The word, ‘no’.

At the river in the morning I took off my shoes and socks,
brown school shoes and dirty socks and I plunged my feet into the water.  
Mud oozed between my toes, twigs
scratched against my legs.  There
was a light current, not enough to push me off balance but enough to make me
want to stay close to the edge, close enough to be able to reach out to the
thick tufts of grass that sprouted there.
I was on a mission. 
I had taken my bike out that morning.  I had cut myself a sandwich, filled it with butter and jam,
wrapped it in greaseproof paper and dropped it into the bike basket at the head
of my bike.  
The bike basket
signified my bike was different from my brother’s bikes.  Only girls had bike baskets.  Boys did not need baskets.  They carried their belongings in their
That Saturday morning I had decided I would ride to
Sydney, an entire state away.  A
bike ride to Sydney all the way non-stop. 
I told no one.  No one need
know.  And I took off with the
energy of any self respecting ten year old, full of confidence that I would be
there by late afternoon and back by nightfall.
Uphills were the worst.  Burke Road past the turn to Doncaster, a good run down to
the Yarra River, and then I elected to stop.
I ate my sandwich and found a drink tap next to play
equipment in a park, carved out of flat land near the river.  I was thirstier than I had imagined,
and my legs had taken on that jelly like quality that comes out of too much
exercise.  Even in a ten year
The sun was mid sky and I had learned enough from nature
study classes to know that it would only get hotter, but in the shade of the gum
trees and with a slight breeze skipping over the river I cooled down. 
My feet in the ooze and all I could imagine were dangerous
creatures underneath, creatures that might drag me down if I stayed too long.  It took a huge effort to drag myself back onto the shore.
A cow in a nearby paddock looked up from chewing on
grass.  Even the cow had an ominous
look in her eye as if she were unhappy that I should be there.
That’s when I saw the man at the top of the hill, the man
who stood looking down at my bike, sizing up the basket, as if he were looking
for a rider and her belongings, as if he were looking for me.  
And what could a man alone on a hill
top near a river want with the rider of a small girl’s bike, one he would know
belonged to a girl  because it held
a basket?
The man’s silhouette on top of the hill, a black shape
against a blue sky left me with a feeling I had broken rules. 
There were no signs around that said
not to trespass.  The river was
free or so my brothers had told me, but this man reminded me of the word
I have met many such ominous men in my lifetime, in
reality and in dreams, silhouettes against the sky.   

5 thoughts on “The word, ‘no’.”

  1. This truly is frightening. A tale one recounts to one's mother years and years and years later.
    It appears to have ended safely, and I suppose you also realized it was time to go home.

  2. I was always out on my bike as a kid. I had one which I could cycle without using my hand, round bends and corners and everything. I don’t recall ever setting out on a very long journey, certainly not alone, although a group of us once cycled to Kilmarnock and back and that took the best part of the day. I don’t see so many kids on bikes these days. We didn’t cycle to school. It would’ve been sensible to do so but you couldn’t trust people not to nick your seat or let down your tyres. Kids are stupid. They make life more horrible than it needs to be for themselves.

    When not on a bike the countryside was where you’d find me at the age of ten. Always out of the house wandering down by the river or across the golf course after dark. And invariably alone. When I was younger I was more social but by about the age of ten I started to keep myself to myself. By the time I was twelve and ready to go the academy I didn’t have a single friend. I got on well enough with everyone at school but once school was over I spent most of my time alone. Which was fine for a while but starting off at the academy alone wasn’t fun although oddly enough I made new friends quite quickly once the pool was a bit deeper.

    On my wanders through the country or down the shore I was always aware of adults but I can’t say I was ever afraid of them. Mostly I kept to areas where hardly anyone went not even to walk a dog. There was a rifle range quite close to where we lived and that was a favourite haunt. There were concrete bunkers and dugouts to investigate. I suppose if I was a girl it might’ve been different. Now it doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a boy or a girl. When did all that change? There isn’t a crime that’s on the statute books that people haven’t been doing for centuries. Nothing’s new. There’s just more of everything. My dad used to say if there was a murder in the UK they’d bring out a special edition of the paper. Now there’re so many they hardly warrant a mention. Murder’s not news. Rape’s not news. Unless there’s something different about it to make it newsworthy. Unless a famous person gets killed or is charged with rape.

    Now I’m older things have changed. I find kids ominous. Teenage boys especially. I avoid them like the plague. I couldn’t tell you the last time I went out of the house after dark. And it’s not that we live in a bad neighbourhood because we really don’t. It’s far quieter than I expected when we moved here. I just don’t think it’s a place kids want to hang around. They’ll get the bus into the town centre or Glasgow and hang around there. But I don’t like it when a few decide to kick a ball in the car park outside our house. And if a ball hits a window I never look out. It’s not worth it. When I was a kid I remember getting told off many times by neighbours and I took their threats to tell my parents seriously. I had respect for adults. Unless the kids were only wee I’m not sure that would work nowadays.

  3. This reminds me of how free we roamed and rode about in our childhoods. I have an incident similar to yours which I hope to write about one day.

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