Your mum

I am going to call you Isaac. I don’t know your name. About three years old you are, maybe two-and-a-half. I am crossing the Penrose paving as I leave the maths building. You are approaching on a bike — the handlebars of a bike, to be more precise. Onto these is fastened a simple seat. In its simplicity it contains you rather impressively: you ride at the very bow of this vessel. I am jealous.

Behind you is your mum. She is actually a mom. I hear it in her long vowels are she calls out to me, but I’ll stick to my habits and call her mum. Rolling slowly, with only a hint of wobble, you both approach me. Your mum pedals once more then puts her feet down. Her eyes are bright, like the bike; yours are distant.

The helmet covers most of them anyway. Your nose pokes out from underneath, sleepily. Your mum is dressed in a smart winter coat.

“Excuse me”, she calls. Twice, again after I remove my earphones.

“Excuse me, are you a mathematician?”

I pause a moment before answering. “Yes.” I feel in parts proud, reticent and undeserving of the term.

“Great. So we have a question for you.” She takes a breath. “If you have two apples, and another one falls from a tree, how many apples do you have?”

I pause again, longer this time, before answering. Is it a trick?

“Three. Three apples.”

“Yes! Three apples. You see?” She says to you. “That’s addition!” And to me, beaming,

“We’ve already done subtraction.”

I grin, widely. Enthusiasm is an undervalued gift.

“Thank you! Thank you.” Your mum says. She begins a three-point bicycle turn. Still smiling, I wish you both a lovely evening as I step backwards towards my own bike, parked against its post. She returns my greeting. You still haven’t spoken, and aren’t going to it seems. You look disengaged but I have a hunch otherwise. After all, it is rarely the loudest person in the room who has best understood the problem.

I turn my back, look towards my padlock, and listen to your mum’s voice fade as you depart. Her ‘three’ sounds like a child on a slide saying ‘weeee’:

“You see. Two apples plus one apple makes three apples. Two apples plus one apple…”

I pedal for the gate heart light and head full. Would she have rejected the answer of a non-mathematician? Albeit odd, I like the way she bestows authority upon the world. I like the practical way she does lessons. And what about me? My answer? Confronted by you and your mum, her face full of earnest, I held back from answering in case it was a trap. Too easy, I thought. Can’t be right.

Well it can be right and it is right. When you have two apples and another one falls to you from a tree, then you have three apples. Nothing is too easy. Or, anything could be too easy, relatively. Maybe next time I’ll manage to answer without mistrust.

Your mum is cool, Isaac. I guess that’s all I want to tell you. Keep riding along with her. Keep listening, too.

Drag

The lights turned amber first. A quick calculation: I can’t make it. I change modes to brake. Slow gently, stop on the line. Right foot rests on the ground. I hear him approach, his engine is powerful, sounds sick. He stops; it stops grumbling. For a moment, nothing, then I hear him toot, gently. I turn, his expression almost apologetic. Not those fuckoff eyes you see on most guys. Especially behind a wheel. Funny what power does. His gesture, clear. Over to the side mate, give me space ahead. First, I rise. Then I smile and lower my eyes. Fair enough, he asked nicely. Though riled I am, I know he will pull away faster.

Unless…

Unless. I look over. Sideways now, not behind. I did a wiggle over to here, cut left and forward onto the crossing, then reverse roll-stepped myself back into place. Clear space ahead of him now. He relaxes. It doesn’t even make sense, the half-question in my head. Maybe important that it doesn’t.

The pedestrian lights are done. Cross lights green. Taxis and vans trundling over the junction. Damp, dark, mild night. Almost there. I feel my legs shudder.

They change. I hear his revs. Red-ambe-…Green. Squeal. Of course I’m never going to match it for more than a second. Still, my toes have never been more poised. Now they push. The connection from thigh through foot-pedal-wheel to the ground feels glorious. In touch. The bike responds like it knows me. He’s accelerating off, of course we’ve no race.

We are racing. His power is great, but my wheels are doing something that I cannot explain. 30mph. 40. 45. I’m both just holding on and in utter control. I look over to his wide side-turned eyes. I grin manically. My wheels are off the ground now. Still pedalling, I wonder vaguely where the lift is coming from. Still nose-to-nose with auto. Pupil to pupil, his turned upwards.

Ground resistance gone, things really start to move. Wind ripping through me, muscles singing. I fly on. In this state of elation, language fails me. Fuuuuuuuuuuuu Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah is all I muster. His face changed. I’m close enough, can still see. Pale, eyes shrinking. Then it gets dangerous to look over, past 90° now. I AM AHEAD. I know its over. My gaze straight, concentrate on this trembling steel frame don’t let it fail me. He is creeping, creeping out of my periphery. My fingers are screaming.

This is it. My nitrous hit. Up til now’s been a board game. The bike rears. I pulse. We go. Into the night up and out. First floor. Third floor. The road beneath, the city beneath, him beneath. Laughing shrieking spinning high. Tonight we raced and I won the sky.