(Rozkoše dávnych čias)
A Novel by Anton Hykisch
She was walking through a long corridor, maybe in a space ship, her black cloak glistening in the light of blueish walls, large pipes covered the ceiling and behind its walls something simmered like gas under high pressure. Out of breath, Andrej ran after the woman, her black hair frayed by the chill, which drove at Andrej´s forehead. Then the woman turned, yes, there he saw her for the first time. Like a stem of a black orchid. Like Gopi. Ohh, India, Mumbai. The astrologist. From a far, the woman does really look like G-G. Her smile looked heaveless, her pale arms flittered like two evenly blinking lighthouses. She stood there for a while, turned around to make sure Andrew follows her, even gesturing with the movement of women who after dark walked Zahradnicka street. G-G however was too gentle, bossy, dominant to resemble some town whore. Andrew drew in his breath. Gopi needs me, running through the endless corridors of the space ship, perhaps a victim of an abduction and asking for help. I cannot lose her around any unexpected corner of the bluisch labyrinth under any circumstance, she has nowhere to swerve, constantly facing the same icy current of air, propelled against them by some sort of invisible large vacuum pump. Andrej tried leaning against a wall, however it was glairy like the guts of fish caught on a hook. No, he cannot rest, a defenseless woman in black is expecting assistance, I have to catch up with her and upbear. He wanted to tell her to wait for a while, to not be afraid. He was about to ask the woman, convince himself whether she was G-G and why did he see her so seldom? He inhaled so he could continue running. He could hear an ever increasing roar of the large vacuum pump-
„Mr. Hybeš!...Do you hear me? ...Come on, wake up!”
A figure in white. Warm hand on his cheek.
„Arrived.... they arrived...”
„Nurse, is that you?”
„Arrived. The Russians arrived.”
She ran to the slightly opened window.
The Czechoslovak wrist watch PRIM that lay on the night stand showed a couple of minutes till 5 am. In an hour, the nurses will come to measure the patients´ temperatures in each room. He leaned on the frame of the hospital window overlooking the street. On the corner of Bezručová street and Šafárikovo square a dark kafka monster with a white streak moved along the road. It tried to change its direction on the narrow street. The tiles of the road sparked. The night was drenched with rumbling. The large bug tried to change its direction in vain. Somewhere in the dark, over the hospital building, the helicopter rumbled, stars lit up and died away as if they wanted to fall right on the roof.
„Look at the bridge!”
Other monsters with white streaks rolled over the bridge from Petrzalka. On the abondened crossroad, they stood hesitently, not knowing, which direction to take. Finally they split in all directions.
„Russians from Hungary? I don´t think so, nurse.”
The nurse, a buxom mother, stood behind the glass slightly opened window asi f looking for protection behind the not so clean glass. Numb, she held the sill of the window and whispered: „They came....Oh my god, they came after all.”
„You should call the head surgeon, right?”
„Arrived....Yes, of course, the head surgeon.” Ungluing herself from the window and she shakedly moved towards the door of the room with her gaze still focused on the bridge filled with iron bugs with white shards.
Andrej walked back to his night stand and reached for his transistor. The Soviet transistor SELGA, a purchase from last years business trip to Moscow, a leather case, several short wave-lengths, battery charger. The faithful companian of the pacient, waiting for the date of his operation. A deep-chested voice: Statement of the government – To all citizens of Czechoslovakia: 21. August 1968, Czechoslovakia was occupied against the will of its government, national parliament, leaders of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and its people by the armies of five states of the Warsaw treaty. Therefore, for the first time in the history of international–
In that instant, the voice from Prague was gone. Clipped words. Andrew nervously turned the knob. The radio played smash hits from foreign stations during the night, but no Slovak or Czech words.
In panic he ran to the corridor. Scared patients peeped out of several rooms. He ran to the stairway, where the telephone was situated, in time. The ever ready coins clinked in the pocket of his pyjama. Will it work?
