I’m delivering mail when a raven-haired woman on a bicycle emerges from behind an apartment building. She takes a quick glance behind, almost as if she is being pursued, and starts down the stairs. These are low, gradual stairs that I could go down easily with the wide tires of my mountain bike, but I would never attempt it with her skinny road-bike tires. Looking down, I notice that she is barefoot. It hardly comes as a surprise to me when, after two bumps down the steps, she gets knocked off course and crashes. I wince in sympathy as the flesh of her neck collides into the iron railing. She lies there crumpled on the sidewalk like a wounded bird. The back wheel of the bicycle still spins, the spokes glinting in the sunlight.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
Attired in a white T-shirt and baggy shorts, the slender woman appears to be Native American and about thirty. She doesn’t respond or move for a full minute, but then pops her head up as if she’s just awoken from a nap. Her eyes are glassy and I can tell she is very high. She hastily attempts to rise, but some prescription vials tumble from her bag. She scoops the drugs back up and staggers toward the overturned bicycle. Her basic motor functions betray her, yet she seems guided by some preternatural instinct for survival.
I hear a middle-aged lady calling from up the street. She wants me to stop the woman, but instead I take a step backward to give her space. The Indian woman awkwardly remounts the bicycle which is too big for her and starts pedaling down the sidewalk away from me, getting smaller and smaller until she is gone. I’m glad she is uninjured or at least unable to feel pain.
The middle-aged lady is beside me now. She looks like a candle, white with all the fat melted down to her base.
“Oh, that woman! She broke into that apartment. I saw her go in through a window.”
“Really? That makes sense. She was really in a hurry to get away.”
“I already called the police. I was hoping you’d stop her. She stole that bicycle.”
I feel stupid because that had not occurred to me. The bike did look expensive.
“Look,” I say defensively, “I’m not a policeman or a social worker. We have to steer clear of trouble out here.”
“Of course, I’m not blaming you.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. She crashed hard. I was surprised she got back up.”
“She was probably drunk.”
“She was on something. I don’t know that it was alcohol.”
“This city has gone completely in the toilet.”
She stomps off in a huff and I finish delivering mail to the block. I feel bad for both the victim who had their bike stolen and the Native American woman. A cop shows up in a squad car. I consider giving him a description of the bicycle thief, but it seems pointless so I just go about my day.
A couple weeks later, I’m sure I see her as I drive out to my route. Not so many generations ago her ancestors were stealing horses as a display of bravery. She was born into the world stripped of both her language and her land. It would benefit everyone if someone tried to make that right, but there are elections to worry about. She’s on a different bike now. It’s only a matter of time until she crashes again. I shake my head because it’s all I can do. I’m just an employee of the federal government.