Written in response to my own prompt, based on the photograph displayed [Kreative Kue 1].
I shall never forget the last words my father said to me before he died. “Never forget the lessons of the war,” he said, “I forgot, for a while, what my father had told me after the first time, and it nearly cost me my life.”
“What was it he said to you, Dad?” I asked.
“His words to me were, ‘Never forget the lessons of the war; always have a way out.’” he answered, “I never really worked out what he meant. I thought he was talking about a way of getting out of a sticky situation using words, so nobody would lose face. He was a peaceful man, my father; had no time for any sort of fighting. That’s why the war upset him so much and why it nearly ended him up in prison or worse. He was a clever man, though. He made it so they couldn’t afford to send him to fight, because they needed him here, in the village. He wasn’t a doctor or anything, but he was good at helping people, and the whole village said that if anything bad happened, the person they wanted to have around to help them was my father. Couldn’t let him go, see?”
“But what did he mean, Dad, if not that?” I asked.
“Don’t rush me. I’m getting to that. He could play the diplomat, and he often did. He set up a lot of meetings between the villagers and the chiefs of the occupying army, and did his best to make sure that whatever the Germans wanted, if it was reasonable and possible, they got it. When they asked for things that weren’t right; when they were just being plain bloody-minded, he tried to talk them into accepting less, something the villagers could give without compromising their faith and their morals.”
“And that worked? He got away with it?”
“So I heard. Leastways, when the Allies liberated the village, the German soldiers; all prisoners of the Allies by then, of course; lined up and saluted the villagers before they marched out. They didn’t go as friends, but, by all accounts, not far from it. I tried to be the same in my war, but I wasn’t as clever as he was. All I seemed to be able to do was to annoy the Germans and get people, myself included, a good beating. Until I worked out his secret.”
“It’s all a game; a power game. Always let them think they are in control. If you have an idea, make them believe that they had thought of it in the first place, then they will order you to do whatever it was, and threaten to punish you if you didn’t do what you wanted to do in the first place. Clever man.”
“But that wasn’t what he meant,” I reminded him.
“No. What he meant was…” Dad clutched at his chest and tensed with pain. He started visibly to fade, his breath became shallow and I sensed that the end was near.
“What, Dad, what? Hold on, Dad; don’’t leave me yet!”
“Escape… bike… always have a way out…” and with that, he slipped deeper into his pillow and breathed his last.
So that was it. The bike. I had never understood why, every Saturday morning without fail, whatever the weather, Dad would make his way to the old hotel, and to the rusty old bicycle chained to its drain pipe. Once there, he would apply oil to the chain and to the padlock securing it to the pipe. Whenever I had asked him about it, he always said that he would tell me in good time, when I needed to know. I had always thought it was a symbolic thing, and perhaps it was, in a way, but it was also very real to him.
That was more than thirty years ago. In his honour, I have carried on his tradition since then; every Saturday morning, without fail. I’m in my seventies now. The current batch of youngsters point and laugh at me, when they see me oiling the chain and padlock. I don’t mind. I console myself with the thought that if a third major war hits the village, and the occupying forces control the petrol and diesel supply, as they did in Dad’s day, I’ll be okay. I’ll have the bike, and will be able to escape.
And when my time is near, I shall say the same words to my son as my father said to me; the same words his father said to him, “Never forget the lessons of war; always have a way out. Keep your bike oiled.”