08

Wings - Nike of Samothrace Louvre n3

Walking north through the night of the fifteenth and the following day, I was nothing more than a peasant-turned-clerk on his way to the next town. Dressed in a used suit, with my sack over my shoulder, I was too thin and too small to be an army or police deserter, and too poor to be even a good thief. First night, I slept in a barn, avoiding the villages where I would be remembered in favor of towns where I would not, buying a bit of cheese or sausage or bread or pickle from farmwives, keeping to myself. I was not very different from other travelers put out on the road by hunger and revolution, and I was not alone on that road, with its air of a village in motion. The coup dislodged many people, and, like me, others were obviously taking advantage of the confusion. We were a mixed lot, and it would have seemed uncivil not to talk with other walkers. Our accents varied tremendously. In Poland then, only two in three Poles were Polish-speaking, often accented not by the region they came from, but by the nation they had been subject to. A country recently rebuilt still shows the pieces it is built from. And I was happily without a country. My best chance of a new life meant leaving behind my Polish self and finding another. I understood this when I woke my third day of freedom in yet another barn, in the cold, at dawn, farther along the road. On a barn stool at my feet, wrapped tightly in his coat, still wearing his beaten-up hat, sat the camera thief. When I sat up and looked around, he tilted his head a little to one side, smiled, and in perfectly unaccented Polish, wished me a good morning. I stood in that barn for several minutes, shivering, flapping my arms against my shoulders, stamping my feet, stretching my neck to drive out the stiffness. Until I controlled my shivering, my camera thief sat quietly. And smiled. And watched.

BLOCK WHITE TALL

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