Behind the fence the grass is probably more green
Tightly wrapped with the mist of a dream
"- Jurek, you lamb, »Solidarity« is in need, and you're at home? What's wrong with you? Did you oversleep?
- No, Stasiu, I didn’t, I didn’t oversleep. Just some damn blues overcame me. I do not know what to do - I have a chance to go to Australia."
I belong to the "Solidary" generation and in fact I am a child of "Solidarity". I am not a hero and I have never been. "Solidarity" is more my love than fight. In fact today the 1980s are more and more often placed in the chapters on the martyrdom of the Polish nation, but after all for many of us it was a time imbued with a romantic adventure. I will not hide that I loved chasing the Security Policemen on Świdnicka Street, or to play hide and seek with them in the gates of the Salt Square. I did not have to sacrifice anything. I had little to lose, because all my wealth was carefree youth. It was my mother who had to sacrifice herself, who worried and cried when I would not come back home for the night. My mother is an authentic Polish Madonna, standing for hours in queues for anything that could be put into the pot. After years I still ask my mother the famous Agnieszka Osiecka’s question: "How did you coped at night among the bad dreams?".
The underground newspapers and books, which I was hiding in large quantities under the bed, were the reason for the quiet approval of my father and a headache of my mother. The years were passing and everyday concerns increasingly concerned me. In 1985 I got married, and two years later my loveliest daughter Kasia was born. I was the head of a real, loving family. I also became more mature. In fact, at the family home I was taught that communism is an inhuman system, but the fact of the matter was that I hadn’t known any other and for many years that abnormality was for me the standard. Then, however, I started seeing all the absurdities, nonsense and crimes.
At Christmas 1987 I got as a gift from "Solidarity" two marvelously fragrant oranges. I put them on a stool under the Christmas tree and along with my Gosia we stared at them as at the greatest treasure. Finally, we divided them into eight equal pieces. We ate two pieces ourselves, while the remaining six were for Kasia. She ate them for the next six days. These two oranges became a turning point in my life. It was then when the thought of emigration appeared in my mind. When a few months later, at our Solidarity meeting I informed friends about the decision to leave, I felt quite low. Although I mumbled something about a hopeless political situation and the obligation to ensure the future for my daughter, a lot of doubts plagued me. Is it sure that nothing is gonna change in Poland? Are you sure that the next generation will still have to live in the disparaging totalitarianism? Or maybe I'm just a coward and what I’m doing is a treason? I have doubts even today.
One foot on the island, the other somewhere in the space. Is the gold real or is it only gloss that sparkles like that?
"- Jurek, you lamb, we were to build a retaining wall with Witek. What's wrong with you? Did you forget?
- No, Heniu I didn’t. Just some damn blues overcame me. But don’t stand in the door like that- come in, come in. We'll call Witek, open the bottle, contemplate."
We have been sharing with Heniek and Witek the fate of exile for years. The beginnings were poor, but happy. Armed with dreams, full of enthusiasm, penniless, we were willing to take the bull by the horns. Everything was great. Sunny, blue sky, shops full of unknown marvels, banks filled the dreamt dollars and still smiling Australians. Life could not be any better! Over time, life got more and more complicated. Forty degrees, sunny skies buffeted unbearably, miraculous items from the shops turned out to be only a cheap glitz and people smiled now more out of obligation than kindness. Most, however, it was the proverbial West Bankers who made our lives a misery.
Fascinated by the ease of buying a house we fell into the credit trap. When after a year the bank informed me that the interest on the loan increased to 18%, grey and gloomy times came for me. Not knowing the language I found a job at a mechanical plant and for a fairly average salary I had to maintain two wonderful daughters and even more wonderful wife. Apart from that, there was a house, which turned out to be a bottomless pit, where all the hard-earned dollars went to. These were the years when we lived from hand to mouth. I'm so glad that our girls, Natka and Kasia, were then only tiny toddlers and they don’t remember
Describing today those events makes sense only for those who were then around us. How many times right in front of our eyes unfolded emigration dramas. Divorces, infidelity, alcoholism and suicides. I myself reminisce those years with a tear in my eye. Everything bad is forgotten, and what remained is unbreakable ties with people, who are connected by the specific emigration stigma. How often in those years we met to spill our guts out to someone who could understand our problems and our longing for the distant homeland. On the day on which, together with Heniek, Witek and a bottle of Żytnia vodka we contemplated on our own destiny, Leszek, who first visited free Poland, dropped in. Full of emotions, we showered him with a volley of questions. What is it like there now? Is it time to come back?
