The Little Wheels

Image of Sylvie Loy

Sylvie Loy

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“There you go! Start here. The road’s straight and flat. There’s nobody here either, it’s nice and quiet, and no children. No traffic either, it’s Sunday.”

That spring Sunday in 1984, the grocery store car park was indeed deserted. A slight breeze filtered through the leaves of the plane trees, planted there to provide rare, almost artificial shade for the sweating drivers, suffering in the stifling heat typical of Provence.

As I sat on the saddle of my bike, my father gave me his latest piece of much-repeated advice. I was no longer listening; I was trying to calm the gradually growing anxiety that was paralysing my body and numbing my limbs. The most important thing was not to disappoint him. That morning, in his garage, he had already been busy with my bike. I could see the close concentration on his serious face. I stood and watched and saw my bike gradually transformed. We did not speak, but as the years have passed, I have come to think that we were in intense communion that day: a joint project, just my Dad and me! From time to time, the metallic sound of the tools he dropped carelessly on the ground would make me jump and at the same time, dragged me out of my torpor.

“Are you ready?”
I nodded. The breeze was getting stronger and a few fruits were falling off the plane trees. I hoped the pollen did not make me sneeze!
“Look straight ahead. The best thing to do is to keep your eyes on a fixed point in the distance. Put one foot on your pedal. You put the other one in place once you’ve got started. I’ll push you, and when you’re ready, I’ll let go.”
I followed his advice. I stared at the horizon and I pedalled. Confident because he was behind me, I looked at my feet and fell off! I tried to ignore the pain spreading from my scraped knees and my father whisked me back onto the saddle. Wobbling at first, I rode, his reassuring hand on my back. Then my confidence grew as, one pedal after the other, I started to go faster. My father gradually let go. I felt I was being abandoned, but he knew what he was doing.

Today I can still remember that heady feeling of freedom when I at last picked up speed and my hair flew back from my concentrated face.

I especially remember the pride I saw in my father’s eyes when I rode confidently without wobbling over that deserted car park on my bike with its little training wheels removed.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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