Bicycle shop


Every morning, when I cycle to the office, I cycle along the laterite road on the Stung Sen riverbank. I pass the village; see the women working in the garden and watering the vegetable and plants, pass the kids in school uniform (white shirt and blue shorts) walk to the local elementary school. At the end of the road, just before turning left to pass the bridge on the national road that cuts through Kampong Thom, I pass in front of a small bicycle shop. Six month ago it was not there. The owner of that shop started it few months ago. In the beginning you could not call it a shop; it was basically four wooden poles and a plastic roof that hardly protected against the unbearable heat of the sun in the dry season. I recall that he had a hand pump to refill with air empty tiers and few tools that may have helped him to fix a flat tier, but hardly more than that. One evening, cycling back home, I stopped to put air in my wheels and noticed that he was not along in that shop. It was just before sunset and a young woman has lit a small fire in the traditional Khmer pots that burn charcoal and was preparing a rice soup. I realized that not only he was using this small shack as his workshop, but also as the house he shared with his wife. On the ground they had a board made with bamboo sticks that served as table and probably as bed. To wash themselves they went down to the river. In the dry season dust is all what you can see when you go along these red laterite roads and his house-workshop was just on the road side. I have stopped several times there to put air in my wheels and gave a glace at his place; the wife was sometime sitting, other time preparing some food. He is a thin man, looks Khmer and has a low voice. His movements are slow and also his eyes move slow glances around.

This morning I stopped again. The shop has enlarged since last month. Four second hand bicycles are on sale. He also has more tools that can help him to fix a whole bicycle. Spare tiers are on display together with other accessories. His shop has enlarged and he built a wooden to protect against the rain. I looked at his slow movements while he was pumping the air, looked at his shop, his house. I could not see the wife this time. Probably she was at the market to buy some vegetables for the soup. I looked at all this and though it was in front of my eyes I could not grasp the real meaning of his poverty. The difference between my life and his life. His future.