An Afternoon in a Pub

Short story

They agreed to meet in a pub near where she lived.

It is what he does from time to time – asks her out for a drink or a meal, depending how much money he can spare.

Only rarely he lets her pay and only if she insists and he judges that she can afford it.

She was late and reproached herself for it; the place is only few minutes from her flat, while he probably had to walk all the way from his downtown office. She really should have been more organized. The whole day she was aware of that engagement. And it was after four in the afternoon.

She tried to remember what was she doing all day; it took an awful long time to peel herself off the bed, the wind rattled the front door all night – she hardly slept. Sweating was terrible too. Must be withdrawals. Her doctor said something about that last time she saw him which was not long ago but she could not remember what. She remembered him (the doctor) standing very close to her and stroking her arm then brushing his hands over her breasts. Which, she briefly thought are still rather firm and responsive.

Only later it occurred to her that she should have probably said something. Like – what do you think you are doing – or something like that, like those English women say. Easy for them – their mothers probably taught them how to do it.

Then there was business of washing and dressing. It took even longer. She felt big and ugly and lazy. Every move was like wading through the thick undergrowth. Paddling through swamp. In the end she threw well-worn dress over and shoes she once thought boring. It does not matter she thought – he is just a friend.

The place was empty but for a few middle-age men loudly betting on horses under the giant TV screen. Interior arranged to match shabbiness of their living rooms. Working-class pride.

She spotted him immediately – caressing a pint of a pale-yellow beer at one of the tables close to veranda. So she can easily go outside for a smoke.

He had a fresh haircut and a new looking shirt.

His greeting was of a familiar, carefully rationed warmth. She once asked him about it and he explained that he must be careful not to encourage her feelings for him since he cannot possibly give her what she truly wants and deserves, which he pronounced to be; ‘all consuming passion’.  He is just not capable of it being of Anglo-Saxon stock and raised by a war-veteran father and an overly strict mother.

At the time she thought of asking him what does he really mean by it, but thought better of it. She learned that, every now and then he would say odd things like that.

By the time she sat down and managed the smile, beads of sweat were traveling down her spine soaking her back and making stripes of her bra cutting into flesh.

He walked to the bar to bring their drinks and hot chips. She watched him eat in a way he does; with an apologetic greediness. A little boy comforting himself – hands deep in his mother’s most precious jar before she catches him. Guilty.

They talked;

How’s going?

Yeah, not too bad. You?

Ok, I guess. Still on holiday.

Wow that’s long.

Yeah, coming to an end, dreading going back.

Work is good – pays rent.

I suppose.

You should do something with yourself.

Like what?

Here – it is your local I am introducing you to.

So?

Look around; see those men over there where TV is?

She laughed hysterically; high pitched, uncontrollable outburst. Covered her mouth with hand and rubbed tears (supposedly from laughter) from her face.

What are you laughing like that for? Don’t you know what happens in pubs? You look around, flirt a bit, they buy you a drink or two, have a chat, take them home and if you still like them in the morning – do it again.

Really? I think I rather stick to my hourly rate.

You still doing it then?

What? Whoring?

Nah, just kidding. Too tired.

Other things?

Nicking you mean? Nah, lost the touch. Too slow. Got scared of cops after the last time.

Good. Stay scared. Don’t get into any more trouble.

What’s to you?

Just saying.

They left the pub and he walked her into the nearby dairy where loud noise announced their arrival to an Indian man standing behind the counter over-stocked with sweets.

He insisted on buying her a bar of chocolate before walking her home.

Charlie (second part)

Single story weatherboard bungalows, with peeling paint and old sofas perched on verandas, stuffing coming out of them. Couple of guys in leather jackets standing around an old Harley drinking beer from cans and arguing about something. Strands of their matted hairs flipping in the breeze like pieces of wool left to dry for too long.

Charlie lowered his head and quickened his pace. He did not want anyone to notice him. He figured he could reach Trish’s in about twenty minutes, slip through the back door and leave the place before the dawn, unseen. He spent a long time planning it all and debating with himself whether to visit Trish’s for one last time before to leave the whole damn town behind him.

