The Bike.

The problem with memory lies with its inaccuracy. Memory is not a filing cabinet within your brain, a nicely alphabetised collection of moments easily evoked by certain smells or a line from a song; memory is more like a poor photocopy of a faded photograph, taken of people re-enacting the original event. When you remember, you are bringing back the memory you have of the last time you thought of something, not of the original event.
So when I remember fragments of falling off mum’s bike when I was eight – or was it six? Almost nothing happened when I was five, seven, nine or eleven – I am remembering last year when a pale-skinned girl rubbed her warm finger over the raised scar and asked “…and this one?”
And what I told her was a memory of sitting around a table littered with overflowing ashtrays, powder-edged bank cards and discarded bottles of cheap beer; telling stories of misadventures. And before that, remembering alone, comparing old scar to new – it goes on.
What I remember is this: Mum’s bike was big – too big – and it was old. Salt wind had corroded the frame, the rubber was perished.
“Don’t go on my bike Shan, it will tip over”
-Have I always hated that nickname? I don’t remember ever liking it, but maybe I did that day.
I lean the bike against the wooden railing of our wrap-around verandah. Mum’s bike is geared, but if you disengage the gears you can pedal fast or slow without going anywhere. I clamber up and begin to pedal, whizzing my feet faster than I could possibly go while pedalling actual tyres around our crowded house. I’m overly conscious of being naughty, constantly turning my head. The problem with a wrap-around verandah is that a suspicious parent could come from either direction (or both) and catch you doing the wrong thing. A turn of the head shifts my weight, the bike tilts, then topples. It pins me underneath, piercing my hand with the exposed metal tube of the handlebar. I don’t scream.
Here is the problem with memory: the circular scar, which faded to one eye-shaped mark beneath the first finger knuckle, is on my left hand. I swear the bike was facing south on the eastern side of the house, leaning to the left. I fell right, landed on purple concrete, the knuckle enveloped by the rusted metal. It was the right handlebar that was exposed. What is the lie? The scar or the memory? Have I switched the image around in my mind, so I am watching myself fall rather than falling? Did I have time to put both hands on the ground before the bike toppled completely? Is the scar from something else entirely and the damage was to the other hand?
This single fragment of memory serves as a constant reminder that my mind is a puzzle and my sense of identity is an illusion that I wove inside my head. Maybe the scar is from something later that didn’t make as good a story. No one who hears this story ever questions which way the bike was facing, even when I drunkenly mime the fall. No one questions my memory, or my memories of my memory, as perhaps we should. No one ever asks why I didn’t scream.

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