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  Short Story III  Page1   Page2
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....written by James McKenna author of  Last Exit from Bridgeton          (order his book)


The Window’


Prague: Czechoslovakia:  Late August 1968  ©

Jan awoke, his hold body ached. He wondered how long he had been unconscious. He remembered the blows to the head, then to the legs and arms; even stronger r blows to the head, then merciful darkness, oblivion.

The prison cell was small, airless and smelly; he had regained consciousness on its only piece of furniture, a small hard bed with a well worn mattress and no sheets. As he slowly recovered his senses Jan found that the smell the heat and perhaps even the pain all paled in the face of an overwhelming sense of De Ja Vu that seemed to pervade his every thought.


He had been twenty-one That Spring of twenty-nine years ago, the same age as the Republic that had in the year of his birth freed itself from the shackles of a foreign, autocratic Empire following centuries of domination. At the time his life mirrored that of his homeland, the present comfortable, and the future hopeful. He had a steady job with a modest wage at a local electronics factory and he had married his childhood sweetheart Sasha a few months previously.


It was that very Spring though that the first totalitarian hordes had descended, ripping up the very foundations of a peaceful existence and settled lives everywhere they went. His parents and younger sister had perished in the Camps. He never did find what became of Sasha, she ‘disappeared’ in 1943, he never saw her again.


He glanced around his cell, there were no windows, a light bulb hung from its socket in the ceiling, beside it loose wire dangled from where it seemed there had once been another socket, the light such as it was, was dim, the walls, greatly in need of paint were covered with graffiti. In the dim light he could just make out words critical of the government. Here and there graffiti relating to the wartime government of occupation could be seen. Jan reflected on how little had changed since his previous ‘visits,’ in the 1940’s and again in 1956. It seemed that in this place time had stood still. His tormentors wore different uniforms, answered to a different leader, and were in theory at least bound to a different ideology than those of a quarter century and more ago but the experience to Jan was identical.


Before the war he had been indifferent when it came to politics, even as the approaching clouds of war grew more darker from 1936 onward he was largely, and perhaps intentionally, ignorant of political matters and political developments. Not until they had affected him personally did that change. Largely due to his apolitical stance he was, apart from a few incidents in the 1940s when he had demonstrated against the occupying power and been arrested, largely spared the excesses of imprisonment torture that had been the fate of many of his close friends. What had happened to those he loved though filled him with a hatred of that regime, its ideology and all it stood for that at the time he thought he could never again experience.


Jan heard the sound of footsteps approaching his cell. He heard the locks been withdrawn and the clatter of the door as it swung open. A tall, broad balding man of about forty-five entered. “Get yourself cleaned up, the chief of police wants to see you in an hour” the man bellowed. “I need some food and drink replied Jan, I’m hungry and thirsty” “You will eat later” screamed the guard. “I need food now” pleaded Jan.

“You will eat when we say so you Fascist pig.” At that the guard struck Jan across the face with his fist.  Jan tried to fight back but he was felled by a series of brutal kicks to his body, the guard then left.


The coup in 1948 three years after the end of the wartime occupation had left Jan and many others largely unmoved. He had had though despite his previous disinterest in politics joined the ruling Party the following year. His motivation was less a concern for the working-class of which he was part of and which the Party was supposed to represent and more a legacy of his wartime experiences and his hatred of the wartime regime. He had though always been a patriot, fiercely proud of his nation. He reconciled these conflicting beliefs of a strong sense of national pride and an allegiance to a Party controlled in every aspect of its existence by a foreign power by convincing himself that security ensured national salvation.


Once again Jan struggled to his feet, his white shirt now soaked with blood, his body aching all over. He was fifty years old, for many years now he had been a line supervisor in the same factory in which he had worked when a young man. He had never remarried, his love for Sasha and her loss had been too great for him to overcome, too heartbreaking. Over the years he had become more politically active at the time of the unrest in the summer and autumn of 1956 and joined a national resistance pressure group, one of many that flourished at that time, demanding democracy and liberty. After that he had been arrested on suspicion of being an “Enemy of the State” on the most flimsy of evidence that he had allegedly been heard in a local café declaring his support for Imre Nagy in Hungary.

