The lives of the residents of the neighborhood always evolved in parallel. Since it was a new neighborhood, most of the families were young people with small children. We always shared the same experiences, the same struggles, did the same activities, were involved in the same drama or happiness. We shared everything, including toys, food, or living things such as lice.
I remember the day my mother discovered lice eggs in my dark brown hair. I did not really know what lice were, but the idea of a family of insects living on my head seemed funny and surreal to me. At first, I thought that my mom was making the whole thing up until she showed me one of those white eggs. She smashed it between her nails, and it made a splashing sound.
Once it was clear that the whole neighborhood was infected, people started chasing steps back to find out where the origin of the lice chain started. So, facts were gathered and documented. The culprit was found relatively quickly. Challenging tasks were quite seldom those days, so people always made a story out of everything. Chasing after lice was one of the few detective works that could be collectively done, so everybody took the challenge very seriously.
The evidence clearly showed that the culprit was no other kid than one of the Kovács* kids. Of course, who else. Those kids were always left on their own, they did whatever they wanted, they ate things from the ground, and their snot was always flowing directly in their mouths as they were always unwashed. It was just a matter of time – like a ticking bomb – people said, that those kids would spread their parasites around.
So, the bomb finally went off and spread lice all over the neighborhood kids. But how did it really happen? Usually, nobody wanted to play with the Kovács kids. They were gross. That is where the real detective work began. Everybody was trying to answer the question, how did this kid manage to infect any kid at all.
The first answer that seemed plausible was that the lice must have been somewhere on the ground, or on a bench or whatever place that the Kovács kids attended. This theory brought up the question of whether that was scientifically possible. Could lice just crawl down from the home head, sit in the grass, or on any surface at all and “wait” for the next victim? There was obviously no google during those communist times, so there was no fast answer possible. People liked to make up theories for questions they did not have a clear answer to.
One theory was that it was possible that the lice were caught without direct contact. It was assumed that lice were tough survivors as they led a parasite life living off from other living things. They must have been used to harsh environments, so living somewhere other than people´s heads was very much possible.
Others objected to this theory saying that lice were no intelligent beings and would not have any reason to leave a warm and cozy environment unless it was for another warm and cozy environment. Besides, what would they feed off from?
So, it was voted that the first theory was not very plausible, and the second theory must be the correct one.
If so, when and how did the Kovács kid manage to infect another kid? This question was not so easy to answer and it required thorough research and calculation. People were interviewed, especially the Kukuk* family who was always on the balcony observing each move of the neighborhood. Even they were not able to provide useful evidence of a contact haven taken place that might have led to contamination. It was a huge dilemma that kept the neighborhood agitated for days.
Finally, Balázs*, a rather shy and small boy for his age, admitted to his mother that he had a fight with the Kovács kid who attacked him for his apple. The mystery was solved: Balázs got into the fight with the Kovács kid and was infected. He then went home and slept in the same bed as his older brother who was Huni´s best friend. Huni´s sister Klára got it from him and gave it to her best friend, Zsóka who was friends with Kinga and Meli, who were friends of ours. That was how it must have happened, everybody agreed.
The whole neighborhood was infected. It was one of the very few times that the yard was relatively empty as everybody, kids and parents, were home treating their lice and avoiding further contact.
As everybody had petroleum at home (the electricity was taken away for two hours every early evening and we always used petroleum lamps for lighting), the solution for getting rid of the lice was clear: we all put petroleum on our hairs (well our parents did) and we kept the “hair mask” covered in towels. We all looked like Turkish pashas with our head ornament, walking within the walls of our apartments.
Two days later, on Monday when all the kids went back to school, the parents were informed that there had been a lice pandemic in another school, and some kids from our school, who did a class visit to that school caught the lice and brought it back to us. So, it was not the Kovács kid after all…