A BREATHLESS STORY
A short story by Alan Keslian - copyright 1998
The other Saturday I got into real trouble at the bike shop. Les, my boss, is not one of those people who has moods or is always trying to put one over on you, but he lost his temper and told me off in front of the customer; it was as bad as in school when some sarky teacher makes you look a complete dumbo in front of the whole class.
I had to fix a wheel with a broken spoke and by mistake I put in one that was too large. The repair seemed OK when I'd done it but on the road the spoke wore through the protective rim tape and punctured the inner tube. The bike belonged to one of the members of the cycle club, really finicky customers who will complain about almost nothing; if you sell them something in a wrapper or a carton with a tiny mark on it they complain even though they're going to throw the wrapping in the bin straight away.
Les had to apologise and promise to fix wheel the properly himself for nothing. When the customer finally stopped moaning and left he spent twenty minutes telling me about all the different sizes and types of spokes, which I knew all about anyway, I just made a mistake that time and picked out the wrong one. There was only a few millimetres difference so it wasn't as though I'd been a complete dork or anything, but the way Les carried on I thought he was about to fire me.
Having the Saturday job there has been really good for me because I'm mad about cycling, Les has taught me a lot, and he's letting me ride with him and his mates on the millennium charity ride the Sunday after next. My dad only said I could go because he knows Les will look after me.
My main job that day was servicing this all terrain bike with front and rear suspension. When I finished at three o'clock I asked Les if there was anything he wanted me to do before I left. He said no, so then I went right over to him and looked up into his face and said 'You still fed up with me, Les?'
He said 'No, course I'm not,' then he made a fist with his right hand and just softly touched me on the cheek. 'You know how it is with the club members, they're such perfectionists, I hate it when one of them catches me out like that. I didn't mean to get worked up. Don't do it again though. See you next week.'
The shop is a really good place to work. What Les pays me is more than other kids at school get for their Saturday jobs, and he gives me really expensive gear from the shop. A few months ago he gave me these clipless pedals, the sort where you need shoes with special cleats on the sole to slot into the mechanism on the pedal. He gave me the shoes as well. In fact with all the stuff he's given me I'm kitted out like a professional cyclist and I ride round everywhere like I'm a sports hero or something.
Les gets lots of sales promotion stuff and he says he might as well give it to me, at least he can see it being used. I was a bit scared my dad would moan, but he's got no idea what cycling gear costs. He only really knows about football and horse racing so what can you expect?
Les also lends me 'Cycling Now' magazine. The latest mag had a feature about Martin Johnson, who is the greatest English cyclist ever. Martin is the only English rider in the Tour de France year after year, and he has won medals at the Olympics. One reason I'm so keen to go on this charity ride is that he will be there at the end to congratulate riders at the finish. I would have gone just to ride along with Les and his mates, but to see Martin Johnson there would be terrific.
The first page had a small picture of Martin riding a tour bike and details of all the big races he's been in this year and how well he did. When I turned over the page there was a full length portrait of him right across the centre fold wearing pentathlon racing gear, this really flash top and these special pentathlon shorts that look like swimming trunks. He wasn't smiling, he had this really determined look on his face like he wasn't going to let anyone prevent him from winning. I sat down for a couple of minutes looking at his picture and reading the rest of the article on the next page. Martin Johnson is fantastic, but not everyone has heard of him because not enough people follow cycling as a sport.
I sort of came round to the sound of Les moving about in the front of the shop and singing to himself and I thought I'd better get on with my work. Later on I asked to keep the picture to put up on my bedroom wall. He said he'd been thinking of doing the same thing himself, but he let me keep it anyway.