The backpack swung as the bike leaned on first the left training wheel, and then the right. The feet pumped as fast as they could. One up, the other down, and then switch. The boy leaned forward, and the wind whipped his hair back. His thumb pushed the bell, which trilled as the boy barrelled down the sidewalk.
In front of him, three driveways down, a young girl was walking, with her back to him. The boy sped up, his legs pumping harder. When he got close to her, he circled his legs backward, and the bike skidded to a halt.
The girl turned around.
The boy said, ‘hello, Tamiko.’
Bertie got off his bike, and walked it over to Tamiko. The two then continued down the sidewalk.
‘Do you want me to come over and we can play Chrono Carl?’
‘No,’ said Tamiko.
‘How come we never play at your house?’
‘My house isn’t good for playing.’
They walked in silence for a bit.
‘Bye,’ said Tamiko suddenly, turning left into a side street.
‘Bye,’ said Bertie, again mounting his bike and pedalling. Bertie continued down the street for hardly any length of time before he came to his house. He got off the seat, but still straddled the bike, his feet flat on the ground.
For a minute, maybe two, he watched his house. No sound came from it, and no one came in or out. Then Bertie got back on his bike, and continued down the road. Soon he came to a place he’d never been before: the end of the street. The road just stopped at a wooden fence. Bertie noticed a gap in the slats of the fence, so he rode over to it. Just before the gap, though, his bike stopped.
Bertie looked down, and saw the front wheel had hit a concrete block, put across the road to stop cars from continuing. Bertie got off his bike, and then he walked through the gap.
On the other side of the fence, the sunlight was blinding. Bertie blinked at first, but soon got used to the light. Before him was a golden, sandy beach. The water lapped gently against the shore. There was no one and no thing around, save the fence which was behind Bertie and continued on in both directions so far as he could see.
Bertie took off his shoes, and ran to the water. The sand was warm on his feet, but not burning. Bertie jumped into the water ankle-deep, making a large splash. He watched as a calm wave swept over his feet.
Bertie noticed a smooth stone on the ground, and picked it up. He threw it out into the vast ocean, and it skipped along the surface. Bertie ran top speed along the edge of the water, splashing as he did so.
After he’d played in and out of the water for several hours, he turned to the fence. Bertie couldn’t find his shoes, and sand stuck to his wet feet. He waved his arms frantically to shake the water out of his clothes. He walked slowly toward the fence, and walked through the gap there.
The sidewalk was dirty on the other side of the fence. The building to his right had a reflective surface, so Hubert looked at himself. His stubble was almost getting long enough to call it a beard.
Hubert followed the side of the building up. He was standing next to one of the taller skyscrapers in the city. Hubert continued walking down the street, his sneakers untied, and with laces dragging behind him. He came to the convenience store, a storefront on the ground level of an incredibly tall building. Hubert entered.
Hubert came out of the store carrying a paper bag, which contained a carton of cigarettes and a couple bottles of liquor. He continued walking down the street, but then a young woman stepped onto the sidewalk from the main entrance of a bank tower.
‘Tamiko?’ asked Hubert, incredulous.
The woman, dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase, turned to Hubert.
‘It’s me, Hubert. Bertie.’
‘Bertie?!’ Tamiko now recognised him. ‘Oh, my, Bertie, how are you?’
‘You’re looking well,’ Hubert commented.
‘Why thank you, I—what’s it been, ten years?’
Hubert smiled. ‘Yeah, thereabouts.’
‘You just sort of dropped off the face of the earth. What happened?’
Hubert shrugged. ‘Moved to the city.’
‘What are you doing, now?’
‘Just running some errands for my dad.’ Hubert didn’t go out of his way to show her what he carried.
‘No, I mean, where do you work?’
‘Oh, I’m between jobs right now.’
‘Well what sort of field are you looking for?’
‘Well, hey, I might be able to get you a job, if you give me a résumé. Here, I’ll give you my card.’
Tamiko fished around in her briefcase for a second, then pulled out a card and gave it to Hubert.
‘‘Investment banking’?’ asked Hubert.
‘Yeah,’ said Tamiko. ‘Earned my Business degree, and jumped right into it.’
‘You like it?’
Tamiko smiled. ‘No, not really. Listen, Bertie—’
‘Hubert. I have to go or I’ll miss my commuter train. Don’t just give me your résumé, we should go out for coffee, catch up.’
