Will you be mine?
17 WILL YOU BE MINE?
Everything felt familiar about the journey this time. The border guards searched everyone’s luggage except his. The delay at the border seemed endless; nonetheless the train still reached Cracow just after five in the morning. His heart leapt as he spotted Magda through the train window. She had changed her hairstyle. He noticed young men turn as she passed and he felt blessed that she was waiting for him.
“You have no idea how much I have missed you,” he confessed.
“I have missed you too,” she said and they stood and kissed totally oblivious to everything going on all around them.
They chose to stand at the back of the tram together, despite the many empty seats.
“I enjoy the feel of your hand around my waist,” he told her before he kissed the top of her nose.
He ran his fingers through her hair and looked into her eyes.
“You’re gorgeous,” he told her holding her face in his hands.
“Gorgeous, “she repeated mimicking him.
“What does gorgeous mean?”
“Yestesh wadna jifchina” (you’re a beautiful girl)he told her hoping to surprise her.
An old lady, sitting close by smiled.
“Yest-esh shall-own-y,” Magda replied and the old lady laughed this time.
“Yes,” he answered, “crazy about you.”
Magda had rearranged her teaching hours, allowing them the freedom for her to show him some more of the city. Kaya accompanied them on their walks, taking their hands in hers. Magda and Shaun ran together swinging Kaya between them.
“Please do that again,” she begged.
The evenings were theirs alone in the small room. He reminded her of his promise:
“I told you that when I came back I would be free to talk to you. I don’t want to take the risk of losing you to someone else. I want to wake up beside you, everyday for the rest of my life.”
She kissed him and looked sad.
“ I want that too, but, I don’t know if I could be happy, so far away from my family.”
“What if we were to stay in the GDR for our first year?” he suggested. “Next summer we could spend in Ireland to see if you like it there.”
“But your scholarship is only for a year,” she interrupted.
“I can have a year’s extension, if I agree to teach some English and Irish,” he confirmed.
“What I’m trying to say Magda is will you ...”
“Shaunoosh, don’t think you’re getting away that easily,” she interrupted before he could finish.
“In Poland a girl’s father has to give his permission before you ask her to marry you and if he says no that’s it.”
“How do you expect me to do that?” Shaun protested. “My Polish isn’t good enough yet.”
“I’ll translate,” she insisted. “I’m not going to marry a coward, so be a real man.”
I can still remember your Dziadek’s answer:
“Tell him,” he told Magda, “we have all taken him to our hearts. We never thought it possible to like a foreigner so much. However, we hoped our children and grandchildren would stay around us. It is hard to agree to our child spending the rest of her life so far away, but I trust you when you say you will love her and take good care of her.”
“Tell your dad not to worry,” Shaun replied. “I promise that we will spend every summer in Poland and our children will be able to greet their Dziadek in Polish when they arrive.”
He listened carefully and when Shaun had finished he produced to bottle of vodka and two small glasses and they drank to the future.
As you know, I kept my promise and we all enjoyed the most wonderful summers as you grew up. I know I don’t have to convince you of how blessed you have been to spend so many summers with the best grandparents anybody could ever hope to have.
“Now you can ask me properly,” Magda insisted, when they had the small room to themselves again.
Shaun knelt on one knee, held Magda’s hand and looked into her eyes as he finally got the chance to complete the sentence he had started earlier.
“You’ve made me the happiest man in the world,” he told her when she finally nodded her head and her lips curved to make a bitter sweet smile.
The next day they set off to the house you now know as your grandparents’ home some fifty kilometres away. Babcia had played it down when Shaun had asked about this mystery house which hadn’t been mentioned up to that point.
“It isn’t much,” she had said, “just a roof over our heads for when we retire.”
As you can imagine, after the small flat, I was surprised to find a three storey detached home with balconies on each side, not to mention the parquet in every room.
“Wow! You didn’t tell me your family were millionaires,” Shaun exclaimed.
“Don’t underestimate what it cost them in time and effort,” Magda replied. “It was their dream. They spent summers working here, while others took holidays. Nobody knows it’s finished,” she warned, “otherwise, we’d have to give up our flat.”
Magda took him upstairs and showed him around. The room which impressed him most was the one with the double doors which opened onto a small balcony. A wintry sun appeared from behind the clouds as they stood there and lit the room up as if to welcome them.
“Which bedroom should we pick?” she asked him waiting for the surprise on his face.
“Pick,” he hesitated not hiding his surprise.
“Yes,” she answered in mock exasperation.
“We are going to spend every summer here after we’re married. That’s what you promised my father anyway.”
“This one of course,” he laughed, finding the cheeky smile on her face irresistible and using the excuse to push her in the direction of the bed-settee.
“We’re not married yet,” she teased, but she still kissed him, as they sat together on the settee.
“Come on lazy bones,” she complained as he lay back on the couch, attempting to pull her down beside him.
“Guess who is going to help me make dinner?” she smiled, ignoring the frustration on his face.
Darkness fell suddenly and the house became even colder as soon as the winter sun disappeared.
“How do we turn on the central heating?” Shaun asked in innocence noticing the radiators.
“There is a coal burning furnace in the cellar, but my father always sets the fire,” she confessed.
She disappeared for a while leaving him to put the last of the crockery back into the cupboard and she reappeared several minutes later with a heavy blanket and a dusty bottle of wine in her hand.
