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A new man

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Czeslaw moves his walking frame up the carpet, shifting along noiselessly. He patrols the ward with calm precision, past the blue walls hung with the picture of the taffy pony and the picture he loves of bushrangers staging a bail-up.

“Now that is a proper painting”, he remarks, pulling up alongside. Though his eyes have lost their pilot’s acuity, he still loves an action scene.

As I have been taught in tutorials, I walk this procession with him, my eyes trained on his navy slippers. Lachlan, Murray, Murrumbidgee wards. He keeps a fast pace, a shuffling gait, walking-not-talking, a wide turning circle. A ninety-three-year-old hulking Pole with porous bones, walnut kidneys and mutinous blood. His body is a leaky vessel, each day becoming more pervious to the world around him.

***

The hangar is behind him. The terrain below is fast becoming an impressionist’s canvas, with height and the early morning strands of light. He turns to Normandy. It is unlikely that he will feel solid earth again. The vibrations move through him. Oddly detached, he is an officer of the Polish Air Force, returning home.

***

“They’ve put me in …” — he pauses, knocking on the thin plaster wall — “what is it called? Cardboard. Like an egg box. I’m an old egg”. He gusts with laughter. The nurse steps past and grins…

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