The Childhood Lane

excerpts II When my younger brother came into the world, the lane was waiting for him at the gate. He didn't know: he was so little! His home back then was a white cradle; mother's palms were the only lane he could walk on; mother's eyes – the only windows which he could look through. The only thing he could do was whine and he was called Whiny-King. It had been a while until, on all fours, he began to crawl his way through the soft kingdom of the carpet. There, he wandered freely, in the company of a little wooden lamb, shoed with truckles, with a chubby dark body, like a woolen grape. He carried it through the meadows of fabric, and it seemed that the little lamb was the shepherd, for it only watched, while the little child grazed the carpet, drooling. It was there that he got lost through the thicket of chair legs and small tables, shelter for the bears, wolves, tigers and other felt or cardboard wild animals. It was there that he watched the first birds and listened to the first chirps: the flies with their buzz. It was there that he strived in vain to cross the hills of the stools, under which the tomcat tunneled its way. For so many times the cat's tail, white smoke, tried to provoke the wreath of the flower! It was there that his eyes marveled at the sight of the gusty golden forest of flames burning down in the stove, turned into coppery autumn, dozing, shed off in ruby-like pomegranates – and falling asleep into ashes. III Childhood, inquisitive like a child in front of the door that hides the Christmas tree, rose in his body, on tiptoe: he was growing up. He could move a stool, gathering all strength in his arms: it was the first impetus. He could, by climbing on the stool, dip his finger into the jam jar on the table, and a little bit later, after having sucked it himself, stretch it out to his mum: it was the first act of generosity.He could walk on the veranda: his first wandering. Soon, his steps strived through the courtyard; the lane looked at him touchingly from under the gate, luring him with it: it called him. He couldn't get there. The turkey's anger frightened him like a storm; when the turkey became gloomy in his feathers – he would run in the veranda.He wore a little dress back then, and was named Puiutzu. IV The boyish clothes were his first armor; the paper shako – his first crown; a rod – his first scepter; and the chasing away of the turkey – his first victory.This way, he became the king of the courtyard: the courtyard was Him. And everyone obeyed him, as the fangs of the mastiff, who accompanied him dutifully, were a solid and redoubtable law. Like all kings, he wanted to go beyond the borders that restricted his power. Thus, he reached the gate. The lane, guarding the threshold, stopped him from crossing it. He was too big to be satisfied with the courtyard, but too little to venture into the lane. On the verge of crying, he sat on the threshold. Casually, his hands started picking up the pebbles on the ground, scattering them, banging them together, listening to them: they were the jokes whispered to him by the lips of the lane. And he forgot the crying and laughed, and played with the good old lane for days. He was its spoiled friend. It made for him wonderful balls, which jumped right after he looked at them: the sparrows. It raised for him small kites, colored in different shades, which flew without wind and were steered without string: the butterflies.It gave him rosaries of winding bone, which strung themselves out: the snails.With unseen hands, it played with their shadows in the air, like on a wall: the crows.It painted for him, in chalk, on the house roofs, doll villages: white doves.For Christmas, it brought for him, from the sky, right at the gate of the house, the generous Santa Claus.For Easter, it sang to him – with wailing bell-like voice – the Christian tale of the vigils, with the gentle Prince Charming – Jesus, and with God.…In its water pools, the child admired the sky: his ensuing toy. It was at the beginning of April, a morning like those that surround the earth as a vivid halo surrounds the head of a Holy-child.The lane was dressed in sunshine. The child lingered in its arms.His eyes were smiling, his lips were smiling; his heart was throbbing in his chest like a green frog on the grass. The lane had taught him to watch the spring. He knew then that spring was a Sunday of the earth and that the flowers of the trees are sweet like a little child's smile in the cradle; fallen from the trees, they still smile.The lane had a lamp as well, set through its scarce trees. Each evening, a hunch-backed little old man came limping to the lamp; it