“Tabletki po-kolaci.” the Polish nurse handed to Marcello a small plastic glass.
It was 2003, October.
Marcello had a car crash in the desert countrydise near Saczow, Silesia, Poland. He had a femoral fracture and some minor damage to internal organs.
They had already operated him once, in that small post-soviet clinic of Bedzin, Silesia, Poland.
Why he was there was a long story.
He had arrived two days ago in a 1991 jet black Volkswagen Golf driven by a chap his friend Alberto had introduced to him just a few months before.
All the three of them, Mattia, Marcello and Alberto, had come there from Italy just to meet some girls known the summer before, on the French Riviera.
Poland was a very different country from Italy.
There was something old and sharp in its contryside, something rough among its buildings.
Something Marcello couldn’t tell.
It was not that people were unpolite, they were just different.
At the border, when they had to ask road directions, they tried to speak with two armed guards.
Huge hulking men nearly two meters tall.
They looked with amusement at the three smaller guys.
“Do you speak English?” asked Marcello.
“No.” said one guard.
The other laughed.
Marcello bit his lip and tried again.
“Do you speak French?”
The guard grinned.
“You speak Polish or Russian?” asked in his rough English.
Marcello shook his head.
“No.” he said.
The guard shrugged.
Now he was experiencing the same language barrier, as only two doctors and absolutely none of the nurses knew English.
Every evening, a nurse would come and say to Marcello:
“Tabletki po-kolaci.” handing to him a plastic glass with one white pill inside.
Every time, Marcello would take the glass and put it on his bedside table. The next morning he would take the pill after breakfast.
Because that word, kolaci was very similar to the Italian for breakfast: colazione.
Even the pronounce was nearly the same.
So, tabletki was surely the Polish word for pill and kolaci was breakfast. But what about that po?
In Italian po could mean a few, but that was not the case. So he decided he meant after. It made sense, after all.
So it was: “take that pill after breakfast”. That’s it.
But even that evening, the nurse started a sort of mantra, repeating the sentence over and over.
She was stressing over the po-kolaci part. As if it was very important.
She was not trying to change language or to mimic something. Her strategy was rather simple and rough: just raise the volume of your voice and say the sentence very slowly and even a Chinese would understand Polish.
“Tak.” said Marcello, nodding.
That was his first word of Polish: tak, that meant yes.
So he said: “Tak,” adding, “po-kolaci.” just to reassure the woman.
Finally, the nurse watched him put the plastic glass on the bedside table and left.
Marcello was alone.
The room was very small and had three beds – including his own – and a cage. The cage was closed and had a bed inside.
Marcello saw a giant padlock connecting the bars.
He was puzzled and a bit scared about that thing. In Italy you would never see something like that in a million of years.
But that was a different country, even if it was still Europe.
A part of Europe where the Roman Empire had never arrived.
Marcello shuffled his feet and felt the cold brim of the room-sink. Yes, the space in the room was so cramped that Marcello’s feet were touching the sink.
He cursed his bad luck, cursed Mattia – whose bad driving had provoked the accident – and cursed that country.
It looked like it was freezed in the 30’s or something.
He looked at the walls whose peeling paint was flaking on the ground and shook his head.
“Fuck.” he said.
He felt alone.
His friend Alberto only had come once to visit him. Mattia didn’t even show off.
But Alberto had told Marcello that his dad was on the way to Poland with his sister.
Marcello tought that another dad – maybe a Polish one – would just have left his son there to rot in a foreign hospital.
So his dad was about to arrive. That was good news.
But he really didn’t feel anything else except being alone.
He didn’t feel pain, because of morphine. He tought they were giving him a good amount of that thing.
Because he felt like he was just playing a videogame with himself as the main character.
He was feeling like he was outside of his own body.
That was a bit disturbing.
He felt uncomfortable. Mainly because he had to pee with a catheter and because of the food they were giving him.
It was terrible. In Italy you had cappuccino and brioche or coffee and brioche; you had bread and marmelade or bread with nuts and chocolate cream. Maybe orange juice.
But there! They used to bring him salty cheese, ham, eggs and a sort of mayonnaise that was stinking of garlic.
And this was the nice part. The worst were dinner and supper.
As summoned by his toughts, a younger nurse – whose name was Anija – came in with the supper-tray.
Anija had straight jet black hair cropped short. She was a small, young woman in her twenties. She had a very pale skin under which one could have seen her veins.
But she was pretty in her own way.
She smiled to Marcello and said: “Dobry wieczor.” wich meant good evening.
“Jak sie masz dziszai Marcello?” she asked.
Marcello smiled. He couldn’t understand a word.
Anija, perhaps remembering that her patient couldn’t understand Polish, tryed with the few English word she knew.
“Yes.” said Marcello.
“Eat!” said Anija, putting the tray on the bedside table.
“Yes.” said Marcello.
Anija smiled and left.
Then Marcello was aware of the smell.
It was a penetrating odor. There must have been something rotten on the tray: that was the only explanation.
Marcello peered over it expecting to see some animal carcass.
