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Home arrow Goldi
Goldi Print E-mail
by Ewa Kuryluk

– Do you remember, Lapka? – Mother took a small striped sock from her hand bag and a tiny something, snout reddish brown, nose pink and wet, whiskers white, peeked at us. – Goldi! – Piotr recalled a savings bank poster of a piggy bank in the shape of a hamster named Goldi. Gently, he placed the sock in a small box lined with cotton and put the box in a hamster cage. He sat there on the floor for hours making appetizing patterns from sliced carrots and sunflower seeds. – Goldi – he begged – breakfast is ready. – Goldi – he licked his lips – lunch is here. – Goldi – he sighed – time for supper. – Once in a while Goldi managed a faint peep, but he did not appear. In the evening he drank a little milk. – Why is he so shy, Karol? – Mother sounded worried. – He isn’t a pup any more. A three week old should be a lot more adventurous. Maybe he needs something to play with? – The next day Mother returned from the pet store with an aluminum wheel, a special bicycle for hamsters. Yet Goldi ignored it. Was he too young to know what to do? We gathered around the cage.

– Peeeh, peeeh – Piotr imitated the hamster. Goldi peeped, scratched in his box and fell silent again. – Goldi – Mother knelt by the cage. – Look! – she turned the wheel – I bought you a present. – Black eyes, tiny as pinheads, peered at her from the sock which Goldi wore over his ears. – Goldi! – Piotr opened the cage and placed the wheel on the carpet. – Goldi! – he solemnly repeated – I am going to inform you about a very important thing. Here, do you see? – he pointed his finger at a red dot inside the wheel – this is your driver’s seat. I expect you to become an accomplished cyclist. – Goldi’s nose emerged from the sock. He sniffed around and instantly hid, just the tips of his whiskers remained visible.

– Goldi! – Mother leaned over the cage. He shot a glance at her and pricked up his ears. – Here you are! – Pleased, she shook her head. A comb slipped from her bun and her blond hair cascaded over the cage. Was Goldi’s curiosity aroused? Possibly. He climbed out of his box with his sock trailing behind. It snagged on the cage door and in spite of vigorous pulling he couldn’t free it and tottered out alone. He sniffed the carpet, lifted his snout and discovered the shiny wheel. Holding our breath, we watched him, a fur ball not bigger than a chestnut, circle around the bicycle, his eyes glued to it. – It must be a giant to him – Mother sighed – don’t you think, Karol? A monster! – Hmmm – you scratched your head – maybe if he had an instructor ...

Suddenly, Goldi’s whiskers brushed the wheel’s stand. – Peeh, peeh – Piotr encouraged him. – Peeeh! – Goldi brusquely stood up, jumped and got hold of the wheel. But his legs were still dangling in the air and for a split second we thought that he would fall. But no. Goldi struggled, pulled himself up and, huffing and puffing, crawled into the driver’s seat and leaned back. After a short rest he sat up, cleaned his ears and smoothed his fur with spit. Then he crossed his paws on his belly and froze. – Mia – I heard you whisper – could it be that he is able to see himself? – Yes – Mother replied – look, Karol! – Goldi touched the pink reflection of his nose with his nose, brushed the brown reflection of his snout with his whiskers, and he pressed his belly to the white reflection of his fur. But his tiny claws were slipping on the metal and to keep his balance, Goldi had to tread. The wheel quivered and began to turn. – Goldi! – Piotr clapped his hands – you are a genius! – Karol – Mother smiled – do you remember the eternity it took you to teach our children how to ride a bicycle?

The Embassy’s small salon, a useless hall walled with mirrors in gilded frames, was transformed by Goldi into the liveliest spot of our soulless residence. When he was riding the bicycle, making it rattle and sing, his wheel resembled a fur and metal blender and reflections of gold and silver, flashing back and forth between the mirrors, seemed to suffuse the space with swarms of luminous creatures. As you greeted Goldi, your voice assumed an exceptional ring, youthful and serene. – Hello, my dear – you opened the cage first thing in the morning – aren’t you an early bird? – Immediately, Goldi interrupted his washing and rushed out to embrace your thumb with his wet paws. – Good afternoon – you dashed in for lunch – I am back with a little surprise. Come, comrade Sisyphus, you deserve a break! – Goldi jumped off the wheel with a joyous peep. – I wonder – you asked the ritual question – what do we have here? – Trying to squeeze his nose between your clutched fingers, Goldi sniffed at the hidden gift.

