I never knew exactly what was left of us after the war. Or whether we had lost everything.

It was still dark when they woke us up for the dawn attack. We were given a piece of bread, a shot of rum and a couple of rounds of ammunition, though no one knew whether we were supposed to be leading or repulsing an attack. The plan of action was explained to us in detail, what we should be doing when, but by the time we set off I’d forgotten everything. To make matters worse, we were advancing from the west and when the sun came up I was completely blinded. We advanced at a run, this made me think that perhaps we were the attackers after all. We’d been told not to shoot except in case of extreme emergency, because we were low on ammunition. We reached the line of battle but the enemy must have been running low on ammunition too because they did not shoot at us either. We charged at each other. Rifles clashed, we were all running hither and thither, wrestling and battering each other. I didn’t know I could hit this hard. A couple of times I had this thought of running away somewhere, leaving the whole thing behind, but I didn’t know where I could go alone, so I stayed with the others instead.
     This big hefty fellow suddenly turned his rifle on me, I thought he was going to shoot me. I froze, I had not reckoned with this turn of events. But he did not fire his rifle, he slashed my arm with his bayonet instead. This made him freeze for a moment too, because he did not know what my reaction would be, it was as if he had never done anything like this before either. I summoned up every ounce of strength I had, tried to stab him with my bayonet, but he ran away. I could not feel my wounded arm, it was bleeding heavily. Then someone struck me down from behind with the stock of a rifle.
     I woke up in hospital, and it slowly dawned on me that I was alive, and that even if I wasn’t I should count myself lucky.
     The wound healed well, and a week later I was put on a horse-drawn cart to carry food to the others. I was sent in a different direction every time, often I could hardly find them, sometimes I didn’t even know where I was. I was always given the direction only, and a description of specific trees to look out for, by which I would recognize the places that were mined. It looked as though I’d be doing this for a long time.
     Then one time the bombers came at me, shooting as well as shelling. I was not hit but the horses went berserk. The food flew off the cart, I could not hold the horses, they rushed into a minefield. The last image I recall is everything bursting to pieces and scattering in all directions.
      I woke up in a hospital again, and the fact that I had survived for the second time did not make me feel that this was at all final. I felt much worse than the previous time, and as it later turned out some fragments of bomb-shell were still lodged inside me, directly within the pericardium, the doctors did not dare to poke about in there. It was like it or lump it.
      I hadn’t completely recovered when I was taken prisoner. Who took me prisoner I do not know, I did not understand their language. I was pushed into trucks and wagons, we travelled for days. By then I had lost track of time, of how many days had passed. In the camp the days ran into each other, I totally lost track. I ate what I was given and did what I was ordered to do. I did not speak to anyone. I had no personal possessions except for the clothes on my back, or perhaps not even those, and I was no longer capable of coherent thought. I only saw what was directly before me, and only did what I was told to do. Nothing ever changed. I don’t know what happened to the others.
    Later we were told that the war was over. I’d heard this too many times before to take it seriously. We carried on working.
     Time blurred into hunger and there was no sense in saying anything. One night we were woken up and told we could go. They did not say the war was over, just that we could go. Because the war had been over for a long time.
    We set off in large groups, I followed the others who knew which way to go. But after a week I dropped behind, fell into a deep sleep and they forgot about me, left me behind. I carried on but must have been going in the wrong direction because in the afternoon I came to a deserted village, at least I did not see a soul, but as I walked along the street they opened fire on me. I ran about like crazy until I finally found cover. I jumped into an upturned concrete ring. I was in there for three days. If I so much as stuck my leg out they started shooting. Then a man came, looked into the ring and asked me what I was doing in there. I told him. They’d taken out the machine-gunner from the church tower at dawn, he said. So I moved on.
     I had no idea where I was, which direction I was heading in, and whether it was the right direction for me; for some reason I decided to follow the position of the sun, I felt that was the right way for me.
    Sometimes I was given something to eat but most often I slept outside under the trees, and if there was nothing else to eat I ate buds. I could tell spring was coming. In the space of a few days the buds were getting bigger. During the day I no longer felt cold.
     At last I came to a village I had heard of. That was the first place I dared to ask questions. People said the war had been over for a long time. From then on I knew exactly where I was.
     I reached the outskirts of our village, then the first familiar farms. The dogs rushed out, barking madly, I could see people standing staring at me from the houses, they did not recognize me. Some of them lifted a hand in greeting, then let it fall, looking uncertain.
    I could see our farm and I could hear the dog barking so fiercely it almost broke its chain. It was hard walking in the plough-land. As I got closer I saw a boy standing beside the house, calling that a man was coming. I went.
    No one believed I could still be alive. And I hadn’t felt alive until we started crying out in the yard, my wife and son and I. When we had calmed down I looked around for my daughter. My wife could find nothing to say. My daughter had died. There’d been no medicine for her illness. I had survived the war, but I died then. The suspicion that if I had been at home I could perhaps have saved her lingers. And I never knew exactly what was left of us after the war. Or whether we had lost everything. For years I could only leave the house if I was holding my son’s hand.

Szilárd Podmaniczky is a writer and journalist born in 1963 in Cegléd and currently living in Szeged. He has had nine books published; 1993: Haggyatok Lótuszülésben (Leave me in the lotus position); 1996: Megyek egy kört az alvázon (I’ll do a lap on the frame); 1998: Vastag sapka (Thick knitted hat); 1999: Képlapok a barlangszájból (Postcards from the mouth of the cave); 2000: ”…hidraulikus menyasszony…” (“…hydraulic bride…”); 2001: Két kézzel búcsúzik a leopárd (The leopard bids farewell with both hands). His latest volume is a trilogy entitled Időntúli hétméteres (Seven metres beyond time). Awards and prizes: 1992: Szeged City Creative Artists’ Grant; 1994: Soros Foundation Award; 1996: NKA - National Cultural Foundation Award; 1997: Szeged City Creative Artists’ Grant; 1999: Hajnóczy Award, Book of the Year Prize; 2001: Bárka Prize, Déry Prize; 2002: Guild of Dramaturgs’ Award, Soros Foundation Award.

Translated by Eszter Molnár


  © All rights belong to the authors or their heirs. 2004.