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István KAMARÁS OJD: Tale of a snail (part)



Tale of a snail (part of the author's fable-book)

(translated by Bakó)

 István Kamarás (1941) writer, sociologist had two books published at Móra publishers during the past few years. Before that he won IBBY’s prize for the best children’s book in 1998 for his Snail-tale (Budapest, 1998. Móra). He wrote altogether 7 books of fiction and has been working as an expert or presenter in various cultural or academic radio programs for children and adolescents. Several of his radio plays have been on radio.

A new, illustrated collection of his tales is going to be published for Christmas 2006 by Móra.

            The tales of István Kamarás are considered post-modern by critics as they are characterized by bold changes of planes, viewpoints, by frequent applications of folkloric and intertextual elements, by the extensive use of the absurd.

            Kalamona-calamity (Budapest, 2004, Móra K.) contains three stories which are connected by both heroes and also the idea of an “eternal story” containing all the stories of the world. Our heroes wander in the world of stories and keep encountering well-known protagonists while searching for their own story-telling grandfather who has been kidnapped by a monstrous giant.

             Let us go to Betlehem (Budapest, 2006. Móra) is also a collection of stories, turned upside down similarly to the previous ones. It is about the Christian Christmas “story” set in our modern world, “processed for consumption” for children coming from different social and cultural backgrounds. The stories take place in a military hospital in Iraq, in a gypsy slum, on a run down housing estate in Budapest bringing the events of Betlehem close to us in all times.

 1.      A snail’s sheil


In those days you could find more gods and heroes on Earth; they were wandering around the emerald-green, embroidery-like meadows; years seemed to last longer, blades of grass and flowers were telling tales which everybody could understand. Have we forgotten how sweet it was?


There was a tiny crack, just like when a human being steps on a snail’s shell.

’No!’ Ant yelled yammering. ’Oh no!’ he specified a little later.

’Ouch, that hurts!’ Cricket observed. ’Or should I say…’ He couldn’t say anything.

’Alas!’ Scarlet Bug grumbled. ’This is too bad!’

’Oh, dear!’ Meloe lamented. ’The dear shell!’

’Smash!’ Toad screamed. ’This is what I call a…’

’Crash!’ concluded Cross-Spider with his usual cool. ’Our friend is crushed!’

’Oh, my god, my god!’ Dung-Beetle, Snail’s best friend wailed. And she burst into tears.

’What will become of him now?’ Eszter, the little girl, who accidently stepped on Snail asked weeping. It was the first time she had seen a live snail from a short distance, unfortunately one which seemed to be through. Even if he survives, he cannot go on without his shell, only as a slug. But everybody dwelling in the cottage found slugs disgusting.

Who were this ’everybody’?

Anma, Eszter’s grandma, who tried to be soothing (to Eszter, that is; she did not dare to touch Snail in spite of all her sympathy).

Anpa, the grandfather, who, despite being a sociologist, knew a great deal about snails and some about granddaughters, too.

Greatie, the great-grandmother, who could not help remembering snails of old times.

Sári, Eszter’s little sister, who was consolating her in a motherly manner but in the meantime she, too, felt like crying.

And their little brother, Ábel, who had no idea what the trouble was, but began to sqall just for safety’s sake.


Luckily, the snail was not done for. Only his shell. He was an orphan anyway, since he had lost his parents long before but now he became homeless. He sat out slowly, stiff all over, with the ruins on his aching back. His friends were simply struck dumb. Their legs – 42 in total (calculating with six legs in the case of the beetles, eight for Cross-Spider and four for Toad) – remained rooted to the very spot. They had no idea about what to do. Snail’s friends did not know (neither did Eszter’ sociologist grandfather) that the Roman, alias edible snail – for Snail was of this kind, Helix pomatia, or to reveal the pet name his mother had given him: Pommie – can grow a new shell if the old one is broken. Not an easy matter, of course, takes a lot of perspiration, efforts, patience and faith. But just because he had never had this sort of accident before, the poor soul did not know how to go on. Did he have to go at all, or, indeed, just wait and hope and have faith. He felt like crying more than anything. His shell was his only shelter. Besides, he was just about to find a fiancée and tell her: ’let us be lovers and marry our fortunes together!’. But after the unfortunate event he hardly had anything to marry and although he felt rather horny, it was more like being on the horns of a dilemma. He snivelled, but kept himself from crying somehow because snails dry out if they cry. But when he thought of this he felt so sorry for himself that he felt like crying even more. Luckily, the only thing that burst out of him was the words his friend Dung-Beetle had said: ’Oh, my god!’. Just this.


Now, as far as god is concerned, opinions are divided. Some say he doesn’t exist. Some believe he is an old, earnest man, with a long, white beard and searching glance. Others think that in spite of all appearances, nothing is stronger in people’s heart than the desire for love and this and god are one and the same. What could we tell the sceptics? Anything can happen in a good tale.


So, believe it or not, this word was enough for Snail to find himself in front of God. Our Lord grew somewhat tired of the heavenly sheen, the blissful bustle and the infinite glory, so as he is wont to do, he took his tool and sat outdoors, turning his back towards Heaven and played jis mouth-organ. He found great delight in the song. ’You stole my heart, pretty sailor’, although, according to Johann Sebastian Bach, he was off the key a little bit. Probably because he gave such an enormous dose of talent to his marvellous musician, that there was a shortage and God could find only crumbs for himself.

Naturally, God knew everything about Snail, since the accident happened just before him. Actually everything in this world happened before him, for there was nothing behind him, except for the heaven, but there things were just fine anyway.

’I see,’ God told Snail and played on for a while; he was sad and comforting at the same time.

’I know,’ God added for he knew that snails had difficulties in asking for favours. Luckily he could see what was inside the hearts, or if someone did not have one, in the corner where he híd his wishes.

’What should it be like?’ God asked.

’Like this one used to be, sir,’ Snail replied. ’Or even more beautiful,’ he added suddenly, for, thank God, he felt a little better again.

’Well, then, my friend, crawl right under the stool where you’re going to be safe and pay attention. Everything you’ll see will happen for you – and for the Truth.’

Snail did not know much about letters and when he said ’as far as the eye could see’ he meant just a few inches but he felt that the ’T’ at the beginning of the word ’Truth’ was a capital. Which is rather unique nowadays – or is it possible that it has always been?


But God was only playing the harmonica. First he played the sailor-song (it made Snail think of his cousins, the sea-snails) then a psalm, entitled ’In God We Trust’, upon which Snail started trusting with all his might while God was feeling a little embarrassed, since this hymn praised him after all. But it wasn’t his fault. Everything is audible in Heaven, the melody was catchy, he liked it, started playing it and didn’t seem to be able to stop. But he suddenly pocketed the harmonica and winked his eyes. Three thousand and thirty-three seraphim rallied round him flitting, watching him with serene but keen and soulful eyes.

’Take it easy!’ God rebuked them, so they began to act naturally. To such an extent, that he had to pick them off again.

’Shut up, for God’s sake!’

Silence fell. In the still everyone could hear God (perhaps we had better say the Lord) declaring his will.

’Find each and every architect and tell them about the shell-tender!’

’Amen!’ the seraphim sang, which up there means: ’Consider it done, chief!’.


All one could hear was a hiss and they were no longer there: they were busy putting the bug in the ears of the architects of the world: ’Design a shell for a snail!’

After waking up, a number of them thought they did something zany during the night; told all the people they met that in their dreams some archangel or other wanted them to work on a shell’s snail.

Many of them heard the whispering about the snail’s shell but when they looked around alarmed and saw no one and relaxed.

At least as many of them thought they heard whispering but when they looked around alarmed and saw no one, they got really frightened and started musing about visiting their psychiatrist for obviously they began to feel the strain.

Lots of architects got the message even more seriously but had no idea what a shell looks like. The nearest thing was a spiral stairs. They had not design that either, but at least they remembered learning something about it at the university.

Others took the message even more seriously so they decided not to tinker with God’s job and returned the assignment to the sender.

But the rest of them (exactly two thousand two hundred and twenty-two) set to work.

They got the encyclopaedia off the shelf and looked the topic up, but when they read that snails crawl on their own slime, they began to retch and were out of competition.

The bravest ones went on, but on studying the shell they were taken aback. They were so proud of the spiral stairs and then presto! It turned out that it had been invented long ago. Even the word ’helical’ is due to snails and they simply perspirate and in next to no time the house is done. At this point many architects slammed the volume shut, saying: no thanks, this is a contest we can only lose.

Still there were many who went to the zoo to see a live snail. They encountered tapirs, anteaters, a duckbilled platypus, warty newts, viviparous fish but not a single edible snail.

Others asked their parents, children, grandchildren, assistants, students, batmen and so forth to bring them snails. But on seeing the snail’s visage (he came out to see who was fooling around with him) one architect collapsed, the other found it so funny that he got into a fit of laughter. In the third case the architect (awarded so many times that he became something like his own statue) tried to persuade the snail by singing off-key nursery rhymes. The snail refused to come out, finally the designer’s nearest and dearest had to take away the – as they called him – stubborn and headstrong animal to prevent the great man from having a stroke.

So, all of them went their own ways, as it is usual. Two hundred and twenty-two works were completed in the end. As they were done they disappeared without a trace – thanks to the zealous seraphim. They left a feather on each desk as a receipt but the designers had know idea how that fluff got there and scolded their indignant cleaning maids.


