THE PATH ANDREAS UFEN

Pavlos got up and picked up a piece of newspaper that lay on the pavement. He sat down again. This time a bit closer to Albano’s makeshift bed and unfolded the paper. ’18. November 1962′ it said on the top of the page. The year was correct but it was July, or wasn’t it? What happened to the last four months?

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THE PATH

Pavlos strolled down the small path that led to the beach. A young white cat with brown speckles followed him, exploring the high grass which was buzzing with insects in the summer heat. The white gravel pleasantly crunched underneath Pavlos sandals. He came here when he wanted to escape his parent’s house, the constant chatter of his sisters and the noise of the village.

He crouched down by the wayside and broke off a dry stalk of grass to chew on it. It made him think of the book his mother gave him on his eleventh birthday. ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. He loved it. That was almost two years ago.

During the last summer holiday his father helped him to build a hawker tray to sell dried seashells, starfish, crabs and little stones to tourists who stopped in the village from time to time. He made enough money to purchase another book by Mark Twain ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’.

He was particularly fond of the part where Tom Sawyer is commanded by his aunt Polly to whitewash a fence. Tom ends up with a handsome collection of valuables by selling his task, which was meant to be a punishment, to other kids (‘Whitewashing is a skill only one of a thousand boys can master!’). Among the items he gets for an exchange is a jews harp, a juicy apple, a piece of blue bottle glass and a piece of white chalk.

The cat that had followed Pavlos from the village was wheedling about his bare ankles. He picked it up, held it close to his face and fondled its neck. He went on down the path until the cat jumped off his breast and disappeared into the high grass, probably heading back to the village.

When he was looking back he could only see the rooftops and a few small chimneys. He closed his eyes and listened. The wind played lightly with the curls on the back of his neck, he heard some birds, a faraway seagull, the humming of insects but, apart from that, it was still. He kept his eyes closed for a while.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was an incredible noise; traffic! cars! honking! a howling engine! splashing of water! the rolling groove of a bass guitar! laughter! A loud and angry voice yelled something he could not understand! The screaming creak of metal on metal!

Pavlos’ eyes flung wide open! He stood in the middle of a busy street and was staring right at the front of an approaching lorry! “More a truck than a lorry,” he thought, “and it will hit me and I’ll be dead in a sec!”

With a swiftness, he didn’t know he was capable of, he pushed himself off the asphalt and leaped to the right onto the pavement. After what must have looked like a failed somersault he made a hard landing on the pavers. (‘Ladies and Gentlemen! Pavlos Lukos and his Salto Mortale! Would you please give him a loud round of applause?’) No one clapped. Instead a man with fine shoes took a large step to avoid him without even taking his hands out of the pocket. Pavlos, half lying, half sitting, with open mouth and eyes, took in the new surroundings. On his side of the street there was a wide pedestrian walk with some small shops, and there were stairs with a sign that said ‘Railway Station’. Above him was the rusty skeleton of the underside of a bridge. He smelled a mix of exhaust, food and urine. A homeless man with a blanket and a couple of full plastic bags lay in front of a barber’s shop and openly stared at him.

While still looking back into the staring face, Pavlos heard two high-pitched women voices and the clicking of shoes approaching. He turned his head towards the new potential danger. Four high-heeled legs in nylons and one little white dog were quickly drawing nearer. The voices were engaged in a heated conversation about a friend who must have done something completely outrageous in their opinion. One wore a dress with a wild-cat pattern on it and a fur-cape around her shoulders. The other one, who seemed to be even more outraged than the wild-cat woman, wore a simple cream coloured dress, a pearl necklace with pearls the size of mothballs and a large pair of glasses that were pointed upwards on both sides. It was clear that they wouldn’t notice him in time to avoid a collision. In an instant Pavlos got up to his feet but couldn’t prevent a full body check with the wild-cat lady. She threw him a lethal glance, shook her head and walked on with the other one who was trying to shush the dog (‘Parcival! Ssh! Ssh! Will you be quiet now, Parci?’) who has started a tirade of hoarse and tiny barks as the bump happened.