Long, very long rings to the apartment on the Štrkovec housing estate. Finally Fela answered.
„Russians....the Russians are here! We´ve been occupied.”
„Oh my God! I was afraid of this...What are we going to do?”
„Look after the children. Don´t let them out on the street. And go shopping! Salt, sugar!”
„I´ll come to see you, right in the morning!”
„No, no, Fela! Stay with the children. Call your parents.”
Andrej sat on the edge of the bed and his head thrashed. He roved on the waves of Selga. Nothing, only stupid smash hits. And a rumble behind the windows.
Enter into the clothing storeroom and sneak out from the hospital? Run away? Where? Debilitated like a fly, with his operation planned for Friday? The hallway was filled with the stomps of confused patients. Slowly, it started to dawn
In the morning, before the ward round, a gramp with a mole on his red nose bought several newspapers from the bufet and has been distributing them to the hospital rooms. New national artists. Comrade Husák in United Steel Work. French testing the ultrasonic Concorde.
Of course! The newspaper still typed at midnight, dispatched after midnight. The newspaper claims that its a typical Wednesday morning dated 21st August. The Prague radio is silent. Andrej turns the knob. Suddenly, the familiar voice of the director of the radio. „We beg of you, remain calm and keep your countenance, wherever you are. That is the directive of the day and in this hour. Bratislava still transmitted. Another text from the government’s statement. Act of aggression...Many members of the parliament and party leaders are interned...half illegal Czechoslovak radio...step by step silenced...disallow the induction of another government... exclude any spontaneous actions against the occupying armies...ensure food-supply..”
Outside rumpus, people going to work, students infront of the university, all besieging the tanks and armored transport vehicles, arguing with the dishevelled sweaty soldiers.
„ Začem vam svoboda?” shouts the young brass-hat with his cap askew. „Začem, vy duraki?”
„Allegedly they’re hungry. And thirsty.”
From this moment on, not a soul in the country will give them even a piece of bread, a drop of water. The morning got under way. A neverending day began, long as an entire year.
The towhead Milka had the day shift. Other times smiling, today without a smile.
„Mr. Hybeš, pack, quickly!”
Andrej muffled the transistor, where reports from the free broadcasting stations East Bohemia, Central Slovakia and Ostrava regions came. Perplexed he closed his diary where he denoted every minute of the subsequent week. His diary (shown to me after fourty years, entries written in pencil, in some places almost unreadable!) is becoming a chronicle of a staggering drama. How did he write it into the last edition of the Writer’s Weekly ? What is left for us? Let us overcome our animosity to create great history. Let us utilize at leas one national attribute, which won’t be useless today. Stubborness.
Nurse Milka reaches the night stand in haste , taking out Andrej’s hand baggage.
„This is yours as well? God, so many books. German as well? Let me help you.”
„Where am I going?”
„Don‘ ask! Quickly, just pack!”
Desperately he looked around his one-bed room. This is how history is made?
„Order from your attending doctor. Do you have everything?...Don’t forget your toothbrush, toothpaste, they’re on the sink!”
In his hospital robe, he marched behind Milka. Infront of the ambulance of the attending doctor stood two fellows in shirts. The taller one clamped a satchel in his hands. Andrew’s throat constricted.
„Finally. Sit down Mr. Hybeš.”
The attending doctor is very young with a haircut resembling a hedgehog. His radio is on. The building of the central bureau of the party in Prague was occupied by Soviet units. Dubček and other members of the Party presidium arrested.
„Should I measure your blood pressure? Just, be calm! The date of the operation is set for next Thursday. The head surgeon wants to operate on you. You need to undergo gastroscopy today.” The doctor nods his head. „But before that we need to erase you from this world.” He grinned. „The man named Andrej Hybeš...” he took yesterday’s copy of the youngster’s daily paper headed WHICH THREE PUBLIC FIGURES TO HEAD SLOVAKIA and dangled it „that man has to dissapear from the records of the hospital. Understood? We will move you to another room. On another floor. Pick a name.”
„I don’t understand, doctor.”
„Name. Another name. Janko Hraško, Jozef Kulifaj...” he turned to the nurse. „Milka, prepare a new paper for a case record. Rewrite the primer information.” He pointed the newspaper at the patient. „Well? What is your name going to be?” Andrej perpexedly mumbled. Balog...No, stupidity. Bal-Balak, Bab-..Why Ba-?
„Balík. Andrej Balík,” he blurted.
The doctor grimaced. „Well....Mr. Package... not too inventive...ok.” Facing the nurse. „So, Andrej Balik. Date of birth...will have to remain as the identity number depends on it. So we can later find the documentation, after this lunacy ends. Complete the particulars and lead mr...” he chuckled, „ Mr. Balik to his new room. Unfortunately, you won’t be living in the room alone, surely you understand...”
A pert grampa with a swollen nose, who gave away newspapers before breakfast also occupied the new room. And by the window a slim lad, electrician from the autoservice Škoda. Andrej got the bed by the door. Perplexed he mumbled to his roommates „Balík...I’m Balík. Not Banik, but Balík...” And on the diary monitoring the radio broadcasts he wrote his new name with a fountain pen. Carefully he turned the knob on the transistor. On the long frequencies he caught a voice with a Russian accent. He railed at the counterrevolutionaries, they dragged our country to the brink of destruction. Radiostation Vltava here. The names of several Czech authors and journalists were cited. Obviously, Plužek wasn’t one of them. Andrej quickly turned the knob. The two roommates read the extraordinary publication of the daily journals. First day of occupation! We stand behind Dubček, Svoboda, Černík, Smrkovský. We’re demanding the withdrawal of the occupants!
An older nurse burst in with the breakfast.
„Are you new?” She distributed two portions and halted with an empty tray before Andrej. „Mr. Balík?”...she looked into the paper. „Gastroscopy. No food before the intervention!” She slammed the door shut.
In the hospital robe, with slippers on his feet, he was thrust into the ambulance. The attending doctor with a haircut like a hedgehog sat on the seat next to him with the case record in his hand. He sent the nurse to seat herself next to the driver. The screeching and slow Škoda car started.
The distance between the Research Institute of People’s Nourishment located in the old shabby palace close to the old town hall and the policlinic was a couple of hundred meters if drawing an imaginary line. The ambulance had to get to Štúrova street, then the Povstanie square and from there along the main post-office on to the small roads of the old city. This path could easily be managed in a few minutes by car. Presently however, the roads reminded one of chaos in India. Cries, tooting from horns, cursing. Step by step, the ambulance moved along the crowds of people, tanks, armed transport vehicles and private cars.
„Won’t you turn on the beacon?” yelled Hedgehog from the back to the driver.
„I wouldn’t risk it. What if they go berserk and start shooting?”
„At an ambulance?” the attending doctor shook his head.
„Those crackpots are capable of everything,” yelled the dirver and pressed the horn several times. The people slowly started to part. By one of the walls, some youngsters pasted an improvized banner. LENIN, WAKE UP! BREŽNEV’S GONE MAD. Beside it a defiance written in asbest IVAN IDI DOMOJ! NATAŠA ŽĎOT TEBJÁ!
„We could have walked,” Andrew spoke.
Hedgehog turned his head: „Gastroscopy is not too pleasant. On the way back, you would maybe...”
They entered onto the main square, where Stalin’s statue stood. Hordes of people poured from above. The nurse from the front of the vehicle rolled the glass so they could hear each other better.
„People are pouring from the radio. In the morning, Milka saw how people gathered infront of the building and demanded the recommencement of the broadcast. Mr. Tatarka spoke there. The writer...He climbed onto the limousine with the director of the radio. So the people would hear them better.”
