© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
THE GOLDEN HORN
(Christopher Vened Szwaja)
When I entered the Golden Horn restaurant that evening it was already packed with people. I am not sure what time it was, but it had to be no later than eight in the evening. People were in the early stages of partying: they were having their first, maybe second drink. They were still behaving properly but were already warming up to the occasion and a buzz of excited chatter filled the room.
The atmosphere was inviting. It jazzed me up at once, and I anticipated a good time. I walked around to check out the crowd. I frequently stopped by the Golden Horn and if I liked it, I stayed longer. It all depended on if I met some friends or spotted a beautiful tourist girl that I was interested in picking up, or both. This evening it was both. At once I spotted many beautiful tourist girls, the strongest incentive to stay, and began to look for a place to sit, but there were no tables available. So I decided to sit with the musicians, who were my friends and always welcomed me at their table in case of such an emergency. While I walked across the dance floor toward their table, I heard the familiar voice of my friend Peter call my name, “Krzysztof!” I stopped and searched for him in the crowd but couldn’t see him.
“Over here!” he shouted again and now I spotted him waving at me. He was sitting at a table that was set up in case of over-crowdedness, as there was this evening. The table was placed on the outskirt of the dance floor, almost on it, in a curved niche in the wall next to the podium.
I don’t recall who else was sitting there, but there were at least four or five people. I think my other friend Richard was there too. As I joined them the waitress was bringing a bottle of vodka. Peter asked for an extra glass for me, which she brought and poured the first round.
We began to drink and were having a good time, but it didn’t last for long. There was an unpleasant incident that spoiled the fun. The manager of the restaurant approached a party of young people, who were sitting at the table across from us on the other side of the dance floor, and asked them to leave. At first I couldn’t tell why he wanted them to go because I was sitting too far away to hear what they were saying. I only saw the commotion: the manager hurriedly approached the table, gesticulated impatiently in broad gestures, then went away and came back again and argued with the young people who refused to leave. Then the argument became heated and the manager raised his voice, and I heard him say, “Move, move. Get lost! We need to set up this table right now!” He turned to the waitress, who was following him around and said, “Ms. Kristina, please, clear the table and set it for the new guests,” and left the room in a flurry.
She nodded her head obediently and began clearing the glasses. The young people grabbed and shielded their drinks protesting, “Hey, hey, don’t take that, that’s my drink.” But the waitress ignored them and went about her business.
The manager shortly reappeared followed by the bouncer, “You have to leave now; the new guests are already on their way.” But the young people didn’t obey him and sat resentful and motionless.
“Hurry up, hurry up, they will be here any minute!” the manager snapped impatiently.
“We’re not leaving,” one of the young men said, “it is our table; we paid for the tickets. You have no right to kick us out.”
The manager did not bother to reason with the youngsters. He got pissed off and rudely expelled them. I don’t recall exactly how he did it. Basically, he intimidated them. They got frightened and got lost. The whole incident was unpleasant to watch. It disturbed me and put me in a bad mood.
The new guests soon arrived and took over the table. I looked them over. They had an air of importance around them and a brazenly arrogant attitude that only people of power have.
The manager and his staff were ingratiatingly dancing around them. They were so forthcoming, so accommodating and compliant that it turned my stomach. I was disgusted to see how the manager and his staff had changed their attitude; a moment ago they were so rude and hostile to the young people and now, in contrast, so polite and friendly to the new guests.
I didn’t know who the new guests were, but my colleagues recognized them as prominent officials of our region. There was the First Secretary of the communist party from Klodzko, and the District Attorney from Bystrzyca, and a few other important officials whom my colleagues recognized by name and position and talked about with resentment in semi-hushed voices. They were outraged that the manager had kicked out the young people and given their table to the communist pigs, but they didn’t dare to do anything about it or protest openly. The general attitude at the table was, ‘Ach what can we do, let it go, better to forget about it and pour another round of vodka,’ which we did. We toasted, “Na zdrowie,” but now with a sad undertone, and we drank.
But I couldn’t forget about it and, despite myself and the vodka, kept obsessively thinking about the incident. The presence of the communists was getting on my nerves. I was gazing on them furtively with contempt and was growing gloomy. At the same time I was getting drunker and drunker until I was so smashed out of my mind that I don’t remember anything that happened during the next few hours.
When I regained my senses, I was lying on a bed crushed under a pile of five or six guys who were holding me down. One of them was sitting on my chest and kept his hands on my throat. The others were holding my limbs. My arms were spread to the sides; two guys were twisting and kneeling on them, and when I tried to move my legs, I found they were immobilized by the weight of two more guys who were sitting on them.
“What’s going on?” I wondered, still in a half-drunken stupor. I had no clue what had happened, why those guys were holding me down, or where I was. The room looked like a typical hotel room in the local tourist houses, but I didn’t know which tourist house it was. One thing was clear — I was in trouble. The first idea that came to me about how to resolve my predicament was to throw those guys off me and run. I thought I could do it. At that time, I was an exceptionally strong seventeen-year-old boy. I trusted my strength more then anything else. I imagined myself being a superman easily and decided to pull off the stunt. I knew that I’d have to do it quickly and unexpectedly to surprise them and gain the upper hand. So to mislead them, I first pretended to be powerless and dead as a possum. When I felt them relax and loosen their grip, I suddenly mobilized my entire strength, threw those guys off me, and almost managed to get to my feet, but I failed to entirely free myself. They were all over me again, crushing me to the bed. This time they kept me firm and were so wired up that they nearly strangled me, occasionally punching and hitting me.
They roughed me up pretty well, and I don’t know how it would have ended if I were not saved by a girl who entered the room at that moment and restrained them. I heard her screaming, “Stop it! Stop beating him, you brutes!” At the same time, she threw herself between us to protect me. They stopped beating me but still kept me firm.
“Let him go,” she demanded, trying to push the guys away from me.
“We can’t let him go,” said the one who appeared to be their leader.
“He’s a burglar.”
“He’s not a burglar, he’s my boyfriend!”
“Your boyfriend?” They didn’t believe it, neither did I. I didn’t know the girl.
“Yes,” she said with certainty, “he is my boyfriend.”
“Since when he is your boyfriend?” one of them teased her as the others laughed.
“Since this evening. Satisfied? Now let him go!”
“No, Eva,” the leader said, “we can’t let him go. He broke into the building; we’ve got to check him out.”
“Let’s call the police,” someone else suggested.
“You will not call the police on him,” Eva protested. And then she explained, “He came here because he was looking for me. We have a date.”
“On the third floor?”
“He must have mistaken the floors.”
“He broke the glass in the front door. We have to check his identity before we let him go.”
“I know his identify,” the girl said. “He’s a native boy.”
“What is his name?”
“What is his last name?”
“I don’t know.”
That did not satisfy the guys and they decided that calling the police was the best idea. The problem was that the only phone was in the office in the main building and it was very late. So instead they decided to get Andrzej, a ski instructor who lived in the same building, and see if he could identify me.
“What room does Andrzej live in?” someone asked.
“I think, he’s on the second floor, but am not sure the room number, 206 or 208,” someone responded.
“204,” I said giving them the right room number.
“The drunkard says 204,” someone said and they laughed.
Then the leader sent someone to get Andrzej and while we waited, the guys struck up a conversation with me.
“Do you know Andrzej well?” they asked.
“Yes, I know him well.”
