An angel on a beat up blue bicycle blew into my world one day.  As I watched him sail by, his body effervescent with the joy of flight, I was struck by the pure, unadulterated truth in his movement.  With his body he told a story – his story.  Without a lick of compulsion; without prejudice, doubt, shame or fear, his story was of freedom, and the joy and purpose of the moment. 

Dodging us morning commuters like a lark, this rider somehow transcended our earthly grind.  So sure and birdlike his movements, the cars and people were the simplest obstacles in his game.  The language of this rider reached me, and I knew the image of the man on the blue bicycle would somehow share a spot with those accumulated in my memory – that mosaic of a life lived thus far.

The city of Detroit is a terrible and beautiful place, startlingly removed from the Canadian small town setting of my earliest years.  When I was a child, Detroit was an infamous place of riots and murders and abandonment, seemingly a million miles away across that short span of river.  Even now, thirty years later, the tunnel through which I make my daily commute to work transports me from one world to another. 

Once-beautiful buildings preside over the landscape like sunken ships in ghostly grandeur, patiently riding out the passage of history.  It is a city that seems frozen in the past, but with fleeting life signs: dazzling splashes of colour in store windows amidst the sea of broken concrete and crumbling brick, and a five-minute walk in any direction will bring a greeting from a stranger.  In Detroit, tempers flare more quickly; crime is more dangerous; poverty more wretched; failure and abandonment more conspicuous.  And beauty more evocative.  And like any city, its inner core harbours lost souls.  Only like everything else in Detroit, their madness seems as expressive as it does wretched; the struggle to tell their stories urgent, as if fighting to keep their heads above water in a churning sea.

At first I didn’t bother to think about what shaped my perceptions when I encountered the man on the blue bicycle, why I become so absorbed in his play that I would miss traffic lights while I strained to keep him in my sight.  He flies around the streets, darting in and amongst the crumbling concrete and forsaken buildings like a rare blue bird in his cycling gear.  I am alerted to his presence by the short, staccato bursts from the silver whistle held in his teeth.  Ageless angel – his body emanates joy and light, and I am an unwitting participant in the course of his game.  Often he darts in and out of my morning trek before I fully register he is there. 

I have seen this bird before though, and I whirl around as he glides by, anxious to catch a glimpse of his face, with its secret smile that looks as if it knows something the rest of us don’t.  I watch as he reaches a length of sidewalk, waiting for his communiqué.  Runway clear, he rises up from the handlebars, back straight, stretching his arms out like wings, pointing his fingers and tilting his chin as if this were a long practiced move like that of a dancer or a skater.  So involved am I in his meditation, that if his bike were to rise up and fly off into the air, it would seem the most natural thing on earth.  And with his whistle-song, he is gone as fast as he appeared.

What strikes me as the saddest thing about a city’s lost souls is their unheeded stories.   By virtue of poverty, mental illness, non-conformity, their stories are forever shut out of a society that is unable to accommodate them.  But the man on the blue bicycle seems anything but lost.  Watching his flight, seeing freedom radiate from every muscle in his blue clad frame, I can recall a moment when my own faith was unfettered, my purpose certain.

The last time I see him he acknowledges me, as if he knows I’ve been watching.  Gliding toward me on the street, sitting up on his bicycle, arms hugged close to his chest, his hands change to ‘thumbs-up’ as he sails by, furtive eyes and beatific smile settling on me just for an instant.  In that moment his secret smile is for me.  I walk on wondering, at what point did I stop riding no-hands, just because?  And what is this incessant and involved search for some sort of concrete answer about who I am?  It’s like jumping to the end of the book and reading the last line, when the story is right here, right now, precious and beautiful in the decrepit city streets.  And all I have to do is write it down.

© Jennifer Morrison, September 2002


One Response to “angel on a blue bicycle”

  1. […] to sit in my English classes in university; sometimes they don’t seem to need to at all, like the man on the blue bicycle.  But more often than not, they have something to […]

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