Andrej’s stomach contracted, with gritted teeth he looked as the ambulance zigzaged its way through the people and dirty green monsters. So, one writer overcame our animosity in creating great history. You’re confined in an ambulance, you won’t become a legend. Gastroscopy, perfect catastrophe.
„What do you think, how will it be resolved? Won’t the world help us? The West?”
„West? The world is divided. Remember nineteen fiftysix. Hungary.”
„We have to help ourselves. Funny...The president decreed not to shoot. Russians were also commanded not to shoot. A pat situation.”
Both bumped their foreheads on the side glass. Somewhere to the right a string of shots sounded. The truck aggressively hit the brakes. The motor died for a little while. After the howl of the starter it kicked on again.
„No fears. That slant-eye shot into the air.”
„I only hope...”
They were next to the main post office by now and were trying to steer.
„Is it good that we’re not fighting back?”
Surprised, Andrej turned to look at Hedgehog. He recalled that november Sunday morning, at Fela’s parents, yes, not far from here, that morning he tuned into the medium waves of Budapest and heard the Hugarian prime minister pleading for assistance. Imre Nagy had a hoarse voice, youngsters in long coats flung themselves to the wet ground in vain and held old guns and machine rifles in their shaking hands, rickety back sights. The owner of the hoarse voice in a few years was not among the living. After a clandestine process his own executed him. The comrade prime minister did not know, when he could and when he could not defend himself. And how many youngsters ended in blood on the floor twelve years ago, no one cared.
„We are a country without a government...”
„But they failed to set up a Quisling government,” the attending doctor proclaimed. „Since midnight, almost half the day with no success.” He looked at his watch. „We should be there at ten thirty.”
Finally they turned left from the square into a small lane between the Tatra bank and the main post-office. There was no tank or other automobile there. When they sank into the shadow, the driver shifted to three and rapidly he tried to rush into the narrow streed along the Franciscan church. Gun shots echoed from beyond the main post-office. The lissom gothic windows of the St. John’s chapel, so similar to the Parisian St. Chapelle, as if resistant to the noise of the outside world. They didn’t sense that by the main gate of the post a boy descended to the pavement. The first dead.
He searched his memory, how long did he forget to ruminate over, which strategy remains for the country of fourteen million previously located in the heart of Europe, into which without resistance invasive armies of Socialist allies in the first platton of 250 thousand and in the aggregate half a million soldiers, while the generals in chief had to take care so that their boys „by mistake” didn’t invade the Austrian and West German territory. He only knew that he was constantly suffocating, they stabed needles into his throat, forced their lean hands in rubber gloves somewhere into his mouth, larynx, he felt, he would disbowel vomit on everyone around him, on the entire world. Other hands, women’s and men’s held his shoulders and the director of the Research Institute of People’s Nourishment MUDr. Drobny in attendance with the head of surgery attentively pushed a vaseline anointed hose with some kind of light on its end down his throat.
„Swallow! Calmly swallow! As if you are eating spagetti.”
„Further, further...a little more. Hold on!!”
Half choked, green or blue, with wallowed eyes like being hanged, jammed into the chair. Around a small bunch of nervous people, furtively listening if any shots from the machine guns are heard even in the space of the ransacked coroneted palace. Meanwhile doctor Drobný dictates what he sees in the entrails of one human body in a low key voice. Ulcus bulbi duodeni. My little aching ulcer. Fela. Fela has no access here, she has to stay with the kids, the neighbourhood is calm, the invading armies have not expressed interest.
„So, you recommend the surgery, dear colleague?”
„Surgery is recommended. Was the date set already?”
„Next Thursday, head surgeon. Only if an emergency situation –
The head surgeon looks at Hedgehog.
„Emergency situation? The schedule of operations is the law. And after all, the entire life of a doctor is handling emergency situations, colleague. Or not?”
Under the ironic stare of the head surgeon, Hedgehog became silent. The head surgeon moved toward the patient and whispered: „Doctor Živago operated under the roar from cannons, or no?” He giggled. „Don’t worry, we’ll get you back on your feet!”
