11. 15. 2004. 16:39

Are you a Jew? (Excerpt)

Gábor Németh

"It's only later that I learn the best. A droplet from everybody's sample is meant to be put in a spider. I was also injected into a spider and they were waiting to see what web it was going to weave. What web my spider was going to weave. If it was going to be nice and orderly, then my conscience is not broken, if jumbled, well then, unfortunately, it is broken, then I'm schizophrenic. "

"Where's the place of things? Isn't it there where remembrance almost like turns them out?"
Vilmos Csaplár

"My father was a worthy man, this is a sentence, I've made it up. He is -independent of this sentence- a worthy man, and this is also a sentence, whether it's independent of everything or not."
Endre Kukorelly

It's coming, it wants to, it would pick my liver, because that's its duty, it keeps pilfering on me, black in the black, prowls around limping, though it's a bird, watching, watching me to find out whether I'm watching or I'm already asleep, watches me sleeping, however, I'm not; it comes during the night, in purple-black, then springs on me, perches on my chest, hugs me with its wings, I don't move, as if I had been tied down, that's how I can't move, I'd like to scream, but no sound comes out of my mouth, then there's darkness for a while, followed by some dim light, as if it was dusk, I'm standing on a balcony, in a city, say, in Budapest, old street, ramshackle blocks of flats, so-called large blocks of luxury flats, if I had been old enough for calling things, if I had known about greatness and luxury, sixth district or maybe eight, I'm standing on a balcony on the fourth floor, no, we are standing, more of us, but we aren't humans, we're matches, unstricken matches, exactly the kind you are allegedly not  supposed to play with, we are matches and we're frightened of something, I don't know, it doesn't turn out what sort of matches they are, what I've got to do with them, whether they're my kin or merciless fate has brough us together, I'm watching the block across the street, it's a ramshackle block with four or five floors, bulletscars, the paint has long peeled off the window frames, the street is quiet, there's nothing unusual, unless you consider unaccountable fear unusual, and then all this is gone, I'm now walking through a corridor, as if among houses, it's getting more and more narrow and dark, but I must get through it, it's dark and slimy, and something unnamable is coming towards me, invisible, moulded from the most frightening things in the world, the corridor or alley is so narrow by this time that I can't avoid touching It, It touches me, unspeakable, then I get away, step onto a vast, bright area, it's like a flying field, there are no boundaries, incredible crowd, as if the whole world had been invited to a ceremony, we're standing round something, I've got to go somewhat closer because I can't see it clearly, a huge creature, winged like a dragonfly, made of light, it eminates unaccountable peace, the sky reflects it , we're no longer matches but bright shadows, the tranquility emineted by the creature is just as unaccountable as the fear on the balcony, maybe that's why I get back there, because of unaccountability, something comes from behind the block across the street, it is what we were and are still afraid of, it's coming slowly but irresistibly, the purple dusk shades into red, and at that moment the house begins to move, rises, as if in a dream, I could write if we weren't right in a dream, it shudders, rises and falls apart, if you've seen a house explode, you know what it's like, I haven't seen such a thing before, I'm a child, and still I know it, the house rises and for a second it remembers times past, everything is motionless during the explosion, and falls apart only after the explosion, according to the laws of physics, that's the way the house exploded, without a single sound, in perfect silence, it fell down, and then what destroyed it appears from behind, a gigantic metal ball, no, like the front of a locomotive, as if it wasn't a ball, rather something else, what's this, it also seems to be made of light, but if the other creature was of gold, well then this is of silver, or rather, mercury, mercury brother of the golden creature, mercury is even more merciless, it's like the end of a thermometer, I have no words for it, it's coming, approaching closer and closer, till I can smell the cold metal, it's coming until finally there's ultimate darkness.

That's what it's like from the inside, but what is it like seen from the ouside.

From the outside, it makes me give out that sound, at last, waking my father and mother, they switch on the light, rush to me, hug me, but I desperately want to get out of their embrace, I'm sitting in my cold urine, in my crumpled, dripping sheet, screaming, no, don't do it, go away, I push them from my side, and I'm frightened of them with my eyes open. I'm frightened of the people I'm made of. My eyes are open but, obviously, I can't see anything.

That's what it's like seen from the outside, I was told later.

