Some James Brown has just come on from what have been 1970 or so, “I’m Satisfied” (Notably off, I looked and it was from 1975. Now as I listen it could only have been 1975 and no other year at all.) I’m just back from a trip to the bike man. There is an older gent, probably born the same year as me, who drives an odd three wheeled bike repair vehicle up to the tee-junction a half a kilometer up from our compound’s entrance, where he offers bike repair services.
My daughter’s bike has a flat tire. There’s a leak and someone has to patch or replace the tube. These guys used to be on every corner in China. Enterprising getihu, earning a buck, but bikes aren’t as popular as they once were. I’m hoping he’ll be there today, as it’s getting late in the afternoon. I filled up the tire with air and prepared to pedal on over. My little one then came back from dance class and we chatted, of course, she is going out for her second night of 'trick or treating' at a friend’s compound. I finally made it out the door and the tire was flat again. I repeated the inflation routine and prepared to race this time, as fast as I could cycle, to the repairman's corner, before it was limp again.
Slowly, and then slower, I made it out our compound and up beneath the willows arriving toward his white, capsule. I notice this time that there was a horse rearing and the Chinese characters for One Thousand Horse Power, painted on the craft. But the repairman was not around. The neighboring flower sales lady pointed me across the street and said he was in the white car. I went to a silver car that had a few men inside. “Is the bike repair guy in there with you?” Nope. Then, he popped out from another side of the bridge, looking even smaller than I remembered and he asked me what was up.
He took a look at the bike and went straight to work, banging the nozzle of the tube with his pliers over and over, to force it out of the tire’s hole. Then he separated the tube all around and blew it up swiftly. I knew the routine and he was now off to nab his plastic water bucket. He lifted it slowly, as one of his hands is lame, and I wondered how much air would be left by the time he returned.
He submerged sections of the tube searching for bubbles. I looked around the intersection. There is no traffic light. No one has posted a stop sign. People coming from the north road down always try to insert themselves straight into traffic. Cars approaching from east or west only occasionally decelerate and so traffic is consistently stopping abruptly. I imagined what I would do if one accelerated into us. I’d run. And I paused to consider if I’d have had the presence of mind to save the repairman as well? I had the field of sight. He was working. I considered a car approaching and allowed it to continue freakishly towards us in my mind. Well, I could dive low and push him and myself out of the way, perhaps. I could also leap and then drag? That’s a bit better for me. And I reckoned that were it to happen the key would be how much time there was to think. If there were seconds I’d probably find a way to prioritize my own being. If however I first recognized that he was in mortal danger and moved quickly, perhaps I would be committed to seeing it through before I could fully weigh my own safety.
Fortunately no one careened into us. I asked him what the damage was and he told me ten kaui, which is a bit more than U.S. $1.50. I gave him a twenty kuai and suggested he keep the change. This was welcomed. Riding home I wanted gloves and a hat. It’s gotten cold.