By Chris Wilson
All The local villages had annual summer fete, and all had a marquee full of food, but they didn’t have Zuzanna Pospisilova. They didn’t have her decorated gingerbread hearts ,and biscuits, and her delectable cream cakes and pastries which she so carefully displayed, There was one problem though, no-one in the village really knew her. They knew she was born in Prague, they knew she ran a fantastic bakery, café, and patisserie, but beyond that she was an enigma. Who was she, and what was her story? Why was she always so sad, and why would she never talk of her history. So many questions, yet so few answers, the village wanted to help her, but locked away in her self built castle, they didn’t know how to get inside
“What’s up Popsi, why do you want to cry?” #
This is the Prague radio. The Russians have invaded; the Russians have invaded. Stay inside your homes and keep calm!” It was 1968, August 31st, and it was early morning. The radio shouted louder, and a seven-year-old girl cowered and screamed in a corner of a room! Her mother was weeping, huge loudspeakers were booming, and a dog frantically barked in the hall; but it was her father on the radio she heard calling, and she desperately wanted him to come home! Then she began to whimper, and then she began to cry; for the planes kept on droning, the tanks kept on rumbling; and nothing she felt would ever be the same again! The radio fell silent; her life was in turmoil, would she ever see her father again!
“What’s up Popsi why do you want to cry?”
Zuzanna Pospisilova lay on her back in the deep dense leaf mulch of the Buckinghamshire woodland, and the ancient flint dells that slumbered by her on every side. Looking up at the tall beech trees, and their shimmering green-gold canopy, she soaked up the mushroom scented and apple smoked early autumnal breeze. It had been seven years since her and her mother had arrived in the village and six years since they had opened the cake shop, and then a little café by its side, but it was only here that she truly felt safe and at home. She nestled further into the leaf litter, absorbed the woodland smells around her, and then softly closed her eyes. Slowly she let go of all her worries; and then she began to dream.
“What’s up Popsi why do you want to cry?”
Deep in the woodlands outside of Prague, Zuzanna and her mother quietly moved around the forest floor foraging for wild mushrooms that would soon become a simple but homely evening meal. Life had been peaceful, life had been sweet; but then the Russians came in, and everything had changed. First her father had gone, falling down the stairs at the central police station; so the authorities had said; then her mother was targeted by association; but worst of all was that they could no longer act or speak with the freedom that they had always enjoyed. Now they spoke in whispers, if they spoke at all, for the cold hard hand of occupation lay upon their shoulders, and though the church bells rung as hard as ever, their peal cried out for liberation, where once they had shouted with joy. They quickly picked the mushrooms, as soon they would have to leave. Other pickers were arriving, no one could be trusted, and you never knew who might be listening, or what other surveillance might be around.
Gone was the safety, gone was happiness, and gone was the security that her family, and her country, had for so many years enjoyed. First the Germans invaded her country, then the Russians, and now the Russians again. When would her country ever know freedom, and when would her country ever be able to dance and sing
“What’s up Popsi why do you want to cry?”
The dream faded, but Zuzanna carried on sleeping. As she did so some of her memories, and her pain silently slipped away. There were no tanks here, no soldiers, no shouting and no prying eyes or whispering tongues. Here was freedom, here was peace and security; inwardly she wondered whether her fellow villagers would ever really appreciate such a luxury, or really begin to understand. The cooling leaf litter embraced and then enveloped her, dusk fell over the countryside, and far away the village church softly bells rang as if offering up a benediction. It was a lovely sound, but as she listened to the sound of the bells climbing up the hillside, she thought of her father, she thought of her homeland, and of all the friends that her and her mother had been forced to leave behind. Would she ever find inner peace, and would she ever enjoy pleasures and inner security that once she had known? Tears welled up deep within Zuzanna.
