking forward to it. If the truth would dare to be told, and it has to be told sometimes, he thought it was a day where he could discuss his bike and the things which surrounded it. That is the way this fellow was, no reason or logic behind him.

The night before Arthur was due to arrive at the panel, he was very excited about it, he was excited by the long bike ride he would experience, most people of course would feel the exact opposite, they would be angry, angry at the fact they were being asked to travel miles to be interrogated, this, to normal people, to other people rather, did not appear to be the usual way of affairs to a country which prided itself to the ideals of democracy, universal human and civil rights to all, but saying all this to young Arthur would be a useless exercise. It was bike this and bike that with him, so much so in fact that because he thought about his bike so often and so obsessively, he has missed appointments, left his home without shoes, he has imagined he was riding his bike in bed, thus banging his head on the wall and almost knocking himself out, doing the same thing whilst cooking and almost burning his entire face, doing this while relaxing in the chair, falling backwards and almost breaking his neck. 

The following morning, he was up at a ridiculous hour, he always was. He went on his bike early enough, so early in fact he did not have breakfast, so instead, he had biscuits in his pockets, as he knew he would get hungry part of the way there, when he was hungry, he went to get the biscuits out of his pockets, this was not an easy task considering he was riding his bicycle at the same time. He put his right hand in his pocket, unfortunately for him, he put his hand too far down and squashed the lot of them, with that, he fell off his bike, he sat there, on the grass, eating the crumbs off these biscuits. He was soon on his way again, but now with stomach pains with all those biscuits, along with the stones off the floor which he also accidentally put in his mouth and ate. He soon reached his destination, his interrogators had arrived, he was asked to wait in a room, after some moments passed they asked him to go in a room with them, there were six people present. 

The first of the people lined up along the table as if it was an acting audition, rather a jury, there was one man there who had a huge forehead, so big one would consider it a disability, he had broad shoulders, he was shaven-headed with a large physique, it looked as if his biceps were bursting out of his shirt. After looking at Arthur for a short while; he asked him why Arthur liked to go to parks on his bike, there was something strange, peculiar about a man going in parks like that. He received the following response: 

‘I was on my bicycle, there are different bicycles around but these bicycles are not as good as mine, as I keep it in good condition. When I bought my bike aged sixteen, I said this bike suits me and everybody else says this bike suits me, what was the question, oh yes, I remember. It was not peculiar with me with all this bike-riding, because what is peculiar in the bike, nothing peculiar in it, because bicycles are the way of the world these days, there are people who walk, their feet get tired, there are blisters caught on their feet and they lie down for weeks in their misery, crying out for their momma and if she is not there, they cry out for somebody else and if nobody is in to hear these cries of their feet, the person who has been walking all this while because he has no bike will have to wait until momma or whoever comes in from the shop or wherever. There is the one who drives these cars, trucks or motorbikes and they are more peculiar in this because some die in these crashes, they have all this unnatural pollution, all these gasses, all these jams in the traffic, all that is peculiar but it is not peculiar with my bicycle.’ 

The same person asking him this question looked suspiciously at Arthur, not knowing he was a numbskull, he thought he was deliberately avoiding his vast array of questions. Instead, he was less vague with his questioning and he asked a very forthright question, the question he asked was the following: ‘I put it to you that you are a man that likes to stay into parks with the full intent of molesting the boys and girls, is it not the case you were waiting for these boys and girls for you to molest?’

Arthur, unphased by the question, answered it as candidly as it was posed. ‘No. I say that, sir, because I was on my bike riding it in the park and I like to ride it in the park, if some child came to me and said will you molest me or if they asked me something else I would think my bike would be all alone while all the molesting was going on, then the child would run and steal the bike, I must see where my bike is all this time so it was on my mind to molest these children, instead my mind was on this bike because if somebody did steel this bike that would be molesting me and it would be the worst molesting ever, I am sure I would cry until I hanged myself from the shed roof because without my bike that would be some molesting.’

The panel had still not concluded or even thought Arthur was a numbskull, instead, they went on with the formalities, from the fellow who worked with the children services they swiftly moved on to the woman sitting next to him. She was the anti-terrorist officer. She asked him, ‘Given the size of your bike it looks like a great big bomb,’ she claimed it could be easy to attach a missile to it and kill large numbers of people this way, ‘Have you ever thought this,’ she asked him.

‘Madam, I would not blow my bike up for the world, if I put one of these bombs or whatever on the bike and it blew up and blew all these people up, I would be in more pieces than the people it blew up. This bomb would be too heavy on the bike and if it was near the chain or the peddles, this bomb would hit my feet every time and my feet ache with all this peddling, I would not want this bomb to scratch it all the more, and make my feet worse, it would be worse than walking all these miles, no, I have never thought about this bomb because it would blow my bike up and my bike is my life.’

The panel still did not take him for a numbskull but a devious criminal who was a criminal in the making. But they went on in this fashion, and likewise, Arthur went on in his unusual fashion, they said he could leave and that they would be in touch with him with the conditions he must adhere to. When he went they discussed the man and the answers he gave as if it was of the grandest importance, they had stern faces, never once did they question the absurdity, cruelty or totalitarian nature of what they were doing, they decided to place a court order on him, saying if he committed even trivial crimes, the bike would be removed from him and destroyed, the courts had no problem in carrying out this order. 

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

I am from England, which is where I currently live. I am forty years of age and have written eight novels, along with almost 130 short stories. My interest in writing-wise is in literature, mainly is European-based; Homer to Bohumil Hrabal. I prefer the modernist form of writing too, and I have followed suite on this.

I am from England, which is where I currently live. I am forty years of age and have written eight novels, along with almost 130 short stories. My interest in writing-wise is in literature, mainly is European-based; Homer to Bohumil Hrabal. I prefer the modernist form of writing too, and I have followed suite on this.

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