I recently went back to the neighborhood. It has been over ten years since my parents left it and never looked back. It had been even much longer since I moved away as a young woman, but I still had been regularly visiting my parents twice a year until the year they left.
When my parents sold the apartment and moved into a big house in the countryside, I felt melancholy to the thought of not belonging there anymore. Obviously, a lot had changed after the revolution took place and things had not been the same as they were when we lived there as a young family.
The world of my childhood and teenager years had long been gone prior to my parents´ move, still, I could not help but feel a sort of sadness at the thought that my visits will no longer take place in the neighborhood where I grew up, but in the countryside in a new house. I was sure that it would feel strange when coming from the airport we would not drive there anymore but cross the town and drive 45 minutes to get to our new home.
I was wrong. I felt nothing when our car did not make a right turn into the neighborhood, but instead continued to our new destination. Strangely neither my parents nor I think about it anymore, as if it had been cut out of the map of the city and had been recycled. The chapter of our lives there had been closed forever.
A few weeks ago, I had an appointment in our town, so I took the opportunity to drive in a half-hour earlier and go to the neighborhood, see if it had changed.
I consciously parked the car only two blocks away and walked very slowly, trying to soak it all in and let the memories play tricks on my mind. I crossed the road and found myself at the place where the gostat* used to be and I had to smile at the memory of the live chickens that the whole neighborhood once purchased. There was no sign of the gostat anymore. Now it is an empty, closed space, resting in peace.
I then arrived at the place where our store was selling almost no goods. It is still there, but it now has gone through a thorough facelift. It is called Darina and looks very bright and colorful. It managed to put on quite a few hundred of goods and is constantly flirting with the new non-communist customers. No more lines of people in front of it: it always has everything one might need. I did not go in as I knew that I would never find what I was looking for.
I was already very close to the block of apartments where we used to live. I saw some of the ground floor apartments being turned into medical practices: ophthalmology, a dentist, and a laboratory. In one place there were even stairs leading directly into a closed wall… that was strange. Somebody must have opened a kind of shop that went out of business, so they simply stonewalled the entry leaving the stairs untouched.
The street behind our block of apartments has become a one-way street. A one-way street going straight ahead without the possibility of going back. That is exactly how I felt the moment I turned left to enter the premises of the neighborhood: physically I was there but I was worlds apart from what used to be there.
Only seconds later I was staying in the yard. The sun was bright but still pleasant at 10 o´clock in the morning and I stood there with a little smile on my face. It was all empty. There was absolutely no noise coming from the apartments, there was absolutely nobody walking outside. Complete silence. I had never experienced the time standing still in the neighborhood. Every time I think back, the noises that came with the people who used to live there are always present. Especially during the morning hours during a weekday in August. We, the children of the neighborhood, were always outside shouting, screaming, laughing, jumping around. Our parents were lost within the noises of everyday chores, postmen were on the road, bicycles were driving by. There was constantly something going on.
And now nothing. I could not even catch the slightest sign of movement anywhere. Everybody had gone the one-way street.
The sandbox does not exist anymore. It is the home of exactly two parking lots. The benches where we used to sit are no longer there. They have been replaced by newer and fitter copies. The trees that were small during our childhood have now grown and given a very woody vibe to the neighborhood. I liked that.
The hill on which we used to sleigh all winter long was there, but it was clearly no longer the home of playing children. It was standing there still.
The block opposite to ours was recently renewed and looks quite good considering the communist architecture it sparked in. Our block looks exactly the same, as the administrator who is one of the few people who actually still lives there, on the ground floor, never agreed to its renovation due to his fear of his apartment sinking into the ground if a new story was to be built on top of the block.
I went up to the block´s entry as I was curious to see what names I would find and if I still knew some of them. I had to laugh out loud as I realized what I saw: our old names were still listed on the door. In the beginning, I thought that all the people I knew were still living there, but when I saw the name of my father listed, even if my parents had moved away over ten years ago, I knew that was not the case. I am currently thinking about writing a letter to myself and post it to this old address. I might do that…
We are not there anymore, but our traces became prisoners of a past world that lingers out in a present like some ancient memory of something that used to exist.
My parents and I lost track of most of the people from my childhood. Lilla and I are still in contact from time to time and she tells me news about some of the people´s destinies. Some happy, some sad, some tragic: all the shades of human lives lost in the translation of time.