Only The Frame Remains
Everything begins with you. As a child, I dreamed of you. Sitting in class, I would draw your image in my notebook and imagine that one day you would be mine. You are the reason I’m here.
I go to Saigon, a new city for me, and I walk 12 kilometers just to find you. Yet, I do not know you when I see you.
“Choose whichever bike you think is best,” I tell the dealer, letting my dreams be decided by a stranger.
My drawings in school had all been unreal. They were bikes full of springs that don’t look like anything in the real world. I know this. Yet, I am still unsure about you when the dealer chooses you.
You are not the bike that I had envisioned. I had wanted a road bike so that I could move fast, and besides, mountain bikes are unpopular. Plus, you are expensive. You cost me even more money than I had anticipated. I have a sense that the dealer is overcharging me, but when I see you, I think that you are beautiful, and I know that you are worth it.
You are the first bike I buy for myself. You eat away all of my money for food. I live off of instant noodles all month, but you are my first, and you are worth it.
You take me through the city. I don’t know where we’re going. We have no map. We just go. We go anywhere. I feel your speed, and I am amazed that it is mine. Your strength is my muscles, no oil or gas.
When it comes time to return, I look towards the city’s tallest tower – the Vitaco Building – and from there, I know my way back home.
I change you. You were old and rusty. I clean you up. I fix your wheels, and I give you gears even though I am inexperienced and do not know what I am doing.
You change me too. Together, we journey: across Vietnam, through Cambodia and Laos, along paddy fields turning yellow and countrysides sweetly pungent with the smell of grass-fed manure. We journey through jungle trees and by the East Sea, snug in the company of mighty mountains and awesome ocean.
After it all, only you and our stories remain.
Riding with you is not like riding with other bikes. With others, I travel to places. With you, I travel in time. If only I look at you, the memories come rushing back into my head.
I remember walking with a woman. She has dropped her bicycle off at a friend’s place, so it is just her and me and you.
I take her through the city. I don’t know where we’re going. We walk beside each other, and we don’t want to stop, so we just keep walking and walking and walking, and we don’t want to go home, and we don’t know what to do, so we just walk. We walk, and we walk. The streets of Saigon stay crowded at night.
The moon is full, and we walk towards it. We walk into midnight.
Then, I stop. We don’t want to part ways. I take her hand in mine, and I feel nothing else but her skin in mine, but with my left hand, I hold you, and the three of us walk into morning.
Daybreak separates us. She takes a bus back home, and I take you.
When I wake up, I wonder whether I was dreaming.
That woman is my fiancé now.
Memories like this return to me whenever I am with you, but now, you are broken, out of commission from overuse, and once again, I am unable to afford you. In the years we have spent together, you have been shuffled through a Frankenstein of fix-up parts, and now, all that is left of you is your frame.
I cannot change your wheels, but we still journey. I do not do long cycling trips anymore. Yet, you hang there upon the black wall of my bedroom, where I can look up at you whenever I feel down.
When I am depressed, I stare into your distance, and I ask myself “why”. “Why did I make my life like this,” and I remember that I did it all because of you. It was with you that I traveled here to Hanoi from Ho Chi Minh City. It was for you that I started a coffee shop for cyclists. It was through you that I fell in love with my fiancé. It was through you that I found my closest friends.
We cannot ride, but we still touch, and when we do, I feel you. I feel close, like I am touching an old friend.
We cycle through the city. I get tired. I stop on the road. I sit down at a small restaurant drinking coffee, and you are there in front of me. In Saigon, it is always rainy in the afternoon, and though the southern showers flit through, the water wets you enough that you look like new.
As I raise the mug to my mouth, the smell of the coffee calms me. The noise of the big city traffic that surrounds me melts away in the pit-pat of the waters of the rainy day. It is whisked off in the wandering whiffs of coffee grounds. I find happiness in the smell of the coffee, the sound of the rain, and you, my bike, my closest friend.
We have been together since my first year of college, and I cannot remember how far we have travelled. I used to ride you every day in school. For three months, you have been broken, but you will be with me forever. One day, I will ride you again.
I call you M-bike because you are me. You are Minh. You understand me. You know me. You are the only one with whom I can share my story.