The barking, the clicking shoes and the high-pitched voices faded and Pavlos became aware of the strong trail of perfume the women left behind. Mixed with the exhaust, the smell of food and urine, and the excitement, the perfume triggered a sudden feeling of nausea and Pavlos emptied his stomach on the pavement.

“Spit it all out, boy!” It was the homeless man at the barber’s who must have been watching all the time. The man sniggered and looked at him with a friendly face. Pavlos sat down a few yards away from him. It was only now that he realised that he was bleeding. The skin of his right elbow was scraped off quite badly as a result of his somersault on the pavers and now that he was aware of it, it started to burn and hurt. Maybe just for good measure his right hip also started to throb with pain. Through his short trousers he couldn’t see any damage, and he hoped it was just bruised. The elbow was bleeding, though, and he was cold.

“Boy!” It was the homeless man. “Boy, what is your name?”

“Pavlos!”

“Pavlos! A good name. My name is Albano, but you can call me Albo.” He paused. “Pavlos!” he started again. “Your arm looks bad. Do you want me to have a look at it?”

Pavlos looked at Albano. The man, who looked a bit older than his dad, was covered in filth and dirt. He must have been out on the streets for quite a while and Pavlos didn’t want him any closer than the few yards that separated them right now.

“No, thank you, Signore! I’m alright!”

He was not alright and he knew it. He was hurting and he was cold. The air here was fresh. More like autumn than summer. A shirt, short jeans and sandals was all he wore. Pavlos didn’t know it but he was in shock, which added to the feeling of coldness. One moment he was home, near the beach and the next he was in the middle of what appeared to be a big city. He held back some tears. At least they spoke the same language.

He looked over to Albano who was rummaging through one of his bags.

“Signore? Albo! Where is this place? I mean, what is the name of this city!”

Albo’s face changed its friendliness to an expression of deep concern.

“You are in Rome, boy! Don’t you know that you are in Rome?”

Pavlos has never been to Rome. In fact, he has only left his village on two occasions. Once to watch the movie ‘Le Capitan’ with his father and his sister Elli in a Cinema in Otranto and another time they have sailed to Greece to visit his dad’s parents.

Rome! What was he doing in Rome? And why was it so cold?

“Here, Pavlos, catch!” Albo threw him a small bundle. “Put that on! It’s the warmest jumper I’ve got!”

The jumper smelled a bit funny but it looked clean.

“My elbow is still bleeding!”

“Oh, right! Only put it over your shoulders for now. Pavlos, do me a favour and watch my stuff for a couple of minutes. I’ll be right back!”

Without waiting for an answer Albo disappeared up the stairs to the railway station.

Pavlos got up and picked up a piece of newspaper that lay on the pavement. He sat down again. This time a bit closer to Albano’s makeshift bed and unfolded the paper. ’18. November 1962′ it said on the top of the page. The year was correct but it was July, or wasn’t it? What happened to the last four months? Did he emerge in the future? If nothing else, it would explain the cold.

Confusion and growing despair filled Pavlos thoughts. Ok, sometimes their little home was a madhouse. A lot of yelling and shouting, not only today, about things he didn’t really understood. And yes, sometimes he wished himself someplace else, somewhere nice and quiet. But this? This was not exactly what he had thought of.

Suddenly he was overcome by an uncontrollable shivering fit, teeth chattering, limbs shaking. After five minutes Albo came back.

“Boy, you look awful. I should call an ambulance, but let me tend to your wound first.”

From the train station he has brought a large bottle filled with water and his hands and face were clean now.

He rummaged again through his plastic bags to bring forth clean bandages and a small bottle of disinfectant.

“Pavlos, I will take care of your wound now! It will hurt a bit, ok?”

“Ok!”

Albo attended to the wound like a professional medic. When he was finished and while helping Pavlos into the jumper he told him, “You were lucky. No broken bone as far as I can tell and the injury was just not deep enough to damage your tendon. It will probably leave a scar, though. Now tell me, where are you from and what did you do there,” pointing towards the traffic, “in the middle of the street?”

Pavlos told him about his little village, about his parents and his sisters, about the path where he went when he wanted a little peace and he also told Albo that, for him, it has been July just about half an hour ago and that he didn’t know how or why he could possibly be in Rome now.

