pro kontext k povídce viz můj článek z 24.1.
‘Does anyone have a candle?’ The eldest daughter had automatically assumed her mother’s pragmatic, caring role. I did not hear her and did not need a candle to see it all again before me.
My granny’s look lost its usual piercing quality and seemed for a while soft and gentle. Her eyes, radiating acceptance, moved around the room, from left to right, briefly resting on each of us, as if to tell us a secret wish or a consolation. Her eldest daughter, they finally forgave for marrying a Hungarian. The second daughter was absolved from joining the Party – which was equally, if not more, reprehensible.
Having entered the room last, I completed the circle, and as the old lady’s breath quickened, a paralysing fear seized me: will her eyes make it to meet mine?
She made peace with her son who had long tormented her for her faith. She even stopped to greet the faces on photographs - the faces of my cousins who were not present because they had emigrated. Finally, she smiled at me without moving her lips. In a fraction of a second, her glance turned glassy. She could no longer maintain eye contact, though all our eyes fought for it fiercely.
‘Does anyone have a candle?’ auntie asked for a second time. I only heard it now, too late to offer my reserve candle which I kept in my bag for my favourite pastime – reading by candlelight.
‘Can you please move my wardrobe away from the wall?’
It was certainly not my Life Goal to have Eszter ordering me to move the heaviest pieces of her furniture around. While my hands, quite unmanly and feeble from being used to turning pages and carrying books, pushed, pulled, dragged and cursed the white-painted wood, my glance curiously wandered around the rather cramped space. There was a pinboard covered with a tangle of newspaper cuttings, handwritten mottos consisting mostly of book quotes, and a handful of self-developed photographs.
‘Ouch! You could’ve told me!’ I exclaimed angrily upon accidentally dropping the wardrobe on my left foot.
But she only smiled and led me, still skipping on my right foot, to see the truest goal for both of us, realised in black and white, on the wall.
‘My unconfiscatable library,’ she declared proudly and dreamily at the same time. It was true in a sense – the books were sketched on her wall so skilfully that one could, from a few steps’ distance and aided by poor lighting (she preferred candles even in the 20th century), successfully pretend there was indeed a bookshelf.
Yet our eyes met to affirm what we both already knew: every single title of Eszter’s half-imaginary bookshelf would be confiscated.
‘I do not have them here,’ she answered my question before it was raised.
‘These are the books I have finished, but had to – well, wanted to – pass on, let them be multiplied, translated, circulated, read and debated, so I gave my copies away.’
‘Into good hands…’
‘One day, if they let me – if you let me – I will build you a real library, you know, and we will buy all the books you have listed here and read them again. We will keep them for the rest of our lives and this heavy wardrobe will give way to a large bookcase which will be even heavier, but that won’t matter, because it will never ever be moved a centimetre, nor confiscated, only adored. Books are a far better investment than clothes and suit you more anyway…’ I wanted to say, but couldn’t. My eyes were caught by the Hungarian titles in Eszter’s collection. The trouble with her unconfiscatable library was that you couldn’t really pull a book out, so I could only wonder what Sötétség délben or Darabbér meant and sigh upon realising that I hadn’t learnt nearly enough Hungarian to exchange it for a ticket into Eszter’s world. Yet, nothing could stop me from following her example and drawing books on my wall, too.
‘You know how many Hungarian speakers there are amongst the censors of Czech literature?’ she asked, and before giving me a chance to even consider the question, continued in one breath, laughing:
‘Only one – and he is too good a friend of édesapám to open his parcels.’
In Hungarian ‘édesapám’ means ‘my dear father’.
Have you, dear reader, ever felt the denseness of air in a room where a last breath has just been taken?
Have you, dearer reader still, ever had a samizdat book entrusted to you for one night only, so that it could circulate in the underground movement unimpeded by sluggish readers?
Have you, my dearest reader, ever felt the urge to mount a screaky bike in the middle of the night and race against the wind to console your pain?
The dynamo lights on my bike were shining, at first faintly, but increasingly bright with rising speed as a reward for every little push against the merciless wind. My eyes felt hollow and fake, artificially deprived of the ability to close and rest. If you took the time to contemplate them, they would burst with the story of my grandmother’s life which she had related to me in her last look. You would read it infused with a chilling Russian story, freshly poured into my eyes from the book I had just finished reading and now carried on me. You would have to try hard to decipher the stories. For, in the meantime, my eyes had turned into slits and my hands were like iron bars. Quite willingly, I became engaged in a robotic repetition of ups and downs: pushing the rusty pedals and feeling my knees crack with cold and pain as they shot upwards. Even in this state, memory revived my attention when passing some faded memorials to nameless soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army. Bare iron crosses in the fields extolled by the squeaks of small field animals. The wind, as if realising it had failed to convince me to return, had given way and I could stretch my legs while gathering speed riding down a gentle hillside. Now feeling fully on top of everything, I glanced back – but the basket was as empty as my grandmother’s eyes. I yelped.