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The Boy and the Bicycle (an old TB story)

FM Zambotto
2014 Shortness of Breath  
The 11 o'clock sunshine filtered between the branches of the trees standing guard by the wayside, casting their shadows onto the gravel road as the boy cycled slowly along, looking in the ditch at the first yellow flowers that had appeared there just a few days earlier. These yellow summer flowers, which grow spontaneously on the banks of ditches, are a typical feature of the fields of the plain; they love to bask in the sun, while they tend to shy away from dark, shadowy areas. The boy thought
more » ... as. The boy thought to himself "here they are again; that means summer is back with its colours, its warmth, its days of endless sunshine, its butterflies." At that instant, a butterfly fluttered near the boy's face, gently brushing against it. He watched it for a few seconds until it dropped out of sight, zigzagging into the grass lining the ditch. The boy pedalled even more slowly than before; it was almost as though time itself were grinding to a halt following the passage of those silent wings. The boy, his hands on the handlebar, instinctively kept the bicycle on track as he gazed at the surface of the water close to where the butterfly was now coming to rest on a white flower. He also spotted two dragonflies hovering an inch or so above the surface of the water that was flowing lazily in the direction of the sea. That area of water was like a miniature airport, but completely soundless. All that moved were the leaves of the surrounding trees stirring in the late spring breeze that came from the East before drifting away in the direction the sun sets. Suddenly, from behind the bend came the sound of hooves and cartwheels turning on gravel. The travelling salesman was returning after completing his round of local houses. He walked alongside a four-wheeled cart, covered and equipped as a small shop. Its engine? A horse. After all, these were the very early days of door-to-door selling. On hearing his voice, women would come outside to buy their sugar, coffee, cheese, oil, salt and pepperin short, all the basics for their humble kitchens. People did not buy vegetables because their gardens were full of them. In fact, vegetables were not even sold at the time, and greengrocers' shops were still a thing of the future. Nature, carefully tended, provided fruit and vegetables in season. During the winter months, on the other hand, there would only be walnuts, dried figs, carobs, boiled and dried chestnuts and peanuts. On Sundays, there would also be persimmons. Another travelling salesman, who would wait for the women coming out of Mass, sold a few types of fruit and vegetables that were otherwise impossible to get hold of, such as oranges, mandarins, bananas and persimmons. After the cart had gone by, the boy took a quick look up the road and then set off again, pedalling fast and taking the curve at a rate for the sheer thrill of seeing the gravel fly up and spray into the water on the right. Before him lay the final stretch of straight gravel road. At this point the ditch on either side narrowed sharply and there appeared fields of vines, the plants forming a canopy overhead. A little jump was all it took and you were in them. Above the verdant leaves, the sun beat down, while below them there was cool shade, giving shelter to every manner of insect and a pleasant cool sensation to any passerby. This was the last stretch before reaching Vittorio's house. Vittorio's house stood next to the road and could be accessed through two gateways (both without an actual gate): a large one big enough for carts to pass and a small one for people. Glancing round quickly and without stopping the boy cycled through the larger entrance. His forehead was bathed in sweat. He cycled over to the well, flung his bicycle to the ground, grabbed hold of the chain and started slowly pulling up the heavy bucket from the depths of the water at the bottom of the well. Having retrieved it, he placed it on the side of the well before tipping it towards his face and, without stopping, thirstily drinking his fill. The cool water after the hot cycle ride along country lanes refreshed him in the same way as the shade of the vines that had greeted him along the last stretch of road. The cool water seeping inside him attenuated the surrounding heat. Then, scampering up a little ladder, he threw himself into the hay in the hayloft. It seemed enormous, that hayloft. A throne on high from which to observe his world -a world made up of simple things and marked by the rhythm of the seasons; a world of heat, or of cold; a world bounded by the distant rows of poplars quivering in the wind, beyond which he had never ventured. It was also a world inhabited by animals: rabbits that, unafraid of people, could be stroked, prolific cats that had made the barn their home, blackbirds ever on the lookout for ripening fruit, and farmyard hens constantly pecking at the ground in search of something to eat. After the hayloft, the boy hopped onto the swing that hung, its seat secured to taut ropes, from the branches of a large tree known as the "albera". Indeed, in the Medical humani ties 92 Shortness of Breath 2014; 3 (2): 92-94
doi:10.11138/sob/2014.3.2.092 fatcat:f6nwlmqfi5ejtm55m3jakh4aeq