A Polish village, a war, and a brand new bicycle.
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Something caught in my throat. “I found it leaning against the wall of the pub.” I seemed to have done something wrong, but for the life of me I had no idea what. I dropped the bicycle to the ground and ran to my mother. I began to cry.
“Shhhh. It’s okay,” she said weakly.
My father stared blankly down the road. “I’m a dead man,” he muttered.
My mother bunched her apron in her hands. “Take it back to where he found it. Maybe they haven’t noticed it missing.”
“But it’s mine!” I cried. I still didn’t know what the matter was. My mother patted my head and shushed me.
My father sighed and picked up my bicycle. He looked at me, almost kindly. “Stop that. Be a man,” he said. He climbed on my bicycle and rode off awkwardly down the street.
Mother and I stood by the front gate a long time. We waited in silence until we saw the first star come out. At length she said it was time to go inside for supper.
Later that night, after I had gone to bed, my father came into my room. He sat on the edge of my bed. I turned away from him, still angry. “I am sorry,” he said. I felt his rough hands stroke my hair. I edged closer to the wall. I could tell by the sound of his voice he had been crying.
THE OLD MAN paused and slowly shook his head. “Six million people died in that war, but that was the only time I ever heard my father weep,” he said.
It was late and my wife and the baby had drifted off to sleep. This was many years ago when we were living in a small town in western Poland.
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