It was Sunday, but even so, Darryl got up at 6 a.m. to walk to the office by the Brooklyn bridge. After shutting off his alarm, he rolled and tucked his sleeping bag and placed the bundle beside the humming air vent. In the closet across the room, he had hung a single set of day clothes: ebony Aldo lace-ups and a well-pressed Hugo Boss suit with silver cuff links. He put on the suit and walked in his socks into the living room, stopping for a moment to glance at the bike in the corner. Its chipping paint and tattered seat had become a tired fixture of his nearly empty apartment.
“There’s no way I’m shipping this thing to SF,” Darryl’s roommate Andrew had declared, crouching to examine the pedals. “It’s rusty anyway.” When Andrew had gotten up to catch his plane a few days later, he’d left the bike for Darryl to take to Goodwill. Then he had strolled out of the building with a cheery farewell, crossing the rainy street to take an Uber to JFK. He was headed to San Francisco — balmy boardwalks and a roaring Chinatown — for a job at a “small but growing” healthcare consulting firm.
Hey man, I’ll stay in touch, he had texted Darryl from the plane before takeoff. Accompanying the text was a selfie, blurred and overexposed.
And after that, in true Andrew fashion, he never did reach out. That had been at the beginning of the summer, months ago; Darryl still found it strange, living in apartment 2135 alone. But it didn’t take him long to sell the extra dresser and desk to some local college students. Even after Andrew’s cooking supplies had also been carted off by apartment neighbors, Darryl found himself looking for more things to sell: the bookshelf and the dusty GMAT textbooks on it, the faux fern, the taupe carpet, the swiveling kitchen bar stools. These things weren’t Andrew’s, strictly speaking — they’d all been bought for the apartment, the costs split between the two of them — but they certainly didn’t feel like Darryl’s. They were excesses, he reminded himself, that Andrew had insisted on. When Darryl had occasionally protested, raising an eyebrow at the fake Ikea fern or questioning the need for a second wine rack, Andrew had always laughed or bumped his shoulder. What was Darryl pinching pennies for? Weren’t these the exact splurges they’d been working toward all this time?
Darryl hadn’t thought of much to say in response — it wasn’t as if he had any dates or vacations to spend his paychecks on — so he had let Andrew do what he pleased and accepted the various charges when they filled his inbox. In the months after the two of them had moved in, the living room was quickly populated — not only by “Better Homes and Gardens”-worthy decor, but also by Andrew’s friends. Technically, most of them were also Darryl’s friends — buddies from debate team, brothers from their college’s chapter of Sigma Chi — but Darryl had often excused himself from raucous episodes of “Game of Thrones,” retreating to his bedroom with a cup of lemon tea instead. There was always some cold, trickling notion he couldn’t quite define: that he was falling behind — or that even after all this effort, he actually hated the city. His job. His office, with its seamless mahogany furnishings and immaculate windows.
Sometimes, in those moments — lying in his bed, listening to the clink of beer bottles through the wall — Darryl had half-wished the soft folds of his comforter would suffocate him, or that the dark room would swallow him whole. Maybe this was why, when the time came to sell Andrew’s bed in June, Darryl had found himself taking his old sleeping bag down from the closet, dismantling his own bed frame to sell along with his former roommate’s.
Now, all those summer months later, Darryl’s final task was the junky red Schwinn. It was the last of Andrew’s things for him to deal with — and, in fact, Darryl was coming to the last of his own possessions, too: Just last week, he’d gotten rid of a pile of old T-shirts, two shelves’ worth of books and even his trusty — though, admittedly, battered — electric kettle. He could imagine exactly what Andrew would say if he walked in on the apartment now: “Dude, I get the espresso machine — but even the kettle? That thing was practically your family heirloom!”
Indeed, it had been almost an ongoing joke between them. Darryl could remember the topic arising on several of the Sunday mornings they used to spend together in the kitchen — Darryl at the counter idly proofing his PowerPoint slides, drawn out of his room by Andrew’s insistence that they have breakfast together. The sharp scent of paprika, Andrew’s signature cooking spice, had wafted through the kitchen as he stooped over the stove in his usual sweats and devoured spoonfuls of scrambled eggs straight from the pan. He often shook his head as Darryl poured himself a cup of lemon tea. “Man,” he had groaned once, “why do you keep that old thing around?” Pointing his spoon at the silver face of the kettle, he had swirled his hand in a haphazard circle. “It’s got crusty gunk all up in there.”