“How does he ski?” a guy asked me somewhat ironically.
“He is much better swimmer than a skier,” which was actually true, but nevertheless, the guys found my answer funny and laughed.
“Are you a skier too?” they asked me.
“Yes, I am.”
“How do you ski?” piped up the same slightly ironic voice.
“I ski on one ski better than you guys on two.”
They burst into laughter at my absurd answer and it eased the hostile tension between us.
Andrzej soon came into the room, already in his pajama top, and they asked him if he knew me. He gave me a look of reproof and said, “Yeah, I know him. He’s a native boy.” Then he turned his gaze away from me, and said after a short pause, “He’s alright.”
“Let him go,” the leader said to his colleagues and they released their grip and set me free.
From that point on, Eva took care of me. She took me to her room that she shared with two other girls on the second floor. They were already in bed asleep or pretending to be asleep when we came in.
I slept in one bed with Eva. And although I was wasted as hell, we woke up in the middle of the night and had sex.
Only after sex did I ask her, “So how do we know each other?”
“You rascal,” she responded with playful astonishment, “you don’t remember anything, do you?”
“No, I don’t really.”
She explained, “We met in the Golden Horn. You asked me to dance, then we talked, and we made a date.”
“I left the Golden Horn earlier and you were supposed to catch up with me later in my room.”
She probably explained why I left later, but I don’t remember that now. The point is that she was telling the truth all along, and my breaking into the building made sense. I was coming for a date, came late, the front door was locked, so I broke the window, slipped my hand inside, unlocked the door and went inside. Then, as she already guessed, I mistook the floors and went to the third instead of the second one, went or broke into someone’s room, and was caught by those guys who, as Eva explained, were from the same tourist group as she. They were having some kind of youth convention of socialist students.
When I woke up the next morning Eva’s roommates were already on their way down to breakfast that began at eight, and Eva was getting ready to go too.
I asked her, “Shall I get up now too?”
“No, you don’t have to. I will be back soon and bring you breakfast in bed. Okay?”
She left and I stayed in bed dozing until she returned with a hot breakfast for me. She told me that someone from the hotel administration approached her in the dinning room and asked her to tell me to come to see the manager in the main office.
“Right now?” I asked.
“No, you don’t have to hurry. When you wake up, they said.”
“Oh, it must be about that broken glass,” I concluded. “What’s the big deal? I’ll fix it or pay the janitor of the building to do it.”
With that nonchalant attitude, I got ready to go to the main office. Before I left, Eva asked me to come back afterward. She lured me with the knowledge that her roommates were gone for the entire day on an excursion and we would have the room to ourselves. I promised her to return and then went to the main office.
On my way out, I saw the broken glass in one of the four panes of the front door. I estimated the damage and with that in mind continued to the office, thinking that I would offer the management to either pay for the damage or hire a craftsman to do it.
To get to the main building, I walked through the main street, which was like a promenade for tourists. It was already fairly crowded. People were parading in the sun, taking advantage of the good weather. It was really a lovely day but it was only painful to me because I had a heavy hangover. I felt like a blind moth and could barely keep my eyes open in the bright sunlight.
As I approached the main building, I heard Peter calling my name from the second floor balcony. I looked up and spotted him waving at me.
“Hey, Peter!” I shouted happy to see him.
“Shh,” he hissed bringing his finger to his lips.
“What?” I shrugged, not understanding why he was behaving in such a conspiratorial manner.
“Be quiet!” he whispered. He was mouthing something and gesturing for me to get inside the building.
“What?” I asked him not understanding what his pantomime was all about.
“Get inside,” he waved at me impatiently.
Peter met me on the staircase, greeting me with, “Man you are in a big trouble.”
“C’mon,” I said playing it down, “don’t make such a big deal about a broken piece of glass. I’ll fix it.”
“A piece of glass? I am not talking about the glass, you damn moron.”
“What?” he teased me. “Man, you took a piss on the table of the communists in the Golden Horn.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Don’t you remember anything?”
“What are you talking about?” I said truly not comprehending.
“I’ll tell you in the office. Come on, the management is waiting for you,” he said as he headed toward the office.
As we entered, Peter excitedly blurted out that I didn’t remember anything. In the office were three people: the main manager, who was Peter’s mother; the main accountant, who happened to be the mother of Richard, the other friend of mine who was partying with me at the Golden Horn the previous night; and Andrzej, the ski instructor who intervened on my behalf the night before. All three of them looked at me with grave concern. Peter’s mother shook her head and asked me, “What have you done?”
I didn’t know what to answer but Peter jumped in, “He pissed on the communist’s table, that’s what he’s done. He gave them a golden shower. He pissed all over their table, peed on their plates, into their drinks, and splashed all over those pigs. Oh they were shocked, jumping away from the table to avoid getting wet,” he laughed half insanely and was about to go on when his mother cried, “Stop it, Peter, stop it. Cut it out.”
“Do you remember any of this?” Andrzej asked me.
“No, I don’t, really, nothing.”
“You see,” Peter interjected, “I told you guys, he blacked out”.
“Don’t you remember anything?” Andrzej kept inquiring.
“Not really,” I said. But in that moment something came to me, so I told them, “Wait, I recall a moment when I was leaving the restaurant. Anna, the bartender, was holding me by the hand and leading me through the crowd of agitated people toward the exit. ‘Get out, get out, quickly,’ she was saying, ‘run away, run away.’ Some other people were helping her to lead me out of the restaurant. Then, then, I don’t remember what happened next.”
“Nothing?” Andrzej asked.
“How many people have seen the incident, Peter?” Ms. Barbara asked.
“It’s hard to say. People were dancing, it was crowded, the lights were turned down. I would say only one hundred people saw it,” Peter could not help joking.
“Peter,” his mother slightly scolded him.
“No, no,” Peter tried to be serious again and said, “a few, only a few people really saw it besides the communists who were sitting at the table.”
“Did any natives witness the event?” Ms. Barbara inquired.
“I’m not sure,” Peter said, “but I doubt it. There were not many natives in the restaurant last night.”
“That’s good,” Ms. Barbara heaved a sigh of relief. “The tourists will leave soon, but the natives could rat.”
“What about the management and staff of the restaurant?” Andrzej wondered.
“We talked with them, they won’t say anything, I think,” Peter’s mother said.
“Yes,” Ms. Barbara agreed, “but the tourist might.”
“They don’t know him,” Peter’s mother argued.
“Well, I am not so sure about that,” Andrzej said. “He made himself known to everybody last night.”
“Krzysztof,” Ms. Barbara turned to me, “it would be better if you disappeared for a while, at least until the end of this tourist turnout. The police are looking for you in town. It would be better that you weren’t in people’s eyes. Do you understand?” she asked me.
“Yeah, I do,” I said. But I didn’t really have a grasp of the scope of events. I did not fully realize what had happened and its possible consequences. It all seemed a little bit surreal, partly in a drunken fog.
“So go now and don’t show yourself in town, okay?” Peter’s mother said.
“Okay, thank you. But one more thing,” I said before leaving, “I’d like to either to pay for or hire someone to fix the broken glass in the front door of the building.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Ms. Barbara said, “our janitor will take care of it.”
“Alright then,” I said and left.
I went back to Eva’s room, as I promised her, though it seemed a reckless thing to do since I had to pass through the crowded street again with the police looking for me.
When I passed through the entrance of Eva’s building, I saw that the broken pane had already been replaced with a new one. ‘Wow, that was quick,’ I thought.
I don’t recall staying with Eva long. I went back only to say goodbye. Then I went into hiding for a while as my friends advised me.
The police never found out who took a piss on the table of the prominent communists in the Golden Horn. However, I don’t know how hard they looked for me. Whatever, the fact is that no one ever ratted on me, even though, as I found out later, all the people in town knew about it. I became a sort of folk hero who dared to stand up to the communists. But does it really count? Can someone become a hero as a result of a deed done unconsciously in a drunken stupor? Well, I did. Still, whenever I recall what I did, I just feel embarrassed.
© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
THE KNIFE IN A CURIOSITY SHOP WINDOW
It all went awry since the beginning of the day. I was walking from the dormitory to the school, as usual, a few minutes before eight am. The dormitory and the school were located in the same building, so all I had to do was go around the corner and walk one hundred yards to the main entrance of the school. On the way I met my friends, Gats, Wrobel, and Bogdan. They were standing under the school brick wall and were smiling sort of mischievously while looking at me approaching. I sensed that they were up to something, something bad most likely. “Hi!” I greeted them. “Hi, hi Crystal,” they greeted me back and laughed. “What are you guys up to that you have so much fun this early in the morning, hmm?” I asked them trying to get to their spirit. “Nothing, nothing,” they said, but laughed even harder while exchanging knowing gazes. “What, what is going on with you guys?” I asked but they did not answer. Only when I waived my hand dismissively at them and turned away, saying at the same time, “O.K. I give up on you guys, I am going,” did Wrobel shout after me, “Hey Crystal, the teachers are checking emblems and hair at the entrance, they will not let you in.” “What?” I asked turning back toward them. “Yes, Crystal, yes,” they all confirmed now being more serious. ” I have my emblem,” I said and pulled the school emblem out of my pocket and attached it to the sleeve of my uniform with pins. “Good luck,” Gats said ironically, doubting that I would pass the entrance with the emblem pinned on instead of stitched onto the uniform as was obligatory. “What about you guys, don’t you go to school today?” I asked. “You bet,” Bogdan said somehow firmly. “We are going on a wag.” “Oh,” I responded somehow being or pretending to be impressed. “Do you want to go with us?” Gats asked. “No,” I said, “I haven’t planned that for today,” I excused myself with somewhat of a lie since I had never played hooky before. “But you guys have fun,” I said. “All right,’ one of them responded. “So long, so long” we said and I went on my way to school. But Gats still shouted after me ironically, “see you soon buddy.”
At the school entrance, one of the teachers there stopped me and checked my appearance. He looked at my hair and said, “Your hair is too long.” “My hair is short,” I argued, “It doesn’t even reach my collar.” “Hair is supposed to be cut four fingers above the collar,” the teacher said. Then he checked my emblem, noticed that it was attached on with the pins, pulled it off and said, “Your emblem is falling off.” “It was pinned on,” I said. “It supposed to be stitched onto the uniform,” the teacher said. “What difference does it make whether it is pined or stitched, it appears the same,” I argued. But the teacher didn’t want to argue with me. He said, “Go get yourself a haircut and stitch the emblem onto your uniform properly.” “But,” I tried to protest. “End of discussion!” the teacher cut me off abruptly. So I went away wondering, “Why are the school authorities suddenly so strict about the students’ appearances?” At that time I didn’t know, now I know. It was 1968, and student rioting was already taking place all around the country. The school authorities were imposing strict discipline for precaution, and any young man with long hair was an enemy of the state. For them I, or rather my appearance, was an enemy of the state. As I said, I didn’t know that at that time. However, the fact I was not allowed on the school grounds because of my appearance and the rude manners of the teacher pissed me off. I felt a mixture of anger and embarrassment. I felt offended. I felt I had been let down. Still, I had an option to get into the school through the back door of the basement, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel like sneaking into the building on the sly. My other option was to do as the teacher said: to get myself a haircut and to stitch the emblem onto the sleeve of my uniform. I didn’t even consider that option. It was below the level of my self-esteem. The third option was to go for a wag with my friends and that was what I did. I played hooky that day the first time in my life.
So I went back to my friends and said, “They didn’t let me in.” “Go through the basement,” Gats said. “I know,” I responded somehow frustrated, “I will not go through the basement, fuck them.” It became clear and was assumed without more words that I would go with them for a wag. “Let’s go guys,” Bogdan said. And we went.
First we went to the liquor store to pick up some booze. The liquor store was on Kraszewski St., fifteen – twenty minutes walking distance from the school. But the store opened at nine am. So we had an hour to kill. We walked slowly, shuffling our feet. Gats was amusing himself by spitting on peoples’ coats from behind. Bogdan joined him. They were sort of competing about who could produce more saliva and hits the target better. Wrobel tried to join them, but he gave it up quickly, not being able to produce either enough saliva or to get it well to the target. Obviously he had no heart for it. But Gats and Bogdan were getting into it obsessively, spitting on people with sick pleasure. It was performed as a boyish prank but done with scornful attitude. I did not participate in that game. I was disgusted.
We must have really walked slowly because when we got to the liquor store it was already open. We stopped near by and pooled our money together for the booze. We collected one hundred and six sloty, enough for two bottles of vodka. But Bogdan said, “It is not enough. We need three bottles.” Bogdan and I gave our shares. Wrobel had no money at all so we exempted him. Gats had money but he had to pay for the dormitory. So he said, “I can’t spent more, guys, I don’t have any extra except to pay for the dormitory.” “Come on, Gats,” said Bogdan, “you will pay later.” “I can’t,” Gats said,” I’ve already spent my dormitory rent money twice this month.” We believed him. Gats used to spend his rent money for booze each month but his mother always gave him money again, in secret from his father. Yet Bogdan was insisting, “We need three bottles.” “We can’t,” I said, “Two is alright with me.” “It sucks,” Bogdan said, “I thought we were clear on that.” “Shit,” Gats said, “I’ll give you the money, what the heck.” He pulled out a pile of money from his pocket and gave a few bills for his share to Bogdan. “Good, it is set,” Bogdan said. “Who is going to get the booze? Wroble asked. “I will go,” Gats said, “I look the oldest.” “No, you don’t,” Wrobel said. “I will go,” Bogdan said decisively. “Why you?” Gats was protesting. “Because I am the oldest one and I have an id,” Bogdan responded. We didn’t know that at that time. Bogdan was a new comer to our school. He was a disciplinary case transferred from Ziebice for bad behavior. So, we accepted his offer to go and buy the liquor. The rest of us were minors: Gats and Vrobel were seventeen and I was sixteen years old.
While Bogdan went to the liquor store, we waited around the corner so as not to cause any suspicion. He came back shortly carrying three bottles of vodka in his hands. While he was approaching us, he stopped half way and said, “You know what guys, you are minors. You should not drink this hideous stuff, so I am throwing it away.” And in that moment, he threw all three bottles high into the air. We all screamed in despair, “Ooh, no!” But, amazingly, he caught all three bottles one by one into his hands and started juggling with them. We were astonished. He was juggling those bottles with utter skill and confidence as if he were a professional circus juggler. We were impressed, yet he was juggling with our bottles of vodka, so we were also afraid that he would drop the bottles and spill the precious liquor on the ground. So when he stopped juggling, gracefully catching all three bottles, we were relieved, but not for long. Bogdan once again threw the bottles into the air and continued to juggle them. He kept doing that a few times, till, in the moment of his third juggling interval, we jumped on him and took the bottles away, advising him jokingly to juggle with sticks or stones instead. We were not angry with him by any means. He impressed us with his juggling show and we admired him.
We went to drink vodka outside the town on the bank of the Nysa river. We walked along the river on a narrow dirt path a few miles and stopped where there were vast low marshy meadows. It was a deserted area, a good spot for truants. We felt safe there that no one, in particular the police, would bother us. We hung over there the whole day, till evening. Nothing extraordinary was happening. We were just killing time drinking vodka, playing cards, first poker then bridge, and then, when we got drunk, doing macho sporty stunts.
Only after we drunk the last round of vodka, we headed back toward the town. It was already dark. We were getting very hungry. The few sandwiches we had brought with us we had eaten hours ago. We walked quickly almost hurriedly. We were in very good spirits – vodka was well boozing in our heads and our bodies were still excited by the fun games we had played on the bank of the Nysa river. However, the closer we were getting to the town, the less spirited we became. It was probably because we were getting sober and dry, and because our wag was coming to the end, and because we were approaching the town, the place of our dreary school and dorm – the place of restriction. By the time we reached the outskirts of the town, we were gloomy. And the gloominess grew on us the farther to the town we went. It was unbearable, as if we were going back to prison.
And when we were in this gloomy mood, Gats spotted an old woman pushing a cart with vegetables through the small city square. She seemed to be coming back from the market. At one moment, the old woman stopped and bent over her cart arranging something in it. Gats spotted her and said, “Look guys what an enormous ass she has.” Then suddenly he ran toward her as fast as he could and kicked her in the ass with his full force. The poor woman fell into the cart with her face into the vegetables. She was not able to get herself out – her legs were kicking hopelessly and grotesquely into the air. At first she did not scream, probably being flabbergasted or because her face was in the vegetables, but then, a few moments later, she screamed with utter outrage, “Hooligans, hooligans, bandits, oo, Mother Mary, help, help!” and so on.” We cleared out, running away and laughing. We all thought it was hysterically funny. Taken by surprise, as the poor woman was, we were not able to stop laughing.
Later on, when we were having Russian pierogi for dinner in the Milk Bar, we asked Gats why he had done that. He said, “I don’t know. I did not intend to. I just saw her ass and could not resist kicking it. I could not help myself.” We all were saying that it was not cool to kick an old woman in the ass, but at the same time we were not able to stop laughing.
This incident jazzed us up. Our good spirits were back. We didn’t feel like going home. We were ready for action. “Let’s go to Ratuszowa,” Gats said. We looked at him and nodded our heads skeptically “Yeah, sure.” Ratuszowa was a nightclub in the market square in the center of town, rather expensive. We had no money left. “What the heck,” Gats said joyously, “I have money, guys. Let’s go and drink it away. Let’s drink up every single penny of my money for the dormitory rent.” And he laughed, and we laughed. “How are you going to pay for the dormitory rent?” Wrobel voiced his concern. “I don’t know,” said Gats and laughed again. “He doesn’t know,” said Bogdan and laughed as well. “Do you know, Wrobel, how Gats is going to pay for the dormitory rent?” I asked and laughed. “I don’t know,” said Wrobel and shrugged his shoulder, “I am just voicing my concern that….” “Shut up, Wrobel,” Bogdan cut him off abruptly. “Shut up, Wrobel,” I said. “Shut your trap! Wrobel,” Gats shouted, “and let’s go!” “Let’s go!” we said. And so we went.
We came to Ratuszowa sometime after eight pm. The restaurant was three fourths filled with people; the bar was packed. The decadent warmth of adult debauchery and lust was oozing in the rooms. We got excited but behaved cool, in our conviction as adults, not letting our immaturity to show. After all, with the exception of Bogdan, we were minors – we didn’t want to cause suspicion, we didn’t want to be found out. But no one cared to check our ids. We got in without any problems, took a table in the dancing room, and ordered drinks. Everything looked as if we were going to have a good time. Our table was set with drinks, our imaginations tempted by the sluttish women hanging around, the prospect to get laid this evening on our minds. But that was as far as it went. Gats went to the bar for a drink with one of the musician whom he knew and spotted Gnidacewicz, a teacher from our school. Gats quickly backed up and returned to our table. He said, “Gnidacewicz is in the bar, we have to flee.” Wrobel jerked in the chair, getting ready to run.” “Cool down Wrobel,” said Bogdan and grabbed Wrobel’s forearm, bringing him to standstill, “Don’t rush, there’s not reason to panic.” Then he turned to Gats and asked him, “Has Gnidacewicz seen you?” “I don’t know,” said Gats, “but I don’t think so.” “Alright,” said Bogdan, “let’s split one by one.” “Crystal will go first,” Bogdan said, “Gats and Wrobel next, and I will go last.” We snuck out of the club, seemingly unnoticed.
There was no other place to go. We just wandered a little bit around the empty streets and then slowly headed toward the dormitory. On the way, while passing through the old town, we stopped in front of a curiosity shop window on Mularska Street. We looked through the window which was poorly lid but bright enough to see the displayed merchandise. Our attention was attracted to a hunter’s knife. Wrobel first noticed the knife and said, “I would like to have that hunter’s knife.” “Where do you see it?” Gats asked intrigued. “Over there, in the right lower corner,” Wrobel answered slightly indicating the knife with his chin. Gats recognized the location of the knife and exclaimed, “Wow!” Bogdan and I too were looking at the knife. It was a very fancy knife with a decorative horned handgrip and an impressively curved serrated blade, displayed next to a dark brown leather sheath. “One hundred twenty seven zlotys!” Wrobel exclaimed while reading the price tag attached to the knife and whistled with amazement. “You can’t have it, Wrobel,” Gats said and added bluntly, “You can’t afford it.” “We can break a window and take the knife,” Bogdan calmly said.” “Sure, we can,” Gats reverberated sardonically, “no one is around here but us.” “Would you break the window?” Wrobel asked Gats teasingly. “Would you?” Gats responded defensively. “I would,” Bogdan said. “Why don’t you then?” Wrobel said. “It’s you who wants the knife,” Bogdan responded. While they kept teasing and instigating each other relentlessly, I was getting pissed off at them. I felt a rage was growing in me. I don’t know exactly why, maybe because they were tempted to steal and were sheepish at the same time. It angered and embarrassed me. “Do you really want the knife, Wrobel?” I asked him willfully. “Sure, I do,” answered Wrobel. “Good,” I said and broke the window by punching at the glass with my bare fist. I didn’t punch at the front but the side glass window, choosing so not to make too much damage to the property. However, the side glass was hard to break. It was very thick glass and very narrow, not much more in breadth then the width of my fist. Therefore, I failed to break the glass with my first punch. It infuriated me even more. So I punched the glass a second time with all the strength I had and broke it. I broke the lower part of the window, just a large enough hole to dive my hand and arm inside. I did so, quickly grabbing and pulling out the knife. When I turned toward my friends, they were already gone. They had already took off and fled away. I followed them and caught up with Gats around the corner. But I lost him soon, I took the short cut through the park and he kept running through the streets. I also lost track of Bogdan and Wrobel. I was escaping alone, running without stopping or slowing down till I reached the dormitory. My colleagues were not there yet. I was waiting for them hidden in the shadow of a brick wall. Bogdan and Wrobel showed up, Gats shortly after them, panting and rasping, both scared and wildly excited.
