Somewhere in northern Slovakia – May 2009
In the shadow of Orava Castle lies a small village. It is a Sunday afternoon and the streets are deserted as my husband and I pass through on our way from Krakow to Budapest.
“Wow, this place is dead.” I say to my husband. “I wonder –.” But then a babushka appears. She stands in an empty parking lot in front of a closed shop. Her expression is one of amusement.
And then another appears, carrying a rosary and walking with surprising swiftness towards the church. She also wears a calm, almost beatific smile.
More elderly ladies emerge from behind hedges or disappear around corners. We drive back and forth a couple of times down the one main street, looking for signs of young people or men of any age. None can be found.
I remember something that my Polish/Slovak cousin, who lives in this region, once told me. “The babushky in these mountains lived through war and communism. They survived when many others didn’t. They were the strongest of their generation.”
As we drive away from the village, and the solitary souls recede in the rearview mirror, I wonder what it would be like to be one of the last people alive in the only place you’ve ever known.