Danny was halfway in love with a woman and he didn’t know what to do about it.
They had a lot in common, he thought. She always carried a book, and he liked her taste in books. They had similar senses of humor, judging by the fact that they smiled at the same things. Over the time of their acquaintance, he had found out that she was polite, but could stand her ground. In an emergency, she was calm and quick-witted. She could laugh at herself, too, which was a big plus. She was aloof, but warm, which seemed to be a contradiction, but in the circumstances that he knew her, this made sense. He knew she liked flowers because she always had them incorporated into her outfit. On some days, she wore a flower print dress or blouse. On other days, it was a subtle thing like a pin or bracelet, or an accessory like a scarf. But, always, there was a flower. Danny wanted to know why. He knew she would have a good or clever reason. No doubt about it, Danny was smitten. He was sure that this woman was The One, and yet, he had never spoken to her.
What’s your next step when you’re in love with someone whom you have never formally met? “Hello. My name is Danny and I love you. What’s your name?” Ridiculous!
He saw her almost every day in the tram. They had similar schedules, and he stood with her on the platform nearly every morning, waiting for the 7:50 into the city center. Not standing with her alone, but standing with a dozen or more other people whom he also saw almost daily. But those other people were strangers, and somehow, she was not. She was an important person he simply hadn’t met yet. Each morning as they came into the city, she left the tram three stops before him. He was always sad to see her go. Each evening, he would look forward to seeing her get on the tram for their ride home. He always thought of it that way: their ride home. As if they were making the journey together, instead of simply being in the same space with hundreds of other people.
In his more sane moments, he knew that this was not an “across a crowded room” love story. He knew they were just two people who lived in the same neighborhood in a large city and that he had noticed her because she seemed to be a nice, pretty woman. In fact, he knew that he probably would never get up the courage to talk to her. Not after Jane. How could he trust his judgment after what had happened with Jane?
After ten years of a marriage that he had thought was happy, or at least not unhappy, Jane had left him. No, she excised him, cut him right out of her life. She gave no reason except, “I’m done, Danny.” There were no fights. No marriage counseling. No discussion. Just “poof!” she was gone. She took everything with her, too. Every single thing in their apartment was simply missing one day when he got home from work. He stood there, not quite believing it. Then he went downstairs to the basement to see if Jane had taken everything from the storage area, too.
The only item left in the storage area was a hot pink women’s bicycle. Perched on the handlebars was a white woven basket adorned with plastic daisies in all the colors of the rainbow. The bicycle had a padded purple saddle with hot pink hearts on it. Danny had a secret liking for bright colors and elaborate decoration, but he didn’t get to indulge this fancy very often. He worked in his family’s funeral parlor, where he was required to wear somber suits and Jane had preferred earth tones and stark furniture in interior decor.
He had bought the bike for Jane on her last birthday before she left him. She had often made comments about how convenient it would be to own a bike in the city for running errands on the weekend, so he had thought he would surprise her with one on her birthday. Since it was to be a surprise, Jane was not there to veto the vibrant choice of style and color. Jane had thanked him for the bike, but not enthusiastically, and since it had been raining the day he gave it to her, she parked it in the basement storage unit. There it had stayed for three years. She had never even taken it out for a spin and he had never gotten rid of it after she left.
Eventually, he refurnished his apartment in brighter tones and more comfortable furniture, got a divorce, and got on with his life. Jane was pretty much just a memory because there was nothing to remind him of her. It was almost as if she had never been there at all. He thought that ten years of his life shouldn’t just vanish like that, even if they had been uneventful years that had ended badly. They had happened, after all. He wanted the years with Jane to be like a scar, there to remind him he had made a mistake, that he had survived and to warn him to be more careful next time.
Eventually, he took the hot pink bike out of the basement and rode it every day to the tram station, parked and locked it under the bike shelter, and rode it home from the tram station every night. After a while, it stopped being Jane’s bike and became a convenient thing that he used in his daily commute. He stopped noticing how girly and ridiculous it was and how weird he must look riding it. It became his bike, and he was oddly fond of it. So, when he went out for drinks one night after work and came home to find that his wonderful, ridiculous bicycle was missing from the bike shelter, he was understandably upset.
It was the next day that things got really weird.
Tina was halfway in love with this guy who rode the same tram she did. At first, she just thought he was cute, in that offhand way that you notice strangers in the crowd who are nice looking. It was the preposterous hot pink bike that pushed her over the edge into being halfway in love with him. Tina adored that bike. If she ever went bike shopping, that would be the one she would buy. It was completely silly and over the top, just like Tina was. The seat had pink hearts on a purple background, for Pete’s sake! It had flowers on the front basket. It was a bike fit for Florentina.
Florentina was Tina’s full name. She didn’t tell most people that. She reserved it for people with whom she felt a kinship, close friends only. Florentina was, literally, a flowery name. It means “blooming” in Spanish. And Tina liked flowery things, colorful things, pretty things. And this guy, this rather normal, boring guy, owned a bicycle that Tina would love to own.