– Bon appetit! – you stretched out your hand to make a table for Goldi. He sat down at it with dignity. But since he was far more interested in your company than in food, he took his time peeping, tickling you with his whiskers, rubbing his face and inventing ever new tricks. Before nibbling at parsley or dill, he waved the leaves like a flag. If he could not reach a peanut or raisin even by getting up on his legs, he would climb up, snag the treat, and jump off to sit down and eat at the ‘table’. After the meal, he stuffed leftovers into his cheek pouches, licked the table clean, wiped his feet on the carpet and stood up, his eyes on your shoes.

– How can you even think of that – you feigned an angry voice but stroked his head – when I am starving to death! No way! For now – you massaged his belly – we kiss our champion good-bye. Give me your paw and be back to sports. – Holding your finger in a tight embrace, Goldi opened his tiny mouth wide and tried to stuff it into his pouch. – Genosse Hamster – you erupted in laughter – for jailing the Ambassador of the Polish People’s Republic, you will be expelled from the Party and end up behind bars.

When Mother was in the hospital, you suffered from insomnia and I did not sleep well either. Waking up in the middle of the night, I listened to you talking to Goldi and wondered what he was up to. Was he dozing under the collar of your pajamas or was he licking your earlobe? Or, having attached himself to the shoelaces he had stuffed into his pouch, was he playing ‘pompom’? Or peek-a-boo, crawling under and peeking out from your trouser leg? Or, too tired to enjoy games, was he scratching your leg to remind you that it was time to leave the mirror salon for the entrance foyer? Usually, your stroll did not last long. – Comrade Ambassador – soon I heard you yawn – is an old horse and must stop. Comrade Cyclist, you continue alone. Bon voyage, give me your paw.

– Once in a while you did walk and talk to Goldi until dawn and your voice is still with me today. – Only idiots and cyclists go on and on. Shouldn’t we slow down, Goldi? – You broke off and, suppressing laughter, snorted: – What do you smuggle under your fur coat? No! – you chuckled – you are no comrade any more! You are a kulak and black marketer, Mister Goldi, a criminal of the worst sort. For appropriating the ambassadorial pen, the property of our working class which is sweating to fulfill the new five year plan, your nose – you paused for suspense – will be flicked five times. – Or, after a long silence, you inquired: – Goldi, where are you? No! – you pretended to explode with anger – you can’t be shredding my silk tie again.

Once, it must have been very late, you whispered: – Pssst! The Great Fortune Wheel has turned and here is a question for Goldi. No, my friend, you’ll chew at my shirt later. Now you come out and tell me: when does comrade Ambassador feel most like himself? – Peeh, peeh, peeh – I heard the hamster squeak. – Right – you sighed – your answer is correct. Comrade Ambassador is only himself in your company. Congratulations, Goldi! You are the first hamster to have won a jumbo box of washing powder to keep your pouch eternally white.

That evening (in the afternoon mother had been fetched by the ambulance) I waited for you by Goldi’s cage who like a hero of labor had been spinning furiously on the wheel for hours. His nose was gray and dry, sweat drenched his back. – Hamster – I appealed to him – give yourself a break! You can’t complete the plan ahead of time unless you want to drop dead. Stop! Or I’ll denounce you and Lapka will never play pompom with his Goldi. Come off that bike at once, or he will not love you any more. Lapka, Lapka, Lapka. – Goldi stopped and, listening to me repeat your nickname, he glanced towards the entrance door and his sad gaze settled on me. – Yes – I bowed my head – he may be back any minute – I lifted my finger – you better behave. – Goldi put his paws to his ears and rubbed them vigorously until they turned red, acting exactly like you when you were embarrassed.