I keep doing this till I'm taken to hospital, the same show for nine or ten nights, night after night, the same dream ten times. And my head aches during the day. The child has a headache during the day. So much so, roughly, that the idea of suicide comes to my mind, not out of self-pity but as a practical solution, evidently, with the head the pain would also be gone, and that's the aim of it all. For example, jumping out of the window and breaking my head underneath. Down there where I often throw money wrapped in paper to the old man playing the violin, the concrete is quite hard, my head would surely break there, and all the pain would spill from it.

They don't break it but examine it. My Darling, the Apple of my Eye, his head is examined. Devil of a darling, shrunken apple. Bless my Heart. Heim Pál children's hospital. Dr Mihály Bogárdi refers me there. In return, I'll give him a samisdat ten years later. The samisdat is ugly, light green paperback, bound with winged paperclips, and there's a number sprayed on it with silver stove polish. I deliver the Speaker, I'm a delivery-man, and Dr Bogárdy is right on my route, I stuff it into his letter-box. Earlier I kicked him in the stomach because he wanted to examine my ears. There are colourful wooden toys in his surgery , and old magazines, he determines what is to be done, example, the child must give up swimming. Or the child must be taken to Heim Pál and have his brain examined. Heim Pál is a fine place, I know it from earlier.

I was taken into hospital in a green ambulance.

Or was that at another time?

And was I taken somewhere else?

Father is running with me in his arms.

That's the way I'd hold him, in my dreams, thirty-three years later. He had been dead for two weeks, and at once, three dreams came, I had to wait longer with my other departed, sometimes years, or even that wasn't enough, - I can't dream about my grandfather, for example, however, once in so-called reality, in the real Pannónia Street he was coming towards me in his familiar long leather coat lined with sheepskin, he had been dead for ten years then, yet I nearly called out to him-, the dreams came almost immediately after my father's death, and no less than three dreams during a single night, the first was some boxing event, father used to do box-fighting, at a young age, but in my dream he was just as old as when he died, old box-fighter, sixty-nine years old, dusky lights of the 50's cast on him, you could eat Frankfurter sausages in the buffet in the Sport Stadium, in the breaks of the championship, soaked paper plates with leftovers, always there's a woman screaming, they want blood, but it's missing from my dream, there's a funny silence, my father is fighting a fat, faceless man, they're not in the same weight category, I'm about to shout to them that it's not fair when the fat young man knocks out my father, some people jump in the boxing ring because something's wrong, they're going to re-animate, my father looks into my eyes, lies on the floor, raises his head a little bit and keeps looking in my eyes, coldly, watchfully, as if there was something I could do; in my second dream we meet at a corner, there's a stop for tram No2 there, we hug each other, it's clear somehow that this is our last hug, it seems, however, I'm hugging his suit merely, that's what I'm holding in my arms, as if I was on the way to the cleaner's with it, there's so little flesh in that material, he slips away from it, and there, beyond the corner, I have the feeling he's fallen over, fallen over, hidden by the building, I run to the spot, but he's nowhere to be seen; in the third dream it's autumn, Pannónia Street is a wet, black avenue, silver coins are falling from the sky, this is not a metaphore, mind you, I ask my daughter's mother, the woman I live with, what's this?, she says, usually about six-hundred-thousand Hungarian Forints fall from the sky whenever this happens, but then why don't we pick them up, I look at her and with that I kneel down, and she helps me, out of pity, there are one-thousand-forint coins even, I had had no idea about it before, one-thousand-forint coins?, further away there's a block of flats, with my father's flat, where I used to live and will live, and will move from, five floors, nobody in the windows, what will they say, if somebody looks out of the window still and sees what my father's son is doing.

Father' running, down the stairs, with me in his arms, there's a flickering light at the turnuing, he's running down, because - though the ambulance has already arrived - his saves time, they put me inside, green ambulance, the children will also be green, green with envy when I tell them about it in the kindergarden, suspected diphtheria is looming over me, or to call it by the nice wording learnt later from [1]Ferenc Móra, it's the spectre of croup.

I'm placed in a private ward.

You'll be placed in salty water, you'll be taken out later.

Private ward, I'm all alone, separated from the neighbouring private ward by a glass wall, that ward is separated by a glass wall from the next one, a row of wards separated glass walls, the're becoming blurred in the distance but I can see quite far away, the ward next to me is not occupied, in the next one there's a girl with black hair, crying all day long, looking in my eyes only now and then. These people here can't do anything about crying. I try to stop it through two shields of glass. I can hardly manage. At such times, she looks over here, looks into my eyes for a little while. Sometimes they come in and run a needle into my thigh. The nights are by far the worst, there's a blue light on over the door, there's silence, and I keep trying to call my mother in vain, she doesn't come.

Yet this is not what Heim Pál hospital really is like. It's the Heim Pál hospital when they promise to take me to an examination, and then my clothes disappear somehow, and it turns out that my tonsils would be removed right away. There's lots of fli-flam here, I better watch out, who knows what's going on behind the scenes, what they're up to. You're connected with the doctor by a rubber sheet, and he scrapes a piece out of you onto that, but before he would do it he pushes into your mouth a chrome muzzle guard, which tastes horrendous, in vain do you try to let them know that with dogs, for example, that thing is placed on the outside, on their muzzle, isn't this here a fatal misunderstanding, isn't this person, by any chance , a novice exercising over you, but what a pity, it somehow doesn't come to his mind whether it then goes inside or outside, because he was ill when this was taught in the lesson, and now it would be rough to ask from an older person, instead, he pushes the chrome muzzle guard into your mouth and through it he scrapes out of your throat your parts deemed redundant onto a disgusting rubber sheet. You aren't allowed to speak after that for about two days, but it's compulsory to eat get-well ice-creams. Somebody keeps annoying me until in the afternoon of the first day I give a yell, or rather, I just would give a yell, because instead of words warm blood gushes forth from my mouth. Now, this is Heim Pál hospital, put that in your pipe and smoke it, as they say.

I'm going to hospital.

Whenever somebody goes to hospital it's like a visit to the Palace of Mirrors. They take a look around and see themselves everywhere but they don't realise this; this one is taller, that one is fatter, everybody is distorted, why should they recognise themselves? My mother was placed in a room with four beds in Kékgolyó Street, she was waiting to be operated, waiting for them to arrange it somehow that she could still live for a little while, waiting for the obstacles to be removed from inside her. Everyone else, all her three room mates believed that they were hospitalised as non-cancer patients in the hospital for cancer patients due to what can be called a peculiar and lucky coincidence of circumstances. This is the only place in the country where they have that certain machine, good old Violet works here and she can have a look at her every day, my man with his bad leg can get here in no more than two minutes, food's ambrosial, whatever. The most primitive excuses are made up and the patients willingly believe them, they lie in their beds peacefully, keep looking around, look around but don't realize what's up, who they are surrounded by and if by such people then, in fact, who could they themselves be. One of the best oncologists in the country, they're duped with these fine words until the day they die, and they believe they don't have cancer just as long as they need to believe it, because later they don't have to believe anything else any more.

I didn't recognise myself as I looked around.

Given that all these people here are lunatic.

All right, not all of them are mad, some of them are merely very seriously ill, they don't really have their wits about them, something has taken their wits, at least didn't leave it with them.

"Harun al Rashid had the habit of putting on a disguise and while walking with his Grand Visier in the town, he would mingle with his people. On that night, too, this is what the wise caliph was doing. As they were walking the streets, the noise of some children struck their ears in a suburban alley. They saw a group of boys absorbed in playing."

They're loafing in their awkward flannel pyjamas on the corridors, pressing silk-paper on a comb, trying to make music, they're shouting and roaring with laughter, or they don't give a sound at all.

The child is born, like anyone else, beauty and benevolence is planned, the child is meant to have them by those who made him without suspicion, and five years hardly go by when the child's sitting here under the table, in the Heim Pál Children's Hospital, in the secured space marked by the white table legs, the floor and the surface of table, he doesn't touch the invisible walls of the cube marked by the legs serving as its invisible edges, he's sitting inside and wouldn't chance to reach out, he doesn't reach across that invisible membrane into the empire of the enemy, because if he would reach out, reach across, these or -looking from there- those would obviously bite off his hand. He has sat in the cube, his own cube, and has taken some cubes with himself, because only the cube is probable, apparently, this is the only friendly shape, the cube hasn't betrayed him in his infinitely long life. Nice, colourful wooden cubes, he's playing with them, but it doesn't look like playing at all, it looks more like fulfilling a certain task, as if he was singled out for a highly responsible job. Suitable person for a delicate task. A voice told him to build tombs. He built tombs in the cube all day long, first the grave or what is it, then the cross onto it, a little tomb maker, he was cursed with this.