Here we go again she thought to herself. So much pain, so much tiredness, and so many memories; yet even as fresh tears welled up inside her, a new sensation sidled into her mind. It was as if a new door was opening, and a door which gave promise of a comforting and floodlit life beyond. It was a very small door, and it was only just beginning to open, but the light was strong and inviting, and she didn’t want it to go away. What the light was, or where it came from, didn’t matter to Zuzanna. It was warm and inviting and it called to her. Maybe, just maybe, she had found a haven; and perhaps now, as she once more began sleeping, certain nightmares might be slowly coming to an end.
“What’s up popsi, why do you want to cry”
Arms folded, and her crumpled chef’s hat slightly askew, Zuzanna looked out of the marquee, and across the display of her cakes, and the crisp sweet susenky biscuits tumbled and jostled around them on each and every side. Standing by her mother’s side, and watching her bake both in the village and back at her family’s pastry shop in Prague, Zuzanna had learnt well from her mother. Ever since she had been in charge of the village bakery she had looked over the annual display, and remembered all the work her mother and her family had done over the years gone by. Now she was the family torch-bearer both, here in the village and for her homeland as well; and looking across her display table she felt very happy indeed. Succulent fruit kolache pastries curled up to soft plum and currant buchty. Gingerbread, pernik and honey cake nuzzled up to thickly glazed chocolate sponge babovkas. While all around the table the cream pastries and sweet spiced plaited vanocka bread slumbered by their side. For ten years she had been in charge of the summer fete pasties, for ten years she had served the village, and for many years more she wanted to carry on do her family proud. She was sad though as she’d never felt part of the village, she’d never felt really accepted, and she wondered whether such joys would ever come her way. Then she saw the child’s hand creeping over the tablecloth, and inching towards her gleaming display. Sticky little fingers had never been part of her display before, but she quietly watched as a set of gooey glistening fingers, and then a hand, slid up and over the counter. Stealthily it reached out for one of her cream filled sugar encrusted pastry cones or kremrole. The village loved her Kremrole so they always lay at the centre of the display. She thought she knew every child’s hand in the village, but this hand was different. This hand was smothered in sugary jam.
Caught in a shaft of sunlight from the open marquee doorway, the now shimmering crystalline fingers delicately fluttered above the pastries, and then carefully picked up the very biggest of the cream laden kremrole cones that they could find. Holding back her laughter she watched the hand, the jam, the sugar and the cream cone slowly slide away. Quietly she stepped around the counter and saw a sugar-coated five-year-old child. It was village landlady’s boy called Bobby. Clearly he had been eating a doughnut, and now he was after some cream! Eyes closed, half dreaming, and ecstatically grinning, he slowly bit into the kremrole. It split in two; covering his hand, nose, chin, and eyebrows with sugar crystals, pastry flakes and cream. Bobby blinked, looked up, and grinned at Zuzanna, before holding out his other hand.
“Hello Auntie Popsi, this is yummy, can I have some more?”
As he stood there Zuzanna’s mind went back to when she had been five years old.
She had stood there covered with cream and kremrole, and she had asked for more; but now she had something even more special. She had never been called Auntie Popsi before. It felt a little weird yet wonderful, and she realised that she wanted more. Was this all a dream, she wondered, was Bobby really standing there, was he quite as sticky as her eyes were telling her, She pinched herself and, in dabbed a spot of cream between her eyebrows. This was no dream, this was reality, a joyous cream laden sticky reality that she always thought would be no more than a dream.
“Bobby, what are you doing, Popsi is busy; and look at all that cream!”
It was Bobby’s mother. She looked at her son, his face even more covered in cream, and she looked at Zuzanna, and her chef’s hat leaning even more to one side. Helplessly she began laughing. Zuzanna wanted to join her, but inside she felt totally numb. Somehow she had become Auntie Popsi, and she suddenly she realised that she had been part of the village for years. Giving Bobby another kremrole, she joined in with the laughter, yet her eyes were filling with tears. Now she was a really part of the village, now she felt truly accepted, and though she knew she would always be called “Auntie Popsi”, she didn’t mind at all. It was odd; she had never felt so alive and so happy; yet all she wanted to do was cry.
“What’s up Popsi, why do you want to cry”