Chapter 18: Tormented Soul
“What’s for dinner tonight? I invited Lolek to eat with us tonight,” Lilly announced as she came in from school.
“Does he not have a home to go to?” Ida protested. “Why do you invite him without first asking me? As it is, he hangs around this house nearly every day.”
Grandma Pauline, who was in the kitchen preparing meat filled pierogi, entered the room and interjected, “Lillka, you are a beautiful and smart girl, why are you getting involved with that young man?”
Lilly tried to answer both of them but her voice was choked with tears. She ran to her room and dug her head in the pillow crying bitterly. Izio, who was ill and lying in the next bed dozing beside her, woke up in panic and asked, “Lillka, what happened?”
Lilly did not answer him and continued to cry. Ida finally entered the room and sat down next to Lilly, embraced her and whispered into her ear, “Are you really that much in love with him?”
Lilly sat up and hugged her mother, “I do not know, but I am happy with him and he makes me laugh with his nonsensical actions.”
“Fine, you can invite him, providing it does not become a habit,” Ida said.
“Okay mother. You are such a good and understanding mother,” Lilly said as she kissed her mother.
Towards evening, while everyone was sitting around the table, Lolek appeared dressed in festive clothing, holding a small bouquet of purple flowers.
“Lolek, you never cease to amaze me. Purple flowers because my name is Lilly?”
Lolek blushed and looked away from Lilly and asked, “Where shall I put the flowers, Mrs. Ida? Do you have a vase? ”
Wolf sat at the head of the table next to his mother, Paulina, Lilly sat next to her grandmother and Lolek sat next her. Ida was serving and busy in the kitchen. Izio, wearing a knitted cap on his head and a blanket over his shoulders, sat opposite Lolek and quietly mumbled to himself, “This is going to be very interesting.”
“What are you talking about over there?” Paulina said to Izio. “Eat and shut up or go back to bed immediately.”
Ida brought to the table smoked bacon with baked potatoes that were simmering for hours in a pot that was placed near the fireplace along with pickled cabbage and pierogi fried in goose fat.
“I thought I was coming to a Jewish meal. This is the same food we eat in our house,” Lolek commented.
“What did you think you would get by us, fried toads? What is Jewish food?” Wolf responded in a complaining tone.
“I have heard that there is kosher Jewish food. I do not know exactly what it is, but I heard that it is tasty,” Lolek said defensively.“I was not trying to be a wise guy.”
“Enough talking, start eating,” an angry Ida said as she sat down to eat.
“Lolek, you are the same age as Davidek and have surely graduated from high school. What are you doing now?” Wolf asked.
“I am trying to get accepted to pharmacology school and have submitted applications to the University of Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw. All three have rejected me due to my poor grades. I have therefore decided to work on improving my grades and then try again.”
Lolek was the son of the pharmacist Bronislaw Bitoft, who owned a pharmacy in the center of the Rynek. When Lolek was about six years old his mother disappeared. It seems that she had met an Austrian officer who was stationed in Wloszczowa and joined him when he left the army. From then on, nobodyhad heard from her again. Bronislaw began courting one of the employees at his pharmacy who was ten years younger than he was. She finally moved in with him and bore him two daughters. He never officially married her, nor did he divorce his first wife.
Lolek could not found his place in the house and did not enjoy a good relationship with the new “mother” nor with his father, who always criticized him, saying that he was a treacherous and disloyal person just like his mother.
Lolek was a very poor student and did not do well in school and it was not because he was lazy or slow to comprehend. He was smart and sharp-tongued, but due to his long absences from school, he did not succeed in his studies.
Every morning he would take his bicycle to go to school. However, more often than not, he never arrived at school. He would veer off the main road and travel on a side dirt road through the forest that leads to the River Pilica. He rode among the tall trees whose tops touched each other and created near complete darkness. He knew the forest paths all too well and knew to beware of snakes or wild boar.
He would arrive at a small clearing where he left his bike and climbed a tree where he had built for himself a small tree house in the branches. He would lie down, look at the sky, listen to the sounds of the birds and eventually close his eyes and begin to daydream. Those were the finest hours during which he imagined that he was in a far away land, flying like a bird over land and rivers, volcanoes and ancient cities, all the while looking at the people from above and discovering other cultures.
When Lolek returned home from the forest, he would go straight to his room and scatter his textbooks on his bed to make it look as if he was going to study what he had learned that day. He then ate lunch with his stepmother and two sisters, barely uttering a word to them. After lunch, he would leave the house and go to Lilly’s house to spend the rest of the day there. Ida knew when Lolek arrived, but never asked him any questions because she felt sorry for him. She knew how lonely he felt at home ever since his mother disappeared, never to be seen again.
Lolek became like one of the family in the house of Ida and Wolf. In the early years he come to their home seeking some warmth and familial love, however as Lilly grew older and matured he came mainly for her.
Lolek had several friends from the neighborhood, but they were not true friends. Most of the time, they exploited him and used him for their own convenience. They would ask him to steal cigarettes from his father who was a heavy smoker. On other occasions they would ask him to steal drugs from his father’s pharmacy for their personal use.
They would taunt and tease him by calling him zydek, Jew, but that did not deter him from visiting Lilly and also not responding to their words.
One day Lolek offered to show Lilly where he spent most of his day. She agreed. The next morning they rode together on Lolek’s bike to his hiding place on the forest. Since Lilly sat on the frame of the bike in front of him, her hair blew into his face. The delicious smell of her hair drove him mad. He touched her arms as she held on tightly to the handlebars.
He was madly in love with her but he kept his feelings to himself deep inside his heart. He was afraid and insecure that the moment he revealed his love for her, she would reject him and he would lose her completely. He was afraid of losing her and the warmth and security that he got at her home.
Lilly followed him into the forest until they reached the clearing where his tree house was. She refused to climb the tree, so she sat down on the trunk of an old tree that had fallen down.
“Is this where you go when you want to be alone?“Lilly asked.
“Yes,” he answered. Here I find peace of mind that allows me to think.”
“What do you think about,” she giggled.
“About everything that I have been experiencing lately,” he replied in all seriousness.
“Am I in your thoughts too?” she teased him.
“Sure,” he answered curtly.
“And what do you think about me or about us?” she queried him.
Lolek did not answer her. He climbed the tree and lay down in the tree house.
Lilly raised her voice and shouted, “I am waiting for an answer.”
“Stop. You’re embarrassing me. Would you please change the subject,” Lolek shouted down from the tree.
“Would you please come down,” Lilly shouted. “I am afraid of being alone down here.”
Lolek came down from the tree and they walked home together as he wheeled the bike beside him.