During the Soviet Union, like Marcel Tolcea, I had a bicycle, except that mine didn’t have any brakes. It wasn’t that I liked it very much, but I didn’t have any other.
When I straddled the saddle I knew what to expect. I knew that eventually the brakes would give out, but I couldn’t have cared less, the main thing was that I had a bicycle and I could ride it anywhere I liked.
Usually, I was level-headed and only rode down straight, flat, level roads, precluding any surprises, and it was then that I’d press on the pedals as hard as I could, until the wind whistling in my ears reminded me of the national anthem.
I never forgot that the bicycle I was riding didn’t have any brakes, and that’s why I chose only the empty roads by the pond or down in the parched valley.
But once a month I had to go and inspect the wheat field on top of the hill and on the way back I would hurtle downhill from Cantea, shouting at anybody up ahead to get out of my way.
Once a herd of cows got in my way and I avoided a violent collision only by jumping off the bicycle toward the branch of a tree, which I grabbed onto at the last moment, and the riderless bicycle hit a Frisian cow and fell to the ground.
Once a month, and not because I liked to take risks, but because I didn’t have any choice.
Once a month my hair stood on end and my eyes bulged out of their sockets.
Once a month I returned home covered in cuts and scrapes.
Once a month I returned home in tears, bawling.
After that I would ride only along roads as smooth as a mirror.
On that bicycle without brakes I took my first girlfriend for a ride.
On that bicycle without brakes I rode when she left me.
On that bicycle without brakes I rode the whole night long after my grandmother Anica died.
On that bicycle without brakes I celebrated my sixteenth birthday.
On that bicycle without brakes I fled conscription. In the Soviet Army.
On that bicycle without brakes I celebrated the fall of the Soviet Union. And the first hours of freedom.
I mounted it every day. I rode down that slope, with the trees grimly whizzing past.
With my heart quailing. Down a road that wound now right, now left, like fate itself.
With my damp shirt plastered to my back. Beads of sweat trickled into my eyes and I didn’t dare take my hands off the handlebars to wipe them away. A car overtook me, the same as so many other things overtake you in this life. When I rode it, I thought of my cat back home, willy-nilly I thought of what the future would bring.
The Soviet Union was long gone, but I was still riding the same bicycle.
But I don’t ride it any more.
Because now even when I walk
It’s as if I’m riding a bicycle without brakes.