They are pulling out the hose from Andrej’s stomach, pulling faster, the anesthesia is working, Andrej is trying to catch his breath, to wipe the cold sweat from his forehead.
„How are you feeling, Mr. ...?”
Andrej wants to gallantly answer: „Not bad.”, he’s opening his mouth, breathing more easily without the hose, but he cannot hear any noise from himself. Surely I look like a goose, which is forcefully fed and is gasping for air (flashback from the grand father´s yard, aunt Vilma holds a tossing goose and a bowl in her lap.)
„You lost your voice, irritated vocal chords. You’ll be fit in a few days!”
The ambulance comes out at the main post office, the rounded up crowd, something is happening by the wall, green uniforms of public security and – another ambulance – with signaling.
We lost our voice.
Cosmic expedition into the core, still lower and lower.
Chew, swallow your sin, you’re losing your voice,
Crumbling is the defensive wall. Still lower and lower,
Not a penis looking for the insole of the womb
Rubber cosh reinforced
With iron fibre, till it reaches the wall of extasy.
Light lost, light of Bethlehem,
In the well of fibres, hesitantly it lowers itself to the bottom.
You’re swalling your sin. Choking.
Light lost in the anaesthised well
Of the recently live body.
For an hour anesthesized sin.
Stop! We ruptured the end’s tape.
Small hunched bug flapping red blood corpuscles
Alburn decay playfully prances.
Short-winded the brown spot pulsates on an absolutely
Marble wall, quivering in the moonlight
Making the doctor’s veinous hand unknowingly tremble
The base of humaneness, the full stop of your life’s book
The center of pain, black spot
The birthmark Nefertiti,
Moistoning irrespective of the bands of tanks behind the door.
You’re waiting for your sentence: carve out by the Mayan obsidian,
Slice the fibre, ornament of the soul.
Just chew, swallow.
The doctor recognized you.
You found yourself
At least for a moment.
„People are fleeing,” Fela caressed him, they sat on the balcony. Under them a square with a university, a pole beplastered with posters and flowers on the stairs, students in miniskirts. Photographers taking pictures, hiding behind the armoured transport vehicles scribbled on with chalk. Hooked crosses. Angry officers of elite Soviet Guard divisions want to shoot, but can’t, because in this country, the armed forces are paralysed, there are only mobs of young people in shirts and those damn immoral miniskirts, bitches, and evenings thunder with: „Russians go home!...Russians are barbarians!” All Pan-Slavic brotherhood, thank you very much.
„People are fleeing,” Andrej whispers, because he hasn’t acquired his voice yet, hissing with his inflamed larynx, the the large number of pills joined now by antibiotics, I can’t even sleep, I can never sleep, my dear Fela. Caressing Fela, he asks about the children, is it safe to have them brought here. Why not? Even doctor Živago operated under extraordinary circumstances. Austrians opened their borders. And allegedly security is giving out exit clauses as on a conveyer belt. Maybe our captain Lietavec is passing his hand to everyone and wishing them a happy journey to freedom. People are fleeing. Householder wakes from his grave. Stalin’s field marshalls have awoken from numbness. People are on their holidays. Not returning back home from Yugoslavia. All the cars, Škodas, Žigulis, Dacias, Wartburgs and Trabants have turned to Austria, to Italy. Towards the West.
„Shouldn’t we also?”
„Have you gone crazy, my dear? How? Weak as a fly? With two children?”
„They’re feeding me for slaughter. For incision. Just like this country.”
„My little ulcer!” She wore a grey above the knees skirt and an audacious blouse, summer sandals on high heels. „Because of you, my little ulcer. I washed my hair this morning. The kids are at my mother’s. Elena is excited, because she saw a tank. Peťko a little less. Elena is more bellicose.”
