column by Jakub Szczęsny from A&B 06|2021 issue
In Uttar Pradesh, the bodies of thousands of pandemic victims stream down the Ganges.
In the United States, another mentally unstable employee shot dead more than a dozen co-workers.
In Belarus, militias put high school demonstrators in jail.
Russia tests new deadly missiles.
Bangladesh is inevitably plunging into the waters of the Bay of Bengal....
Meanwhile, in Warsaw's backyard, Danusia,
along with the lively caretaker Tereska,
are rallying over the withered stumps of a cherry plum tree called an allium.
They stand under my half-open window. The expressions of concern of the two ladies and the rousing birds of spring flow into the apartment on the high first floor. And then there are the sirens of ambulances from a nearby street, the reversing signal of a garbage truck and the pop of coffee racers moving out from under trendy coffee shops.
As quietly as possible, I creep up to the windowsill and sip down. Tereska, backed against the broom, shakes her head disapprovingly, while the graphic of Danusina's wrinkles undergoes a sudden reconfiguration. The lines marking the eyes rub together, and the sash of parallel lines marking the tips of the mouth pulls downward. The facial expression goes from enigmatic to unmistakably sinister.
The allium is growing, and judging from its current state it has been growing, planted last year by the hands of my fiancée at the dictation of Danusia, the self-proclaimed Great Guardian of the Green Yard. Danusia, since she retired, as I suspect in the early Neolithic, has been conducting the neighbors, scheduling field work in the one-and-a-half-meter strip of land stretching along the facade of our cooperative building. I reluctantly admit that it is to her terror that we owe every spring the ecstasy of colors and fragrances of wild lilacs and hydrangeas in bloom, and in autumn the romantic blend of warm colors of the leaves of raspberry and allium precisely.
Danusia has friends, but also enemies, or perhaps rather enemies have her, because the sight of Danusia's low, cuboidal body can freeze the blood in the veins, like the arrival of Buka in the land of the Mummies. Snuggled against the windowsill, I shudder at the thought that we are on the list of Danusin enemies, which already includes our neighbors from behind the wall. A young couple of biologists with two children are professionally engaged in planting meadows under orders from cities wishing to reclaim wasteland between expressways. The two have planted on the other side of the building, where the strip of land stretching between the facade and the sidewalk is a good five meters deep a magnificent meadow of one- and two-year-old perennials that Danusia does not revere. To make matters worse, they have sinned by also planting "these weeds" under their windows on the side of the yard, in HER territory, against HER concept of a decorative garden.
Behind Danusia stand all the elderly residents, led by Marian, a retired cab driver, who not only knows how to scold or throw by the fracas from the yard the drunks who want to occupy a bench made of boards, but also has a hand in gardening. "I'm a Prague boy, but I have a tenderness for flowers," he says. Marian and I once got into a conversation about climate change. He was just weeding his section of a strip of land. Out of nowhere a clump of Danusi appeared.
- Neighbor," she then howled, dawdling at me with wide-open eyes that suddenly appeared in the composition of her wrinkles like magical creatures on the surface of the water in Miyazaki films, "It's all leftist nonsense. Everything is just the same old thing.
- Then, why are we planting this? - I asked innocently.
- To make it pretty. When it's pretty, the soul sings," muttered Danusia.
Meanwhile, the investigation over the corpses of the alycha continues.
- We both know who it is," states Danusia.
- I don't like conflict there," states the caretaker, shifting her body weight from one leg to the other, "but something must be done about it.
- Once and for all," adds Danusia while her hand involuntarily tightens on a small pruning shears, which I only now notice.
[They'll cut after their fingers or worse, I think from behind the windowsill.]
- That's the new one - a verdict falls from the Guardian's lips.
[Oy bad - circles in my head - you will have to defend the bride!]
I didn't think things would turn out this way. Ever since we moved into this apartment in the heart of a complex of cooperative four-story buildings, everything seemed so idyllic. Great layout of square, high-ceilinged interiors, nice neighbors, at least those who own their apartments, because the rest are an anonymous crowd of renting students. Everywhere is close and within walking distance, and on top of that it's a beautiful green yard. And now, please: green, but at what a price!
