The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
exploring the world on the other side of the fence. ‘I wouldn’t let you down.’
Shmuel lifted the bottom of the fence off the ground and handed the outfit underneath to Bruno, being particularly careful not to let it touch the muddy ground below.
‘Thanks,’ said Bruno, scratching his stubbly head and wondering why he hadn’t remembered to bring a bag to hold his own clothes in. The ground was so dirty here that they would be spoiled if he left them on the ground. He didn’t have a choice really. He could either leave them here until later and accept the fact that they would be entirely caked with mud; or he could call the whole thing off and that, as any explorer of note knows, would have been out of the question.
‘Well, turn round,’ said Bruno, pointing at his friend as he stood there awkwardly. ‘I don’t want you watching me.’
Shmuel turned round and Bruno took off his overcoat and placed it as gently as possible on the ground. Then he took off his shirt and shivered for a moment in the cold air before putting on the pyjama top. As it slipped over his head he made the mistake of breathing through his nose; it did not smell very nice.
‘When was this last washed?’ he called out, and Shmuel turned round.
‘I don’t know if it’s ever been washed,’ said Shmuel.
‘Turn round!’ shouted Bruno, and Shmuel did as he was told. Bruno looked left and right again but there was still no one to be seen, so he began the difficult task of taking off his trousers while keeping one leg and one boot on the ground at the same time. It felt very strange taking off his trousers in the open air and he couldn’t imagine what anyone would think if they saw him doing it, but finally, and with a great deal of effort, he managed to complete the task.
‘There,’ he said. ‘You can turn back now.’
Shmuel turned just as Bruno applied the finishing touch to his costume, placing the striped cloth cap on his head. Shmuel blinked and shook his head. It was quite extraordinary. If it wasn’t for the fact that Bruno was nowhere near as skinny as the boys on his side of the fence, and not quite so pale either, it would have been difficult to tell them apart. It was almost (Shmuel thought) as if they were all exactly the same really.
‘Do you know what this reminds me of?’ asked Bruno, and Shmuel shook his head.
‘What?’ he asked.
‘It reminds me of Grandmother,’ he said. ‘You remember I told you about her? The one who died?’
Shmuel nodded; he remembered because Bruno had talked about her a lot over the course of the year and had told him how fond he had been of Grandmother and how he wished he’d taken the time to write more letters to her before she passed away.
‘It reminds me of the plays she used to put on with Gretel and me,’ Bruno said, looking away from Shmuel as he remembered those days back in Berlin, part of the very few memories now that refused to fade. ‘It reminds me of how she always had the right costume for me to wear. You wear the right outfit and you feel like the person you’re pretending to be , she always told me. I suppose that’s what I’m doing, isn’t it? Pretending to be a person from the other side of the fence.’
‘A Jew, you mean,’ said Shmuel.
‘Yes,’ said Bruno, shifting on his feet a little uncomfortably. ‘That’s right.’
Shmuel pointed at Bruno’s feet and the heavy boots he had taken from the house. ‘You’ll have to leave them behind too,’ he said.
Bruno looked appalled. ‘But the mud,’ he said. ‘You can’t expect me to go barefoot.’
‘You’ll be recognized otherwise,’ said Shmuel. ‘You don’t have any choice.’
Bruno sighed but he knew that his friend was right, and he took off the boots and his socks and left them beside the pile of clothes on the ground. At first it felt horrible putting his bare feet into so much mud; they sank down to his ankles and every time he lifted a foot it felt worse. But then he started to rather enjoy it.
Shmuel reached down and lifted the base of the fence, but it only lifted to a certain height and Bruno had no choice but to roll under it, getting his striped pyjamas completely covered in mud as he did so. He laughed when he looked down at himself. He had never been so filthy in all his life and it felt wonderful.
Shmuel smiled too and the two boys stood awkwardly together for a moment, unaccustomed to being on the same side of the fence.
Bruno had an urge to give Shmuel
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