the big man

Mira is using her zimmer frame for the first time, hobbling slowly and painfully to the hallway from the front room where she’s been sleeping these past few weeks.
‘Excellent! Good work!’ says Bethan, the physio. ‘We’ll soon have you back to normal.’
Mira stops in front of a picture on the wall, a lurid pastel portrait of a crying child in a knitted bonnet.
‘Do you know who this is?’ she says, letting go of the zimmer to straighten the frame.
‘Careful!’ says Bethan.
‘This is my husband,’ says Mira, ‘as a small child’
‘They gathered that,’ says John, her son, holding on to the door, his arm making an arch for her to pass under. ‘Come on, mum. Keep it moving. Keep it moving.’
‘Would you like to know why he was crying like this?’
‘Oh god. You’re going to get the guided tour now,’ says John.
‘It was Vidovdan, feast day. My husband’s Baka had made a wonderful torte, beautifully spread with segments of apple and pear, glistening with the most marvelous jelly and topped with fresh whipped cream. And he just couldn’t resist it. So he dragged his finger across the top, and then he stuck his finger in his mouth. Of course, when his Baka came in she was furious, and she smacked him – like this – on his hand. What you do this for? she said to him. Who will want to eat my lovely torte now you’ve wiped your dirty paws all over it? And he cried and he cried and he cried – just like the picture. And his Baka said to him, she said Why are you crying so much? I did not think I hit you as hard as all that. No he said I’m crying because I made you sad. And that was why they had this picture made of him.’
‘Yeah. And I bet they had to pinch him a few times to keep him going.’
‘John!’ says Mira. ‘Don’t listen to him. He misses Papa as much as I do.’
We continue walking towards the hallway.
They’re an odd couple, Mira and John. She is so small and frail, and her son so huge, it’s difficult to imagine her ever giving birth to him.
‘It might be quicker if I just put you over my shoulder,’ he says, checking his watch. ‘Mind you, I’m not sure I could these days. I carried a heavy machine gun and a radio when I was in the army. Well – it was a few years ago. I was twenty-six, the big man. Seemed like a good idea at the time.’

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