The bike thief

He nicked it right under our noses. Charmaine’s gorgeous almost new touring bike; so new she was still thinking about a name for it. And now she doesn’t have it; someone else has.

As soon as the letting agent told us our bikes would have to stay in the street, we were all a bit dubious. ‘Not in the lounge room? They’ll fit in easily?’ No way, so we went along with her, no choice really, privately resolving to move them inside when the coast was clear. After all, we thought we had made it clear when we booked that we needed safe storage for four bikes. In retrospect, with Air BnB, the letting agent in Avignon, and the actual owner all in contact, I can’t actually remember who, if anyone, agreed they could be kept off the street.

So the bikes were outside chained to a railing, in our full sight through the front window. Unpacking, planning the evening meal, arguing the merits of various wines we had drunk in Provence, we knew we needed to shift the bikes soon, but didn’t do it as an hour or so went by. The owner had left us a bottle of rose in the fridge, so we opened that and toasted the success of our bike riding for the day. Charmaine and Lynne noticed that a young man was beside our bikes, on his own bike, but as he rode away they thought no more of it.

A few minutes later, Charmaine looked up as the same man popped his leg over her seat and rode off. Yelling ‘My bike’s gone’ she ran outside to see him disappearing down the street. She pursued on foot, and I jumped on my bike, noticing the cut chain on the ground beside it, and rode off in that direction as fast as I could. As I passed one tiny, winding ancient lane after another I realised I had no chance. In any case, what was I thinking? A fit 20-year-old; what was I going to do? Knock him off the bike? Yell something to passers-by, when I speak almost no French? Sad and defeated, I rode back slowly up streets I had flown down, to find Charmaine trudging back to our apartment.

It was very quiet inside now. Charmaine was shocked and getting miserable about her loss. This was a very special bike, bought specifically for this trip to France, and she had loved it unreservedly for the last few months. It fitted her like a glove; comfortable, well-equipped and beautiful to look at. Meanwhile, the rest of us were beating ourselves up; for leaving the bikes outside; for not reacting more when we saw the guy parked there for no good reason; and in my case for depending on a chain that I knew wasn’t really up to the job. He had a go at Lynne and Len’s lock, failed, then moved on to ours.

Then we realised the bike out on the street now was his—the one he rode up on. He had left it there. We debated what to do, but because we couldn’t be quite certain it was his, we dithered while we got a meal ready. Eventually we parked it right out front, where we could watch to see if he came back for it. And still he got away with it. Somehow, he waltzed up, and took it, and we didn’t see him do it. Lynne suddenly called out ‘It’s gone’. Great surveillance team we made. A nice pasta and a glass of red, and we didn’t see a thing. As a bicycle thief, this young man must have been euphoric; it would have been a close to a personal best. An almost new, quite expensive touring bike to sell on, and he even got his own bike back.

Of course, life goes on. No-one was hurt, and insurance will cover most of the loss. A replacement will be found. With any luck, the thief’s family may even have benefited from the proceeds. We have all moved on from Avignon now, so that’s that, just a memory of a sobering experience. I’ve bought a thumping great bike lock, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t want to live ready for the next thief. Not sure what I’ll do about that conundrum yet.

It was very interesting finding a new lock. The bike shops in Avignon are all in the less salubrious suburbs outside the city wall. I walked through many streets, getting directions from friendly people whose French I mostly didn’t understand. The contrast with the centre of Avignon, with its super-clean streets and endless choice of shops and restaurants, was stark. It hit me, this was round about where he must live. Washing on balconies, older cars and motor bikes, people of every colour and costume, young men with nothing to do showing off to each other on street corners, pot-holed streets. My angry fantasies of the day before shifted to sadness about the limited choices of our thief and his family and friends. I may have no solutions, but I’m pretty sure that Charmaine getting her bike back and him going to jail, probably mainly for knocking over a silly old man who thought he could win a fight, would do nobody any good.

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