Nikolina Andova Shopova

Nikolina Andova Shopova

Nikolina Andova Shopova was born on 3 February 1978 in Skopje. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology (Macedonian and South Slavic literature) at the St Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. She has published two books of poetry „The entrance is on the other side“(2013) and „Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages ​​and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.

In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ​​”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.

„Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages ​​and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.

In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ​​”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.

Someone Was Here


As I opened the peapods to roll the little balls into a plastic dish, I hoped that when I pulled  the pod apart I would find something else, something that would surprise and excite me. Something that according to all the laws of nature shouldn’t be there, and precisely that thing had decided to reveal itself precisely to me. From that entire mountain of green pods waiting to be opened, I would discover just the one that held within it something unusual, something wondrous that had not yet appeared before my eyes, so I raced to open them, digging my fingers into the seams and tearing open the pods. My fingernails were green, and they hurt from the dried bits that wedged underneath them, but I was determined to reach the one I was looking for. My mother was shelling peas opposite me and she watched me bustling, thinking I was interested in counting and rolling the little balls which were strung through the pods like ball earrings. The unopened pods in the bowl were decreasing, as the volume of green balls was growing along with my impatience, and when I rolled out the last pea, I looked in defeat at the floor, hoping I would catch sight of an unopened one. But everything was opened and shelled, and the world became once more dreary, empty, revealed, with no hidden meaning or significance. The riddles and secrets that I sought everywhere around me, even in these small rituals, seemed ever further from me, in some other place, outside my view and grasp and I tried to create them for myself, weaving a mysterious veil around things that were seemingly ordinary and every day. With my fork I created a castle out of the mashed potatoes on my plate because I was obsessed with the scene in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which ran for a week in the evenings while my father was in the hospital, the one in which Roy makes a mountain out of his mashed potatoes and other strange things after he saw something unusual in the sky. I pretended that I, too, had experienced something similar that I could not explain to myself, but which tormented me, and I inverted a cardboard egg carton and used the inverted holes like а keyboard which I covered with non-existent letters and then used to communicate with my imaginary creatures from another planet. Empty egg cartons had been put out in the shed and the stack of them, which was about as tall as I was, kept growing smaller as I took new ones, because I quickly tore and made holes in the old ones by writing and typing on them. When the pile had been reduced to the height of a small chair, my father died. I was sitting on them the day his body was laid out in its coffin in the living room like some sort of museum exhibit which everyone came to see; some even to touch and stroke it, while my father, for the first time in his life and certainly for the first time in his death, kept silent for so long and had no comment for anyone about anything.   My mother sat in the dining room with her head leaning on my aunt’s hip, they tightly held each other’s hands and they dried their eyes with damp and half-torn paper napkins as they silently peered into space. Whenever my mother glanced at me, she would cry harder and pull me to her lap, but I finally ran off to mingle with the people coming in and to sneak out the door and run to the garden shed. It was twilight but I was used to the dark and the darkness was perhaps the only thing I wasn’t afraid of. I was more afraid of staying at home, of seeing my father lying in his coffin with gauze tied around his head, dressed in the suit he saved for special occasions, and of hearing the sobs that would swell like a powerful wave when new people came in the open door. I was suffocated by the smell of burned coffee and candles mixed with the stale scent of old women and old men, who would pat my head and press themselves to my face whispering something which I didn’t want to hear or understand. I didn’t want to hear the muted but cruel whispering of Auntie Žana, who was sitting not far from my mother, waving and tapping her finger on the dining room table arguing about something with the woman sitting opposite her and spraying spittle on the cookies that had been laid out for his soul.  I had to disappear as quickly as possible, and although the egg carton keyboards poked my behind, I felt an inexplicable combination of sadness, comfort, and freedom then rocked by these emotions, I fell asleep leaning against the peeling wooden rack which held the things that were spoiled and unusable, but which we’ve kept for years just in case they were needed.

            I woke with the thought that my mother was crying and in despair because she couldn’t find me, and I dashed to the front door which was still open. I burst into the living room and my aunt ran up to me asking whether I had rested up, likely thinking that I had been asleep in the bunk bed in the children’s room. I didn’t respond, I just ran towards the bedroom just as our neighbour, a nurse, came out and signalled me with her hand to be quiet because my mother was sleeping. The coffin was in its old place, this time closed like a pod, and I felt the prick under my fingernails. Some of the people had dispersed, it smelled of smoke and staleness, and that moment I knew that home would never again be home.

