It started out as a usual workday on Kwaj with the 6am bugle call. Yes, I said both bugle call and 6am. It’s an endearing reminder of living on a military installation, endearing only because it’s not really that loud and my salt-encrusted window, incapable of opening, keeps it muffled. Most would sleep right through it.
I showered and checked email in my closet office. Did I tell you about my closet office? Yes, I went DIY on my little room in Macy’s. Shortly after I arrived, I stood laptop in hand, testing the limits of the WiFi as I didn’t get connection at my bed, chair or desk. I determined that I could get signal from the hallway outside my room, in the bathroom and in the entry hall where my main closet is located. My solution was to move one of the small dressers into this closet and pull a chair up to it. Closet office. It’s not the best ergonomic situation but it’s better than sitting on the floor in the hallway which I routinely see my neighbors do. There’s rarely a time I walk down the hall in the evening when I’m not stepping past someone sitting on the floor on their cellphone or laptop.
After closing up my closet office for the morning, I headed to the chow hall to make a quick to-go breakfast so I could do some prep work before my 7:30 patient. The chow hall serves the usual breakfast you would expect – eggs, bacon, potatoes, dry cereal, oatmeal, fruit, toast and the like. I was yearning for a repeat of the toasted bagel with egg sandwich I had made the other day. It’s much quicker to slop some oatmeal in to a bowl, I know, but my only options for to-go dishes are either a small paper plate or a gigantic square Styrofoam container with lid (which the use of in general here really bothers the tree-hugger side of me). So oatmeal is out.
The ordeal of making the egg sandwich here is worthy of an intermission and involves violating a few rules of order. After sending the bagel through the conveyor toaster three times (running counter to the passerby-er who suggested four times), I sneaked backwards through the hot food line to shave off some scrambled egg then further backwards because the ham looked edible, then further upstream asking one of the staff to wrap my masterpiece in cellophane for transport. Done. I jumped on The Old Girl – my bike – and headed to the clinic.
So here’s where my day begins to pick up interest. I finished a bit early with my morning patients and biked over to the hospital, parking The Old Girl in a rack just outside the doors. Upon return, I realize she has been replaced by an imposter! Still a red Sun bike with double basket in the rear, rusty bolts and fenders, a worthy replacement, but she’s not the same rickety bike I’ve grown to love. Uh-oh, I heard that this could happen. Someone has taken my bike.
I was told that in general, true thievery is not common here. If your bike is missing there’s a good chance it was taken by mistake or by one of the Marshallese so they can quickly get to the ferry before it leaves. Bikes don’t leave the island. You just need to keep an eye out and you’ll find it.
So I left the imposter at the hospital hoping the confused person will remember their mistake and come back. Walking over to lunch, I scan all the bike racks hoping to see mine and wondering how this is going to play out.
I start to replay the morning. Did I have my own bike when I left the clinic to go to the hospital or was it taken while at work? Or did it happen at breakfast when I left the chow hall? Do I remember The Old Girl’s ker clank this morning or was that yesterday?
I saw my last patient at lunch, and asked her what color her bike was. Yellow. And all my other patients that morning had very different bikes than mine. Sitting at the table with Yellow Bike girl and her friends, I was feeling very much the victim but reassured by the others that it happens all the time.
Then I see Micki, who arranged this bike for me when I arrived on Kwaj, and I confess to her about the situation. “Oh, it happens some times,” she say. “We’ll find it,” but the look of concern on her face is matching mine. As I rehashed the morning with her, a thought began to trickle in that maybe it was I who took someone else’s bike in my haste to get to work. “You know, I’d feel a lot better about this if I could blame someone else,” and looked to Micki for suggestions. “I don’t think it was me, but I’m having some doubts.” “We could post something on Facebook about it later. We’ll find it,” she replied.
Stepping outside the chow hall, I took another glance at the bike racks hoping for a miracle and there she was…“Q La Q” on the back of the seat, yellow bungee cord across the basket, rusty parts waiting to test my tetanus immunity. The Old Girl has been returned! And in the exact spot where I parked her this morning at breakfast. Well wasn’t that smart of the perp! I found Micki again and she came out to stand watch while I got the imposter from down the road. The switch was made in full view of the diners but without fuss or fanfare.
The Old Girl and I are reunited! I wonder what story she would tell of her adventures without me that morning. Did she miss me? Was she lonely? Is she thinking that I need to give her a pretty ribbon so stands out more from the others? Or simply that I deserve her nickname more than she does.
I can neither confirm nor deny her thinking on this last one. And I’m sticking to this.
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