Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Stranger

A little while ago I locked up my bike in a neighbourhood I don't much like and left it there for a couple of hours. When I returned, there were objects arranged on my rear rack: an unfinished cup of coffee and a pair of broken sunglasses. I picked up the paper cup gingerly and threw it in the nearby trash. There was a stain and some crumbs stuck to the cup where someone's mouth had been. The cup was cold, but then the day was also cold; impossible to know how long ago the coffee drinker had left it there. I then looked at just the sunglasses alone on the rack. Reflective and cracked in several places, they reminded me of broken mirrors that could bring bad luck - I found myself not wanting to touch them, and just stood there looking at them for a bit. Finally I removed them from the rack and placed them carefully on the edge of a flower bed. 

So... some idiot left some stuff on my bike. What is the big deal? I don't know. I guess I am prone to seek meaning in things where none exists, and sometimes these random ambiguous types of acts bother me more than something more obviously hostile would. I tried to imagine the stranger who left the cup and sunglasses behind. Was it an absent-minded thing, where the person was on their way to the trash bin and suddenly their mobile phone rang? Or was it intentional, and a coin-toss between that and slashing my bike's tires? Was it a message, however unconscious, or did it mean nothing at all?

It's amazingly easy to leave our mark on somebody else's world, and bicycles - being personal objects that we just leave around, exposed - seem to attract that kind of mark-making. Be it a flower tucked into the handlebars, or garbage left in the basket, the gesture makes us aware of those countless strangers among whom we move and most of whom we will never know.


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