I would wake up to the repetitive, dull noise of tennis balls bouncing off the paved court in the immediate vicinity – it was placed just across the narrow chestnut alley from our house. It is the only noise i can recall in the Prague’s residential area where we lived, the cars had no business in our one-way street and the whole neighborhood had an aura of a creepily silence.
The lack of noise matched the reserved and distant attitude of the people i’d occasionally meet in the street – albeit they were few; this was a residential area, historical villas were placed in a resigned distance from each other, like estranged spouses – still vaguely familiar, as the houses were built in the same period and quite alike – yet by choice alien to each other.
I never knew who lived in other houses with flamboyantly decorated facades, residents would come and go by their big black cars and only by small silk flags with golden fringes i could guess which country they came from – so far – while looking through the rounded window of my room – i had recognized French tricolor and red Turkish flag with its white crescent moon and a star.
I’ve seen many Turkish flags – in centuries long, fierce battles with Turks, the highlander warrior tribes – ancestors from father’s side of the family – had seized numerous Ottoman army flags and had brought them to the capital of the small country high in mountain wreaths of Balkan Peninsula, the former Kingdom of Montenegro. I counted them, in the museum which used to be the court of our only king – Nikola, they were forty four, forty four torn and soaked in blood flags seized in battles which small nation had won against the big and evil empire which wanted to enslave us, or so i was thought.
French weren’t friends of the teeny mountainous kingdom either – albeit it was complicated to understand why; it had something to do with their keeping our king imprisoned and our subsequent lost of state independence, but that’s all i could understand from my father’s conversations with his friends from the old country.
They would sit around the massive table from black wood in the dining room, only men, usually five or six of them – most of them tall like giants from the perspective of my own 5 feet height, most of them dark haired, black eyed with closely clipped, outlining the upper lip mustache.
Women had no business sitting at the table, their duty was only to fetch the food and serve it as unobtrusively as possible – the men would thank them discreetly while avoiding the eye contact and direct addressing.
I would peek at them hidden behind the doorframe of the anteroom and eavesdrop to the conversations which i understood only partially, it was not the language my father spoke to me – it had sounds i couldn’t pronounce and words of which i didn’t know the meaning.
The wives of the tall men with pencil mustache would also occasionally gather at our home, usually during the day; they would lounge in the salon with rounded windows loosely covered by knitted curtains and the sunlight would make its way through the threaded wholes as they sat in the padded chairs with wooden scroll feet immersed into the thick oriental rug – the sunlight would caress silken wallpaper with miniature pink flowers behind them.
The ladies were highly maintained, which i would later notice to be the usual result of husbands’ high income, lack of interest in domestic affairs and wive’s abundant free time and lack of intellectual curiosity; their skins were spotless, hairs big and shiny, nails meticulously manicured; they wore silken underskirts with embroidered hems which would show beneath custom tailored dresses, they smelled divinely of French perfumes and scented creams and usually discussed fur coats and jewelry with precious stones. From what my mother was tellin in low voice to her mother, i knew it that she was unnerved by these conversations and that she was bored with these women, yet it seemed she owed it to my father to sit there, smile often and keep the conversation going.
But my world was in the kitchen, where my grandmother was, that was the only place in the house and in the entire world where i felt warm and safe.
My maternal grandmother lived with us, albeit in her own world – the house was divided by invisible borders and everyone knew where their place was; my father almost never went to the spacious kitchen and small room attached to it where grandmother lived; she in her turn hardly ever ventured further then her room and the kitchen.
The house once belonged to a wealthy Jewish family and the rooms where grandmother lived once belonged to the servants; from the kitchen there was a door leading to the the backyard and that constituted her kingdom, reigned over with sovereignty.
My father had no business in her part of the house – the food and beverages were brought to him, he never really enjoyed food and little that he ate was served to him by my mother.
He had a schedule which he followed religiously – tea and toasted bread were waiting for him as he would finish his morning toilette; then he would leave the house – and the relieve felt among the female part of the household was almost sizable. Father would come back only in the afternoon to have his lunch, both grandmother and i carefully avoided being around then; afterwords he would retire to the bedroom which they shared with my mother – his working cabinet was connected to it and we wouldn’t see or hear him until the late evening – the time for his dinner.
I hardly ever went to master bedroom and the working cabinet, i had my meals in the kitchen, with the grandmother and tried by all means to stay out of my parents sight.
I wasn’t allowed to bring in friends – and i didn’t really have any, the only children i knew were the classmates from the Embassy school i attended; occasionally i would be invited to someone’s birthday, but wouldn’t be allowed to go, my own birthday was in the summer when everyone was on holidays.
I rarely watched television because it was in foreign to me language – and i spoke two and a half; one with my parents at home, another at school and there was a third language which my grandmother spoke to me, i understood it but i spoke to her in the language my parents thought me.
I believed it was a secret language my grandmother had invented just for the two of us, it seemed that my mother, when addressed in that language, did not understand it; that language had very funny words like gogol mogol – that’s what the egg yolk whipped with sugar, the omnipotent cough remedy, was called; and the clothes that needed to be fixed were brought to a schneider, the shoes – to a schuster and my favorite pastry had its own, tricky to pronounce, secret name – hamentashen.
As i was growing up in that villa, an only child, raised by grandmother dressed in long flowy robes, her head covered, my only companion was a rare African breed of hunting dog, a Basenji named Bongor, who did not bark and who silently intertwined his destiny with mine.
I did not know back then that my father’s family in the old country disapproved his marriage to a woman who wasn’t of their own kind and who turned out to be incapable of having sons, so important for them and their family line; i could not know back then that i was unloved.
Copyright©2012 Lena Ruth Stefanovic, All Rights Reserved