“Has this child eaten anything?” asked one of the old women and my aunt sat me at the small table in the kitchen, moved the ashtrays and cleared the table of the discarded wrappers of chocolate coffee-candies, and brought me some of the cheese pastries and some foil-wrapped wedges of  processed Zdenka cheese that she was getting ready to bring to the cemetery.

“We lose; our whole life we lose something,” said the man standing by the window smoking. There were only the three of us in the kitchen and I imagined he was addressing my aunt, since he either didn’t notice me or he was pretending I wasn’t there. I didn’t know him, and I thought he was one of my father’s colleagues, because he wasn’t sitting in the living room with the other relatives.

“Folks, friends, you’ll lose your wife, you’ll lose your husband, work, house, property, children…training is what it is, training… So you get accustomed to it, you get accustomed to losing, for when the time comes that you lose your life as well, so you can let it go and not cling to it like a blind man to a stick,” he said curtly and blew the smoke through the window. My aunt opened and closed the oven, checking the cheese rolls so they didn’t burn, and I sensed she wasn’t listening to him, but out of kindness shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head with pursed lips.

“Because, if you don’t let go of life, and your time has come, you’re already dead, and even then…even then…” he considered how to finish the sentence, “even then you’ll have a problem,’ he said quietly, while stubbing out the butt in the ashtray. He said this more for himself, as if he wanted to make the point to himself and to spare us further explanations. With a look I asked my aunt, “who is this?” as he stood with his back turned and looked through the window, my aunt answered me back, also by a look and a gesture.


It’s not as if I hadn’t thought of this before, but I was determined not to accept the invitation which I knew would inevitably arrive one day. Vania proposed that the three of us meet: her, me, and the owner of the apartment; we should go out somewhere for a drink because she’s heard about me constantly and said that she wanted to meet me at last. We had already been in her personal space, anyway, and this was an entirely expected and logical course of events.

I got out of it by saying it would be very unpleasant and at the moment I wasn’t ready for such a meeting, because, until recently we had been seeing each other in her apartment. But I added that in the future, after some time had passed, I’d have no problem meeting her, or sitting together somewhere, the three of us, to chat and laugh, and at the end we would pay her bill since she had been so nice to us and had unselfishly let us use her place temporarily. Vania looked at me with approval and smiled contentedly as if she had expected this answer or as if she should have assumed it, knowing my sensitivity and attention to such things. The truth is that I had never intended to become acquainted with her in the context she wanted and anticipated, and maybe I never wanted to meet her at all. I wanted to touch the things she touched every day, to melt in the bodiless embrace of her shirts and coats on the hanger, to drown in the depth of the armchair, where I supposed she most often relaxed, to touch my lips to the dried traces of lipstick on the not-quite clean glass and to place my head on her pillow, which smelled of faint smoke and of hair. I did not really want to touch her hand, I hadn’t wanted to embrace her if she were standing in front of me, kiss her, or catch her scent. I wanted to caress her reflections, just as I enjoyed doing in Natalie’s room, the room Irina did the least to keep clean and tidy, so as not to wipe away her smell, and through this, her presence, which, most likely, only she and I sensed in our nostrils. Natalie’s room was the only one that didn’t smell of cleaning products, and I would go in to stroke the toys she had played with, her small many-coloured dresses, and her other clothes which we hadn’t wanted to give away, the little notebook with a red band in which there were drawings of Irina and me holding hands, with arrows that had  written above them in green coloured pencil – mama, papa. I would curl up like a fetus on her little bed on the blue sheets jammed full of little gold stars and I would lie there for hours, calm and assured that I would not have to say goodbye to it, too. The objects and the material on which I lay would likely outlive me too, and no one would be able to take these things from me. With them I was secure. And for me, that was enough.


My mother was convinced that cigarettes had killed my father, although the doctors said that the cancer in his lungs was an illness that could arise from other factors as well. “If I ever see you with a cigarette… .it’ll be too bad for you!” she would warn me, but this sounded both tragic and funny to me because, unlike my father, she couldn’t frighten me with any specific punishment, she was too gentle and tender to think up something, let alone pronounce it or execute. “It’ll be bad for you,” was the most terrible threat she could direct at me, even when I had done something for which I really did need to be punished. I wasn’t accustomed to the freedom I had after my father died, and everything I had longed to do, and which had been forbidden, had not brought me the anticipated happiness and pleasure, and it bored me quickly. I splashed my cheeks and my neck with his aftershave from the small green glass bottle, without afterwards washing and scrubbing my face with soap and water afraid that he would smell me and turn my face red from pain. I opened the brown cardboard files he had carried to work but which I couldn’t touch, I sat until late at night and watched television in his armchair with the remote in my left hand just like he used to do, and I would curse like him if one of the buttons in the remote got stuck or didn’t work.   “Oh mother – where’s it gotten stuck. Ah, there it is!”, he would pull out the grey button with the nail of his pinky finger, which I thought he grew out just for that purpose. Every so often I would peel off the thick brown layer of tape that held together the bottom of the remote, and I would put on new tape, with pride as if I were accomplishing who-knows-what sort of craftsmanship. Before I fell asleep, scenes from the films I had watched until late at night would return to me, not that I fully understood them, but because that’s what he watched. The images of Papillon in solitary confinement when, out of starvation, he caught a cockroach, or the village idiot Michael who dragged his leg across the sand in “Ryan’s daughter” circled my conscience jumbled together with images from the burial and flies on the wall. I tried lying down on the lower bunk of the bunkbed and fell asleep with the light still on, but that didn’t suit me very long, and after only a few evenings I returned to the upper bunk and put out the light early. I stripped the stem of the ferns with only one stroke of my hand, and I knew that my mother would pretend she hadn’t noticed the thin, naked stems sticking out from the greenery. With a felt-tip pen I scrawled things on the thick leaves of the rubber plant , or I’d write my name amid the veins of the large Elephant Ear plant, just because no one stopped me. I splashed through the yard in his rubber flip-flops as tiny stones poked through, and I sprayed the hose high into the trees. Through force of habit I did my lessons and I studied in the kitchen or in the dining room as I had before so I would be noticed, even though there was no one to notice me. My mother was at work all day; she returned tired and was only interested in whether or not I had eaten. She routinely checked whether I had eaten the sandwich she made for me every day to take to school wrapped in the blue-white plastic bags with “milk” written on them, which she kept rolled in an elastic band to have for packing meat for the freezer. She prepared lentils with lots of garlic and little hot sausages and leeks, since that was my father’s favourite. A whole pot would be left over because neither my mother nor I ate garlic, but she stubbornly kept making the same dinner every Sunday, as she had when my father was alive. His coat hung on the hanger behind the door. I asked why she kept washing the coat since no one was wearing it, and she said to me as she was wringing out the sleeves over the washbasin: “Something might have crawled in… a spider, a centipede, everything in the house is damp.” When she dusted, she moved aside the carton still containing a few cigarettes, and then she would put it back beside the vase on the small table.

I waited to find a suitable moment to mention to her what Emil had told me about his aunt, and to convince her that we should buy human masks somewhere so that my father’s spirit wouldn’t inhabit us, or we should buy at least one “bad” one since my father was bad, too. One evening, as she pressed down the orange-coloured toaster with her elbow, I said this to her; she was visibly upset and said she didn’t want to hear about doing these “devil things”. Аnd she scolded me for what I had said about my father, adding that he wasn’t at all a bad person.

“You should know how much good your father did, how many people he helped,” she said with hidden pride. “All right, he did have a temper, both good and bad, like everyone else. Take Žana, everyone considers her a force of evil, she poisons animals in the neighbourhood, not that she isn’t a snake at times, but she gives her soul for people. She made woolen knee socks for the children who live beside her, those poor things who were left without a mother. She brought them dinner, gave them money, as much as she could… But your aunt, you know what she’s like, gentle, kind, but something once got into her head and she said something she shouldn’t have, she did something she shouldn’t have, and now, everyone thinks she’s a wicked person.

Then she added that my father was in heaven and I shouldn’t worry that some sort of spirits were going to inhabit me, and then I recalled how at the burial one of his cousin’s had come up to me and grabbed my chin, looked me right in the face with her red eyes and said to me tearfully: “You are just like your father. The spitting image!” That was the first time anyone had told me I looked like my father and I was afraid that maybe it was too late and that he had already gotten inside me; At such moments I missed Emil most of all; he would surely have understood me and would have known what I should do. And if he didn’t know, he wouldn’t be ashamed to ask someone and then run back with the answer, like he always did. Now I had to sort it out myself, and I was afraid to call the spirits the way Emil and I had done, so I went out to the shed where the old rusty shower nozzles with their tangled hoses were kept along with broken telephones, or just their receivers. I decided to use them to attempt to contact my father to see whether he really was in the sky or inside me, and although I knew this wasn’t the way one called to a spirit, it’s like I wanted to act out pretend courage for myself, like I was doing something that only fearless people would dare to do. As I pulled the box from the top shelf, countless small screws and a crumpled, dried up tube of glue rattled to the floor. I knew that it was my carelessness that had knocked over the small glass jar they spilled from, but still my hand shook as I held the boxy red telephone receiver that had turned dark from storage and dust.

“Vasil…Vasil…” I whispered into it, calling my father by his name for the first time.

“Vase, are you listening to me?” I said, using the nickname my mother called him. I took out the old handheld shower nozzle which looked like a telephone receiver and I repeated the same thing, but all there was on the other side was silence.

After a short time, my mother stopped making lentils with sausages every Monday, the coat behind the door and the box of cigarettes which stood on the small table seemed to have disappeared and only then did I feel that father had truly died.

Translated by Christina E. Kramer

Dinko Kreho

Dinko Kreho

Dinko Kreho writes short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and literary criticism. He was born in Sarajevo in 1986. After attending primary and secondary education in Bihać, Zagreb, Pariz and Rennes, he graduated in comparative literature and South Slavic literatures at the University of Sarajevo. He lives in Zagreb.

Kreho was a regular contributor to the project AKT (Alternate Literary Interpretations), a member of the editorial board of the bi-monthly for culture and current affairs Zarez, as well as the host of the program Od riječi do riječi (Verbatim) in Booksa Literary Club in Zagreb. He nowadays contributes to the weekly Novosti, as well as to the web magazines and; he also translates (mainly from French into Croatian) and practices theatre as a member of the Zagreb-based theatre collective Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed (POKAZ).

He has published the poetry collections Ravno sa pokretne trake (Straight off the Conveyor Belt,2006), Zapažanja o anđelima (Observations on Angels, 2009)and Simptomi (Symptoms, 2019), the feature-length audio drama Bezdrov: A Whistle in the Night (co-authored with Dario Bevanda, 2013), and the non-fiction collection Bio sam mladi pisac (I Was an Emerging Writer, 2019).

Kreho’s poems, short stories and essays have been translated into several languages. For his work he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and awards, in Croatia as well as in the other ex-Yugoslav countries.


“That’s him, no doubt about it”, said Sonja as soon as she had made her way to Deacon and me. Although it was only late spring, judging by the atmosphere on Slovenska Beach you would have thought it was peak season. We were inhaling the aroma of oils, creams and lotions, and even in the shade, where we were waiting for Sonja, my T-shirt was sticking all the way down my back.

“Ta-da-dam!” Deacon handed us his mobile. When hanging out with people he spends more time googling what is being discussed than participating in the discussion, and every once in a while, when this annoying habit of his turns out to be really useful, he can’t help but gloat. Sonja and I hunched over the screen:



BUDVA, 22-24/5/20xx

The accompanying text mentioned migration, combating terrorism, the new mechanisms of control, Internet mastodons, and ‘the gorgeous view to the historic heart of the city’ from the premises of the refurbished Sutjeska cinema.

“Academic tourism?” I asked.

“And not just any academic tourism”,  replied Deacon. “Check out the organisers, each one better than the next. And he’s their biggest star! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was staying in one of these turbo hotels with a jacuzzi, a waterbed and a bonus Ukrainian girl every night.”

“This is begging for sabotage”, I said. “If anything, we should piss in his sandals.”

