The boots of the apprentice

No matter how hard I tried the wood from the stove did not burn. It had never happened to me something like this.

The baker shouted at me : `Don`t you light up that fire ?`

I did not make the effort to answer to him. Two weeks had passed since I had been his apprentice. I had never seen him smiling or being content of something. I tried to take out the wood when a piece of cardboard fell into the stove. I took it up and all of a sudden I felt the earth was running out from under my feet. It was my small icon with Saint Nicholas. I was revolted.

`Why did you do this?` I asked him gritting my teeth.

The baked laughed out loud.

`Come on, start your work as I am not going to feed you for nothing.`

I saw red before my eyes. I made the fire quickly and went out on the door like a bullet. I ran through the snow till the back of the yard at the pile of wood. It was the place where I went to find my peace every evening.

My name is Nicholas. When the people from the orphanage found me at their door in a basket of reeds there was only the icon of Saint Nicholas beside me. They assumed that was my name. I don`t know why my parents abandoned me but I don`t have any resentment against them.

It was war and the people lived a harsh life. I lived for twelve years in the orphanage and afterwards we were sent into the world. They could not keep us anymore. I had received only a pair of solid leather boots maybe remained from an officer, it was during war. I had never felt cold or damp due to them. The boots and the small icon were my only fortune.

I took out the small icon and touched it on my lips. I understood it all of a sudden.

`The fire didn`t burn because you were there, isn`t it so?

I was laughing and turning around with my arms lifted up to heaven.

A poor caterwaul made me stop. A cat with wet fur stuck to the body was shivering before me.

`What is the matter with you ?`

I tried to pat her but it withdrew a few steps then started leaping through the snow. From time to time it stopped and looked at me as if it waited for me. It jumped the fence and didn`t stop her caterwaul until I didn`t jump it too.

I came before a poor hut. Probably the snow drifts had hidden it from me until then.

The cat started caterwauling more miserably.

`I see, this is where you live.`

Seeing that nobody opened I started knocking at the door then shouting:

`Good evening? Is anyone home?

Finally a dim light flickered at the window and some shuffling steps were heard. The door opened slowly. An old woman showed up on the threshold. Her face lit up when she saw the cat.

`You are wandering about and now you want to get inside, she pretended to scold the cat.

The beast ran through her legs.

`Thank you for knocking at the door. I had fallen asleep. IN winter we go to bed early to get warm.

`Who is there? a drawling voice was heard, followed by a cough attack.

`A nice boy brought our cat home`, the old woman answered him.

After the coughing stopped the voice said :

`Woman, invite him inside, this is the Christian way of being. Make him a tea, the boy might be frozen.`

I got inside.

`Excuse me for lying in bed, but I am a little cold. What is your name lad?

From under the heavy blanket an old man was smiling at me.

While I was answering at his questions I looked around the room. The old woman started to light up the fire at a small metal stove. IN the room it was cold.

`Tell me where the wood sticks are to bring them for you inside`, I offered myself, seeing the few sticks the woman wanted to use for making me a tea.

She turned towards me:

`Tomorrow I go to search in the forest. Now this is all we have.`

`I can bring you some immediately from the baker. He won`t notice they are missing`

I was ready to get out but a bony hand came out of the blanket and caught my wrist.

`We don`t want to steal the firewood of anyone`, he said

His palm was burning. He had fever.

`But, I was ready to contradict him.`

`Please`, whispered the old woman.

I had to give up. I waited quietly for my tea cup. The old man related to me many stories from his childhood.

I left happy. It was settled to pass by them again the next evening.

I fell asleep late. My mind remembered the old man. He needed heat and medicine.

The next day in the morning I asked the baker to give me the salary for the two weeks I had worked for him. He shooed me with a kick saying that we had not agreed on those terms. The payment was made monthly. I could not convince him.

After lunch I rushed to a drugstore to find some medicine. God helped me. For the snow I cleaned up from the sidewalk I received a small bottle with some drops to help the old man. I had to find firewood too. I knew the place the baker bought them from.

In the cabin of the person who sold firewood it was warm and it smelled like fir tree.

`What do you want, brat? A thin and tall man shouted at me raising his nose from a dirty notebook.

`I need some firewood` I told him very firmly.

`Everyone needs them. But do you have money?`

`I`ll have it in two weeks. I promise I will bring it to you. How much wood can you give me for four coins?

`Come in two weeks when you have money. Now go away! Or have you come to get warm for free?`

`The firewood is for two old people. Come with me if you don`t believe me. The old man is sick. Please.

He hit the table with his fist.

`Get out. I am not interes…`

He looked at my boots.

`What size you wear ?`

`40 but the boots are bigger…`

`Give them to me to try them.`

`Why ?` I said.

`I like the way they look.`

I gave them to him.  I remained in my mended socks on the cold hard-packed soil

When he put on the boots a wide smile showed up on his face.

`If you give me the boots you get firewood.`

I remained shocked. I needed my boots.

`Thnk of those old people, how cold they are, the long man said with a sugary voice as if he was concerned about them.

I would have gladly punched his nose

`How much firewood do you give me ?

`I prepare for you half of a cart of firewood. Come tonight to show me ehere to take it.

`A full cart` I cried. My boots are of best quality.

`Three quarters.

`Full` I said frowning.

`OK, it`s a deal.`

I woke up.

`What do wear ? I cried

He threw his rubber boots.

IN the evening I went to take the firewood. I was walking slowly through the snow with my rubber boots. I had padded them with newspaper to keep them warm but my feet were still freezing.

But I was glad. The old people would have heat all winter.

In the cabin at the table a fat man sat.

`Good evening, I came to take the firewood.`

The man frowned his eyebrows.

`What firewood?`

It came out that the tall man was not the owner only an employee.

`Boy, I have no idea what you spoke with him` the man greened. Probably you want to lie me. Others tried it too. Go away if you don`t want to make my dogs chase you away.`

I don`t know when I got back to the baker. Everything seemed a bad dream.

I ran to the backyard and jumped the fence and ran through the snow driftsin the field. At least I had to give them the medicine. I saw clearly my footprints from the evening before.

The footprint ended near the trunk of an old and hollow tree.

I was turning around and didn`t understand. Where was the house. It was the same way as yesterday. My footprints were the evidence. They could not have been someone else`s. What was with that tree?

My head started to ache. It was too much for a single day. I went back. I was to come the next day on sunlight.

IN the morning I was awakened by the shouts of the baker. Far away the bells from the church were heard ringing. It was not Sunday. Why were they ringing?

`Wake up, lazy boy ! I had been calling you for so long to bring me firewood. Did you die? The people come back from the church now and the bread is not ready.

I went out in the yard sleepy. A few children were passing by on the road with their parents.

`Saint Nicholas brought me in my boots some walnuts and a lollipop, it was heard the voice of a small girl.

`For me he brought apples and some mint drops` a boy cried.

I had newspapers in my boots.

Today is 6th of December the day of Saint Nicholas, I came to my senses. How could I forget? It is my name`s day too…

I jumped the fence and followed the footprints. Fortunately over night it had not snowed anymore and the footprints were still noticeable in the snow. I went again to the hollow tree.

`Could have been possible to have dreamt the house and the old people? Had I given my boots on nothing`

What a fool I had been.

I took out the bottle with medicine and threw it in the hollow. It was heard a clink as if it had met some metal. I went closer curious. I put my hand inside and took out a pair of boots. They were mine, the boots I had given to the tall man. They seemed to have been full of something. I turned them upside down and saw a pile of golden money falling at my feet.

Miracles are only lived. They don`t need to be understood, because you can`t understand them. But they remain for ever in your heart.

Ten years passed since then. I did not return to the baker. With the gold received from Saint Nicholas I went to school, then opened an inn at a crossroads. The icon of the Saint is framed and hung on a wall so that any traveler may see it.

Maybe one day a woman or a man will recognize it as being the icon they had left in a reed basket near their baby.

I am sure the Saint will guide them to me.

I pray to him every night.

Veronica Iani


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