The Delights of Times Long Gone


She was going down a long passageway, maybe in a space ship, her black coat shining in the light reflected from the bluish walls of the corridor; on the ceiling there were huge pipes and behind the walls something gurgled like steam under high pressure. Panting for breath, Andrej ran after the woman, whose black hair was blown in all directions by the cold stream of air that chilled his forehead too. Then the woman looked round; yes, it was then he caught a glimpse of her for the first time. Like the stem of a black orchid. Like Gopi. Ah, India, Mumbai. The astrologist. From a distance the woman really did resemble G-G. Her smile seemed fixed, her white arms swung swiftly like two beacons flashing in unison. For a moment she stopped and turned round, to see whether Andrej was following her; she even beckoned like the girls that hung around after dark in Záhradnická Street. However, G-G was too affectionate, bossy, too domineering to be reminiscent of some streetwalker from the country. Andrej took a deep breath. Gopi needs me, she is running along the endless corridors of a space ship; maybe she has been kidnapped and is asking for help. There is no chance of her disappearing at some unexpected turning in the blue labyrinth, there is no place where she can turn off; she must keep struggling against the same icy current of air that is being driven towards them by some enormous, invisible jet fan. Andrej tried to lean up against a wall, but it was as slimy as the underside of a fish caught on a hook. No, he cannot rest, the defenceless woman in black is waiting for his help, I must catch up with her and support her. He wanted to tell her to stop for a moment, not to be afraid. He was going to ask the woman, to find out, whether she was G-G. Why do I meet you so rarely? He drew a deep breath to give him the strength to run. Above his head he heard the roar of the huge jet fan growing louder and louder –

“Mr. Hybeš ...! Can you hear me? ...Come on, wake up!”

A white figure. A warm hand on my cheek.


“They’ve come... They’ve come...”

“Is that you, nurse?”

“They’ve come…! The Russians have come.”

She hurried over to the half-open window.

The Czechoslovak PRIM wrist watch on the bedside table showed a few minutes before five in the morning. In an hour’s time the nurses would be handing out thermometers in the wards. He leant against the frame of the hospital window and looked out into the street. On the corner of Bezručová Street and Šafárikovo Square a dark Kafka-like monster with a white stripe was making a scraping sound as it attempted to turn around in the narrow street. Sparks flew up from the cobblestones and the night was filled with a rumbling roar. The gigantic beetle was trying in vain to change direction. Somewhere in the darkness above the hospital the whap-whapwhap of a helicopter could be heard. Stars flared up and went out, as if about to fall straight onto the roof.

“Look at the bridge!”

From the Petržalka side of the bridge further monsters with white stripes were rolling towards them. They paused uncertainly at the deserted crossroads, not knowing which way to go. In the end they crawled away in all directions.

“Russians from Hungary? That doesn’t seem likely, nurse.”

The nurse, a plump mother, took up a position behind the half-open wing of the window, as if seeking protection behind the grimy glass. Petrified, she clung to the window frame and whispered, “They’ve come… Good God, they really have come.”

“You should call the senior consultant, shouldn’t you?”

“…They’ve come… Yes, of course, the senior consultant.” She tore herself away from the window and slowly backed towards the door of the room, her gaze still fixed on the bridge full of steel beetles with white-striped wing covers.

Andrej went back to the bedside table and reached out for his radio. A Soviet S1 1X.A. transistor radio, bought on a business trip to Moscow the year before last; it had a leather cover, several shortwave bands and a battery charger. The faithful companion of a patient waiting for an operation. A sonorous voice: “This is an announcement of the government of the ČSSR – To all the people of Czechoslovakia: On this 21st August Czechoslovakia has been occupied against the will of its government, the National Assembly, the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and its people, by the armies of five Warsaw Pact countries. Thus, for the first time in the history of international – “

At that point the voice from Prague fell silent. Cut off. Andrej irritably twiddled the knob on the radio; the latest hits and broadcasts from foreign transmitters resounded in the night, but not one Czech or Slovak word.

In a panic he ran outside into the corridor. Scared patients were sticking their heads out of some of the rooms. He dashed to the staircase where there was a telephone booth, just in time. He always had some loose change ready in his pyjamas pocket. Would it be working?

The phone rang agonisingly long in the flat on the Štrkovec housing estate. At last Fela lifted the receiver.

“The Russians… The Russians are here! They’ve occupied us.”

“Good Lord! I had a feeling…What are we going to do?”

“Look after the children. Don’t let them out in the street. And go to the shop! Buy salt, sugar!”

“I’ll come and see you as soon as I can this morning!”

“No, no, Fela! Stay with the children. Call your family.”

“Oh, Lord!”

Click.He sat on the edge of the bed, his head throbbing. He surfed the waves of his Selga radio. Nothing but stupid hits. And the din outside the window.

Go to the room where his clothes were stored and slip out of the hospital? Run away? Where to? As weak as a fly, with an operation due on Friday? In the corridor the noise of footsteps increased as confused patients gathered there. Dawn was slowly breaking.

Early in the morning, even before the doctors did their rounds, the old man with the wart on his red nose bought several newspapers in the snack bar and handed them out in the wards. New National Artists. Husák in a steel factory. The French try out the supersonic Concorde airliner.

Of course! Newspapers prepared for printing by midnight and dispatched after midnight. The newspapers claim this is an ordinary morning, the twenty-first of August. Prague Radio is silent. Andrej turns the knob. Suddenly he hears the familiar voice of the director of the radio: “We beg you to keep calm and act sensibly, wherever you are. That is the order of the day and of this time.” Bratislava is still broadcasting. Once more the text of the government’s announcement: “An act of aggression... Many members of the government and the Party leaders have been interned... semi-legal Czechoslovak radio...gradually being silenced... don’t allow them to install another government... refrain from any spontaneous action against the occupying forces... help get supplies to the shops…”

Outside, shouting, people going to work, students in front of the university, everyone surrounding the tanks and armoured carriers, arguing with the sweating, close-shaven young soldiers.

“What use is freedom to you?” a young officer with his brigadier’s cap askew shouts in Russian. “What use is it, you fools?”

“Apparently they’re hungry. And thirsty.”From then on no one in this country gives them a crust of bread or a drop of water. Morning has got under way. The infinitely long day has begun, a long as a whole year.

Translated by

Heather Trebatická