“Or read out loud excerpts from that text during his speech… What do you reckon, Red Sonja?”

            We looked at Sonja and fell into silence. As her eyes were travelling from Deacon to me and back, they were speaking louder than words: we knew what was on her mind.

“Guys”, she said softly but resolutely “I think the opportunity has finally presented itself.”


            Sonja put it well: the opportunity did present itself. If, having spent twenty-odd days on an estate near Berane ambitiously dubbed The Anarchy Ranch by its managers, we finally had not decided to drive down to the sea in Deacon’s rickety van, or if we had done it a day later or a day earlier, we would not have run into Schmidt. And if two years before we had not got involved in a project that at first seemed like a bad joke, and if, under the burden of proof, we gradually had not started believing in it, we would not have enjoyed the tactical advantage we had now. The whole thing was too bizarre to occur to Deacon or to me just like that; no wonder it was Sonja, a.k.a. Sonjdokan[1] a.k.a. Red Sonja, who thought of it first.           

The guy we called Schmidt among ourselves was a philosopher of European calibre. By way of various university gigs, engagements, appearances and combinations, he had been popping up at universities from Ankara to Vienna to Moscow for decades – charming, eloquent and provocative, forever debating with the times. Except in the nineties. Even then he was charming and eloquent, but quite in the spirit of the times: as a young and promising thinker, he was developing a theory of war as a socially desirable event, through which the ‘dispossessed’ national culture would once again be its own master. He was close enough to the ideologists of the time, and even to the masters of war themselves, to live a comfortable life – and yet he remained distant enough to safely get the hell out of there when he estimated that the time had come. As a fellow countryman who has built himself a nice CV at universities all over the planet, in the past few years he had been a welcome guest in this part of the world, where he had also enjoyed the favours of some left-wing circles. His former work and friendships were simply not discussed.

            Schmidt was not the worst of his kind – far from it. However, it just so happened that my friends and I – with my eleven years of studying philosophy at university, which I am not proud of – always liked messing with him. He was popping up in all the places that were supposed to be safe from people like him; many of those whose opinions I valued respected, sought out and promoted him. Some of us would occasionally campaign, both on social media and in public debates, and Svebor was once involved in a physical incident at a forum in Ljubljana, and then ‒ nothing. Schmidt enjoyed an immunity that could not be justified even by his undoubtedly extraordinary charisma.

            Yet, it was here that the opportunity presented itself, and Sonja was the first to recognise it and name it. Now that Schmidt had yet again emerged in our lives for no reason whatsoever, we had mastered a potential response for his kind. Now we had The Treatment.


“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” called Sonja in a cracked voice. I rose just enough to be able to see the numbers on Deacon’s phone in the pitch-black darkness of the van: 03:59.        

“He’s here”, said Sonja. “Schmidt. Down there, at the seafront.”


“I was on my way back from the loo, and there he was! He’s gone down the path, the sand one. He’s alone. I even think he looked at me, the creep… let’s go!”

“Here’s our chance!” I perked up. “We just need to wake him up.”

Deacon, who was always grumpy when he woke up, just snorted.

The circumstances were indeed working in our favour. In fact, our original plan was to stay at my great-aunt’s in Petrovac, but I kept putting off calling her for weeks, and then it turned out that she had gone to Belgrade and rented the flat out to some tourists. So we eventually decided to sleep in the van. This meant that we had the freedom to build our action plan without witnesses. In the afternoon and evening, while two of us were preparing The Treatment, the third was spying on Schmidt: while he was delighting his motley crew of friends on Slovenska Beach, while he was being treated to the octopus in a Dutch oven at Jurić’s, while he was tasting homemade wine on the terrace of the Majestic (Deacon was right, they were not being stingy with Schmidt). Without a consensus on how to grab hold of him, we finally bought some wine and sandwiches, drove to the edge of a grove four or five kilometres outside town and decided to spend the night there (of course, after we had put false number plates on the van). However, it turned out that Schmidt did not sleep after all the action – and that he had chosen our location as a destination for his nocturnal outing.