Remember? It was Mother who first noticed the similarity between you and Goldi. – Really, Karol – she used to say with an ironic smile – the hamster must be your alter ego. He is crazy about the bike, you are crazy about the printed word. – Yes, you loved Goldi, but Mother knew him better than any of us and didn’t worry when he suddenly disappeared. – Karol – she tried to stop you from searching through all the closets – why turn everything upside down? You must not despair. I give you my partisan’s word of honor: Goldi simply went underground for a while, like you did in Lwow.

At that time Ernst F., a leftist writer notorious for his volubility, brought you a gift of his opus magnum, some three thousand pages bound in cloth embossed with gold letters. The book about Prince Eugene of Savoy was one hundred fifty percent politically correct. Yet you banished it from view, unwisely, knowing how vain and eager for praise writers are. Indeed, the author was soon back, and instead of sending him away you introduced him to us. – Has the young person – he greeted me – also read Prince Eugene? – I pretended not to hear. – Hmmm, yes... – realizing the mistake, you cleared your throat. – You must have coffee and apple tart with us. It’s home made and still warm – you grabbed our guest by the arm and whispered to me: – It's that red brick at the bottom of the linen closet. – Shall I bring it? – You nodded.

– Ahhh, here it is! – you wrinkled your forehead and announced in triumph. – This passage of yours – the writer's face brightened – has made an incredd...ddi ... – you stammered with false emphasis – incredible impression. Come here, my dear – you waved your hand at me – my daughter has impeccable diction. Please read this aloud, right here – you pointed to something with your finger – it’s fascinating. – I approached reluctantly, picked up the fat volume and brought it to my chair when suddenly there was a strange rustling. Red and white flakes showered on the table and a small fur ball landed on top of the shredded cloth and paper.

Goldi tumbled from Prince Eugene while still sleeping. He rubbed his sticky eyes with his paws and slowly straightened up. – Ah, Goldi! – you exclaimed full of joy – here you are! – and stroked his belly. Goldi peeked at you and perked up. He yawned, rolled down onto the tablecloth, and shook off what had been the masterpiece. – Oooh, what has become of my old Goldi, you look like a hunger artist – you sighed. – Come here and try the apple tart. – Goldi tottered to you, gobbled a crumb, stuffed an apple seed in his cheek pouch, wiped the sugar from his nose on your jacket sleeve and crawled up to your shoulder, yawning.

– Dear Herr Ernst! – at last you remembered our guest – you are a witness to our greatest happiness. And the cause of it. Please be assured – you stroked Goldi who was exploring your lapel – that he is really sorry and begs your forgiveness with all his heart. He hid in your great work – you smiled shyly at the author – in complete ignorance, isn't that so, Goldi? – You loosened your tie for Goldi who was busy pulling on it, and he sneaked under your shirt. Ernst F. stared at you, his mouth wide open.

– You can't imagine how we are indebted to you – you helped Goldi snuggle in your armpit – my wife who unfortunately isn’t here, my children and me. Dear Herr Ernst! Please, consider this happy coincidence from a wider perspective, since more than literature is at stake here. Maybe your Prince – you cleared your throat – did not play the role that he had been destined for. But who knows – you sighed – he may have saved Goldi's life ?

– I must confess – you continued after a pause – that I had a similar adventure during the war. Once, afraid of the Gestapo, I slept not at home but in a cellar of a suburban villa. Suddenly, a car stopped in front of it. I jumped out the window into the backyard and hid in a shed. Then I heard a click, the car drove away and all was silent again. Time to leave, I thought. But somebody had locked the door. The night was freezing and I was wearing just a shirt. Squeezed between some sacks, I pinched myself in order not to fall asleep. Nevertheless, I was becoming quite stiff and ... – And what? – Piotr anxiously asked. – Nothing – you calmly replied. – Goldi, you underground conspirator – you scratched your underarm – stop tickling me at once.

