IN LINDA’S WORLD III: On the Day That James Learnt to Ride


Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination

Oscar WildeLindas World 3

There was a place in town, not quite far from home, where boys hired bicycles. That was where Uncle Jake took him. They found a boy crying at the renter’s feet, begging to have back his shirt and shoes which seemed to have been confiscated by the pudgy-faced renter.

Jake picked a bicycle and approached the renter who sat with his back against the wall counting coins into a wooden box.

“That’s the best of the bicycles, boy” the man cast a brief hard look at Jake and the bicycle he had selected. “It costs extra – two pence for an hour,” he said as if doubtful that the boys could afford it.

Jake produced a penny from one pocket and for the second one he had to rummage and search in his trousers’ and then breast pocket before his fingers came up with one. Smiling, he put the coins to together and paid the man.

“It’s 10.24am,” the renter snatched the money from him and looked at his watch. “Make sure to return by 11.24am; any extra minute will cost extra pay,” he warned.

They left with the bicycle.

“What’s it with that boy crying at the renter’s?” James asked Uncle Jake.

“If you rent a bicycle for say one hour and you fail to return the bicycle on time, the renter would demand you to pay for the extra time spent and if you’ve got no money he takes your shirt and your sleepers.” Uncle Jake explained to him.

“We’ve got no watch, how do we know when it’s an hour?” James observed.

“We’d know.” Uncle Jake replied absent-mindedly. They had hit the street and Uncle Jake had put James on the bicycle.

“The rule is this,” Uncle Jake stopped and said, trying to contain his frustration at James’ beginner’s clumsiness. “You’ve got to control this bicycle and not let it control you; but, you see, the highest form of control is when you surrender all control. If you keep struggling for control by stiffly directing your arms and legs, just like you’re doing now, I tell you, you’d fall down many more times than necessary and come away with plenty bruises. Let’s do it.” he said.

And as he guided him along he added solemnly, “Don’t stop pedaling, James; you don't fall off unless you stop pedaling. And I’d tell you something too; our very life is just like riding a bicycle: no one falls off unless they stop pedaling.”

James enjoyed the lesson. They rode for many hours; they rode to the content of their hearts. They had spent so long riding and James was sure even without a watch that they had overshot the rent time. Several times in between the ride he had stopped and asked Uncle Jake if it wasn’t an hour yet to which Uncle Jake would say, “Are you perfect yet?” and when James would answer no, the practice had continued.

Then Uncle Jake said, “Shall we return the bicycle now.” It was nearing dusk, several hours now after they had left the renter’s with the bicycle.

“How much do you reckon the renter will charge for the extra time now?” James asked him.

“Who knows?” he said with nonchalance. “I’ve got nothing to give him though.” Uncle Jake declared off-handedly.

“Then what would we do if the renter takes our shirts?”

“We won’t let him,” Uncle Jake said with sureness.

“But if we don’t have anything he can take then he would lock us up,” James’ face was laden with anxiety.

“We’d make sure not to let him,” said Uncle Jake in a level tone of voice, giving James a reassuring pat on the back.

And Uncle Jake dragged the bicycle along back to the renter’s place, his free hand draped lazily around James’ shoulder. James followed in silence, feeling slightly cold from the sweat dying on his moistened skin, his face a cast of worry. They were both jaded and hungry now. And as they came within the view of the renter’s shop Uncle Jake stopped. He began to unbutton his shirt.

“Hold this,” he said handing his shirt out to James. “Stay here and wait for me,” he instructed coolly.

“What now?” James asked.

“I’m returning the bicycle.” He mounted the bicycle at once and began to ride stunting wildly from side to side. He seemed to have gotten a sudden injection of agility. James stood rooted watching him approaching the renter’s place. The man had sighted him and had now stood up obviously furious that his bicycle had been taken away for such long hours. Surely no boy had ever dared to take his bicycle for so long. What boy in the neighborhood had had money to rent the bicycle for such long hours? And few yards from the renter’s, Uncle Jake applied the brake and dismounted.

