We stood face to face, Motorbike Man and me. He nodded at my few nervous questions, before I asked: “Are you waiting for someone?” As his visor rose and fell again, I asked “Who?” In answer he jabbed me in the chest with a leather-clad finger.
I stared at him.
“About a year ago it happened…” The statement arrested my attention above the noise of the place with its builders starting their day; night workers finishing theirs; and salesmen planning the seduction of bored housewives. The air was thick with talk and laughter, and the smell of burnt toast and frying sausages. Through this chaos and clashing cutlery those words reached me. What happened about a year ago? I thought as I tightened my collar. In spite the heat bellowing from the kitchen, I felt the cold roll in every time someone opened the door.
I looked up from my paper spread out on the table, from the image of a young bare breasted woman wearing a bright red thong and cape straddling a powerful motorbike under the saucy missive Ruby Riding Hood Likes it Fast, and at the conversation.
“About a year ago it was… yeah… right out front,” Café-woman told her builder boyfriend. “A Biker. Car hit him. Some foreign guy was driving it. Polish or Russian, or somethin’. Didn’t stand a chance, poor bugger…”
“The Russian?” said Builder Boyfriend.
“No. The Motorbike Man.”
“What was he riding?”
“A bike,” said Café-woman.
Yeah. I remembered. The road was shut for hours. I glanced out the window, and there he was. Motorbike Man stood opposite the café under the same sick-yellow light that illuminated teardrops of condensation etching patterns on the misty panes. My breakfast puffed on its plate in front of me, but I got up and walked out.
Cold air chewed at my flesh. The damp slapped me like a wet fish on Friday. The street was quiet. Away to my left some headlamps winked, and a cat stole across the road. I approached Motorbike Man. He didn’t move. He just stared at my feet. So I said: “Can I help you?” Damp glistened on his black leather and red lid. He continued to stare down, as if waiting. Then he nodded. At my question, Who are you waiting for? a finger jab my chest. I looked into his face. Well, I say “looked into”… When he lifted his visor and I looked into…, I saw… nothing.
A bottomless hollow of vacancy drew me in like the opening of a vacuum. The thunder of Hell filled my ears. Wind and rain, sleet and snow gripped me by the nape and hurled me forward. I was squeezed through a tube; oxygen crushed from my lungs. But sick-light followed me and I could smell its presence on my clothes; in my hair; in my mouth. My past reached down my throat and pulled me out…
When I opened my eyes again I was sitting on a bench seat in a tram… somewhere.
The carriage bounced and bumped along at each bend and twist in the track, its wheels squealing like spoilt children. On the bench opposite sat a young woman. A red-brown sable coat lay open against the bare wooden seat. Under the fur coat all she wore were knickers, as red as her hair flowing across her shoulders. As the streetcar bounced so too did her pert breasts and her crossed legs in their knee-high leather boots. I watched her as a voice above me murmured. I looked up and an old man spoke in words I couldn’t understand. I looked back at the girl, hoping she might help me understand, hoping she might notice me. But she just stared at the nothingness beyond the pane. I looked at the old man, then down the train. I hoped he wouldn’t repeat himself. Like cantankerous sheep my fellow travellers leaned with each pitch and sway. The air was thick with dry frost. And my fellow travellers weren’t about to thaw it either. The tramcar was two thirds full: one-third people wearing ashen aspects and another third their dense winter coats.
The old man tapped me on the shoulder and made the same guttural utterance. I thought he wanted my seat, so I stood up and gestured to the bench. He slumped into it. A grunt like a thank you escaped his chapped lips.
The tram clattered on through ill-conceived streets. The old man looked up at me and spoke again. This time he said: “You have the eyes of a lost friend.”