THE HIDEAWAY

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Short story from my volume "The Door and other extraordinary stories"

When the troops of the secret police knocked at my gate, I knew I was doomed. I was aware that this would happen, sooner or later. And yet it was happening today. Precisely tonight, when we were supposed to celebrate… in normal conditions… Yesterday the king left the country; he was forced to abdicate, better said. Lucky me I wasn’t at the Palace, otherwise I would have been immediately arrested. Now I have to run. To hide. If it is still possible…

I’m running towards the attic without taking anything with me, not even the small suitcase, except for the little money I had in the house. The jewelry and other valuables were already hidden, only my wife knows were. Most certainly she will need it. You can never know what times will come, but definitely not good ones. The terror established for a few years, progressively, cannot bring anything else but a rule of terror. The dust in the attic makes my nostrils tickle, if only I wouldn’t sneeze. I built a small temporary hideaway, in one of the chimneys. I sneak inside and carefully close the well camouflaged door.

I can hear them shouting, poking about, running all around. What about here? asks one of them with an edgy tone. The attic… faintly answered my wife. I will file a complaint. You have no right. He hasn’t done anything wrong… Really, then why did he run away? the voice shouted at her. The attic’s door opened with a stroke. Violence… Absurd and total lack of respect… While they are searching for me, quarrying the attic, the thought crosses my mind that it is better that we didn’t get to have children. I’m holding my breath. They would have been the last thing missing from this picture which seems almost surreal, but, unfortunately, is as real as it gets.

In the end, they decided to leave. Don’t worry, we’ll find him; I can almost see his roughneck grin. After the front door closes, my wife starts crying. I can hear her from here. I should stay hidden a while longer, to make sure they’ve left, but I cannot. I have to climb down, to calm her down, and to hold her in my arms. But what could I do to comfort her, when we both know our future ends here?

After a few days of not leaving the house, always with one foot on the start line of my running path, waking, anxious, I decided it was too dangerous to stay there any longer. They would have eventually tracked me down, and I would have gotten to jail, if anywhere. I’ve heard about the beatings in arrest, many couldn’t handle them. So here I am.

At this point my friend stopped talking (I shall call him Constantin A. for everybody’s safety), the young man who had recently been made captain by King Mihai himself, fighter and survival of World War II, a trusted friend, cultivated, who spoke fluently several foreign languages, a hero with whom we should have pride ourselves with, now at his last shift, hounded by the new ruling who wanted his head because he had defended his country and his king, and because he was part of the military elite, which lessened each day, just like the cultural elite, the medical elite and so on. It was like a catastrophe which spread across the country. It hadn’t yet reached here, the countryside, where I had retreated for a while. For now no danger threatened me, I wasn’t a public figure, I was practically nobody, and for the first time I was happy about it. That is why I decided, without hesitation, to hide him.

Constantin A. gave me all the money he had taken. I don’t need them in the cellar anyway, he told me, and moreover, I want to help you as much as I can, so that you can help me as well. It is not too much, he continued, but it will be enough for a while. Afterwards… Don’t worry, I told him, we will manage!

My grandparents’ house, a massive hose, as they used to make back in the days in Ardeal, was fitted with a huge cellar as well. We decided to build in the most hidden part, far away from the last window, to build a small room and a quasi-toilet. I won’t be able to provide more comfort, I told him, but let’s hope it is not going to be for long. So be it, he said, but there didn’t seem to be any hope in his voice. We started working right away, using rocks from the river we built a wall, which we afterwards fitted with another mask, shelves on which we placed all sort of tools, so that no one would ever suspect that there was another room beyond the wall. Raids are often organized and it is better not to take any risks; housing a refugee is a “deed”, it’s illegal and harshly punished. Especially, as rumor has it, since the mountains guerilla started to cave in, and the opponents, caught. We shook hands and he thanked me again. Then I built in whatever contact he had with the exterior, namely any possibility they might have had to catch him.

For his procurement, I built a small elevator, manually operated, of course, which descended and ascended on an air shaft, from top to bottom. In the room I covered the little door, it was painted the same color as the wall, it was perfectly camouflaged so it couldn’t be spotted not even if I would have left it as such, but, for more safety, I covered it with a painting. Through there I sent him water and, three times a day, food – in the morning after seven, before I left for school, were I specialized as a Math teacher, lunch around three, and dinner around nine. I used the same channel to send him books, news from his wife, the latter rarely, because her home was continuously under surveillance. I used an entire network of friends to send her the message “Constantin is well. He loves you!” because I couldn’t go visit her myself, for obvious reasons, I would go to a friend, tell him I had received a letter from Constantin – I always said I was burning the letters immediately after receiving them – friend number one, went to friend number two, who went to friend number three and only this one – more often than not G.’s wife, very close to the family and a childhood friend of Constantin’s wife (many times I would even use more intermediary friends, to entangle even more the path) – would go to her with news, which were every time the same, I would only change the city where I had received it from, especially at first, when he was supposed to settle in a democratic country – he is in Hungary, he reached Czechoslovakia, where he needs to hide for a few weeks, he wrote from Germany, he is headed to France and he will stay there. Constantin had reached, not without crying, this decision, it was better not to expose his wife by telling her the truth. I agreed.

 

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