“Here is you knife,” I said to Wrobel and handed it toward him. “I don’t want this knife,” Wrobel said raising his hands up in a gesture both of refusing and giving up. “What happened to your hand?” Bogdan asked. Only then and there did I notice that my hand was bleeding heavily. “I don’t know,” I said being surprised myself with the bloody picture. “Put that damn knife on the ground,” Bogdan said with a downward waiving hand motion. I put the knife on the ground. My friends gathered around me and looked at my hand. I had badly injured the knuckle of my index finger of my right hand. The skin was cut wide open, the meat shredded, the knuckle bone exposed bare naked, and blood gushed profusely from the wound. “Shit! Crystal,” Gats exclaimed through his teeth and said, “it is really fucked.” “Do you have a handkerchief?” I asked somehow calmly not yet realizing the seriousness of my injury since I did not feel any pain. Gats offered a white handkerchief and I wrapped it around my finger but the handkerchief became red with blood in an instant. “It will not do,” Bogdan said. “Go to the emergency room, Crystal,” Gats said. “Jesus!” Wrobel whizzed impatiently and said nothing. “I can’t go to the emergency room now,” I said refusing, knowing that if I were to go I would be submitted to a police investigation besides of medical treatment. “You have to stop the blood right now,” Gats said with concern. “This wound looks terrible. It looks to me as if you need surgery and a few stitches,” he added. “No, no,” I protested, “its not so bad. Don’t worry about me. It is just a minor injury. Disinfecting with hydrogen peroxide and wrapping it up in bandages will do.” “I don’t think so,” Gats voiced his doubt. But I insisted on not going to the emergency room and said, “I will wait till tomorrow, if the wound worsens, I will go to the doctor.” It seemed the best solution under the circumstance. “That’s a good idea,” Bogdan said. The others accepted it too: Wrobel was nodding his head agreeably, Gats was nodding his head skeptically but he said, “Okay.” Yet at that point my wound was bleeding like hell, dripping blood all over the ground. Gat’s handkerchief was not helping much. So I took off my shirt and wrapped it around my wounded hand. It helped for the time being.
It wasn’t until then that Bogdan picked up the knife from the ground, wiped the blood off it with the sleeve of my shirt that hung loose from my wrapped hand, looked at the knife demonstratively and said, “good piece of work.” Then he slipped the knife into his pocket casually as if it belonged to him and said, “Let’s go guys and no word about this to anyone.”
We went into the dorm on the sly through the window on the second floor. It was our secret entrance that no one suspected because the window was fifteen feet above the ground. We were entering through there on ten feet long board bridged between the fence wall and the windowsill. We climbed the wall, set up the board, and crossed it one by one. Now it seems to be a very dangerous operation, risking falling off the maybe wobbly board suspended fifteen feet above the cement ground. But back then, to pass over that board was a piece of cake for us.
In the dorm, I took care of my wound. Gats was assisting me. He brought bandages and hydrogen peroxide. In the bathroom, I washed and disinfected the wounded knuckle; Gats bandaged my hand. We managed to stop the bleeding. “It doesn’t look so bad anymore,” I said to Gats reassuringly. “No, it doesn’t,” Gats said and smiled at me with a smirk as if to say that we had made it. “O.K. lets go to bed,” he said and quickly grabbed the bottle with hydrogen peroxide and extra bandages, then stuck them into my pocket saying, “Take them for later on.” Then we split and went to bed.
When I lay in bed, my hand begun to hurt, first mildly and then unbearably. I was not able to sleep the entire night out of pain. Yet I withstood both the pain and sleeplessness, and in the morning I got up from bed and got ready for school.
That day I went to school as usual. There was no checkpoint at the main entrance. Anyway, if there were I would get in through the basement. Students from my class were asking what happened to my hand. I told them that I had injured myself in a workshop.
During lounge break, we all four were called to the principal’s office. We went there expecting the worst. I even considered not going and to drop out of school for good. But I gave up that idea since it would not be fair to my friends. I had stolen the knife and decided to take all the blame on myself. While waiting at the door of the principal’s office, I said to my friends, “Don’t worry, guys, I will take the whole blame on me.” Then the door opened and we were called in. In the room was the principal and Gnidacewicz, the teacher we spotted in Ratuszowa the night before. “What have you been doing in Ratuszowa late at night?” the principal asked us. “We stopped over there just for a moment to get sodas since every thing else was already closed,” Gats lied on the spot. “You were drinking hard liquor and smoking cigarettes,” said Gnidacewicz matter of fact. “Don’t lie fellows, it only makes your situation worse,” the principal said. We admitted drinking and smoking in Ratuszowa. As punishment, we were put on probation for one quarter.
I could not help myself and went to the place of my crime during the same day in the late afternoon. I stood on the front of the curiosity shop window in the same place as the night before. The broken glass was replaced with a piece of plywood. I looked at the spot in the window where the knife had been displayed the previous night. The spot was empty but the knife’s dark brown sheath was still there. “Why didn’t I take the sheath?” slipped through my mind mischievously only to become ashamed for my thoughts a moment later. I suddenly felt like a thief and it felt awful. “I am not a thief,” I was arguing with myself, “I never stole anything before.” “I stole the knife last night,” an involuntary voice was saying contradictorily in my head, “I am a thief.” I started to regret my act. “What the hell did I do it for?” I was beating myself with thoughts, “Just to impress my friends? Or to prove something? To prove what? That I am tough or mad as hell?” And yet when I was committing the crime at night, it seemed like the right thing to do under the circumstance. I was compelled to do it on the spur of the moment and I did it. I did not calculate why and for what I was doing it. Apparently an evil impulse took me over and I did it. Yet, a day later I was tormenting myself with guilt. I wished to undo my crime, but to no avail. What is done is done. I could only lessen the consequences by giving the knife back to the shopkeeper and paying for the broken window.
So conscience stricken I went to Bogdan and asked him to give me the knife back. Bogdan was surprised but in his usual calm voice he said, “I thought that you gave me this knife.” “No Bogdan, I said, “I gave the knife to Wrobel but he didn’t want it so you took it.” “Does he wants the knife now or do you want it for yourself?” Bogdan asked. “No, no, no Bogdan,” I protested, “No such thing, what do you take me for?” “I want to give the knife back to the shop-keeper,” I explained and was flabbergasted with my own words realizing the absurdity of my intendment. Bogdan looked at me firmly and said nothing, waiting for further explanation. “And I am going to pay for the broken window,” I said flounderingly. I felt I was blushing, as if I revealed a shameful secret to him. Bogdan turned his eyes away from me, made a few slow but firm steps, and standing with his back to me said, “I don’t have this knife any more. I have gotten rid of it.” I didn’t ask Bogdan how he got rid of the knife, and he did not bother to explain it on his own. He just was standing there with his back to me in silence, and I was waiting wondering whether he was telling the truth or lying. Whatever, one thing was clear to me that he was not going to give me the knife back, and consequently, I was not going to give this knife back to the shopkeeper. Finally I said breaking the silence, ” that’s alright Bogdan, forget about it,” and I went away. When I was leaving, Bogdan called after me, “Crystal, don’t do anything stupid, alright?” “Alright,” I said and left the room.
