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Milk and bread

A boy lived with his mother, who worked as a cleaning lady at the railway station. When she was leaving for work, she gave him money to buy some milk and bread. The payday won’t come until tomorrow, but that’s not the reason to starve themselves. He bought some bread in a small bakery – bread was cheaper there. He bought some milk in the backyard of the marketplace. He bought it from a local woman whose clothing mostly resembled rags. Women like this one are in the direst need of money. He then strolled around Azerbaijani-owned fruit stalls. Not prices, but smells he was keen on. Smells and colors of fruits -- nothing more. He knew, though he had never tasted it, that a raspberry orange differs from others in shape and fragrance. At last, he lingered by two women, listening to their squabble over sunflower seed sacks, and headed for home. There was a bare-headed old man sitting on the small bench at the park gate, with an orange pup playing with his hat on the green lawn beside him.

The boy halted for a while, and the dog holding a hat in its mouth run up to the kid and sat up at his feet. As if it were a beggar of some kind.

“I don't have any money,” the boy said, ill at ease.

"No money needed," the old man answered, "But you could treat him with a slice of bread if it's fine with you."

The boy crouched beside the dog, broke off a hunk of bread, soaked it with milk, and handed it over to the pup. The pup swallowed it in no time. The boy went ahead, taking lump after lump, flavoring it with milk, and feeding the little glutton.

“Oh, what a tremendous appetite. Just like mine," the man said.

The boy handed him a loaf, half of it left, and the bottle of milk.

The old man was eating bread and sipping from the bottle in silence.

“What are you going to bring home?”, at last, he was quick to notice.

“Nothing. Porridge could be made with water as well."

“Well, it could," the man agreed.

A well-fed pup jumped at the bench, and now there was a trio of them sitting.

“What's his name?” the boy asked.

"Petro. Just like mine.”

“Cool,” the boy smiled.

“You're sitting right between the two Petros,” the old man said. "Now, make your wish."

“I've already done that,” the boy said.

“So fast?” the old man looked astonished.

“There's one wish I've had for quite a long while.”

“Only one?”

"There can't be more than one true wish, isn't it?

"Perhaps,” the old man said in agreement. "And what wish is that, if I may ask"

"If only I had a bicycle."

The elderly one nodded approvingly.

"Suppose you got your bike, where would you ride it?"

"Everywhere. I'd ride it in the park, along the promenade, along the street. I live opposite the hairdresser's salon. The flat with cracked glazing in the window is ours."

"Don't you get cold droughts there?" the old man inquired.

"Not so much, we just put a plaster on the crack…"

And then, a woman clad in dark clothes and a black headscarf with white fringes stopped by them.

“Mr. Petro, there's a job for you.”

“Bye, buddy,” a man said, getting to his feet. “Sometimes they even need a lad like myself."

And so they parted their ways. At the charity center, the old man was translating into German long lists of meds, furniture, clothes, and various necessities for hospitals and orphanages. When he was done, he handed the papers over to a nun.

“Mr. Petro, why don't you ask for something for yourself, too,” she said. “You're always so humble.”

"Because I don't need anything."

“Don't be shy. God bless my soul, they’re times of barter we’re living through.”

“Well, if that's the case… A bike. For a teenager. If it's possible…"

"Write it down at the end. What's the word for a bike in German?"

"It's very simple."

… In two weeks, a long truck with a German license plate stopped at the hairdresser's salon. A tall man dressed in a black shirt with a thin white collar came out of the driver’s cabin. He knocked on the window of a house opposite the salon. He knocked gently -- the glazing was cracked. A boy came out.

"I have something for you," said the stranger with a heavy accent. And he got a bike out of the trunk. Its frame was colored in lilac pearl, its wheels were aglow with golden arches, and its silvery spikes were cleaving through the sun rays. Taut and bouncy, odorous tires touched the hot dust of the road. Even iron itself smelled differently.

Confused, the boy gazed around, looking for some explanation. But the stranger was already waving at him from the cabin. There was another man, an elderly one, sitting beside him. He was wearing a hat, so the boy never saw his face nor recognized him.

Myroslav Dochynets "The Light of Seven Days. Short Stories for the Soul"

April 14th, 08:51 am

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