– And what? – Piotr, still frightened, repeated. – Something rustled behind me – you replied with a smile – I heard sawing on the wall and a hand reached through for a sack. It had a hole and powdered cement showered over me. Startled, I lifted my hands to cover my eyes and the thief ran away. – And you? – Piotr whispered again. – Me too. Let’s drink to adventures – you stood up cautiously to get the bottle – that end well. – Goldi slid down to your belt peeping desperately. – No harm, my dear – you pet him through your shirt. – He crept to your belly button and peeked out. – Peek-a-boo! – you laughed. Goldi hid but came out at once.

– To your health – first you filled the writer's glass, then mine, yours and Piotr's who sniffed the liquor and winced. – Drink just a drop – you encouraged him – to the health of our dear Herr Ernst. Thanks to him we found our Goldi again. – To Goldi's health! – Piotr exclaimed – and to Mama. She is in a sanatorium – he turned to the guest – she is sad. Because Goldi got lost. – To her health. Prosit! – another clink on the writer's glass – to the health of the author of Prince Eugene who saved Goldi. And to your health, my dear! – you brushed Goldi's nose with the tip of your finger dipped in the glass. Goldi sneezed. Ernst F. downed his cognac and rose to his feet so abruptly that he overturned his chair. As you got up to escort him, Goldi somersaulted out and landed on the table. The writer fled.

Genosse Hamster! – you snorted fighting laughter. – I am hereby giving you – you shook your finger at Goldi – a severe Party reprimand! Are you aware – Goldi pricked up his ears – of your abysmal misdeeds ? First, for choosing freedom – Goldi slowly withdrew to the cake tray – you are going to be deprived of freedom. Second, for shredding a masterpiece of Marxist thought, an enemy act of sabotage – you dropped your voice – we expel you from our united ranks. – Goldi stood up, took a crumb out of his pouch and put it in front of you. – Bribery! – you chuckled and Goldi started to rub his ears. – Self-criticism? – you glanced at him – I hope you are sincere. – Goldi stopped and licked your fingernail. – All right – you smoothed his fur – a very important person is waiting for the winner of our Cycling for Peace Race... – Mother, yes? The next day, keeping it a secret from us, you took Goldi to the hospital.

That evening, as it was slowly turning dark, I thought about the extraordinary role Goldi played in our lives. Was my brother thinking the same ? I had managed to convince him to go to bed but he couldn't fall asleep. Soon he was up again and stretched on the carpet next to the cage, resting his head on my lap. – You showed this uncultured drunk – he waved a bitten-off pencil at Goldi – that you are a true genius. He'll remember you to the end of his life.

Piotr was right. If the Ambassador of the Soviet Union to the International Atomic Energy Agency remembered his visit to the Ambassador of the Polish People's Republic in Vienna at all, the only reason was our hamster. On the eve of that lunch you thought that Piotr and I should sit at the table on either side of Mother. She gave you a sour look but did not protest. The next day she returned from the hairdresser in an excellent mood. Parading in front of the mirror, she kept asking your opinion and changed several times. Finally, you decided on a cream colored suit and for me a navy blue dress that made me look like a child. Piotr wore blue pants with red suspenders. At the last moment, as you changed your dark tie for a lighter one, Mother remarked: – What a pity we don’t have a photographer. – Then she added: – Perhaps it’s better that way.

Before the lunch, constantly smoothing your hair and checking your watch, you inspected our residence. You were as uncharacteristically jittery as Mother was unusually calm. As you announced that you would wait for our guests at the entrance gate, she threw you a sarcastic smile and said: – You’re overdoing it, Karol. – Somewhat alarmed, you glanced at me, I winked back not to worry and thought : the Atomic Energy Agency must be full of real Einsteins. Lapka has no gift for math and is afraid of making a fool of himself.

The couple you escorted upstairs however, did not look like physicists. Although the face of the silver haired man in a gray suit looked vaguely familiar, I was more interested in his considerably younger wife, a caricature of an impoverished heiress from a Checkov play. Her blond hair, already thinning and turning gray, was braided and pinned to the back of her head. Her net gloves, not quite fresh, underscored the unfashionable cut of her worn suit. Her low heel shoes, made of perforated leather with thick rubber soles, were in sharp contrast to Mother's white high heels and reminded me of the stubs of cut down cherry trees.