I never went to the doctor to take care of my injured knuckle. I took care of the wound myself. It healed up alright. Only a small zigzag like scar remains on my knuckle until this day.
© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
THE FIRST TIME I SAW THE SEA
(Christopher Vened Szwaja)
The first time I saw the sea I was already fourteen years old. It was when I was at summer camp in Gdynia, a renowned resort on the Baltic Sea. Our camp was located a mile or two away from the seashore, so to get to the beach we had to walk for about forty minutes, walking slowly because there were kids of various ages between seven and fourteen and the youngest ones lagged behind.
We walked on a dirt road, first through a pine forest that grew on the sandy soil and was beaten up by the north winds. The trees were tall but the growth on their branches was so thin that I could see the light on the other side of the forest. Then we walked through the meadows that were partly covered in sand and partly in growth – poor but beautiful. There were some tufts of uncut grass and clumps of blueberry bushes. Then the terrain became more hilly and gradually transformed into the dunes. While approaching one of the dunes, a slice of the sea suddenly appeared on the horizon. I kept walking a short ways on the rather flat top of the dune until the whole vastness of the sea came into my view. Then I stopped there arrested by its beauty. In a first impression there is everything and more, and that was how I felt there looking at the sea. It was enormous and open and seemed limitless. It stirred my imagination to reach beyond the horizon – it was like an invitation for an adventure, no doubt to unknown lands waiting for me to discover.
While I was standing there spellbound by the view and day-dreaming of faraway lands, the other kids were screaming with excitement and ran forth as fast as they could to get to the sea first. They were passing by me in close proximity disturbing my meditation, but soon I yielded to their wild spirit and also ran like crazy down the road toward the beach.
When we reached the sea, we jumped up and down on the beach and screamed, “Hurrahs and wows!”
Then our initial excitement cooled down and we settled on the beach, some of us on blankets, others on the sand. We were waiting for the sun to come out. We looked up, throwing gazes at the cloudy sky with both expectation and skepticism in turns, for it was hard to say how the weather was going to turn. As is typical by the Baltic Sea, it was hard to figure out whether it was too cold or warm enough to take your clothes off, even more so, to go swimming. So we were hanging there, playing and wishing for better weather. Some kids got partly undressed. A few teenage girls even went down to their bikinis. I am sure just to seduce me, for there was no other reason; I swore I saw goose bumps on their skin. Nevertheless, the naked girls were the exception, for the most the kids stayed fully dressed.
The boys started a teasing game daring each other to go for a swim in the cold water of the sea. I heard instigating voices, “Let’s go swimming,” someone said. “Let’s go,” someone else followed, but no one moved. “Are you afraid of the cold water?” someone else teased. “No, I’m not! Are you?” was the response. “No, I am not!” “Really?” “Yes, really.” “So let’s go!” “You go!” “I will go!” “We will see.” “You go first,” and so on.
It was like that — all talk, no action, but I really was ready to go and said firmly, “I will go.”
In response the kids teased me as they did the others, “Oh yeah, we will see what kind of hero you are.” But unlike the others, I pulled it through. I took off my clothes and went to the sea.
However, in the moment I was about to step into the water, the guardian of our group, Edward, called to me, “You are not allowed to go into the water!” The kids found it very funny and they laughed at me as if I had made a fool of myself.
I stopped, obeying the guardian’s order, but I was resentful and asked him, “Why not?”
He was a bully so he shouted, “Because I said so!” then he laughed, as if he were very funny.
Well, the kids found it funny too and they laughed at me again, though it was not funny to me, but rather derisive – I felt humiliated but also provoked. I was not going to bend, my stubborn if not wayward nature showed up, and I decided to swim despite being forbidden. I said to Edward, “It’s not much of an explanation, is it?”
He suddenly got pissed off and said angrily, “There is no further discussion. Swimming is forbidden! Have you got that?!”
“No, I haven’t!” I said confrontationally, turned my back to him and walked straight into the water.
Then I heard from behind me a sweet female voice, “We are not bathing because the water is too cold.” I turned around and saw that it was Lisa, our second guardian, speaking.
“It is not too cold to me,” I answered her.
She shook her head and smiled with disbelief.
To make my point, I stepped into the shallow waters, checked the temperature demonstratively with me hand, and said again, “You see, the water is not cold at all.”
“Oh, come on,” she said, “ the water must be cold. No one is bathing or swimming, look around.”
I looked around. She was almost right, but in the distance I spotted a few bathers. I pointed them out to her and said, “There people are bathing, do you see them?”
She looked where I was pointing and said, “Yes, I see them.”
“So?” I asked.
“Come on,” she said, “don’t be stubborn, we will all bathe and swim later, okay?”
“Okay,” I said reluctantly and gave up swimming for the time being.
“Maybe at noon, if the sun comes out,” she said in a reconciliatory manner.
“Okay,” I said again and sat on the sand.
The kids kept teasing me and chuckled behind my back.
The sun never came out that day, and we did not bathe or swim. In fact, the weather became horrible, there appeared chilly gusts of wind and heavy clouds gathered in the sky, threatening to rain. The guardians grew concerned and cut short our stay at the beach. Hurriedly we went back to the camp.
On the way back I noticed that Mr. Edward put his arm around Ms. Lisa’s waist and she let him. I was disappointed to learn that they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Everyday between four and six p.m. we took a nap. It was obligatory for all kids – which was fine, I bet, for the younger kids, some of them as young as seven, for they naturally need to sleep during the day, but for the older kids, the oldest like me were fourteen, it was a drag. It was unnatural. We didn’t need to sleep during the day. Absurdly enough, regardless of the age, we had to stay in our beds and keep quiet for two hours.
During those late afternoon naps, Lisa used to come occasionally to my bedroom that I shared with twelve other boys, and sit on the edge of my bed. She placed her hand over my body, leaned forward above me, and then she talked with me in whispers. I don’t remember much of those conversations, they were small talks. She asked me about where I was from, my parents, friends, and whatever came to her mind. It did not matter. What mattered was that her shapely firm breasts were right in front of my face and the ends of her long red hair were occasionally touching and skimming my skin, invoking all sorts of sexual sensations that she seemed or pretended not to be aware off. I had to pretend too, lying there unnaturally stiffened, thinking of nothing else but to roll her over and have sex with her (but how?). The question was what she was thinking doing that to a fourteen year old boy? Flirting? Seducing? I had no way of knowing for sure, for her manner of behavior was ambiguous. But my roommates seemed to know for certain. When she left the room, they immediately awoke from their pretended sleep and had a lot to say, such as, “O man, wow, she is after you, etc.”
Edward, our guardian, was a student at the Sport Academy and liked sporting. One day while we were playing on the meadows nearby our camp, he wrestled with the boys for fun. He let the boys come at him in groups of five or more, and then he was throwing them around on the ground. Although there were many of them, it was easy for him to beat them, for they were just kids, while he was a powerful well-trained athlete. I don’t remember how it happened, but seeing him indulging in his victories over the kids, the two strongest boys challenged him to a wrestling match, or maybe it was the opposite way around and Edward, seeing the boys passively sitting and watching, challenged them to a match. One of those boys was me, the other, Kaczorowski, a boy from a foster home. We wrestled and took Edward down, and then immobilized him in wrestling grips on the ground. The kids reacted with euphoria, cheering and clapping their hands. Our victory was obvious; Edward was powerless in our grips. Assuming the fright was over, Kaczorowski and I loosened our grips and let Edward go. But the moment he regained his freedom of movement, he began to push and kick us. Kaczorowski jumped out of his reach, but I was still entangled with Edward and suddenly found myself under his legs being kicked furiously. For some incomprehensive reason he still tried to prove that he had won the match – it turned ugly, he lost his temper and became viciously aggressive. Finally, I managed to disentangle myself from his legs and pulled away, but Edward still could not help himself and kicked the ground a few more times in desperation, evidently loosing self-control. It took us all by surprise, so we backed off. The cheers, shouts and clapping suddenly died out and in contrast, an ominous silence took over. The boys looked at each other with embarrassment and then turned away and dispersed.