While Pavlos was talking the man draped his blanket around the boy. It was filthy and reeked like a sewer but Pavlos didn’t protest. He was tired and happy about the warmth that gradually came back to him. Pavlos started to feel a bit better and Albo agreed not to call an ambulance for the time being.

He sat down next to the boy and didn’t say anything for a good while. They listened to the noise of the traffic that kept seeping in and out of their focus. They watched the legs passing by from both directions; expensive suits with shiny leather shoes, more high heels and nylons, flats, worn out trainers, tennis socks, dogs, camouflaged trousers and army boots, a pair of crutches and a limping leg, a wheelchair, a flat bicycle; Some of them scurrying about in a hurry, some purposefully striding with their luggage towards the railway station, while others were just listlessly wandering to do some time.

Albo went into one of the shops and Pavlos was afraid for a moment that he would call an ambulance now (or the city’s lunatic asylum to pick him up). Instead he came out again with a small loaf of white bread and some green olives. They ate the food and drank the water from the water bottle. When Albo finally started to speak again, he said something that seemed to be completely unrelated to Pavlos’ situation,

“You know, Pavlos, peace can be found everywhere. Even amidst the greatest turmoil you can usually find a place of shelter if you just look for it. Sometimes you need to take a step back to look at the things how they really are; just like in your village when you go about your little path to find some quiet.”

It started to rain outside of the bridge and people brought in some of the dampness with their shoes and their clothes. The traffic became louder because the water added to the noise.

Pavlos wasn’t aware of the noise. He listened to the smooth voice of his new friend. How it would help him in this desperate situation, he had no idea. It would take years until Pavlos fully understood what Albo was saying.

“…when there is turmoil within yourself, you can do the same. Take a step back, don’t judge but simply watch, and everything starts to become smaller and less important. See, I am not rich and sometimes I don’t even know where to sleep but in all those years I’ve learned something no money can buy…”

Pavlos fell asleep.

***

He felt something soft landing on his chest. He opened his eyes. The cat he met earlier was purring and rubbed its head against Pavlos’ chin. It was not dark yet, but the evening star was already in the sky and it was clearly after dinnertime.

Pavlos was lying in the grass next to the path near the village. He wore Albo’s jumper and when he got up he felt the pain in his elbow and in his hip. He took off the jumper. The bandages were still there.

“Next time I will dream of a Porsche car and a pot of gold or something,” he thought.

This hasn’t been a dream, though. He knew that. He didn’t have a driving license, anyway. Not yet!

“Paaavlos! Pavlos where are you? Dad is really angry!” It was his eldest sister Elli shouting in the distance.

Pavlos took off the bandages and hid them in the high grass. The jumper was easier to explain than the bandages. He pulled it over his head again and picked up the cat. He wouldn’t tell anyone of his adventure. Who would believe him, anyway?

When they arrived at home it was two hours past dinner time.

“Pavlos, where have you been?” his dad demanded.

Pavlos made up a story. After he found the jumper on the beach he slipped on a rock and hurt his elbow and his hip. His hip hurt so bad when he tried to walk that he lay down a bit and fell asleep. He only woke up from Ellie’s yelling.

Both his parents looked at him in disbelief but couldn’t ignore his injured elbow and his badly bruised hip.

“We will go and see Dr Valetta tomorrow morning!” his mom decided and applied a fresh bandage to his arm.

“Mom, can I feed the cat? She followed me all day!”

“It’s a he, Pavlos. It’s a tomcat. After you eat something yourself you can give him some of the leftovers. Do you have name for him?”

“Albano! Albo!” Pavlos exclaimed.

His mother gave Pavlos a long and inquisitive look. She knew that Pavlos wasn’t telling the whole truth about what happened this afternoon but knew better than to ask him about it.

“Well then, after you’ve fed Albo get ready for bed. We will go to the doctor first thing in the morning!”

Pavlos was afraid to fall asleep that night but his exhaustion from the excitement of the afternoon took care of it and he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

***

Early August, 1985, Pavlos Lukos was opening up the front of his small grocery store when someone tapped with a finger on his shoulder, “You have something that belongs to me, Signore!”

Pavlos recognised the voice instantly. He turned around, “Albo!”

He hasn’t changed, Pavlos thought.