So the works got before the Lord, who – being in the mood to play the harmonica sitting around on his stool again – swiftly appointed an ad hoc committee. The members: Leonardo da Vinci, Le Corbusier and Makovecz Imre. They, after long hesitation and lenghty discussion, chose four designs to be shown to the Lord to have his final word. But the thought that after all, it was not his competency. Why not let snail decide which is the very best? So he had the plans brought before the gate to be examined by his protégé.

On of them proposed wood with seven beautifully carved gates and seven little towers.

The second was made of completely transparent mountain crystal, with a cupola and twelve ventilation apertures.

The third was made of shiny stainless steel and reminded Snail mostly of a suit of armour.

The fourth one looked like an ordinary shell.

’They are very nice,’ Pommie said, ’but this fourth one is just like my old house. The transparent shell is beautiful but we snails are rather shy and the enemy could come through these slots. The wooden towers are great, too, because one can see far from them but, as you know, my Lord, the hitch is that our visual distance is only a few centimetres, so it would be useless to drag them along. But I wouldn’t mind trying this armoured one on.’

’We’ll have one of this, then!’ the Lord said and they had one. How? Where from? It shall remain his secret. Snail put it on at once.

Stay like that, we’re going to test it’ the Lord said and asked the amazed-looking audience of those who found salvation to feel free to trample it underfoot.

Nobody dared to, and the ones who would have, did not want to, out of pure charity.

’All right,’ God said with satisfaction mingled with a touch of irritation. ’I can see you are almost too good to be true.’

What else he could do, he asked the wise old elephant to test the shell. He did not take much persuading, stepped on it, stamped even. Then, as God winked, he performed a short stepdance. Everybody liked it, but the shell had no problem with it, either.

’It doesn’t seem to succeed’ the elephant pardonned himself, then something passed through his mind and asked the Lord. ’Is it possible, my Lord, that here in Heaven we are weightless like astronauts?’

’We don’t need tricks like that,’ God protested than he added: ’The reason is different, my friend. This shell is simply indestructible.’

Upon this Pommie’s visage showed up.

’May I kept it, then?’

God nodded. Pommie said many thanks in muffled tones, adjusted the new house on his back and got going. At a snail’s pace, of course. Usually snails just proceed at the right speed and always get everywhere on time, only we, hasty folks see them slow, but now there was something wrong with him. God spotted it right away.

’I’m afraid this won’t do,’ Snail said sadly. ’It’s awfully heavy.’

’I got the same idea,’ replied God, who has never put a heavier load on his creatins than they – although sometimes groaning, tottering and mentioning his name – could take.

’I guess I’d better stick to the good old-fashioned model,’ Snail concluded and pointed to the fourth work. ’This one ought to be made.’

’Splendid!’ God rejoiced. ’The Truth came through once again! The first prize goes to… who’s design is it anyway?’

’An engaged couple’s. They are my compatriots: Klemm Gabriella and Kamarás Bálint,’ Makovecz Imre informed the crowd.

’Splendid!’ God said again with enthusiasm and turned to Snail. ’What more, you can do it single-handed!’

To be honest, it was not exactly what Snail had expected.

’But that would take so much time…’

’And trouble, sweat, patience and faith,’ God went on.

’Faith in what?’ Snail asked.

’You’ll find out one day. Hopefully…’

Snail pulled a long face and felt a little ashamed.

’Don’t worry, little one, I’ll help you out. You won’t be alone,’ God consoled Pommie (he was just great at comforting).

Snail took his courage to make another remark:

’And besides…’


’As you probably know, Lord, the shell of the edible snail winds itself counter-clockwise. This one is a clockwise shell.’

There was an awkward silence. What a shame! Leonardo designed an aeroplane, Le Corbusier was responsible for whole cities, let alone Makovecz Imre’s Catholic University in Piliscsaba. They admitted that the competitors were freshmen, the ink on their diploma hardly had the time to get dry, and they, the respectable old of the profession made the blunder. They took it so hard that made preparations to hide in the other three shells. But God was not a little disturbed by this left-right, right-left confusion.

’Don’t worry, boys! I think we can fix it.’ Then he turned to Snail. ’As far as I know, this sort of shell exists, though very rare.’

’That’s right, sir,’ Snail answered respectfully. ’In fact it is so rare, that the one who wears is called snail-king.’

’Well, then, your majesty, crawl right back under the stool and get down business! No hustle, I’ll keep an eye on you.’

’I’ll need that,’ Snail thought and gave a huge, heartfelt sigh. The Lord struck up the tune of ’In God We Trust’ again. On crawling under, Snail mumbled to himself: ’Trouble and efforts, sweat, patience and faith.’.



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