There was a glass of what they called kompot and a hot dish with rice on the side.
But in the middle, on the left of the rice … what was that black elongated thing that stood there?
Could it be … horse droppings?
“What the hell?” began Marcello, frowning.
The smell punched him in the stomach like a boxer.
It was like fish smeared in human shit.
Yes, he felt alone.
In a country where noone could unserstand him. In a country where noone could cook something edible.
“What the fucking hell am I doing here?” he shouted.
Only his heartbeat, slightly accelerating.
He took the fork and started with the rice. Then he drank the kompot. It was good and it remembered to him apple juice.
When he finished, he was so tired that he got asleep.
He dreamt of his father coming all the way from Italy with his navy blue Lancia.
Marcello was happy and was smiling.
The dad was smiling too.
But, at once, from his mouth came a loud, mournful lament. Like a long:
A cold, freezing shiver climbed on Marcello’s spine.
His dad had raised his arms and now was walking slowly. The mouth was open and that sound was still pouring from it.
A lament of torment.
What had happened to his dad?
Marcello frowned, then a new noise distracted him.
A small metal clang.
Someone was inside the cage. A dark figure.
Marcello saw hands raising from the pitch black space inside the cage and shaking the bars.
Then, again the lament.
his dad’s face poked from obscurity. His beautyful, friendly grey-green eyes where white as a dead fish’s now.
And that lament …
Marcello opened his eyes.
He was in the hospital room. It was dark. There was only a faint distant light somewhere in the corridor.
There were no nurses passing. No sound.
Except for …
He felt again that mournful “Aaaaaaah!”. It was coming from near his bed.
There was a shadow on the door.
It was a man, but he walked like he had no coordination. His arms were raised and his neck was slightly bent.
He took a step forward.
Marcello was bewitched. He could not take his eyes off from that grisly apparition.
His myofibrils, adapting to dakness, were able to show him.
That thing stalked towards him and he froze, unable to peel his eyes away from its ghastly towering features.
Its face was sunken in, eyes unfocused. Its mouth twitched and drooled as if craving for something, anything, the lone human with a broken femur on his bed.
There was a smell of rot, probably coming from its body.
Marcello felt his stomach churn. He tried not to vomit.
Finally he saw its gross, discolored, skin close enough to see that it was falling apart. Its nose and its eyes were a large crust of blood.
Marcello began to shout:
“Go away! Away!” he waved with his arms.
“Away, fuckin’ bastard!” he said.
The lone guy growled like a wolf. He was ready to fight – even with a broken leg – and kill the zombie again if it was necessary.
Because that thing was a zombie.
It smelt of death and rot, it had no motor coordination, it had blood all lover its face.
And there was that lament.
Marcello tought the Zombie-Apocalypse had begun and that thousands, maybe millions of these creatures were lurking in the dark depths of the hospital.
Maybe his dad was already in danger.
Maybe there were the spirits of the jews of Bedzin, killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz. They were angry and they wanted to take their toll on humans.
They were carving for the living.
But Marcello was not prepared to be turned in one of them.
«Go fuckin’ away fuckin’ bastard!» he shouted.
«I will kill you!»
yeah, right, to kill a zombie, great, he tought.
Then, the zombie stopped.
And turned away.
Marcello was bewildered. Had he the ability to turn undead, now?
Had he said something, like a magic spell, and he didn’t know it?
The zombie was nowhere to be sighted. But Marcello didn’t relax.
He passed the following hour half sit on his bed, eyes wide-open. He didn’t want a Zombie-Apocalypse, he wasn’t ready for that.
But he desperately wanted to know wether his dad was alive or not.
Finally, he drifted into sleep. A deep slumber without dreams.
The next morning, the zombie came again.
He was walking almost normally this time. He looked at the guy on his bed and with two fingers mimicked the act of smoking.
Then, slowly, said:
What? He wanted a cigarette? No Zombie-Apocalypse then?
“No cigarette.” said Marcello. He waved his arms and added:
“Go away. No cigarette.”
Again, the zombie turned away.
Anija came in with the breakfast tray. She said something to the zombie and waved him off.
Then she put the tray on the bedside table.
She saw the supper dish left there and shook her head.
She pointed to the horse dropping and said:
“Erh … liver … liver … good.”
So it was liver then, tought Marcello.
Anija’s eye looked at the plastic glass. She saw the pill inside.
Anija took the plastic glass and said:
“Tak, kolaci.” Marcello pointed to the breakfast tray.
Anija shook her head and said:
“Nie. Kolaci … evening … ”
then a word came to her tongue:
“Supper!” she said, smiling.
“Supper?” asked Marcello. Anija nodded: “Kolaci is supper” said.
“Kolaci, breakfast.” protested Marcello.
Anija shook her head:
“Breakfast,” she said, “is sniadanie.”
“Sniadanie?” said Marcello, practicing the difficult pronunciation of that word.
“Tak! Sniadanie … breakfast!”
Marcello smiled and shook his head.
After breakfast, he took the pill.