“Here,” the woman handed him quite different faces. “That’s all I’ve got.”
Maroš looked at the two one-hundred euro notes reminiscent of lottery tickets and recalled the previous day’s exchange rate. Over eight thousand Slovak crowns! We-ell now… He took a deep breath and a fraction of a second later greedily stretched out his hand.
A look of doubt appeared on the woman’s face, but the hooting of the cars heading at speed for the town forced her to get back into her shiny red car. However, it was possible to sense relief in her hurried steps. She slammed the door and took a last look in Maroš’s direction. Just at the right moment his indestructible Soviet bicycle, the source of his livelihood, fell from his hands. He bent over with exaggerated difficulty.
The Hyundai started off and the warm breeze of that August morning dispersed its cloud of petrol fumes. The lead fallout gratefully settled on the little sour apples lining the branches of a gnarled apple tree. Years ago it had been planted at the edge of the road by some trusting man, perhaps a distant relative of Maroš, a happy man who in his lifetime had met more horses than four-cylinder engines.
The ground shook. Somewhere a long way off riveting hammers were stitching Europe together.
Standing out like motley patches on a velvet coat, the new countries of the Union tried to keep their dignity in the emerging alliance, whose only clearly visible ideal was the common market. Along with an unconvincingly declared solidarity of the more powerful with the weaker. The inhabitants of the patches were well aware that at first Old Europe would show the world only that side of the coat where their gaudy blotch could not be seen, and therefore did not get any more excited than usual.
Who knows whether this meant they had missed a historic moment for sincere joy at unification? Many sensed it, but swallowed the moment as they had done a thousand times before, for experience had taught them that with us or without us, the wheel of history keeps turning.
It is probable that few people believed there could be a repetition on the continent of Europe of the miracle of the melting pot, which centuries before had united the nations emigrating to the territory of North America into a compact formation of one body and one mind, thus creating the most maligned letters of the alphabet in history – the twenty-first, nineteenth and first – that is, the USA.
In spite of these doubts, it was, however, certain that nothing better could happen to little Slovakia than to be stitched onto another piece of Europe that had created such wonderful things as Saint Peter’s Basilica, psychoanalysis and the film The Yellow Submarine. The further from the capital, the less did the shocks of the riveting machines make themselves felt in the everyday lives of the inhabitants.
And in the epicentre of our story, in the town of Veľké Roje with its population of seven thousand, the ground did not shake at all. The last event worthy of that name had taken place fifteen years earlier and remained recorded in the town chronicle as a moderate earthquake that had produced cracks in the asphalt pavement outside the nursery school in M.R.Štefánik Street necessitating repairs to the tune of 12,860 crowns and causing the tragic death of one citizen.
The fact that the citizen had died an unusual death, in that he had been swallowed up by a rift in the ground and his body had not yet been found, was not spread around unnecessarily. Nor that until of late he had been the most famous inhabitant we are going to hear about.
Why the town was called Veľké Roje – Great Swarm – no one has yet managed to explain. Bees had never been kept on a large scale and no reference to them has been found in any chronicle. The number of beehives in the gardens was no greater than the national average, but no one protested when on the town’s newly designed coat-of-arms a bee appeared, sitting on a wooden spoon. The production of wooden spoons had a century-long tradition here, gradually moving from the isolated hillside cottages in the surroundings to the Drevočas company, which, with good intentions, had extended its assortment to include unsaleable furniture.
Veľké Roje was a town that history avoided.
The emperor’s coach had passed through its streets but once and only thanks to a broken wheel can the town museum now pride itself on the bent metal of its tyres. The Turks didn’t get this far, the Hussites avoided the valley and Hurban’s followers didn’t even stop to fill their flasks with water. In the First World War only ten men were recruited, of whom six returned and the town erected a monument to the remaining four – a marble soldier with a marble rifle, admired above all by the children, who were always trying to climb up onto the plinth and release the marble safety catch on his weapon.
Partisans had only fought in the neighbouring district, but fortunately they had also dug an underground bunker in the Veľké Roje area, so the village could declare itself an insurgent municipality, for which it later received a town charter. In August 1968 the Drevočas factory had been closed for the summer holiday, so it was the only company in the district that did not go on strike in protest against the invasion of the allied armies, which earned it the title of Company of the Order of the Red Star and it proudly welded on the red stars between the letters of its name. In 1989 only three young people from the town emigrated and no one ever heard of them again, so it is impossible to disprove the rumours they had joined the foreign legion that were divulged in the restaurant of the Horec Hotel after Fernet Stock and tonic.
The Velvet Revolution also passes without any slaps in the face and threats to members of the Communist Party, because every third inhabitant had been in that party (“For the children’s sake!”), every other inhabitant had a member of the family in the party (“I’m not going against my brother, for God’s sake!”) and everyone had at least one good friend who was a communist (“do you know what he’d say over a beer?!”). The only real local dissident, Vlado Juráš, quietly returned from prison and built up an honest private business as a car mechanic.
Rising above the town was Javorové hill with its television transmitter and deep in the forests were the remains of a Soviet military base, which fortunately they had not had time to complete.
The town’s days passed without quakes and tremors, the ground beneath it was firm until that Thursday…, but don’t let’s jump ahead, it is now only Wednesday, still fairly early, and Maroš is examining the one-hundred euro banknotes from all sides and feeling happy. The August air over the fields is warming up and the currents of air are lifting the flying nano-grains of pollen, sent whirling by the rustle of the banknotes, to dizzying heights.
One grain of pollen gets caught in the right current and the chimney of hot air carries it up steeply to where it mixes with the cold mass of wind and, having performed a mad pirouette, tentatively sets off in the direction of the town. From up there the pollen has a clear view of the geometrical purity of the streets, which fan out from the square lined with old houses and dominated by a strange building that from a height is reminiscent of a rocket prepared for launching, but the grain has no time to admire the town centre encircled at a respectful distance by satellite blocks of reinforced concrete flats, because the cool current carries it off to the opposite hill with its identical terraced houses with front gardens, two windows and gable roofs; it can already see in detail one with a washing line, on which a dark-haired woman is at that precise moment hanging out wet panties and the uncontrollable nano-grain with no nano-emotions whatsoever heads at full speed for the face of the woman, where it is sucked in at a terrible speed through the enormous opening of a nostril, to crash into the vibrating villi of the warm pink mucous membrane, which immediately connects with defensive mechanisms, sending the lungs an order to hold the breath, pull down the diaphragm and with a rush of air immediately drive the nano-intruder out from the body.
Cosmonauts’ Square • Generation Ю
“Here,” the woman handed him quite different faces. “That’s all I’ve got.”