„After who, do you suppose?” He jumped up and wheezed. „Absurd! Everything is absurd! I, a broadcaster am stuck here in a hospital robe and meanwhile everyone else is broadcasting, screaming, inciting the people.”
„Do you regret that you won’t become a hero? A legend?”
„ If I at least had a tape recorder. If I could just record...”
„With that nosy Quasimodo and electrician in the room? With a concealed identity? I would much rather visit the hospital than jail, my little aching ulcer!”
The black diary full of notes of information he heard every half hour in some radio still lay in the pocket of his torn robe.
„Shouldn’t I buy you some decent robe?”
„Robe? I never had a robe. So it will be stained with blood from infusions?...And really noone at home has been asking about me?”
„They have other concerns. All traffic indicators are changed. They can’t make a step.”
„Don’t be naive. We’ll soon be on the line.”
„After the surgery, ok, my little ulcer.”
„Don’t touch me there, sweetheart! And buy me one more exercise book. Common, those for school purposes.”
„You know all my wishes”.
„Unfortunately no, little ulcer. Notes from the contrarevolution are really the best for – „
Nurse Milka approached. Conspirationally she winked at both.
„Visits are at an end, my dears.”
From the news-stand (august 1968)
DUBČEK, RETURN WITH SVOBODA AND FREEDOM!
NEGOTIATIONS IN MOSCOW CONTINUE. According to the report from the Soviet press agency in Moscow, negotiations between Czechoslovak and Soviet representatives continued on Saturday. According to TASS, they progressed in an open and sociable atmosphere. The content of the report accrues that the proceedings till now have not yet resulted in a desired outcome.
DECLARATION. OF THE EXTRAORDINARY XIVth CONGRESS OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA to all communist and labour parties of the world – The Moscow paper PRAVDA recognizes the bad success of the occupation – Castro approves the intervention – Sartre condemns the occupation – After seizing the building of the central party daily, a free RUDÉ PRÁVO is continuing in small format – Meanwhile three publications of extraordinary PRAVDA and the extraordinary publications of KULTÚRNY ŽIVOT were issued. – After a 50 minute intermession the free broadcasting station Danube is broadcasting – Prague: Friday night occupying armies shot off the transformer of the TV transmitter on Klínovec. Employees left in time.
Commanders of army units inform parents that invitations for meetings do not apply. Alarm about your sons is not needed, they’re well taken care of.
On sally roads in the precincts of Prague, occupants withdraw press, transistors and photo cameras from the citizens. Be mindful of the security proceedings, so that as little as possible get into their hands.
An appeal to the blue army! Stop the cistern train 5311 heading to Považská Bystrica. Its designated for the occupying units.
Today‘s morning on the central square in Bratislava was fairly peaceful. Patrolled by one armed vehicle, which announced the reasons for occupation from an amplifier. Drivers disturbed the announcement with loud operation of the automobiles and honking.
The free radio drew attention to numbers of suspicious cars. An older brand of Škoda plate number BA-29-23, its squad dismantles inscriptions and flags, moreover the blue Simca plate number BAA-24-28, its squad arrests people.
Chief of the airport in Trenčín refused to give the airport over to the occupants and the personnel sealed off the control tower.
DO NOT BELIEVE THE SHATTERERS OF THE REPUBLIC - In the free radio Dominik Tatarka condemned the attempts of the traitors and requested that in these moving days of our occupation to stop the negotiation regarding a Czecho-Slovak federation – Persist on the departure of the occupant units, request the return of our constitutional functionaries!
(Pravda, Sunday 25th August 1968)
© Translation: Ivana Lajčiaková
From the novel by Anton Hykisch Pleasures of the yesteryear . Slovak original : Rozkoše dávnych čias, Martin, Vydavateľstvo Matice slovenskej, 2009. ISBN 978-80-89208-53-1. Part 9: A day long as a year (1968) , chapter 1.
Contact: Author: firstname.lastname@example.org Publisher: email@example.com