Thursday, June 8, 2017

An old shipyard, by Barbora Neterdová

 Childhood is a wonderful time of life. Time full of happiness and laughing. Time of insouciance, boundless imagination, hope and without a single sign of fear. In the childhood you don´t need to be bounded by the rules of an adults world. Unimportant things are allowed to be the most important things ever in your childish eyes. And things, which can drive adults crazy, are allowed to be the biggest uselessness ever. And that’s why we can regard childhood as a wonderful time.
 Milada was cringing under the one of many windows and her heart was beating quite wildly. She felt drops of sweat right on the top of her forehead patiently waiting for their chance to reach her eyes and make them blind.
 “Freaking Haas!” She heard an oath of one of the boys which was followed by a kick into some shrub. “Come out, you coward!”
 “You know she´s not going to do that, Hugo, she´s just a little frightened girl,” took the floor the second boy´s voice.
 “I know she is hiding somewhere over there. Stupid girl, she’s going to suffer after she gets into my hands.”
 Other boys started to mutter among themselves and in Milada’s favour it seemed that they were leaving. She calmed herself down a little bit forcing herself to focus on shapes which the summer sun had painted through window´s glass sheets. Then suddenly, she heard Hugo’s voice again.
 “You can’t be in your hiding place for the rest of your life. Look forward to our next meeting, Haas!” After these words a stone flew through the window and landed in front of her.
 At that day’s evening Milada threw ritually the stone into the river, which was flowing behind their house. She was staring at the tides of water, watching her hope leaving.
 Milada Haas was 12 years old. She lived with her father in an old shipyard by the river Svratka. Well, maybe it’s better to say that they were living in a small flat right above the inn. When her father became the administrator of the shipyard, he used to call himself “Mr. Superintendent”. But this euphonic nickname didn’t work well. To be honest, he started to be known like “innkeeper” And he really didn’t protest at all because he knew that more money come from the pockets of paying customers than from renovation of old boats which Germans had left there.
 It could be the constant movement among local drinkers that has made Milada feeling more like a boy than like a girl. When she was walking through the inn, she always watched out for having her nose up. She was proud of every new scar she had got. But there were people who gladly reminded her about being a girl. Most usually it was Hugo and the rest of his group.
 There was Milada’s secret hiding place in the third drawer behind the draft table. If you open it you will come across to a small table knife, Milada´s lethal weapon. She tucked the knife behind her belt and jumped on the top of a high stool. There was her proper place.
 Usually she was imagining herself being a dreaded pirate who reached docks, checked in the local inn just for a night, paid for a good beer and crispy roast. Now, he was sitting right here, watching everything around, prepared well with his knife to defend his life, considering about people around. He drank a bit of his beer and wiped the foam from his beard. It wasn’t important that the knife was just a table knife, the people around were mostly local drinkers and men who wanted to escape from their old wives just for a while. It wasn’t important that the dreaded pirate was just a little girl devoid of beard drinking just plain water. At least it was a fun.
 All the customers were actually the same. Just one of them kept her attention.
 He was sitting right at the back of the inn paying more attention to a small book in front of him than to the beer. That was quite extraordinary. He had appeared a week ago with his suspicious little book and constantly tried to write slowly by his left hand. Three days ago Milada had found out that had been missing his right hand. He had just a stump wrapped cloth. After this defection, Milada was trying to force herself to ask what happened to him.
 She felt it was the right day! Milada felt that she couldn’t lost anything. She had enough of hits, scars and bruises already. Maybe it was the water, changed by her mind into an alcohol that gave her courage. But more likely it was just the adrenalin.
 First her steps were languid on purpose. She made it the same way as customers usually did. Few of them turned their heads and appreciated her ridiculous performance with laughter. But the man didn’t even notice her. She stopped and with a false fearlessness she asked :”Hey you! What did happen to your right hand?”
The man looked at her shocked, looked at her while she was trying to maintain her perfect military stance and then his eyes came across to the small table knife. He smiled for a while and then started to look seriously.
“Well, it’s hard for me to go back to that terrible moment. But if you want to know I will tell you. North pirates cut my right hand when I was their hostage.”
 “No way!”
 “Ja,” nodded the man. Milada found out that he’s not local thanks to his German accent. But this fact’s made her even more curious. She sat right in front of him without any asking.
 “Have you ever met pirates?” She started to spy.
 “Unfortunately I’ve had the pleasure,” nodded the man quite sullenly.
 “Real pirates?”
 “The realest pirates who are in this world,” he said and it seemed that he’s going to pay his attention to his book again. But before the nib reached the paper, he looked up to her. “Can you write German?”
 Milada shrugged her shoulders. She could write. And writing German shouldn’t be much more difficult than writing Czech. Moreover in these days almost everyone could speak German.
 “And would you be so kind and help me with writing? My left hand is too slow. It is getting on my nerves!” With these words he handed her his book across the table.
Milada took a pen and quickly got through the text, which had been already written. North sea. An assault. Large ships with flags informing you about coming danger. Pirates. A skull and two crossed bones. Milada noticed that he had tried to enhance the look of the diary with a few drawings. But apparently, the quality of the drawings was directly proportional to the relevancy of his injury. She nodded her head to show she´s ready to start writing.
 “After many weeks spent on journeys, I finally reached a town which seemed to be safe. Satisfying food, drinks, good place to take some time for rest. I think I´m going to stay here for a while. Unfortunately, I´ve got my right hand lost during my adventures. Now, my hand became a war prey of captain Fortuna, the leader of North pirates. Thanks God I´ve come across to a kind young lady who helps me writing my daily record now.” Pleased Milada smiled at him and he continued. “The God will be my witness that I´m thinking just about one woman. I hope Hilda is healthy and happy. If only we saw each other soon again.” Milada felt a sharp stabbing in her heart under the power of childish jealousy. “That´s all from the daily record of Günther Hirsch, 14. June, Brno.” Günther waited until she finished the last word and then said thanks.
