I have a young neighbor of modest means. She is almost 11 and she rides a purple bike. The tires are fissured with cracks. We have developed an arrangement for when her bike needs attention. She leaves it in my carport, understanding that when I find the time I will fix it, and place it against the porch rail by her front door. There is no risk of the bike being stolen, as her yard is wildly overgrown. A drooping cedar tree blocks the view from the street and thorny vines as thick as her wrist twine up through shaggy Azaleas and wrap her house in a web of summertime green.
My neighbor is a good kid, and will be a fine person. Her life is tough in ways she isn’t even aware of, and this will serve her well as an adult. She speaks in a tiny thin voice and this is my only point of contention I have with her. I wish for her to be able to grab life by the collar and shove it up against the wall when it crosses her. Instead, she speaks like she is apologizing. I ask her to answer me in a big booming voice, or sometimes to yell for no reason, like “HEY! HOW ABOUT FIXING MY BIKE!” When I do this she grins, assuming I am teasing her. I’m not teasing her. I am serious.
She put the bike in my carport over a week ago, and it took me that long to find time. She doesn’t nag, or complain about it. She goes on about her bikeless days and waits. She calls herself a Buddhist.
Sunday morning, after my own insufferable steamy ride, I tear down her purple bike. I am careful not to separate the brittle bead from the sidewall, and I put a brand new tube in, after removing the guilty thorn. I scrub the chain, blast it with the hose and enjoy watching the sheets of greasy black water pool in the corner of my driveway where it will then seep into the carpet in the laundry room. I pump up the tires, then sit on the front wheel and torque the handlebars straight. I lube the brake cables, hubs, shifters, levers, and both derailleurs, before wiping the frame down with my dirty t-shirt. The last thing I do is take it for a test ride, knees jacking up beside my ears as I run through the gears and kick out the back end in a power-slide. Rock and roll ready.
The bike is delivered to the stoop– the transaction completed last night with a construction paper thank you card and a vase full of wild dandelions out of her scraggly yard. Better compensation than one has any right to expect in this world.