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It is 5:20 a.m. someday in the middle of summer when I am seven or eight; my sister is three years younger.  My sister and I are sitting in the kitchen, in our night gowns, on stools placed in the middle of the floor and facing the door. We are wide awake but we don’t say anything not to miss on the sound of the front door downstairs opening and then closing quietly.

The door will be closing quietly because our mom doesn’t want to wake up our grandparents who live on the first floor. She also thinks, perhaps hopes, that my sister and I are still asleep. But we are not. In fact we could hardly sleep at all and getting up at 5:00 a.m. wasn’t difficult.

Finally, the front door  opens and closes, but instead of our mom’s steps on the stairs we hear our grandmother saying, They are awake.  I can’t believe she could hear us!  We were so quiet.

My sister and I look at each other in fear: Will she make us go back to bed?

Mom comes into the kitchen and we jump to greet her. The next thing we know the suitcase is now in the middle of the floor, where the stools were just a moment ago, and we are on our knees.

The suitcase is probably one of the most beautiful, desired, and mysterious objects I have ever seen. It’s made of vinyl in one of those indescribable colors of the 70s, something between red, brown, and purple. It travels with mom to East Berlin twice a year. East Berlin is the threshold between us and the world behind the rainbow that is distant, unattainable and desired in all the legends and stories for children and adults of our world.

First, two huge silver buckles fly open, and the overpowering smell of chocolate and salami hits my nostrils. I jump up like a spring freed of its constraints. I am not exactly sure why, but I hear myself singing the only line I remember from the movie I saw not long ago. The moment in the kitchen and the infinity of that line from a movie, the movement of my nightgown and the movement of the dress of the divine lady in the movie suddenly make sense.

The suitcase is packed tightly. Every tiny space filled with something new and — what’s most important and thrilling — utterly unavailable in Poland. The suitcase is a bridge that connects the dancing couple in the movie with our kitchen. Every item in that suitcase says: The magical world of far away, the one behind the rainbow, truly exists, and you can stand on the threshold and see it; you can have a piece of it right here, right now!

And we have it. Mom says: Slowly, slowly!

The chocolates come in a red box with a small cellophane window that shows bulging hazelnuts as appetizing as the ones painted on the box. I study the details of the box and then press my nose to the cellophane, inhaling deeply.

Exotic salamis of all shapes and sizes are placed on the table; later they will be placed in undisclosed locations to wait until Christmas. The boxes of chocolate will be placed in a locked cabinet to ensure controlled consumption (which is the best way, we are told, to attain optimal health for years to come). The same rule applies to the marzipan covered in rich chocolate, a very special treat for Christmas.

There are other items packed neatly in colorful wrappings with words in German. We read them out loud, but even though they bring the tangible world from behind the rainbow to us, they don’t sound to me as pleasing as the ones from the movie about heaven. For some reason, different languages open different worlds to us, even though they might come from the same place.

On the bottom of the suitcase I find a small plastic box with needles, pins, spools of colorful threads, and an object with a hook, just a little bit bigger than a match which, as I find out later, was the item of this trip.

Finally I can repair my tights by myself! Mom says looking at the small object.

I know what she is talking about. I saw her taking her tights, rolled up in tight knots and placed in old plastic bags, to a lady (no, not the one from the movie) who hunches in a small pool of light in the corner of a store, focused on lifting of mesh: repairing socks, stockings, tights.

My mom’s trips to East Berlin are for us, the children. She buys for us everything: underwear, ribbons for our pony tails, school uniforms, blouses, pants, skirts, dresses, socks, stockings,  thick tights for winter, shoes, coats, umbrellas, and everything else that is directly related to school, and this is what’s most important to me.

Nothing in the whole wide world is as important to me as the notebooks, fountain pens, colored pencils in tin containers, beautiful leather pencil cases, calipers, rulers, pencil sharpeners, erasers that smelled like cherries, and translucent and delicate covers for notebooks and thick ones for textbooks.

Notebooks and fountain pens are absolutely number one on my list of beloved objects. I can’t even describe the feeling of opening a new notebook — slowly, running my fingers through the page, checking the smoothness. And then the moment of opening a fountain pen and placing the tip on a new page. My eyes follow the trace of the dancing tip. Can I write something worthy of the perfect paper? Of the perfect flow of ink? All I write in the beginning is my name: Danuta Hinc, Danuta Hinc, Danuta Hinc.

That day the suitcase holds something even more mysterious than the hook for meshing; it doesn’t resemble anything I know. It is heavy and is has a crank. After a while I discover a tiny drawer but it doesn’t hold anything.  Mom doesn’t want to give up the secret, so I struggle on my own.

The epiphany comes in a form of thunder in the moment in which I notice the small opening in the shape of a circle that opens and closes moved by the two ears (on the top of the object) I squeeze together. Oh, my God! I scream. Of course it’s a sharpener! The dancing couple from the movie comes back. How fascinating! I run to get some dull pencils and the adventure begins. I sharpen them all with ease and precision I didn’t expect to see ever. Pure heaven.

The movement of the crank, the sharp points of sharpened pencils, the ballroom floor from the movie, the perfect dress of the divine lady, and the words of heaven are suddenly joined right at the tips of my fingers. All my old crayons sharpened earlier with a knife in a choppy way become perfectly smooth.  They are excellent, without any flaws. They actually look new; clean and brand new.

And in this experience, all my struggles about the world behind the rainbow cease to exist. The world behind the rainbow is as perfect as all the legends and stories described. It has an exhilarating flow and finish, a beautiful line of a never-ending dance of a precisely sharp pencil, of a breathtaking flowing dress, of electrifying words describing the desired by all–the only–perfect place.

Heaven, simply heaven!

2 Responses to “Discovering the world behind the rainbow”

  1. Adela says:

    Witaj Danusiu.
    Kiedy czytam Twoje wspomnienia odpływam w świat moich wspomnień. Nasze dzieciństwo się splatało, więc niektóre rzeczy bardzo dobrze pamiętam. Tę ostrzynkę również. I małe, żółte pojemniczki po jajkach niespodziankach, z których robiłyśmy solniczki:-))) Gdzieś w środku targa mną tęsknota za tym co minęło i że minęło tak bardzo szybko. To były dobre czasy.

  2. Danuta Hinc says:

    Alu, mna chyba targa ta sama tesknota i dlatego pisze o moim dziecinstwie. Masz racje, to byly dobre czasy i rzeczywiscie wydaje sie jakby to bylo wczoraj. Zastanawiam sie dlaczego ludzie tesknia za dziecinstwem … czy to ta niewinnosc, ktora utracilismy?