He could never think about leaving without remembering his mother and how she called the place ‘shit-hole’ just before she left. She might have been right; he should have left ages ago too. Not that he has not thought about it. All those nights sitting on the front porch gazing down the road, waiting for her to come back and take him and his brothers to the city like she said she would.

When his old man found out, and put stop to it, Charlie rostered his brothers to sit and wait for ma. Jeremy said he could not remember what ma looks like. Charlie slapped him so hard to knock him over and would beat his life out of him if the old man did pull him off. It was the first time Charlie experienced the violence that emerged from the depths of him and he had not known was there.

That night, the old man took Charlie to a pub with him and treated him to a beer laced with lemonade. Then he told him that ma is not coming back. She is gone with another fellow. They probably have a family by now. She does not want to remember them boys or her life in this town any more.  Charlie ran out of the pub, crying tears of rage and hurt. They burned hollow in his gut and set his chest on fire. He ran past his house and set for the dirt-road leading out of town. Couple of days later local cops brought him back home. He was starved and soles of his feet had bleeding blisters. Charlie never waited for his mother again. His old man made sure no one mentioned her again in front the boys.

He was approaching the town’s main square. Empty semicircle surrounded by the post office, cop-shop, paper-decorated Chinese take-away, couple of forlorn looking stores, and a court house.  Tall wooden statue of a forestry worker with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, holding a chainsaw stood in the middle, his gaze fixed on the town below. Cigarette butts and empty bags of potato chips scattered at its base.

forest

Charlie looked down the road past the court-house. Around the corner there was a library and a local high-school. For a moment he felt the urge to walk there, just to see whether the opening in the fence he cut all those years ago is still there. He went to a lot of trouble to make it big enough for him and Ines to pass through. Smuggling tools was not a problem. He was always good at woodwork and had almost free access to the school’s work-shop. The trouble was how to work on the fence without being seen. On the end he did it all at night and returned the tools before school started. He wanted to make sure nobody finds out.

He remembered the day he showed her the opening for the first time. It was winter and snow-flakes danced in the sharp air landing on the heavy branches of the pine trees. Charlie chose that part of the school-field to cut the opening because of those trees. They sheltered the fence. It was what he always wanted for her; to make a safe shelter. Ever since she first arrived at their school.

Charlie was in his third year for the second time because his old man was adamant all of his boys should finish high-school and did not give up even when Charlie had to repeat his third year because of his absences. What he really wanted was to quit school and find a job with the local forestry gang. The money was good and almost all of his mates were there. But the old man threatened to threw him out on the street and break his neck in the process, so Charlie returned to school.

It was still summer and the commotions of the brand new school year in full swing.The class teacher was a tiny woman with a large glasses and high-pitched voice. She tapped her desk few times for silence and introduced the new girl. Ines. New in town, just arrived from a big city, please welcome her. She stood there with her hands limp at her sides and long blond hair hanging loose, covering her face. She went to sit at the place teacher pointed without raising her head.

He did not understand why, but the first thing Charlie noticed was that the girl was bare-footed and had no school bag. Or carried anything needed at school. Even her dress was more like going out dress then going to school dress. He wanted to ask her about it. And whether he name means anything special. Charlie never knew anyone called Ines.

As soon as class finished, Charlie walked to where Ines was sitting and introduced himself. He was young, but thanks to his old man and Trish’s fine establishment he had his share of girls. Ines did not raise her head. Or moved her hands clasped tightly in her lap. When he asked whether cat got her tongue, she stood up and walked out of the class. Charlie did not know what to make of it. Except that he really wanted her to look at him.

At the end of the school day, Charlie went looking for Ines. He saw her walking across the school’s rugby-field towards Bone Street. He knew he could follow her without her noticing. When she turned into Elizabeth Street, Charlie could think of only one place she is going; Fat Betty’s foster home.