– Zdarstwujtie! – Mother shook the gloved hand. – Eta maya ... – you began to introduce me, but Mother was faster. – How was it possible ? – she interrupted you. – Your husband was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and you were in a prison camp? – Stalin did not know that – the woman shot back. – Ewa, my dear – you swallowed – why don’t you fetch our hamster. Comrade Molotov loves animals!

I raced to the cage just as Piotr had enticed Goldi to venture out. – Come – I lifted him up – our guests want to see you play forfeit. – I grabbed my brother’s arm and dragged him behind me. – Tawarish Ambassador, look – I broke the gloomy silence in the dining room and placed Goldi on the tablecloth – vot is our hamster! – Goldi, look! – Peter tapped his wet nose with a pencil eraser tip he was holding in his hand – I have a completely new forfeit for you. – Offended for being seized from his cage, Goldi pretended not to notice. His fur bristling indignation, he ostentatiously scratched his ass, spit on his paw and began to wash his belly.

Czto eto? – Molotov bent down to Goldi. – Zdarowie! – you handed him a glass of vodka which he downed in one gulp. – This is our hamster Goldi! Zdarowie! – You poured him another glass and took the pencil from Piotr's hand. – What do we have here? – you brushed Goldi's whiskers with the pencil. Goldi peeped with joy and looked up at you. – A completely new forfeit, see? – Goldi sniffed the eraser tip and stuffed the pencil into his cheek pouch. Transformed into a tiny creature with a long beak, he maneuvered with great difficulty between the place settings.

Molotov burst out laughing so loud that it startled Goldi. He stumbled against the salt shaker, salt spilled on his snout and as he lifted his paw to wipe it off, his beak became stuck under a soup-bowl and he tumbled onto his back. There he lay, wiping his eyes with his paws, treading with his legs in the air and peeping pitifully. – Goldi! – Piotr panicked and rushed to the table – Goldi – he extended his finger to him – don't worry. – Goldi got hold of his fingernail and sat up, blinking. He managed to rid himself of the troublesome forfeit and smoothed his fur. – Goldi! – Molotov roared and raised the pencil towards the hamster. Piotr quickly snatched Goldi and escaped with him from the dining room.

– This is a landscape out of Chekhov – you said a few days later, as our stroll in the Vienna Woods brought us to a narrow path winding through a birch grove. – Tell me – instinctively, I lowered my voice – was his wife really in a camp? – Yes – you mumbled and then added with a smile – the former one. – His first? – You nodded your head. – Mother – I ventured – did not know that? – No, she didn’t know – you gave me a conspiratorial look – like Stalin didn’t know. You can guess why she spoke. – Because, perhaps ... – No, not perhaps – you said – she really was annoyed with me for being so obsequious with him. – She had a point – I mumbled. – More than a point – you replied – she wanted me to not receive him at all. And I could have … at a price. – We would have to go back to Warsaw, I wanted to say, but let it go. A brief silence followed and we changed the subject. The name "Molotov" was not mentioned then, nor ever again.

We came upon another birch grove with a wood bench in a small shaded clearing in the Vienna Woods near Sulz. After your first heart attack, you spent almost a month in the small Under the Linden Hotel. Every few days, Mother with Piotr or I visited you. Usually, we sat in the garden, but once in a while we would slowly make our way to the Woods. I tried not to reveal how hard life had become for us with you not at home, and how much Goldi missed you. Since you had disappeared, he rarely scratched the cage door, and if he did, it wasn’t because he wanted to play with us. He ran from the cage madly peeping and sniffing one corner after another, searching room after room. Riding his bike all night, he didn’t budge from his box during the day. At best, he would take a bite or two, drank water, no longer milk, and stopped stuffing things into his cheek pouch. One day Mother retrieved him from Prince Eugene, where he hid ever more frequently.

– Just skin and bones – I whispered frightened by the sight of Goldi sleeping in Mother's palm. – He looks like a bean under a fur blanket – she sighed – and he has turned gray as Lapka in his illness. For half an hour I tried waking him up. He kept opening his eyes and at once closing them again – she fell silent with worry. – Maybe you should take Goldi with you to Sulz?

