I am being pursued remorselessly through the streets of south Manchester by an old Indian man in a parka coat, carrying a rucksack. I think he is trying to tell me something- but I have no idea what.
It all started on Friday night. In a mysterious incident, the back wheel of my bike had become wobbly. I transported the poorly two-wheeled conveyance to The Bicycle Doctor in Rusholme, who diagnosed broken spokes, and instructed me to bring the wheel back the following morning- not the whole bike you understand, just the wheel. I dutifully returned the following morning, in the car, parking in a terraced sidestreet. As I opened the hatchback to get the wheel out, I heard a voice:
'Hey- you student people here?'
I looked down to see a small Indian man sitting in a doorway, wearing a parka coat, and holding a rucksack.
'What's that you say?'
'You here- you student people?'
'Er- no. I'm not from round here', I explained, brandishing the wheel aloft. 'I'm just getting my bike mended. Well, not my bike, really. My wheel'.
This explanation appeared to satisfy the inquisitive old gentleman in the retro overcoat. After a moment's reflection he rose wearily to his feet, and set off along the street. After a minute or so he passed me again, this time travelling in the opposite direction.
'Ah yes, bicycle doctor. Here, round the corner'.
The doctor- who was indeed, round the corner- took the wheel off me and instructed me to come back- for a third time- to pick it up on Monday night. So on Monday morning I had to get the 197 to work. As I waited at the stop, I noticed a familiar figure out of the corner of my eye. Seemingly oblivious to the crowd of commuters, the old Indian man in the parka coat was tramping steadily up the A6 in the direction of Stockport. A minute later, just as the bus arrived, he passed us again- this time travelling towards Longsight. As he walked past, he just seemed to catch my eye. Out of the bus window, I tried to see where he had got to- but now the old Indian man was nowhere to be seen. I buried myself in a free Metro newspaper and tried to forget him.
On Monday night I got a 42 up to the Bicycle Doctor, then, deciding against waiting for the notoriously unreliable 53 to take me to Longsight market to catch the 192, instead set off walking along Dickenson Road, wheeling my newly-mended wheel along beside me like a 1930s street urchin with his favourite hula-hoop. All seemed well with the world. However, the following morning, as I was struggling to reunite the wheel with the bike, I noticed that familiar, dogged gait again. Those familiar baggy trousers. Finally, the Parka coat, fastened above the wispy white beard to protect from the freezing sleet. The old Indian man- rucksack at the ready- was walking up my street!
My pursuer passed the houses on the opposite side, going up towards the train line- then sure enough, a minute later, was to be seen on his way back- and now he seemed to be coming towards my house! Hastily, I finished screwing the wheel on, and dived inside.
It was to no avail. From the top of the stairs I could see a figure approaching the front door. Through the frosted glass I could make out a hazy blue body and a brown head, separated by a furry mass around neck level. Dumbstruck, I waited for the knock on the door.
But it never came. Instead, a paper was pushed through the letterbox. I scrambled down the stairs and picked it up. It was a message in leaflet form, luridly illustrated and covered in lavish red lettering:
'Taj Mahal Takeaway. 712 Stockport Road. 10 inch Cheese and Onion Pizza, $2.99. Student Discount'
I unfolded the leaflet to see if any sense could be made of its cryptic message. A small business card fell to the floor. I fell upon it, nearly knocking the hall table over in my haste. By now my hands were sweating, but I managed to pick up the miniscule item:
"Kings Taxis, Levenshulme. Student Special. Minibus. Airport Rates 0161 2755555'.
I stood inside the frosted glass and tried to piece the story together.
'You here- you student people?', he had asked me, right at the beginning. And now:
Was the Indian man trying to arrange some kind of... overseas liaison? Who are these mysterious 'student people, here'? Could there be more to the mysterious broken spokes than meet the eye? The kindly bicycle doctor- could he be in on this, too? And why- why oh why- does the 53 bus to Longsight Market never, ever, run on time?
Only one man has the answers. But since he delivered his cryptic missive, the old Indian man with the parka coat and the rucksack has not been seen. I watch for him in the early mornings, as I cycle these south Manchester streets. So far, the new spokes are holding up well. The same cannot necessarily be said for my increasingly nervous state of mind.