Fat Betty ran a foster home ever since her fellow ran away with the local pub’s new waitress and left her to fend for herself and their three children. Betty figured that taking in others who have nowhere else to go or have been thrown out of all other places, can help feed her and her children. The place was cramped and always smelt of piss, burned milk and stale cigarettes. Some of Charlie’s school friends were Fat Betty’s kids. They went hungry most days, but Fat Betty never laid hand on any of them and they had safe beds to sleep in which was more than they had in places left behind.

When he saw her opening the Fat Betty’s gate, Charlie turned towards his own home. That evening while sitting at the table with his brothers and their old man eating baked beans and chips, he decided to make Ines look at him even if just once.

Years later, sitting at the table in the local jail, Charlie will come to think of that evening as the exact moment his life started to slide off under him … (to be continued).

 Ines

Charlie

The extract below is from a story that arrived announced in one of those still hours before the down, while a new silverish moon hung from its shaven rim the colour of sulphur, and scent of the lilac was heady from thunder showers that had gone on all evening … and I wondered whether the same moon could be seen over the lands somewhere in Central Otago.

Otago
Sunrise over the Clutha River, Central Otago, New Zealand

 

Charlie

When Charlie came out of the clink for the second time in the last ten years, he carried all his possessions in a duffel bag slung across his shoulder and enough money to pay for a woman.

Sunshine exploded inside his pupils and he stumbled through the high iron-gate into the open air. He spat and steadied himself. Free man.

Empty shingle road stretched before him, curving around the woods towards the first township. Rickety settlement kept together by those who stayed on, even after forestry no longer offered much work, and those who found jobs in local prison. They clung to each other’s; ex-lumber jacks and factory hands planting dope for living in their back yards, beating their wives on benefit days and fixing cars older than their children. It was enough to keep cops and prison guards employed.

Breeze rustled leaves into shiver, disturbing droplets that hanged on their edges.

Charlie looked towards the woods. He inhaled deeply letting sharp scent of damp earth and early buds fill his lungs.  He closed his eyes and knew he would see her then; sitting under the blossom of an apple tree at the edge of his orchard, just as she did all those years ago; wet with dew, strains of her golden hair shimmering under the red wings of down. Waiting.

Apple tree

Charlie shook himself slightly and straightened straps of his duffel bag before to take the road with long, purposeful strides.  He knew the road well; it was the same stretch of dirt his old-man took to work each day to put food in his and his brothers’ bellies, as he was fond of saying. The same road their mother crossed to jump into the other man’s car; ‘I am going away to find work in the big city and place for us to live. This place is a shit-hole and I am fed up with your father’s drinking and him beating us all. I will come back for you boys very soon. It is all going to work fine.’ she said. She never came back.

The old man worked shifts, slept, drank and whored. But he never laid a hand on any of his boys again. Charlie once saw him sitting by the bed of his youngest brother for a whole night while the boy was burning with fever. Charlie could swear the old man was crying.

Around the time their voices started to break, the old man would take each of them to Trish’s. She keeps fine establishment, he would say, and you boys need to learn proper.

Charlie could still recall jasmine scent of the first whore he had at Trish’s.  He was the oldest and the old man told him to make him proud. He paid for the newest girl; a young Russian lass going by the name of Daria. She had slight body of a trapeze artist and firm, small breasts. When she took her slip off, curls of her long blond hair brushed against her nipples. Charlie could not remember his mouth ever being so dry.

Sun was starting to beat down his exposed neck, pale as baby’s bottom after years spent indoors. Charlie rolled up his collar and quickened his peace. He touched little stash of cash inside his pocket and wondered how much has changed at Trish’s. He knew from prison guards that Trish’s daughter is now running the place.

But the old girl still sits most nights behind the bar and talks to old-timers.

Charlie smiled thinking of Trish and old-times. He knew she was found of his old-man, even she never said as much. And she always had a big heart on her, Trish did. She once brought home  pregnant lass from somewhere up North with cigarette burns all over her. Trish put the girl up and paid for the doctor. When the baby was born, all them girls cooed over it like each one gave birth to it. They were regular scuffles over who would take the baby out for a walk. Charlie could not remember what happened to that baby.

