an exercise in capturing memories

The Big City

I am five years old. It’s summer. We live at the edge of Senec, a small town, only a half an hour drive from the big city of Bratislava. Senec is so small there is no public transportation inside the town. There is only one bus station; the bus takes adult people to the big city in the morning, bringing them back in the evening. For me, the half-hour ride in the bus seems as we are traveling to a different world. The sunflower fields somewhere between Senec and Bratislava mark the boundaries between this world and that.

Jánošík

I am five years old. It’s summer. We live at the edge of Senec. I wake up in the morning, excited. Today we are going to steal corn from the fields that are just across the street from our building. I don’t know who owns these fields, because I don’t know how the world works yet. But my dad tells me it’s OK. We’re not doing a crime. When I ask him to explain, he tells me it’s like in the stories about Jánošík. I am mesmerised by the stories about him – his bravery to steal from the rich and give to the poor. We have a wooden figure of him hanging in the living room. He is my hero.

Dad takes a big duffel bag and we march out of our two-room apartment, on a mission. I am proud dad trusts me enough to be his partner in this secret adventure. Though mother and grandmother don’t say anything, I feel somehow they know about it. The ancient ladies, sitting on the benches in front of the building – crocheting baby boots and doilies – smile at us as we walk past them.

We enter the field, making our way through the stalks of corn. Dad tells me to keep close to him. The sun disappears and appears. Or maybe it’s me with my small body who disappears and appears – playing peekaboo with the sun. We pick corn and drop it into the duffel bag. I push through the stalks with my small hands, getting scratched. It’s hard work, but I don’t complain. My hands are now full; I have too many pieces of corn in my small hands. I look at dad, his hands are also full. He grins at me. ‘Let’s put these in the bag.’ We retrace our steps, five, six, seven. We don’t find the duffel bag. I panic. We are lost. The field of corn to my five-year-old body is vast. It can swallow me whole and never spit me out. Tears jump into my brown eyes. Dad drops down on his knees, and holds me. ‘It’s just a bag. We’ll find it, don’t worry.’

Half an hour later, we emerge from the field, defeated. No duffel bag. We cross the two-lane street that marks the boundary between the corn field and our row of blocks, carrying in our hands as many corns as we can. I keep my head up, proud, as we walk past the ancient ladies crocheting doilies. They smile at us. We walk into the building and I head to my grandmother’s apartment so she can cook the corn.

My Red Corduroy Jacket

I am five years old. The year is 1980. I have a new red corduroy skirt. It reaches just above my knees. It comes with a matching red corduroy jacket. I am so excited, because it isn’t every day that I get brand new clothes. This skirt and jacket are special and although nobody tells me, I understand that I’m supposed to wear it only for special occasions. And today is one such day. Dad is taking me to the big city. Circus is in town. There is no happier girl than me. I can’t imagine wanting anything more in life; being with my dad, holding his huge hand, feeling his love – that makes me the happiest girl. But to top it off with a new red skirt and jacket, and the excitement of the anticipation of the circus – that’s just too much for my tiny heart. I feel like I am about to burst with happiness. And then I almost do. I walk straight into an electricity pole.

My first thought isn’t about whether I hurt myself. I bend down to examine my skirt, my hear racing. I would be in trouble if I ripped it the first time I wore it. The skirt hasn’t been damaged, but I have a huge rip in my pantyhose in the front, beginning from my knee. I am now miserable. In a few seconds, I went from being the happiest girl in the world to the most miserable one. Dad tries to calm me down that it’s only a small hole in my pantyhose, but I just want to disappear – shame has come washed over me like a big wave and is threatening to drown me. I try to pull down my skirt to cover the hole, but it’s hopeless. So I walk, my tiny hand in my dad’s huge, hairy hand, a hole in my stocking, shame settled in my cheeks. But then I find a solution. I wriggle out of my jacket and hold it like a lady in front of me, making sure it’s covering my knees. Perfect.

At the circus, we make our way to one of the top rows, and sit on the wooden bench. I place the jacket elegantly over my knees and wait for the show to begin, my small heart beating with excitement. For a few short moments, I forget all about the hole in the pantyhose. And then I move, and my beautiful, new, red corduroy jacket falls down and straight through the space between the rows, twirling in the air down below the benches, under the structure, finally settling on the dirty ground. Looking down, the distance to the ground below seems vast. I am now even more miserable. I tug on my dad’s arm and point to my orphaned jacket. He smiles at me, and tells me to stay put. He then makes his way to the end of the row, and walks down the wooden steps. I see his huge body disappearing as he leaves the circus tent. And then he’s under our benches, rescuing my jacket. My heart skips a beat. Today, my hero is my dad.

(c) khulud khamis | September 2018

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