Darryl had thought about telling Andrew that they were just calcium deposits, that for some reason their apartment had hard water, but by then the eggs were setting and Andrew had turned his focus to the spatula.
“You sure you don’t want any?” Andrew asked.
“No, I’m gonna get back to work on the slide deck soon.”
Andrew had looked at him more seriously then, still chewing. “You need a hobby, Darryl,” he’d said, scraping the last bits of egg from the pan onto a plate. “My mom bought a bonsai a month ago, and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. … Need me to get a plant baby for you?”
Darryl gave him the finger and carried his mug to his bedroom. While the electric kettle didn’t have much intrinsic worth, Darryl had valued its consistency. The water always came out bubbling hot, preceded by a gentle “click” of the lever. Every morning for years, a mug of simple, steaming lemon tea had accompanied Darryl as he worked — on assignments for his classes, back when he was in school; now, on his case files and company research. This was something that Andrew couldn’t understand, this need of Darryl’s for quiet or routine. Still, Darryl had eventually added the kettle to a “give-away” box on one of his apartment purging sprees, wedging it next to a stack of DVDs with a disciplined detachment that almost surprised him. Meanwhile, Andrew’s ancient bike had sat alone under the sweeping sunbeams from the living room window, leaning heavily to one side on its broken stand. Darryl had often forgotten the bike’s presence. Ever since the summer, he’d been spending less and less time in his apartment, swallowing expensive steak dinners — delivered from the restaurant across the street — at 3 a.m. in his office.
Lost in thought, Darryl tied his shoes slowly by the front door. When he stood up, he paused for a minute to consider the red Schwinn. With its logo chipped beyond recognition and its handlebars shedding flakes of rubber, the bike was ragged enough to inspire pity. Even so, for a brief moment, the thought of riding it to his office crossed Darryl’s mind. The trip was short; what harm could biking do? No — it had been ages since he had ridden a bike. What if he fell? He fought the strange, unfamiliar impulse as he slid his papers, laptop and charger into his black backpack. Without consciously having made a decision, it seemed, he found himself standing over the bike, tentatively, swiveling it from its resting place in the corner of the room. Reservations vanishing, he kicked up the stand. He took the bike down the elevator and wheeled it through the apartment building’s front doors, swinging his right leg over the slim iron bars.
As Darryl pushed forward and began to pump his legs, a soaring adrenaline filled his body and nearly lifted him from his seat. What was this unnatural momentum? He glided past the gelato shop, through the sweet scent of sugar cones and cream, and coasted down the still-vacant sidewalks with a lightness in his chest. The bike seemed to steer itself through traffic, weaving Darryl past honking yellow cabs and down streets he could hardly care to recognize. Only when he saw the glassy, blue-green face of his office building did he register his location. But by then the folders in his backpack were long forgotten, the weight of his laptop nonexistent as he followed his handlebars down the next street, pulled by some gentle, inexplicable force. When the light ahead turned green, Darryl drifted east with traffic.
It could have been days that he spent riding that euphoric wave, backpack straps fluttering alongside him over miles of blurred pavement and asphalt. Given its rusted gears and scraped beams, the bike rode miraculously smoothly, and on it, the streets seemed to open wide. It was many breathless turns later that Darryl felt himself slipping through chilled October air, sailing through the entrance to the bridge and over the planks of the bike lane. He pedaled hard and turned his chin up to meet the warm, rising daylight. The bike, like an escaped fragment of some universal mystery, glinted beneath him. Derek was reminded suddenly of the times he’d looked out from his high office window, the times when the streets below had cascaded with endless movement and color, startling in their liveliness.
From his vantage point high over the river, Manhattan growing ever smaller and farther away, Darryl could envision it all — sliding the two weeks’ notice under his supervisor’s door, leaving the glass building and its windows far behind. In his mind, he could even see the text he would send to Andrew after — I quit the job!; the photo of the envelope attached; his phone buzzing immediately with Andrew’s incredulous response. Darryl could feel cool air on every surface of his widening smile.
The last stretch of the bridge, leading into Brooklyn, was coming up ahead. Darryl gripped the handlebars of the rusty red Schwinn. Then, 26 and soon to be unemployed, he surged ahead with the rising midday breeze.