Once again I’ve gotten myself mixed up and met you at that Mexican place we both love. Who says I can’t have huevos rancheros for dinner? And coffee to wash it down? And a pitcher of horchata? And a boy to grin golden grins at me from across the table? No one. No one says that. And that is what this neighborhood is. They don’t look twice, and they don’t think I’m wearing the wrong shoes with these pants, and they don’t forget to smile when they recognize me on the sidewalk. They’ve got kids and they know what it is to work and to be happy and to be exhausted all at the same time. Kids with blue shoes kick their legs back and forth at the table next to us. Kids with brown eyes as big as the moon. Kids with their bikes whirring past us on the sidewalk.
I’ve forgotten my bike again. This always happens because I’m forever coming from here or from there—places where my bike never is. It’s blue and old and has yellow tape that I liked once, but it’s not here so we decide to go on foot. You walk your bike even though I know you’re aching to ride it because it’s new and fast and you know you look good on it. We named it once, do you remember? It was cold that day, but we rode along the lake anyway, far from our neighborhood, our Southwest Side. But now we’re home, more or less, walking down 18th Street, turning down side roads when it comes time, and debating politics while the sun slides down our backs. The tops of pale green reeds are poking through the chain link fence, and I just want to run my fingers through them. I’m not really listening to what you’re saying, but I like the way it sounds.
As the hours slip by unnoticed, the reds, yellows, and oranges turn gray and green, but we can’t see it from our place inside under the window. The first thing we sense is the breeze because it suddenly smells of impending rain. A storm is coming, we both know it, and I should probably get home so I won’t get caught like last time, the time when we got your bike and named it and rode along the lake. Do you remember? This time it will be different, and I’ll go before the rain starts. It will be different because this time when you say “Trust me!” and ask me to ride on your handlebars I’ll say yes. Finally, I’ll say yes. I don’t know if I trust you or if I just don’t want to get wet, but here we go. Shaky at first, and I’ve torn my jacket jumping up on the metal bars (are they metal?), but it gets easier. I lean back against you, and your head rests near my shoulder as you pedal, finding your rhythm. Onward we go through tiny back streets flanked with murals both grotesque and wonderful with colors still visible in the waning daylight.
It’s getting darker now, and the quiet desolation of 16th Street breaks only at the incessant chiming of those railway bells, the ones I’ve never seen, only heard, like legends told before campfires. They sound so hollow and lonely, yet there are many of them. I think I’d like to find them with you sometime. What do you think? Maybe some time when the rain isn’t threatening. Maybe some time when I remember to bring my bike. Maybe then. But for now I’ll just have to ride home on your handlebars, down Wolcott and back to 18th where we meet once again with the rest of the world, the rest of the buzzing, singing world.