- Listen. There is still dirt and poverty. Unemployment is rampant, and people still complain. Health care, railways, police are helpless. Political quarrel has no end. Corruption at its peak ... This country, however, has one damn advantage - they speak Polish.
Is it the end of this road already, or maybe the start?
Is it a sweet prize or a lost strand?
"- Jurek, you lamb, you're not going to the »Siren«. In Poland the elections today. What's wrong with you? You will not vote?!
- I do not know Waldek. Just some damn blues overcame me. Does it still make sense?"
It could seem that I have achieved everything I dreamed of. I have a cozy house in a green, quiet area. I raised daughters to be decent Australian and charming Polish women. I have a small business that gives me satisfaction and makes it possible for me to look calmly to the future. Something bothers me, however. I look back and I wonder if I didn’t miss something, didn’t forget something. The road to the point where I am has been a long, bumpy and winding one. I have been a supplier of pizza and a mechanic in Australian Perth, a director of the company in Gdańsk, I worked in a nuclear reactor on diamonds enhancement in the US Columbia. In the meantime, I ran my own bridge club, I was an actor and a president of a radio station. For years I dreamed, however, to be a Consultant. As in the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, the consultant was for me a symbol of independence, mystery and sweet "doing nothing". A year ago I became the dreamt Consultant. To my dismay, however, nothing changed. Certainly it does not taste so fabulous as a quarter of an orange eaten a quarter of a century ago. Would I like to go back in time these 25 years back? I know today that any other event will raise in me so much emotion as the first years of emigration. Good and bad emotions. They burden me like an unfinished dream.
As a boomerang, a dream of a football match Australia vs the Rest of the World comes back to me. The match not mentioned by any sports records and remembered only by a handful of people. In 1995, on the pitch in Maylands a group emigrant football enthusiasts stood in front of the Australian youth. On our side Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavians, Czechs, an Argentinian and a Colombian. At halftime we were winning 3:0. After the break our age started to pester us and we got weaker as bad balloons. At the state of 3: 3, completely exhausted, I was going to leave the pitch when I got the ball and I was alone with the keeper. Suddenly I felt so much energy that I scored the most spectacular goal that fans of all the stadiums all over the world had ever seen. And although it could seem that it was a completely meaningless match, it appears in my dreams as the match of the World Championship.
For all friends left in Poland - Goal !!!
For the fact that I have never learned to pronounce the word "differentiation" - Goal !!!
For all the humiliation and harm - Penalty !!!
Title of the story: "Talking to Redhead"
But what's next! What will face us,
What profit in the future we'll chase,
A sweet prize for a difficult pass,
Or just some bruises on the face;
Will dark shadows flee destination,
Or envious fate stick like a gum,
So that the next generation
In Poland was even more dumb
A passage of a poem by Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński
"Inaugural poem for the opening of the fifth season of The Little Green Balloon"
Comfortably stretched in the bushes of the forgotten bend of the Stara Odra river, lazily and thoughtlessly I was following the area with my eyes. With great satisfaction I realized that time played a joke here on the changes, leaving everything as thirty years ago. Even the stray dog who was looking at me, contrary to all logic remained exactly the same. The dog narrowed its eyes as if he had been trying to remember where he knew me from. I recognized it without a problem - the spitting image of Redhead – the homeless bitch that I had been feeding with fancy delicacies brought from home. Fortunately, now I had with me our favorite sweet bun from Grabarczyk’s. I ripped it in half and threw a fair share to Redhead. Without haste, with a dog's dignity, she scoffed down her portion and graciously lay down beside me.
