Today a day of wheels and wings. On the high street I set myself an errand, which failed, as the Turkish woman who repairs garments has locked her shop and flown south for the summer, into a tide of incoming birds. Her storefront was locked like a little dark cage. On the street out front two big bikes sputtered and racked, their owners shouting conversation back and forth as they waited for the light to change.
Who among us is not waiting on a change in the light? A small boy, not too small, maybe eight or nine, was making his way down the pavement. He stopped and gazed at these beasts, two big throbbing machines, the riders almost supine in that cock-cocking slouch. Spine relaxed to a slump, pelvis tilt: this was manhood. These were Harleys, or whatever other bike there is that renders that cocooned helplessness. Hands up curved like a child riding papa’s back and peering over. The boy made a thumbs-up and grinned. They didn’t see him. I was walking behind and swept up my own arm to jab downwards. Look, I showed them, swooping the air above his head like a homie. This boy here, needing your manhood. The nearer one saw him and smiled, cracking a face almost paisleyed in swirling tattoos. The boy called out something. Made a fresh thumbs-up and offered it. “Was?” the biker yelled: whut? I left them talking – masculine, back and forth across a several arms-length’s distance, in roars, through the machinery of their own engine noise – I was grinning. They seemed to me all somehow boyish, and sweet.
Very late alone I had lunch under the trees. The water beckoned with deceitful gleams, fish-whiffy at close-up. Every passing car was loud on the cobbles, which make tyres sound flabby as though hopelessly flat. On the pavement a woman passed wheeling a bicycle, sailing under steam, under her own steam. Her long brown hair tangling behind her. A small, queenly child perched on the bicycle seat. The child had clots of molasses-coloured dreads in a long ponytail; she rode her mother’s bicycle as though it were a steed, her beauty an admonition on us all. The sister came pedalling behind, dreaming atop her own bike as her little feet propelled it forward slowly. The slow, stately pace and their undisplaying femininity gave the family a processional quality.
Overhead, the summer trees flickered. In three months all these trees will be bare, I suppose. Late at night I’ve been out walking and heard the trees start up the breezes as though it were old spirits of the place who pass. The breeze travels high off the ground, in the canopy. The branches rustle and are silent again, shifting the dark. In the old world, I have heard, people knew how to make news travel from tree to tree. We have forgotten our every enchantment. I think we seem to long for that. The flickering fireside of a computer or gather-round television. The mercury of incessant palm-warming phones, that promised to free us and have enslaved. As I was frowning across the road into this thought, a fellow rode past on his ridiculous bicycle, wearing a tiny porkpie hat. His bike had tiny wheels and a tiny frame. Pedalling like a clown, his knees under his chin, he too stared ferociously ahead. But he looked up and caught my eye and slowly, piercingly sweetly smiled, and I smiled back and thought: this changes everything.
On the tabletop a glossy orange ladybird made its way trundlingly by. Ladybird, here: let me give you a lift, I thought, deceitfully, meaning here ladybird… give me a lift. I put out my finger flat to her, hoping she would launch herself off me and fly away so I could launch on her a wish. She climbed me and kept climbing, clear along my finger and up onto the back of the hand. Scaling the knobbly writer bones on my wrist she came up softly through the hairs on my speckled forearm. Softly, softly, all the way to the shoulder she came. I put up my hand, patting: Where have you gone. She fell out of my hair, locked in the jaws of a ferocious millipede. He was black, glossy, and writhing, he had her pegged by the petticoat of her wings. As I said aloud, Oh, no! and began to try and separate them I was aware of a prejudiced loyalty, stemming not just from the delicate, brief intimacy shared with the beetle but also her cute, round prettiness, from a human-projecting point of view. He was hungry too but I had no thought for him: even the pronouns I assigned seemed to me a kind of self-adoration disguised as compassion. It seemed like he was consuming her in front of my eyes. I put my thumbnail in between them. That’s how he died, because I accidentally separated his head from his body, a much larger brute, crude and intrusive. His body curled and stilled. The bird hobbled away, her skirts awry. The glossy orange wing case folded neatly and defensively whole but one sheer inner wing trailed long and ruffled behind her. I suppose this creature now will starve and will die a painful death, where she might have been eaten at once. I got up and walked home through the jolting stream of pedestrian-sized traffic, the bike trailers towing kids home from kindergarten, children loose and relaxed in their own inner worlds, gazing, musing, one little boy holding a flapping cut-out drawing in front of his face and singing sleepily as in a dream. I craved their size and their sense of safety. I envied their wheels and their wings.