“This is my dad’s last bottle of the season, but I’m sure he wouldn’t begrudge it to us.”
They cuddled up under the heavy blanket in the living room and drank to their future together.
“I love you Magi,” he told her. “You can even make an evening in a frozen cold house an adventure.”
“And there’s more to come,” she promised as she prised herself from his embrace and walked over to a bulky television set with Russian writing under the screen.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Polish television.”
Shaun pretended interest, enjoying the warmth of her body beside his. Later she made his bed in the room with the balcony. She covered the bed-settee with the thickest duvet he had ever seen.
“Can I just have one last kiss,” he pleaded. “You probably won’t believe this, but I’m actually terrified of the dark. I’m not sure if I can manage the whole night alone.”
“I wouldn’t like to spoil you,” she smiled, giving him a peck on the nose and retreating before he could grab her arm.
“Don’t worry,” she consoled, “my dad will be here in the morning and he’ll be happy to protect you.”
He lay in the darkness and listened as she turned out the light in the next room.
“She drives me crazy,” he thought, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The next morning Shaun was awakened by the creek of the door as someone entered the room.
“I hope you weren’t too scared on your own last night,” Magda greeted in mock concern.
“I was hoping that you would come back to tuck me in,” he answered.
“I didn’t want to risk waking you,” she countered sitting on the side of the bed.
“Come in beside me,” he invited. “I wouldn’t forgive myself if you died of pneumonia before I got you as far as the altar.”
“We Polish girls are harder than you might think;” she flirted coming onto the edge of the bed which Shaun had laid bare.
“Make sure you behave yourself now;” she cautioned as she pulled the duvet over herself and lay beside him.
He put his arm around her and kissed her.
“I thought you promised to behave,” she complained.
“Do you know you are driving me crazy?” he grumbled. Just then they heard the front door opening.
“You don’t want my dad to take the axe to you, do you?” she threatened as she closed his bedroom door behind her.
Soon the chill had gone out of the house and the three of them sat eating scrambled egg with bits of bacon and onion in it. Together with the fresh bread, Granddad had brought, I remember it as one of the tastiest breakfasts I had ever eaten.
“Don’t spend the whole day in the bathroom,” Magda shouted through the door. “We’ll miss the bus if we don’t hurry.”
“What bus?” Shaun shouted back confused.
“I told you we were going to visit my uncle the parish priest today. He lives in the next parish. Get a move on, anybody would think you were a woman, blocking the bathroom for ages.”
A little later, they sat on a badly worn seat in a rusty old bus, being thrown from side to side by the contours of the country road.
“Three of my uncles live there,” Magda said pointing to a collection of large houses which were surrounded by tilled fields.
“I spent many happy summers here, at my grandparents’ old wooden house when they were still alive.”
Shaun pictured her baling hay with a golden tan and a scarf keeping her hair in place.
“So you’re a right Culchie then,” he confirmed with glee.
“No way,” she protested. “I love Cracow. I’m proud of my city.”
“Last stop,” the driver shouted, as they came into a large square in an incredibly picturesque village.
“The whole village in under a preservation order,” Magda told him with pride.
“I spent many summers here as well, while my parents were working on the house. Only the bravest boys dared to call for me at the parish house. My uncle has the reputation of being quite strict, but he is one of the kindest people I know.”
A tall distinguished looking priest with a head of wavy grey hair met them at the door of the parish house. He had a caring, cheerful way about him. It was obvious that Magda had the height of respect for him.
“So this is your Irishman,” he confirmed with a smile.
“I know about your Saint Matt Talbot,” he told Shaun.
“He was a really great Irish Christian.”
Shaun nodded his head in agreement, as if he had a great devotion to the saint. Soon they were drinking strong tea and eating thick slices of fresh country bread, covered generously with various cooked meats and Polish sausage. An aged housekeeper hovered in the background, jabbering to herself.
“He spends his time looking after her rather than the other way around,” Magda whispered.
“Ireland the island of Saints and Scholars,” the uncle proclaimed.
“Ireland is a good Catholic country just like Poland,” he insisted expecting Shaun to confirm his statement.
Shaun was tempted to give his real opinion, but one look at Magda told him to continue playing the role.
“For you,” the uncle said proudly, putting a book into his hand.
“Look at the author,” Magda said drawing his attention to the uncle’s name on the cover.
The afternoon passed very pleasantly and the uncle insisted on buying them ice cream at the local shop.
“Have you ever seen an Irishman before?” he asked the shopkeeper.
“No,” he replied lost for words.
“Well, we have one here,” he said pointing over at Shaun.
Shaun shook his hand and they went across the square back to the bus stop.
“Thanks for a lovely afternoon,” Shaun told him and they waved frantically from the back window of the bus until the village square disappeared.
Your mother’s uncle was to play a much bigger part in our lives than I realised at that stage. Of course he married us and baptised all three of you, but he wielded an enormous power over the family and that came to include me. Before anything was decided in the family they always stopped for a moment to ask the question:
“And what would uncle think?” Unfortunately, he was taken from us far too soon, but I know that his influence for good continues.
After they returned the remaining days just flew by and they found themselves saying goodbye again.
“The next time we meet will be in Dublin,” he told her.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go to the Irish Consulate in West Berlin and organise the visa.”
“See you in Ireland,” she promised as the train pulled away from the platform.