He was almost upon the first houses … (to be continued)

Art

The Look Challenge!

Wonderful writer Julie, of the Reading Room, was kind enough to tag me in The Look Challenge: a fun and promotional prompt for writers with either a published book or a novel in progress.

Now, Julie and I have a bit of a history when comes to tagging! When I was only wet (read: soaking;)) behind the ears blogger, Julie tagged me into The Lucky 7 Meme! Alas, not only I did not know what to do with that, but I also realized the kind young lady has somehow arrived to conclusion that I am actually a writer who can, as it was the task, copy lines from 7 or 77 page of my ‘work in progress’! Oh my God!

At the time I was working very, (painfully), slowly on a short story, partially inspired by the true events. However, it was, in my eyes, rather raw and no good at all. But Julie was on to something … as I could never bring myself to disappoint the fellow blogger, I literary finalized that story because of the Julie’s tag!

Now it could be a farfetched fantasy of mine, but almost the same is happening now with The Look Challenge! Julie is on to me, and truth to be told – I can’t thank her enough!

You see, I am one of those unfortunate creatures that write and re-write, shape and re-shape, weave and re-weave … but only rarely something sees the light of the day … unless it is either written for the Lantern, or somebody shakes me awake from my trance, induced by the constant search for the perfect, most fitting words/sentences/scenes/cadences. And make no mistake I do not strive for the perfect, most fitting words because I believe myself capable of producing a masterpiece … I search for it because nothing ever fits right! It is my own, private hell.

But I digress! Let us see how The Look Challenge works:

The Look Challenge

Search your manuscript for the word “look” and copy the surrounding paragraphs into a post to let other bloggers read. Then you tag five blogger/authors.

I must say that I do not have either a published book or a novel in progress in a way that is conventionally understood. What I do, however, have is any number of poems, short stories and ‘that’ manuscript … all in progress at any given time. I know … rather dreadful -:)!

Now before to run for the hills as the saying goes, here is an excerpt from ‘that’, (under the working title: ‘Confession of Nina Novak’), manuscript.

It is raw, unpolished, unedited and has not been seen by anyone thus far. The basic outline (if it can be called that) is a story told by a narrator who, by  chance, first encounters, then comes into possession of  a confession  written by a woman in a mental institution before she committed suicide, or ‘crossed the river’ as she explained it. While reading the confession that has been written in a form of letters to woman’s own daughter, something happened to the narrator … something that changes everything forever.

Here is the short sample selected in accordance with the challenge rules:

Van Gogh, Hospital Corridor at St. Remy (photo credit: Wikimedia)

         from the beginning  –

It was on one of those dusty afternoons at the end of summer when I first came across Nina Novak. I did not meet Nina, like you meet people when introduced to them in a polite company, nor have I seen Nina, the way you see people when looking across the street, or through the window. No, it was none of that.

I came across Nina Novak, the way you suddenly come across a carcase splattered in the middle of the street in some respectable provincial town. You walk peacefully just a few blocks down to get coffee and paper on any nondescript Saturday morning, and suddenly; here it is, right in front (almost under) your right foot, splattered, grizzly, disfigured. You wince, you shudder, if of delicate disposition maybe even gag. In any case you walk around it as quickly as you can; you turn you head away from it, and do not look back. You wish to erase it from your memory at once.

It was on one such day.

I was racing down one of those inexplicably windy corridors public hospitals everywhere have been blessed with, hoping to find the right door inside what was rapidly becoming an elaborate maze of sharp turns and narrow enclaves, when loud contra-alto erupted behind me almost pinning me to the wall. Sharp, clear waterfall of words cascaded down rolling over the bleak hospital’s lino. I turned around and was suddenly short of oxygen. Clutching the window frame I steadied myself.

There, inside the corner formed by intersection of sterile hospital corridors, a woman was sitting on what looked like a low wooden stool, taking rapidly to an invisible audience. Her head was slightly titled to one side, like she was listening to somebody, responding to questions. Her whole body was in grip of attentiveness one only enters when both; the topic and the speaker are of the utmost importance. Every word came out with series of small, swift movements across her face and hands.

