By 19th March 2009No Comments

My Dad is silent. His dark eyes are fixed on the flickering images; a new, Hollywood version. In his well-worn chair in the corner of the lounge, he watches his family’s story, split apart by advert breaks. I watch him, wondering what he feels.
My Dad rarely speaks to me about his family. Something stops me from asking, although we are so close. When I came home for the weekend, last night, there was such love in his eyes. He cooked the meal he thinks is my favourite, our conversation skating on the surface on things.
My Mum told me the story of his family, many years ago. I don’t remember why – maybe I asked why Dad had no family: was he an orphan? Or maybe I asked about my surname, which nobody pronounces right first time. Where did it come from?
‘His family were from Hungary,’ Mum said.
When a foreign country is the past, no map or passport will let you in. The only thing to help you understand is speech, but even that’s inadequate. The story was as flimsy and full of holes as a piece of lace. I had to imagine most of it, but how do you imagine something that you cannot speak about? A jigsaw story made from pieces of broken speech, in a language I can never master.
‘They were a talented family,’ Mum said. ‘Well-known in Budapest. Your Dad’s uncle was a TB surgeon and his aunt was an opera singer.’
I see them, sepia-tinted, smiling stiffly in portraits that would have been destroyed, or hidden. Did they have children, who would have been equally skilful with their hands and voices?
The film that we are watching is not concerned with the lives of people such as my aunt and uncle. The frail-looking glossy-lipped British actress and her handsome dark-haired co-star appear on screen in a swell of music. A smash on the door, and they are taken. Swept from their homes, terrified but brave, holding hands, professing love. They are crammed onto the trains. In the film, it is the beginning of the story, for they will be saved. For my uncle, my aunt, and the rest of the family, it was the end.
My Dad’s parents’ story is different. They were the lucky ones, and fled Hungary for England in 1939. My grandfather’s ability to speak 10 languages was their passport. But neither he nor my grandmother could cope with not knowing their families’ stories. He took refuge in insanity, and died aged 40. My grandmother, her heart literally broken, went two years later.
My Dad, a Human Rights lawyer, watches their black and white world exploded into colour. The story on screen is as well-worn and stretched as hand-me-down clothing. By the end of the film, everything is resolved and put into a ribboned packaged, handed to the audience at home.
My Dad says nothing.

Sam Szanto

Author Sam Szanto

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