Tomasz Piątek’s Nionio is a heretical novel. Heresy, nowadays at least, is not so much an opinion conflicting with church doctrine as a deviation from commonly shared convictions. In this sense, Piątek’s novel contains a twofold heresy.Firstly, the hero of Nionio is a single father bringing up his six-year-old son. Of course, in today’s world there is nothing unusual about a single mother or a single father. Piątek’s heresy lies in the fact that he shows how the father infects his son with evil despite his best intentions. The paternal education is kindly, based on conversation and persuasion, without any beatings or shouting, and with reverence for Christ, but at the same time it is poisonous, because although the father tries as hard as he can, the dialogue method he uses is steeped in indoctrination and relies on emotional blackmail, infecting the child with fears and a sense of guilt, and initiating him into a Byzantine attitude to God. Once Nionio grows up, a monster of bigotry or cruelty will creep out from the recesses of his psyche. Proof of this is the ambiguous conclusion of the novel, from which we can deduce that the narrator was probably Nionio himself: so it was his imagination that engendered this story, full of violence and crime. Where do all these images of evil come from? From the fact that – to complicate matters – Nionio’s father is the head of a detective agency that operates in a large city. So Nionio describes his father’s adventures, and also the doubts in his own soul, in the language he has learned from his dad. In this language the innocent suffering of other people is inexplicable (and so most of the criminal enigmas are never solved), whereas the questions asked by his child’s soul meet with infantile, tautological answers, authoritarian rather than convincing. Thus Piątek has created an anti-educational novel, demonstrating how within a model of good education a grain of violence can lie hidden. But the heretical charge of his book does not end there. In the course of his detective work, the father finds himself on the track of a sect that was founded in the days of the communist state with the aim of destroying the unity of the Catholic church. Following the religious trail presents him with a paradoxical truth: faithful members of the Catholic church are still slaves to a victim mentality, while members of the sect prove closer to the true teachings of Christ, who enjoined the renunciation of evil and vengeance. In Piątek’s novel, the Catholic faith abuses Christ’s sacrifice as a justification for ‘sacred violence’, i.e. justice dispensed in the name of God. The victim mentality is stronger and more lasting than Christian spirituality. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the educational defeat sustained by Nionio’s father is his fault or in fact results from the way in which society has shaped Catholicism. As we can easily see, this dilemma is heretical in nature too.
- Przemysław Czapliński
Nionio was born six years ago. He was always resourceful, even then. I saw with my own eyes how he managed to get himself out of that dark, bloody cavern, or rather, out of Marta. He had a look on his face that he still puts on now whenever he has to answer a particularly difficult question.
As soon as he was out of there, my cell phone rang. I think Marta was looking at me then; she saw me running away. I only had time to notice that Nionio had green eyes. A minute later I was already in the radio car.
Too long a minute – thanks to the birth I was late getting under the viaduct at Służewiecka Valley. A blond man with very short hair, wearing jeans, a polo shirt and a baseball cap had been standing there earlier with a long metal object under his arm, something like a thick bar or a pipe. He was a perfect match for the so-called “Pipeman”, who kept attacking women with a hard iron pipe. He usually knocked them unconscious, sometimes dead on the spot. Then he did various un-Nionio-like things to them, like drilling a hole in their head and raping them in the hole. Or he would rape them the usual way, but only after smashing in the back of their heads and smearing their brains across their faces. A psychologist we used to work with in those days, who was also a potential murderer, claimed the Pipeman wanted to combine physical, bodily intercourse with mental, cerebral intercourse. In any case, he was a really clever guy, he knew what to do with his pipe.
When we reached the spot under the viaduct, he wasn’t there any more. Thanks to the birth not only was I late, but I delayed the arrival of the entire operational team. It was our last change of catching the Pipeman. He never showed up again.
Two years later Marta was late. She was late for the supper I’d made for her at home. For the first three hours I wasn’t particularly worried, because usually it was me who was late for her various suppers. Besides, she might be cross that I only ever made vegetarian meals, but I couldn’t bear to look at more meat after all the human flesh I’d had to look at during the day.
After it got to two in the morning, I rounded up all my colleagues. “Hello, this is Marta, so if it’s me you’re after, give it another try, maybe you’ll catch me, bye”, rhymed her cell phone the whole of the next day until it started saying: “The number you have called is unavailable.”
You could say that in the end, Marta was three years later for supper, because we only saw each other again three years later and – just imagine – at an evening meal.
“I can’t look at you,” she said, staring at her steak.
“I’m not surprised. If I’ve understood correctly, you mean you can’t look me in the eyes.”
“I’m not arguing with you. And I won’t even try. Just give me Nionio and you’ll be able to spend the rest of your days and nights in peace with your shitty Sherlock Holmeses.”
“Give me the child. A child needs his mother…”
“Hmmm, that’s interesting. You’ve been quick to realise that. It’s only taken you three years.”
“He certainly doesn’t need a father like you.”
“He certainly does need a parent of some description. ButI’m afraid you lose the contest from the very start. You left him. You’re not suitable. I’m not giving him to you, that’s obvious.”
“The court will force you to.”
“The key is to keep your temper,” I said. “I can just see you answering in court, ‘Yes, so I left the child for three years because I went to the beautician’s and my appointment went on a bit longer than planned. But it’s all that little tart’s fault because she didn’t hurry up with my nail varnish.”
“The key is to keep your temper,” she repeated after me. “You’ll lose yours in court.”
“That’s interesting. Why?”
“Because I’ll tell them what you do with him. Where you take him.”
“It’s better than nursery school.”
“He’d see the same things on telly every day. But now he doesn’t just watch them, he also learns that those are un-Nionio-like things. And I know how to show them to him without robbing him of his childhood.”
“Sorry, but kind of things are we talking about?”
“Un-Nionio-like. You won’t even know how to talk to him.”
“I’ll talk to him normally. And I’ll bring him up normally. And that’s why the court will give him to me. All I have to do is tell them where you take him. And I’ll tell them how you ran away from the birth because you were called to work. That will be enough.”
Marta arrived home late after this conversation. On the way she met up with some girlfriends so she could tell them about her victory. They drank strawberry daiquiris and margaritas together, even Prince’s beer at the Parrot pub. It was two in the morning before she got back to her flat in Natolin.
She went inside, switched on the light and tried to close the door behind her, but someone else did it for her. The light went out again immediately.
“On your knees, woman,” sounded out in chorus. She must have sensed there were several men in the dark room, one of whom was standing right behind her. She must have sensed it, because she understood she didn’t have a chance and didn’t start shouting. She was afraid they’d silence her.
She knelt down.
“Not here. To the left, in the corner. Face to the wall,” said the darkness, this time just one voice. The night-vision Marta shone with a bluish light. She must have had glitter on her face; maybe her friends had adorned her with it at the pub.
“Now repeat: I shall never again bother my son, whom I once abandoned.”
“I…shall never…again…” she began to repeat, but in a completely altered voice. I had never heard a voice like that before. I had to listen to it a few times later on, because the PE teacher at Nionio’s pre-school spoke exactly like that, except that she spoke in that voice all the time.
“If I break this promise, something much worse than this will happen to me.”
“Something…much worse…will happen…” she said, her voice becoming more and more PE-teacher-like, and I realised that I had to restore the balance of the Universe, so I spent a while laying down the laws of the Cosmos.
“Because I will now be treated kindly, I’ll remain kneeling with my face to the wall. For ten minutes.”
“…Face…to the…wall…for ten…minutes…”
“Say thank you.”
She didn’t say thank you. She just couldn’t bring it out.
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones