Translated by Heather Trebatická  
Buko and Forel are already running along the rough track leading to Kurdybanivka. They are hurrying and in just a few minutes they will enter the village, on the outskirts of which they will catch sight of Pepo’s widow. They are running along the wet black path, where their footprints will remain for several months, because the next rain will only fall in the autumn. No one has gone along this path for a long time, which is why the marks made by the soles of their shoes are so visible. Several wide ruts carved out by the tyres of machines driven this way to the fields cultivated by farmers from other villages can also be seen. Other human signs are lacking on this surface. Everyone has left and no one comes here.
            Kurdybanivka is the prototype of a depopulated village, according to which someone wished to adapt the rest of the whole large Halič area or later the whole world. Someone must have purposefully directed and controlled its entropy and attempted to take it to the greatest possible extremes. Kurdybanivka is dead; in it there are dead houses, the ruins of a church and school, untended gardens and neglected orchards. Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and a mixture of these in all combinations used to live here, but they have all gone. Only one single person has remained here. She is an old woman, the executioner’s wife, who no one could assign to any nation, which is why everyone left her in peace. Some neighbours killed each other off or drove each other out during the war, when everyone could suddenly be against everyone else. Then some more were killed by the Germans, who had at first been enthusiastically welcomed by a section of the population as liberators from Stalin. Others were killed by Stalin’s troops and by his regime, of which the Siberian frosts were also a part. Later a few of those left alive managed to escape to the town or  another country, where they happened to meet other people from Halič, became neighbours and thus created a large number of other little peaceful Haličes. In the end only a few old or mad people remained in Kurdybanivka itself, who no one took any notice of on account of them rapidly shrivelling up, but these gradually disappeared too. Now there was only the one old woman living there, whose silhouette in the shape of a large Matryoshka would soon be seen by Buko and Forel. From that distance they cannot make out her colours; from that distance she will just look black, but when they come running up to her garden they will see she is turquoise, purple, pink, dark blue and brown. These colours will cover her in even stripes; she will stand calmly gazing at the breathless aliens with their tiny pale-blue eyes. But that is yet to happen, because Buko and Forel are still dashing along the dirt road that crosses the wide flat black-soil plain.
            It rained heavily in the night; it was the last spring rain, which is why the road’s surface is still wet. Buko and Forel sink into it, the mud slows them down, holding them back; there is every reason to suppose that this plain is doing all it can to prevent them from reaching their goal. Large azure puddles lie in the road, faithfully reflecting the sky above. Buko and Forel take no notice of this water; they run straight through it. Seen from above, the moment they jump into it their bodies are reflected against the sky. From below, they are two little black moving dots reminiscent of tiny birds. The instant Buko and Forel run out of the puddles the reflection vanishes and they flicker like this in the sky. But no one sees this inconspicuous phenomenon. There are only a very few other people doing something in the vast fields stretching in every direction, but even they are bent over or engrossed in working their machines. Buko and Forel are still running, but after a short while they at last come to a halt.
            “Did Žaba send you?” shouted the old woman several seconds after catching sight of Buko and Forel standing at the edge of the cultivated area where potatoes are growing, irregularly mixed with beetroot, cabbage and corn. “Did Žaba send you? Did he send you?” the woman calls. Buko and Forel stare uncomprehendingly; they ask who Žaba is, but the old woman doesn’t believe their questions. “You know who Žaba is, you know!” she shouts, but Buko and Forel shake their heads and continue to walk slowly towards her. Once more their vision is united and, as on the first day of their run, what they see is through someone else’s eyes. This time, however, several different images from the past suddenly merge, overlap and change. It is late autumn, the first snow has fallen, which is why everything is just white, grey and brown. This rolls over into a hot spring, the plants sown earlier have long been sticking their heads out of the cultivated black soil; it is a fine day and the blue sky here looks unchanging and eternal. At the same time it is summer and the sun has melted in its heat. It has broken up to become a yellow haze that has already begun to be absorbed by the vast cornfields, which now shine and will soon be cut by the combine harvesters roaring in the distance, thus creating night. All the images keep changing and clicking from one to the other without any observable rule. In Buko and Forel’s unified perception the old woman appears, accompanying someone they do not know and cannot even see, but through whose eyes they are now seeing the past.  In the whole scene the old woman is here several times at once; she is walking around the village as if showing someone around; she is standing in the nearby meadows, gesticulating in slow motion, pointing to the ruins of houses, heaps of stones, an old well, overgrown orchards, the broken-down deserted school and the bombed church. And now the image stops at one point when the old woman is standing beside a stone wall covered with creepers and into this image from the past comes her voice from the present.
            “It was evening and this house was also burning; everyone had already left it. The whole family had managed to flee to somewhere before lunch, but someone decided that nothing must remain behind them. That’s why the house was burning, its flames reflecting in our windows and the only thing we could hear was the barking of the dogs. We were all quietly watching the fire, when my husband decided to go out into the yard. He dashed out to the burning house, looked through one of its windows and then disappeared inside. The children and I first held our breaths for a second, but then our daughters began to wail and I, petrified, inwardly sobbed and prayed. After a while my husband emerged unharmed, holding something in his hands. It was a picture and he was gazing at it intently as he came back to us while we were still crying. When he entered the kitchen again I noticed it was a paper icon of the Madonna that he had brought out. My husband gave it to me and I hung it up on the wall alongside the other saints. Several years ago, when my husband was no longer alive, Žaba came to visit me in Kurdybanivka and he said he had been sent by a descendant of the people who had fled from the burning house. When Žaba was here for the second time I gave him the icon and he promised to deliver it to the person who had sent him. I know he did do that, because Mary, who appears in my room every evening, told me so. She has been coming ever since I have been here all alone. When I lie down to sleep in the evening she comes and sits on the end of my bed at my feet and speaks. I keep listening to her, she speaks in a whisper and I drop into a peaceful sleep.” The old woman fell silent for a while and then Buko and Forel’s real sight returned once more and so they again see the present day.         
            At the invitation of the old woman Buko and Forel step inside the little wooden cottage. Now they see that the walls of the one, dark room are covered all over with reproductions of icons. There are just paper pictures hanging everywhere – the Pancreator, Madonna and Child, as well as the Madonna by herself, John the Baptist, the crucifixion, St. Nicholas, the archangels, the apostles, other martyrs, all of them. They are all here in various representations, each of them several times; each of the faces in the pictures is now intently watching the guests. By entering they have let in a slight draft that has gently waved the paper icons, making them rustle faintly for a second and reflect the daylight with a tinge of gold.  Now, however, all the saints are calm and their quiet gaze follows Buko and Forel as they slowly walk around the room looking closely at everything. The old woman comes over to a little green tiled stove on which stands a large chipped white enamel saucepan, almost full of yellowish-green pea sauce.  She stirs it for a while with a ladle, which she then pulls out full to show Buko and Forel. “Aren’t you hungry? Will you eat?” the old woman asks, casting her eyes over the unwashed dishes chaotically heaped up on the table. She is looking for plates or bowls in that pile to pull out and serve the sauce in. However, Buko and Forel refuse, thanking her and continuing to take in all the details of that space. The old woman lets go of the ladle and slowly moves over to her unmade bed. She sits on its edge, resting her head for a moment in her palms and rubbing her forehead. She groans, then sits up a little and together with the saints observes Buko and Forel as they continue their examination of the room. And now at last they reveal to the old woman the reason why they have come. They say they have been sent here on account of her husband, who was said to know the secret of miraculous speed. She asks them again whether Žaba has sent them, but Buko and Forel once more deny this, so the woman goes on: “My husband was not a bad man. He looked after his family, worked hard and honoured God. But, he was very quiet, taciturn; he hardly ever spoke to our children or later to our grandchildren; he hardly ever smiled. He was always melancholic; it looked as if something was grievously tormenting his soul. Something troubled him all his life, but he never wanted to tell me what it was and he didn’t even reveal it to me on his death bed. When he lay here ill in his last weeks, he often wept in his sleep. He would shout, get up on his knees, stretch out his hands to stroke the wall with the icons; he kissed them and wept. His eyes remained shut and tears flowed from them, which he said were someone else’s, not his own, and from his throat came painful, pitiful cries that I didn’t recognise. All in all it looked as if he was begging the saints for forgiveness, but I didn’t know and don’t know to this day what could have weighed so heavily on his mind. Sometimes he would even be leaning up against the wall for several hours; I tried to calm him, I wanted to put him back in bed, but I never succeeded.  He would lie down again by himself, always only when he seemed to be exhausted. When his face touched the picture of the crucifixion or John the Baptist, that was when he wept the most. Look here at these icons over the bed; see how crumpled they are from his tears.” Buko and Forel approach the bed to get a better look at the paper pictures the old woman is talking about. They can see they are all wavy and spoiled; they can see that almost everything of significance has disappeared from some of them and it is impossible to make anything out.
            “I’ll show you the only photo of us together,” says the old woman, pulling herself up from the bed with a sigh. She slowly goes over to a shelf on which there are a large number of old letters, calendars, magazines and a pile of black and white photographs. It is these she grasps all at once in her wrinkled, chapped hands and slowly goes back to sit on the bed, where she puts the pictures down. After a while she fans them out and quietly looks at them for a moment before handing them one by one to Buko and Forel. In a whisper she comments on the portraits of her children, grandchildren, brothers and sisters and parents, until at last she says she has found the picture taken at their wedding. For a while she holds it before her in her cupped hands, as if she is holding water she is about to drink, but then she hands it to Buko and Forel. They eagerly take it from her, but the sight of the figures doesn’t take them by surprise. The bridegroom standing next to his young bride has a face they have never seen; there is nothing remarkable about the yellowing snapshot at all.
            “Come and have a look at my husband’s grave,” the old woman says all of a sudden and waits for Buko and Forel to answer. They agree and slowly go out into the yard again, where they follow the old woman, who is walking a few metres ahead of them. The old woman has purposely not shut the door to her house, so the paper icons can fly out. These now keep in an organised swarm or flock, silently floating above Buko and Forel’s heads, because for a while these two stand bending backwards to watch this strange sight. The faces of the icons are turned towards the ground, observing the guests the whole time. After a while the two go on, following the old women; very soon they catch her up and then walk beside her. The flying papers will continue to follow them; they will be above them all the time, creating a pleasant shade, and they will return to their wall only when the old woman and her guests enter the room again.