- Redhead, do you remember Marian? Marian, a boatswain from Szczecin, anchored here in his old age and often told us colorful, almost unbelievable sea stories. In good humor, from time to time he also took on his tub to silently rummage through the coastal thickets in search of unknown treasures. At the mention of Marian Redhead raised her head as if to confirm that, yes, she remembered the good old days.
With solidary irony we were looking now at the other, spoiled with modernity, riverbank. At the tables, under tasteful umbrellas, a better part of the town Civilization were looking down at us. We were cut not from the same cloth - glass houses, swanky cars, frills, bicycles, precious things. Their superiority and disdain did not bother us anyway. Our backward patch of the bank was our fortress and our paradise. Relishing our happiness, we fell into a dreamy stillness, which connoted blurred images of the past ...
It was a cold December evening in 1984. Coming out of the gate I took a grasping breath of the crisp winter air. I loved such weather. Frost forced to movement and activity, leaving no room for laziness and idleness. Since childhood, to the despair of my mother I have never zipped my jacket close, walking like that down the city streets. Despite the cold, I also never put on my hat, gloves and scarf. It was no different this time. Only from time to time I was putting for a moment cold hands into the pockets. In the rush I was going down Świerczewskiego Alley toward Świdnicka Street. After some time of the vigorous march I realized that after all I wasn’t in a hurry.
I stopped at the nearest tram stop and I started looking at passers-by with fascination. It was my favorite game and maybe even bizarre craze. Once I had a little free time, I was going to a busy place and started my observation. It dragooned me like a drug - each new person is a new story with dramas, interesting experiences, joys and concerns. Often also under the hat of everyday life, they hid dark secrets. I tried to guess these incredible human puzzles, imagining improbable events.
A hunched old woman with a shopping bag is just passing. In the bag, maybe two, maybe three things. Sure a purse, half wholemeal bread and a quarter of a butter packet. If she lived with children and grandchildren, the bag would look quite different. So she lives alone - the son, an engineer earned a position in the fiberboard factory and now, it does not behoove him to admit to the mother's wrinkled face. The old woman longs for her grandchildren, but she knows that the daughter-in-law is concerned that the grandmother could tell grandchildren about some silly God, who no one has ever seen, no one has ever heard. She is returning now with modest shopping to her tiny flat to sit by the window, waiting for a miracle. Such a miracle happened last month. One afternoon she was sitting quietly absorbed in reading "Friends", when the door opened noisily and Zenek with his friends came over. In fact only for a moment, in fact just passing through but it was enough excitement for the next several lonely weeks ...
Meanwhile, a young girl appearing on the horizon. She’s probably 20, no, rather ... 21. Skinny, unattractive, with a book under her arm. A student. Her name certainly is Ania. Not very wealthy parents, barely make ends meet. Several years old, worn out boots, a skimpy coat and eyes full of dreams and hope for the future. She promised herself that when only she finished college and started working, she would reward parents for all their sacrifices and dedication. Although she will not come back to Nowa Ruda, because what for, but regularly, once a week she will come to the family home. To do this, she will buy an old Fiat 125 with a large trunk. And in the trunk gifts, gifts, gifts ....
I moved my sight from Ania to a new bizarre phenomenon. Against the background of the winter, powder and feather snow I could see an outline of a completely black figure. Black coat, black hair, black face and black teeth bared in an incomprehensible mirth. I narrowed my eyes and with the kind of doubt I recognized the silhouette of Shark. I had known him for years and I didn’t have to bother inventing reality for him. Shark, next to Redhead, was a second friend who I was feeding. He also loved the sweet rolls from Grabarczyk’s and every time he got wind that I was coming back from the bakery, he drew them from my bag unscrupulously.
