Simon skipped breakfast that morning. He cleaned his teeth, swallowed a glass of water, and set off before dawn, pushing his bicycle the five miles into the village. He arrived long before Sushila’s father opened the shop, but he knew that if he banged on the shutters someone would ask who it was, and he knew they wouldn’t turn him away.
Sushila answered, and her big brother Premdas mended his chain for him cheerfully enough. “That’s the third time in less than two weeks, Simon. You really need a new chain – and you should change the sprocket and the chain wheel too, they’re terribly worn and they’ll spoil your new chain if you don’t.”
Simon knew Premdas was right, and wasn’t just trying to make a few extra rupees out of him. But how could he afford the 280 rupees? Even just a new chain would stretch his budget, but how often was he shelling out three rupees to have his chain fixed? And it always broke at the most inconvenient times, too.
He thanked Premdas, and then cycled back past his house to the little cove where he kept his canoe. He hid his bicycle behind the usual rock, and paddled out to sea for the morning’s fishing.
It wasn’t a good morning. By eleven o’clock – at a guess – he hadn’t caught anything. For the thousandth time, he cursed the big boats further offshore that were sweeping the sea clean of fish. He remembered how, before they came, he could fill the bottom of his canoe in an hour or two.
Then he struck lucky. It was a big one. Once he got it on board, he could see just how big it was. Curled right round, it only just fit in his jhola. It must have weighed at least five or six kilo – enough to pay for a new chain, chainwheel and sprocket – very nearly. He knew Sushila’s father would lend him the rest.
He set off back to the shore in high spirits. He pulled his canoe above the high water mark, and ran behind the rock to get his bicycle.
It had gone.
He was sure that someone had simply borrowed it, and that he’d get it back all right; but in the meantime, how could he get to the market in the village before his fish went off in that heat?
What use is a fish without a bicycle?