‘Okay, I’ll give you a call.’
‘Here, let me write my cell phone down there.’ Tamiko took out a pen and scribbled on the back of her card. She smiled as she gave it back. ‘Hope to hear from you soon.’
‘Definitely,’ said Hubert, and he watched Tamiko turn and head down the subway entrance.
Hubert looked down at the bundle in his arms, and kept walking. After a few minutes, he got to his apartment building, and he held the bag with his left hand while fumbling with the keys with his right.
When he entered the apartment, he put the bag on the kitchen table.
‘Is that you, boy?’
‘Yeah, I got your stuff.’
‘Took you long enough,’ came the reply. ‘Jesus, the amount of time it took you, I could have gone and come back myself.’
‘Well, you’re welcome to go yourself next time,’ called Hubert.
‘Don’t you give me any of that lip, boy. I raised you and god help me, if I have to, I can teach you some respect.’ A wet cough followed.
Hubert pulled Tamiko’s card out of his pocket, and looked at it. He flipped it over, and looked at Tamiko’s hand writing on the back, her cell phone number. Hubert picked up the phone.
‘You using that phone in there, boy?’ came Hubert’s father. ‘Don’t you touch that thing. When you start paying for the phone, maybe then you can use it.’
‘I do pay for the phone,’ called back Hubert.
‘You think that makes you some thing?’ came the reply. ‘You’re no thing, boy. You’re no thing. Now, get your hands off my phone.’
Hubert put the receiver down and went into his bedroom. He took his backpack off the floor, now worn and frayed, and started to fill it with his clothes. Hubert looked around the room to see if there was any thing else he’d need, and he saw no thing. He closed the backpack, and walked back to the front of the apartment.
‘Where are you going, you degenerate?’ came the voice, but Hubert ignored it and went down the lift to the lobby. He discovered he still had Tamiko’s card. In the lobby, he used a pay phone to call her cell.
‘Hello?’ came the voice on the other end.
‘Hi Tamiko. It’s Hubert.’
‘Oh, hi, Hubert. I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon.’
‘Where are you now?’
‘Uh, I’m just about to get on the train back home.’
‘Don’t,’ said Hubert. ‘Wait there, I’ll come down to the station and pick you up. I want you to see some thing.’
‘All right, I’ll wait by the main entrance,’ came Tamiko.
‘I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.’ Hubert hung up. He went down one level to the parking garage, and got in his father’s car.
It took not quite twenty minutes to get to the train station. Tamiko was waiting outside for him.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked as she got into the car.
‘You’ll see,’ said Hubert. ‘Have you ever been to the end of this street?’
‘No. It ends at the highway, doesn’t it?’
Hubert drove them straight down, under the highway, to a point where the road ended in a wooden fence. In the centre of the fence, a slat was missing. The gap was just big enough for a person to fit through.
‘Come on,’ encouraged Hubert, as they stepped out of the car and went through the gap in the fence.
On the other side of the fence, they saw before them a golden sandy beach, a calm ocean, and a bright sun.
‘Oh, Hubert, this is beautiful,’ Tamiko said.
‘I know,’ said Hubert, as he took off his shoes and socks, and approached the water.
‘Look at this seashell,’ Tamiko said. ‘Hubert, I can’t believe this place.’
Hubert cupped his hands into the water, and splashed himself. The water was cool and refreshing. He cupped more water and threw it at Tamiko.
‘Gah!’ She splashed some water at Hubert.
Hubert ducked the splash, and sent one back himself.
After several hours, Tamiko and Hubert were laying on the sand. The sun had mostly dried them off, though there was some sand still sticking to their legs.
‘We should probably be getting back,’ said Tamiko. ‘As nice as this place is, we can’t stay here for ever.’
‘No,’ said Hubert. ‘We can’t.’
They pulled themselves to standing with great difficulty, and turned to the fence, where the gap in the slats was before them.
‘I thought we’d moved down the beach some,’ said Tamiko.
Hubert just smiled. They walked toward the gap, and saw on the sand beside the fence a pair of rolled up socks, and a pair of tiny shoes. Their own socks and shoes they could not find. They stepped through the gap, and on the other side was a small road surrounded by sleepy little houses. At the beginning of that road, in front of them, was a small bicycle with training wheels.
Hubert took Tamiko’s hand.