Everyday Heroes

From his apartment window Thomas followed the movements of a young man lurking about the courtyard. The stranger stopped in front of a bicycle. Not just any bicycle. It was Anna’s white ladybike. Seconds later the bicycle was leaving the courtyard in the hands of an abductor. Thomas stood in disbelief. Anna must have forgotten to lock it. He had to act, and he had to do so in a hurry. The thief was already out of sight. Soon the ladybike would be lost among the countless bicycles of Copenhagen’s concrete jungle.

Thomas was a young man himself, but not a particularly brave man. Yet, there he was, fighting to pull on his Converse sneakers. Anna had done nothing to deserve this – except forgetting to lock her bicycle. “Damnit Anna, why do you never lock that thing”. Remembering that Anna was the victim, he shifted the blame. “No one should steal bicycles in the first place”, he reproached himself. She would be back from vacation in a few days. Meanwhile Thomas had promised to keep things in order. This situation caught him off guard. Sure, he would be forgiven, but would it ever be forgotten if he did nothing? Yes, insurance would cover the material loss, but there was more at stake. He had become involved as a silent witness. Obligated to the well-being of the ladybike. The abductor had pulled him into an unfamiliar vortex. Everything from Danish civil order to the equilibrium of Thomas and Anna’s relationship seemed to be at stake.

Off he went, racing his tired old bicycle up and down the streets of suburban Valby. The only bloody place in Copenhagen with hills. Panting, sweating – where the hell could it be? Searching the neighborhood using no precise method. His eyes flared like a mother whose child has gone missing at a playground. Almost wanting to cry out some name. Hoping to hear in response the ring of the ladybike’s bell. The distress call of an iron damsel in dire straits. In this frantic state of mind, he considered how to handle the abductor if he found him. This was all unchartered territory. He had read that one must display confidence while avoiding conflict escalation. So perhaps a straight face and firm voice coupled with non-aggressive body language? Or was aggression the right way to go? A quick punch on the nose and a kick in the sack, and then a swift escape. The problem was, he mastered none of these skills. He was an avid student of law, but by no measure a scholar of the streets. He would have to play it by ear. That is, if he found the ladybike and her hijacker. He became anxious as the trail grew colder.

And then, there she was. In the corner of a rundown parking lot, in front of the wooden façade of a greasy burger joint. Seven young men stood in a cluster while an eighth rode around them in circles on Anna’s bicycle. They were restless, loud, taunting each other, fooling around. Thomas’ adrenaline skyrocketed. What to do now? The young men had no idea who he was, but this seemed to be his only advantage. Should he call the cops – the protectors of good citizens? Better not. Anna’s bicycle would be long gone before the cops decided to show up. Drenching his mind for a solution he spotted a man in a small Volkswagen Polo.

Tap-tap. The driver-side window rolled down revealing a man with short blonde crewcut hair. His large face stuck itself forward meeting Thomas with an indifferent gaze. “Can you please help me? I… those men over there stole my girlfriend’s bicycle and… I don’t know how to get it back”, Thomas stuttered as he continued to explain his current predicament. The man said few words, but his expression had changed. Staring with bitter contempt at the group of young men he said in a cooled voice, “let me have a little chat with them”. The door opened and from one of the world’s smallest cars stepped out a colossus of a man. He bore a formidable physique, dwarfing Thomas by several heads and twice as wide over the shoulders. He started towards the young men in a mechanical stride, with Thomas following a few steps behind.

“What are you doing riding around on a ladybike?”, the giant demanded. Caught off guard by the sudden disturbance the young men faltered for a second before manning up. All of them now turning towards Thomas and his large associate. Ready to front. A small fellow with a quick tongue stepped up, “What’s it to you? We’re just hanging out. Not bothering anyone”. The man clenched his massive granite jaw. “Don’t play stupid with me or I might get offended. The bicycle belongs to him,” the man said pointing towards Thomas, who felt powerful in the company of his unlikely ally. The young men began muttering in unison and questioning all statements and facts. The Big Man stood unmoved, dismissing their feeble efforts with silent ridicule. On the street he was a professor and they were low grade pupils. “Give me the bicycle” he now commanded in a penetrating voice. The pack froze. Their bodies no longer defiant, they handed over Anna’s bicycle as if they had never wanted it.

Upon return to the shrunken vehicle, the man offered Thomas the ladybike with a self-righteous grin. Thomas returned the grin sheepishly with an over-excited expression of gratitude. Everything had worked out after all, he thought to himself. A few moments later he stood alone on the parking lot with his own bicycle and Anna’s. His protector was gone, and the young men began to move towards him. Time to vacate the scene. Holding onto the ladybike with one hand as he scampered onto his own bicycle, he set off with both in a graceful balancing act.

For a moment he was moving away from a dark horizon towards a magnificent sunrise. And then he crashed. He was shocked and caught under his trusted iron steeds. As he heard the mocking laughs of his pursuers Thomas desperately pulled himself up. The game had changed. Hunter had become hunted, and hunter had left the apartment without considering this crucial part of the operation. The hungry hyenas closed in on him. With a bicycle in each hand Thomas started in no particular direction. His right leg limbering from the crash. There were no people on the streets. On grey Sundays people stay behind walls. He was alone. If the pack ran, they would catch him in no time. For the moment they seemed entertained tiring him through pursuit. In the heat of this mounting pressure he felt his mind react. What he lacked in physical conditioning he made up for in resourcefulness. A MacGyver, without the great hair, relying on his unconventional problem-solving skills to save the day. He scanned the surroundings as he clutched to the ladybike’s handle. Anna’s embedded presence in the iron ladyhorse had a soothing effect. As the young men drew closer, Thomas spotted a lifeline. A scrawny shoe-gazing man in his mid-twenties.

“I know this is going to sound strange”, Thomas gasped, catching his breath before he continued. “But I need your help! Those men are chasing me, and I can’t escape with both bicycles. Please ride one of them home with me?”. The shoe-gazer looked up with surprised eyes. As he glanced past Thomas he saw how the young men were almost upon them. “I-uhh” was all he managed to reply. His mind came to a grinding halt under the weight of the moment. He was a thinker, but there was no time to think. Realizing the other’s deliberation Thomas breathed a heavy sigh. It seemed inevitable that he would lose both bicycles. But then, just in time, the stunned face of his unlikely savior turned from deliberation to determination. “Quick, hand me a bike!” the man yelped. “I am Simon, by the way”, he politely found the time to add. As the pursuers saw their prey trying escape, they launched at them. Thomas and Simon jumped onto the bicycles and put all their weight into the pedals. Suddenly two hands clawed into Thomas’ right arm. For a second, he was a goner, but then with an unfamiliar burst of strength he ripped loose and slipped away. Leaving the young hyenas howling in discontent.

They were free and racing down Valby Bakke. Two beaming faces on wheels, both cherishing a profound sense of some new wonder feeling. As they reached the end of their journey, they each thanked the other for their own reasons. The weight of the experience had set a mark, remolding them in discrete yet definitive ways. Their edges and cuts now that much more noticeable. Themselves assured that they could be sharp if need be. Thomas double locked the bicycles and climbed up the stairs to his apartment. He grabbed a cold one from the fridge and threw himself in the couch, letting go of a deep and content sigh. What a day.

Author: Corbin Entz

Corbin Entz is from Copenhagen, where he studies social anthropology. Having just returned from fieldwork in California he decided to live in Vienna for half a year before finishing his thesis. He is here to write, even though he hasn’t really written much before. A now or never sort of thing.

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