"Where are you goin'?" The "r"'s roll slightly. The voice is deep. A rich timbre with a bit of a biting edge to it. A touch of velvet foam edging a rough sea.
Another flash of a smile, "Good answer."
"I don't even know where I am."
He leans back against the seat looking at me down his nose, examining me as I did him a few moments ago. "No. You look like you know exactly where you are."
I give him a conspiratorial glance, "Looks can be deceiving."
"Well, you're a few miles south of Heddon."
"And where is that?"
"The beautiful backside of nowhere, where the road runs gently along curves of the land as she rises and falls as deep and easy as the breath of a sleeping goddess." He says easily, with a bit of cheek and pride, though whether in his home country or his poetic expression I can't tell. Probably both.
"And what happens when she wakes?"
The eyebrows pop slightly in pleasant surprise as he considers, "Well, then you open the throttle and hang on for dear life."
There's a pause as we consider each other. I don't ask his name, he doesn't ask mine.
"Sounds like you have been riding around here a while."
"Here, and elsewhere. Been all up and down this Island."
"Really?" Here I was thinking he was the old BMOC. A big fish in a small pond, dragging out the glory days of his adolescence.
"Yeah. When I was younger, the world was a lot smaller. I thought it was this place, so I took off for the city. Spent two years there, London, renting a room. Working my way from a junkyard to a mechanic's shop."
"And the world was still small?"
I've surprised him again.
"Going to the same pubs, seeing the same films. Hanging out with same kind of people. Dating the same girls. The same rut. The only difference was the density."
"So what did you do?"
He gestures out the window to the gleaming silver Manx Norton. "Customer brought a bike in for repairs. Not that one, of course. An old Enfield. Never picked it up, couldn't afford the repairs probably. I just needed to get place to place without relying on the Tube, so I worked off the repairs for a month and it was mine."
"Let me guess, love at first ride?"
"No," As he fishes a tobacco pouch out of an inner jacket pocket. He asks the question with his eyes and I wave him on. "No, it took me weeks to get really comfortable on the thing, and it needed a lot more work before she really ran smooth. It was just a motorcycle…until one night," He pauses to seal the cigarette paper, "One night I'm coming home late, really late. It's three, three thirty. The drunks have long gone home." He lights it and flicks the lighter closed with a practiced motion as he draws the smoke in deep. "Cops are dozing in their cars. And I'd been working on the thing for month, getting her to run like she should. I'm coming up along Whitchapel and I reach Commercial Road, just a wide open stretch with no cars or trucks on it for once, and think, "I'm just going to open it up for a bit. I'm just going to see what it can do."
He pauses dramatically as he flicks the ash away. I wait him out, not giving the required "And?" of a rapt audience.
"Opening that throttle was like opening some part of my soul I hadn't known was there. It was like the spirit of that old bike woke up and reached right through me, marrying us both to that dark road in perfect motion. I don't know if I would have ever stopped….if I hadn't almost crashed into a lorry coming out the docks." He finishes with a self depreciating chuckle.
I give him an understanding smile, "At the risk of sounding terribly gauche, it's like making love for the first time. You love it, but it takes you a while to get good at it."
This time the eyebrows practically shoot into his scalp in surprise, but he quickly recovers. "So you're good at it then?"
The voice is innocuous, but the eyes are filled with lascivious merriment.
I blush again, but reply evenly from behind my tea cup, "Well, that's not for me to say is it? So I take it the road beckoned? " I say, switching the topic back to safer ground.