Bicycle. Joanna's Page 12
Bicycle. Joanna's Page 12
The girl's name was Manya. She was unnaturally white-skinned and gaunt like a potato sprout. She seemed to be very week, but we knew already that it was a delusive impression. Manya fought in a horrible way; even boys didn't fight like that. We were explained that Manya spent two years in a German concentration camp where children had to fight for every crumb of bread in order to survive. Therefore, she had grown such as she was; she suffered traumatic events, and we should understand it and treat Manya in a special way.
Manya had an oddity: she never smiled. Such was a girl, this Manya. When everybody played and made marry she could suddenly go away. And in classes she could write and count but suddenly become silent, and nothing could help her; the only thing remained for teachers not to pay attention to her.
According to her age, it was time for Manya to go into the third form, and we were glad that she studied at the class 'a' but not at our 'b' because she fought.
In a May fine day of 1946 on the anniversary of the Victory Day Manya's patrons brought her a bicycle for a present. The whole plant had the patronage over Manya. Once an article in a town newspaper was inserted where it was said that she forgot how to smile, that she endured so much in fascist captivity and that Manya's mother became an invalid for the rest of her life and was in hospital. Since that time patrons appeared.
In the middle of the school-yard Manya stood, seizing the bike's handlebar and saddle, kept silence and gaze around with a wild look. She'd better say 'thank you'. What a bike! It was real bike, a wonder of wanders that glittered in the May sun with all its details. It had a bell, a bag for wrenches and headlight; it was fantastic!
I was even afraid to breathe, squeezing the elbow of Lyuska who stood by me. Lyuska's face was twisted with envy. Taking away her arm, she stole up to patrons with small fox steps and, looking into their eyes, hummed,
"Uncle, may we ride?"
The faces of the boys, crowding around, showed the same mute and desperate request. The patrons, two boys with fashionably curled hairs, looked at one another in embarrassment.
"OK, what's wrong with it? Of course, Manya will allow you. Manya, would you allow children to go for a ride?
It was useless to hope for it! Manya kept silence but her face spoke more significantly than any words, "Nobody will try even to touch her bike!"
Making sure that nobody dared to try, Manya dragged the bicycle outside the gate, looking around and heavily breathing, like a beast dragging its prey. The patrons lift their hand in embarrassment and hurried away in this difficult pedagogic situation.
"Let's make it hot for her!" Lyuska said through clenched teeth.
But our conscious boys didn't support Lyuska.
"Forget her. She has hard fate, forget her..."
But less conscious girls squealed, "You are a niggard, you are a niggard."
During a few days we were gloatingly watching Manya's ineffective attempts to control her bicycle. The bike kicked and through her away as a restive horse, and tall and odd Manya in bruises and scratches again and again climbed on it and again fell to the ground with a crisp sound because her body was bony.
The boys were first who lost their patience. They caught, dirty and dazed Manya out of a ditch full of melt water, repaired the bent handlebar, seated her on the bike and began to instruct her how to ride.
Manya stuck in the saddle, straight as a ramrod, as Don Quixote on his Rosinante, and loud, breathless and merry boys around her, looking like Sancho sword-bearers, accompanied her, supporting her bicycle from all sides and not allowing her to fall.
"Don't sit like a soldered one, turn pedals! Don't hold on the handlebar; it's you who must hold it. This way, this way; turn, turn, a dull girl..."
A few days later, many years ago, June would come, and I would run into Manya's bicycle on an already dried road. She would ride by herself, loudly ringing with the bell, and behind her on the trunk one of the boys from the form 'a' would sit, dangling his legs.
I would show my tongue to Manya, and she would drive past me, sparkling with unseeing eyes and teeth in her first smile.