The chase of thoughts is interrupted by the opening of the stairwell door. Danusia and Tereska turn towards the woman coming out with her Ogar Wielkopolski. The faces are unequivocally hostile. Something begins to dawn on me. The rustling of dogs' paws. A reluctant "Good morning" half-heartedly. Suddenly, as if on cue, the two identical dogs squat down, the light reflects off their satin, racial, coat... Not caring anything about the presence of the ladies, the two bitches pee directly on the dead stumps of the aloch.
- And the honorable neighbor realizes what she is doing? - asks Danusia.
The countess from the second floor sweeps the sorry strip of land with her eyes.
- It's just bushes," she tosses contemptuously in a voice that Louis Armstrong himself could envy her, and then, unmoved, she walks away, dragging both female dogs on leashes.
Now everything is falling into place in one picture. For several weeks now, the vacuum has been pushing into our apartment not only the pleasant smells of bloom to our senses, but also the virulent, hormonal fetor of urine.
"This new one" was precisely the neighbor we called "Countess" because of her grandiose behavior, including her undisguised contempt for the manager of the renovation team who, at her request, turned the interior of her cooperative apartment into something à la palazzo rurale. This manager, an ex-policeman of a fairly non-aristocratic background, later turned out to be a solid professional and engaging talker, whose talents came in handy during our renovation as well. "Countess" passionately hunts, rides horses and breeds female stallions. On top of that, as far as I overheard, a phrase tossed by the "countess" into the phone believes that the writer Olga Tokarczuk is a "Jewocommunist," but on this issue she and Danusia would probably get along.
Now I also understood why "countess" for Danusia is "the new one." The guardian of the Green Yard has lived here since the beginning, since 1969, when the building, designed in the 1950s, according to still pre-war standards, was finally built, giving coveted apartments to members of the handicraft cooperative. Meanwhile, the "countess" didn't appear here until four years later, and never, but never, showed any interest in the garden!
- Just bushes! - throws the appalled Guardian, looking behind the "countess".
Tereska also looks at the back of the receding lady and shakes her head, because, after all, this does not fit in her head.
- What a lack of sensitivity. Blindness simply," the caretaker states.
- To underestimate the bushes so much! - concludes Danusia.
And here I have to agree with the ladies, although at the word "bushes" I get an association with perverse anti-postcards depicting open compositions of featureless bushes. Bushes indeed go unnoticed, and how many different roles they have played in our biographies! One does not have to be a Corsican robber to hide in le maquis, it is enough to remember the "bases" hidden in the lurid groves of childhood, the even more lurid moments of shared intimacy in the bushes along the escarpment on Agricola, after the concerts of the Rite of Spring, summer naps in their shade and those moments of relief when one can just relieve oneself in the bushes! It is the bushes that give shelter to migrating animals, become express hedges that free us from the need to erect fences, produce edible fruits and protect our eyesight from the ugliness of the Polish built landscape. How can you not appreciate bushes! Vivat bushes!
Here the enthusiastic procession of my thoughts is interrupted by the voice of Danusia facing my window. I sober up.
- You'd better buy a fence at the gardener's, so that those beasts don't pee here," the guardian chuckles. - And we'll deal with that one," she adds, looking ahead again.
Tereska translates the broom from her left to her right hand with a decisive gesture. Indeed, silly me, I could have thought of this earlier: fence what we can for the good of the community and for the future of our bushes! Fence in, fence out!
In Uttar Pradesh, the bodies of thousands of pandemic victims flow down a sacred river. In the United States, another miscreant shot dead more than a dozen co-workers. Lukashenko continues to put high school demonstrators in jail. Russia is playing with deadly rockets. And in Bangladesh, rain continues to bang alarmingly....
To preserve the secrecy of further proceedings, all names and race of bitches have been changed!