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The Days of Unleavened Bread, Chapter 4

My mother was very reluctant to let me go to Johann's wedding with Boris. "How can we let her go to a place where there's danger lurking at every step?" mother said over and over again, referring to night raids by the Partisans and saying, who knows what might happen. It was only after my father and my aunt had done their best to convince her, and after she had heard on the radio that "there was mopping-up going on in the woods" and that there had been no Partisans around for weeks, that my mother consented to let me go.
.... Johann, aunt Maria's godson, was leaving for the Eastern front in a few days, and he wanted to make sure of Rezika. "The war will be over soon, and it will make waiting easier for both of us," he said.
.... By ten o'clock the courtyard was already full of people. The bright colours of the women's best dresses stood out against the dark suits worn by the men. The bridesmaids hurried to pin sprigs of rosemary on the guests' lapels or bodices.
.... A cart stopped on the street outside and the musicians got out. The babble of voices fell silent and the guests waited expectantly for the musicians to summon the bride. Fat Joseph slung a big, gleaming bass tuba round his neck and Franz, who played the trumpet and conducted the orchestra, raised his index finger, waved his hand, and the orchestra started playing. This was the first summons to the bride, the signal for her to come out and set off to the wedding. The music played, but the bride didn't come out. Franz, the conductor, waved his hand and the music stopped. A second attempt was made. They played a slow, mournful tune, causing some of the women to raise their handkerchiefs to their eyes. The same tune had been played at weddings for decades, and the same pantomime had been performed of "begging" the seemingly "reluctant" bride to come out and to begin her new life, leaving behind her girlhood and the warmth of her parents' home.
.... The musicians made a third attempt to summon the bride. The door opened and the best man came out. A voice rang out in the yard:
.... "Best man, your purse is on fire!"
.... The best man thrust one hand into his pocket, stroking his moustache with his other hand and smiling. With a sudden jerk, his hand flew out of his pocket, and a shower of coins rained down on the heads of the children waiting expectantly at the front of the crowd. They swooped down on the coins like chickens scrabbling for a handful of grain.
.... The music started up again and there was a flash of white in the doorway. It was the bride's long wedding dress and her wreath. She held up her skirt with one hand as she stepped on to the threshold, while in the other she held a white handkerchief with which she was dabbing her eyes. All the women in the courtyard raised their handkerchiefs to their eyes, and some began to stifle sobs.
.... A long line of carts and carriages was drawn up beside the ditch, and there were two specially decorated hansom cabs, one for the bride and bridegroom and the other for the best man. The carts had been scoured and scrubbed until they shone, and some of them had been freshly painted. The horses were restless, and the metal buckles on their harnesses glittered, while multi-coloured ribbons streamed from their headstalls, fluttering in the breeze.
.... The wedding took place in the small village church. It was not big enough to hold all those who wanted to get in, and there was a crowd outside.
.... In the courtyard, in the shade of the ancient trees - walnuts, cherries, pears and apples - there were rows of tables and benches made of deal boards nailed to stakes driven into the ground. Women were rushing about preparing the wedding breakfast; some were running to the tables carrying tablecloths and hurriedly covering the tables, others were carrying plates. The brass band could already be heard in the distance, punctuated by shouts of "whoopee!"
.... The merrymaking continued the whole afternoon, becoming even more animated as evening approached. The guests, young and old, danced waltzes and polkas. Even Johann's grandmother danced.
.... After supper, when the guests had been warmed by wine, the dance with the bride was announced. On the table there was a large, gilt-edged china platter with a floral pattern, into which all those who wished to dance with the bride would put a bank-note to pay for the privilege. The best man was first. Slowly he drew out his big leather wallet. The guests followed his every movement. How much would he put in the platter? The best man pulled out a large bank-note, slowly put it down on the platter, and then drew out another, and another. It was up to him to set an example. People watched to see how much was being given by whom. The bride was already exhausted, but the pile of notes on the platter continued to grow.
.... The guests, seemingly weary, sat round the tables and watched the couple who were dancing. It was only when the last of the bride's partners had escorted her back to her place that the best man announced, "Damenwahl!"
.... The boldest of the women hesitated a little, and then asked their partners for a dance. I hesitated, too, and suddenly there was little Irma, smiling, heading straight for Boris. What a chatterbox she was, they laughed and chatted throughout the dance, especially she, gazing into Boris's eyes the whole time. I was annoyed by her forwardness.
.... When he came back, Boris said, "You look a bit bad-tempered. Don't you care for this little party?"
.... I only replied, "Let's go, Boris!"
.... We walked off in silence. It was so dark that we could hardly see the road by the edge of the ditch.
.... "You're trembling," Boris said, putting his arm around me and drawing me close. "We'll be warmer like this," he said, and drew me even closer.
.... Gunshots and machine-gun fire could be heard somewhere in the distance.
.... "Boris, how do you think it'll end? The war, I mean."
.... Boris was silent for a while, as if he did not want to say, and then he said, "Don't you know yet who's going to win?"
.... "Of course I do. I'm sorry, I thought you might know more than I do."
.... Boris was silent. At that time I had no idea that we were not both thinking the same thing.

Next: Chapter 5