The silvery handlebar stuck out of the bottom of the hedge, colourful tassels hanging off the green grips either side. The front wheel was buckled and bent out of shape, rendering the bicycle useless. It looked otherwise new, well cared for. Stickers of princesses and cute animals adorned every inch of the front-mounted wicker basket. The only thing missing was the rider.
Nearby, still within earshot, children played in the park, filling the air with the joyful sounds of child's play.
Putting an end to yet another cup of coffee, the call came in of an accident; a neighbour had witnessed a bike hit the pavement and saw the rider fall and hit the ground hard. By the time we turned up, the rider was nowhere to be seen. After a minute or two, the caller came out of their house, unintentionally mocking us by holding a cup of steaming drink. Maybe tea, maybe coffee, it didn't really matter.
"He really hit the floor. I heard the thump from my window!"
"Yep, big chap too." He suddenly realised why we looked confused. "Oh. Weird. What the hell's a big bloke doing riding a pink bike?"
"That's exactly what we want to know. Knowing where he is would probably help too."
The police arrived, having been given the call as an accident. Chinese Whispers had led them to believe that there was a car and an unconscious patient involved. The neighbour repeated his story, adding the police to the list of now confused people. The blue lights had attracted the usual crowd, but the distinct lack of action made it disperse faster than usual. All they saw was one of the police officers pick up the bike and put it in the back of their van. My student and I were left with nothing to do but put our bags back in the car.
Only two people kept walking towards us, hand in hand. A giant hand comforting a tiny one as sobs racked her body and tears stained her face. His voice carried the few dozen steps on the wind.
"We'll go tell the police over there, shall we? I'm sure they'll be able to help - but only if you're really brave and tell them exactly what happened. Can you do that?"
One of the officers knelt down, meeting the child eye to eye.
"What's happened to you then? We can't have your tears making such a mess on the pavement!"
She tried hard not to smile, tried to hide behind the man, seeming to want to climb inside him.
"Is this your dad?"
A nod of the head.
"Has he been tickling you too much and you want us to tell him off?"
A grin, a shake of the head, and finally a laugh.
"Well then, you better tell us what happened."
She took a deep breath, as if her narrative was the beginning of an epic saga. "I was in the park with my friends. My bike was by the fence and we all went on the swings. Then, a man came and took my bike and rided off with it, and now I don't know where it is!"
"He just rided off with it, did he? Well, let's see what we can do about that."
The tears returned, but just sat threateningly close to the corners of her eyes, filling them like untapped wells.
"I used to be a magician," said the officer. "I bet I can guess what your bike looks like." She gave him a quizzical look, but said nothing more.
"I bet it's pink."
"Yes," she said, her voice quiet and questioning.
"And I bet it has little colourful ribbons on the handle-bars."
"Yes," this time more hopeful than unsure.
"And," he said, extending the single syllable until it seemed to stretch for miles, "I bet it's got a lovely basket on the front with pretty princess stickers all over!"
She looked at her dad who just shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, I don't know who the man was who took your bike, but I know where your bike is. Would you like to see it?"
Without a moment's thought, she held out her free hand for the officer to hold. The three of them walked to the van together, the two men swinging the young girl through the air to the sound of shrieks of joy. I heard the officer warn them that the wheel was damaged, but neither seemed to be perturbed.
"You don't mind?"
"Nah," said the dad. "I own a bike shop."
We left them to their reunion, returned to the FRU and opened the folder with the paperwork.
"What do I write for this one then?" asked my student.
"Easy. No patient, gone before arrival."
"More like Gone before they got spotted riding a girly pink bike!"
"Go on then. I dare you!"
"All right then, I will!"
At the end of the shift, I looked through all the paperwork before posting it in the internal mail box. As I arrived at the piece of paper with the story of the pink bike, three words appeared on the page.
Gone before arrival.
"Oy! You!" I called after my student, watching him try to beat a hasty retreat. "You're such a..."
And without letting me complete the sentence, he walked out of the station flapping his arms.