Asking a child (or even an adult) to assemble bikes all day without riding one is tantamount to torture. So around 5 p.m., I take him outside with a bike I know to be assembled properly and gesture for him to get on and have a spin. The gestures don’t work, so I ask a translator to tell him to go for a ride. His eyes grow solemn at the news, and although the bike is built for someone half again as tall as he is, he gamely throws a leg over and wobbles down an alley and around the corner.
As I stand there with a three-way wrench in my hand, a wave of fatigue sweeps over me. I think of the warm Sunday September afternoon a few years before when my son, Luke, insisted I take the training wheels off his bike. He then promptly mastered two wheels and spun away from me down our street. In one of the great paradoxes of parenthood, I had just taught him the means to leave my side. It was as if I had said, “I love you so much, I will teach you how to leave me. Because if I’ve done my job right, you’ll always ride back.”
Maybe it is the jet lag, or maybe the tea is wearing off, but my eyes fill with tears. I wipe them away and look down the alley, waiting for him. But there’s no sign. He isn’t there. I imagine him riding away from here to a place where his love will be returned and his warmth valued. Just riding away, for good.
Suddenly a bike slams into my right leg; I drop the wrench. He’s there, having circled the building, the compound. Laughing out loud, feet on the ground, he takes my hand and beams.