My father owned an old cycle. Though he sold it later, the cycle still remains an integral part of my childhood memories.  The most vivid one is of my father taking me somewhere in his cycle when I inadvertently inserted my right big toe inside the crank and the chain swivelled against the toe, lacerating it and inducing in me a deeply rooted fear of bicycles. I remember squeaking loudly and though my father stopped pedalling immediately after hearing my shrieks, the damage was already done. In the days that followed, I enjoyed extra doting from my parents because I was the son whose toe was rammed by the cycle. I guess at one point my sister started lamenting that it was not her toe that’d got mauled but I cannot say for sure.

I never hated the cycle nor did I hate my father for riding it and taking it everywhere he went. He rode it to his school, to tuitions, to the weekly hatiyas, and sometimes even to drop us to school. He rode it in the floodwater-submerged streets of Biratnagar. He rode it to fetch milk in the early and chilly hours of winter. He rode it in every terrain that the topography of the city had to offer.  The cycle, budo-cycle as it was colloquially called, had become an impartial part of his identity.

And did I say he rode it with great fond and joy? You bet.

The cycle remained an object of profound affection for the entire family. It was almost like our small pet. We siblings took turns to clean it and wash it. We talked about installing a small saddle on the crossbar and putting up a cushion in the rear-seat. Apart from a small space in the veranda, the cycle had captured our imagination and creativity too. We loved it and it loved us in return.

The love story however didn’t last for long. Not for me, at least.  Everything changed dramatically when puberty hit.  Most of the times, the onset of puberty brings experiences that when you reminisce later pertain to either romance or sex. Mine was neither. It might seem almost weird that of all the stories I want to tell about my puberty-ridden teenage years, I have chosen one about my father’s old cycle.

Like how every love stories end, this one’s end too was heralded by the arrival of scorn and loathing. It began with me somehow wishing that my father wouldn’t turn up for the annual sports-day. And if he did, if he really had to, he wouldn’t bring his cycle along. All of a sudden, I didn’t want others to know that my father rode an old cycle. The object that once fetched unwavering adulation had suddenly turned into an object that now caused huge angst and mortification. How would one deal with such change? I chose to relent to the embarrassment and follow what it dictated. Well, it dictated that I wish my father would never be seen riding that damn thing. It dictated other things too. I will come to that later.

But my father turned up in his old cycle for the sports-meet. He parked it among other bicycles that were staggered adjacent to the school wall. The bicycles belonged mostly to students.  I watched him as he cocked the rear wheel and pulled the stand. I watched him double check the lock and put the key in his front pocket. I watched him share a brief smile with few students who were loitering in the area. I watched him share greetings with other parents before taking a seat. Parents who had come there either by hitching a rickshaw or in their motorcycles.

“Why wouldn’t he get a motorcycle?” I heard myself groan. Somehow at that point buying a motorcycle seemed to me the easiest thing to do and my father a fool who wouldn’t do the easiest thing. There isn’t much left to say about this incident however. The important bits are: That my father attended the ceremony and brought his cycle along. That it vexed me to the bone. That my mind professed buying a motor cycle should solve the problem. That as always, I relented.

It is towards another incident however that I want to draw your attention to. It is an episode where I think I redeemed myself from this moral fallout. Not that I did any act of penance or fell into my father’s feet asking for his forgiveness. No theatrics or melodrama was involved. But something similar to redemption did happen. Well, it is for you to decide.

I was directing a play for the annual cultural program of the school and had taken up the job of the playwright and also of the director. Needless to say I enjoyed a lot of clout among my friends. One of the perks of being the show runner is that you get to call the shots: from dictating who would wear what to deciding where to practice. I asked everyone from the crew to gather at my house on a Saturday afternoon and they obliged.  Well they had no choice, or did they?

It was only after basking in the pleasure of having the authority to command my own friends to gather at my place (apart from asking them to talk this way and move that way) that I suddenly realized my father too would be staying at home on Saturdays. And that meant only one thing. The cycle would be there too. The same cycle I wanted to hide from the world at any cost. And as fate would have it, my father had cancelled all his tuition classes too. When I asked why, he just said that he wanted to see our play. Something happened when he said that; possibly the first tinge of ruefulness. Or just the gas.

But I had to get rid of the cycle, didn’t I? I couldn’t just drag it out of the balcony and put it in the backyard. Not that this thought didn’t cross my mind but I knew pretty well that doing so would invite a lot of questions. Also, what if my friends decided to take a detour of the backyard and check out the salads and vegetables we had grown there? My parents loved showcasing their gardening forays to visitors. Imagine my friends’ horror if they found out that the father of their commander rode an old and aesthetically dull bicycle. I couldn’t possibly let that happen.

What did I do then? I did what you wouldn’t have done.

