After about two hours, I found myself in front of a tall metal fence. Behind it, I saw a few blocks of flats, ugly and
depilateddilapidated. People of different races and colours sat on the benches, stood in clusters talking loudly and walked up and down. Children scampered around, screamed and shouted. A guard in the booth opened the window asking me what I wanted. He spoke on the telephone and soon a thin woman came up, shook hands with me, and led me to a little office. They took a picture of me, fingerprints, and a nurse drew a blood sample from my vein. I got an identity card with my picture and a number. The thin woman told me to go into the basement to get the bedding, meal tickets, and key to my room. The man in the basement was an old German, born in Romania. He had an aquiline nose and protuberant ears, which stuck out of a blue flat cap. He muttered all the time, cursed and croaked over and over, “Germany is already full.” He asked me where I did come from, and when I told him, he cursed and said, “Now I have to feed you too with my meagre salary.” He plonked the beading and the key on the wooden desk, and disappeared behind the shelves without giving me a second glance. As I mounted the stairs towards my room, an acrid stench assailed my nostrils—the stench of thousands refugees who had climbed these stairs for decades, full of hopes and expectations.
The door was unlocked, and when I entered, the four men greeted me with handshakes and hugs. Adam was from Poland, Zoltan from Hungary, Stoyan from Bulgaria and Miroslav from Czechoslovakia. They asked me where
didI came from, and when I told them, Miroslav spoke in perfect Serbo-Croatian, telling me he was glad to see me here. I was surprised to hear my mother tongue spoken so well by a stranger, and it warmed my heart. He explained to me that, although he was from Czechoslovakia, he was a Croat. There were just a few hundred Croats in the land, who had retained their customs, traditions and language. Besides Serbo-Croatian, he spoke Czech and German. He was two years older than I was--a very bright young man, who dreamed about studying computer science, and working for a large American company. I immediately took a fancy to him. He was not only gifted with a sharp intellect but also with good looks. He was tall, blond and grey-eyed, and could pass for a German. He showed me the bed where I was going to sleep, the bottom of a metal bunk bed. The grey mattress was old and frayed, and had stains of body fluids. After my bed I had left at home, this one felt repulsive, but at least I had somewhere to sleep. Beside it stood a narrow grey metal wardrobe without a lock. The room was of an average size. In addition to the three bunk beds, there was an old, wood table and three plastic chairs. In the corner, a small coal stove was burning, giving out the pungent smell of burning coal and waves of heat. The window looked out at the lawn and some kind of a medieval palace, which was under reconstruction and covered in scaffolds.
“Isn’t life strange?” Adam said. Our grandparents and parents ran away from the Germans and Germany, and now four decades later, we are returning to them voluntarily, asking them for help.” He was a history teacher, and in the following days, he told me stories from Auschwitz, which were too cruel to end up in any schoolbooks. “They killed Hitler, and then communism revived and multiplied him(what does this mean?)many times over. He now sits at the helm of every socialist country and believes he and his ideas will conquer the world. We, who do not agree with them, are subhuman and should be exterminated.” I sensed anger in Adam’s voice, although he spoke with calm. I could only imagine how a middle-aged man felt who had lost his job only because he dared to say some facts to his students, which were not officially sanctioned. He must have been devastated when he had to escape from his homeland, and then had to look for help from the former aggressors. It was a special feeling to sit and talk with my brothers slaves and understand them without the help of a translator. Our ancestors have probably talked in a similar way when they met each other during their wanderings across Europe. Even if they had not understood every single word, they had somehow grasped the meaning of the sentences thanks to their common Slavic roots.
We went together to the canteen, which was large and airy. The personnel were Polish. The women wore the thick coats with fur collars and worked in pair with their husbands. When I told them(,) I was from Yugoslavia, their faces brightened, and they piled more food on my plate. Everything inside the canteen was of plastic: tables, chairs, plates, trays, cutlery, cups and glasses. We were served a leek soup, mixed in a blender, which did not taste of leek at all. But it was warm, and I devoured it with bread rolls and a chunk of butter. I was tired and went to sleep immediately. Before I drifted off, I heard Zoltan’s short-wave radio crackling the news in Hungarian.
Student or Learner