“Does it run?” you pantomime with your hands.
The older man looks sad and says, “Magneto.” Then he jerks his head to one side and, for good measure, makes a slashing motion with his hand.
“Yes”, you know what a magneto is and squat down to look for it. It’s gone. “Where is it?” You say, again with your hands. This could be Cuba except on the opposite side of the world: old machines without the right parts to repair them.
A minute later it appears in his open hand. He points out the markings, the specs and even produces a little metric ruler. You write it all down. No, he doesn’t want to sell the bike. Yes, you’ll try to get a new magneto. Well, not you, but a friend back in the U.S., half a world away.
Excerpt from the novel Lenin’s Arm by Peter Kwasniewski
At the intersection of the alley and a road sits a hulking crawler tractor, cannibalized for parts, its dead weight likely to rest there forever. The corner of a compound wall had been indented to accommodate the metal mass, a likely sign of the tractor’s age. All five of us disappear into the space between the tractor and the wall and squat down in a row. None of us are tempted to touch the frozen metal just inches from our eyes.