The man that stood before him wore tidy jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. His hair was cut and his beard was trimmed. He looked strong and healthy.

But he hasn’t changed. He does not look a bit older after all these years.

They hugged and kissed each other.

“I’m afraid your jumper is not in my possession any longer. My wife decided a while ago to give it to the Salvation Army. I didn’t have a say in it.”

Albo laughed.

Pavlos brought a small table outside and they had breakfast together, or rather Albo had breakfast. A handful of early customers kept Pavlos from sitting down with his old friend. With an apologetic gesture he finally joined him at the table and helped himself with some bread and dried tomatoes.

“I would love to go for a walk with you, Pavlos, along your little path.”

Pavlos hasn’t been there for quite a while. He told himself that he was always too busy. Truth was, after what had happened, he was afraid he could emerge again in a different time and another, even more dangerous, place.

After they had finished breakfast Pavlos’ wife Elvira arrived. The boys were in school and she agreed to take care of the shop for a couple of hours.

Albo and Pavlos set off through the village and walked to the path.

The quiet atmosphere hasn’t changed much in all these years; the smell of the coast, the humming of insects, the spectacular view across the Adriatic Sea and the great white rocks near the beach. Weeds grew through the gravel and dampened the crunch of the footsteps. The path was not as white as it used to be. It was still beautiful, but it was not the same anymore. Pavlos realised that he didn’t need it any longer to get some peace. Sure, there were frequent distractions in his life that sometimes would cause him to be nervous and irritated, but he didn’t need to be alone and someplace else to find the inner peace again he was longing for as a child.

“You haven’t aged a bit, Albo!”

“Well no… I mean, yes, I did age two years indeed to be exact. A lot has happened. Let’s say my life has changed a bit…” Albo’s face became serious as he looked at the man that he remembered as a twelve years old boy.

“Pavlos, I almost had a car accident this morning. A bus was about to hit me when I crossed the street not far from where we both met!” He paused. “I thought, that’s it, I will die! And I thought I must be dead already when I found myself standing right here where we are now. I thought I am in heaven, Pavlos!”

Pavlos stared at his friend.

“No angels came to welcome me, though, and I knew, at least I hoped, that this is your path and, over there, your village,” he pointed towards the red rooftops in the distance.

“I went into the Post Office first and had a look at the newspapers. 1985? Not too much has changed in the last 20 years, ey?”

Pavlos laughed, “Well, not in this village, no!”

“The Post Office guy directed me to your shop. You were just opening up when I got there! – Can you imagine that? One moment I am in the murderous city centre of Rome and then, within a blink of an eye…” He spread his arms as if to point at all the beautiful sights at the same time.

Albo was obviously very happy and delighted to be here, to experience what he was experiencing right now.

The sight of his overexcited friend made Pavlos giggle, “Albo, it is great to have you here! Let’s go down to the beach. Tell me all that happened to you in your last two years!”

They went on to the beach and sat down on one of the rocks. They talked for a good while until the sun had gained enough strength that they decided to go for a short swim.

On their way back to the village a small white cat with brown speckles followed them. Every now and then it disappeared in the high grass to investigate something interesting. “Maybe one of tomcat Albo’s grandchildren,” Pavlos thought. Tomcat Albo disappeared a few years after his family adopted him. One morning he simply didn’t come home again.

Pavlos bend down to break off a stalk of grass to chew on it. (‘Just like Huck Finn but without the straw hat.’) The cat was rubbing its fur against his legs. He picked it up and gently held it to his chest. He turned around to ask Albo if he liked Mark Twain…

His friend was gone.

The End

Andreas was born in Germany and now lives in Scotland. He loves the sea, good food, good books and music and is a converted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (which makes him a Mormon, basically). He very much enjoys his spiritual journey through life but finds the physical part also quite pleasant. He does not enjoy sports, television, mobile phones, gossip, cleaning, traffic and dentists.

He started writing song lyrics as a teenager for the Rock bands he was fronting as a singer in order to become a famous Rock and Roll-Star. He also found a lot of pleasure in keeping a casual diary throughout his life. The diary mainly consists of stories of how he didn’t become a famous Rock and Roll-Star. Recent entries in his diary suggest, though, that he is now up for something completely different. This is his Second published story.

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