Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski



‘No, thank you,’ you said, waiting for her to stop. ‘I won’t trouble you for long. Ludwik told me you haven’t been well. I managed to get you a doctor’s appointment. Tomorrow at ten.’ You handed her a card.

She looked at it, squinting, reaching for her glasses. ‘But Pan Janusz, this is a private doctor,’ she muttered, looking concerned. ‘I don’t think I can—’

‘He won’t accept payment,’ you said. ‘Don’t worry.’

She considered you for a moment, very seriously. ‘Pan Janusz, how can I accept this?’

‘It’s nothing. A favour being returned, that’s all.’ You glanced at me for a moment.

Pani Kolecka’s face broke into an involuntary smile. ‘I don’t know how to thank you. Please, stay for lunch.’

‘Thank you, but I have to go, and you need to rest. Another time. When you feel better.’ You got up and shook her hand, and came through to the corridor with me.

I wanted to thank you but I couldn’t.

‘I was worried about you,’ you said. ‘You seemed so upset yesterday. I waited for you at the pool last night. And with the demonstrations escalating … Did you hear?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said, managing to keep a steady face, watching yours relax.

You pulled out a packet from the net bag and handed it to me. It was large and heavy. ‘Chicken,’ you said. ‘So you can make her broth.’

You knelt down to slip your shoes back on.

‘How did you get all this?’

You straightened up, your face right in front of mine. ‘I told you, there are ways.’

‘How?’

‘A contact. I’ll explain soon. Take care of Pani Kolecka. And come to see me when you can.’ You kissed me quickly, for no one to see or hear, and slipped out, your footsteps echoing in the stairwell.

I took Pani Kolecka to the doctor. I’d pushed all the clothes I’d worn that night of the flyers far under my bed, and for the outing I put on a green hat Pani Kolecka had knitted. We arrived at the doctor’s, a small quiet practice in the south of the city. Pani Kolecka was silent with awe as we sat on the leather couches of the empty waiting room, while I flicked through the latest copy of the People’s Tribune, dreading to see a phantom drawing of me in there. But there was not even a mention of the strikes. Nothing. As if that night had never happened.

The doctor examined Pani Kolecka with unusual care and gave her a dose of French antibiotics that he took from a glass cabinet behind his desk. On the way home, we passed a line of policemen. I held my breath, but they didn’t even look at me.

That week I didn’t leave the flat. My mind had a storm raging inside it, and outside the autumn rains began. It rained for days on end. The drops drummed on the roofs and hammered the streets. Thunder growled like the anger of our forefathers. It felt like the city was under attack, like the city and its streets might start to give way, dissolve, its life flowing into the WisÅ‚a and out into the cold depths of the sea.

I sat by the window and watched. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to the secret frequency again. A great weariness overcame me every time I thought of it, and of that night, and of the abyss of fear that had opened up as I’d stood in that closet. Something inside me had shut down. The radio remained silent.

Instead I took care of Pani Kolecka, watched her get better little by little with the medicine the doctor had given her. A weight lifted from my soul. She was weak still, but the coughing fits grew shorter and fainter. I’d make her tea and sit by her side and listen. She told me about the journeys she’d made with her husband, the work trips they’d gone on abroad, to Tunisia and Algeria. She showed me her photos, of dry desert-like landscapes with palm trees and orange-brown earth and low square houses made by hand. There she was, a younger version of herself in an ankle-length dress with flowers and a straw hat, looking proudly into the camera. Next to her, her husband, tall and stocky, his square face content, a big white hat on his head. Everything had been different there, she said, smiling to herself. She told me how they used their right hand to eat and their left to clean themselves.

‘Those Arabs are very different to us. But so kind.’ There were photos of them, tall dark men in white robes and sandals and beautiful beards. She showed me the rocks they’d brought back, the basalt and the crystals, the granite and shimmering minerals. She held them before me like the greatest treasures on earth, and talked of her late husband and how much she missed him, and her small eyes shone like the precious stones.