Janet Pywell ellie BravoMaria is in her office.

She is in deep concentration, surrounded by invoices and numerous black folders.”Coffee Break!” I call. “Come on! Let’s go. FatBoy is waiting.”…

I hold a spare jacket and helmet.

“I can’t.” She points at the mess on her desk.

“You can! It’s Monday morning, it’ll still be here when you come back.”

“Oh my God, are you sure?” Maria looks filled with fear and anticipation. “I’ll probably be a terrible passenger.” Her wide brown eyes show concern.

“You can steer then! Come on, let’s go!”

We are still giggling as we run down the stairs. In the reception, Siobhan’s purple head looks up from the magazine she is reading. Stuart is looking over her shoulder, he grins and raises a thumb.    “Good luck, Maria.”

“My turn next!” Siobhan shouts.

In the street, the bike gleams; tempting and dangerous. Maria stands as I adjust her helmet strap. Like Lily, she has dark circles around her eyes, and I feel her quick warm breath on my cheeks. I gun the bike and it purrs into life.

“Swing your leg over,” I shout, turning to make sure she knows where to hold, but she is looking up. I follow her gaze. John is watching from the window of his office.

The familiar thrill of excitement surges in my loins as I ease the bike carefully into the traffic. Maria laughs loudly and waves a careless arm in John’s direction.

We ride along Lisburn Road. I turn right. We pass Queen’s University, the Botanic Gardens and the Ulster Museum, and ride through Stranmillis toward the embankment of the Lagan. Following the river, we head toward Shaw’s Bridge and once on the dual carriageway I open the throttle. Maria grips my waist and screams with delight.

We stop at traffic lights and I shout to her and she replies. “I love it!” I turn the bike toward the Annadale Embankment and the slow-moving river, over the bridge we cruise through the residential area and I stop at Cranmore Park.

I dismount and remove my helmet. Maria is emotional following the rush of adrenaline. She seems unsteady on her feet and I hold out a hand to support her.

“Are you okay?”

She tugs at the zip of the jacket. Her chest is heaving and she begins to giggle. “Wow! What a feeling! That has never happened to me before.” She laughs loudly, pulls off her helmet and swings it in the air. “Lily would say that was sick! That’s what I call living!”

I pull my hand from her grip, secure the bike on its stand, then follow her dancing steps into the park and sit beside her on the bench. Her face is tilted toward the sun. Her eyes closed. She is deep in thought. Two joggers pass us and in the distance a cocker spaniel barks and chases a grey squirrel racing up the bark of horse chestnut.

We sit silently, side by side, our shoulders almost touching, and she sighs heavily.

“You know that wasn’t a one-off?” She doesn’t open her eyes. “I need to live, Elly. I need to feel the excitement. I need to feel alive.”

I don’t reply. A car honks its horn.

“I need to be happy.” Her eyes remain closed and I watch a single tear slide down her cheek. She catches it with her index finger but not before another replaces it.