 “What is it?”
 “This is my diary. I´ve been writing it since my first cruise on the sea. You know, seafarers sometimes feel like lonely wolfs. The best way to solve your loneliness is to open up to someone.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Talking with a paper is usually better than talking with people.”
 He opened the diary on a page at the beginning. The handwriting on this page seemed much more nicely and also the drawings were more professional. “It’s also a great way how to keep your memories. For example. The day I sailed on Anna for the very first time. “ He said sadly.
 “I´d like to write a diary as you do.”
 “Why don´t you start then?”
 “I don´t have such interesting things to write about. I also want to write about pirates and ships and the sea …”
 “You can write about whatever you want. It doesn´t need to be real. Reality is too boring, isn´t it?” He smiled at her.
 The following day Milada found an old diary in her father´s desk, she concluded that he´s not going to use it anymore, took a pen, sat under the window in the tower of a half-timbered building, where she lived. She started to write. At the beginning she felt quite embarrassingly about writing, but as her mind was getting more and more relaxed and free, the same did her hand. She wrote about Hugo, other boys from group, her father´s customers, her father and also about Günther. But on the pages, they became different people. Hugo was an evil pirate captain, all the boys were his allies, customers were gun smugglers and her father was a naive businessman. Only Günther stayed on pages in the same way like he was in reality. He didn´t need a help to become interesting. He´d already been. The diary had become her best friend. The diary always listened to her and patiently endured all her words. And the diary never tried to hit her. She felt well with it. But there was one lack. She didn´t have a ship.
 One day she told Günther about her problem after she had finished his daily report.
 “You haven´t got a ship!” He laughed. “My dear, you live in a shipyard.”
But neither one of ships from the lowest floor of the shipyard could become a pirate ship. They were all just small rowing boats, full of gaps because no one took care of them. But Günther stayed stubborn and forced Milada to take a look at them.
 As Milada was expecting, all boats hadn´t got any hope to sail again.
 “It’s all useless, I will never sail on my ship like a true seafarer,” she raved while Günther was judging the surrounding. Then, he turned to his companion. “Go and buy a wood waterproof varnish.”
 “Why?” She didn’t understand.
 “I told you to go!” He repeated his words handing her some coins.
 So she went. She exchanged her money for two cans of weirdly smelling fluid. She returned and found Günther working among iron nails and wooden boards. A hammer was lying a little further.
 When Günther noticed she had come back, he turned to her with these words: “Come here and guess what it will be.“ He pointed to his work, which reminded Milada of a big wooden bowl. She shrugged her shoulders. She didn´t know. So, Günther decided to give her first help. “Here is the place for the first officer.“ He waited for a while and then added. “And her is the place for those who will také care of paddles.“
 Milada was shocked. She had the word right on the top of her tongue, but didn´t dare to say it out loud. And then she plucked up the courage. “A ship.“
 Günther nodded his head. “But not just a ship, it will be your ship.“
 They spent the whole next week together working on Milada´s ship. The last day they painted it with a varnish.
“Just one thing to do,“ Günther said. “Der Name.“
 Milada opened a can of white paint and wrote the only acceptable name, which had come to her mind. Anna.
 Since this time, Milada spent every single day in her boat. But she could travel just as far as the rope connecting the boat with the coast allowed her. Günther didn´t really like a view of her drowning in Svratka. And also her father wasn´t really excited about seeing his daughter alone on the river. But he pretty liked Günther´s idea to repair ships, only because he hadn´t had to spend any single coin for it.
 “A little girl can´t sail on the ship alone. You would need a crew firstly,“ Milada was repeating father´s ridiculous words. She was lying in her ship which was gently jiggling by the flow of river, when suddenly a small stone hit the bottom of the boat. She knew who it was.
 “Hugo,“ she concluded. “What do you want?“
 But this time Hugo was looking at her different way. This time, there wasn´t that awkward grin in his face. To be honest, he was looking at her innocently, maybe even humbly. “Hello Haas … I´ve noticed you have a really nice boat and … you know … I was considering if you …”
 Milada smiled at him. “If I need a crew?” She raised one of her eyebrows.
 Hugo seemed shocked but also pleased. “But only if you don´t mind it. Maybe also other boys would love to join your crew.”
 “I´d love to accept new seafarers into the service. But I have one condition. I will be the captain.”
 Hugo didn´t have any problems with this.
 Since that time you could see a crew of small pirates sailing Svratka. In their head with the captain Haas. Their first ship was called Anna, but as they were getting older and older they figured out that they would need more than just one ship. They were saving money and inviting new supporters among themselves. They were repairing old boats and buying new ones. The old shipyard started to live again. Old supporters of boat sport returned to this place to extend their ranks to new enthusiasts.
 Günther Hirsch left in that moment when Milada started to spend more time with her crew than with his diary. It seemed that he was there with one purpose, to give a life back to the shipyard. As the years were going, Milada found out more likely Günther had met a war than pirates. She also knew that many soldiers tried to deal with frights of past by escaping to their own unreal world. But maybe he really was a seafarer and maybe he really returned to his beloved Hilda, just as he had wished.
 There were quite a lot of questions around Günther, his past and his future, but Milada was sure about one thing. Günther taught her to know something about what she maybe had unconsciously doubted. He taught her that after all, childhood is really a wonderful time.

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