Behind the school building was a barbed wire fence. In the middle of the fence was a gap created by cutting down the wire and stomping on it, providing a shortcut to a back lane. Just around a bend on that potholed back lane was a humble cottage, more like a hut. Its walls were made from mud mixed with straw, and its roof was made from a type of long grass. Basic and cheap, this was the type of dwelling that would indicate more or less destitute occupants.
A boy in my class lived there and was reluctant to admit it when I first asked. With his soft skin untouched by the sun and wind, he did not look like a typical country kid. His trademark was a baggy yellow sweater with a white stripe across the chest. I also had a baggy sweater, a hand-me-down from my brother, and maybe that was why I took a liking to him.
He was quiet and had a curiously defensive look when talked to, as if expecting something unpleasant. No game at recess, heading straight home after school, he seemed either to prefer his own company or under strict instructions not to mingle and loiter. Still, since I took the same way home, we sometimes walked together until he stepped on a plank across the ditch running alongside the dirt lane, then disappeared behind a hedge overgrown with winged bean vines.
I never learned much about him, except that he was living with his grandmother in that small cottage, and that they had moved to our village not so long ago. In those years immediately following the communist victory there were many kids just like him around, who did not belong to that sleepy place with cows mooing and hens clucking, but all the same had ended up there like seaweed cast ashore after a devastating storm. Most would leave before long, for better or for worse no one knew.
My friend also left that summer. The hedge with winged bean vines were blossoming with purple flowers, but the little cottage beyond looked forlorn and soon fell into disrepair. I thought I would never see him again.