At Levice station, I got off the bus and climbed into a little lorry which stank of diesel and mouldy work coats. My father was sitting at the wheel.
“How long have you had a truck licence, Dad?”
“What’s that to you? Have you brought some old clothes? Get changed – and look sharp!”
My father put the lorry into first gear and it roared away. There was another, older man in the cabin, with hedgehog eyes, looking around nervously. He didn’t shake my hand, just stared out of the window and fidgeted on his seat. I didn’t like the edginess coming off him and knew I’d have to be on my guard with such a person.
He said nothing the whole way.
The lorry stopped in some bushes close to the building site in a place out of view. Mario the Magyar was already waiting there together with a tall, pock-marked friend. Mario was a young lad in a baseball jacket who looked like a character from a Romanian crime series. An experienced thief, he supplied Dad and Lacko with stolen goods. He treated my father like God and did everything he wanted him to. Father had no regard for him, however, but knew he had his uses.
“What are you sitting there for? Have you opened it yet?”
Mario jumped to his feet. He was holding a metal jemmy in his hand and waving it in front of his face.
“Of course, Pišta! We’ve opened all the doors and are waiting for you. We didn’t know what to do next.”
All the doors had had their locks broken but their jambs were damaged.
“Did you have to fuck up the frames like that? Is this your first time or what?”
He was in a foul mood. I had no idea why.
We took out all the tools: spanners, hammers, axes, saws for wood and for metal. Father gave orders and saw we got to work. First we removed the doors and windows and loaded them on to the back of the lorry. Then we sawed up the wooden rafters the roof was nailed to, ripped out the cables and bit by bit dismantled the roof. Then we started work on the partitions. It went surprisingly quickly; the building really was an assembly kit. The bloke with hedgehog eyes jumped with fear every time he heard something suspicious and then took a gulp from his hipflask. He was no handyman and Dad eyed him with the contempt he’d show towards some rotten food. He had to keep badgering the man. I couldn’t understand where he had found him – at the station bar most probably. Mario and his pock-marked friend could doubtless feel that Pišta was not in his element and were working like devils. I kept quiet and toiled away next to Dad, removing the large screws that were holding the roof together. But I didn’t like it there at all. I didn’t like the group we formed, didn’t like my father’s mood and didn’t like the tense atmosphere. I looked at those two worthless dropouts whispering to each other in Hungarian and glancing up at Dad every minute. I kept an eye on that untrustworthy station bum with the animal eyes; I never once turned my back on him.
Suddenly we heard the sound of a car. We all stopped working and crouched on the ground. Father stubbed out a cigarette and, comically bending forward, ran to the lorry. Next to it stood an old station wagon. The sound of the engine ceased and the lights went off. The gipsy, Lacko, stepped out of the car and exchanged some words with Dad though we couldn’t hear what they said. I turned back to my work and had removed two more screws when I heard a quarrel break out. Mario, his pocked friend and the Hedgehog Eyes all stood and looked in that direction. In the darkness beyond the weeds, we could see two figures standing opposite one another.
“Fuck it!” I heard, though did not know who from. “I tell you, just keep out of it!!!”
At that moment I saw Dad receive a punch to the belly and then double up. A moment later he jumped back up and thumped Lacko twice in the face. Lacko disappeared beneath the car and Father went after him. I ran up towards them. Father noticed it, left the gipsy and walked some steps towards me.
“Go back. It’s ok.”
“Are you sure?”
“Do what I tell you, all right. Go back!!!”
He spoke slowly and emphatically.
We stood about thirty metres away and I could see how Lacko picked himself up from the ground and was now pointing at Dad. They didn’t move and their silhouettes looked menacing against the evening sky: one tall, thin and bent forward after a blow to the belly, the other small and robust with an index finger pointing threateningly. The station wagon formed a dark, indeterminate mass. The two stood there like paper cut-outs for what seemed an age. Adrenalin, anger and fear were consuming me.
Finally the car door slammed, the engine started and the gipsy Lacko left without a word.
Father came back to us.
“So what is it, for fuck’s sake? Don’t just stand there gawping, we’ve got to finish the job!”
Of the building, four walls remained. We had to take off the crossbeams, lie them on the ground, break them up and load them onto the lorry. Time was short. The wind was picking up and dusk making things less distinct. We had all had enough and wanted to be done with it.
Mario climbed up, sat across a crossbeam and loosened it. His friend did the same on the other side. It was a bad move. There was a terrible cracking sound. I jumped backwards and crashed into a heap of chipboard panels. I then watched as the wall, together with Mario on it, fell to the ground. There was a thud and a terrible yelp. For a moment it was chaotic; then we all jumped in, grabbed the heavy wall and lifted it. Father slowly dragged the howling Mario out from under it. We then let the partition crash back to the ground. Dad let fly.
“Stop bleating, for fuck’s sake!! Do you want someone to come out?” Mario clenched his teeth and finally stopped howling. “Why did you loosen it from beneath you? Don’t you think or what?”
“Sorry Pišta.....bazmeg! Oww!!”
“Everything’s fucked up…” I said. Father shrugged his shoulders, lit Mario and himself a cigarette and nodded his agreement.
There was nothing to be done. The work brigade was at an end. Mario’s leg was shattered. He sat leaning against the wheel of the lorry, holding a bottle of vodka and a packet of cigarettes. In silence we threw all the tools and material into the back of the truck.