YOU CAN SEE A BLEEDING HEART INSIDE A WATERMELON
LOVE OF UNCLE JULIAN
When I was three years old, my twenty years old uncle entered our old village kitchen holding a big watermelon. He put it on an empty wooden table and started to pace the wooden kitchen floor impatiently. My old Grandmother in a worn out apron watched him sadly, while she peeled cooked potatoes next to the old iron stove. She passed me one half with a dollop of butter but I shook my head. I was waited for my dear uncle to give me a big hug like always. He stopped suddenly and breathed heavily when our little house shook and we saw an enormous red star on the shiny green tank passing by our kitchen window. He waved his hand and my Grandmother spit next to the pot full of steaming potatoes with hatred. I was not interested in Russian army vehicles, they have been passing through our main village road all day long and I was not any more interested in looking at them. I looked at the big shiny green oval rolling in the middle of our table every time another army tank approached. I had no idea what it is. I remembered my uncle telling me that something sweet is hidden inside and I desperately wanted to see, to feel and to taste it.
I ran to my uncle and begged him to open the watermelon but he just smiled sheepishly looking at my Grandmother who shook her head disapprovingly. I knew that I had to first eat my lunch. He picked me up and turned me around the kitchen. I squealed with a joy but he suddenly put me down and sat heavily on the nearest chair. I watched his pale face grimaced in a sudden pain and a myriad of tiny droplets of sweat appearing on his forehead. I asked him where is his sweetheart, a beautiful lady with shiny dark hair and gently manners who always patted my head. Somehow I realized that only she could make him feel better. He closed his eyes and told me that she managed to cross the border at night and she was waiting for him in Vienna. I panicked and squeezed his hand but his sad eyes reassured me that he stays. Another tank passed the window and he sighed and I somehow understood that it is too late. I looked at his beautiful modeled face with his big dreamy eyes and I felt so happy. When he finally cracked the watermelon in a half and the juicy bloody red inside appeared in front on my eyes I was scarred to touch it. My Grandmother passed him a knife and he slowly cut a little piece and passed it to me. I looked at his pale hand covered in droplets of red juice and I backed off. He kneeled next to me and beckoned me to open my mouth. I looked at a piece of red juicy watermelon in his hand. Looking in his gentle eyes and I decided to trust him. I opened my mouth and swallowed it. His sad eyes twinkled suddenly when I smiled broadly. It tasted so sweet. Like nothing I tasted before or after. This unusually ripened taste of warm sun and summer stayed with me forever.
I want to repeat it with every new bite but the magic is gone. When I was ten years old I sat on a bench surrounded by a grey block of flats in different state of disrepair which replaced our village. My pale overweight uncle sat next to me in an old overalls opening another bottle of beer. I talked enthusiastically about my Russian class, where at least I felt better than average, but my uncle told me to study English. I pointed at the perfect line of red flags flying vigorously in the October wind around us. It seemed to me that they had been trained just like us at school to march in straight line and salute enthusiastically to the victory of the Russian revolution in 1918. I was cross with my old Grandmother who still believed in God and hated everything what Russians or any communists did to us. She was so ancient; I wanted to believe in progress and I wanted so much to fit in. I stopped and looked at my uncle who coughed disapprovingly. He told me that there is better life, something I can not even imagine on the other side of the world. I touched proudly my red scarf and looked sadly down on my worn out two size bigger grey jumper. My uncle emptied another bottle of beer, wiped sickly sweat from his pale forehead and handed me small brown bag. He tried to smile but somehow he always ended up looking like a sad clown because one corner of his mouth was permanently down. I expected a book, but it was something softer. I ripped open the used paper and tried a second hand sport jumper with a zip and with a big: AUSTRALIA on its back. It was not red but blue but I was happy. My uncle nodded and slowly stood up. I watched him disappearing between two brick walls with posters of Lenin. The sheets of old newspaper from the nearby storage of ‘used paper’, which school kids collected the day before flew all around him as he was approaching his small grey flat at the end of the street. I looked at the empty bottles he left behind and collected them. I planed to take them to a glass collector later and get some pocket money to buy some ice cream. When I was approaching our flat, I carefully disguised my new present under my old jumper. I knew my uncle or anything reminding of him was not welcome in our household. I knew it was too early for my Grandmother to be at home. She used to slave in a small remnant of our garden next to the new highway until the dark every day except one day when she put her Sunday clothes and went to church. It was my Grandfather I was worried about. Sometimes he arrived home early from some unfinished communist meeting smelling of spirit or few time he unexpectedly appeared in our kitchen in sober, gloomy mood and demanded to know how my Math’s was going. He was successful accountant and I was terrible disappointment to him. When my Grandmother had found me crying over my Math’s later that night she patted me on my head muttering angrily about my Grandfather’s constant affairs. Everyone knew about my Grandfather and his cheating on my Grandmother as everyone knew about my Mother following his footstep. No one knew anything about my uncle. No one has been in his flat. He has no friends. No one dared to approach him. My Grandfather forbade me to meet him or take anything from him, as he was anticommunist, without permanent work, layer and a thief. My Grandmother sometimes let him and offered him a plate of his favorite soup when my Grandfather was not around and he left as quickly and invisibly as he entered. He brought me a pile of second hand books translated from all around the world and I red them secretly with a torch at night.
I dreamed about my Father who managed to cross the border in 1968 before the Russian invasion and sometimes sent me postcards from different parts of world. I forgot how he looked like, somehow he always ended up having my uncle’s face, the beautiful, dreamy face I remembered when he gave me to taste my first watermelon. When I was twelve years old we rushed to hospital to see my uncle in an Emergency unit. A doctor there told us that he needs an urgent heart surgery with a fifty percent survival rate or he will die in the next couple of years. I watched my uncle in disbelief when he refused to have an operation. My Grandfather bombarded him with his stormy leadership voice, which did not approve of any disobedience, but my uncle just passed without even looking at him and left hospital hurriedly without second glance. My Grandmother burst in tears but my Grandfather pushed us out and we caught the first bus back home. It was the end of matter for my Grandfather. I saw my uncle only one more time after this incident before he died. I was visiting my aunty when my uncle appeared there unexpectedly asking her for a haircut. She picked a pair of scissors and ruffled his unkempt, grayish curls. He smiled his clownish smile at her two toddlers playing next to his feet and they ran to me looking for safety under my jacket. I hugged my cousins tightly and suddenly despised my uncle for not keeping his angel face and dreamy eyes I remembered from my childhood. He looked at me sadly but I averted my eyes. Why do so many people despise him? Why do even his own parents not trust him? I knew now that he never intended to ran away like my Father and join his sweetheart in Vienna to explore the world. He was too scared, as I heard my Grandfather to say. He stayed behind living in her flat and later sold it with a profit, as I heard to say my Father much later when I managed finally to meet him. He caused the death of my Great Grandmother and therefore my Grandfather disinherited him, as I heard my Mother mentioning sometimes in front of a mirror. Mind you, she was very spiteful woman, your Great Grandmother, but she loved your uncle so much, I heard my mother adding almost immediately. And look what happened to him? I looked at his grubby clothes and overweighed sickly figure with a clownish smile. I stood up and left without a second glance but I overheard his last words: “BE GUIDED BY YOUR HEART AND DO NOT BE SCARED TO LIVE YOUR LIFE TO THE FULL’.
I don’t know if these were his exact words and it sounds like cliché to me, but I have tried to follow them. There were few occasions in my life so far when I decided not to listen to my heart and every time, ‘ when my heart bleeds’ I remember him. Later I had found out that this unexpected haircut was due to rearranged marriage to an elderly nurse who promised to look after him as he started to have panic attacks during lonely nights. Not long after she visited my Grandparents in despair because my uncle refused to let her live in his flat. She left the key to my uncle’s flat behind and my Grandparents decided to pay their first visit to my uncle’s flat. They forbid me to go but I followed them in trepidation.
They had been arguing all the way and did not pay attention to me. Once they entered the grey identical block of flats to ours, I waited for a while and then cautiously entered. I quietly went upstairs and stopped on the second floor. One of the doors had been left ajar and I could hear my Grandmother’s sobbing. I entered the tiny dark corridor which led me to the small empty living room with just small bed and with all walls covered in a myriad of writings and photos. I passed one photo of the beautiful beach lit in the golden sunlight and a middle aged woman looking longingly towards camera. Under the photo was written: ‘ To someone so close to my heart and so far away.’ Next to it was a letter starting with just: ‘ To Julian,’ and another photo of the middle aged woman with a gentle smile and crop of brown hair holding a newborn baby. Under the photo was written: ‘ My son, which I always dreamed to be yours too. From Vilma.’ I wanted to continue reading as the name and the face started to be familiar but I suddenly felt my Grandfather’s strong grip on my shoulder. Suddenly I noticed my uncle’s lifeless body on a crumbled dirty bed sheets with one hand hanging helplessly down the bed. There I saw red droplets running down his wrist.
I watched them to enter his palm and I imagined the juicy red watermelon entering my mouth and my uncle’s dreamy eyes. I screamed and wanted to run to him but my Grandfather pushed me out of the room and closed the door. It was on my uncle’s funeral when my Grandmother lost her mind and my Grandfather lost interest in his job, his communist party and his affairs. They sold their four bedrooms’ flat with all their valuables so they could pay for my uncle’s huge marble tomb stone with his name engraved in small golden letters and big empty space underneath. They never talked about him but they visited his last resting place daily. Everyone assumed that it will be their resting place as well. They lived for another twenty years in poverty and squabbles and found their final piece somewhere else. My uncle’s huge grave with just his name in weathered small writing and empty space underneath for many other names to join him…But who are they be when his own parents did not dare because of fear or guilt to join him? But who will they be when his only love is so far away?
Vilma visited his grave after the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1992, when Russians left our country after forty years of the communist rule and borders opened again. My Grandmother told me so in one of her clear moment on one of my regular visit to their humble flat. She visited them as well bringing her grown up son with her. She was looking for Julian and managed to track down their address. She did not know about my uncle death about ten years ago and my Grandmother’s eyes suddenly reflected all the pain of the past. She stopped talking about them and instead showed me some of the postcards Vilma kept sending to them after her departure and for a long time until their death. I picked one of the sunlit beaches with the ‘twelve apostles’ in the distance and recognized the place I have seen on the photo in my uncle’s flat. I noticed some old black and white photos of beautiful young couple in love scattered on the floor under my Grandmother’s feet and I put the postcard down. Suddenly we heard my Grandfather opening the front door. My Grandmother followed my gaze and she picked up the old shoe box and started to collect all the postcards from the table in a great panic. Her clear gaze was suddenly lost in a hazy madness and I quickly bent down to grab the three photos under her shuffling feet and put them safely in my pocket. I knew that my Grandfather particularly disapproved of bringing Julian back and it was one of the rare occasions when my Grandmother shared with me her pain. There was just one more occasion I was able to revisit the Julian’s past with my Grandfather.
Ten years later, myself in my mid years with my own grown up daughter I returned to visit my Grandparents from my new homeland: Australia. They lived in the same humble flat and aged enormously. My Grandmother was lost in her own world when none of us any more mattered. My Grandfather’s body was slowly disappearing in a long fight with cancer. I desperately wanted to talk about Julian but he cleverly avoided the subject. He agreed to go for a walk. I decided to head back to Julian’s block of flats just ten minutes walking distance across, which was standing there, just like twenty years ago, grey and decayed. My Grandmother shuffled happily repeating relentlessly one of her favorite prays unaware of my depressive thoughts. I hold her tightly and patiently pointed in the right direction when she stopped suddenly lost in her own mind. My Grandfather followed us and his footsteps seemed heavier and slower once the distance shortened. I beckoned him to enter the unchanged chipped glass entry door, but he stopped suddenly and sat on the bench nearby. We sat next to him and together we looked at the Julian’s window in a silence. A modern curtain covering the window suddenly opened and a little boy’s head appeared there. He noticed us looking at him so he waved cheerily and disappeared again. I looked at my Grandfather and he nodded. I suddenly realized what he knew all along, the life goes on, it is not Julian’s flat any more, only in our memories. In two years time I was back holding my Grandfather’s hand on his dead bead but we never mentioned Julian again.
When I asked about Vilma’s address in Melbourne he asked me not to revisit the past. It is not my pain and it is not my past. There was nothing left reminded me of Julian once my Grandparents died. They decided to take everything with them to their grave. Back in Australia I cherish the three black and white photographs of two young beautiful people who once have been so madly in love and I keep thinking about them. Somewhere in another part of Australia, somewhere in or around the Melbourne lives Vilma and I wonder how she feels and what she thinks about her past.
Does she still remember my uncle Julian? I wonder who he really was and I know she is the only one who knew him like no one. I have visited the Melbourne for the first time this year and I know that internet nowadays can unravel many mysteries but somehow I am not confident enough to revisit the past. I do not believe any more that he was that evil and strange man how many people described him. I learnt long time ago that people are generally very cautious and suspicious of someone who does not fit in perfectly into average mould. Mediocre society needs mediocre people. I want to believe that Julian was highly sensitive and romantic but tragically sick man who was drawn between the expectation of communist mediocre group ideals and his individualistic needs who often crossed with those of his family or society he lived in.