Our building door closed behind us. There was little motion on the street. Few people were walking to work, the soldiers patrolling the tanks in front of the buildings walked up and down, stamping their feet in the cold skiff of snow. Apu took out his cigarette case, extricated a cigarette and lit it. He waved at the soldier directly in front of our building and said “Good Morning” in Russian. “Cold today” greeted the soldier. Apu offered him a cigarette and lit it for him. They conversed briefly. Ildiko and I stood by Anyu, shuffling our feet, looking around at the familiar landmarks which we would never again see. Apu ended his conversation, came over, kissed us all goodbye and waving, walked off in the direction of the ambulance station where our car was parked. Anyu shepherded us in the opposite direction, her ususal route to go to the shops.
We went around the block, rejoined Apu at the ambulance station. On the brief walk there, I took in the grey sameness of the various buildings we passed, the warmly lit windows which signalled daily routines were taking place inside, the familiar skeletal trees lining the street. There was to be no more strolling, running or playing with friends on these streets for Ildiko, me and our friends. Anyu and Ildiko walked at a business-like pace, not saying anything, holding their private musings to themselves. We rejoined Apu to find him tinkering under the hood of the DKW (Deutsche Kinder Wagon). The ambulance station attendant, smoking a cigarette, leaned on the car and conversed quietly with him. In between fiddling with bits of machinery, Apu told him that he was taking us to line up at a shop near the clinic he was to visit first. We piled into the car and drove off toward downtown.
After some time of driving roundabout to get back on the main road leading out of town, Apu drove west. The pollarded trees lining the edges of the road were brushy sentinels, dark grey against the tarnished silver sky. The car took us through villages huddled close to the earth, past stubble fields, past stripped-bare orchards and lacy copses of woods. We were silent in the car, each of us immersed in our own thoughts. There were no other vehicles on the road except for ours. The engine sounds sputtered a rhythm that established a tempo for an internal symphony and I hummed quietly, elaborating the melody under my breath, all the while looking, looking, hungry, at the passing familiar world.
“Where are we going? asked Ildiko. “To a village near Ferto To” replied Anyu, “north of Sopron”. “Who are we staying with? For how long?” I queried. “Only for five days” answered Apu. I quietly chewed this over in my mind. What was there for the two of us to do for five long days, in a village we had never been in before and with people who we didn’t know at all?
Soon Apu turned the DKW off the tar-mac main road onto a rutted dirt path. The landscape had changed. There were no settlements, nor scattered villages to be seen, just lacy masses of woods interspersed with fallow fields. Shortly, in the distance appeared a whitewashed mass of low buildings, huddled on the ground and punctuated in the middle by the spire of a church. This place was where we were headed toward, an isolated country outpost.
Apu slowly drove into this village and stopped outside a small house from which extended a high whitewashed wall with a gate large enough to allow passage inside of a farm-wagon. He left the car, casually sauntered up to the house’s front door and rapped on it. A grey-haired older man cracked open the door, poked his head outside, waved at Apu, then ducked back inside and closed the door. Apu stomped around on the stoop and waited. The man came out, all bundled up against the cold and motioned toward the gate in the wall. Apu got back in the car and drove slowly toward the gate, which the man hastened to open, drove inside and announced, “Well, we have arrived. You girls hurry out and into the house. No one in the village must see you!” Anyu stepped out of the car and hurried us out. The man had closed the gate behind the DKW, and we found ourselves in an enclosure containing a barn, a small yard and the side of the house where the door opened and an older woman waved us inside.
Ildiko walked ahead, quite grown-up and proper, and said a polite hello. I came up in next, clutching “War and Peace” to my side, under my coat. Anyu bustled in and embraced the woman in greeting. We found ourselves in a kitchen similar to the one in grandmother’s village home, with a large, scarred table surrounded by simple wooden chairs and a big kandallo warming up the room. Anyu helped us out of our coats which then were hung on pegs on the wall. The woman invited us to sit down at the table, and this we did, and then waited quietly for whatever was to happen next.
Apu and the man came inside, hung their coats up and sat with us at the table. The woman brought us cups of warm milk in pottery mugs. Apu began to give us our instructions on how we were to behave and spend our days. “You are not allowed to go outside at all, and when you are indoors must be behind curtains. No one must know you are here. And you must listen and do as Mr and Mrs Ferenci tell you to do.” Mrs Ferenci took us into a small room where we were to stay most of the day, where we were to sleep. Then she showed us the outhouse, outside in the compound, near the kitchen door. If we needed to use this we had to do it quickly, with no lingering outside. Our meals, we would take with the two of them in the kitchen. Anyu reminded us that we had to be quiet and not cause problems for the Ferencis.
Anyu and Apu took their leave of us soon afterward. The hug and kiss from them and reminders we would see them soon temporarily had to satisfy us both. Anyu and Apu always kept their word; whenever they left us anywhere, we were certain to see them again as they promised. This time would be the same as ever, they would come for us, I reasoned. However, I was somewhat afraid that this time might be different, circumstances were more difficult and less predictable. I grasped Ildiko’s hand and asked:
“Would you read to me from “War and Peace”? When you get tired of reading, I’ll take my turn.”