As a young child I was generally unafraid of the dark and of night. My older sister Ildiko and I shared a room, somewhat large, where we slept at night in a trundle bed that rolled out into separate sleeping pallets. During the day, this arrangement reverted to a day-bed. The grand piano hulked beside this. It made a perfect diving board from which to play swimming pool whenever our friends came to play. Naturally whenever we played swimming pool, Anyu was busy out in the kitchen or handwashing our laundry on the back balcony. Ildiko finally told on us. She always sought to separate herself from naughty activities in which I gleefully partook (and most likely instigated). She was the family’s good girl; my role was that of the bad girl. I didn’t mind this too much as it seemed Ildiko enjoyed life a lot less.
Ildiko was an anxious, nervous young girl. At night, when I was hunkered down in my blankets drifting into sleep, she would hiss in the darkness. “Quick, look toward the piano, something is moving there!”
Annoyed, I sat up in bed and looked. It was dark, a faint light filtered in through the lace curtains and highlighted a chair draped in our clothes. “It’s just the chair, see? Now let me go to sleep ” I reassured her.
Ildiko was always fearful that something terrible would happen, some unforseen disaster or punishment for an imagined wrong-doing. She was especially in her frightened glory when we visited Nagyanyu and Dedike in Budapest. There was a Blackamoor Anyu called Dezso in the bathroom. This bathroom was closet sized, without windows to the outside. It had black and white tiles on the floor and intricate pressed white tiles on the walls. The light switch was on the outside beside the door-post.
Dezso hulked in the corner, black as sin. He was an ebony sculpture almost as tall as I was then. He wore a white turban of enamelled wood. His eyes were wide open and fierce. The whites of his eyes were inlaid ivory, as were the large teeth in his leering, grinning mouth. His muscled arms were raised at chest height, hands to elbows, and here the bath towels were draped. His massive powerfully-muscled chest rose from a plinth. (I now know what this kind of sculpture is called – a herm.) He looked like I imagined the genie rising from the bottle to look, legless, hovering with a glamorous, dangerous power.
Ildiko never wanted to go to the bathroom alone, and made me go with her to stand guard whenever she had to use the facilities. This was so tedious!
One day I decided to pull a prank on her. I was bored. On one of her accompanied visits to the bathroom, I waited until she had her pants down and was squatting on the toilet, then quickly ducked out the door, flicked off the bathroom light and held the door closed with all my skinny weight. Ildiko asked me to turn the light back on. I stayed silent and didn’t respond. She pulled on the door to open it. I clung on for all I was worth. It stayed closed. She began to panic; she begged and pleaded for me to open the door. After a while, she began to sob in earnest and whispered in between sobs that Dezso was going to eat her alive, that she could feel him creeping up on her in the dark.
“I know you don’t care. You want me to die!” she accused, her voice becoming panicky.
I didn’t respond. Ildiko began to shriek and wail.
Anyu poked her head into the hall from the salon. “Gabi, what are you doing now? Why is your sister crying?”
“We’re only playing. ” I said, “and Ildiko is taking it far too seriously!”
Anyu plied my clinging hands from the door lever and liberated teary faced Ildiko. She came out of the bathroom sobbing and shaking. She rushed into Anyu’s reassuring embrace. In between sobs and gaspings for breath she suggested, “Punish Gabi. She needs to know what it is to be fearful for her life. Let Dezso eat her now!”
Anyu ordered me into the dark bathroom. I strolled in, full of bravado. Ildiko closed the door on me; complete darkness enveloped me, the bathtub, sink, toilet and Dezso. I sat down on the cool tiled floor and waited. Dezso made neither sound nor movement. I crawled over to where I estimated he was standing and ran my hands over his form. He didn’t budge or waver, and his teeth and face felt smooth to the touch. He did not chomp my exploring fingers. Then I had the idea that I should pretend to be afraid, so I started faking sobs and cries and what Ildiko might think were appropriate terror sound from someone who was being eaten by monsters.
At first, she gloated from outside the door. “Now you know what it is to be so afraid!”
I redoubled the dramatics. “Help me, please! Oh, help!! Dezso is eating my hands!”
“Are you bleeding?” asked Ildiko.
“Yes, yes, the towels are getting soaked”, I moaned piteously, “Anyu will be so upset with me getting the towels bloody.”
The bathroom light came on suddenly. Ildiko rushed into the room to save me. As she realized there was no blood on the towels hanging from Dezso’s arms and spied me sitting on the toilet with my legs crossed and swinging, not a panicky tear in sight, she stopped in her tracks and looked at me with disgust.
“Oh, you are so awful! Such a faker!” she announced as she turned to leave the bathroom. “I want nothing more to do with you.”
I patted Dezso on the turban, and went off to do other things.
Dezso was a sculpture that Nagyanyu and Dedike took with them from the family’s estate in Esztergom, as one of the remaining treasures of their previously rich life. After Nagyanyu’s death in 1976, Dezso was removed by relatives. I often wonder what kind of scary play recent generations of children make with Dezso. Maybe he is given a well lighted room to stand in these days, where he cannot scare young children.