Invader Stu: The lost bike
"On the bright side, at least this means I am finally fully integrated," I said cheerfully. My wife did not seem to share my enthusiasm.
We were standing in front of an empty bike rack. However, it was not supposed to be empty. It was supposed to contain a bike. My bike. But it did not.
We were house sitting for friends in Amsterdam while they were on holiday and it was the bike rack outside their house which I had been using during our stay.
The reason I was so bizarrely happy about having my bike stolen was not because I didn’t care. I did care. But I knew that no expat could call themselves fully integrated in to Dutch society until they had had their first bike stolen, no matter what size of clogs they wore or how much stamppot they ate.
Having a bike stolen in Holland is all part of the Dutch experience. It’s a rite of passage. I was finally fully Dutch (apart from being able to speak the language and all that stuff)!
"Are you sure you cycled back here last night?" my wife asked.
It seemed like a reasonable question. I’m not saying I normally forget these kind of things but the night before had involved quite a lot of alcohol and as a result I did not actually remember leaving the bar and arriving back at our temporary home. However, I took the fact that I woke up in bed the next morning and not on a pool table as a good indication that I had.
"Yes. I think so. I mean I have a vague memory of cycling back... Yes. I definitely. I definitely remember falling off my bike." I said with a smile.
"Ouch. Are you sure?"
"Yes and that explains this bruise," I said far more excited about a bruise then any man should ever get about a bruise.
"Well are you sure you locked it up here?"
"Yes," I said unconfidently.
I sort of remembered "trying" to lock my bike to a bike rack. In fact, I remembered trying to lock my bike for some time. I remembered it being quite confusing and troublesome. I remembered...
"What is it?" my wife asked.
"I think I might have left my bike unlocked," I confessed.
"Why would you do that?"
"I don’t know. I was drunk. The lock confused me. I could not remember how locks worked. I was getting cold… At least I think that’s what happened."
There was no way for me to be sure. I did not know if I was remembering a drunk memory or if it was my imagination simply filling in the gap of what it thought might have happened (although when my imagination is involved there are usually more robots). Either way I had to accept the fact that my bike was gone. Lost forever.
Suddenly I felt a lot less alright about it. It did not matter that I was finally integrated into Dutch culture and society. My bike was gone. I started to feel quite upset.
In fact I started to go through some kind of bike grieving process; cheeriness, depression, anger, denial...
Two days passed. We were walking back to our temporary home again from a day out, taking a different route than we had the previous days. I was still grieving the loss of my bike. I’d had it for 10 years...
We had so many memories together like the first time I took it out for a spin and suddenly realised it had no hand brakes. I’d never experienced a back peddle brake until then and I’d almost crashed trying to stop myself. And so many crashes into tourists that were not looking.
So many good memories! How could I ever replace my bright red bike? I couldn’t. Sure, I could buy another bike but it would never be the same. I lifted my head, sighed and then something caught my eye. Something across the street. It couldn’t be!
I ran across the street, leaving my confused wife behind. I had to get closer to be certain. Could it be? I covered the ground quickly, getting closer and closer until I was there, looking at it. It seemed imposable but there it was, right in front of me. I cheered and started pointing enthusiastically to it to my confused wife. I had found my bike!
In my drunkenness I must have cycled to the wrong street and locked my bike up two streets away from where we were staying. I could still operate a lock while drunk after all. It was just my sense of navigation that was rubbish.
The rediscovery of my bike did raise another question as well. If I had parked it in the wrong street how on earth had I found the right house? How many wrong doors had I knocked on before finding the right one and was let in by my wife? I didn’t care. I had my bike back!
During my celebration I suddenly noticed that I had locked it through the wheel of the bike next to it so I quickly unlocked it and left with my wife before an angry Dutch man who had been unable to use his bike for the last two days suddenly showed up.
As I walked home with my wife on one side and my bike on the other I smiled. Everything was right with the world again. I was reunited with my bike. I did not have to find a replacement. My bike had not been stolen. My bike was...
I suddenly stopped and the smile fell from my face as I realised something. "On the down side," I told my wife, "this means I am not fully integrated at all."
Invader Stu is an accident prone Englishman who has been suffering from Dutch culture shock for the last ten years. Enjoy his stories, more of which can be found on Invading Holland.