I gave birth to a son in January. It would be difficult to write about anything else, even though the other day when I pushed the pram to the front garden, five military helicopters flew over my head, going east to Hungary’s border with Ukraine. This has happened several times since the Russian invasion in February, but never before with the baby outside. This time I felt anxious because of my son. I was getting ready to do some spring gardening and put the hoe and watering can beside the fence. Last year, I planted some hydrangea, swamp hibiscus, a spruce sapling, and most importantly, a Ginkgo biloba. My husband and I have great admiration for maidenhair trees because of their more than a thousand year lifespans, and because their species is one that survived the ice age. I hoed the soil around it and carefully watered the roots. From time to time, I checked the pram to see if my son, who was wrapped tightly in blankets, was warm enough. The whole world turns around him.
After the birth of my son, the nights dragged on slowly. My son and I had to get used to each other. When he started crying on the first night home from the hospital, I took him out of the bassinet. I held him close and rocked him as I brought him to our bed. My husband was already puttering around in the kitchen, heating water and slicing an apple. While the baby nursed, I reached for my phone. It showed 2:13 a.m. It’s not that bad, I thought. The baby slept for a long time, for a newborn. In a few hours, the sun would rise.
I opened Messenger. My friend Dori wanted to know when they could come over for a visit. My sister asked what present she should get for her nephew. My mother wanted a new picture of her grandson and the video of his bath that somehow did not go through. I looked up the clip of my husband bathing our son. As I glanced at the baby’s sweet eyes, I couldn’t resist watching it before sending it off. There they were again, my two loves, my husband and my son, in the warm, fragrant bathroom. It didn’t matter that I could see them in person, I had to watch it over and over: my son splashing about in the white basin, enthusiastically kicking his tiny legs, while my husband skillfully holds his small body and softly talks to him. They both look straight at the camera, and the clip is over.
I looked around the bedroom. It warmed my heart to see everything in there that was acquired in the last few months. We had managed to bring the big white wardrobe from Eger in the small Honda. We had to take the back roads because the load was sticking out of the open trunk. Now, it stood against the wall, laden with baby clothes, bed linen, and towels. The bassinet and changing table were passed along to us from relatives. Everything had been waiting for our son to arrive.
He was still peacefully nursing, and I caressed his head. Returning to my phone, I clicked on the news. All of a sudden, the house was shaken by a blast. My body was lifted into the air for a second, and my little son let out a cry. There was a loud crackling sound, and the wardrobe fell onto the bassinet with a thud. The ceiling cracked and the baby screamed. My husband rushed from the kitchen over to us. He held his hand against his bleeding forehead. The window of the bedroom was smashed, the floor was covered with shards of glass, and the room glowed in a strange, reddish light. When we looked into the garden, through the broken windowpane, we saw that the roof of the house across the street was in flames. Black smoke filled the air, and cinders kept falling on the asphalt of Kossuth Street. Black figures were moving around outside but we could only see their silhouettes, their round helmets. Robust bodies held long-barreled guns at hip level as they ran. They were everywhere, climbing over the neighbor’s fence, wading through his pond. When two figures separated out of the crowd, heading toward our house, and our garden, quickly, very quickly, before they could reach us, I turned off my phone. The room quieted down again and all I could hear was my son’s puffing breaths, and his quiet suckling. My husband was still working in the kitchen; he started the dishwasher and softly asked what type of tea I would like. The wardrobe, the bassinet, and the changing table were intact.
When my son had enough to eat, I reassured myself that the war was far away and I could put him back in the bassinet. Then I went over to the window, and carefully pulled back the curtain. The street was empty. It was snowing. Big flakes of spring snow were falling on the asphalt. My two-month-old son and the ginkgo in front of the window were almost the same age. The tree might still be alive a thousand years from now.
The Hungarian original appeared in Könyves Magazin in 2022.
1 reply on “Ginkgo Biloba”
What a heartfelt, personal visualisation of human lives of a war effected region.