whispered something in its ear, sheltering his words with the hands, and the lamp answered with a light that lasted all night.One day, the child, who had been on the lane since noon, saw the little old man coming, as usual. Like the little old man, who came for the lamp, September had come as well, for the trees. The child knew its name, but didn't know its role.The second day, the lamp was turned off, the trees were turned on. The child's eyes did not make sense of it. He thought: "Could the little old man have talked to the trees, too? But why are they burning at daytime?"And the lane taught him that in the autumn, there is a soft light turned on by the trees, in order to be an icon lamp for the weary land. "Gran'pa! Gran'pa!!"Grandfather was coming towards the house. The child had spotted, from afar, his paper bag – which grandfather forgot to hide – and started running towards him. The child was about to throw himself in his arms when he stumbled on a stone and fell. Grandfather, opening his arms to catch him, dropped the bag from his hands. The child, his cheeks all dusty, his eyes in tears, started to whine: "Gran'pa, I have a bump…" When he bent down to lift him, caress him, grandfather saw him laughing: the lane soothed him, giving him the scattered cherries from the bag brought by the grandfather. Both the lane and the grandfather were the grandparents of a child's laughter. V When the parents sent him to school, the lane accompanied him to its corner; it couldn't go farther. From there, it looked at him for a moment, and then went back home, leaving him alone. His steps were shy on the other lanes; his eyes were astounded by the bustle, his ears deafened by the noise; his soul scared. And his soul, without asking for permission, sneaked back home. When he woke up from the torpor that got hold of him, his body had frozen on a desk, his soul was far away, in the arms of the lane. At school, he gathered some young friends, like himself, and brought them for playing games to his lane – it was so propitious! Since then, the lane became very rich in children, one more fledgeless, ragged and frisky than the other. And he, their captain, the child of the lane, following its urge, guided their play towards their homes, preventing it from being wasted on foreign lanes. Every day, the sweet bread and the jam jars in the house vanished in the hungry mouths that filled the courtyard, like sparrows. The mother and the grandmother were flattered, seeing so much cheerfulness in their beloved child's troop, and rewarded it with the best things in the larder. Now, chatty joyfulness flooded the lane like a brook in its bed; and the lane bestowed it on the little house. And the child didn't crave for anything else than what he had: a house with parents and grandparents; a lane with playfulness and toys. Sometimes, only when it was getting dark, when he was left alone, listening to the whistling of the trains piercing the sky, like some noisy poplars, his friskiness was gone. Then, he forgot about the lane, although he was close to it. He wished for something: he didn't know what. His childhood was evolving towards life, like the flight of a skylark towards the sun. VI He had finished high school. It had been a long time since he had lingered in the arms of the lane, a long time since he had been playing with it. He had grown up. Now, he walked on the lane, and that was all he was to it: a walker.The longing for wandering was panting inside him like the upsurge of the sea in the sails of a vibrant mast: giving his eyes a thoughtful look, creasing his forehead, streaming his dreams, leaning his youth towards life. In its path towards our house, the lane had no companion any longer: it was a dried up river bed. VII He was about leave for a foreign country, to complete his education, to strengthen himself. His longing for wandering came true."You're a man now," his parents were telling him. "You're still a child, you… little boy!" the grandparents sighed.It was the day before his departure. He had let his mother arrange things, and had come out of the house to cool his forehead in the gust of wind.Cranes, chased away by the autumn, were flying, bugling. The leaves, too heavy with gold for the tiresome branches, were falling. The sun, too heavy with light for the branch of the horizon, was setting.The steps were leading him to the gate. When he got there, he leaned his elbows against the gate, holding his head in his hands.It was such a great burden in the lofty joy that filled his soul, that it seemed to him his hands were supporting a setting sun. And his soul was singing with hopes, like the autumn sky with cranes.It was getting dark. In front of his eyes, the lamp's little old man passed, taking off his hat: "Have a good trip, sir! May you come back safely!"He smiled to the old man, touched: "May I find you in good health, uncle Neculai!"It was completely dark. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with grandfather, who came home. He hadn't heard him coming; he was startled. A squeaking whine: the gate. Grandfather gazed at him for quite a while, sighing: "You're leaving tomorrow, little boy…" His heart sank. The moonrise caught him still at the gate. Quick steps were coming near: it was father. Again, the squeaking whine… father came in, caressed him with his eyes and hands: "You're leaving now, boy…" His eyes were filled with tears. "…""…"He remained at the gate, his eyes in tears. He had forgotten about the lane, but it spoke to him: "Look! Everyone is coming home; it's only you who is leaving!" In the moonlight, a pebble, seen through a tear, was glowing like a tear.And his body, involuntarily, bent. His hands, involuntarily, stopped above the lane, in the place where, once, the head of the child, too little to venture on the lane, barely reached.And his soul caressed, in the night, down, close to the earth, the head of a child who was crying: his Childhood. VIII

He had left long ago.Our old cook maid talked with the neighbor's cook maid at the gate: "His beloved boy! The mistress cried with joy when she received a letter with his portrait. You should see what a handsome lad he has become!" The lane was listening. IX The war came.Days and days on end, locked up cars, horse hoofs, songs and whoops, bugles and fanfare, roars and swears broke and profaned the peace of the lane. It withered day by day, like an ill cheek – haggard. X The believers had come out from the vigils, from the church of the lane. Our cook maid and uncle Neculai, the lamp man, lingered a little on the threshold."Aunt Maria! What's new about the child?""Well, uncle Neculai! This pest of a war caught him and he enrolled there, in the army!""Don't say!""Dear God! What on earth made him get on those machines that fly in the sky? Poor him!""May God help him, aunt Maria!""May it be so, uncle Neculai, for the mistress cries bitterly!"In the moonlight, the lane had become white, completely white…The footsteps of the two old people sounded like the heavy beats of a grieving heart… XI The middle of a night silvered by the moon.Through the open window from the parents' room one could see mother's head, bent over the table: she was writing to her child.Naturally, in the same moment, the child, his head bent over his knees, was writing to his mother from a barracks that had fallen asleep, or from a pacified battlefield.In the night, crickets were chirring.And the lane was listening, in the crickets' chirr, to the plaintive echo of the two pens, so far away, tracing two far away longings, scattered in the night's infinity. XII The nests from under the eaves were cheeping. A fluffy spring sky was hovering on the golden waters of the air, so light that you could have scattered it with a blow, at your will.The wind, caressed by the sun, gamboled warmly, fuming away flowers through the white trees.Grandfather, seated on a bench, wiped his eyes with a trembling hand. A vision made him shed a few tears: the child's eyes, coming up black-speckled in his soul – like two mignonettes on a crumbled wall. XIII  The news fell upon us like a skylark shot by the sun; the same way the child perished among strangers.The lane knew. For, after a while, the gate of the courtyard opened widely, like the wail opens a human mouth. The grandfather, in a coffin, followed his grandson.Soon, those of us who remained started leaving the little house; we were running away from there. XIV Time passed…One day, I, meant to be the last from the children of the times past, set out for the deserted lane, in order to share with it the confessions of a past so dear to us. And I didn't find it!For a lifetime I had known it to watch at the gate of our house; now, it wasn't any longer. It had followed the graves.And, in its place, there was another lane, in whose arms other children were laughing. Although generally not ranked high among Romanian writers due to the nostalgic tone pervading his prose, Ionel TEODOREANU was a favorite of one young generation after another, chiefly with his novel At Medeleni. He died almost anonymously on February 3, 1954, during a terrible snowstorm that befell Bucharest (see Profira Sadoveanu's poems). The Childhood Lane, an early work (1923), evokes the death of a brother who volunteered as an aviator and was killed in World War I.

by Ionel Teodoreanu (1897-1954)