Thursday, June 8, 2017

Look up!, by Anna Rybníčková

Look up!
When the city of Brno woke up

A duck was sitting on my window sill. She was gazing peacefully at the city of Brno spread beneath her. She didn’t move a single feather, which is, after all, how all stone ducks should behave.
Have you ever noticed what Brno looks like when you turn your gaze upwards?
The intricate delicacy of balconies and their railings, the sheer amount of ornaments, so carefully carved in such a way that every little detail fits perfectly into the bigger picture. You need to look past your ordinary view – the shops built in the years following the Velvet revolution with their outdated design, much-too-bright colours and faded signs. Upon these shops rest the beautiful giants of buildings built long before there were any of these shops. All around you, there are mythical creatures – strong centaurs holding the pillars of doorways, beautiful mermaids or angelic creatures with flowing hair and clothes barely covering their naked bodies. There are also more curious decorations, such as giant penguins, resting on the edge of one of the balconies. They are barely visible from the street, hiding from the view of people flowing deep down below them. I always remember to look up when I walk in the streets of Brno, curious at what I might see.
I always imagined that someday they would all spring to life. The mermaids would yawn and stretch, as well as the mighty bearded men with the face expressions of Greek gods from the times when gods still walked the Earth and so it was much easier to believe in them.
Today was that day. A chilly tongue of dawn licked my face as I hurried from my night shift in the hospital. I shivered and tugged the jacket closer to myself. The Masaryk Street was dead silent and I walked quickly past the closed shops and dark windows. I was hoping to get to bed early but, as I was later to discover, the day had something else in store for me.
As I reached the Liberty Square, I thought I sensed a motion from the corner of my eye.  It was a tired-looking homeless man, scurrying about. As I continued on my way home,
I noticed a movement yet again, this time much further up. At first, I thought it was a pigeon, but when I looked again, I wasn’t so sure anymore. The sky was only beginning to brighten and so I had to squint and stare intently at the spot where I thought I saw something move. It was on the opposite side of the street, near the upper windows. There was a dark shadow moving slowly from side to side. Its features looked all wrong for a bird, they looked almost…human. And yes, there it was! An arm appeared from the shadow. I stood there, frozen with fear and excitement, as a huge figure slowly stretched and then jumped down from his pedestal. The bearded man was supposed to hold one of the window curbs on his back which now collapsed with a deafening sound onto the pavement below. The man seemed unimpressed by the damage he has just caused. He looked around, completely overlooking me, and then he slowly began to walk away.
Even though I was numbed with fear, I decided to follow him. He walked past several buildings and then noticed that no other statue had woken up. He crouched a little bit and then emitted a deep sound like from the deep innards of the Earth. “This surely must have woken the whole city up,” I thought to myself. Strangely enough, no sleepy head peeked out from behind the shut drapes. Maybe the people were just too scared to look out. Who did wake up, however, were the statues. Suddenly, there were yawns and whispers all around me. Huge blooming petals sprung to life and filled the street with sweet and heavy scent.
The stone giant and a crowd of other creatures headed towards the river. The first thing the god-like creatures, the mermaids (they had to be carried there), the angelic babies, the nymphs and the monsters did, was they all stepped into the cool water to clean themselves from all the pigeon excrements, dust and dirt that has covered them for so many years. As they were all made of stone and as there were so many of them, the banks of
the river rose and flooded the streets nearby.
Suddenly, the city seemed to explode with life. It was 7 o’clock and people started to get up and head to work. What they saw outside their homes stunned them. The streets were filled with majestic creatures and exotic animals. Overhead, the lion heads kept roaring and the frightened people below anxiously kept glancing upwards to make sure roaring is indeed the only thing the terrifying kings of the jungle can do. The ground was shaking under the feet of giants. The mermaids stayed in the river and now they happily swam around, undoubtedly enjoying the free movement. There was a lot of excited chatter all around me. It seemed like the revived statues know each other very well. I could understand most of what they were saying, yet some spoke German and even Italian.
But the delicately carved sculptures were not the only ones that came to life. There are also a lot of statues from the communist era left in Brno, with their square and rough features, serious expressions and tools in their hands. They, too, jumped from their pedestals and started chanting slogans so commonly used in the previous regime − “Proletarians of all countries, unite!”; “With great labour we will fulfil the plan.” and “Long live the socialist revolution!” A chill ran down my spine when I heard those words.
A memory, pushed deep down and away, swam back to the surface and emerged in front of my eyes. I was only 13 when the year of 1989 came and brought the oppressive regime tumbling down. My parents went to the protests in Prague and they took me with them.
I wasn’t allowed to join them in the march, however, I remember how they came home covered in blood and visibly shaken. They told me: “It’s not gonna be long now.” And it wasn’t. The Soviet Russia started to crumble and so did the Berlin wall under the hammers of many people. We were free to live again, as were the giants now roaming the streets, curiously peeping into the windows and walking calmly together side by side, lost deep in
We, the people of Brno (or possibly the people of the Czech Republic in general) have in our nature not to panic and fuss about things too much. On the contrary, we take many things rather calmly. So, after the initial shock when people realized the walking statues pay little attention to them, they decided to just let the things take their natural course and see what happens. Indeed, many people started to befriend the statues that were willing to talk to them. Especially the mermaids were quite chatty. I walked over to one of them; she was sunbathing on the large rocks of Svratka River. She told me why her kin is so keen on talking to humans. It’s because there are descendants of mermaids among us. They are the people whose hands are constantly cold and sweaty and when you touch them, you have an urge to wash your hands immediately as they are slimy and wet. Almost as if you touched a fish… or a mermaids tail. She told me they were everywhere and indeed, I recalled a number of people with hands just like that. I knew I would look at them differently from now on.
I forgot how tired I was. I spent the whole day outside in the streets, talking to different kinds of creatures. Some of them were ancient, several centuries old even, and saw the city change beneath them; some, on the other hand, only saw the light of day for
the first time in many years. They were stacked in dark cellars, half forgotten, sad and lonely. However, they all knew the precious amount of time they were given was running out far too quickly. When the dusk began to creep between the houses, the flowers, forever in their bloom, started to falter as their roots were set in stone. The orchids and roses were the first ones to turn to stone once again. Suddenly, the sweet smell that filled the whole city evaporated into the thin air. The decorative heads which didn’t have any bodies followed. The roaring of lions grew quieter still until, at last, they became stiff and only their open jaws reminded the people they once roared.
As the darkness settled in, the stone creatures began to return from their day-long journeys back to their posts. The angelic creatures merrily jumped around in the crowds that gathered to watch this unusual spectacle. Then, one by one, they climbed up the buildings they belonged to and became stone once more.  The creatures with terrifying animal heads carried the mermaids from the water and placed them gently on their stools. They waved at their new friends in the crowd and froze, too.
I came back just in time to see the giant who was the first one to wake up to gather
 the broken pieces of the window curb he had destroyed and mould them into his hands. Then he gave a fierce cry, jumped high into the air, landed on his pedestal and froze in the position he was sculptured in.
All was quiet for a very long time. Nobody knew what to say or do but we all felt strangely sad that the day was over. Then there were uneasy words of goodbye and quick glances upwards. And then the people left and the city was still once more.
When I came home later that night, I fell on the bed with my shoes still on. I felt dead tired, yet my mind was racing with all the things this day has brought. It was the middle of the night when I glanced out of the window. The stone duck was gone. I didn’t blame her.

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