– Nothing is wrong ...? – your voice broke, as I took Goldi sleeping in his sock from my pocket. – No, no – I shook my head – he has become such a marmotte. Maybe our trip will perk him up. – Goldi, my dear – you lifted the sock and lightly blew it. Trembling and peeping, Goldi peeked out. For a second you looked at each other in silence. – Haven’t you gotten old, my friend – you muttered. Goldi licked you on your lip, you kissed him on his nose. – Come my dear, give me your paw. – Goldi hugged your finger, snuggled up, and closed his eyes, shivering. – All right – you pet him for a long time and at last he calmed down. – Now open your eyes – you whispered to him – it's time for a little something. Things taste best straight from the garden.

In the vegetable garden Goldi sampled a little parsley but he would not let go of your finger. He was not interested in green peas nor in a stroll across the sunflower, black with ripe seeds. He crunched a few of them at his 'table' later, as we had tea on the porch, after a long sniff put a raspberry in his pouch, wiped the powdered sugar from his nose and, becoming a bit more animated, tried to swing on your thumb. But he was too weak and would have fallen down if you hadn’t caught him.

– Look, Goldi! It’s Indian summer – you hooked a tiny thread to his claw. Goldi touched it with his nose and lifted his head. – See the little spider? The wind will pick him up and blow him far into space. – You smoothed your hair with one hand, tousled Goldi's head with the other, and murmured: – Our hair is gray, moths have eaten through our health. Even though, let’s have an adventure. – You placed Goldi on your canvas shoe which was new to him. He sniffed it carefully, his eyes glued to your shoelaces, his claws clutching your finger, uncertain what to do next.– Pompom, my friend – you encouraged him – it’s time to play pompom. – Goldi stuffed your shoelaces into his pouch and tickled you, safely attached to your foot, with his whiskers. – So let’s start our journey, Goldi. What would you say to Chekhov's little clearing? There are many curiosities on our way.

– Now Goldi – you stopped and slowly bent down – give me back my laces. – Goldi pulled them out of his pouch and jumped into your palm. – Look! – A huge fungus with a hole in the middle has grown on a rotten poplar stump. – Each time I walk by – you turned to me – I remember Goldi. Do you know why, my dear? – you pet him between his ears. – Once I came here at dawn. Suddenly, I heard a rustle and could not believe my eyes: I saw your eyes peeking at me. The nose, however, was different, not pink but black. – A mouse? – I asked. – Yes, my dear – you replied – and as taken with me as I was with her. At first I was so happy to meet her, but then... – Then what? – Then I thought – you sighed – how much those tiny eyes have seen! Clouds sailing in the sky, seasons changing. And Goldi? Condemned to a life sentence in a cage. Today, my dear – you whispered with a sad smile – you shall be compensated for all your years in captivity! – Goldi stood up and peered into the fungus hole. His whiskers quivered and he sniffed and sniffed. At last, as if dizzy, he leaned against your thumb. – Aren't these, my dear, completely new scents? – you asked. – Yet they are as old as the world: fungus, mould, rot. The intoxicating smells of the earth.

We stopped two more times. Goldi climbed the bough of an old cherry tree, licked a drop of sap and pressed a wheat straw, bigger than himself, into your hand. – The working class thanks for your gift – you tickled his belly with the straw – we salute the tillers of the land. The sun was already low on the horizon when we reached our bench. – Ewa, my dear – you wiped your sweaty forehead – I’ll stretch out for a second. Your old horse, dear pompom – you pet Goldi – needs a rest. – Goldi wasn’t eager to be on his own but let go of your shoelaces and jumped off your shoe.

You lay on the bench, hands under your head. Yellow leaves flickered in the golden shine and Goldi looked around with delight. He found a birch leaf with a hole, put it around his neck like a collar and fanned himself with another leaf. – I was certain, my dear – you erupted in laughter – that you would adore this sort of landscape, right out of my youth. Do you know that I was born in the charming little town of Zbaraz in the Hutzul hills ? Your cousins lived in freedom there – you whispered to Goldi who was following an ant – but our paths did not cross. Only much later and far from home – Goldi ventured under a blue chickory plant – did our fates come together. Who would have thought that I would... – Look! – I interrupted you – look! – Goldi sat under a blue flower as if under an umbrella.

I can still see that umbrella, but it’s hard to recall the chronology. When exactly did we visit you in Sulz? Yes, it must have been in September 1962. In October you were back in Vienna and we passed a memorable night together: the precise date can be found in every textbook of modern history. That particular evening Mother went to bed early and Piotr soon after her. As I was brushing my teeth, there was a knock on the door. – It’s for Comrade Ambassador – a blond creep with bitten fingernails sounded more than worried when I opened the door. – Personal – he emphasized and pressed something to his chest to conceal it from me.

– Our top spy in socks and pajamas – I winked. – Code Officer Jarek? – The very one. Has something happened? – You better read it. – You pointed to the headlines, put down the newspaper and lifted yourself from the couch. Goldi peered from under your collar and began to peep when you handed him to me. – Pssst! We have to measure up to the challenge. On guard! – you blew on his nose – if I can't manage the Morse code by myself, you’ll give me a hand, Genosse Goldi!

You came back faster than I expected and sat next to me without a word, a strange little smile on your pale face. Goldi jumped from my palm to your lap. The portable radio you had brought with you played a soft Mozart tune. – So what's going on with Cuba? – I asked. You turned up the radio and came closer to me. – An atomic missile brawl. Khrushchev's gone mad, he is playing va banque. – And Kennedy? – Only the Gods know what he’s up to. We have to pack. Tonight may break out ... – the Third World War? – You were so afraid of as a little girl. And now? – Less. – Hmmm, we fear most what we imagine, isn't that so, Goldi?

– We continue tonight’s concert of classical music – a woman's voice announced. – They want to evacuate us – you scratched Goldi's pouch. – Where to? – Good question. I suggested Mars to our Foreign Minister – you cleared your throat – they haven't seen us there yet! Unless you, my dear, prefer Venus. – Goldi, hiding under your sleeve, peeked at us. – An excellent idea, Genosse Hamster – you pretended to flick his nose – let’s all hide in a black hole. There are plenty of those in the universe. – Are we going to wake Mother and Piotr? – No, my dear. We must stay calm. Let’s not panic and take as little luggage as possible. We’ll put on some additional warm clothes, our papers and medication will go in my briefcase, the food in your backpack. – A thermos with tea? – Yes, and take a carrot and a bit of kasha for Goldi. – His bicycle? – No. – My watercolor set? – No, my dear.

We packed in silence, you your briefcase, I my backpack, drank some Nescafe and spent the night covered with a blanket on the small couch in the mirror salon. At dawn, right after the first tram had passed by on our Hietzinger Hauptstrasse, I dozed off for a moment. – They called the war off – your mumbling awakened me – as of today they called it off. – I opened my eyes, it was already daylight. You sat on the carpet feeding Goldi the carrot. – Refresh yourself, my friend, and go to sleep. Perhaps they’ll let us grow old in peace.

They would not. A few days later a pimple appeared on Goldi's belly. In a week it was the size of a walnut. – Cancer in hamsters living in captivity is incurable – the veterinarian told us and prescribed pain reliever which was to be sniffed on cotton. Lying on this cotton pillow Goldi died in his sleep shortly before Christmas. During his illness he did not leave his sock and was buried, still wearing it, in my metal paint box in the Embassy garden. Snowflakes were falling on the little mound of earth and I heard you whisper: – Farewell Goldi, my friend. – Five years later I stood at a pit that was much larger but also under a birch tree. Snowflakes were falling on the coffin and I whispered to myself: – Farewell, Lapka*, my friend.

Translated by Ewa Kuryluk and Jerzy Warman
With special thanks to Marilyn McLaren

This is the first chapter of the novel Goldi, published by Twoj Styl, Warsaw, 2004. In 2005 Goldi was a finalist of the Nike Literary Prize in Poland.

*Lapka (pronounced Wapka) is Father’s nickname and means Little Paw in Polish.
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