by Noemi Szadeczky-Kardoss

We are just newcomers on this planet. Those, who arrived here before us, have every right to claim that it belongs to them. We marvel at things they hold to be commonplace, and they laugh at our childlike curiosity.

“Look! There’s a cat! It’s coming down the path!” my ten-year-old brother said and pointed down the valley.

“Yeah, I see it! It’s black and white.” I was holding the binoculars to my eyes and followed the cat’s way down the path which was paved with stone slabs.

“I want to see it too! Give that to me!” he demanded and snatched the binoculars out of my hand.

“Hey, don’t drop it!”

“I won’t,” he said and started to sweep the distant trees and bushes. “Where’s the cat? I don’t see it.”

In that moment, I didn’t see it either. It had probably stopped somewhere under the leaves.

All this happened twenty years ago. We were sitting on the top of the hill on which our house was standing. There was a hundred meter precipice under us, and our legs hung down the edge of it. We knew our mother would have never let us go so near the edge, but she wasn’t there.

Sitting there and sweeping the horizon through binoculars was our favorite pastime during that summer vacation. We lived far away from the city, and we found it exciting to watch it from that distance. We could see the long, blue ribbon of the river and bridges that spanned the two parts of the city. We could see roads and freeways with tiny toy buses and automobiles on them. We could see factory chimneys that were blowing big, gray clouds of smoke, and we could see ten thousands of tall buildings, gray as the smoke, where millions of people lived. To us, it seemed everything we saw had been always there and would stay the same forever.

Tired of Gray
On that day when we were watching the black and white cat, we got tired of the gray city. We discovered something even more exciting than that: the hills around us. They were covered with large houses painted white, yellow, or light blue, that had satellite dishes on their roofs and swimming pools in their gardens. But we were not watching those houses. Ours was just like them. We were watching a desolate plot on which a strange, little house was standing.

“Now, I see the cat!” my brother said suddenly.

“Okay, look where it’s going. I want to know if it belongs to that house.”

That house was really odd. It was twice as high as its width and had a very steep roof, so it looked something like a rocket built of stones. A metal pipe was sticking out of the roof; that was the chimney. It had two windows on the wall facing us, one under the other, and a door. There was a big mess around it, but without the binoculars, I couldn’t make out what was there exactly.

But we saw one thing: That place was older than the oldest tree in our garden, and that was enough for us to make it interesting.

“I see an old lady!”

“What? Where?” I tried to find what my brother was looking at, but I couldn’t.

“She’s down there, right from the house. The cat went to her, and she bent down to stroke it. She’s sitting on a- I don’t know what’s that she’s sitting on.”

“Can I see it?” I asked and tried to take the binoculars from him.

“No, wait! She stood up. She’s holding a bowl. She’s going away.”

“Hey, I want to see her, too! Now, you’ve had the binoculars for a long time,” I said, and he gave them to me, probably not because I convinced him, but because I was older than him. Just a little older.

Then I could see the old lady, too. She was going along the path that lead to the house. She bent forward, as she was carrying a heavy bowl. She went to a faucet, poured the water out of the bowl, and filled it again. Then she went back to her work. She was washing apples.

“What’s she doing?” asked my brother impatiently.

“She’s peeling an apple now,” I said in a bored voice, although I was completely fascinated by what I saw. “I will tell you if anything interesting happens.”

I knew there was no way she could see me, but I still felt I shouldn’t spy on her. So I left her there and explored all the stuff around the house.

I could see a white bathtub beside her. On the tub, there was a grating from a fridge on which I could see a few apples and tomatoes. A little further from her, a toilet bowl was lying under a bush. I could also see some barrels and a dirty, orange, plastic chair that had no legs. The cat was sitting on one of the barrels and was licking its fur. Planks and broken furniture were lying about all over the place. A little way lead to the door of the house through the junk. Beside the door, on a stool, I could see some vegetables, and in the window, there were lemons. The other window was covered by green mosquito net. So, the house probably had only two rooms: a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. And there was something I couldn’t find anywhere: a power line.

“It’s a spooky place,” I finally summarized everything I saw.

But the truth was, I found it much more than spooky. I felt like I was trying to read a book about the past. I was dying to know what it meant, but it was written in a language I couldn’t understand. What was the story of that garden and the broken objects in it? When was the last time somebody visited that old lady? Did time stop in that house?
There was nobody to answer my questions, and nobody ever will.

My brother and I went back to spy on the old lady several times that summer. When it was raining or already dark, we often talked about her and wondered what she might be doing. Then came September, cold, rainy days, and school. We didn’t forget her, but we couldn’t go to see how she was. Then in October, one weekend was unusually warm. So, we went up the hill again.

“Wow!” I said and stood there open-mouthed. The sun shined through the golden, brown, and bright red leaves; the grass was green, since it had rained for many weeks, and the sky was clear and blue. Winter was coming, but Nature, like an old lady who knows she has to die soon, dressed in her finest dress for one last time.

“Nice colors,” my brother said. “Can I have the binoculars?”

I gave them to him. I was enraptured by the scenery. He was watching the old lady’s place.

“She’s not there,” he said.

I looked at her plot, too. I knew he was right. I couldn’t see the junk in the garden any more. Everything was cleared up.

We looked at each other and we thought the same thing. That lady, wherever she was, already knew something that not even the oldest person in the world knew.

Today I visited my parents with my family. After lunch, my husband and my father sat down to the TV, and my mother wanted to have a nap, so I decided to go for a walk with my six-year-old son. We went up the hill. It’s October now, but today was warm and sunny, and the forest looked like a gigantic palette. We stopped at the top of the hill. My son wanted to go to the edge of the precipice, but I didn’t let him. We were standing behind the barrier that had been put there since I last went there. I looked down to the valley.

The odd little house wasn’t there any more. I only saw a huge, yellow house with three satellite dishes on its brown roof.

More newcomers.