Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Eighth Day of the Week by Marek Hlasko (Secker & Warburg 1956)

The waiter snatched up the empty bottle as he passed the table. Light - windows had filled with dirty light. A drunken party entered noisily. Agnieszka quickly took stock of the them: all of them were well dressed and cheerful.

'It's closing time for the night-clubs,' Grzegorz said. He jerked his head towards the new arrivals. 'Architects. They've come here for the last tankful. It's essential to preserve contact with the masses.'

The waiter came up, put the bottle on the table. 'When will you pay?'

'In a couple of days,' Grzegorz said. The waiter walked away. 'Look at them,' Grzegorz said, 'it may make you feel better.'

Agnieszka turned her head. There was a throng at the bar, the mood was that of a joyful morning. A tall greying man with noble features, dressed in a magnificently tailored suit of English cloth, was slapping the shoulder of a youngster who looked like an apprentice thief and talking loudly: 'I'm not a stranger, I was a boy just like you. From Wola. Before the war I used to go to the Roxy. I loved cowboy pictures. They played that kind at Wola. Do you know Stasiek Malinowski from Wola?'

'No,' the other said, wrinkling his low forehead.

The greying man beamed. 'You see, you see. God, those were terrible times. There was hunger, misery. You couldn't even dream of getting a job.' He raised his hand in a magnificent sweeping gesture. 'Waitress!' he said to the girl behind the counter. 'Princess! One round for all. We'll all drink to the working class of Wola.' He added in Russian, 'It's on me.' And, turning to the boy, 'My name's Andrzej, and yours?'


'Well, good for you.' He handed a glass to the boy. 'Here's to you, Kazik. And to Wola!'

Grzegorz rose from his seat. He poured the entire contents of the bottle into a mug, and walked up to the counter. He bowed to a lady in a low-cut gown. 'May I join in the toast, gentlemen?' he said.

'Make yourself at home, make yourself at home,; several voices said.

'To the working class of Wola,' said Grzegorz. He splashed the vodka into the face of the greying man and jumped back. A knife gleamed in the hand of the boy with the low forehead. Grzegorz drew out a gun. He raised his left hand. 'Quiet,' he said. 'Don't move. I won't fight the peasant way. I'll shoot.'

They walked out. Outside, Agnieszka said, 'Feel better?'

'A little,' he said. He put the gun back in his pocket. She gave him a sideways glance.

'I can't say you lack Polish characteristics.'

He shrugged his shoulders, then smiled weakly. 'He said himself he liked cowboy pictures,' he said. 'We must penetrate into the dreams and aspirations of the working class, understand its strivings . . . ' He paused. After a while he asked, 'Will she come on Sunday?'