And now we have THE ART OF STEALING BIKES, by Horace Martin. Alert readers may remember Horace from several weeks back. If not, just as a little intro recently he told me, “My God doesn’t mind if I swear. In fact, my God encourages me to swear.”
This is his first published story and I am honored to present it.
THE ART OF STEALING BIKES
by Horace Martin
I was watching my brother play football with his friends outside our house. We lived in the middle of a row of terraced houses just outside Luton, a working class neighborhood near London, the terraced houses were two rooms up and two down, a kitchenette in the back room downstairs, we had running water but no hot water, and an indoor bathroom and toilet, it was home, we were playing in the street the goalposts were a jacket on one side, and a jumper on the other, there were several bikes laying on the path where they had been unceremoniously dropped, beside the bikes were several javelins we had made out of saplings that morning sharpening one end of the spear to a fine point. We had been out in the fields nearby throwing them at each other that morning. We would split into two groups and stand a hundred feet or so apart and hurl the spears at each other, but you had to get height on the spear and watch as it made its arc down, careful not to lose track, if you lost the flight of the spear, well that ended up with casualties, one of the McCaffery boys that morning had a javelin go straight through his foot, so no football for him, now the football game had started, of course I was not interested in the football game. No I was after my brother’s bike, you see I did not have a bike and he did (which I thought was really unfair), of course it had never crossed my mind that my Dad was working night and day in a car factory and only just managing to put food on the table.
Now to steal your brother’s bike you had to be sly, sly as a fox, you couldn’t just run up and jump on the bike and make your escape, not at all, because Johnny my brother would be on me like a flash and I would get a good crack around the head, no what you have to do is look like the last thing you were going to do is make off with your brother’s bike. So I pretended I was watching the football, to anyone looking at me they would have said, ‘God look at that kid he is really watching that game of football,’ Ha it was all part of the plan because even though I looked like I was watching the football I was secretly inching my way towards the bikes, every now and then my brother would look up sharply to see what I was up to, as I had nicked his bike several times before, but today he would see me not about to steal a bike.
Now was the next part of my very clever, very sly plan, I walked over to the javelins and picked one up and was really interested in its sharp tip even going as far as touching the point and making a face, Ouch that’s sharp.
Then my moment was here, the moment I had been waiting for, “Lost ball” the cry went up. The ball had been kicked into someone’s front garden now when the “Lost ball” cry is shouted the rule is everyone is to stand still, and whoever kicked the ball has to go and get it, and my brother had kicked the ball so he had to get it, with a quick glance at me to see if I was in bike-stealing mode, nope Horace was studying a javelin’s sharp point, and of course nobody ever stood still like they were supposed to, everyone jockeying for position, and lots of shouting.
Get back where you’re supposed to be O’Brien, you big fat cheat, fuck off Mills I didn’t move an inch, by this time Johnny had reached the gate with another quick glance at me he went into the garden.
As soon as he was out of sight I made my move. I dropped the javelin and ran for Johnny’s bike and I was up and away running beside the bike, then threw my leg up and over the cross bar and started peddling like the devil himself, now I couldn’t reach the pedals if I sat down so I was standing up one foot on each pedal, my heart was banging like a drum and my hands were shaking on the handle bars, and a big smile on my face, Ha Ha I think I’ve made it, you’ll not see this bike for the rest of the day Johnny Martin, of course the cry had already gone up, JOHNNY JOHNNY HE’S GOT YOUR BIKE, I looked back over my shoulder to see if Johnny was gaining on me, and was surprised to see he was just standing there with a javelin in his hand, no he was actually getting ready to throw it, Ha you’ll never reach me from there Johnny, then he ran a few steps toward me and launched the javelin, straight away I could see it was a great throw and was headed straight at me, I turned my head to the front to make sure I would get away, ahggahhh, Johnny got me right in the back of my thigh, I fell off the bike and lay there crying with a spear sticking out of the back of my leg.
Mick O’Brien was clearly delighted Johnny had scored a hit, Jesus Johnny what a throw that was brilliant, best throw I’ve seen all week, you were like a fucking Zulu warrior when you threw that, Jesus that was great, Will you shut the fuck up O’Brien, said Jim Mills, you’re the biggest gobshite that ever walked, little Horace has a spear in his leg.
Johnny was kneeling down beside me, are you alright Horace? How am I alright Johnny there’s a spear sticking out the back of my leg, I said.
And I’m telling Mum, you’ll see I’m telling, I said, and with that I got to my feet and started for our house, dragging the spear stuck in my leg behind me, and working up a good sobbing cry to make sure my brother got in real trouble. It was at this point the spear fell out of my leg, Ha Ha said Johnny Mum won’t believe you now you don’t even have the spear sticking in your leg. Well that got me thinking, that’s for sure, Johnny was right my Mum would take one look at me and Johnny standing on the front step and tell us, “Will you boys just get the hell out of here and stop bothering me.” No it was no good if the spear wasn’t stuck in my leg Mum would never go for it, so I stopped, picked up the spear, and pushed it firmly back into the hole it had come out of, oh Jesus, said Jim Mills, fucking tornados, your brother is off his rocker, said Mick O’Brien, did ya see that, did ya see that, he stuck the spear back into the hole in his leg.
Will you shut up O’Brien, we have eyes for God sake, of course we saw it, this was said by Jim Mills, by this time I was walking again, but just as I got to or garden gate the fecking spear fell out again.
