It was nowhere in particular. There had been a farm a half or mile so further back, ahead there were no visible settlements, only trees, hedgerows and undulating lowland countryside through which the road wound southward. Ahead, pedalling frantically, a boy on a bicycle seemed anxious to reach somewhere as fast as his efforts might carry him. Perhaps eleven or twelve years of age, he paid little attention either to the traffic passing him or to the landscape through which he passed. His indifference to the world, his concentration upon the journey, made him seem timeless. How many boys might have ridden this road before him? In times before the omnipresence of the motor car, for how many people had a bicycle been the only means by which the road might have been travelled at other than walking pace?
Perhaps forty-odd years ago, another boy would have ridden with a similarly intense expression, riding country roads that went nowhere in particular. A bicycle provided cover for a shy boy uncomfortable in the company of others, on a bicycle one needed only to raise a hand in recognition or speak a brief word of greeting. A bicycle provided not only cover, it provided purpose. A schoolboy might have been given odd looks if he had suggested he was going for a walk, but announcing the intention of going cycling would never have been a cause for remark. Had he been riding a country road, there would have been no frantic hurrying, for where might he have gone that demanded speedy progress? Anyone passing him would have hardly noticed, when people move with urgency, a thought might arise as to where they might be going in such a hurry, but a schoolboy meandering along a country road would have aroused no interest.
Even the bicycle itself would have been unremarkable; shiny, expensive models demanded padlocks and chains, but no-one would have coveted an anonymous three speed built from assorted components. In later years, he would have a bicycle stolen from beside the house, only for it to be discarded within two miles, thrown over a hedge by a thief who had been presumably unable to cope with the idiosyncrasies of the machine.
Forty odd years later, and the behaviour of the schoolboy cyclists is as impenetrable as it was at the time. No-one pushed him out on his own, no-one compelled him to choose an isolated existence, yet there seemed something inexorable about it, as if there was no other way.
The boy riding the bicycle today would have been different – he was riding with purpose, with a destination. He will turn out very differently.