Marek Vadas

The Escape

translated by Magdalena Mullek

Reprinted with permission of OZ Brak.

In the City of Dance

We really liked the first city on the other side of the river. It had taken us two days to get there. The people were friendly and kept smiling at us. One of the vendors at the market invited us to his house, and his wife gave us something to eat. She made great pancakes and porridge and offered us all kinds of fruit. Then they brought out their musical instruments and showed us how they dance. Their bodies moved in a wavelike motion, but their heads stayed still, except that the dancers rolled their eyes in funny ways. Little by little a crowd of musicians gathered in the courtyard, bringing with them drums, horns, whistles, balafons, and rattles, and they played all the songs they knew. In turn my father sang them a song we like in our village, and they thought it was terribly amusing. One of the musicians was the local magician. He asked me if I had a wish. The first thought that went through my head was that I wanted to be the fastest runner in the world, but then I realized no one could catch up with me anyway and I had everything I needed. I told him to save his magic for someone else. I didn’t need anything from him. I was happy listening to the music and being with my father and Alan.

They offered us to spend the night. As we were headed to bed, my father and I agreed we would enjoy living in that city.

The next day we were invited to visit a different house. But on our way there we saw frightened people running toward the forest. They yelled for us to turn back. We could hear gunfire and the roar of engines, and we saw smoke rising off in the distance. We found a place to hide just in the nick of time. Through the blinds I caught a glimpse of legs in high boots, but my father pulled me away and out the back door, and we made a run for it together with the locals. The children who had danced with us the night before were running behind me. I slowed down so they could catch up to me. Since they had taught me to dance so well, I repaid them by helping them improve their running technique. I showed them how to relax their arms and lean forward. I explained what size steps to take and how to breathe to keep going as long as possible. Three steps, breathe in, three steps, breathe out. No clenched fists, it wastes energy. If they ran fast enough, no harm would come to them.

About ten of us were running together. We stopped on the hill behind the forest and looked back. Several houses were on fire and the streets were deserted. It was not a pretty sight. It became clear they didn’t have a place to go back to, so we ran on.

© Mullek and Sherwood