Stepping out of a Supercuts in broad daylight — near Copley Square — I saw a man at work cutting through the cable around my bicycle with a pair of garden clippers, as though he were pruning a hedge. Shorter than I, he wore glasses and had a smooth, shaved head. I confronted him without getting too close.
“That’s my bike,” I told him.
He stared back at me. He had tiny, angry eyes.
“No, it’s not,” he growled. He returned to the cable.
Around me, people moved along the sidewalks with shopping bags or briefcases, in suits, light spring jackets, walking dogs tethered to leashes. They didn’t seem to notice me or the man or what was happening to my bicycle, as though small crimes such as this were curtained away from the goings-on of ordinary life.
“This is my bicycle,” I told him again.
The man looked up, as though surprised I was still around. He stood up now. He looked more forlorn than menacing, although the sharp points of the clippers kept me from advancing on him.
“Get going,” he whispered to me harshly.
I saw his teeth. They were yellow and brown and barely seemed rooted in his gums. Had he been in my medical office, I would have looked more closely in his mouth, with a mirror and a light, and probably would have sent him to one of my colleagues for a dental exam. This observation gave me a bit of courage, the kind I had when I visited prisoners in the hospital.
“Sir,” I said to him, trying to give the proceedings a bit of dignity, “please.”
Now the man stepped toward me, brandishing the hedge clippers, waving them in his right hand. Alcohol rolled off his breath, but he was in command of his feet and his body; he positioned himself between the bicycle and me.
“Turn around and go home,” he said loudly.
It wasn’t courage then — it was recklessness — but I’ve learned again and again that in some situations, and in the right doses, recklessness works fine if you’re short on courage.
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” I said to him. “I’m not going to report you. Walk away.”
I thought he was about to cut me just then. He could have. In a fit of anger, he might have jabbed the blade into the little soft part in my belly.
“You’re crazy,” he told me instead.
A moment later, he stepped onto the sidewalk with the clippers and strode away from the lamppost where my bicycle had been chained, disappearing into the crowd of pedestrians.
I bent down to inspect the damage. The cable, twisted, had been chewed through, and underneath the black sheath was a simple steel wire that could be easily snapped. Had I come out of the salon a moment later, the stranger would have been flying down Boylston on a stolen bicycle. Such serendipitous timing I owed to the haircutter, who, seeing a long queue of customers accumulating, had rushed me out of the shop.
On my way home, coasting through the garden paths in Fenway that led back to my apartment, I wondered whether rescuing my bicycle had saved me time, whether I was now ahead of where I should be in my life or behind or just in the right place, and whether there was any way of knowing which of the three it was.
Sushrut Jangi is a writer and physician in Boston. Send comments to email@example.com.