He recalled his arrest at 3am two days later by the State police. He remembered also during his week long captivity the starvation, the sleeplessness, the beatings, the torture, at least this time there had been no outright torture, not yet anyway.


It was after the experience of 1956 that his political ‘awakening’ really took-off, his initial optimism about the future having long since vanished he had belatedly come to the conclusion that these new oppressors of his nation were no better than those of the wartime regime. Oppressors they most certainly were. All Jan and his fellow countrymen had wanted was to be left alone to rebuild their shattered, ravaged country, to be able to proclaim their national pride and to be visibly and openly proud of their national heritage. On a personal level all Jan ever asked was to be able to say what he liked, go where he wanted to and to live his life the way he desired, in short to be in control of his own destiny. All these things had been denied to Jan and his fellow countrymen between 1939 and 1945. In the first years after the war he, like many others had envisaged a “new beginning,” the “security” that had been felt even for a brief period after 1948 had been mistaken for salvation, for hope. This mistake was now starkly illustrated and the freedoms, the rights, and the democracy that had taken root in 1918, grown throughout the 1920s and 1930s only to be destroyed in 1939 were once again consigned to the dustbin of history.


It was the invasion that had finally pushed Jan over the edge, finally pushed him into full blooded opposition to these new oppressors of his beloved homeland. Things had looked much brighter recently, comrade Alex had become a national hero, it seemed this time as if a whole new future really was  about to dawn. The slackening of the grip of the foreign oppressor had become increasingly noticeable, with many subtle changes. Some reforms had been introduced, some individual liberties restored. A sense of optimism was now being felt, perhaps to a degree not experienced since the heady days of the young Republic in the 1920s. Many of Jan’s fellow countrymen now, if somewhat cautiously came to believe that their ‘David’ would be victorious and that something they had long hoped for but never really expected was about to happen. ‘Goliath’ was about to submit.


Yes, the invasion, Jan had solemnly watched it from the window of his home, the same window where from where he had looked as the goose -stepping occupying forces of 1939 marched past, the same window from where he had in 1945 watched the army of the new totalitarian masters, their marching style so similar to those of 1939 originally hailed as liberators. Jan had seen them as such. Now, almost a quarter of a century later these same armies were the symbol of everything that he and his countrymen held in contempt, the symbol of their nations’ subjection by a foreign invader. Jan had felt the bitterness, the outright hatred gradually build within him, just as it had in the 1940s. Later that day he had joined a crowd of people demonstrating against the invasion. At one point he had thrown stones at the passing tanks, then, with a few of the he had helped to rip up a giant photo of the 1917 revolution. He had screamed and cursed at the invaders with an intensity that had surprised even himself. It was then that he had been arrested and that was how he had come to find himself in this hell hole of a prison.


He tried to straighten himself, sat down on the bed and waited. Soon the guard would be along to escort him to his next session with the police chief. Once more anger, outright hatred welled within him. Is this what it had come to? On a personal level forced to beg a mere glass of water from his tormentor and on  a wider scale reduced to a helpless onlooker as his country was once more crushed and humiliated by the forces of a foreign power once regarded as a friend.


He heard the footsteps approach the cell once more. The guard once again shouted “get up.” “I need water” said Jan. “No water until later” screamed the guard. The guard dragged him from the bed, again beating him on the face. Jan struggled; he somehow reached to the low ceiling, somehow managed to grab the wire hanging from the ceiling and ripped it out. In an instant he had overpowered the guard, knocking him to the floor. As the guard struggled Jan wound the wire round the throat of his tormentor. The guard struggled, Jan strengthened his grip on his makeshift weapon, in less than a minute the guard had ceased to struggle, he was dead. It had taken in all a matter of minutes.


Jan knew that the guard would soon be missed, knew that within minutes other guards would be along to investigate.

He made no attempt though to flee the open cell. He was “free.”     ©

Written c.1999.


~ end ~

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Jun 2009


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