The grimy, black face testified that Shark was returning from unloading coal. In breaks between getting drunk on cheap wine, Shark made a living doing the most imaginative activities. Washed the windows, brought a sack of potatoes to the basement, stood in a queue for someone or towed a broken car, these were his casual and non-casual jobs. But when he had a little money in his pocket, he bought a bottle of wine, pulled a pencil and a crumpled notebook from his pocket and put his stuff on the sidewalk. Sipping the wine in a nobly way, he wrote something in the notebook, confirming the passersby, that he’s got a few screws loose. I, however, as befits a friend, had insight into his notebook and knew what treasures were hidden there. With illiterate, clumsy letters Shark painted wonderful poems worth more than all the sweet buns from the world's most famous confectioners. As far as I know, these poems, apart from me and Gul, were not read by anybody else and probably they were lost somewhere, burned in a municipal boiler plant after the evening bender with a befriended stoker ...
Approaching the stop, Shark suddenly turned into some alley and disappeared from my sight. When I was to move in the direction of Kirov Square, from the corner of my eye I noticed the militia patrol coming from the alley. I was a little worried, but didn’t panic. At the stop there already gathered a quite big group of people and it was unlikely that they would decide to stop somebody from the crowd. Most often they stopped individuals and dragging them to the nearest gateway searched their pockets, asking by the way vicious, silly questions. In fact, they were not ordinary militiamen, but Motorized Reserves of the Citizens' Militia officers - the special militias created by the communist authorities for "liquidation of collective public disorder." In practice, however, it was a brutal way to fight the rebellious society. In the 1980s, when social protests intensified, more and more Motorized Reserves of the Citizens' Militia patrols could be found on the streets of big cities.
For me, meeting with such a patrol was always some kind of entertainment. I was young, strong, fast. As a member of the underground Solidarity I often had with me some illegal materials. Banned books, leaflets, newsletters of trade unions or regular publications of the underground "Solidarity". So every time I met on my way MRCM patrol, I got alert and cautious. Often, observing the surrounding people I started "intellectual" chat with them. Rank and file MRCM officers came mostly from provinces, and were not blessed with much intelligence. They didn’t know the city life as well, with its nuances and secret nooks and crannies. So I could take the liberty of making sophisticated allusions, which misunderstood, made the militiamen embarrassed and often angry. In the worst case, when I knew it was too much, I fled. I felt confident in my areas. I knew which yards were arterial, through which basements I could get out on the street. Besides, I was a great sprinter, and once I even won an academic sports competition in long-distance running.
Looking at the approaching patrol I remembered a really pleasant conversation with Zosia, the Warsaw Uprising liaison, who I recently had met in Warsaw.
The Warsaw Uprising was so far known to me only from history lessons. The first time I met someone who took part in those events and talked about them in a free, almost romantic way. Without pathos and heroism. What Zosia said is engraved on my memory: "They were the most beautiful years of my life." I realized that, although on a much smaller scale, I felt the years of "Solidarity" in the same way.
Meanwhile, the militia officers walked past and I could return to the present. I had with me 200 flyers, which I had to leave in public places. I specialized in telephone booths. After receiving new materials, I went from booth to booth, leaving a dozen pieces in each. I carefully put the flyers on a small counter under the telephone. On the one hand, I didn’t want them to be too visible from the outside, but on the other one, I knew that my underground messages had their regular recipients, who occasionally peeked inconspicuously through the window glass to check if there was something new.
I looked around and convinced that there was no threat, I went to the next booth. With one hand I picked up the receiver, and with the other one discreetly laid the flyers. Satisfied with myself, I turned on my heel and ... froze with terror. I could see two young, not very much likeable strappers running towards me. Undoubtedly the secret police. Before I had time to get out of the booth, one of them grabbed me by the collar of the jacket, and the other punched me in the stomach causing a surge of adrenaline. Instead of the pain I felt an unexpected surge of energy. To his surprise, I wrenched myself away violently from his iron grip. Undoubtedly, the fact that I had unzipped jacket helped me to do it. It was now in the hands of the startled young man, and I was running ahead as fast as possible. Gate, yard, street. Another gate, yard, street. I looked over my shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief. I left them far behind. Just one more gate to disappear from their sight and to be mingled with the crowd and no more seen by them. I run into the yard and ... a nasty surprise.
