Since giving up his academic career and losing the woman he loved, Błażej has been leading a boring life devoid of entertainment. With every passing year he sinks deeper and deeper into apathy, and even drops his greatest passion, which is mountain climbing. He is sure nothing will change, and maybe he doesn’t even want it to. But a chance encounter shifts his fate onto completely different tracks. On his way home from work, he almost runs over a teenage girl called Zuzanna (who insists, however, that she is really called Fix), who has run away from someone. At first it looks as if that someone is Marta, but then it turns out she is not. Błażej also discovers that Marta has come to Warsaw to look for her young son, Szymon, who has gone missing in strange circumstances. On pure impulse, Błażej decides to help the woman with her search, in which Zuzanna is also going to play a major role…
So at first the action of this novel looks fairly straightforward, but that is just an illusion. Aleksander Kościów wouldn’t be himself if he didn’t suddenly veer off into the realm of his unbridled imagination, which pervades the reader’s familiar everyday world. Fix claims she is a sort of superhero who is fighting in a parallel world against a vulture-man, who is also lying in wait for Marta’s missing son. At first the adults regard her as a crazy teenager with a hyperactive imagination, but they change their attitude when they find out how easily Fix can lead them to a series of clues left by the missing boy. The narrative is on two levels. The first depicts a “crazy week” in the lives of Błażej and Marta, spent looking for her son. The other describes the wanderings of Dal – who is probably Szymon – in a world like something out of a computer game. As he tells his thrilling, action-packed story, Kościów also poses some important questions: do we really know what sort of world we happen to live in? As we make major life choices, should we necessarily be guided by common sense and reason, or would it be better to trust our intuition? For the adults, looking for Szymon becomes a search for themselves as well; at the end of it they will be slightly different people from at the start.
- Robert Ostaszewski
Aleksander Kościów (born 1974) is by training a composer and viola player. Apologise is his second novel.
The woman sat down on top of her bag, which made her look a bit like a carelessly arranged puppet. Her expressionless gaze was fixed on the pavement ahead of her as she swept locks of hair from her face that immediately fell back into place.
“What’s wrong, you ask?” she said quietly, without even raising her head. “It’s very simple, Sir. I haven’t got any money, I haven’t got any bank cards, I have no way of calling anyone who could pay in some wonderful electronic way, it’s a sort of nightmare. Of course you don’t know why I am here anyway… Why all this is happening to me… I have no idea….”
Błażej got out of the car and squatted in front of her. It was a serious situation, demanding intuition, courtesy, concern and tact – various qualities that he hadn’t had anyone to practise on lately.
“You’ll do as you wish,” he began.
“Everything was in my handbag… Money, bank cards, identity card, driving licence. Fortunately I stuffed my health booklet into my big bag. On the strength of it they made out a sort of provisional document for me at the police so I could get access to my account – one of my banks ought to accept it, but that’ll only be tomorrow… Apart from that there was nothing that could be done…” She closed her eyes and shook her head. The tone of her voice had risen dangerously, changing into a plaintive squeak. “I just don’t know…”
“I see. For lack of funds you have nowhere to sleep, let’s be frank about it, so I’ll take you to my house, and I’ll spend the night at a friend’s – we were going to meet up anyway.”
She raised her head, but in the darkness he couldn’t read her expression, so he quickly went on:
“I live on my own, so no one’s going to bother you. I’ll give you the keys, if you’ll find that more… In the morning you can leave them with the neighbour. You need to get some rest, and then it’ll all work out sooner or later. I’ll leave you my mobile phone, so you’ll have all my important numbers, including the number of my friend, whom I’m going to call right now, in case you have any suspicions or problems, you’ll simply be able to sleep in peace until the morning, and I think that might be the most important thing to do now.”
He finished, and breathed out a lot of air, wondering where it had been sitting all this time. The woman didn’t reply for quite a while.
“It’s one forty,” she said at last, and then fell silent again. Błażej nodded, waiting for the continuation. “You are… incredibly kind, Sir. Well, I am in fact, sort of, er… without an alternative, damn and blast it… It’s true, I’ve run out of ideas. It’s a complete nightmare.”
She hid her face in her hands and stayed in that position for so long that Błażej had to stand up to straighten his legs. There wasn’t much nocturnal chill in the air, and the dense, oxygenless humidity was preventing him from gathering his thoughts. He started fanning himself with the city map with the half-torn off cover, and the woman gave him a look, so he handed her the map and reached into the glove compartment for an old newspaper. They sat like that for a while, fanning themselves in silence, but the empty space between them was filled with the whoosh of grains of thought, decisions, various grey-and-white pros and cons passing through their minds.
“You are terribly sweet, Sir…” She raised her head, smiling. “I hope the trouble I’ve been causing you for several hours…”
“It’s no problem. Really.”
“By the way I’m Marta,” she said, holding out her hand, which was sweaty and wore a silver ring.
“And I’m Błażej,” he smiled, returning her handshake, and then selected Mateusz’s number.
“Are you going to call now, Sir? It’s almost two in the morning.”
“First of all, call me Błażej. Secondly, when we were both ten, Mateusz and our mates at the summer camp on the lake put a sleeping-draught in my evening tea, and then during the night they put my bed, with me in it, onto two little boats. I woke up on that catamaran thing with an awful headache in the middle of the lake, in a fog and among all these grebes. I have every right to call him at two in the morning without any fears.”
The woman snorted, smiling faintly and looking aside. As he explained the whole thing to Mateusz, she just shook her head, gazing at Błażej and cramming her involuntary smile into the corners of her mouth to make it smaller in case it were noticed.
“Sorted. They weren’t asleep at all. We were going to meet up on their return from Portugal anyway, so it might as well be now.”
“Not bad,” was all she said, letting him take her bag, which landed on the back seat.
“Well,” said Błażej, sitting behind the wheel and handing her a second towel freshly wetted with water. “Time for bed. Tomorrow it’ll all be fine.”
Marta was dispirited, but nodded in agreement. On the way they stopped at an all-night petrol station. When Błażej came back to the car she said quietly:
“I arrived in Warsaw yesterday. I’m from Krakow. I came because it looks as if my son has gone missing. He’s ten years old.”
They drove along the empty streets, guided by the play of lights and their phantoms reflected in the windscreen. Błażej was unduly careful at the intersections, looking round several times and seeing to various extra activities, such as spraying the windscreen or checking the slack in the gear stick. Marta leaned her forehead against her own reflection in the car window. It was no longer the direct continuation of the crazy evening with a batty teenage girl pretending to be unconscious and the search for a hotel; not any more.
“He went to camp, he was going to come back by train with all the others, there were fifteen children and three carers. There were some children from Warsaw at the camp too, and he made close friends with a boy called Kuba… My Szymon is a bit odd, a very quiet and introverted child, he doesn’t really have any friends, it was clearly very important to him that I allow him to do this grown-up thing, that he’d be in the care of a strange family for two days at his new friend’s home, and then they’d put him on the train and I’d pick him up in Krakow. You know, the InterCity from Warsaw to Krakow has no stops on the way, so I was going to meet him at the first stop on his journey, but he wasn’t there. Of course I called those people, at first I couldn’t get through, no matter, then no one answered, so finally, and it was night by then, I found out he had a ticket, and that Kuba’s older sister had taken him right to the train in person. But Szymon never got out of it in Krakow…”
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones