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Photograph by Mimi Mollica, Story by Sandra Danby

Lady on bike_MM.jpg

It was a sturdy bicycle, black, with a wicker basket. Gita hadn’t wobbled on it so badly since she was ten years old, when her mother died and bequeathed it to her. The forty three years since seemed double as she settled into the familiar rhythm of pedalling. It had been a long day. A puncture on the way to work, a double shift, a pedantic boss. She wobbled away from Rajiv’s Cycles, longing to go straight home. The heaviness in her legs was partly the ordinary weariness chucked about by life, partly the need to see her father’s face when she asked him the question.


It was a clear night promising frost. She hesitated at the T-junction. Home was to the left and she thought of the lemon tree on her balcony swaddled in fleece, but she turned right towards the destination that called to her. The thought of her father that called to her. The lemon tree had been a birthday gift. He had planted it in a large ceramic blue pot, her favourite colour, and given her the packet of horticultural fleece. When summer came the balcony would overflow with delicate basil, coriander and nasturtiums, their origins as cuttings from her father’s greenhouse; he knew she loved their hectic splash of colour, the joy. As she cycled towards his house, coldness settled over her like a dusting of snow. This feeling of dislocation and anxiety about going to the familiar place she loved seemed unnatural. Since Maa died, her father was always there. She caressed the pendant around her neck. Maa had been insistent Gita should have it. Maa, who had been an organiser, a planner – packed lunches, school uniform neatly laundered and pressed – had left instructions. 


Gita realised now that her motheranticipated this night, realised too that her question was always present. ‘Who am I?’ Maa had been smallwith a flattened nose and startled eyes resembling plumeria flowers. Her father’s nose was aquiline, his eyes small and black like kalonji seeds. Neither had eyes the colour of citrine quartz.


Is that why she gave me the pendant, to make me curious?


Gita treasured her mother’s two gifts. The bicycle and the citrine pendant were all that remained, that and the memory of Maa making batata vada. Juggling the fried potato fritters hot from the pan, blowing on scorching fingers, the kitchen filled with the scents of cumin, turmeric and ginger. Every day Gita wore the pendant, and practically every day she rode her bicycle. At first she struggled with both. The bicycle was an old-fashioned thing, too large, too dumpy. The pendant was heavy for a young girl but Maa was determined Gita wear it every day because it matched the colour of her eyes. They were a pale golden green like young moss on a damp day in spring, and Gita had never seen eyes the same colour. Until tonight.


Traffic queued at the crossroads. It was an accident blackspot and Gita knew she must concentrate, cycling slowly like a tortoise steadfastly plodding through a river of running foxes. Each revolution of the pedals felt like trying to push down into solid earth. But the picture of what she had seen in the cycle shop crashed into her head, nudging, resisting denial, so she moved from road to pavement. Lately she avoided the cycle lane, feeling in the way of faster, fitter, younger cyclists wearing glowing Lycra, safety lights flashing like Blackpool Illuminations. Her parents had taken her to see the seaside lights once. She remembered the rollercoaster high above the ground, too high for Maa so Gita went on it with her father and threw up into his lap. She thought of him now in his potting shed, the tattoo of an elephant on his left bicep, the blue and white United crest on his right forearm. He had been there all her life, nurturing her as he nurtured all natural things.


She stopped at Grantley Bridge, reached for her purple cotton bag and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. She inhaled and watched the water flow beneath the stone arch away into the darkness, the future, the unknown, the sea. It was late. The day was almost done. Should she be like the water, move on and never look back. Move forward without fear of what may come. Ask him, or stay forever silent.


When she had walked into the cycle repair shop, a stranger stood behind the counter. Was this Rajiv? He handed her the invoice and, when he didn’t let go, she looked up.


He was staring at her, at her pendant, and she stared back. Black hair silvered at the temples and curling about large ears, pale moss green eyes, a citrine quartz pendant on a heavy silver chain. Like hers. Exactly like hers. Tears springing from tired eyes, she had shoved a handful of cash across the counter and run away. He did not call after her and she did not look back.


She shivered and tossed the cigarette butt into the moving stream.


Maa trusted me to do the right thing. I will be like the water.


Gita cycled past shadowy shops; a café, newsagent, laundrette, past the lingering scents of detergent and clothes left in the tumble driers too long. Hands light on the handlebars she freewheeled into Summer Park and, cycling those last few yards, wondered why people insisted on defining love with labels. 


The front door opened. Her father stepped forwards to hug her; as she knew he would, as he always did. Her pendant was sandwiched between them and Gita knew he must feel it pressing into his chest. She wanted to say labels meant nothing to her, that it was being there that counted. As they stood together in the darkness, she understood he did not need her words but she did.


‘Thank you, Papa,’ she said as she tossed her question into the moving stream. 

Sandra Danby is the author of two novels in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, ‘Ignoring Gravity’ [2014] and ‘Connectedness’ [2018] exploring the themes of family history, secrets and adoption reunion. A proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker, she believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike her identity detective Rose Haldane, Sandra is not adopted. She is now writing ‘Sweet Joy’, third in the series, set in London during The Blitz. Sandra’s short stories and flash fiction have been published online and in anthologies. Find here at Twitter @SandraDanby

Mimi Mollica is an award winning photographer, born in Palermo - Sicily in 1975. His photo essays deal with social issues and topics related to identity, environment, migration and macroscopic human transitions. Mimi chooses to work on long term projects which allow him to research explore and develop a subject in depth. As a result Mimi had travelled and photographed across the continents working on assignment and on his personal projects.

He collaborates with a number of prestigious magazines and book publishers and his work has been featured on a number  of exhibitions and festivals of photography across the globe. Find him here @mimimollica

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