I thought I’d be going over the park after lunch, you know the climbing frame, the roundabout and just hanging about with whoever was around. And then he asked me. My dad asked me if I wanted to go over to the park and ride my bike. With him! I felt so special that he wanted to spend time with me. Other children would see me with my dad, they would know that he loved me. They would know that I had a dad.
I found my trainers in the garden and met him by the front door. By the bikes. Three bikes fighting for space in the corridor, their handlebars had destroyed the wallpaper. I tried not to scrape the radiator as I clumsily pulled my barely-used bike from the bottom of the pile.
I chatted nervously as I wheeled the bike along the pavement, unable to enjoy a single moment of one of the few conversations I ever had with my dad. We’d be at the park soon and he’d find out that I could barely ride the bike my mum had bought me one and a half years before.
As we waited for the lights to change, I scrambled together a plan. I would ride on the flat bit at the bottom of the park. I felt calmer; the sun on my face felt good. Walking with my dad felt good. He was interested in what I was learning at school, so I told him about the end of year performance. To be honest, I couldn’t really remember the lessons at primary school, that was ages ago. I was looking forward to starting at Coloma in September but he wasn’t asking about that.
The panic began to rise in my chest as we entered the park and my dad began to stride up the steep path at the edge of the green. I trotted to catch up with him, struggling to keep control of my bike. It swayed onto the grass, making it harder to steer. Who knew?! We passed the climbing frame and the roundabout. There was no way back.
He continued purposefully and for a moment, I thought we were going to walk straight through the park. The gate at the top was seconds away now. If I didn’t have the bike holding me back, I reckoned I could have escaped on to the pavement in seconds. Freedom! My dad hadn’t questioned me walking my bike to the park, after all. Perhaps I’d made myself feel utterly sick for nothing.
“Shall we start here?” he asked. I know he’d had to ask more than once. In fact. I had barely registered a single word he’d said since we entered the park. My head was filled with ‘What ifs?’ and for the last few moments I dared to believe I’d got away with it. Now, as he repeated the question I knew there was nowhere to hide. I dropped the sweaty house key into his large, dry palm.
I swung my leg over the back wheel, the way I’d seen my brothers do it a thousand times before. I was a great relief I hadn’t outgrown the bike, my tiptoes barely touched the dry grass. I lifted my right foot nervously onto the pedal. The bike rolled down the grassy bank taking its unwilling passenger on this perilous journey.
With the breeze in my face, the seconds stretched out painfully until I felt my face for the first time on this blisteringly hot day. The seconds stretched out painfully until I felt as if I was flying. I was! Unfortunately, I was no longer on the bike, which raced unsteadily down the hill without me. I skied after it, burning my thigh in the process. I didn’t know that at the time, though. I was overwhelmed by shame. I couldn’t bring myself to look as my dad retrieved the bike from the hedge it had landed in. I didn’t know what to say but I knew I couldn’t get back on that bike again. I was sure that’s what my dad would want me to do. The thing is, for the first time ever, I wanted to be able to ride it too.