The City Awaits

    And the Baroness and his mother had spoken very loudly. Roman heard them all the way to the Grand Hall, where he was pretending his high tricycle was a cavalry horse. He rode around in big circles, giving orders to his men. He knew that's what they did in the cavalry because the Baron's son, Alex, was always telling everybody what to do, and he was an officer's cadet when he wasn't forced to take his lessons from Roman's mother.

    "Mother, is a governess like you part of the help?" he asked as the car swung grandly onto the roadway. He liked the way it swayed gently, like a hammock. Ana turned away from him for a moment before answering.

    "Yes, Roman. I was the help to the Baron. To help him with Alex. And now, you see, the Baron doesn't need my help anymore. So we didn't want to stay there any longer."

    "Where will we live then?"

     "We will live for a while in the big city," she said gently. "It will be more fun for you, because there will be many other children for you to play with. You will find friends."

    It was an interesting idea, but Roman was distracted by a dot he could see in the sky above the tree line. "An aeroplane! Mother, look! An aeroplane!"

    His face and hands were pressed hard against the Daimler's window. The dot drew nearer, gaining wings and shape.

    "Do you think it's a Potuz, Mother?" he cried. Another thought flew into his mind. After all, hadn't his mother told him that when people die, they become part of the sky and wind. "Do you think the Baron's flying it?"

    But his mother didn't answer. She was looking out her window, and her shoulders shook a little.

    "Will my friends like aeroplanes and cavalry, Mother?"

                                         *            *               * 

    It turned out that his friends did like aeroplanes and cavalry. In fact, next to throwing stones through the windows of Jewish shops and stinkbombs at synagogues, there wasn't much else they thought about.

    At first, though, finding friends in the nation's capital had been as impossible for Roman as it had been at the barony. The kids called him names he'd never heard before.

    "Bastard," they'd taunt, gathering around him in circles of hissing mouths and bulging eyes. "Bastard. Bastard.

    "Whoreson. Bejak is a whoreson."

    When he asked his mother what the words meant, she suggested he tell people that of course he had a father, but that he had died.

    The boys were especially rough with Roman. Wiry and strong and hard, raised in large families in the sooty southwest corner of the city, the boys enjoyed the brawling and fighting that had never been a part of Roman's sheltered life. He endured some painful beatings before learning the art of anonymity.

    If speaking and having opinions made you visible, he realized, then meek silence could let you hide in a crowd.

    His ability to draw detailed pictures of German, Polish, and French planes also began to win him a grudging peace.

    The harassment finally ended completely when his mother married a strict elderly Polish lieutenant named Stefan, making Roman's family seem more conventional.

    Gradually - quiet, withdrawn and artistic - Roman even found friends.

The End

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