Lisa was there too and had seen the whole thing. I noticed that she was deeply disturbed by it. She said something to Edward, but I was already too far away from them to hear it.
A day or two later, Lisa came to my bedroom during our afternoon nap. She approached my bed and said in a lowered voice so as not to wake the other boys, “Krzysztof, get up and get dressed, quickly.”
“What?” I asked confused.
“Come with me shopping in Gdynia. I need you to help me carry the bags,” she said with a sense of urgency.
“Shopping?” I asked, still confused for her request was unusual.
“Yes, shopping” she said and then explained, “We’re supposed to pick up some stuff for the evening meal. The kitchen is missing some ingredients, herbs and other items.”
“Aha,” I said in recognition. “Come on,” she hurried me up, “there is a big mess in the kitchen. They had to change the supper menu because the delivery guy didn’t come. He got lost or something. And one cook quit. They’re in a panic. No one to go shopping, so I offered.”
“Okay,” I responded while getting up.
She hurried me again, “Come, come, quickly. I still have to go to the office, so get ready and meet me in the lobby, okay?”
So I got dressed and went shopping with her to the public market in Gdynia that was about two miles away. We walked on the dirt road through an uninhabited area. Some of it was the same road we used to take to the beach. Lisa was playful and seductive. She held my hand and we grew attracted to each other. On the way back, we stopped to rest.
She said, “Let’s sit over there.”
Where?” I asked.
“Over there, in that small clearing in the bushes,” she said, indicating with her finger.
We went there and sat down. She sat very close to me and put her hand around me the same way she used to in the bedroom. This time we were alone, with no boys around us, and there was no ambiguity any more. We embraced and kissed and I touched her body, here and there, the intimate parts. She was allowing me to touch her, in fact provoking, then withdrawing with laughter saying, “We cannot do that,” and “They’re waiting for us, we have to go back.” But we did not go. We got hot and passionate and pulled our clothes off. Then I heard her saying, “No, no, no.” But it was too late to stop — I had already pulled her toward my body and suddenly penetrated her. She heaved a sigh and moaned, then arched her body back and forth repeatedly in spasmodic movements, finally clinging to me in a wet embrace. When we were done, she was crying.
I asked, “Why are crying? Is something wrong?”
“No, no,’ she denied, “Nothing is wrong.” Then when I wanted to go at it a second time, she looked at her watch and said, “O my god, it is already about six. We have to rush. The first tour is about to have supper and the cooks still don’t have their herbs.” Saying this she quickly put her panties on, stood up, shook the sand off her clothes and then we hurriedly headed back.
I never had sex with Lisa again. I thought it was because there was not a suitable occasion or because Lisa got scared about having sex with a minor and was avoiding me, but I don’t know.
In those few days left, I saw her often with Mr. Edward, somehow closer then ever. When it so happened that she encountered me in public, she casually exchanged a few words with me as if nothing had ever happened between us. I knew that we had crossed the line and our love-sex affair had no chance to flourish. It was just a summer adventure.
The vacation was soon over and we were departing by trains from the main railway station in Gdynia. A few minutes before my train was about to take off, Lisa came to my platform to say goodbye.
She approached me closely and whispered to my ear, “I regret only one thing,” then paused.
“What is it?” I prompted her.
“That you are so young,” she said. (I said nothing to that but I didn’t think her too old, she was only nineteen.) Then she leaned closer to my ear and said, “But I don’t regret what happened.” I did not answer her, though I had no doubt that I did not regret it either. “Do you hear me?” she asked me.
“Yes,” I said, “I hear you.
”Goodbye, Krzysztof,” she said aloud, pulling away.
“Goodbye, Ms. Lisa,” I answered.
She still waived to me from the distance and shouted, “I will never forget you.”
I waived back to her and said again, “Goodbye.” Then she disappeared in the crowed, walking toward her train that went in a different direction.
I never saw her again. God bless her soul, she must be old now, but once she was a hot flame.
© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
(Christopher Vened Szwaja)
In the fifth grade, a group of children from the neighboring village joined our class. They were to continue their studies at our school because in their village the school only went through the fourth grade.
One of the boys from that group had an unnaturally large head. The rumor was that it was due to a some kind of syndrome such as water on the brain, but no one really knew for sure, for the medical diagnoses about these kind of syndromes were not so precise at that time, that time being the mid-sixties. However, the boy was noticeably slow and heavy minded, one might have thought that he was retarded.
His nickname was Globus, obviously due to the hugeness of his head. However, in shape his head was rather more like a huge egg than a globe. It was abnormally elongated backward and looked surreal, like the egg-shaped people from a Salvador Dali painting.
Once in history class I was sitting directly behind Globus when the teacher called on him to hear his lesson. Globus stood up reluctantly, and the teacher started to ask him questions but Globus was, as usual, not ready to answer. He just stood there silent as a mute and cast his eyes down as if he were either humiliated or resentful or both.
I felt sorry for him, for he was a moron but it didn’t seem to be his fault but, who knows whose, probably God’s or nature’s.
So I took pity on him and prompted him, whispering the answers behind his back. He heard me perfectly well and repeated aloud after me word for word. The teacher was impressed with his knowledge and gave him a very good grade.
After the class was over, however, Globus attacked me furiously on the school playground. It came from nowhere. Suddenly I saw him at a distance of twenty five to thirty yards emerging from a crowd of pupils and running aggressively toward me. He looked mad as hell. He was clenching his fists and shaking them threateningly; and he was screaming and roaring as a beast.
“O boy,” I thought, “he doesn’t look grateful for my help.” His intention was evident; he wanted to kill me, or at least to beat me up.
Before I fully realized what was happening, Globus charged at me with an enormous force and struck a powerful blow at my face. Luckily, his movement was predictably signaled in his fury, so I dodged at the last moment and evaded his blow.
The force of his impetus was so strong but wildly out of control that he was carried a few steps past me and almost fell on the ground.
This only enraged him more, so he turned around and charged at me again, punching and kicking furiously. I managed to block or avoid almost all of his blows because I was faster than he. Yet he was going at me relentlessly, and I had no chance to stand up to him because he was bigger and seemed to be stronger than me. At least I thought he was stronger because he was one or two years older than me, even though we were in the same grade.
So I was in big trouble and don’t know how it would have ended, if Staszek, the seventh grader who used to live on my street, did not come to my defense and literally kick Globus’ ass.
Staszek saved me then and he protected me against Globus attacking me repeatedly later on, for Globus became my relentless enemy, and he attacked me whenever he felt like it and had the occasion. He used to push me when I passed by, or kick me unexpectedly from behind, or block my way trying to pick a fight.
I had to be in a constant state of alert to watch my back and avoid Globus, or to keep close to Staszek, my protector. Globus would not dare to attack me in Staszek’s presence.
