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A Cold War

Juanita's hands are freezing. Behind the fogged up windows of a Wenceslas Square cafeteria two elderly women, a table of men, another of office workers are chatting. She opens the door. Grumble and laughter are suspended, cups resting in their saucers or halted in mid-air, all eyes on her. A teenaged Westerner wearing tight green jeans, a British duffel coat and long swept-off-the-forehead bangs is rare in 1965 Prague. Also dangerous.

Furtive whispers begin, and suddenly she is six years old, trapped on her first day at school in Madrid, little girls dancing round and round her in the grimy school courtyard, hands joined, chanting something she can not understand. Next day, same thing. All she can do is stand there, all alone until the bell rings. On the third day she listens closely, repeats the chant under her breath - "Comoteyamas, Comoteyamas" - until she can recite it to the receptionist at the hotel where her family is staying until their house is ready. It means 'What is your name?' The following morning, when the chanting starts, she screws up her courage and shouts:


The girls stop.

"Yon?" They laugh. There is no hard J is Spanish. Then one of them takes her hand.

No such chance here. Even if she were strong enough to smile, she is the enemy. Good Communists do not consort with decadent Western Imperialists. Anyone welcoming her will be reported, and doomed.

Story by:

Jane Bow

13 August 2015