I jumbled something. Alien street, alien gate, alien yard. Unfortunately, no exit on the other side. I'm turning back in the hope that still I have time to go out on the street. No way - the militia car is approaching the gate. I’m getting in the nearest stairwell and quickly shutting the door behind me. A moment later, I can hear in the yard curses of the panting undercover "As soon as I hunt the son of a b**** down, I’ll kick his ass."
I started to panic. What to do? The only thing that occurred to me was to get up on the roof and stuck to a chimney and wait until everything blew over. On the top floor I desperately looked up. The entry cover to the roof was secured by a solid metal padlock. The call from below - "Now we will get the d ..." was the straw that broke the camel's back. I was scared. Probably for the first time in my life I was really afraid. With irony, I thought about the funny Christian saying - "Respect your enemies - ultimately it is you that have created them". How true it was in my case. It was nobody else but me who infuriated my pursuers. They were outraged and aggressive. I was afraid that they could behave irrationally.
With a desperate jerk I opened the window in the corridor and looked at the small ledge running along the wall. High. Dangerously. But maybe ... At this point, the door of the nearest apartment opened silently. A small, dry hand grabbed me by the shirt and pulled inside. Looking placidly at my poor figure, in front of me was a couple of oldies. They took me into the kitchen and put on the table a plate of hot soup. Trembling, frightened, I did not think about food. Sitting motionless, I listened to the sounds from the stairwell.
With time, my vigilance melted somewhere in the corners of the warm, cozy apartment and changed into blissful fatigue. After a few minutes I was sleeping supinely, with my elbows leaned on the table.
The next morning, for four packets of Klubowe cigarettes and a bottle of aftershave I gained from a neighbor a wonderful box of Wedel chocolates and equipped with a bouquet of not very impressive tulips, I went in search of my saviors. Although I did not remember the number of the apartment, I was firmly convinced that I could easily reconstruct my yesterday avenues of escape. The first attempt failed – in the door appeared a young woman with a child in her arms. From the second apartment someone drove me off with gross epithets, not even trying to find out who was knocking on the door. After the third failure, I felt slight concern, after the seventh I panicked. It was impossible to make such a mistake!
For the next two hours I was going from gate to gate asking about two lonely oldies who lived somewhere in the attic of a downtown townhouse. In the evening, cold, crushed with my powerlessness, I sat on a street hydrant and amazed I was wondering whether these last 24 hours of my life really happened. Maybe it's just a figment of my imagination that makes me believe that somewhere in a small, cozy apartment there is a couple of mysterious elderly people.
My melancholic and dreamy meditation was broken by Redhead’s barking. To the tiny marina on the other side of the river just moored a small cruise ship ejecting on the bank another group of screaming tourists. Enchanted with the view of mugs tempting with cold, amber nectar, they rushed to fight for a few yet not taken tables. Those who will not be lucky will have to, like barbarians, sit on the grass.
- Do you know, Redhead, that they on the other bank call us the Other Bank?"
- How is it?
- That’s the way! You see, the point of view depends on where you are. A new generation emerged, a new society, a new world. The civilization of laptops, iPads, e-pads, e-books and tablets. They often find us old lumber, which brazenly gets in their way. Those who do not want to give up, are put on the ship of the White Fleet and escorted to a lumber room on the opposite bank ...
- Nah .. And we?
- We luckily remained independent. We find bridges and stately go from bank to bank. We do not get excited about the past and we do not bare teeth snarling over the present. Silently we give way to the new and better Civilization ...
- Better ??
- Hmm ...
In a moment, looking up, excitedly and vigorously Redhead was waging her tail. The view was amazing. Some are trying to convince me that it was just a hallucination caused by summer heat waves. I will, however, even under the most intricate torture, insist that it was the most real reality. On slow-moving cloud in the sky, looking playfully toward us, was sitting a couple of hunched old men. I did not believe my eyes, my jaw dropped in astonishment. Mesmerized, for a good few minutes, I could not utter a word. Only when they disappeared somewhere over the horizon, I jumped up and called out to them:
- Should you meet Shark, do not forget to leave him a fresh bun! Thanks....
The story sent for the contest organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland