The World is a Jungle
by Gabriel Timar
|Table of Contents|
Book Two: The Violent Jungle
A Visit to the Cellar
Gabriel Timar recounts stories and anecdotes from his family history and his adventures around the world. Some of the names, dates and places may have been changed, but the essence is a true memoir.
In early 1952, late in the afternoon, I was returning home from the University. I felt great because I had successfully passed an important and difficult exam in calculus. Sitting on the streetcar next to two construction workers, I could not help smiling at their crude but funny jokes.
Suddenly, two leather-coated men fought their way through the throngs of passengers and shouted: “State Security. Identifications please.”
They stepped to the two construction guys, the young woman on the other side, and me. As they flashed their badges, we did not dare resist. They took our ID cards and declared: “All four of you, get off the tram with us. We must investigate you.”
In a case like that, asking anything could have been hazardous. The less one said the better it was.
As we got off, one guy put our papers in his pocket, made us stand facing at the wall of a large building, while the other went to find a pay phone. I don’t know how long we stood there, but eventually, the paddy wagon arrived and they ordered us aboard.
It was dark inside, and we did not know where we were going. Fear overwhelmed me, and the young woman began to cry. None of us dared to comfort her. After half an hour, we stopped at the main entrance to 60 Andrassy St., the dreaded Secret Police Headquarters. My hemorrhoids trembled as we were ordered out and led inside the building, straight downstairs the cellar, the so-called interview rooms.
They shoved me into a room with a table and two chairs. A big fellow stood in the middle of the room wearing track suit trousers and a tee-shirt. His rippling muscles did not put my mind at ease. After confirming my identity he pointed at a chair: “Sit down, mister.”
That was a bad sign. If the cops called one mister, he could have considered himself the enemy of the state. I sat down. Without any explanation, the guy slapped my face.
He was doubtless an expert, because the slap hurt, and I fell off the chair. I did not dare move.
“Get up you little fascist twerp and sit.”
I followed the orders.
“Now why did you smile at those reactionary jokes? Why didn’t you stop them? Why didn’t you call the police?” he shouted at me.
“Sir...” I started. He did not let me finish and hit me again, but this time I did not fall off the chair. Nevertheless, my ear was ringing.
“Not ‘sir’, but ‘comrade sergeant’. Do you understand?”
Yes, s... comrade sergeant.”
“That’s better?’ Why didn’t you?”
“I just had a very hard exam at the university, I was very tired.”
He hit me again and said: “You were not too tired to smile, were you?’
“I am sorry,” I said. Closed my eyes expecting a slap again.
“Stand up. Go to the corner, face the wall and stand at attention. I am going to ask the lieutenant what he wants to do with you,” he said and stormed out.
I did as he told me. Facing the wall, my sense of time evaporated. I didn’t know if I stood there for minutes or for hours. The sense of being completely at the mercy of a brute like this guy was devastating. Suddenly, the door opened and someone came in. I did not dare move.
“What the hell are you doing?” came a strange voice. “Turn around and sit down.”
Again, I did what I was told, and found myself facing a freshly shaven young man wearing the uniform of lieutenant in the Secret Police.
“I asked you a question,’ he said.
“The comrade sergeant told me stand at the wall,” I replied.
“That is nonsense, we are not the Inquisition. Would you care for a fag?” He proffered a pack of cigarettes.
Even though I smoked occasionally, I replied: “Not at the moment, comrade lieutenant.”
“Why? Aren’t my fags good enough for you?” he asked menacingly.
“If you insist, comrade lieutenant, I would be honored. You smoke my brand.”
He gave me a match and we both lit up.
“You were quite foolish on the tram; just sitting there smiling and doing nothing about those jokesters,” he said.
“I am sure when you took your calculus exam, comrade lieutenant, you were also worn out mentally. It was momentary slip, I assure you.”
“You’re right. Just stay here. I am going to arrange for your release,” he said. The lieutenant departed leaving me sitting at the table with a cigarette in my mouth. I took a heavy drag as the door opened. The sergeant came in. Without much ado, he stepped up and hit me. I fell off the chair again.
“Who told you to sit?” he roared.
“Liar,” he roared, and hit me again. “You are not going to be let out for a year at least. Do you understand?”
“Yes, comrade sergeant.”
“That will teach you to call the police immediately if you hear someone insulting our revered leader. Now, get up and stand in attention facing the wall until I come back.”
I did as I was told. Time again stood still, and eventually, the door opened again.
“Why are you standing at the wall again?” the lieutenant’s voice came.
“I was ordered to do so?”
“The comrade sergeant...”
“I will have him reprimanded,” he said, interrupting. “Here are your papers and personal belongings. You may go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I am. I’ll even escort you to the entrance. Let’s go.”
I followed him, not believing that he was going to release me. At the main entrance he turned to me and said: “I’ll let you go this time, but I don’t want you back here again. If that happens, you are going to get the maximum, and that is three years of hard labor. Go!”
I was out on the street in a flash. At the next street corner, I checked my watch: it was four-thirty in the morning.
I swore never again to sit next to construction workers on the streetcar.
Copyright © 2009 by Gabriel Timar