It was a strange scene: if my head had not been pulsating after Sonja suddenly woke me up, I would have thought I was still asleep. Slowly, almost sleepily, Schmidt was swaying in one place, staring at the open sea stretching into the distance, the moonlight flickering on his silvery beard. We approached slowly: Sonja was holding needles close to her leg, I was holding wireless cathodes, and Deacon was waiting with the central unit in the van. Suddenly, Schmidt turned towards us.

“Well, well!”, he laughed, and we shivered. “Comrades, suspend the hostilities, I surrender!”  He put his hands up. He kept laughing even after we lunged at him.


Comrades from the Austrian underground who taught us the basics of the procedure called it the denazification of the mind. From the very start we thought it was too pompous, obscurantist even, so we spontaneously dubbed it – The Treatment. Whatever evil tongues might say, this is not brainwashing and certainly not torture: The Treatment just enables and by no means forces new ways to experience reality and the self. However, after the subject of The Treatment gets a chance to experience with their own body and mind the repercussions of their own words and actions on other living beings, they simply do not want, of their own free will, to go back to their old ways. This is about sharpening one’s reflection and widening empathy, a one-of-a-kind guided extrospection: The Treatment does not kill emotions and thoughts but opens a pathway to the thousands of other hearts and minds.Although partly based on, let’s say esoteric knowledge, the theoretical basis of the process is materialistic, far from any kind of black magic. Sonja and Tanja simply call it expanded psychology.

After two years of group sessions, brainstorming and testing – none of which, of course, was supposed to leave a digital trace – it was at the Anarchy Ranch that we came up with the final structure and key features of the Treatment, adapted to our climate. But the most difficult part still remained: to determine what it would look like and how it would work when it was tried on a suitable subject. In retrospect, the way Schmidt served himself on a plate obviously stank, but the opportunity was just too good for us to dare think about that.


We were prepared for all kinds of outcomes and plot twists, but we did not expect that after such a frenetic and almost sleepless night in the van all four of us would be so full of energy. It is possible that Deacon, Sonja and I were simply high on serotonin having expeditiously planned and successfully carried out The Treatment; as for Schmidt, it could have been a side-effect or a result of The Treatment. In any case, that sunny May morning on the terrace of the Garden, he was glowing like a man reborn. When it was time to pay the bill, Schmidt mimed to us to stay clear.

“It’s the least I can do for you”, he said, handing out quite a substantial tip too.

“Schmidt!” Deacon giggled. “We’ll have to think of a tamer nickname. You’ve been Schmidt to us for such a long time that I sometimes forget your real name!”

“O tempora, o mores!” Schmidt exclaimed, puffing out his chest theatrically.

Hola, profesor!”,  someone shouted over the hubbub. We all turned: a beautiful dark-skinned woman in a navy-blue dress, our age or even younger, was navigating between the sun umbrellas and tables.

I thought I was the only one late, but look, so is our keynote speaker!”she laughed.

Schmidt was about to reply, but before he could do it, we heard another voice behind us:

Perhaps I was waiting for you!”

We nearly fell off our chairs. The voice was definitely Schmidt’s. A fraction of a second later, Schmidt actually appeared in our line of vision: unlike the one sitting with us, his hair was neatly combed and his shirt was ironed. He and the woman met next to our table, hugged and kissed each other cordially.

I just hope they heat up the coffee properly this time”, he said, to which she burst out laughing.

Bewildered, we started miming to ‘our’ Schmidt. He opened his mouth a few times like a fish on dry land.

“Oh no…”, he finally uttered weakly. “They’ve activated the backup…”

He did not seem any less gobsmacked than we were. The second (or was it the first?) Schmidt and his colleague headed towards the exit.

As they were leaving, he threw a quick glance back. But it was long enough for us to make no mistake: he was laughing at us.


i always think i’ll meet you

at your funeral. there is no hope there, just

a habit on a stupid loop, the kind of habit

i expect will push you among us.

i forget that solidarity among the dead

is unfaltering, that their communism works.

there is no hope there. but nothing can stop me

from thinking mid-rite that at any given moment

you’ll pop up among us like the moon

and nonchalantly look at your reflection in my ever bigger

calf-like eyes.


to let you slide down the street, a tarmac one, a virtual one,

any one. as a branch of an algorithm that spills out into infinity,

a branch that leads nowhere. to release one’s avatars

to hover with rain, to dissolve in autumn. To imagine that

you’re mapping out the anxiety, mapping out a poem, mapping out a city.

