Hashishopiners is a novel about a friendship between two 12-year-old boys – Maksymilian and Wronek. Max’s father is a Solidarity activist, and Wronek’s father is a militiaman. The scene is 1982, right after the introduction of Martial Law, somewhere in the provinces of Poland – in a small town, which exists purely because of the state weapons factory. The residents of the area are socialist plebs, devoid of any tradition that would allow them to resist the corrosive effects of socialism. Their existence is composed of working “for the state” and drinking after work. Poverty, overpopulation in a small area, and scarce hope or opportunity for a better life…
This kind of reality can lead to only one thing – endless frustration, aversion and hatred. In this world our two protagonists are trying to find a shred of independence and meaning in their village friendship. This is meant to stand in opposition to the creeping disintegration. This is not, however, a good friendship. The emotionally hollowed-out Wronek guarantees Maksymilian adventure, but he is also an alluring swamp: he attracts, immobilizes, sucks in and kills. The boys unconsciously transfer their family problems to their friendship, but they are too immature to build a strong bond in this way and save themselves. With risky desperation and cruelty – at whose bottom lurks their betrayed love – they are ready to commit the stupidest acts.
Their plan is essentially an attempt to rebuild some order in their lives. The boys feel unwanted by their families, the school population and the neighborhood residents, and so they intuitively choose a path that should give them a dignified place in all these social groups. In Maślanek’s world, adults succumb to the almost Stalinist fatalism of the statement “Everyone must become a snitch,” and so the children choose the cruel path of restorative revenge. They intuitively glean that doling out punishment to a “snitch” will cleanse the whole of reality and bring back order to the social roles.
It is astonishing that the reality of the first year of Martial Law shown through the eyes of two boys and their friendship has allowed the author to show more than if we saw the Solidarity activists, strikes or street demonstrations.
- Przemysław Czapliński
Jarosław Maślanek (b. 1974) is a political science graduate, journalist and co-editor of “Polish Real Estate Market” devoted to market investments.
An End and a Beginning
I couldn’t sleep. I lay there covered up, sweaty. I stared at the ceiling, barely visible in the darkness. My arm was burning a bit, the cuts on my face pulsed with pain. I heard my parents talking with Trzynacha. First calmly, then their voices raised higher and higher. The door to my room cracked open and my father peeked inside. A moment later he quietly withdrew.
When I finally fell asleep, I had a strange dream. Wronek and I were sitting in my room, him in the armchair between the desk and the window, me on the chair by the desk, talking about nothing, as usual. I accidentally knock over a cup of tea. The hot water pours onto Wronek, but he doesn’t notice. The cup spins about the desktop, falls on the armchair and flies right through my friend. I woke up. It was already light out.
I couldn’t stand change, I was frightened of newness. That’s why I liked our apartment block, a place I’d known since childhood, with clear boundaries; this was what I linked my earliest memories with. And maybe that’s why I was afraid of that dream from the last night of my vacation, from Wednesday to Thursday in the year nineteen eighty-two. Wronek had been with me for a long time, I didn’t want to lose him. But nor did I want to draw out this war with Trzynacha. I made my decision, I just had to talk to Wronek.
I heard my friend whistling outside the building. I peeked out the window. Wronek was hiding behind some bushes. He waved and pointed at the cellar. I got the picture. He dashed there, ducking like he was under fire.
I left my room. No parents in sight. I glanced at my watch. Way past twelve. That was some sleep!
I quickly ran to the washroom, had a piss and washed my face. I covered my reflection with my hand. I didn’t want to look at myself.
I ran down to the cellar. The chill and musty air chased off the remains of my dream. My head ached a bit. I guess because I’d overslept.
Wronek was waiting downstairs. Standing in the corner, where the light from the bulb couldn’t reach the gloom.
“Hey,” I said, and got right to the point. “Listen, I don’t want to mess with Trzynacha any more. Let’s leave him alone. That was fine for vacation, but now we’re back in school.”
“Too late,” he interrupted. I couldn’t see if he was smiling, but I got the impression he was.
“What do you mean, too late?”
“Too late to leave him alone.” He came toward me.
His clothing was stuck to his body, as if he’d been caught in a bloody downpour. His red hair was all in clumps, with darkening blood clots tangled in.
“What have you done?!” I screamed. I thought my head would split open with pain.
“What we planned to do.” His blood-dappled face twisted into a grin.
“In his apartment.”
He grabbed me by the arm. He led me upstairs. I noticed he had worker’s gloves on his hands; they were damp with blood.
I struggled, but he was very strong, like an adult man. He led me to door number thirteen. He pushed it open and dragged me into the kitchen.
Trzynacha was lying on the floor. Wronek knelt by the severed hands. He picked them up, studied them, then tossed them away. He grabbed for the axe with the rusted ornament on the blade.
“I chopped him like that woodcutter taught us, remember?” Standing over the corpse, he raised the axe. “So that you don’t cut off what isn’t necessary. And not too high up. Remember?” he said, removing his gloves. He ripped them up like Jędrek had and tossed them on the corpse.
I stared at the cadaver of the militiaman like I was hypnotized. He lay on his back. A pencil was gouged into one of his eyes, his right hand was chopped off, his stomach was splayed open, and his guts were all over the floor. A puddle of blood was congealing.
“No more Hashishopiners,” said Wronek.
I looked, but I didn’t want to see. I tried to close my eyes, but the lids wouldn’t shut; I wanted to cover them with my hands, but even they refused to obey.
I started screaming.
“You’ll get the whole apartment in here!” Wronek leapt over to me and covered my mouth with his hand. “now they’ll all come running, you dick!” He pushed me against the wall and then further, toward the door. Then he opened it and pushed me out into the corridor. There was a stir in the staircase. Piastowa was the first to run toward us, at the head of the information outpost as usual. Behind her I spotted other neighbors, and among them Polepa, the security guard, who should have been at work. They were shouting something, a hubbub grew and echoed in the stairwell. Doors kept swinging open.
“Faster!” yelled Wronek. “You always screw everything up.”
Piastowa stood there frozen when she saw Wronek all bloody. Polepa ran past her and into Trzynacha’s apartment.
My friend hit me in the back again and I fell into the Wronkiewiczes’ apartment. I leaned against the wall and slowly slid down onto the floor. I felt as though someone had put a helmet on my head to protect me from the stimuli of the outside world. Sounds came to me from a distance, I made out images through a thick fog.
I saw Wronek make a barricade, blocking the door; I heard the din going on in the staircase when the neighbors found out what had happened to Trzynacha. But I got the feeling that it all concerned someone else. I plunged deeper and deeper into myself, my consciousness drowsed off. It’s only a dream, a nightmare, I’m vanishing.
Wronek was already at the door with father’s gun when the first neighbors started pounding.
“Open up!” – that was Polepa. His voice cut through the mayhem in the corridor, the screams, uproar, and even sobbing. “Calm down!” ordered the security guard. And to us: “Boys, open the door. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
Translated by Soren Gauger