What I did then might not seem as unsavoury to you as I am describing it to be. But it was the first time I had overtly acted out my embarrassment. Until then, the embarrassment was within the realm of feelings. It vacillated from angst to anger but it was within the bounds of the psyche. Yes it changed my heartbeat and made me sweat and sigh but all of these machinations happened inside. The act, on the other hand, made it real. The act made the non-existent shame exist. The act validated the chagrin. The act made the mortification reach my hands and fingers and legs and made me do things. The act brought it outside.

Okay, here’s what I did.

I covered the cycle. I covered the cycle like how you cover a laundry-line with clothes. At first I thought sprawling a quilt across it would suffice but that didn’t do the trick. I brought some pillow covers and rolled them out on the handlebar and the rear-view mirrors. The spokes of the front wheel were still visible. I stacked few plastic chairs on top of each other and flanked the front wheel with the stack. That consummated the covering. I was successful in hiding my father’s old cycle from the world.

Only that the world has its own way of revealing things that are hidden. And hidden things have their own way to reveal themselves to the world.

Later in the afternoon my friends started arriving. Mahesh who was playing the main character was first to arrive. He was followed by Bhaskar and Dinesh who came together. Prekchya bought some sweets along. Abhinav displayed courtesy by greeting my parents. Seeing him, others followed suit. Kabita arrived last. Despite my warning, a loud banter soon broke waking up my father who was taking a nap. Later, when we started practising, my father would occasionally check on us and ask if we were hungry or needed water.

No sooner had we completed the first act than Kabita started complaining of pain in her left shank. I asked her to take some rest while rest of us continued with the practice. Somewhere midway of the second act, Kabita came to me and with gritted teeth pointed me towards her left calf. The muscular bulk on her calf had twisted from its usual place and was bulging from the side. My jaws dropped and almost reflexively I screamed for my father. “BUWAA”, I cried.  My father responded to the beckoning by first switching off the main-switch (I don’t know how and why he equated my screaming with electricity) and, second, running to my room where a twisted calf and a dropped jaw were waiting for help. Upon a quick inspection, he said it was a cramp and that it should resolve on its own in an hour or a half. He demonstrated an amazing prescience because exactly half an hour later the aberrance in Kabita’s left calf was gone. However, when she stood up, the pain reappeared and my father had to deliver another homily on how cramps-pain takes some time to subside. She wasn’t convinced though and started crying. I decided to call it a day.

The only problem was Kabita couldn’t walk home. The pain wouldn’t let her. And we were clueless. You see puberty-hit teenage boys may be prolifically expressive when it comes to passing flirtatious remarks to teenage girls but when contingencies like an aching calf appear they become extremely reticent. Even the self-proclaimed commander. Needless to say, father intervened.

“Let me drop her home.” He offered.

I was aghast. You know exactly why.

I am going to dispense the events that happened in the next five minutes from any literary attempt to invoke any kind of pathos except that I’d like you to imagine them unfolding in slow motion and maybe with a dramatic music playing in the background. Also I don’t want you to forget that somewhere in these five minutes, amidst all the action, my father looked at me and smiled a lopsided smile. Like how wise prophets smile at mortal fools. In any case, the sequence of events unrolled in this order: my father beckoned Mahesh to get rid of the chairs as he furled the quilt and took it inside, Mahesh asked for Abhinav’s help to remove the chairs to the front yard, Prekchya un-cascaded the pillow covers and took them inside, my father returned with a key dangling from his fingers and unlocked the bicycle, Dinesh squinted his eyes and read the marks etched on the crossbar.

“ H.E.R.C.U.L.E.S. My father has the same.” Here. I want you to stop the imagination and the music too, if you please. Also, the pathos begins now.

I looked at Dinesh who had just recited the name of the very object whose existence I was trying to deny. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel a shred of anger towards him. I just felt unburdened.  Yes, that would be the word. Unburdened. That afternoon the inanimate cycle wasn’t the only thing that was dislodged from an unwanted facade. I was too. Like I said, if the act brought the embarrassment outside, the stripping showed how short-lived it was.

Are puberty-struck teenage boys really capable of feeling all this? – I can almost hear you asking. But remember that I had done something which your regular teen-self wouldn’t have done which means I was bound to feel things that your teen-self wouldn’t normally feel.

I never asked father why he threw me that lopsided, son-you-are-better-than-this smile in the middle of the deed. Or why didn’t he call me to help him divest the cycle of the quilt and pillow covers and instead asked my friends for help. I like to think that he knew all along. He knew of my shame. He knew why his cycle was layered in bed garments on a particular Saturday. Like I said he is prophetically wise and prescient.

I was in the roof when he returned. I don’t remember how I’d ended up there but you are free to imagine me standing solemnly, with folded arms and contemplative eyes, and facing the street. And while you are at it, please also envisage me going through a life changing catharsis. But there are things that should not be scathed by your imagination and need to be preserved in their original forms. There are things that shouldn’t be peddled as unnecessary sentiments. Can you do that for me?

Can you see what I saw from the roof that afternoon?

Can you see a middle-aged man riding an old cycle with great fond and joy as he returns back to his home after dropping a friend of his son’s to hers? Can you?

Common, you are almost there.

You saw. Didn’t you?