Unfortunately, Staszek graduated from school that year and when I proceeded to the sixth grade class, I had to cope with Globus’ hostility on my own.
Fortunately, Globus did not pass to the sixth grate; so he was not in my class any more and I did not have to deal with him on a daily basis. Initially, I thought that I had him off my back for good but it proved not to be so. He still was in the school repeating the fifth grade, and though his and my classrooms were located in different wings of the building, and our paths did not have to cross, he made an effort on many occasions to find me either on the playground or in the front of the main gate and to harass me.
I don’t know why Globus hated me so much. He never told me. I guess he didn’t know himself. His hate was not rationally motivated but came from his guts. Whenever he saw me or even thought about me, he was getting madly stirred up with hate and anger, and then he was compelled by only one desire: to beat me up. For what? I guess, in his view, I was guilty for his shortcomings. I was for him as a distorting mirror in which he saw only his own mental deficiencies. So he wanted to smash that mirror.
On my part, I did not hate him. I was above that. I was not able to hate that miserable creature but rather felt a sort of embarrassment that someone low like he hated me so much. I wanted him to like me and admire me for my mental superiority. But instead, I had to feel ashamed that I was smarter than he was or rather, because he was dumber than me. Life is not just, people are not equally endowed in the same qualities. I was smarter and Globus was stronger. But he was not able or willing to come to terms with it. And he kept attacking me, and I kept running away to save my ass. It went on like this for about a year. But then I had enough of running. It was not good for my morale, and even worse I appeared as a coward and was losing popularity among friends.
So one time I stood up to Globus when he attacked me at the main school gate. He barred my way and pushed me, not letting me pass through. But I pushed him back and we started to fight.
The boys immediately flocked around in a crowded circle and instigated us to fight. Globus threw a punch at me but I blocked it and punched him back. Wow, he became furious and struck me with a series of wild punches. But I stood up to him punching him back. My punches were more precise and effective than his.
So he grew frustrated and grabbed me, and we started to wrestle. In one move, I tripped him up and took him down, nailing him to the ground that was, as it happened, covered in horse shit that was dissolving in water as the ice melted in the early spring sun.
“Wow!” the watching boys shouted with disappointment, surprised at seeing Globus going down. “Stand up Globus, stand up!” they kept rooting for him, for they still could not believe or didn’t want to believe that he was going to lose the fight.
I heard a single voice saying, “When Globus stands up he is going to kill him.” But he was not able to get up, I held him firm rolling and smearing him in the horse shit. I felt him grow weaker in my grip and it became easier for me to keep him down. My only concern was not to smear myself in the horseshit, so I made sure not to touch the ground.
I could have ended the fight at any moment, forcing Globus to consent defeat, but I was not sure how the crowed of somehow hostile boys to me would have reacted. So I kept Globus nailed to the ground, sort of half alive, and was planning my further strategy.
At a certain moment the crowd of boys grew quiet and the circle opened up on one side, letting someone who was approaching to get inside.
I looked up and there was my father standing above me. Globus spotted him too and stopped struggling.
“Let him go,” my father said to me.
So I let Globus go and we both stood up.
“Come with me, both of you, to the principal’s office,” my father said, indicating the direction with the sparse gesture of his pointing finger.
So we went walking in front of him.
My father brought us to the principal and told her, “They were fighting.”
The principal first asked Globus, “Why have you been fighting?”
Globus cast his eyes down and said nothing.
Then she asked me the same question. I also said nothing, avoiding her eyes.
There was a moment of long silence, then the principle gave up on us and let us go. “Go now,” she said and maybe she also said, “And don’t fight anymore.”
But I am not certain that she said that or something else or nothing else at all. Perhaps I did not pay attention to her words because I was happy that she let us off the hook. Eager to get lost, Globus and I immediately left the principal’s office.
Since that time, I had no more problems with Globus. He never attacked me or crossed my way again.
However, my fights with boys had only just begun.
© 2007 Christopher Vened Szwaja
AN IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE
(Christopher Vened Szwaja)
Once I fell in love with identical twin sisters, Inna and Nina, and was not able to make a choice about which one I preferred. The feeling was mutual, the twin sisters fell in love with me too and both of them kept flirting with me. One day they asked me coquettishly, “Which one of us is more beautiful, Nina or Inna?” and then they were posing themselves seductively for my benefit.
“Oh, you are both equally the most beautiful girls in the world,” I answered.
“No, that is the wrong answer!” they shouted in unison decisively. “You have to choose one of us over the other,” they demanded.
“But how can I choose between you two since I am not even able to distinguish you one from the other?’ I said and argued further, “I am not even able to say which of you is Inna and which is Nina.”
They looked at each other and laughed. “It is because we dress alike,” they said in unison. “Come to our house this evening and we will undress for you. You will see which of us you will desire more. The one of us that your desire chooses will become your girlfriend,” they said. “It will be a final test,” they added and asked me, “Are you up to it?”
“Yes, I am,” I answered surprised with their forwardness.
“So see you then,” they said and departed.
When the evening came, I went to the twin sisters’ house. They were waiting for me, both dressed in identical evening dresses.
“Follow us,” they said and without much ado they lead me to a large room upstairs. There they asked me to sit in an armchair that was in the middle of the room. Then they undressed and stood stark naked before me, both in the exact same distance from me, one on the right, the other on the left side of the room.
“Look at us,” they said in unison, “and choose the one you are attracted to more.” They both had rather large breasts and curvy hips that I found very attractive, but I was hesitating which one to choose since they were identical in size and shape. It was an impossible choice to make since even freckles (that were plentiful) were exactly in the same spots and in the same number. So I was sitting there drawn to them both but unable to make a move because the two objects of my desire attracted me with equal force.
“Hurry up,” the sisters prompted me, “it is little bit chilly to stand so long naked.”
“I am attracted to you both equally and desire you both the same,” I said.
“You can’t have us both,” they said.
“Why not?” I asked them.
“Because we are not going to share you,” they said in unison.
“Isn’t it your fate as identical twins to want and share exactly the same things?” I argued.
“No,” they cut me short and repeated, “You have to choose one or the other.”
“But if I choose one of you, will the other one not be offended and vice versa?” I kept arguing.
“Yes, she will be,” they answered admittedly.
“You see?” I exclaimed triumphantly and said as convincingly as I could, “you should accept your innate fate as identical twin sisters and both go to bed with me at the same time.”
“You are an idiot!” they said in unison and immediately left the room.
I never saw them again. Till now I can’t forgive myself for not choosing one of them. I could have said, “I choose you, on the right, or the other, on the left.” It didn’t matter which one; they were identical, and that was what was confusing.
But I learned my lesson. And in case I fall in love with identical twin sisters again and they ask me to choose between them, I will always arbitrarily choose the one on the right. The problem is that thirty-five years has already passed since then and there has not been another occasion – but I am not dead yet, so who knows.
Sometime later I read Jean Buridan’s medieval fable about an ass that was not able to make his choice. In the spirit of the philosophical quest of the time about whether choice is preconditioned innately or determined by external circumstances, an ass was subjected to an experiment in which two identical bundles of hay were placed before him at the same distance, one on the right, the other on the left side. The ass was not able to make his mind which bundle of hay he preferred and died of hunger.
Damn it, I only wish I had read that fable before, not after, I met the twins. I would rather learn my lessons from literature than from experience.
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