We are busying ourselves to not think about the possibility of bombing tonight. By lamplight shining on to her hands, Mother is seated in the green velvet armchair knitting the back of a sweater for Father. Her lips move, in silence, to keep count of her row; her practiced fingers dance as the yarn passes on to the needles. Father hunches near the turntable, an open score spread out on his lap, and follows along Saint-Saens’ “Rondo capriccioso” with one finger moving along on the sheet while the other waves to keep to the tempo. This is his favourite violin piece, one which he has been working hard to master. He knows his record well, the melody – whenever he returns the needle to a part with which he has difficulty in playing, he has an uncanny ability to put the needle back near the correct spot on the record. Ildiko is engaged in taking out duplicates from her stamp collection’s album pages; she has plans to trade stamps with Karolyka the next day. I have spread out my treasured paper napkin collection on the dining-room table so I can order them in some sort of arrangement that might make sense when comparing them. This is problematic for me. Do the napkins become ranked by colour, complexity of surface patterns or by the nature of the edges, whether simple or fanciful in design?
The music weaves around us all as we are engrossed in our private passions. No air raid sirens disturb our concentration, and yet, we expect them to sound at any time this night. Time passes. We are not going to bed early this evening. Our routines have been thoroughly disrupted by recent events, though there are efforts to retain some semblance of normalcy, to maintain calm.
Suddenly, frantic knocking, rapping and banging sounds impinge on our consciousness. Distracted, we glance at each other with quizzical expressions. It is late in the evening and no visitors are expected. Who could this be, why is our quiet disrupted tonight?
Father rises to his feet as Mother, suddenly fearful, jumps up and starts to run into the hallway. We hear her question, “Who is it?” and muffled tones of a man’s excited voice. She walks back into the front room and beckons to Father to come. “It is someone for you, Bela.” He leaves the record playing and walks out to the front door. Ildiko and I trail after Mother to see who has arrived so unexpectedly.
We watch as Father shepherds an older grey-haired man in drab brown work-clothes and a very young man, dirty and disheveled into his surgery. The young man is limping and seems very pale. Father calls Mother to also come inside the surgery. The door closes on them, leaving Ildiko and me in the hallway. We wait, but while doing so we have our ears pressed up against the door to better hear the conversation we have been shut out from. Fragments of the exchange filter through, enough so we learn that the young man was shot in the buttocks while engaged in a raid on the local AVO who had been armed and hiding out in the station on Stalin Utca, toward the edge of town.
Mother comes out of the surgery and shoos us into the living room while explaining that Father has to perform some surgery on the young man and once repaired, the young man would stay the night in the maid’s room off the kitchen. She bustles off to prepare the bed. I get this sinking feeling in my stomach, knowing full well that she will find the mattress and blankets missing. Ildiko is completely in the dark about this! The mattress and blankets are in the basement where I had dragged them earlier in the day.
Mother returns in what seems like no time at all. She beards us with the question “What happened to the mattress and bedding in the room?” I have no choice but offer an explanation as to why these missing items were essential to be moved to the basement, particularly on this day. “Come with me! You have to help bring them back upstairs” she ordered.
Mother marches me to the elevator. On the way down to the basement she says nothing to me, won’t look at me. (I sense a scene brewing!) Once there, she flicks the light on and scans the empty spaces. In the far corner lie the two mattresses, made up into tidy beds. The coils of sausage, round of cheese and loaves of bread are piled on the brick pallet nearby. The water jugs stand like obese sentinels, one near each “bed”. “Who arranged all this?” she quizzes. Blubbering, I manage to get out the whole story. Mother shakes her head and smooths my hair with her hands.
“I don’t think there will be an air raid tonight” she says softly. “Come on, help me drag these to the lift. We’ll take them upstairs and you can help me make up the bed for the young man.”
“What about the rest of this stuff?” I ask.
“They can stay down here tonight. Tomorrow I will deal with it all” Mother suggests.
A while later, after we replace the mattress in our maid’s room and make up the bed with sheets, Mother leads the young man in and bids him goodnight. She sends Ildiko and me to prepare for bed.
We wash up, change into pajamas, creep into our beds and wait for father and Mother to tuck us in and say good night. Mother sits beside me and strokes my hair. She looks quite pleased. Father kisses me and tells me I was a kind and thoughtful girl, and that my friends were good kids. We had done the right thing, he says.
“Don’t worry and sleep well” they say as they flick off the light.
From the dark on the other side of the room issue Ildiko’s questions – “What was all that about? What did you do that pleased Mother and Father for once?”