And I understood every word she said.

*******************************************************************************

         from the one of Nina’s letters  –

When I was a five years old, a skinny boy across the street threw stones at me and called me a bastard. I ran home crying. It is the first thing I remember. Later that day my grandmother crossed the street to teach the boy a lesson. The boy will remember that lesson for a long time to come.

The second thing I remember is a tall man shouting at the crying woman and hitting her with a leather slipper. I was lying in bed next to her. We were scared; me and the woman. I would later learn she was my mother. The man with a leather slipper was my father. And that I was too young to remember happening. 

When she returned home that day my grandmother wiped her hands on the apron and called me to her. She took my hand and walked with me behind the house where an old walnut tree was growing. There was a small stool under its branches where healing herbs were growing. Once she nestled me into her lap, she picked up small handful of herbs, spit on them and rubbed them inside the palms of her hands. The mixture will heal cuts on my face and chest from the boy’s stones. I did not like it much as it was the same concoction she always applied on my grazed knees.  And I had grazed knees almost daily. But I knew better than to protest. Besides, after those procedures she would always sing to me and I liked that very much. Her songs were slow and rich like embroideries she made for her bodices. They were songs from her youth, when she was a young girl in a village high up in a mountain range above the sea.

Only that day my grandmother did not sing to me. When she was satisfied with the look of green balm on me, she brushed my hair back and started to braid it. And told me a story about my mother and father and why no child is a bastard. Because to be a bastard you have to grow up first.

******************************************************************************

And now is my turn to tag five bloggers/writers:

  1. Things I Want to Tell My Mother,
  2. Jottings by Janet,
  3. Free Penny Press,
  4. The Cheeky Diva,
  5. The Writing Waters Blog.

Enjoy everyone! I hope you have as much fun with it as I did! And if you are not tagged but would like to show your sample, please do!

 

 

 

 

Pavel Kovac is going to America (fourth and last part)

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

As soon as the class started, the teacher announced they will be having a block lesson and few more before the big day. Pavel’s heart sunk. Milan will be waiting for him as usual. His hands started to sweat. He carried the first part of instructions with well-practiced movements, only leaving a few wet marks on the shiny black metal of a rifle. He really needed to be on time today, Milan said they need time to talk. He was going to tell him when to sneak out of the house and what to bring for their trip.

When the teacher approached him, Pavel realized that he was carrying a new rifle for him to practice on. He also handed him a roll of ammunition. That meant the teacher will continue to stand close to him and observe. Pavel’s hands started to tremble. Now he will have no chance to sneak out. The teacher was smiling at him and Pavel could see his gum line bared above his teeth. He was saying something Pavel could not decipher. His ears were full of the drumming from his chest.

It was Janos that called the teacher from the front of the class. His big fingers jammed the mechanism again and he needed help. Pavel slowly placed the rifle on the bench and wiped his hands on his trousers. He picked his satchel and started moving towards the door. It usually worked. But before Pavel’s hand could quietly turn the door knob, the teacher called his name. Pavel turned around. He squeezed his satchel and looked at the floor. He did not want to cry. The teacher came close to him and put his hand on Pavel’s shoulder. He wanted to know where Pavel was going. All he could whisper was that he was not well and wanted to be let home. The teacher lifted his chin. And saw tears rolling down Pavel’s pale cheeks. The teacher no longer smiled. It was the second time in his life Pavel saw rapid changes in geometry of human smiles.

The teacher decided to let Pavel go home and ask Janos to accompany him. Janos made a face to his friend Andrej, before he picked up his own satchel and started walking towards Pavel. Janos was a big boy with a bold head and fat hands. He was also a youth leader in training.

Pavel could feel fear clawing inside his spine. His fingers were ice cold. He could not move. Janos was waiting for him. And Milan was waiting outside the school gate at the corner with the newspaper kiosk.

Pavel followed Janos outside the classroom and towards the school gate. Janos was trying to walk with Pavel but he was a few strides in front of him. Pavel walked even slower. When they approached the school gate, Pavel glanced around. His legs became even heavier. Steps in irons.

Janos turned towards the corner with the newspaper kiosk. Pavel did not move. He hoped Janos would not turn around.

It was the moment Janos called his name that Pavel saw Milan for the first time. He was running towards Pavel carrying a smile as wide as the summer sky above them. His hands were already in the air and he was calling after Pavel asking him why was he was so late when they have so much to talk about. When he reached Pavel he grabbed his shoulders and gave him a shake. With his hands still on Pavel’s shoulders, Milan saw tears flooding Pavel’s face. He saw Janos approaching in the same time.

Janos knew what to do. He had been trained. He ran back to class to find the teacher. And tell him that Milan Vargas is terrorising Pavel Kovac. He had seen it with his own eyes.

When the teacher and Janos reached the street’s corner they could not see anybody. Milan had half-carried, half-dragged Pavel into an abandoned basement behind the corner’s kiosk. He had spent many school hours reading in there or waiting for Pavel to finish his classes and meet him at their usual place. Milan knew the teacher would try to find them. He wanted to reach home before they start the search. To find his grandfather. Holding Pavel tightly, Milan sank his teeth into his lower lip.

After searching nearby streets, the teacher decided to return to school and call Pavel’s father. He needed to be the first to raise the alarm.

Running through the back streets Milan reached his home. He locked Pavel in the room with the radio and went to search for his grandfather. Without Pavel to soothe, his hands trembled recklessly. If he could only find his grandfather quickly they would be safe and free. The old man would know where to go until they could leave for the border. For the first time in his life Milan wanted his grandfather with him. To make sure that Pavel will be safe.

Pavel’s father was wearing a long overcoat when he arrived at Milan’s house. He looked even taller than usual. He pushed the front door open and stepped into the dim light of an early summer evening. The faint smell of motor oil and burnt food lingered in the room. It was empty.

Pavel’s father called his name in sharp, rapid bursts. Like bullets fired from a shotgun. He thought he heard that pitiful whimper the boy sometimes made, coming from behind what seemed like a roughly made door. He tried the door’s knob. Locked. The anger was stretching itself inside him like a long, lazy snake. A sneer flickered in the corner of his mouth.

He booted the door open. It landed on the window sill forming an empty space below where Pavel buried his face deeper into his knees.

Milan and his grandfather saw a jeep parked in front of their house. They ran in.

When Pavel’s father turned around they saw a gun in his hand. A Russin Tokarev TT-33. Milan’s grandfather stepped in front of him. Milan cried out. It was then Pavel launched himself onto his father. The late sun dancing in his hair. His face wet with tears, hands grabbing desperately, he screamed at his father that he was going to America with Milan. That he hated him. Sun-dancing warrior.

A gun fired. Once only. Pavel’s chest exploded into a crimson red stain. The same colour his mother used to paint the top of his nose with. When he was only a little boy.

It would be 20 years before Milan Vargas reaches America. In a bag he bought the same day he was released from prison, he carried an old school satchel. It was worn and dirty. The name Pavel Kovac written in a childlike scrawl could be just seen in the upper right corner if you looked closely.

 

The End.

Pavel Kovac is going to America (part three)

The old man would sometimes join them, causing a serious shortage of oxygen in the room. On those days Pavel had to squeeze very close to Milan. Their legs would entwine like knobbed branches on young trees. Vicarious and springy. Pavel’s insides moved in unison with the throbbing in his chest. Pearls of breath spotted his upper lip.

Milan’s grandfather translated some of the words for them. Before the war he had studied languages in Prague. He told them that the language is called English and spoken in America. Pavel did not understand what he meant. But the old man insisted on teaching them a few words. Milan later explained that they must learn so they can look for work when they are in America. Milan could already speak a few short sentences. It was the first time Pavel learnt that he was going to America with Milan. He dared not to ask when.

This is how they came by books. The old man left them in the room. Some of them were beautiful, old and worn with thin pages and scratched covers. All in English. Pavel smoothed the palm of his hand over the covers. He wondered how often Milan’s hands touched them.

