Attila

By Attila Zønn

1968

One summer evening, little Attila’s parents bought him a tricycle. But because they didn’t have much money, they could only afford a second-hand one from the second-hand store. The store only had one tricycle but it didn’t have a seat.

“What good is a tricycle without a seat?” Mamma said.

What good is a tricycle? thought little Attila. He was too old for a tricycle.

“We will find a seat, somewhere,” Papà said. “Another time.”

Papà looked down at little Attila. “Another time,” Papà said. Little Attila could tell by Papà’s eyes that he was tired. Papà worked very hard and very much so little Attila nodded. He also could tell by Papà’s face that he didn’t like the way the man at the store was looking at Mamma.

The tricycle without a seat would have to do, but Mamma insisted that it was not complete without a seat. The man at the store said he would give the tricycle for free which made Mamma smile, made Papà frown and stare at the man, but made little Attila happy because even though a tricycle wasn’t what he wanted, at least Papà and Mamma didn’t have to pay for it.

He grasped the handlebars tightly and with one foot on the back tread, the other foot spurring him forward, he scooted out of the store.

He was freed.

He wanted to go fast.

“Attila!” Mamma called.

He stopped and looked back at Mamma and Papà and remembered what Mamma had always told him that when they were out, Attila must always be able to see Mamma, and if he should ever lose sight of Mamma, he should stop where he was and wait for Mamma. But he could still go fast. He just had to stop before turning every corner so Mamma could see him and they could catch up.

Mamma and Papà held hands. They walked too slow.

It was getting dark and by the time they reached home, it was so dark that Attila couldn’t see much in front of him. He wanted to feel one last burst of speed so with his foot he gave one last powerful thrust and—but Mamma called his name. He looked back, lost control and rammed the trash cans at the curb. Little Attila thought Papà would get angry but Papà said, “One more dent in the trash cans won’t make a difference.”

Little Attila carried the tricycle into the house and up the stairs to their flat in Uncle István’s house.

Later, little Attila had a quiet moment to fully examine his new wheels.

It was a big tricycle—yellow, painted with a brush. The big front wheel and the two small back wheels had spokes.  The brush strokes had not been smoothed before drying so the paint ran down the body and front forks like bulging veins. In spots along the frame, some paint had been scraped off and he saw the many colours his tricycle had worn. Before the yellow, it had been red, green and blue.

The more he examined the tricycle, the more little Attila loved it. It was a warrior’s mount and with its big front wheel turned towards him it was ready for battle. He didn’t need a seat. Seats were for babies, cry babies like his little cousin Demo. He would ride it like a scooter, and when he went out with his friends with their bikes, he didn’t have to run alongside anymore as they pedaled. Now he could maybe keep up when they pedaled hard and fast, leaving him running behind. They did that sometimes, except Teddy when Teddy was there. Teddy was his best friend. Teddy never left him in the dust.

The next day when he met his friends in the schoolyard a funny thing happened. Little Attila expected his friends to make fun of him and his tricycle because though they were his friends, sometimes they weren’t nice to him—except Teddy.

With their big two-wheelers they formed a circle around him and after a few seconds staring at little Attila and his yellow tricycle without a seat, each asked if they could try it.

“Here,” they said. “You can ride my bike if I can try yours.” But little Attila didn’t know how to ride a bike yet—Papà said he would teach him soon—so as he held their bikes, his friends each tried scooting on the trike.

His friends couldn’t do wheelies with it. They were disappointed. They said the tricycle was useless. What did they expect? thought Attila. It was a tricycle. They kept saying his tricycle was useless and it made his heart pound fast and his head feel hot. Attila wrenched the tricycle from the last kid who said it was useless and said, “I’ll show you what it can do,” and scooted around in circles and circles and circles but they jeered how useless it was and laughed at him. Little Attila came in fast and rammed their bikes, then jumped off, threw up his hands and said, “I don’t know why it did that.”

One Saturday morning he went to visit Teddy. He and Teddy liked going down to the wooded park at the bottom of Barrington and there they’d collect tadpoles from the creek and put them in jars because it was fun to have a pet. Teddy had always talked about getting a puppy but he couldn’t have one because fur made him sneeze a lot and sometimes his skin got itchy. When it was very hot in the summer, little Attila and Teddy played in Teddy’s very cool basement because when it was very hot Teddy couldn’t go outside because it would be hard for him to breathe.

On this day, Teddy wasn’t ready to come outside so little Attila waited inside at the front door. He saw Teddy’s father sitting on the couch reading a newspaper that blocked his face. Though little Attila couldn’t see Teddy’s father’s face because the newspaper was in the way, he knew it was Teddy’s father from the hairy knuckles and forearms.

The newspaper headlines had funny writing. It wasn’t English. They weren’t letters he had ever seen. Some looked familiar, but they were backwards and some had squiggles. Little Attila was curious. Papà had always told him that when he was curious he should ask questions. “That way,” Papà said. “You will learn something new, no longer be curious and get on with your life.”

“Hello,” little Attila said to Teddy’s father.

The newspaper flopped down from the middle and Teddy’s father focused on him.

“That’s funny writing on that paper,” little Attila said. “What does it say?”

Teddy’s father stared at him. Teddy’s father did not have a happy face.

“You are Attila,” Teddy’s father said.

Little Attila nodded.

Teddy’s father leaned forward. “That is a terrible name,” he said. “Do you know who Attila was?”

Little Attila shook his head.

“He was a monster !” Teddy’s father said. “He was the murderer of women and children. He butchered his own sons and ate them. You are named for a terrible monster. You will have a terrible life.” Then Teddy’s father sat back, flipped the newspaper up and hid his face.

Little Attila’s heart pounded so hard from the realization he had this terrible name and that he will have a terrible life that he couldn’t stand there anymore. He ran from Teddy’s house, and as he ran, he cried giant hot tears. He had to find Papà and ask him why he had given him a monster’s name and could he change it to a name that wasn’t a monster’s name so he could have a good life.

Papà and Uncle István sat in the shade in the backyard, drinking beer from an opened case between their chairs.

“Papà!” little Attila yelled. “Why did you do it? Why did you name me after a monster, who killed women and children and ate his sons?”

“What?” Papà said.

“I have a terrible name Papà. Why did you give it to me?”

“I did not name you after a monster,” Papà said. “I named you after my grandfather. He was wonderful and kind, and I loved him very much.”

“Who is telling you this?” Uncle István said.

“Teddy’s father. He said I have a terrible name and he told me why.”

“That man is an idiot,” Uncle István said to Papà. “He calls himself Macedonian. So he can share a kinship with Alexander. But they are from Crete. He is Macedonian like I am Chinese.”

“Don’t listen to that man,” Papà said. “Attila was a hero.”

“Yes, a hero,” Uncle István said and raised his bottle in the air. “And I drink to him.”

Little Attila felt better now that he was named after a grandfather who was named after a hero, and not a monster, and when he went to Teddy’s family store to get a jug of milk for Mamma, he wouldn’t look at Teddy’s father’s face anymore because Teddy’s father was an idiot . . .

Copyright©Attila Zønn 2022