In Translation

Un vélo dans la tête

by Mathieu Meunier

Marchand de feuilles, 2014

I buy some yellow tomatoes from a stand at a farmers’ market. In a plastic bag swinging from my left wrist, the tomatoes bang together. When the time comes to put one to my mouth, a yellowish purée meets my fingers. It feels funny.

People tell me I should visit the aquarium. I don’t feel like it. So I swing by the library. I can’t help myself. Some people are incapable of walking past a strip club. I can’t walk past a library. Each to his own. Everyone has their own compulsions. Somewhere to be alone.

I fall for its physical charms. Literally. It has a patio, slightly raised above ground level, away from watchful eyes, cars, and traffic lights. With chairs, tables, and sunshine. I sit down with newspapers and books taken from the shelves at random. I would have liked to spend four days and four nights there. I could have used my yellow tomatoes for food and light. But it closes at five o’clock, so I head back to my bike.

On my way out, I notice that a few spokes on my bike wheel have come out of their slots. I understand. It’s nice to get out. It doesn’t matter. There’s still a good twenty of them left.

***

The man in the seat next to me gives me a fatherly, comforting look. He asks if it’s my first flight. Confused, slightly surprised by the question, I reply that it must be the eighth time in two days that my butt has touched the seat of a plane. Looking relieved, he tells me I’m acting nervous, agitated inside. I agree.

As soon as I was sitting down, I had started flicking through the magazine in the seat pocket in front of me, probably with less dexterity than I might have hoped for. I was looking for a map to find Loreto on.

Then, every six seconds, I would look out the window. Just to satisfy my love of airports. Of course I must have looked nervous. And yet. Excited would be a better way to put it. Excitement that comes every time I take a plane. And every time I leave on a trip. Wherever I’m headed.

It turns out my paths have crossed those of my neighbour. We went to the same school, many moons ago. A nice gentleman who livens up the flight from Montreal to Cincinnati, where I board a flight for Los Angeles and he goes on to San Diego.

It’s almost midnight by the time I pick up my two bags from a packed terminal at LAX. I always feel the same whenever I walk through an airport. Or whenever I wait on one of those none too comfortable benches. The feeling of passing through. Of a new departure. Of hope, almost.

When I arrive in Loreto, in the middle of the day, I choose the same crummy hotel. After I’ve pointed at the cabin out back and said “bicicleta,” the man at reception gathers up his keys and starts walking, quietly and calmly. Defeatist thoughts cross my mind. Perhaps it’s disappeared.

And then the door opens. Under three inches of dust, my bicycle is still breathing, still alive. I shake the man by the hand, recite a string of thank-yous, and head off in search of the bike shop with my tire. It’s probably going to breathe its last some time in the next six seconds.

As I walk, I realize just how close I am to a new departure. To the little thing that takes me someplace else.

No sign of life from any bike shop. I drop by the grocery store and as I wait to pay a big guy with ears that stick out speaks to me. He asks me what I’m doing with a bicycle wheel. I feel like telling him I like nothing better than cleaning the wax out of my ears with the gearwheels.

But I give him something of an explanation. And then he asks if I’d like a little company. The last time someone asked me if I’d like a little company it was a whore in Hawaii. So I hesitate.

I tell Sam I’ll meet him in forty-five minutes at the bar in Loreto that looks most like a dive bar. The least welcoming one. Forty-five minutes is how long it takes me to analyze the situation. To think things over. To find out if I’m really after a little company for my next day on the bike. If I want to talk to someone whenever I take a break. If I feel like imposing my pace and my meanderings on a perfect stranger. Or have him impose his pace and meanderings on me. A dilemma.

Before heading over to the dive bar, I buy a tire. If everyone bought themselves a tire before going to the bar, there would be a lot less problems in the world. I don’t know why. Buying a tire, especially in a Mexican general store, sets things straight in your head. Lets you believe in the road. In life. Reduces the desire to drown your sorrows. A completely pointless theory that drives me to the bar.

Sam is waiting patiently outside the door. I took forty-nine minutes to mull things over, which explains why my future travelling companion is waiting for me. I’m ready to give it a try, at least for a day. We’ll see how it goes after that.

He doesn’t overly annoy me, he seems nice enough, and I’ve always got on well with people with big ears. As we shoot the breeze over a couple of Tecates, I discover a really decent guy. A former Marine, he left to return to life as a civilian, disillusioned. I think. He wanted to work with planes and see the world. He’s been to Japan and the Philippines. And he saw the planes from afar.

He’s been repairing machines that start plane engines. Like someone who dreams of healing the human body and ends up selling shoes.

He doesn’t really know what he’ll do once his trip is over. Maybe an outdoor guide. Maybe not. For the moment, he wants to go to Cabo. And he doesn’t know where he’ll sleep tomorrow. Or the day after that. Maybe we were made to be together.

I meet Sam With The Ears around ten o’clock in the morning. For the start of our big trip. And then the predictable shock. His eyes fall on my bike. His expression speaks volumes. I can see he’s been slightly traumatized.

He asks if I’ve made it all the way down from Vancouver on that bike. Yessir, I say. Just like in the Marines.

He asks about my water reserves. I point to my two plastic water bottles, held on, more or less, by the inner tube from a tire with a hole in it, and confirm the presence of sufficient quantities of fluid. He has two canteens and a hydration pack. He’s very fond of his hydration pack. He finds it comes in handy.

We leave Loreto in a cumulus of dust. Me up front. I pedal and turn around sometimes, out of habit. Usually I like looking at the invisible trail I leave behind on the roads. But this time I turn around. And I see Sam.

PETINF14-QuebecReads-Favicon-32x32Translation by Peter McCambridge
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