So I walked up to the front door, knocked, and quickly stuck the spear back into my leg. I then turned to Johnny and made my best, “You’re in big trouble now Mister” face, and to my delight Johnny was looking very worried indeed. Just then Mum opened the door, she had been doing the washing and her hands were all soapy, washing machines did not exist back then and Mum had four kids and a husband to wash for so she was always frazzled. What now she asked, so I started to tell Mum the evil my brother had done to me.
Trouble was every time I opened my mouth to say something Johnny started talking really loud behind me, “He stole me bike Mum, he stole me bike Mum, Mum he stole me bike,” he keep saying this every time I would try to talk. At this point Mum was looking back and forth between us, in the end she got fed up with our antics an said SHUT UP THE PAIR OF YOU, and as I was the closest I got a crack around my head, Now get the hell out of here the both of you, and she shut the door, leaving me mad as mad can be, and Johnny rubbing his hands together and smiling from ear to ear.
Well that night there was a big hullabaloo at home. Dad was mad at Johnny for stabbing me with the spear, You boys are supposed to be brothers and helping each other not beating the tar out of each other every five minutes. Dad unlike our Mum never raised his voice and in all our childhoods never once hit any of us. He had this trick of if he was speaking to us and we weren’t listening, he would stop and look at us, that was all, just look, so that in the end you would be near begging him to talk to you. He then started talking to me; Horace and what are you thinking stealing your brother’s bike every chance you get. That was my cue to have my tantrum, Dad that’s not fair how come he gets to have a bike and I don’t, all the other lads go off for a ride and I have to stay at home, and on and on I went, when I finally stopped.
Dad said Are you done now.
Good he said, here sit on my knee.
So I sat on his knee, You know son you don’t have a bike right now, but it isn’t always going to be like this, right.
Good, now shall we go to bed?
I nodded, and off to bed I went.
A week or so later I was walking in the rain on my way home from school and I heard, Hey Horace.
I turned around and there was Johnny on his bike.
Would you like a ride home, he said, I nodded and jumped onto the cross bar. Johnny was eating a bag of crisps, Here he said finish this for me will you, so on the way home eating a bag of crisps riding on the cross bar of Johnny’s bike, all I could think of was I had the best brother in the world.
Now not long after that Johnny was looking after me as Mum and Dad had gone out for the night. Johnny had his friend over Noel Whelan, and wouldn’t you know it the talk soon got around to Johnny’s amazing throw with the javelin. In fact some of the lads, Jim O’Brien for one, had started calling my brother, ZULU JOHNNY, a title Johnny didn’t seem to mind, and a title I hated.
So its true then Noel was saying, the spear was hanging out of his leg, the spear that Johnny Zulu threw, then the spear fell out and the big ejeet stuck the spear back into his leg, then Whelan the big actor, rolled around on the floor as if it was the funniest thing he had ever heard, meanwhile I sat at the table with my arms crossed and a very grim look on my face.
What really made me do what I did was when Noel started singing that stupid song, and before you knew it Johnny was singing with Noel, then they both started dancing around the room doing some sort of war dance, like they were carrying spears,
GET EM DOWN YOU ZULU WARRIOR, GET EM DOWN YOU ZULU CHIEF, CHIEF, CHIEF,
Well that’s when I went completely off me trolley, I went out in the back yard to the coal shed as I knew Johnny was hiding a bow and arrow set in there, this was because Dad did not let us have BB guns, or bow and arrows, on account that he was sure one of us would be dead before we were twenty, and he said” I am not going to give you ammunition to hasten your demise.” So there was the bow and arrow set hanging on the back if the coal shed door, a great hiding place to be sure, I mean who looks at the back of the door when you’re out getting coal. And the arrows were beautiful things altogether, big long things with feather flights and steel tip points, and I loaded an arrow onto the bow and walked back in the room, where everyone was dancing and singing at my expense, Hey I’m looking to kill me a Zulu warrior do you know where I can find one?
When Noel Whelan saw the bow and arrow he said, Jesus Christ, and disappeared out the front door, leaving me and Johnny in the big showdown. Hey you, I said, is your name Zulu Johnny? Johnny looked at me and said Horace for the love of God stop pointing that thing at me, and then he did the exact wrong thing, he let out a little nervous giggle. Up until that point I wasn’t going to fire the thing, but that made me mad all over again, I closed my eyes and let the arrow go, as soon as I did, I thought, I shouldn’t have done that. When I opened my eyes Johnny was pinned to the kitchen door, it looked as if the arrow had gone through his shoulder, we later found out it had just cut a two-inch groove in his skin and what was really pinning him to the door was the sweater that he was wearing. Take it out, take it out, said Johnny.
Well now I was in a dilemma, if I took the arrow out I was going to get a clatter, so I said No. What are you talking about Horace take it out, Ehh no, you’ll tell Dad. I won’t Horace, I promise, this went on for a few minutes back and forth until I finally took out the arrow, and I took the clatter around the head like a man.
And Johnny was good to his word and never told Dad.
A few months later it was Christmas and Johnny woke me up on Christmas morning. Horace quick come look, you have a cracker of a present downstairs, so I bolted down the stairs as fast as I could go. On the way down it occurred to me that Johnny might be having a grand old laugh at my expense, but I burst through the living room door and there was Mum and Dad standing side by side with an arm each around the other, both smiling ear to ear, both with glassy eyes like they had been standing in the wind .
And there by the Christmas tree was the most beautiful bike you have ever seen in your life, brand new, never been ridden, fire engine red, with drop handle bars, the word “Triumph” was written on the frame, with five gears, Jesus five gears like them fellas who ride across mountains and such, and a great big bow sitting on the saddle. Lost for words I stood and cried.