I was sure I’d find him there.Whenever it gets cloudy, he goes down to the pond and sits on the broken jetty.He floats boats made of leaves and dips sticks in the water like fishing-rods.He usually takes his toy soldiers along and plays with them on the shore.Sometimes he puts those troops of his into bark dugouts and sends them off ondangerous ‘naval’ expeditions. The ones who survive the watery ordeal and makeit back to shore are decorated and put into his special veterans’ box. The boxis sacred to him. He keeps hiding it, and I’m the only one he tells where. That’sin case he forgets the hiding place, but I don’t think that’s ever likely tohappen.
That day, I was carrying somethingdown to the pond, too. Most of the time, I come empty-handed and play withwhatever’s there. But this time, I had a great big box tied with a blue bowunder my arm.
Milo was sitting on the edge of the jetty,his legs dangling and skimming the surface of the water. His hat, with its hugerumpled brim, was pulled down low on his forehead as usual. He was holding a saggingtwig in his hand, and lashing at the water with it.
‘Hi,’ I greeted him cheerfully.
He turned and nodded his head, thenturned around again and went back to what he was doing. He was in a bad mood.
‘Look what I got,’ I said, thrustingthe box in his direction, ‘my Mom gave it to me.’
This time, he turned all the way roundto face me.
‘It’s wrapped. Do you know what’sinside’’ he asked.
‘I do, but I got Mom to wrap it upagain for me. I wanted the two of us to open it together.’
‘Cool,’ he smiled. ‘I’ll undo thebow, you can take the lid off.’
We knelt beside the package and gotto work. When I took the lid off, Milo was thrilled at the sight that greetedhim.
‘Whoa! A real sailboat!’ he cried.
‘It’s great, huh’’ I beamed.
‘It’s perfect.’ Milo took the boatout of its box and inspected it from every angle. ‘What’s the occasion’‘
‘No reason,’ I wanted to downplaythe gift. ‘Mom was in town, so she bought it for me.’
‘Your Mom’s nice. Mine broke mysoldiers again.’
Milo’s Mom can’t stand his toysoldiers. She thinks toys like that are no good for you. So she destroys orthrows out every toy soldier she gets her hands on. Even the innocent sentries.That’s why Milo hides the box with the veterans. Good thing he has a lot ofsoldiers; he got them from his Dad.
‘You know,’ Milo said, forgettinghis worries, ‘We’ll have to give that boat a spin.’
‘A spin’ Now’’ I didn’t like theidea, and the enthusiasm with which Milo said it was positively worrying.
‘Sure! We’ll send her on a voyageacross the pond. Shame I don’t have my soldiers here, they’d have a ball.’
‘But Milo,’ I protested fearfully. ‘It’sdangerous! Why take such a risk on the first day’‘
‘You keep saying that. Boats aremade for sailing, am I right’ We’ll give her a trial run by the shore and thensend her off to war.’
I knew I wouldn’t be able to talkMilo out of it. I was scared, but ashamed to say no for fear of being called asissy.
‘F-fine, let’s go try her out,’ Iagreed reluctantly. Deep down, I was hoping the launch wouldn’t go well andthat we’d have to give up the idea of sending the boat on a longer cruise.
Meanwhile, Milo had grabbed my prizeand rushed off with it towards the shoreline. When I caught up with him, he hadalready taken his shoes off, rolled up his pant-cuffs, and was proudly holdingthe boat in the air.
‘Relax,’ he reassured me, ‘there’sno other way. Remember that wind-up tin clown you had’ You were so careful withit. You didn’t want to wind it up, and what happened’ One night it was gone,and you never saw it again.’
He paused and then said:
‘A boat has to be christened beforeit’s launched. What do you want to call her’‘
‘Hmm’ The Misallia’’ I quietlysuggested a name that came to me from who knows where.
‘The Misallia’ That’s kinda’,’ hescowled. ‘But have it your way; after all it’s your boat.’
With a flourish, he lowered the boatonto the water and gave it a little push. The boat swayed slightly, then sailedsmoothly forward, cleaving the water with its prow.
‘Sails great!’ Milo was thrilled.
‘Nice,’ I concurred withsatisfaction, even though I knew the boat’s fate was now sealed.
‘No point in stalling,’ Milo caughtup with the boat. ‘Let’s see how she does in deeper water. The conditions areperfect. There’s even a bit of a tide. No chance of her getting stuck somewherein the middle of the pond.’
There was a slight breeze ripplingthe surface of the water. Somehow Milo’s mood was getting to me.
‘Let me have her,’ I said. ‘We’ll goback on the jetty and I’ll launch her off it myself.’
Milo waded ashore. He handed me theboat, then grabbed his shoes, and followed me barefoot.
We reached the edge of the bridgeand lay face down on the boards. I leaned down so my hands touched the water.
‘Be brave, Misallia. Sail fearlesslyand don’t let us down,’ I intoned, and gently dropped the boat into the water.
She swayed slightly, then rightedherself and cut through the ripples on the water, her little sail billowing.
Milo cupped his chin in his handsand lay down on the jetty. I lay down in the same position, my heart beatinghard, and watched my boat sailing off.
She sailed no faster than a leaf ora dugout, but she looked much nicer. She was far away by now. The wind tippedher to one side then another. She smoothly cut a course through the rottingleaves floating on the surface of the water.
‘Go on! Go on!’ Milo started makingwaves with his hands. They spread out into broad rings and reached the boatwithout doing it any harm. ‘See, there was nothing to be afraid of,’ helaughed, ‘she’s a fine ship.’
Then a sudden gust of wind rockedthe boat, and it listed precariously.
‘Oh!’ I cried.
‘Relax,’ Milo said, but he wasanxiously looking up at the sky, which was filling up with huge dark clouds.
Just then, another stronger gustmade the Misallia roll over onto its port side.
I let out a choked and painful moan.
‘Drat!’ cried Milo.
The little cloth sail slowly soakedup water and dragged the boat down until it capsized. My heart was poundingsomething awful.
‘She’s a goner,’ I mumbled indespair.
Milo was nervously rocking on hisfeet. Meanwhile, the boat had vanished under the murky surface of the pond,halfway between us and the far shore.
‘What’ll I tell Mom’’ I blurted outbefore breaking down in tears.
Milo stood off to one side, shiftinghis gaze from me to the spot where the boat had disappeared. He was rolling thehem of his jacket between his fingers. He seemed to be muttering something butI couldn’t make out what it was. Suddenly, he bolted toward the shore and ranhome.
I was still sitting there, cryingand hurt, when Milo came back with his boxful of veterans. It was starting torain as he arranged his troops on the edge of the jetty. His motions were alittle jerky and some of the soldiers fell into the water. When he was done, hesaid in a serious tone:
‘They’ll stand watch all night. Inhonor of the Misallia.’
I looked at him, and then at hissoldiers. They were all standing there: the best and the bravest, lined up topay tribute to my boat. It’s a shame my Mom didn’t get to see it.
Marek Sieprawski, 1990 (Translatedby Artur Zapalowski)