It is the night of Saturday, the 16th of February, 2020. I am in my studio in Groningen and I can hear Dennis knocking on my front door, but I do not open. Ciara’s visit to Groningen was exciting, but she didn’t only sing any of her famous R&B songs in Forum or the Martini Plaza. She was also banging on my front door. Even though I was a fan of her music in my teenage years, I did not let her in either. It is the second stormy weekend in a row but this weekend the storm was rather metaphorical in my life. That being said, the following article is dedicated to a “story time” of what a storm can mean in the life of an international student living in Groningen. Specifically, this text is describing a boring set of events, which can also be summed up in the phrase “my bike was stolen”.
My brother and his girlfriend arrived yesterday in the Netherlands after a flight from Greece and a small trip from the airport of Eindhoven to the train station of Groningen. They visited me for the first time and I was happy to host them in my new studio for the upcoming weeks. After their arrival they came straight to the restaurant in which I work and, since I was during a shift time, suggested I gave them the keys of my studio so that they can go and get some rest until I finish working. Only problem: I discover my keys are missing. Some of you might relate, but my house keys are in the same keychain as my bike keys. That means that my keys might have been forgotten on the lock of my bike. Only problem: I discover my bike is also missing.
With this second discovery, my brain had a lot to process. One, I had no bike, my bike was stolen, or to be exact, my swapfiets bike was stolen. Two, I had no apartment for my brother and his girlfriend to sleep and spend the night. Three I had to regulate my reactions and decide on what are some practical solutions for tonight. Last but not least, I had to figure out what are the consequences of what just happened. Since I was during my shift and the restaurant, just like every Friday night, was packed, there was not much to do. Without any access to my phone, I apologized and my brother and his girlfriend decided to spend the night in a hotel near Pathe cinema. After the restaurant closed and while I was on the way to my friend Anne for a last minute sleepover, I had the chance to articulate point number four. What were the consequences of what just happened? Many of you won’t be surprised, but the consequences of what happened are not something easily digested…
Anne and I spent the next morning trying to prioritize and find the best solution for the loss of not only my bike, but also its keys and also my apartment keys. The good news was that the solution was there and it was crystal clear. The bad news was that the solution required me spending 500 euros on getting my life back to where it was 24 hours ago. I won’t get into details about the regulations that contributed to the size of the price. Instead I can insert countless clichés that justify the situation. Clichés like “You pay for your mistakes”, “karma is a b*@tch” and the list goes on and on. Powerless as I were, I headed to my lunch shift at the restaurant, this time digesting a completely uncalled financial loss, and struggling to keep my gut health into balance to say the least.
Up until this point of the story, I am assuming some of you are wondering why did I decide to share something like this with the public. What makes this unlucky but bland set of events
worth writing an article about. Well that is because the rest of the story is quit… peculiar and some of the details would be best to be kept private. Furthermore I am not sure whether or not you will believe me on what I will describe, but I don’t blame you. I have become more cynical and pragmatic as I get older so if I am being fair, maybe not believing me is the best advice I can give you. At the same time, one of the things that this “storm” taught me is the exact opposite. And what is the opposite of a pragmatic approach? I will just stick to the term “romantic”. Yes it taught me to be more romantic. After all, it was valentine’s day recently, so makes total sense.
The initial plan for us was to call one of the trustworthy locksmiths of Groningen after my shift was over. Getting the keys of the studio was one of the essential steps towards the “catharsis” of this mess. The second part of the plan was for me to contact swapfiets on Monday morning and report my stolen bike along with the missing keys. To add to that, I was keeping a calm and rational character throughout, since I did not want to ruin my brother and his girlfriend’s mood, after all they were here for holidays! Plus it would be very unprofessional on my behalf to bring any of those emotions in my working environment. I also had to deal with the voices in my head saying “you are stupid, irresponsible and cannot be an adult”, “grow up you teenage hippie”, along with other beautiful and mindful statements of this kind. Of course I was not worried that I would not learn my lesson because swapfiets was planning to remind me how much my irresponsible behavior can translate in real world terminology.
My brother entered the restaurant five minutes before my shift was over. It was not before that moment that my emotional rollercoaster took a huge turn. He showed me a picture and asked me “is this your bike?”. You wouldn’t believe it my dear AEGEEans… The bike in that picture was indeed my bike. Adrenaline took over me and I struggled to keep myself together for the next couple of minutes until my shift was over. Next thing we know is my brother and I were running across Groningen in search of my bike.