“I came to return the bicycle,” he called out aloud patting his long hair lazily. The renter looked at his watch and before he could get even a word out of his mouth, “Here you go, Mister!” Uncle Jake cried, giving the bicycle a hard shove that sent it moving freely in the direction of the shop. He turned around then, fleeing off. James had not clearly heard the word-exchange between them, only now he saw the renter, obviously furious, come running after Uncle Jake with some lightness bellied by his pudgy frame. The surplus flesh on his arms and breasts bouncing in sympathy with each quick step.

“Run! Run! James, run!” Uncle Jake’s voice was carried on the wings on the wind.

James took off at once. He rounded an immediate bend, discovered a bed of flowers and jumped behind it, crouching low, hiding himself. Within minutes came sounds of agitated feet, and as he slowly, cautiously lifted himself James saw the renter giving Uncle Jake the chase of his life. But against the totally grim expression on the renter’s face Uncle Jake was all laughs. James was confused. How possible was it for Uncle Jake to find a joke in something like that? One hard stroke of the long, fat whip within the renter’s grip was sure to break the skin or if it landed on the head cause a bump, the size of a chicken’s egg. And the grimness of the man’s face was no joke at all. He was perplexed.

Just before the duo disappeared out of his view, James saw Uncle Jake running in the direction an old lady on the pedestrian walk, she had a grocery bag in hand, hanging loosely by her side. She was followed by an Eskimo, a miniature breed of dog. Uncle Jake slowed down to a trot beside the old lady; arms akimbo, catching his breath. The renter came along quick; surprisingly he had been a fast runner notwithstanding his big size. He was so close now that Jake was no more than the stretch of an arm away. Uncle Jake made as if to take a cover with the woman. The renter lashed out his cane and as Uncle Jake ducked, the cane knocked out the old lady’s grocery bag spilling the content on the ground. The desperate duo waited not, the woman cried and cursed. Her small dog took offence and charged after the desperados. That was the last he saw of them till they rounded a corner and disappeared out of his view.

James crept quickly out of his hiding, trotting away from the area lest the renter returned and saw him. He headed straight home. All the boyhood exuberance was enough for a day. And as he approached the house, several minutes later, it was Uncle Jake he saw sitting confidently at his drawing table, bent over his drawing sheet, shading with assiduous concentration. He met the look of surprise on James’ face with a broad, quiet smile. James said nothing. He only tossed his shirt at him and went straight into the house, too spent to say a thing. In the days to follow, standing by his drawing table, sharpening his crayons, James got around to asking Uncle Jake where he had got the heart to take risks ignoring the much possible harm that could come to him. Did he not know any fears?

Uncle Jake said, “Fear is a limitation; an imprisonment in the realm of the mind. To enjoy life we need total freedom; to enjoy life in all its fullness, first you must face and conquer your fears.”

The summer ended and Uncle Jake went to college in London. The next time he came, he walked in with an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder. While the family waited dinner he sat outside cross-legged strumming away and rendering a soulful self-composed number. At dinner he sat down with the family to eat with no sense of guilt or awkwardness. This was a family where silence ruled, but James defiled the order. He took over the conversation telling everyone how people had trooped out to watch his stage performances on campus. Performances that brought no financial gains, James’ father was full of disdain for Jake’s fantasy. At nineteen, rather than awaken to the reality of life he had been sublimely out of touch with it. James’ father wished that Jake would wake out of his delirium and face life; he was born and bred on the plantation and he would do well not to aspire to walk on clean corridors where he did not belong and people would always be quick to rub it in his face.

A believer, Jake went through the College of Arts and beat the barriers. He came out stronger and more efficient and it was certain he had defeated forever his background of ordinariness when he opened his grand gallery in the heart of London. He got the attention of the noble and attracted the friendship of the polish breed of people that he did not grow shoulder to shoulder with. He secured several government commissions and far away in Wiltshire stories of him featured in the London Observer on Sundays just as his face was seen on the pages of several newspapers in the UK.

Previous Posts in the Series – In Linda's World


IN LINDA’S WORLD I: Coming to Salisbury

IN LINDA’S WORLD II: Uncle Jake – the Dreamer

Next Post in the Series – In Linda's World

IN LINDA’S WORLD IV: A Man Like Mr. Mwanyisa

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