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The Surprise

By Lili Potpara

For several days, it is quiet in the apartment. The sister and brother are playing quietly, and Daddy and Mama are not talking. The silence is thick and heavy. It echoes sometimes, too, when the boy and the girl stand between their parents and ask questions, which both have to answer at the same time.

Then one day Mama comes home from work early. The brother isn’t there yet, and Daddy is working. The girl is playing a game where she talks to herself, asking questions and answering them in a different voice.

 “Alenka, come into the kitchen!” Mama says.

Alenka apologizes to her toys and tells them, in a different answering voice, that she’ll be back quickly.

“Alenka, I have to tell you something,” says Mama.

Mama has that look that scares Alenka. She doesn’t know what it means to say, but it is as if it were drawn on the wrong face.

“You know Daddy got you a birthday surprise.”

It’s true that Alenka will be eleven years old soon, and this is finally the year she will become a teenager. Soon, Alenka will no longer be a sweet little girl.

“Daddy bought you a bike,” says Mama. “One of those Rog Pony folding bicycles.”

Alenka doesn’t say anything, but something makes her heart tighten and something makes her angry. Of course, she wants a Pony, she has wanted a Pony for a long time so that she can go with Silva and Katarina to “Amerika,” a little side street, which is too far away for her since she doesn’t have a bike. And when Silva and Katarina tell her how it is in Amerika, how the slopes are steep, and how you have to brake hard at the bottom, Alenka wishes that they would talk about something else.

“You know, Alenka,” Mama continues with that look, the one drawn on the wrong face. “Look happy because Daddy really tried, he even took out a loan to buy you the bike.”

“Yes, Mama,” says Alenka and goes back to the window to her toys. “I got a bike as a surprise,” she tells them and the toys bounce up and down.

Then her birthday arrives. Alenka has a tummy ache in the morning, but she still goes to school. Now and then, in the middle of class, she wonders whether the bike is blue or red. All the Ponies are blue or red, only Silva’s is pink because her daddy painted it.

After lunch, Daddy arrives. Alenka feels strange, and it seems to her that her face has become that way, too, as if it’s not her real face. Daddy tells her to go down to the basement. And Alenka goes down. The bike is there. Light blue.

Alenka looks at it and then glances at her father. She knows that she should be happy, but her tummy starts to hurt more. She touches the bike, and it is just right—the feeling of the cold metal slightly hurts.

“Thank you, Daddy,” she says and wants to go upstairs to her toys as soon as possible, to tell them she has gotten a surprise.

“You’re not going to go for a ride?” asks Daddy, and Alenka doesn’t know what to do. “Yeah. A bit later, though.”

The basement is narrow and the light is poor. Daddy is big and Alenka is small. In her head, she hears the word “loan.” But she cannot move. Just standing next to her new Pony, behind her daddy, makes Alenka wish Daddy would leave, so Silva and Katarina could come, so she could finally escape with them to Amerika.

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