Story of Lenka, Chapter two, Invitation
As she made coffee, she asked me questions about my trip. I answered as I always did, telling her the journey had been fine and I had managed to get enough rest on the bus.
As I spoke, she carelessly glanced through the post she had received that morning. I watched as she found amongst the letters, a small envelope. As she opened it, a sudden expression of unease casted a shadow across her otherwise calm features.
‘What’s that?’ I asked lightly.
‘Oh, it’s just an invitation…’
She handed me the small slip of paper, her hand slightly shaking.
‘An invitation to the Annual Meeting of Sudeten Germans?’
After the war, many Germans had been expelled from what was then Czechoslovakia and forcibly rehomed over the German border. The few who remained here were mostly women married to Czech men or workers with unique skills. Years later, when the Iron Curtain had fallen, people started to organise events just like this one. Sudeten Germans from both sides of the border could meet and socialise together.
I wondered if this innocent looking piece of paper might have reminded her of Oma. She was a Sudeten German. She had died some years back of cancer. Maybe it had brought back to mind the terrible suffering she went through in her final days.
‘Somebody might have thought Oma was still alive,’ I suggested gently to Maminka. She now kept turning the small card in her hands, searching probably for a sign of the mysterious sender. It didn’t carry any signature, return address or even a postage stamp. Finally, she gave up and placed the card out of sight. She hid it under a pile of the housekeeping magazines she subscribed to.
This unexpected delivery led us to spend the rest of the morning sharing memories of Oma. She was the kindest person to me. The best Oma, I could have ever wished for. Whenever Maminka was busy at work, she came over to our house to look after me. She would never complain about me. Whatever Maminka forbade she would allow me to do.
However, Maminka said it was quite a different story when she was young.
She could be a cold fish. She wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection. Sometimes it seemed to me the only thing that was important to her were my grades. She pushed me to study medicine. And it wasn’t only for the sake of glory. -‘There are so many lives to be saved,’ she would cry. ‘You must become a doctor. Your life must have a meaning!’ - she would then shout furiously, whenever I wasn’t at the top of the class.
Oma was a nurse. She had been married to my grandfather for thirty-two years. He was Czech which allowed her to stay and saved her from the post war expulsions. Like many men of his generation, he smoked heavily and died of lung cancer in 1990. A year later, Oma was diagnosed with breast cancer which had already spread to her bones. By this stage, nothing could be done. She moved in with us, and Maminka looked after her. She was doing the best she could to make her mother as comfortable as possible. Despite suffering terribly, Oma rarely complained. I remember her telling me that the cancer was God’s punishment for all that she had done. I could never understand why. She would have given her life to helping others. I didn’t feel she deserved such harsh retribution.
It was distressing for both Maminka and me to see her in such pain. We were not able to help her. In the later stages, she was transferred to a nearby hospital. She died there.
Being a nurse in a small town, everybody knew her. She was very well thought of by the locals. I’d never heard a bad word said about her. On the day of her funeral, a crowd of around a hundred people gathered to pay their respects and listen to the glowing eulogy given by the local priest.
‘Let’s go for a walk,’ Maminka suggested, finishing off her coffee. ‘You look pale…’
‘I’ve just spent more than fifteen hours travelling. I have a good reason to look pale.’
‘Yes, a very good reason actually to get some fresh air,’ she agreed.
Maminka was right. We changed our shoes and set off for a brisk walk into the woods.