Thirty feet of blood soaked tarmac separated the head from the body. I didn’t hear the explosion that threw me and the head across the road, you never do. Just the shockwave, that tosses you like a discarded wrapper, and slams you into the ground.
Belfast was tumbling around me in slow motion. Without lifting my head from the now glistening tarmac, I sensed the bike, or what remained of the bike. Smoking and twisted tubing lay between me and the head, across the tarmac that was now my world.
Shock drives, clarity, and memory, rushed in with adrenalin. Mortar Platoon. Mortars had found a mountain bike, thrown it into a pig, driven it to Palace Barracks where, with typical irony, they painted it orange and green. Everybody had a go on that bike, tooling around the barracks on it. Even the C.O. was spotted pedalling furiously.
A couple of weeks later one of my Corporals gave it to a red headed lad from the Ardoyne. I could still see his grin as the Corporal started him off with a savage push.
Over the next few weeks, as we padded the anxious streets, we’d spot the lad, never without the bike. Pleased to see ‘His Paras’, he’d jump the kerbs sprinting along pavement and road. He weaved in and out, drawing yet another thread of apprehension through pedestrians and drivers alike.
We had not noticed the bike. We had not noticed it for we had seen it almost everyday. “Probably a pound of Semtex packed into the frame”. The voice of what I knew to be an A.T.O. was returning me to some sort of reality. Belfast had stopped falling around me, and with the voice, came the sound of sirens, running feet, and shouted commands.
A medic leaned over me, reassuring, steady voiced. He sought and found a vein; the drip was in, strong arms lifted me. I caught a flash of the bright red cross of the Field Ambulance, and a piece of orange and green tubing still smoking in the gutter.
I would live to fight another day. But the bike, the bloody bike.