Jacek: An excerpt from Polska, 1994

Author: • March 20, 2014 • Novel Excerpts

Jacek waited for me outside my school in pressed jeans and leather jacket.  He kissed my cheeks and asked if he could take me somewhere inside.  He offered to take me to his flat.  I let him take me to the pizzeria side of the Browar, but I had no idea what to say to him.  I asked him if he was in college.

“No, I don’t need it.  I just got out of the military.”

“What do you mean you don’t need college?  Isn’t getting an education a lot easier than getting shot at?”

“What are they going to teach me?”

“But what about work?”

“College boys don’t have real jobs.  All they do is think all day.  I want to do something real.  That was the one good thing about Communism.  You didn’t have to look for a job.  They just gave you one.”

He used his soft fingers to pull another cigarette from the pack.  I thought about his hands and how they felt against my body.

“I got a little taste of action in the resistance and I wanted to see what it would be like to do that full time.  That’s why I joined the army.”

“How old were you?”

“Old enough to get shot.”  He pulled up the edge of his shirt and took my hand.  I pulled back but he put the tip of my index finger between his ribs.

“Where?”  I palpated his warm skin.  “I don’t see anything.”

“Back in ’81.  The police were using rubber bullets, but you wouldn’t have known it at the time,” he took a drink of his Coke.  “It hurt like hell.  I had a seven centimeter bruise for a month.  It started out all black and oozing pus.  It was really intense, you know?”

I couldn’t believe I was talking to someone who had been out on the streets then.  He told me about the tear gas, the police trampling the Solidarność banner.

“Even the nastiest Ubek wouldn’t have shot a child.” I knew things were bad then, but that would have been inhuman.

“They weren’t aiming for me.  But they weren’t not aiming either.  You know how the Russians enforce their orders.  Now that I’ve been in the army I almost feel sorry for those guys.”

He lit yet another cigarette and I wanted to be smoking with him.  I wanted to know what he knew.

“How did you get involved?”

“It’s not like I knew the leaders or anything.  Imagine where I’d be now if I had.  They used us kids to pass messages.  My mother worked nights so it wasn’t hard for me to get out of the house.”

“How old were you?”


“And she left you alone?”

“No work, no eat.  She worked two jobs.  Slept during her day job.”

About the Author

Ilsa McKettaAuthor: Isla McKetta

Country of residence: United States of America

Nationality: American

Mother tongue: English

Isla McKetta is a novelist who has lived on three continents and traveled across four. Her first novel, Polska, 1994, was researched while she lived in Poland. She reviews books at A Geography of Reading.

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