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The Red Tricycle
by Nikos Laios
2014-07-26 14:18:20
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The road across the park was long and winding, and the bitumen road was hot and sticky in the midday heat, and Johnny could hear his mother calling; but he was too engrossed in the new red tricycle his mother had given him the other day.
A shinny, glistening red tricycle that was his pride and joy ,which he took to the park across the road from his house, playing with his friends. The creaking swings where slightly rusted, and the  seesaws, and the merry-go-round, as the other children played ball across the grassy field. He could smell the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread and thought how hungry he was, and past the whizzing noise of the occasional car his mother would call, 'Johnny, the bread is freshly baked, come inside and have some sweetheart.'
The other children started to laugh,but he wasn't sure whether they were laughing at his mother calling him, or the fact that his tricycle was red in colour and not blue.With a grave look, Johnny decided it was time to go home.He left his shinning brand new red tricycle on the back porch, and opened the creaking back screen door and sat at the kitchen table; but in a chair that he could easily keep one eye on his brand new tricycle.
His mother spooned out the mashed potatoes onto his plate, and the pork chops as Johnny dug his awkwardly held spoon into his food oblivious to all around him, his mother was about to say something and thought better of it.
'Mum, why did they laugh at me? 'he said.
'When did they do that sweetheart?' responded his mother.
'Today, and yesterday as well....don't they like my tricycle?" exclaimed Johnny.
'Well, sweetheart......it's red....your tricycle is .....well.....a red colour......red! ' answered his mother.
Johnny was too young to understand, too young to understand why his tricycle should be blue in colour and not red. All Johnny knew was that he lived in Metropolis city, the capital of the 'Blue Nation. 'He also knew of the Nation of Red - the 'Red Nation' - but apparently, he wasn't supposed to mention them, because they were the enemy. But he had many questions which he wanted to ask, but knew his mother would get angry.
img_1398_400_01His mother Joanne was intelligent: 'my mummy is the cleverest woman', he thought with pride. Joanne was a fine figure of a woman; 'statuesque' was a good word to describe her, with her auburn ponytail, and escaped wisps of hair covering her still young neck, but which started to show some signs of creases, and her skin flushed, but starting to wear well. Like the facade of a building that has seen better days, but regardless of the slightly peeling paint, and frayed facade, still looked majestic and would have been breathtaking in it's day - that was Johnny's mother Joanne.
He'd nearly finished eating his food and paused and looked up - and his mother stopped and gave him that stern look that she does sometimes - because she knew what he was about to ask. Johnny thought quietly: 'why can't I ask her about the Nation of the North?' Or the 'Nation of the Black Flag' as they were called. He didn't know why, but apparently they were even worse than the Red Nation. He was about to speak, but his mother had to leave for work, and quickly whipped off her apron, placed the tall blue cone hat on her head and wore the wrap-around glasses that women were supposed to wear in public in the Blue Nation. That puzzled him, for he still didn't know why women had to wear these items in public; but his mother forgave his ignorance,for he was not even eight years of age yet, and wore his innocence well; but even so, he knew that he was different from the other children somehow, that these nagging questions in his young unformed mind wouldn't leave him. For he had yet to develop the faculties to give birth to fully formed thoughts and to be able couch them in a language within which he could expressively give voice to.
Johnny had a lot to learn, but he lived in a strange word, a planet called ' Planet Epsilon' - or  'Planet E' - as most people colloquially called it. It was a twin sister planet of earth; the same as earth but living in an alternate dimension, with its own divergent history but with the very same historical personages living there as well. There was even a carbon copy of Johnny on Earth also.
This world was divided into three nations; the Blue Nation inhabiting the western portion of the globe, the Red Nation the eastern half, and the Nation of the Black Flag to the far north of the globe. The populations of these three nations weren't homogenous in race necessarily, as they were unified by their cultures and beliefs.
In this world, theocratic fascism had won the revolutionary wars of humanity, that formed the core beliefs and identify of both the Blue Nation, and Red Nation - except for the Nation of the Black Flag to the far north. To both the people of the Blue and Red nations,these northern people were godless infidels, and both believed it was their holy mission to wipe them off the face of the planet.
Both the Blue and Red nations were monotheistic in religion with their respective holy books; the red book and the blue book. They believed that in ancient times, god descended down to their world and landed on a small hopscotch ground and played hopscotch with their ancestors. Then  On the third day, god rose back up to heaven. But both the Blue Nation and the Red Nation claimed respectively that they were the one true chosen people of the hopscotch god, that the holy city of hopscotch belonged to them.
Thus, they fought the eight holy wars for hopscotch city; where ownership of the holy city of hopscotch change hands between them over the Millennia, causing untold damage and the  destruction of millions of people across the globe But now there was an uneven truce, where the holy city of hopscotch was divided right down the middle; except for the sacred hopscotch ground, where they agreed to manage it and worship on it on alternate days.
But Johnny was not even eight years of age, and religious education did not start till twelve years of age. It was Sunday and the rap music was playing loud, and his mother screamed to him, 'get dressed Johnny, we're late for temple....you know it's your big brother's special day.'
Johnny knew that when boys turned fifteen years of age, that it was their coming of age ceremony; when boys became men and accepted their covenant with god. All that Johnny knew about today was that his brother Rip would have to read from the blue book, and at the end of the ceremony, would be given a blue baseball cap to wear backwards, and have the tip of one of his small fingers amputated; that these are the signs that the hopscotch god had asked of the Blue Nation to show, that they were the chosen people. The Red Nation also had a similar covenant ceremony, but in their ceremony; the boys would receive a circular tattoo on their foreheads and wore a red hanky hanging out of their back pockets to show their covenant with god.
It was a sunny day, and the clouds scudded low over the green fields caressing the top of the trees, as dapples of sunshine danced through iridescent trees. It was a grand day, for the high temple priest of the Blue Nation would be there personally to conduct the ceremony; his high holiness Vanilla Ice. Johnny couldn't understand why only rap music was played throughout the lands of the Blue Nation or for that fact the Red Nation, but his mother told him it was because when the hopscotch god descended down to earth to play hopscotch, that he brought down with him the holy ghetto blaster, and proclaimed that only rap music would be played from that point on by the people of the book - be that blue or red - and any other music that was played other than rap was punishable by death. For many things were punishable by death in the Red and Blue nations.
The ceremony was completed, and Johnny thought what a grand day it was, and particularly enjoyed the rap sermon by his high holiness Vanilla Ice, and all the wonderful popping ,and locking, and rap dancing in the temple.
Driving in the car back home, his brother Rip - now a man - scolded Johnny and slapped him on the back of the head.
'Why did you call out to your cousin in temple using her name? you know you can only call her by her real name in private at home! You have to call her Cuz', Rip instructed.
'Oh Rip...do I have to?' asked Johnny.
Rip tenderly stoked his little brother's hair and said,'yes you do Johnny.'
His mother instructed him in many things to prepare him for the day when he would become a man, for the day eight years from now when he would go through his own ceremony. In both the Blue Nation and the Red Nation, all people had a certain protocol of how to address each other in public. Men would have to address women in public as 'Sista', women would have to address men as 'Bro', and all children would have to address each other as 'Cuz'. - short for cousin.
The years passed and Johnny grew into a fine young man, completed his ceremony, and was now seventeen and tall, very tall. But the small boy riding the red tricycle, asking questions never left him; it wasn't washed out of him by the religious indoctrination he had received; he had lingering nagging questions. Superficially, he presented the facade of a compliant member of the Blue Nation, attended the ceremonies and mouthed their rabid beliefs; but he saw injustice around him, and that unease grew.
There where strict societal rules and guidelines from the holy blue book that controlled every facet of daily life. Women in the Blue Nation had to wear tall blue cone hats and wraparound glasses in public, while the women in the Red Nation were required to wear sack cloths and walked one step behind their men in public; and both the Blue and Red nations circumcised their women, for it was against the holy laws of the hopscotch god for women to have orgasms, for only men were allowed to have orgasms.
The most disturbing thing that nagged Johnny was violence, for deep down inside, the innocence of his childhood had never left him; he abhorred and rejected violence in any shape or form.
The primary obligation for young men under the age of twenty five was to wage holy was against the nation of the black flag. For both the Blue and red books proclaimed that any young man that died as a martyr would receive their reward in heaven: one hundred coca cola machines, and an endless supply of mars bars.
Johnny decided: he loved the colour red, he wanted to learn new things and learn to like different people and experiences, and decided to defect from the Blue Nation and head north; to the Nation of the Black Flag. He packed a small rucksack, and stuffed as much food and snacks as he could into the pockets of his chinos, and left in the darkness of night hitching rides on various freight trains.
He had never left or ever live outside of Metropolis city, and has not seen or experienced any of the countryside. He tucked his chin into the raised lapels of his windbreaker - partly to protect himself from the cool night and partly to protect himself from the urine soaked hobos sitting next to him.
The night was pitch black, but now travelling through the countryside past stacked haystacks, and wheat fields, he could see through the open freight train door the stars. He had never seen so many stars in his life so clearly; in the city the stars where blurred by the bright city lights at night, but here, the stars shone brightly like twinkling diamonds, or like a fanned out peacock's tail shimmering across the sky. The cool night breeze carrying with it the faint rustic smell of horse dung mingling with roses, and cornfields and freshly cut wood burning from stone chimneys, wisps of smoke curling over the mountain range. These were all new experiences for Johnny, and he sucked them all in like the marrow being sucked from cooked sheep bones.
He arrived at the northern coast and looked longingly past the wine dark sea into the distant horizon and wondered how he would get there. It was past midnight and he wandered through the small sleepy fishing village stepping as quietly as he could over its cobblestone roads and headed for the quay.There where maybe a dozen small caiques and several bigger fishing boats bobbing in the water; their wooden and metal masts clanging against each other like a symphony he had never heard before.
The captains on board were preparing their boats for night fishing and some to smuggle illegal tobacco from the chain of island archipelagos that separated the Red and Blue nations from the rebellious Nation of the Black Flag. Johnny walked past boat ramps and from the darkness someone said, 'who goes there.'
Emerging from the shadows of a fishing boat was a large man with a checkered shirt,round belly and ruffled red beard with a smoking pipe separating his plump plumb-like red cheeks.Johnny was taken aback at first , but sized him up and down and felt he was a jolly man, a happy man.
'Sir,I...I'm looking to hitch passage to the north', said Johnny.
The captain quickly looked left and right and his eyes fell upon Johnny, his eyes squinting and paused for a long time. Captain Zac was an astute man, a good judge of character.
'Alright....get in mate', barked Captain Zac.
Ropes slipped off their moorings, Captain Zac's fishing boat gently pushed out and slipped out of  the harbour and past they bay heading into open waters. Johnny turned ten different shades of green holding onto the rails as Captain Zac laughed.
The fishing boat bobbed up and down over the green waves under seagull calls,and sea-swells;the smell of sea-salt filling the sky. It must have been before sunrise when they arrived at the farthest reaches of their territory, and at this point, Captain Zac gave Johnny a small wooden row boat and compass and wished him well.
Johnny was on his own now, he hoisted the tiny sail on the row boat and tied the ropes, spied that he was heading true north, and slumped back in the boat to shut his eyes for ten minutes. With a thud he was woken up and was thrown into the ocean, as huge waves capsized his small boat; flayed by the squalling gales under grey-blackened sky.
He couldn't remember how he arrived, but he woke up lying on a sandy beach, blinded by the yellow sun with a beautiful girl with black hair, green eyes and red lips looking over him.
Her name was Elisabetta, and he had arrived in a small bright coastal village in the Nation of the Black Flag. Elisabetta and her father took Johnny to their small white house, he was in awe of this  new land. Where houses decorated the side of the cliff like white sugar cubes ,melting over winding roads and fig trees under the yellow sun.
As tinkling guitar notes softly bled through closed shutters mingling with jasmine and thyme; automatically, Johnny could sense this was a happy land, and a happy carefree people.
He spent many days recounting to Elisabetta and her father his life and experiences, the strange ways and traditions of his people, and in return Elisabetta recounted the story of their land and their lives. The weeks and months passed ,and he still couldn't believe he was here, that he could walk in the streets of this bright happy little coastal village, and that men and women were equal and could wear what they want.
Johnny immersed himself in the books in the local library and sent hours every day reading and learning as much as he could. He learned that here in the Nation of the Black Flag, the coming of age ceremony was far different.It was for both boys and girls, and it occurred upon reaching eighteen years of age.
The core beliefs in this society were: respect the individual, forgive your enemies, and know thyself; that the goal of every person was to achieve actualisation and the authenticity of the self. They celebrated a god-consciousness, rather than a formulaic dogmatic religion which strictly controlled everyday facets of their daily lives. It was a loose, mystical religion, where it was up to the individual to plug into the universal energy, find the self, and their individual vision of god-consciousness.
As Johnny was now turning eighteen, he was invited to go through their coming of age ceremony; in a sacred grove, where there were three wells. The first well was the 'well of forgiveness'; one immersed oneself and asked forgiveness for judging other people; the second well was the 'well of illusions', and an immersion into this pool stripped one of all illusions; and the last well was the 'well of authenticity', where an immersion would result in the discovery of the true self, of the true path that each person had the possibility to follow if they so wished it.
Johnny completed the ceremony and became a new man; he fell in love with Elisabetta and settled down with her and her father. Several years passed and Johnny decided to take his family to the capital 'Star City', to attend the annual holiday commemoration of the election of the greatest president that the Nation of the Black Flag ever had: president Bob Dylan.
Who brought peace, understanding, and prosperity and who triumphed in the only civil war that this land ever had; the materialistic wars of the 'Kardashians'. Which pitted the evil materialistic forces of reality television against the forces of good. Later that year, Johnny attended his first mystical ceremony in his newly adopted land. A huge stadium concert of live music and poetry readings; DJ's and classical music; and part of the requirement of entering the stadium was that upon the first bars of music playing, everyone dropped an LSD tab and tripped out - a mass hallucination - under the supervision of professor Jim Morrison.
Johnny was now an old man on his death bed with his flowing white beard, for he was content and smiling, and had lived a happy fulfilled life; and all those questions that he had when he was a young boy in the Blue Nation were now answered. That all men and women were created equally, that all people had the right to happiness, to freely exercise the mind, soul and body; to find oneself; to live an authentic life stripped of illusions;  and lastly, that if there was a god who created all the dimensions and countless creations, that he would not singly pick out one or two peoples on a small insignificant planet and ask them to show loyalty by asking them to amputate small fingers and tattoo their foreheads. He realised that the Nation of Blue and Nation of Red where living under  ridiculous illusions.
As he gasped his last breath, his children and grandchildren could hear him whisper his last dying words, 'red tricycle, red tricycle.' Not knowing what this referred to, not understanding the journey  that Johnny went through in his life.
But to Johnny, it meant the world to him: as he closed his eyes, dying, he knew what that red tricycle had meant to him; his innocence,his non-conformity, his individuality and his freedom.


With a digital drawing from Nikos Laios


Nikos Laios, North Sydney, Australia

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Alan - Penguin Publishing2014-07-26 17:35:37
Hi Nik, I would really love to have read your short story but it was just too long. I think you could be a fantastic writer but you've given your audience simply too much to read. I think you could synthesize the use of multiple tense in your prose by incorporating the use of more parentheses in your discourse (...) to link people and events in time and space. I welcome any questions you have!

Nikos Laios2014-07-27 12:08:09
Hi Alan, thank you for your feedback, which is greatly appreciated.I'm a poet who is trying to transition to writing short stories and hopefully a novel one day.I've been writing poems and articles thus far, but writing a novel is the end goal.I would welcome any further suggestions you might have...this is my first attempt at a short story....poetry/prose is my strength...regards.

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