My mother's stories
chapter 21 (the ending)
The forest at last
I started doing physical exercises every morning to prepare myself for future trials, but here, unexpectedly, my mother showed her changeable character in full measure and put up a real fight. I don't know why she was so totally against my second walking tour. Supposedly, it had something to do with the idea of a tent, which, in her eyes, was a very convenient place for a young girl to lose her virtue. She tried to scare me off with a story of a man from her village, who died from pneumonia after he fell asleep on bare ground in May. I objected to her that it wouldn't be bare ground if we put inflatable mattresses under our sleeping bags, but she paid no attention to my words.
Just before our one-day training tour, when we were going to learn how to put up tents and build the fire, my mother suddenly felt ill and asked me not to stay the night there. I had a nasty feeling that she was pretending being ill as she was not very good at it. Yet I couldn't risk it, growing up with the knowledge that my mother's heart was weak. So I promised her to come home before dark. It was difficult to leave the camp when the fire was already crackling merrily under the cauldron and soft fingering of the guitar was flowing through the still evening air, but I came to our leader and told him I couldn't stay. I left together with another girl, who lived in the next street and who'd told some lies just to join me. It took us half an hour to reach the nearest bus stop and after another forty minutes I was home. It was already getting dark, but I was not really surprised to find my mother in a very good mood, wrapped up completely in her domestic affairs. It was, perhaps, one of the points of no return, which we had a lot in our relationship. Mutual disappointment I would rather call it.
Anyway, our battle continued till that very day when my father came home from work and said that it looked as if his factory trade union was not going to pay for my walking tour. My mother seized this opportunity at once saying we couldn't afford to waste so much money on my entertainment. So suddenly everything was over and I had to go to the club to tell our instructor I couldn't go. I remember the agony I felt while walking there. Leaving the club I tried to suppress my tears, but they were rolling down my cheeks. I heard some boy sneering behind my back at such improper behaviour at my age, but it didn't matter to me at that moment. I felt too miserable.
My father didn't usually interfere with my mother's decisions. So it was a real stroke of luck when he, seeing my despair, suddenly took pity on me and said he would give me the money for the tour. I don't think I have ever had such a dramatic change from total misery to radiant happiness again. My mother didn't give up yet, however, and tried to use her tears as a last resort. She had never used tears as a weapon before and I remember how difficult it was for me to say “no” to her. But somehow I did and the day of my departure came at last. My globe-shaped rucksack was extremely heavy, swollen with my sleeping bag, clothes, food supplies and an inflatable mattress. We were going to carry tents and mattresses in turn, as I learnt later. It added several extra kilos to our rucksacks, which tried to bent us to the ground even without them. It's still a mystery to me how I managed to reach the club with that monster on my shoulders. My longing to see the forest had to be really strong to give me strength for that.
And then there was an intercity bus with a spacious luggage compartment where we had to cram our rucksacks. On the bus I found that there was something wrong with my chair – it stuck in one position and I couldn't move it. Our instructor, as usual, didn't pay much attention to my problem. Sitting near the dark window with my back upright I felt uncomfortable and unlike the others couldn't sleep. Yet it didn't bother me too much at that moment. Listening to the soft drone of the engine, while our bus was making its way along the dark road, I felt happiness bubbling quietly inside of me. After all these years of dreaming about travelling I was going to see the forest and the mountains at last.
At that moment I didn't know, of course, what was going to happen to me there. Although it was not difficult to predict that our instructor would be as ruthless and sarcastic as ever and that it would be really hard to walk in the mountains with all these uphills and downhills and huge rucksacks on our shoulders. But who could have guessed how unbearable it would be? Or that our instructor would hurry those who began to fall behind, banging with his alpenstock on their rucksacks? I had to gather all my strength not to give this man the pleasure of hurrying me with his stick. It was more than enough for me to be his favourite scapegoat on this tour. He loved bombarding me with his jokes, egging the others to laugh at me. They didn't laugh only once when during a conversation about everyone's favourite dishes, he suddenly glanced at me and shouted gleefully: “Look! Look at her expression!” He got no laughter in response, only averted eyes. This reaction was not, actually, odd. It was our last week in the mountains – the week of near starvation. Lack of food was especially annoying because at first we often buried the remainder of our porridge with tinned meat in the soil, not being able to finish it. It was our instructor's fault, of course, but he, it seemed, didn't feel too guilty and entertained himself every evening by starting conversations about food.
Incredible as it is, in spite all the trials and moral pressure every time I had enough strength to raise my head I felt the same quiet happiness bubbling inside of me: while looking at the slopes covered with woods or inhaling fresh scent of pine-trees or looking at the bonfire and singing to the light strumming of the guitar. Or just peering at the distant tops of the Carpathians wrapped in light lilac haze early in the morning. The mountains, unlike people, didn't deceive my expectations, being even more beautiful than anyone could have imagined.
To be continued...