Everyone Knows How to Fix a Bike Apart From Me

by Freya Thursfield

Freya is 19 and in their second year of undergraduate study in the English Department at King’s College London. They’re from London, but grew up between the UK, Lithuania and China. 

I don’t cry until the valve cap on my bike’s front inner tube snaps off in my hand, at which point I stand in a deserted street next to a public bike pump and sob for about five minutes. I had been coping with a global pandemic very well, but now being an adult has crept up on me and I am unprepared. This bike is also my only way of getting to work, which I need to do in less than 24 hours. The chain is so rusted I’m not sure it’ll turn even if I get the inner tube fixed. I don’t have a new inner tube, or the equipment to replace it at home, or the skills, or the energy, the way an adult would.

Suddenly my bike is a façade of functionality, the tyre still intact and working until you put any pressure on it, at which point it gives way at the slightest touch. Teasing me by looking like it should be fine until I actually ask it to do something productive and it flattens itself on the ground in protest. I text my brother a series of expletives in the knowledge that he can fix it. He tells me where to get a new inner tube fitted, or offers to teach me over FaceTime, and then says that ‘cleaning a chain is dead easy and quite fun’. I cannot imagine that being true, but I temporarily reinflate myself with his optimism.

I need this bike to function because without it I don’t have any way of reaching him. Though he is older than me, and the primary repairer of my bike, he’s also at high-risk from the virus. I can’t fix my worries about him as easily as he helps me fix my bike. I can’t hand him over to parental care because our parents are 3000 miles away and so, somehow, I simultaneously have to be far away from him to keep him safe, but just near enough to reach him. I’m not adult enough to own a car, so if necessary, I will cycle the 38 miles to him, because I am adult enough to know that is my responsibility. As my friends conduct a mass exodus from the city, mostly escaping to their family homes, many offer to take me with them. I decline. Sometimes I explain I have to be within 50 miles of my brother, but more often I don’t. Instead, I plan to celebrate Passover with him digitally. Chag Pesach sameach. Is a forty-minute Zoom meeting long enough for the Seder?

I text my mother too, though I regret it almost immediately. She is not within cycling distance. She is in Canada, where my parents live, which closed its borders several weeks ago. It’s a little difficult to repair a bike on a different continent. Her advice, though helpful, frustrates me, as it only reminds me that I have to do it myself. I want her to do it for me and I’m frustrated because I cannot tell her that. In the midst of a pandemic, trying to parent long-distance, my mother has offered to send me a board game and my father has offered to send me wine. Neither of these things will fix a bike. My premature adulthood is amplified by the knowledge that, despite my overwhelmingly childish wish for her to make it better, I can’t tell her this because it will upset her, and wishes don’t come true if you share them. I don’t yet feel ready for the emotional parentification brought on by the global crisis, by understanding that she is worried for my brother and I, and for her own parents. But perhaps I understand because I am becoming adult enough to feel a similar worry, a similar responsibility, rubbing shoulders with helplessness. In a few hours, I’ll send her a photo of the chain cleaned of rust and well-oiled, thanking her for the advice. She won’t see me scrubbing it until my arms ache, or how short of breath it makes me, and I’m glad.

Freya and their brother, Milo

Temporarily, my bike is repaired. I know how to clean and oil the chain properly (yes, it is quite fun), and how to scrub the rust off the cogs. I still don’t know how to replace an inner tube. I know not to ask my parents how to fix things anymore, but that I can still ask my brother. I can get to the places I need to go, and though I’ll continue to wish that I didn’t have to, at least I know that I’m capable. Perhaps I can fix a bike almost as well as the rest of my family, and I’ll learn the parts I can’t do yet when I need to.

This piece was originally published on closea tinyletter exploring intimacy, intimate lives, and objects, edited by Eleanor Jones and Bryony White. Freya’s piece was included as part of a series of writing by 15-19 year olds, reflecting on Covid-19. To read the series in full, and to subscribe to receive future letters in your inbox, click here.

You can also follow @closetinyletter on Twitter.

Images: courtesy of Freya Thursfield.

Blog posts on King’s English represent the views of the individual authors and neither those of the English Department, nor of King’s College London.

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