His mother would be frozen then, her face red and her wooden cooking spoon drawn up into the air between them. She would not let them talk of the Germans. She was as afraid as the rest of the village.
"Don't start, Pawel," she would say in an urgent voice, her eyes wide and alarmed. "Your talk could kill us all."
He would leave. And then the silence of the house and of his mother would silt down upon Gracian, weighting his shoulders. Later, Pawel would return and apologize and embrace his mother and promise to visit the mines tomorrow, but no one believed he would.
Such was the way of Pawel Sofka. Always leaving. Never staying. There were times when Gracian was so tired from work that he would sit with his brother unspeaking, feeling a great swell of desire to question him about the way in which he led his life; but something about his brother's quiet face made the words falter and drown before they left his mouth and he would be unable to say
a word and then it was too late and Pawel was up and dusting his trouser fronts with his palms and vanishing once again outside-back out into the close-guarded mystery of himself.
Jay Basu was born to an Indian father and a half-Polish, half-Russian mother. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1999. The Stars Can Wait is his first novel. He lives in London.