Who would dare to think when they look at him, as if in a mirror that ah, yes, that's it, I'm just like him.

I thought, who you are is something that can be seen.

What you're made of, what you're like, what you can be used for.

They take a look at me, they may be ignorant but they surely notice this and that. My noble beauty and how goddam brainy I am.

They don't. They don't recognise me. They don't recognise the divine Harun al Rasid. Although they spend a lot of time dealing with me. Sugary voice, and I'm asked about my family in the that sugary voice. We do various exercises, immensely simple, shamefully simple exercises, they're so simple that by the time they're set, they're solved already, it's only because I can't believe my eyes why I don't solve them while they're still in the air, falling from the envelope. Black labyrinth, they say it's a park, and imagine you go to play in the park, you often  play in the park, don't you?, there you go. The ball has rolled among the bushes, and I'll have to find the way to it. But there's no question of searching simply because the only way can be seen, the only possible solution can bee seen on the sheet, for not to be able to see it I should close my eyes. I see it and show it, they're taken aback by surprise. They just looked at me and supposed I would slaver for hours in my effort or what?

Do they take me for a fool?

"How a man becomes a useless being, somebody who can no longer be taken into consideration as a man."

They test me with other elements.

For example, they cut up a picture in seven pieces, put them in an envelope, then they're fussing with taking them out again and scatter them in the air, already as the pieces are falling it can be seen what is pictured, hurdling in the horse-race, a yellow horse is jumping with a colourful horseman, in front of raving spectators, I do the jigsaw to make them happy, I'm generous, I don't take offence and ask for my gown but arrange the pieces of the picture. They're virtually rapturous, you can see that they'll talk about it at home, they sit down for dinner, put down the fork, lean it against the rim of their plate, and tell them they got a genious in the hospital.

I'm in my haughty period.


I don't mingle, I come and go among them silently, like an Indian prince. Like a would-be Pharaoh. It hasn't turned out yet that I'm a secret Jew. "What an outrageous thing the Lord invented here, I thought, what a repelling demonstration of human misery this is." I'm taken in a room, I have to lie down on a bed, I'm given a rubber cap, but don't you think of going out in the rain in that kind of cap, because you'll get soaking wet, it's more like a net, not a cap, they put some sticky stuff with a wooden stick under each injunction of the rubber threads, odious goo, there's a small piece of metal sticking out from each junction, and into those they stick small wires, colourful wires, your brain is conducted to a machine through wires, you're lying on the bed, not allowed to move, you have to close your eyes and relax, don't flex a single muscle, and then the machine will be able to draw what there is in the very centre.

At last, they've found the solution, exclusion of subjective factors on a scientific basis. They'll look at the sheet, at the nice, orderly lines, and they'll see there's nothing the matter with me. All right, I get headaches, they should give me some medicine for that, and do away with my dream. Chase away that ugly bird from my chest. Isn't this what you're here for? If you can draw such a beautiful thing with your brain how could you possibly be ill.

I'm not crazy.

I'm just surrounded by crazy people.

They're so crazy that they jabber, they say, for example, that I'm going to get a lumbar puncture, and I'm sure gonna shit bricks, the lumbar puncture will be so bad. That such a bad thing has never happend to me. Somewhere they got hold of a long hollow needle, this crazy child's eyes are shining, and shows how long it is -I can tell you, so long needles just don't exist, but I let him keep talking, this crazy boy, if it makes him happy, they got hold of a needle, he says, and they thrust it into your spine, and draw off the water from your brain through it.

At that point it wasn't in their plans yet.

There's water in the brain of those who have hydrocephaly, obviously, I understand that the water should be drawn off their wet brain, but why from so far, why from below, it's beyond me.