My bike was parked right outside a central supermarket. I was fixated at first but after the first three hours of hiding in the cold until someone came to pick it up my fixation started decreasing. Maybe someone drunk took the bike yesterday, left it there, through the keys and forgot all about it. Having my bike back was not the solution to the problem. They key, was the key (Demetra, 2020). The keys were the abyss, the keys were the nemesis, the keys were the Holy Grail. And yes I am aware that I am being dramatic but at this point I was feeding this growing passion of revenge, a passion running through my veins and honestly… scaring me. This passion elevated my perception reflexes; it was keeping me warm, and was keeping me saner that ever. These situations always bring up some sick and dark aspects of who we are, so I am not that impressed by my next though. “What if there are people stealing and selling the stolen bikes in central and busy spots like these?”, “what if there is a person wandering among us, at this very moment, planning to sell this bike, just like a couple of other bikes?”, “what if the earth was round just like everyone has been insisting it is?”. Unlike the third question, the first ones started to make more sense in my mind. I now started paying closer attention to the people around the diameter of my bike.
The finale of the story will not make any more sense to you than it makes to me. For that reason I will keep it short, to the point and I will try not to put any commentary; which is
challenging I must confess. I spot a guy that looks like is not a passenger, is not waiting for someone, and is not here to do his weekly groceries for sure. I approach him and I tell him that I am dealing with a problem with which he might be able to help me. I explained that my bike is stolen, I show him the bike, and ask him if he knows anyone that can know something about it in return of a good “thank you prize”. To that the guy asked how much I am willing to pay to get my keys back if hypothetically speaking he could help me. I gave him a price. He left and returned in a matter of a minute and told me to follow him in the supermarket… while showing me my keys (!!!!). We walked in the supermarket and stood in front of the plant section. I placed the money under a pot. He gave me the keys. We shook hands. He told me I am a good person. I said thank you and left.
My description of the events that took place without adding any commentary was a success, though I admit I cheated with inserting those exclamation marks towards the end of the paragraph. The descriptive composition of what happened to me for the last 48 hours was filled with open ended questions, and I will continue with the same tactic. Why did my brother decide to take a picture of a bike fitting my description? What were the chances for him to take a picture of MY bike out of the hundred identical swapfiets bikes spread in every corner of Groningen? What gave me the nerve to approach a total stranger in the hopes of the very small possibility that he can contribute to a solution? What gave me the nerve and knowledge to approach him in a non-offensive way? Why did he keep the keys of a stolen bike and parked it in a central highway without any alterations to it? Why did he risk his well-being, the possibility of public humiliation for a very small price of money? What do my actions say about me? What other ethical considerations can we derive? Why do I have the need to write about this story and make it public? What is the conclusion of this story? I do have some hypothesis about the answers to some of those questions while others are too abstract for my poor and limited by definition human brain. One thing is for sure: the lines that determine what kind of conversation we should be having are very thin.
Answering those questions is impossible to do, but I will try to give my brief opinion on two of them. I will start with what are some ethical considerations we can derive from this story? To begin with, a small parenthesis about the stolen bike industry. I would never buy a stolen bike for a better price because I would never support a business like this. As a consumer I am aware that every purchase of mine supports a market place and feeds a person, so supporting a business that is based upon stealing is almost like stealing myself in an indirect way. I have a growing appreciation about Groningen, even though I have only lived here for half a year, and want to contribute to a better more criminal – free future. Or at least this is how it works in my world. Well this specific occasion is not very different, it might even be worse. Me giving money to the person that stole my own bike in order to take it back is paradox to say the least. Furthermore this person received money under a very weird setting for a swapfiets which immediately created new business for him and might push him to steal more swapfiets now that he knows that he can make profit out of it. He now knows that the keys of the bike for example have a lot of value to the owner. This is very fresh and I am still contemplating on what I will do and on how I feel about this person. But the truth is that I am feeling sympathy towards him. Which brings me to my next and final point.
What is the conclusion of this story? I have spent a lot of time (maybe too much for a psychology student taking statistics III) trying to wrap my thoughts around how I feel about this person that stole my bike. I am also trying to accept that I am one of the luckiest people in Groningen. But, I will not share any of those. This article is already too long. So I will pass the question to you guys.