It was weird. The bike did not fit him. Tina couldn’t put the puzzle of the guy and the bike together. He always wore dark suits and uninspired ties. He dressed like an undertaker. Tina thought he couldn’t possibly be as shallow and boring as his wardrobe was. The bike showed he was more than he looked. There was depth there. There was a story there, and Tina wanted to hear it.
Tina always read on the tram. A woman has to act aloof on public transit, even if it isn’t in her nature. People, especially men, can misconstrue too much openness and friendliness. So, she’d read her books. The guy was a reader, too, but he read the newspaper that he’d buy each morning at the newsstand by the tram station. He had a pleasant voice, Tina thought, as she heard him ask for the paper and wish the cashier a nice day. A calm baritone voice. He sounded like he’d be a good guy to lean on in bad times.
One day, the tram driver slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident. Tina was sitting in a seat facing the aisle of the tram and a teenage boy standing in front of her stumbled forward from the sudden deceleration. Tina braced her feet on the floor in order not to fall sideways off her seat. When the tram came to its abrupt halt, the teenage boy said to Tina, “Thank you. Um. You can let go now.” Tina looked confusedly at the boy and then noticed that she was holding onto his coat sleeve. Apparently, she had reached out and grabbed him as he fell and kept him from falling all the way down. But, until she saw her hand there, with a fist full of the boy’s coat, she didn’t know that she had done it. “Oh!” she said. “I didn’t realize I was holding onto you.” The boy laughed, and she laughed with him, although she felt stupid for not realizing what she had done.
Another time, coming home from work, she got on the tram and the only seat was one across from the bike guy and next to a man who was taking up a seat and a half. After a hard day of rather rude customers and having to deal with an even ruder supplier, Tina did not want to stand for the 30-minute tram ride home. She asked the man politely to move his leg. He said no. The bike guy looked at her and was about to speak up, possibly to offer Tina his seat, she thought, but she didn’t give him time to come to her aid. She’d been living in this city long enough to know how to deal with spreaders, those guys who take up more than their fair share of space. She plopped herself down on the seat as if it was empty and that the man’s knee wasn’t there. He quickly jerked his leg out of the way. Tina smiled surreptitiously at the bike guy. He returned the smile and went back to his newspaper. Tina thought she might strike up a conversation if Spreader Man got off the tram before their stop. Sadly, he didn’t.
Tina had decided that this was the day that she would speak to Bike Guy. She would do it on the way home. She would simply walk up to him as he was unlocking his bike and make conversation. He seemed to be a nice guy. She’d take the chance. She had talked herself into it. Today was the day. But he wasn’t on the tram that evening.
She was so distracted by her disappointment that when she got off the tram and saw the bike thief snapping the lock on the hot pink bike, she didn’t think of her safety. She simply acted. “Hey!” she yelled, running toward the thief. “Get away from that bike! It’s mine!”
The night Danny’s bike got stolen, he walked home feeling a loss that was too big for a bike. He thought he might have felt another kind of loss. Lost opportunity. He decided he would talk to the flower woman at the tram station the next day. Just do it. Use the waiting time to strike up a conversation. He could use the loss of the bike as an opening line, asking if she had noticed anything. That decided, he went to bed feeling better about the bike.
The next day, Danny walked to the station and found a notice attached to the bike shelter. There was a photo of his bike on it with a newspaper propped up on the basket. Someone had circled the date on the newspaper in red ink. Underneath the photo, Danny read, “I have your bike. It’s still alive and well. For now. If you ever want to see it again, meet me at the ice cream parlor at the corner of Main and Elm. 2PM tomorrow. Bring money. You’re buying the sundaes.”
What? Someone had kidnapped his bicycle? Why would anyone do that? Somehow, though, the idea of it was funny. Someone had kidnapped his bicycle. It was crazy. He laughed at the absurdity of it. The unexpected ransom note had knocked the idea of talking to the flower woman out of his mind for the moment. He looked around for her now, but she wasn’t there. Oh, well. Maybe next week. Tomorrow was Saturday, and he had a date with a bicycle thief.
Saturday afternoon, Danny arrived at the ice cream parlor to find his bike chained to a lamppost and the flower woman sitting at an outdoor table next to it.
He walked up to her. She gave him a tentative smile. He smiled back and said, “No. You didn’t steal the bike. You wouldn’t do that. What happened?”
Tina smiled more broadly. “No, I didn’t steal it. I stole it back. I took it from the guy who was stealing it. And after he ran away, I didn’t know quite what to do with it, so I took it home with me.”
“Ah. That sounds more like you. I’ve seen you be a hero before. I’ve seen you stand up to people before.”
It happily surprised Tina that he had noticed her as much as she had noticed him.
“But why the ransom note?” Danny asked.
“I’m not really sure. The idea just popped into my head as I was wondering how to get the bike back to you, and I thought it was funny. And I guess it was a test to see if you had as a weird sense of humor as I do.”
Danny sat down at the table with her. “Did I pass the test?” he asked.
“My name is Danny.”
“Florentina,” she replied.
© 2018 Liza Cameron Wasser