Pavel wanted to learn English. He wanted to understand the words coming from the radio and lyrics of songs. He wanted to know why Milan often got angry when he was trying to explain to him what communist propaganda is and what it means to be kept blind and deaf, ignorant. But he could not concentrate. He tried his best. Copying English words and repeating them after Milan. Trying to follow meanings Milan was explaining. Until his lungs become full of Milan’s smell and all he could hear were throbbing’s in the depths of his belly. Insistent and unyielding.

Spring slowly turned into an early summer. The long field behind their school would soon be turned into the podium for the school’s annual celebration. All the teachers and some important district party officials will attend. The end of another school year.

Pavel was worried. About his unfinished school work and about the long summer holidays. He did not have any idea how to continue visiting Milan once school was over. And he was worried that his father would send him to one of those youth summer camps where voluntary physical labour and Marxism theories are practised daily. Like he tried to practice daily English words Milan gave him. And he could not remember them. All he could remember was the chiselled line of Milan’s jaw and sounds of his voice. Like ripples of water cascading over cobblestones.

On some days, Pavel would hide behind the outer walls of his mother’s studio and cry until his eyes become red and swollen. He wished to lie down on the warm concrete and close his eyes. Until he dissolved into the endless blue sky bathed in sunshine.

In the last weeks of school Milan was ecstatic. His body was in constant motion, rippled with energy. Flood waters bursting river banks. He was absent from most classes and told Pavel he was finished with school. And with this place. ‘We are as good as gone my little pal’ he would often say.

Milan never explained to Pavel how they were going to reach America. He only spoke about shiny cars and the big houses people have over there. And shops full of stuff you can buy any time you want. Music you can listen to whenever you want. On those afternoons when Milan’s hands and mouth painted pictures of their new life in America, Pavel forgot all about his inability to memorize English words, his father, and his school. He even forgot about the dreaded school holidays and voluntary youth labour camps. He simply hugged his knees and watched.

With the end of school approaching fast it was becoming harder to slip from the army youth meetings. The teacher was insistent on making sure that all of them were well trained for the annual display. And he was keeping an especially keen eye on Pavel. He had already arranged for the letter of invitation to reach Pavel’s father and wanted to make sure that Pavel would perform flawlessly and receive one of the highest rewards.

After that it would be easy to start conversation. With backing from such a man as Pavel’s father he might finally manage to move from the classroom to an officer’s job. It was not his fault that his own brother was adamant not to join the party even though he spent hours trying to make him see sense. To make him see that all he is achieving is ruining his own life and the life of others in the family. But you cannot talk to the man any more. All he would say was: ‘So you do not believe in all that crap yourself, all you are after is a cushy job and an easy life!’ It was pointless. But it did bother him. He knew they were holding it against him that he cannot even convert his own brother. But now with this little boy, a sorry excuse for one to be sure, he just might have a breakthrough if he can make the boy’s father proud. Especially since rumours have it that his wife has locked herself into a room and hardly ever comes out. Sick apparently. And boy is no better either. All transparent and feminine looking. You almost wish to tie a ribbon to his hair. Or around his throat. It was a miracle he learnt to operate weapons so well.

Fourth and last part will be published tomorrow …

Pavel Kovac is going to America (part two)

Milan seemed not to know about the ‘code of kindness’ that shadowed Pavel. He measured Pavel’s small hands against his and joked about how small they were. One day he even dared Pavel to throw punches and tried to teach him how to fight at the far corner of the school field. It was such a funny spectacle that some other kids forgot about the ‘code’ too and cheered them on. Pavel laughed so much that his face hurt long afterwards.

On the way back home, Milan asked Pavel to come to his house. He wanted to show him something. Pavel knew that it was forbidden. But he really wanted to go. He decided to go and think of some excuse later.

Pavel had never seen a house like Milan’s. From the outside it looked old and almost abandoned. Inside, it was arranged as a cross between a workshop and sleeping quarters. There did not seem to be any toilet or running water. Milan’s grandfather was sitting on the small stool fixing an odd-looking apparatus. The room was full of them. Some looked like old radios. Grandfather did not seem to notice Pavel and Milan.

