The short story below was originally written in April 2009, edited in 2011 and published now for the first time. The story is inspired by true events:
A few abandoned toys are spilling over from the pale green plastic crate left in the corner. A wooden soldier with broken sword marches towards the doll in the fluffy dress.
In front of me there is a low table cramped with magazines and some faded newspapers. I contemplate reaching for one of the magazines, but abandon the idea. Moving my oversized body from the relative comfort of the cushiony sofa towards the table seems too hazardous. I can see myself tipping over with the upside-down sofa stuck to my backside, like a hippo in the cartoon I recently watched on TV during my morning English class. The teacher said that it is the best for us to start at the children’s level. Besides even if the peculiar manoeuvre works, and I reach the magazine without ending like a hippo in the cartoon, I cannot read the articles in the magazine since I do not understand English. I can only look at the pictures. Just like little children do with their picture books before they learn to read.
I sink deeper into the cushions and close my eyes. Light still penetrates through my closed eyelids forming small circles in my vision. Circles are multicoloured like somebody sliced through a rainbow after the rain in summer and left it scattered around.
My hands rest on my belly; it feels big and warm. The skin on my face is shiny and tight with puffiness. My hands and ankles are white and wobbly like the dough my grandmother used to knead into bread before the sunrise. The image causes tears to form at the very back of my throat. I am starting to peel my swollen eyelids apart and blink purposefully, once, twice and again, swallowing intensely, the tears taste salty. I make an effort to sit a bit straighter, unfold my hands and check my bag which I placed neatly beside me. In my bag there is a lavender coloured night dress made of rich Italian cotton, an embroidered dressing gown with the matching slippers, and tiny pieces of baby clothing in the soft yellow colours next to a box of nappies. For my baby.
I have no name for my baby. There is no sound, no recognition, it is nameless and safe as it cannot be called upon. With a name it will belong to everyone who calls; without a name, it belongs to me only. The only thing that belongs to me now, the stolen thing; the nameless baby.
The news of the baby came quite suddenly. The nurse with dove-like eyes and an easy smile offered me news of a baby quickly and quietly. She simply said: ‘You are going to have a baby’, and then as an afterthought: ‘What are you going to do?’ My steps resonated loudly over the tiles in the corridor leading out of the University Clinic. Outside, brilliant summer sunshine was making an old city look vibrant and hopeful again. Walking towards the main square I tried to imagine my baby’s face.
The newspaper boy was shouting the latest headlines on the main square; armies were forming down by the river and barricades were building from the East of the city. My steps quickly descended towards the tram and away from the newspaper boy. Tram number nine will take me to my grandmother’s house. It is a long trip and I am hoping to find a seat next to the window. I always enjoyed watching the city through the tram window. It helps me be calm and think. Think about my baby. And the war.
My grandmother’s house was behind the walnut tree at the end of the street. There was a water pump on the left side of the entrance gate and a rose bush next to it. It is almost dusk by the time I arrived. She smiled, and stroked my hair. We sat under the walnut tree and talked until the dawn. She told me how she was pregnant with my mother while Grandfather was recruited by Germans for Stalingrad. I buried my face into her shoulder and smelt cinnamon.
‘Where are you going?’ she asked.
‘Where is that?’
‘Close to Australia.’
I caught the first tram that morning carrying in my bag; the lavender night dress, the embroidered dressing gown with the matching slippers, and a small basket of fresh strawberries glittering with dew.