The age of discovery

America

We didn’t have a garden but the Gerhardts’ apartment was in a building on Ilka street so they did. There were three chestnut trees, two stone boxes for flowers, a thick horizontal iron rod for carpet-cleaning, and a shack for the garden tools. Whenever I visited them, Gerhardt’s mother told me: “this is a nice, neat middle-class building”. I felt she was belittling our home in fact so I always shot back: “ours is exactly the same as yours, except it hasn’t got a garden”. She didn’t say anything but sent us to play. Gerhardt’s mother was quite good looking but still I didn’t like her.
The shack was in a corner of the small walled-in garden, Between it and the high brown brick wall there was a narrow corridor that remained invisible from the windows. Gerhardt said we would dig right there. I asked why and he said so we could dig for treasure. I wanted to know why just there, and he said I’m an idiot the rest of the garden is paved over in concrete. Treasure can be hidden here just like anywhere else, so why not here? He sounded really convincing. We began working immediately. He had two toy shovels, he handed me one and I broke it immediately. So he stole the sewing box from his grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine. It was made of shining chrome steel and seemed ideally designed for digging.
The soil was full of stones, so we proceeded slowly. We found some broken bricks and rusty barbed wire. The second day the sewing box hit some metal and we got excited but when we cleaned the dirt from our finding, it turned out to be a can. Sardines in oil.
The third day Gerhardt announced that the work was over, that we weren’t going to find any treasure here, so we had to move on to a new field. Well, that’s the risk you take with treasure hunting – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
We were terribly sorry for all that work down the drain. We were staring at the deep hole sadly, it reached up to our hips when we stood in it. We were speculating that perhaps we could use it for something else. And suddenly he grinned and shouted: “I got it! Sure! We’ll dig a tunnel to America!” At first I didn’t understand, but then he explained. The Earth is round, America’s on the other side, so if we dig the tunnel straight through the center of the Earth we’ll end up right there. Our hole is perfect for a beginning. I was extremely doubtful, and told him the Earth is not round. But he was very persuasive. So, I told him OK, but first I was going to make sure, because I don’t like tricks and I’m not willing to dig in vain.
I went home and asked my father. He confirmed what Gerhardt said was true. I resented this as I thought he should have been on my side. He took me to see our neighbour, Mr Varkocsy, who had a globe. I was turning and scrutinizing it all evening. I had to accept the truth that the Earth is round but I measured very exactly and discovered that the other side of the world is not America but the Pacific ocean and the closest body of land is a tiny dot in the water: Mimicry islands.
Next day I told Gerhardt what I had learned about the shape of the Earth and he nodded, “sure”. But as for the Mimicry islands-business he was firmly against it; he wasn’t willing to give up his conviction: the other side of the Earth is America. We made a bet on a big bar of white chocolate, and said we’ll see when we get through. We swore to keep our plan secret. I was pushing the tunneling as much as I could as next week I was to be sent to my aunt for holidays and I wanted to find out the truth by that time.
We were digging like mad. Gerhardt’s mother was whining all the time why we are so filthy. But we kept our oath and didn’t reveal anything. In the evenings I was revolving Mr Varkocsy’s globe and kept asking the old man about America and the Mimicry islands. He said America is big, everybody is rich, drives a car and beats up black people. Women have nylons, men have Colt 45s, they all chew gum and want war. As for Mimicry islands he was a bit uncertain but he said, judging by the name it must be a disgusting place.
The hole was so deep, we both disappeared into it when we stood on each others shoulders, but still we had the vague suspicion: most of our work is ahead of us. We permanently changed our positions: the one on the bottom of the hole filled the chrome steel sewing box and handed it up, while the other one took and emptied it – there was hardly any place left between the blackened planks of the shack and the high brown brick wall.
We hadn’t finished the tunnel when I had to go to my aunt for holidays. Gerhardt told me he would contniue on with the tunnel alone. I begged him to wait for me, but he wouldn’t even listen. We parted in anger.
We met again at the opening ceremonies of school. White shirt, dark shorts, the director was giving his usual speech. We were standing near each other in the first line, unfortunately between two teachers. Still I couldn’t endure it and whispered from the corner of my closed mouth:
“So?”
“I won” Gerhardt whispered back. “It’s America on the other side.”
“So you got through?!” I was so stunned I forgot about everything and was disciplined by both teachers immediately.
“Sure” Gerhardt nodded silently “sure” and was staring at the director knowingly. He was talking about us second graders. I was hesitant to believe him and wanted to put him under cross examination, but the national anthem began and stopped me.
After the ceremony I cornered him.
“So?”
“So what?”
“What is it like?”
“Nothing special. Just like here.”
I asked if it was true that everybody is rich, drives a car and beats up black people. He said it was true. I asked if women have nylons, men Colt 45s, if they all chew gum and want war.
“Sure” he nodded. “But otherwise it is just like here.”
I was a bit suspicious.
“So pay up” he said. “I want the chocolate bar with the red label.”
“I wanna walk through the tunnel and have a look at America too.”
” You can’t. It got buried. It caved in as soon as I got back.”
Suddenly I understood everything. What a pig! He made the tunnel collapse on purpose! Now it is sure he got to Mimicry islands and he wanted to hide the truth! I told him my opinion really harshly. I hate when anyone wants to dupe me. I told him to forget about the chocolate.

Published 15 February 2000
Original in Hungarian
Translated by Stephan Humphreys

Contributed by Magyar Lettre © Pal Bekes

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