Sheldonstein finished his narrative with a wild look in his eye that simultaneously transmitted his belief every word and his willingness to look like a crazy ass. I was taking notes of the whole tirade so that I could record it faithfully, and interjecting an “Oh yes?” or a “Go on…” as needed. Now I just looked at him.
The silence stretched on, and I decided that it was my legs that needed a stretch after hearing a yarn like that. I told Sheldonstein as much, and he agreed. We walked out into the night air and took in what few specks of light there were to take in.
I pondered the questions his tale raised, and looked over at him, facing away from me slightly. He wore a khaki safari shirt, khaki shorts, hiking boots, and had a general air of weariness about him. I decided that, true or not, it was an entertaining story. I let my eyes sweep my surroundings, taking them in as much as I could, having never been in Africa before.
It was then that I saw the monster. It was sitting under a light, fully illuminated and leaning against the hotel’s outer wall as pretty as you please. I swatted at Sheldonstein’s sleeve, and he grunted and turned, his mouth falling open when he saw what I saw.
“That’s the beast!” he hissed, crouching slightly with the words and spreading out his hands, palms down, as though he wanted to be ready to dart off in any given direction on short notice.
I waved at him to be quiet. For all his weird tale telling and wild-eyed buffonery, it looked like a bicycle to me. Sure, it had some mismatched parts, but it had a cool air about it to my eye. Besides, it couldn’t possibly have an evil will of its own, could it?
I strode directly to the supposed monster, grabbed the handlebars, threw my right leg over its seat, and pedaled in a circle around the little parking lot at the hotel, Sheldonstein’s protests that I stop becoming ever louder and more insistent all the while. By the time I completed my miniature test ride, his face was red and flushed, but his eyebrows were up on his forehead, jerking about in fits. Clearly he was hopping back and forth over the emotional border from Excitedstan to Perplexlevania with complete disregard for the time it takes a face to adjust to either one.
“Look you insane cabbage of a man,” I said “this bike isn’t a monster. Sure, it’s unusual, but I just rode it and I am fine.”
“Give me that!” he cried, snatching the bike out from under me. He leapt aboard and managed to pedal two meters before he fell over and was pitched into the dirt. He leaped up, spluttering and slapping dust off himself, got back on the bike, and was pitched off again, this time almost before he could pedal at all. He lay in the dust, panting and wheezing, and tears began to stream down his face.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
“No, it is nothing” he said, but the one corner of his mouth that I could see dragged downward as he said it, betraying him.
Not wishing to stand and stare at a man driven to the limits of frustration and crying in the African dust over the loss of his woman, I picked up the bike where it lay and rode it around a bit more. It handled like a dream, and had not a tick, a squeak, a rattle or even a speck of dust on it. Even with the ungainly parts it was a fun ride.
I stopped in a perfect track stand in front of Sheldonstein when he had ceased his wallowing and righted himself, his face dirty and streaked.
“Sheldonstein,” I said, “I don’t think there is a thing in the world wrong with this bike.”
He looked at me with wet eyes, and I continued, putting my feet on the ground and sitting on the bike’s top tube.
“I think you are just a terrible rider.”