But then somebody is taken for a lumbar puncture and is brought back, too, unfortunately, they show us what it's like. So, he's put on the bed, he's unconscious, pale, his pillow is taken, he has to lie horizontally. He rattles now and then, makes a move, he doesn't come round for one day.

I'm beginning to believe that crazy boy.

I believe the lumbar puncture, for example.

The next day somebody in white opens into my room, and I can see in his eyes that my time has come. I pretend to take on my slippers, kneeling position, the Hungarian racer didn't beat the gun, ladies and gentlemen, he got off the mark splendidly, I get off the mark and run past him, with a fine movement I avoid his counter-action coming too late. I'm running. Through the corridor, down some stairs, where's the exit. That fool has escaped. This blinking idiot thinks it's just as easy as that to escape from here. In pyjamas with the hospital's seal on them. He'll be caught at the first corner.

I'm running with all my strength, I wonder what my fraction time could be, I bet it's pretty good. They're bigger and sure they catch me. I'm fighting, it's hopeless, I can't get away. They tear my clothes off, seat me on a bed, and I see the needle, so long needles do exist, the crazy boys didn't lie. I resist by straining my muscles, all my body. Break it in me, you bastard, if you want my brain-water so much.

Crazy people and children tell the truth.

What with if it's a child who is crazy, a crazy child.

He told me in advance, the crazy child, I just didin't believe him first, and here I am, lying in bed, a living dead, my pillow has been taken, I can't move my head. If I moved, I'd tumble down through my lips, I'd drip down on the floor beside myself. Some more pain has come somehow, these people don't draw anything from anywhere, or even if they do, they pump some more pain in you in return through their long needle.

It lasts for a day, but it seems longer. Somewhat longer. I'm seated on a chair during visiting hours so that my mother wouldn't be frightened very much. She's not allowed to come in, watches me through the glass door, they tell her something, her eyes are filled with tears, I try smiling so that se wouldn't be so scared, wouldn't be do sad. In reply, she does something incredible, something that reminds me of the sweetly innocent world of the adults, which I left at least a week, that is centuries ago.

She takes off her small shawl and makes a rabbit from it.

The rabbit's head is a knot, the two angles of the shawl are the ears, it's a puppet in her hands now, she sends her love, across the glass, with a puppet show, because that's all she's allowed to do.

She's doing a puppet show and smiling, with the same smile she would wear in the IUC of the by now also non-existing Ambulance Hospital in Szobi Street, thirty years later, she was no longer scared of anything, regained her youth, her hair has grown and she lost weight, she grew old in her death to be my beautiful young mother, she said farewell with the smile of those dying of lung cancer, the machines watching her no longer annoyed her, she didn't complain about the strange power prescribing the watch any more, she just smiled, sat up and said good-bye smiling, clearly she was aware that it's for the last time, that she would die at the dawn of the next day, so she made her last smile look extraordinarily beautiful, just like it was thirty years before on the other side of the glass door.

She makes a rabbit from her shawl, plays a little puppet show and then leaves, and she'll cry in the street, cry for her son, for me, who perhaps will never be cured.

My heart goes out for her.

Would, if I had one.

I could have one, but I don't, once I used to have one and now I don't, the needle has drawn it off too, together with my brain. They draw off your heart and examine it, allegedly, several thousands of illnesses can be spotted that way, it really sounds as if the illnes would get out of your body, it would be taken out with that needle, and good-bye. The illness is put in a bottle, is spotted and mixed with all kinds of stuff, it'l become red or blue, and then you'll get that kind of pills, I think, they give it back to you with the pills.

I learn the best only now. A droplet from everybody's sample is meant to be put in a spider. I was also injected into a spider and they were waiting to see what web it was going to weave. What web my spider was going to weave. If it was going to be nice and orderly, then my conscience is not broken, if jumbled, well then, unfortunately, it is broken, then I'm schizophrenic.

Spiderweb stretching between two bushes, the most wonderful construction in the world that has ever been invented, the dew sits still on it, the drops are glittering in the backlight, the spider is sitting in the middle.

It would be a shame to tear it up.

Translated by Bernadett Farkas
This translation is the winner of the second prize in HLO's translation contest.


[1] Ferenc Móra was a Hungarian novelist. The hero of one of his best known novels is a little boy, who dies in diphtheria, then called croup.

Tags: Gábor Németh