Wednesday, Early Morning
Maroš1F kissed his sleeping wife and quietly slipped out of the bedroom. He was carrying his jeans and a T-shirt with a picture of ball-bearings, a symbol of the time not so long ago when he was still working in a factory called Achko. The ball-bearings cuddled up to each other tenderly and tried to convince the public that they were what Achko produced. The picture had grown pale with frequent washing, as its owner had with early rising, and the public had also long been aware that the abolished ball-bearings firm was in fact an arms factory.
Maroš dressed himself with habitual movements. His forty-five-year-old body managed it without unnecessary rustle, although more and more often a sharp pain drew his attention to his right shoulder, but this was already an everyday sensation. A little uncertainly he went down into the garage and took out his father’s bicycle.
Until recently its massive frame and large wheels had been an object of ridicule. The seat had two springs capable of absorbing the shock of a railway wagon. The bright Cyrillic lettering on the frame read – ЗИФ. But now this Soviet means of transport had already moved into the veteran category and begun to evoke dreamy respect in some of its generation. Maroš Kujan wouldn’t hear a word against his navy blue ZIF.
He pushed it out of the gate of the sleeping house and walked down the steep slope through the cemetery. At the stones of the grotto sheltering a plaster Virgin Mary in a niche in the rocks, he crossed himself perfunctorily. When he reached the dilapidated chapel, he mounted the creaking seat and let it carry him down the Road of the Cross.
He sped through the awakening town under his own momentum, but pedalled at least half way up the asphalt road leading under the viaduct and up a steep hill, away from the town – to a point level with the road sign VEĽKĚ ROJE, the limit of his fitness.
He dismounted and pushed his bicycle uphill, puffing as he went. He passed the metal gate with its welded D*R*E*V*O*Č*A*S sign, whose letters had once been separated by red stars, now only rusty. Only last month the company had employed him, but the coffee tables of pale walnut that always looked as if water had been spilled on them, or the mini-bars with protruding doors were so hideous, that not even their Belorussian partner would take them any longer. Maroš had been one of the first to be made redundant.
At the top of the hill he turned off onto a dirt road and hid his bicycle among the bushes. He opened the little leather bag behind the seat and took out a mirror, a brush and a tiny bottle of artificial blood, which made from ketchup, glycerine and food dyes.
First he changed his trousers for ones with a hole in the knee. Then he skilfully made himself up. The little mirror showed him a man with a cut over the eye and a bloodstained face. Maroš was satisfied. He sat astride his bicycle and waited at the edge of the dirt track.
The asphalt road was lined on either side with wild undergrowth and the turning off into the field was hardly visible. Well hidden among the leaves, he watched the traffic on the main road. Two rusty Skoda MBs, an Avia lorry carrying cement and an interminably slow tractor.
His heart was beating fast with excitement. He let several more cars pass until an itching in his back told him the time had come. As a matter of principle, he only picked out luxury makes. He could distinguish them by the sound they made.
A Czech Hyundai and a woman at the wheel. He made up his mind in a fraction of a second. He pushed off hard with his feet and came hurtling into the bend at precisely the same moment as the red car. The Hyundai’s brakes squealed and Maroš instantly shot off into the bushes. The car didn’t even touch him. A few scratches were added to the painted blood.
He lay under the fallen bicycle and waited. The car came to a halt. For a moment nothing happened. Guggling noises came from the exhaust.
Don’t let her drive away like the one yesterday, he prayed to himself.
The car was put in reverse gear. Maroš let out a sigh of relief. The door opened and calves wearing red court shoes stepped out.
Matching the metallic paint, thought Maroš and groaned, “Help!”
“Are you all right?” the young woman cried out in Czech.
The well-oiled wheel of the ZIF spun impressively.
“Call…the police!” sighed Maroš, pulling himself to his feet with difficulty.
A look of horror appeared on the woman driver’s face.
“For heaven’s sake, I’ve got a new driving licence! Are you all right?” she asked anxiously.
“My head hurts,” Maroš said, “and I’ve dislocated my knee.”
He took a couple of steps and, with a painful grimace, leaned up against the purring car. “You were going terribly fast, miss. You’ll lose your licence. Was it worth it? You could have killed me!”
The woman, already pale enough as it was, turned even paler.
Maroš added sadistically, “I’ve got a wife and child, but you obviously don’t care, if you bloody well tear along at a hundred and ten!”
“We’ll bandage it up…” the driver said in a shaky voice, pulling out an immaculate first-aid kit.
With trembling hands she unscrewed a bottle of tincture.
Maroš scornfully snatched the plastic box from her hands and hurriedly bandaged his knee. “The doctor will make me stay home for a week. I shall lose my job!”
“I’d pay you compensation,” the woman reached into her handbag.
That was just what he had been waiting for. It was a moment worthy of organ music, when all the stops are pulled out and, to the thunder of pipes, from behind a cloud instead of God’s son and the Holy Ghost the state’s banknotes appear: Hlinka and Štefánik, with the signature of the governor of the national bank forming a filigree decoration around them.
Maroš blissfully half-closed his eyes.
1. Yu (Ю, ю) is a letter of the Cyrillic alphabet, used here by the author to symbolize the English homonym “you” with reference to this generation’s unquestioning admiration for the lifestyle in the West.