Milan carefully guided Pavel through the front room and into an adjoining space just big enough for two people to stand or kneel behind the closed door. He flipped the corner of the dusty floor rug and carefully separated the floor boards. Pavel held his breath. Milan slowly slipped his hands inside the opening and lifted a square shaped object covered with a thick woolen cloth. He winked at Pavel and threw the cloth away; ‘We are going to America’ he said. Pavel did not think so. All he could see was an old radio and some odd looking wires attached to it.

Milan was excited. He was clearly very familiar with the wires and knobs, turning them this way and that, searching for the signal, he explained. He then checked that the window was shut and the curtains pulled tightly. Pavel felt tiny drops of sweat forming on top of his upper lip; soon miniscule drops were filling his mouth. He watched Milan’s moving fingers. The way he was squatting left only his fingers and the top of his curly scalp exposed. A puppeteer fiddling with his offerings.

Hissing sounds started to escape from the peculiar-looking apparatus. Pavel leaned over Milan, peering into the radio’s mesh front. A clear female voice surged forward. Pavel jumped back, bumping against the door. As if by reflex, Milan steadied him, his firm hand on Pavel’s thigh. Dry, strong hand. He turned the volume down low with his other hand.

Milan pulled Pavel next to him. They were both now kneeling in front of the mesh. The young female voice was just audible. Pavel looked imploringly to Milan. He did not know what to do. The air felt warm and dusty, like the inside of his mother’s room at the end of summer. He wanted to ask what it all meant. Milan squeezed his shoulders. ‘It is OK’ he said. ‘I will teach you American.’

Pavel went to Milan’s house every time he could craft an excuse. At school it was easy; nobody would question him when he asked to go home early because he was feeling sick. And nobody would draw any conclusions from the fact that Milan would leave around the same time too. Milan’s absences were customary. As long as he keep quiet nobody was bothered.

Pavel’s mother left the front rooms of her house around the same time she left the rooms of her marriage. She migrated into the room she chose to call ‘studio’. Sometimes Pavel rushed by her in a hallway. Later he avoided the hallway as much as he could.

Occasionally Pavel had to explain his absences to his father. Eventually he came up with an idea. Milan thought of it first. Pavel joined the voluntary youth army class. They had real guns to practice on, learning how to defend the people’s country from imperial powers. From America and its imperial allies. The proletariat would be liberated and united. The organizer was an enthusiastic young teacher. He was very glad to have Pavel amongst his flock. Eventually the boy’s father would certainly visit. It would be a great opportunity. He was sure of it.

Pavel made sure to attend the beginning of each class. He displayed amazing talent and very quickly learned how to assemble and disassemble guns with great speed. Milan’s grandfather had made sure of it. He spent hours moulding his violin fingers around the old guns that he still kept hidden in that cave they call home. He also made sure that Pavel’s eyes do not moist with tears of despair every time he held a weapon with his bare hands. The old man’s eyes danced in the same way Milan’s did. Soon, the routine was established. After displaying his skills at the beginning of each meeting, Pavel would quietly slip out. The teacher did not question him. The teacher waited for the suitable moment to invite his father for a visit.

Pavel would join Milan at the street corner where a newspaper kiosk stood, and they would walk to Milan’s house. Sometimes Milan would arrive on his grandfather’s motorbike. ‘That way we save time’, he would explain. Milan liked that motorbike. It was a German model left from the war. The first time, Pavel was scared to sit behind Milan. He smiled at Milan’s open face and hand, which motioned him to jump on. But he did not. Until Milan dismounted and took him by the hand. ‘You will be OK, just hold on to me firmly’. The machine started with a roar that jolted Pavel. He held onto Milan with all his might and pushed his face deeply into the creases of Milan’s woollen jacket. It smelt of sweat and tobacco.

The room with the radio held them for hours. Pavel soon learnt that the program was called ‘Voice of America’, broadcasted directly from the USA. This was the reason why it had to be listened in secret. It was not allowed.

To be continued …