Snakes and Pills

193 - bunk

The tires on Stephen's bicycle noticeably deformed as he sat his grandson into the little basket over the rear wheel. The frame itself groaned as he sat his own body into the saddle. Everything squealed and squeaked as he cautiously set the vehicle into motion.

Though it protested quite noisily, his bicycle still carried on after its initial trepidation. Stephen was quite aware of how he had failed to maintain it as well as he should have. But being of limited means meant he did what he could, not always as he should.

"Where are we going today, grampa?" the child asked from behind him. He was always excited to accompany his grandfather, and Stephen likewise appreciated having a companion.

"Toward the Old City today, my boy. I want to show you something," Stephen answered, navigating the bumps in the trail. As they progressed from their home on the outskirts toward the city proper, they began to encounter more and more traffic.

The hustle and bustle had always been a part of this place, but Stephen remembered it from a different perspective. He remembered the commotion he would cause, and how the crowds would part to let his carriage pass through. Most of all, he remembered how they would all turn and look.

Now, no one gave the grandpa and child on a bicycle a second glance. They certainly did not make room for them to easily pass through, either.

Being temporarily forced to halt their progress thanks to a stubborn ox leaving its cart in the way, Stephen admitted to himself that, once in a while, he missed the priority. But he enjoyed his current anonymity more. Their gaze had always carried respect and awe, but it also placed him in a world apart.

His grandson would not grow up in a separate world, at least. The boy might face a lot more adversity than he had, but he would also have a shot at turning out normal, whatever that was. Stephen had never quite figured it out.

Thus far, Stephen had remained steadfast in shielding the boy from his family's lineage. Today, he would break his self-imposed rule. He rationalized his decision by saying that the boy would learn of it someday, regardless.

In truth, Stephen was feeling a little nostalgic. He wanted to see, with his own eyes, what he had heard.

The bicycle carried on, traversing the city streets, which finally grew less crowded as they left the main thoroughfares. He steered toward an area that was once of great importance, but now most of its visitors were the result of wrong turns.

He had made no wrong turns. Stephen's eyes finally caught their first glimpse, and he felt the air involuntarily empty from his chest. "So, it's true," he muttered to himself, bringing the bicycle to a stop.

"What's true?" his grandson asked, gazing upon the same empty lot as his grandfather.

Stephen sighed, surprised at how his emotions had overcome him. He composed himself for a moment, considering how to answer the child.

"It's gone. The palace. Before, there was a huge palace here. It used to be my home a long time ago," Stephen explained in simple terms.

"Where did it go?" his grandson asked.

"The government knocked it down. They want to turn this place into a park, or so I hear."

The boy continued with his questioning, "Why did you move away?"

"Well," Stephen began, inhaling the brisk morning air, "when I was a boy myself, just a little older than you, some people came. They told us we had to get out, because the people of our country wanted to change how it was run. They wanted to improve it, to make it better."

"Is it?"

"Yes, I think so," Stephen answered, not sure of who he was trying to convince.

"Parks are nice, grampa," his grandson added.

"Yes, they are," Stephen agreed.

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