If I were on your skin I would be a tattoo
|Cracow, Poland, 2005|
is like an aged attic with trunks full of dust.
a city made of ashes, tombs, children playing with glass marbles, old crooked
ladies selling fruit and stores selling products that should be displayed in
museums. It’s a city straight out of a black & white film from the 40's. If
you stop and listen carefully, you can hear slow carriages creaking by,
soldiers marching along the streets or even the lethargic steps of old men,
warm blankets covering their frail shoulders. In this city, you can listen
quite well to the silence. It is trapped by a fence of fears and memories of
those who left, but somehow still remain.
first time I saw him was in Prague at a train station. The second time, in the
cab we shared together to the hostel. I felt cold and numb from the trip and I
remember two colours: yellow and blue. Through the dark window of the cab, a
ruined old factory could be seen with wrecked windows like broken teeth. Within
a few minutes we were dropped in a dark street. It was 5:30 a.m.
|Cracow, Poland, 2005|
We walked the entire morning without having slept. We crossed the bridge that goes over the Vístula River until we reached a deserted park. There was silence, squirrels, an apple and us. His humour, that’s what I remember best about him. We talked a great deal and I found out that he had come on purpose from America to Poland due to intense psychoanalytic work, work that had helped him to discover something important about himself. He said: I found out that, in some other life, I was a child that was killed in a concentration camp during the war. I was just a child. It’s his weeping that doesn’t let me move forward.
I think I must have entered almost all of the synagogues in the city. Once we found one whose walls were wrapped in sepia and black and white old photos of families and children being taken to the camps. In one of them, there was a crying child wearing a thin black coat, and from her lips you could see a scream escape. Although unclear, it was just possible to decipher the barrel of a gun being pointed to his head. Suddenly he called to me to take a look at the picture, and in his eyes I could see tears.
Whether he thought that he could have been that child in the photo, I never found out.
The next morning we took the bus that would drop us in Auschwitz and later in Birkenau. We exchanged few words that day, but I remember him saying whilst we were watching the introductory Nazi extermination video: Can you believe what they did to my people? He stood up and left me alone.
Only a few hours later, I spotted him on the other side of the barbed wire, from where he shouted my name. He came closer to me and whispered: Imagine how many families, how many lovers would have wanted to hold one another, to touch each others’ hands and throughout the years they were forbidden to do so. That could have been us…
That same night, he left. I walked with him for a while in that city frozen in time. The only visible colour was a dark yellow flickering in a fireplace. I thought to myself, it’s easy for someone to feel lonely here. Before he said goodbye, as if somehow he foresaw something, he made me promise him one thing. He said: Whenever you need me, just say my name. And then pray.
My mistake was leaving Krakow during the night.
I bought the ticket, and right after the border control near Prague, the train stopped. It was 2 a.m., and I couldn’t hear a thing. I couldn’t see anyone. I was alone in the carriage. I thought, If something happens to me, no one will report it… Suddenly, someone came down the hall and caught a glimpse of me. He walked over and mumbled something in Polish. He called his friend in the next carriage and he also walked up and down the hall for a while. He briefly whispered something in his friend’s ear then both started grinning. With their cunning grins, I knew something bad was about to happen. And that was when one of them entered my carriage and sat next to me, whilst the other maintained his composure and reserved attitude.
Forcefully, I told him to leave. He didn’t move and took a look at his partner. My blood froze. I knew they were planning something, but there was no one to ask for help. I looked through the window, to the enormous clock hands outside, to a coloured caramel wrapping paper left on the ground, to the railway tracks going in the other direction. The only thing I could hear was the thud of my heart and intuitively I said his name. I repeated it, closed my eyes and began to pray.
All of a sudden, he stood up and left with his friend.
A few minutes later a woman entered my carriage, asking me for a light. Without asking her anything, amidst the cigarette smoke, she told me in a hoarse Spanish accent: My boyfriend and I are two carriages ahead. You are not alone. If you need us, just scream. She winked at me and then left.
After that, the train started moving. I was confused and couldn’t understand what happened, but I knew that something had happened that protected me that night. I never saw the other Polish men again.
The following day I wrote down on a piece of paper what I experienced that night, and I have kept it with me until this very moment. Every time I read it, I feel as if I am sitting at the edge of a lake, enjoying the dusk at the end of an autumn day. And I feel that, even though I never saw him again, this person left a mark on me far deeper than a tattoo.