The dim glow of a streetlamp amplifies the tired look of Ambassador Watcowski’s face as he steps out onto the sidewalk. At 6 p.m., his workday thankfully finished, he looks in both directions before walking briskly toward the heart of Warsaw. He is wearing a heavy overcoat which protects him from the windy bursts of the fall night. His face and heart sadden further with each step he takes.
Plodding toward his destination, small snatches of everyday life cross his path. In hushed tones, a mother grabs the hands of her two children and hurries them down a side street. Their steps echo retreat. An air raid siren wails on the western side of Warsaw.
He almost smiles when two lovers stop their passionate embrace on a doorstep with a light turning on at an adjacent window. They hold hands for a moment, staring at each other in desperation, then break apart. Each rushes away in the opposite direction. Ferdek’s speculation on the lovers i s abruptly interrupted when two police vehicles race down the street.
Approaching his destination, three Polish uniformed soldiers dart from the bar Mleozny and run toward the sound of the air raid warning. Thinking, the ambassador notes he should be doing the same thing, except his target is the bar. His musings are interrupted when an old lady leans over the balcony railing from an upstairs apartment and yells for her husband.
“Jakub. Jakub. It’s time you are home. The Germans are coming. Can’t you hear the sirens? Jakub don’t leave me alone like this. The Germans are on the edge of town.”
Almost on cue, the sidewalk is suddenly thick with people pushing and shoving their way out of the bar, scattering down the street. The ambassador watches them for a moment, then enters the Mleozny.
Once inside, he crosses the floor and sits on a stool, and rests his elbows on the bar. The place is virtually empty. The last man at a table near the back tosses back his drink, sets down the glass, and pitches the waitress a silver coin. He reluctantly heads toward the door.
The Mleozny waitress calls to the departing customer, “It’s early.”
He hollers over his shoulder, “It’s early to die.”
“Where are you going?”
He turns slightly. “As far away from here as I can.”
Laughing and in a mocking tone, she queries, “And leaving me behind?”
In a bleak tone, he adds, “Before the week is over, you will be serving krupnik to Germans.”
Annoyed at the statement, she stomps her feet. Her ruddy face appears disgusted, like she swallowed cod liver oil. “Maybe I will throw krupnik in their faces.”
Tired of the exchange, the man shoves his hat onto his head. “I will not be back for the funeral.” He disappears out the door.
Stanislaw, the owner of Mleozny, pours straight krupnik in a glass for Ferdek. The ambassador eyes the golden liquid then moves his gaze to the bartender.
Stanislaw offers the drink silently with his eyes. “I have not seen you in a long time, Ferdek. I remember the days when you were in here at least once a week for a dance and a kiss and a glass of krupnik.”
Lifting the glass to eye level, the ambassador sadly laments, “Those were good days, Stanislaw.”
Nodding, Stanislaw replies, “I miss them.”
“So do I, Stanislaw. But life takes strange turns. And I fear that we are at a crossroad. We are doomed no matter which way we go.”
“The Germans are at our door and will take our liberty,” Stanislaw offers.
“And the Russians are at the other one ready to take our soul. It’s hard to decide who is the most ruthless.”
Stanislaw chuckles softly.
“No, I haven’t forgotten our promises for independence. The thoughts we put into words long ago are on my mind when I awaken every morning, Stanislaw. And there they remain all day and long after my day has ended.”
Ferdek looks hard at Stanislaw before asking, “What do the people say? You hear them much more clearly than I do. They lie to me because they believe I want them to lie. They tell me we are fighting a war we can win. I don’t believe them, Stanislaw. You hear the truth much more clearly than I do. What do you hear?”
“They are afraid, Ferdek. They smell the scent of gunpowder; they feel the tremor of bombs on the edge of Warsaw and are fearful that the land they love will soon drown with their blood.”
“Will they fight, Stanislaw, or is it too late?”
“They are a brave people, Ferdek. But they cannot fight tanks with horses, or guns with swords. They won’t be marching off to fight, my old friend. They will be marching off to die.”
Ferdek holds his glass of krupnik up to the light. He stares at the reflection of the lamp on the liqueur. He weighs his thoughts for several heartbeats. “I long for the days when my only worries were a dance, a kiss, and a glass of krupnik. Somehow, it all tastes bitter now.”
Stanislaw asks, “What will Poland do? What can I tell them?”
The ambassador turns on the stool and stares through an open door into the night. “What indeed.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish