The 20 Minute Bike Ride (further memories of PECHS)
December 12 2018
“Grandpa, can you give me four annas to rent a bicycle? Please??” I asked my grandpa. He was in his usual spot, seated in his wooden arm chair out on the balcony. We lived in a first floor apartment, with neighbours below, above and
to the side of us.
“Bring me my change tin from the cupboard.” he said “it is in the top, right hand drawer.” Grandpa was VERY organized and knew where everything was kept. I ran into his bedroom, opened the steel almirah (clothes cupboard) and opened the drawer, pulling out the small tin box which jingled with change. Handing it to grandpa, he opened the round lid, poked around and pulled out a shiny, brand new four-anna-coin .
“Thanks, grandpa” I yelled out, headed for the door, coin in hand.
“No, put this back first!” he said. I ran back, returned the tin to the exact same spot, shut the cupboard and ran down the stairs, onto the street and did not stop till I reached the
famous ‘Shabbir Cycle Works’ shop. It was no more than a covered porch. Corrugated tin sheets were supported with bamboo poles, the concrete floor sloped towards the street.
At the very back was a wooden door and this was the workshop; a very tiny room where the hired mechanic sat and repaired bicycles as needed. Flat tires were repaired outside, as there was not enough space in the tiny room. Wheel balancing, chain repairs, etc were normally done inside the tiny space.
At one corner of the floor space was a small wooden desk with a register. About twenty to thirty bicycles of all sizes, from full size Beco’s to smaller, kid-size ones took up the rest of the area. Newer bicycles would cost more to rent. I would always like to rent the smaller, green, beat-up one with bumpy tires (from excessive flat repairs). It would cost me four annas to rent this bike for twenty minutes. Time would be logged into the register in and out, by either Shabbir himself or his elderly dad. Today the elderly man sat at the desk, sipping on a cup of tea and smoking a biri (filterless cigarette).
I handed him the four annas and asked for the same bike.
“Bees minute kay liya layna chata” (yikes, my Urdu), I told him, pointing to the bike. He already knew my name and entered it in Urdu, and the time was noted. He glanced at
the large clock hanging on the wall and reminded me of when to bring it back.
Walking over to the bike, I took it off the stand, pulled it out of the shop backwards and then mounted it, taking off towards my cousin’s home, which was a few blocks away. Cousin was not home, so I rode on further, towards Lal Musjid (Tayyaba Musjid) and just kept riding up and down here. I had no watch, but every time I rode past the barber’s shop, I stole a quick glance at his wall clock. I still had about ten minutes left, so did another full circuit, going past my cousin’s home again. This time, I just headed back to Shabbir’s and glanced at his clock. Another three minutes remained; so I went past our home, turned around and just glided back to the shop, got off and placed the bike on the stand.
Shabbir’s dad nodded to me, glanced at the clock and made an entry. I owed nothing more.
This continued at least once or twice a week, with no problems at all. I always returned the bike on time, never dropped it or misused it.
Then one fine day, got ready as usual, change in hand and went up to the desk. Shabbir himself was seated, reading a newspaper. He had curly hair, a moustache and was basically a younger version of his dad.
“Bees minute” I told him, handing him the coin as usual.
“No!” he said. “Minimum rental is one hour now, and it will be eight annas”
“But…” I protested
He refused to listen and refused to rent me a bike anymore for 20 minutes. I was almost in tears, and stomped out of there. Barging in on grandpa as he sat on his chair I practically wept and complained about what just happened.
Melvin, (a very dear friend, who would visit on occasion, helping my grandpa with this and that) was there that afternoon.
“Melvin, could you please check and see what the problem is?” Grandpa asked him.
So Melvin accompanied me back to the bike shop and Shabbir was still there. When he saw me he just went back to reading his paper. Melvin had a short conversation with him, but Shabbir refused to budge.
What happened next, I will never forget and I will never be able to repay Melvin, because he has long departed this world.
He took out another four anna coin from his own pocket and handed it to me.
“It is no use, Wayne, he refuses to rent out a bike for twenty minutes anymore. Maybe this is better, because you can now have it for a whole hour.!”
I thanked Melvin, went up to the desk and handed Shabbir the two coins (eight annas). Melvin went back to spend some time with Grandpa and when I returned he had gone.
And this is how I remember Melvin: Young man in his twenties; longish, wavy hair (like a hippy), a contagious smile
and very easy going. Anything my grandpa needed; any errand; he would go and do it with a smile on his face. In the end, I think this story is about Melvin: Thanks for all your help! I will never forget you, my friend. RIP.
and thanks for reading
(The pic is grandpa in his wooden chair)