Every building has a secret entrance, one even the architects somehow overlooked. The first time I experience and witness the sudden disappearance of a bike through a solid wall was while going to a meeting in Old Montreal. The gray tightly-packed stoic buildings and cobbled stoned streets always make me think of Mary Poppins.
I was thinking about Mary Poppins holding a black umbrella floating down in between the buildings when I saw a flash of tweed and silver handlebars. In the moment, I turned to get a better look at the bike and the person riding it, the only thing left in my view is the wall of the Royal Bank.
The planned strategy of being early for my meeting left me as the need to investigate took over. I walk up to the wall and don’t hear a buzz or pull telling me this was a magical place nor did I see any other tweed-clad bicyclist gunning to enter the wall.
I check the time on my cell phone and have twenty minutes and two blocks to walk to before the meeting, so I wait at the corner for ten minutes hoping to see another incident. I don’t that day. Since then, I've been observing and gaining knowledge of where to look and spotting buildings to stake out which are more likely to have a chance spotting. It is a new obsession.
I'm near the Notre-Dame Basilica wearing a tweed split skirt, white blouse with victorian balloon sleeves and hold the handlebars of an ariel bicycle. This is the third Saturday in a row where I wondered Old Montreal in such an outfit. Last weekend, a family from the states asked to take a picture with me and paid me twenty dollars. I didn’t let on that I spoke English better than French.
Finally, I spot a tweed-clad bicycle rider and take off to follow him. He heads down and alley and even though I have never witnessed a hidden entrance in an alley, I follow. I realize that he is trying to lose me.
“Monsieur, Monsieur,” I yell. “Arret, stop, Arret.”
I see him glance back at me. My front tire dips into the hole of a missing cobblestone and in a panicked reaction, I squeeze both brakes and fall tumbling front and to the side. As my elbow slams into the cobblestones, I hear the crack of my iPhone also hitting the ground out in front of me. It was in my skirt pocket.
“Damn,” I mumble and close my eyes assessing the various pains at different points in my elbow, hip, and knee.
“Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle,” I hear and feel a touch on my shoulder. I open my eyes to see the tweed-clad bicyclist standing over me. “Ça Va? I’m afraid that’s the extent of my French. I hope you fared better than your phone.“ He held the phone in front of my face to show the spider crack on the screen.
“Oh,” I push up with my free hand. “Ooh, my elbow.”
“Slowly now. Just sit up. And we’ll make sure nothing is broken.”
“D'accord, okay,” I sit and look at the enormous tear in my sleeve.
“No blood, do you think you can move it?” I wince as I extend it. “Why are you following me?" he asks as I extend it and move it slowly back and forth.
“I, I well I,” I took a deep breath and let out my theory in one fell swoop. “I thought you would be the key to the secret entrances to the buildings. I have seen tweed and bicycles disappear through walls and I want in.”
He laughs. “Entrance through walls?” He stands and walks around me and then walks toward his abandoned bike. I think he is leaving me and then he walks back and extends both hands. “Do you think you’re ready to stand?” I nod and took hold of his hand and he grabs my upper part of the arm which had slammed into the stones. When I am standing close to him and feeling almost steady on my feet, he whispers in my ear. “If you can keep up, and don’t waiver a moment in following me, I’ll show you.”
Before I fully digested what he said, he is on his bike. In that instant, I didn’t waiver and go to my bike and pedal to catch up. He is already a block ahead of me. The speed at which he bikes over the cobblestones leaves my teeth chattering and my bruised elbow aching. He bikes two blocks and then through another alley and turns.
I almost miss his entrance through the wall. Pedaling with every bit of energy I have left, I too go through the wall Without any strange lights or noises, I am through the secret entrance.