A Short Story
Speechless, like one of her window manikins, she watched the man. He collapsed his strange-looking bicycle and locked it to the single post in front of her shop. The contraption was a cross between an English Greyhound and an anorexic pedal-bike.
She sipped her dark brew and shook her head. The poor sod must be from Holland. Only the Dutch would embarrass themselves seen with such a device.
The nerve—in front of my shop!
It had become her early morning ritual now, before unlocking the front door—for the past three weeks.
“Why don’t you invite him inside?”
“I’ll put the Bobbies on him!” Sophie faced her assistant, Phoebe. “He has some cheek to park his bike here for the entire day.”
Phoebe laughed. “The sidewalk belongs to the city council.”
“Hmph! He’s defacing my dress shop.”
It was the first morning that the man didn’t have a jacket on. Winter had been reluctant to acknowledge defeat, but the bite in the air was absent; one could smell the earth. Taking his time, the man placed his helmet on his briefcase, leaned closer to the window, licked his fingers, and, watching his reflection, brushed his blond mop with his fingers.
Sophie choked on her drink. “Good heavens. This is not a hair salon!”
“You like him.”
“Don’t be silly.” Sophie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “He’s a total stranger. He’s weird, like his bike.”
“In two years I have never seen you so unraveled by a stranger.”
Phoebe whistled as she unlocked the front door, stepping outside, only to gesture wildly at Sophie.
“What’s the matter?”
“Did you see how he walks?”
“Not so loud,” Sophie whispered. “He sways.”
“It’s called swagger.”
Sophie snorted and pulled her assistant back inside. “Let’s get to work.”
Minutes after three Phoebe hollered into the backroom, “Your mystery man’s back. He’s unlocking his bike!”
“Let me be,” Sophie groaned.
“You won’t rest until you’ve read him his rights.”
Sophie hesitated for a moment then stormed to the front, yanking the glass door open.
“Excuse me, sir!” Her momentum made Sophie stop short of crashing into the man. Rose crept up her face.
“Yes, ma’am?” The man straightened, his face a question mark.
“This is my shop.” Sophie gestured at the window behind her and his bicycle.
A slow smile formed as the man’s glance shifted between the shop owner and the sign above her door. “Congratulations.”
“That’s not what I meant. You can’t park your . . . T-T-Thing . . . Here” and she pointed at the sidewalk post.
“Why’s that?” The man righted the bike, ready to swing his leg across, the glacier-pale eyes daring her.
“It’s private property!”
The man laughed as he pedaled away, “It belongs to the city. I’ll bring you flowers!”
“Do you like magnolias?”
“It’s too early for those!”
The next morning there was no sign of the man or his bicycle. Neither the next day or the day after that.
By the Friday, Phoebe could hold it no longer. She had studied her boss, whose eyes remained nailed to the empty sidewalk post. “I told you he’d get under your skin.”
“Nonsense.” Sophie unlocked the front door.
“You should be happy—you frightened him away.”
Sophie bit her lower lip. “He didn’t seem the roll-over type.”
Friday, mid-afternoon, only Sophie manned the fort. Phoebe had gone for a walk during her tea break. Engrossed in checking inventory, Sophie ignored the door’s ping. Only when the person cleared his throat did she look up.
Her hand flew to her mouth. “It’s you.”
He was taller than she had remembered—her mystery man with the strange-looking collapsible bicycle. He had on a pristine suit which matched his eyes. He held out a cluster of flowers, unable to hide his grin. “For you. As promised.”
Sophie came around the counter, her face glowing. She searched his eyes. “Magnolias. It’s only the first week of March. Where did you find them?”
The man shrugged. “Some trees bloom early.”
Their fingers brushed as she took the flowers, making her suck her breath. “Thank you.” Closing her eyes, she inhaled the flowers, clasped to her breast. Turning away to hide her embarrassment she escaped to the backroom, calling over her shoulder. “Please don’t go. I’m finding a vase with some water.”
She returned and arranged the glorious pink flowers, keeping the counter between them. She met his eyes. “They’re beautiful.”
Sophie laughed and busied herself with tidying an already immaculate shopping counter. “Why did you stop parking your bike out front?”
“You hated me for doing that.”
“That’s not true.”
“That’s what it sounded like when you stormed out of the shop.”
“You called me a bastard.”
“I said I’m sorry. You were so arrogant.” She shuddered. “Where’s the little thingy now?”
“At home. I had the flowers today. So I took the tube.”
“I can’t believe you found magnolias.” She bit her lip again. “You must think I’m a little bitch. Would you be agreeable to a peace offering—a coffee?”
“At a coffee shop of my choice?”
She put out her hand. “Deal. I close the shop at 6 p.m.”
He shook her hand. “Six it is. The name is William.”
“Sophie.” She didn’t let go of his hand. “You look like a Wilhelm.”
Again the unhurried laugh. “Ahh . . . The funny bicycle. I bought it in Amsterdam when I worked there.”
William waited outside on the sidewalk, hands behind his back while she locked up. He brought his hand from behind his back when they started walking. He handed her a single twig with magnolias.
Sophie laughed with him when their hands met. “Thank you, Wilhelm, from Holland.”
He mock-bowed, adding a bounce to his step. “The pleasure is all mine, lady Sophia, from Fulham!”
Thank you for reading!
This story was also published on Medium.com.
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All images by Danie Botha.