One day, out of the blue, an Arab appeared in our hall of residence. He had hooked a girl from the third floor. I overheard her talking on the payphone by the reception a couple of times. Shaking with excitement, she was telling someone that she was going to drop out of university and move to the West. He had impressed her with his curly hair, slim body, parachute pants and silk windcheater.
Then there was Nabil from Iraq. He also lived in our hall and behaved as if he’d never left his homeland. He would play plaintive Arab music on his cassette player all day long, standing in the open door to his room and greeting passers-by. He never went to lectures. He got his Master’s in the first year, after a considerable sum of money landed in the university’s bank account. All he had to do now was stick it out in Poland for five years. His life would have been quite happy if it hadn’t been for Barbara from Łódź. She would turn up in Poznań once every six months, driving him crazy. He hadn’t registered their marriage at the embassy and she was blackmailing him. He’d fallen in love before he got to Poznań and now he had to pay the price.
Nabil found out that the Arab Lothario had relatives in West Berlin, including an uncle who owned a camera shop. This made me hope that we might be able to leave our spousal room in a few months’ time and start living like human beings. The condition was that the Lothario would come with us. I was to pay for the tickets. Everything would go like clockwork, with Nabil and the other guy posing as owners of the other two cameras.
Evening fell. I was getting ready to go to bed but Nabil didn’t feel like sleeping. I was already in bed, trying to go to sleep when he told me he was going out to a phone box, to call a cousin in Sweden. All these people have cousins somewhere and they all take one another for a ride, I thought as I closed my eyes. I dreamt that someone was shouting, poking me in the ribs and trying to rouse me from sleep. I dreamt of Marian the vet, his head covered by a towel with the Aeroflot logo. I also dreamt of my wife and my child in a market place, selling apples wrapped in Pampers. At some point I opened my eyes and saw Nabil standing over me. In a voice shaking with excitement, he anounced that the Wall had fallen. His cousin had told him over the phone. I tapped my forehead to indicate he was imagining things. – Nabil, you shouldn’t drink, this is all my fault, I’m so sorry. Just go to sleep, don’t worry about the Wall, it’ll be with us for a while. And I went back to sleep. In the morning I got up and opened the window. I leaned out. The pavement was teeming with people. And the streets were awash with hooting East German Wartburgs and Trabants.
Hubert Klimko-Dobrzaniecki is a Polish writer and poet, author of several collections of short stories and short novels as well as two volumes of poetry and a children’s book. After studying theology and philosophy and travelling around Europe, he spent 10 years living in Reykjavík, studying Icelandic language and literature. Before turning to full-time writing, he tried his hand at a variety of jobs, including short order cook, strawberry picker, clown, and orderly in an old-people’s home. He currently lives in Vienna with his family.
Julia Sherwood is a freelance translator. She grew up in Czechoslovakia and is now based in London. Her book-length translations include ‘Samko Tále’s Cemetery Book’ by Daniela Kapitáňová,‘Freshta’ by Petra Procházková, and —jointly with Peter Sherwood— ‘The House of the Deaf Man’ by Peter Krištúfek and ‘Ilona. My Life with the Bard’ by Jana Juráňová. She is Asymptote’s Editor-at-large for Slovakia and chairs the NGO Rights in Russia.
Peter Sherwood is emeritus Professor of Hungarian Language and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has translated the novels ‘The Book of Fathers’ by Miklós Vámos and ‘The Finno-Ugrian Vampire’ by Noémi Szécsi, as well as stories by Dezső Kosztolányi, Zsigmond Móricz and others, along with works of poetry, drama and philosophy.