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The Wave

Extract from a short story by Tom Ruttan

 

The bike’s passenger seat swept up just enough that I could see over my father’s shoulders. That seat was my throne. My dad and I travelled many back roads, searching for the ones we had never found before. Travelling these roads just to see where they went. Never in a rush. Just be home for supper.

I remember wandering down a back road with my father, sitting on my throne watching the trees whiz by, feeling the rumble of our bike beneath us like a contented giant cat. A motorcycle came over a hill toward us and as it went by, my father threw up his gloved clutch hand and gave a little wave. The other biker waved back with the same friendly swing of his left wrist.

I tapped my father on his shoulder, which was our signal that I wanted to say something. He cocked his helmeted ear back slightly while keeping his eyes ahead.

I yelled, “Do we know him?”

‘What?” he shouted.

“You waved to him. Who was it?”

“I don’t know. Just another guy on a bike. So I waved.”

“How come?”

“You just do. It’s important.”

Later, when we had stopped for chocolate ice cream, I asked why it was important to wave to other bikers. My father tried to explain how the wave demonstrated comradeship and a mutual understanding of what it was to enjoy riding a motorcycle. He looked for the words to describe how almost all bikers struggled with the same things like cold, rain, heat, car drivers who did not see them, but how riding remained an almost pure pleasure.

I was young then and I am not sure that I really understood what he was trying to get across, but it was a beginning. Afterward, I always waved along with my father when we passed other bikers.

I remember one cold October morning when the clouds were heavy and dark, giving us another clue that winter was riding in from just over the horizon. My father and I were warm inside our car as we headed to a friend’s home. Rounding a comer, we saw a motorcycle parked on the shoulder of the road. Past the bike, we saw the rider walking through the ditch, scouring the long grasses crowned with a touch of frost. We pulled over and backed up to where the bike stood.

I asked Dad, “Who’s that?” “Don’t know,” he replied. “But he seems to have lost something. Maybe we can give him a hand.”

We left the car and wandered through the tall grass of the ditch to the biker. He said that he had been pulling on his gloves as he rode and he had lost one. The three of us spent some time combing the ditch, but all we found were two empty cans and a plastic water bottle.

My father turned and headed back to our car and I followed him. He opened the trunk and threw the cans and the water bottle into a small cardboard box that we kept for garbage. He rummaged through various tools, oil containers and windshield washer fluid until he found an old crumpled pair of brown leather gloves. Dad straightened them out and handed them to me to hold. He continued looking until he located an old catalogue. I understood why my dad had grabbed the gloves. I had no idea what he was going to do with the catalogue. We headed back to the biker who was still walking the ditch.

My dad said, “Here’s some gloves for you. And I brought you a catalogue as well.”

“Thanks,” he replied. I really appreciate it.” He reached into his hip pocket and withdrew a worn black wallet. “Let me give you some money for the gloves,” he said as he slid some bills out. “No thanks,” my dad replied as I handed the rider the gloves. “They’re old and not worth anything anyway.” The biker smiled. “Thanks a lot.” He pulled on the old gloves and then he unzipped his jacket. I watched as my father handed him the catalogue and the biker slipped it inside his coat. He jostled his jacket around to get the catalogue sitting high and centred under his coat and zipped it up. I remember nodding my head at the time, finally making sense of why my dad had given him the catalogue. It would keep him a bit warmer. After wishing the biker well, my father and I left him warming up his bike.

Two weeks later, the biker came to our home and returned my father’s gloves. He had found our address on the catalogue. Neither my father nor the biker seemed to think that my father stopping at the side of the road for a stranger and giving him a pair of gloves, and that stranger making sure that the gloves were returned, were events at all out of the ordinary for people who rode motorcycles. For me, it was another subtle lesson.