to actually just mess about, to devotedly wear out the soles

until you wear yourself out. until you’re left with as much

as you can bring forth to your friends

when you dawn in their lives, to ferment a little

in their day.


night – flawlessly restored – you cannot prove

it’s not the original – i sabotage

myself – wherever i want to squat – somebody else’s

marks – prearranged landmarks – in the night

of the language – in the language

of the night – done deal – as fixed as

the north as

north macedonia

[1] Sonjdokan – reference to Sandokan, the “Tiger of Malaysia”,  a fictional late 19th-century pirate created by an Italian author Emilio Salgari and portrayed by an Indian film actor, Kabir Bedi, in a TV series based on Salgari’s books which were immensly popular throughout the 1970s in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia.

Maja Solar

Maja Solar

Maja Solar was born on February 6, 1980 in Zagreb. She holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Faculty of Philosophy of Novi Sad. Her research work revolves around the political theory. Maja is translating from French and English, as well as writing both poetry and prose. She is a member of the „Gerusia“ collective, left-oriented organization, and one of the editors of the journal for theoretical practices „Stvar“. Since 2015, she has been working as a translator for the Serbian edition of „Le Monde Diplomatique“.

Her first poetry collection, Makulalalalatura, was published in 2008, as it was awarded by Cultural Center of the City of Kragujevac in their contest for first time publishers. This manuscript also won Branko’s Award, the first prize in the category of poets under 30, award of the „Đuro Papharhaji“ poetry festival, and it was a runner-up for the Vital’s award. Maja’s second poetry book, written in Hungarian – Jellemzõ, hogy nem természetes (Of course it’s not natural) – was published by Forum in 2015. The third poetry book – Bez začina (Without Spices) – was published in the edition of the Cultural Center of Novi Sad (2017). Her poetry was publlished in anthologies and poetry collections: Nešto je u igri: Zbornik nove Novosadske poezije (Centar za novu književnost Neolit i Kulturni centar Novog Sada, 2008), Iz muzeja šumova, antologija novije srpske poezije (1988-2008) (V.B.Z., Zagreb, 2009), Ulaznica Srbija: Panorama pesništva 21. veka (Drava, Klagenfurt, 2011), VAN, TU: FREE, Izbor iz nove srpske poezije (Cetinje, 2012), RESTART, panorama nove poezije u Srbiji (Dom kulture Studentski grad, Beograd 2014), Antologija nove srpske lirike „Serce i krew“ (Lublin, Poljska, 2015) and Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry (Diálogos, New Orleans, 2016).

From 2007 to 2014, she was one of the editors of „Polja“, a literary magazine. She was also a member of the Centre for modern literature „Neolit“, a member of poetic-political theater „Poetske rupe“, an author and participant in the women’s poetic performance group „LILITiranje“, and a participant in a few performance and poetry videoworks. Since 2019, together with Žak Lučić, she has been hosting the poetry podcast „Full Mouth of Poetry“. She currently lives in Novi Sad.

real-socialist photograph

my first photograph

was one of mum and dad

on the moon

mum looking at dad lovingly, dad eyeing me warily

(ever fretful about whether something or other would succeed)

in the background a giant new year tree

shielding them from asteroid shards

flying in a moonish dimension

dad was wearing a plaid shirt the kind I guess

every yugoslav man must’ve had

back then. it could be seen on the DIY pages

for men in the burda magazine

mum was wearing a tracksuit made out of material

which absorbed the strains of endless giving. mum… cut from the cloth

of house-work and emotional labour, in slippers which weren’t à pompons

dad paranoid, mum head over heels

dad afraid that all beauty would perish

mum unafraid, unstoppable, laying tracks to beauty

I was seven and I still hadn’t

developed the ritual of imagining sinking in an earthquake.

it’s a rather useful ritual

whereby one imagines a sudden earthquake so

vividly one can feel the room move

see the shelves, books, walls fall, ceilings crash,

the shell of the tower block cave in. the ritual develops subconsciously.

either you’ve got it or you don’t.

it’s a useful ritual, an earthquake can’t catch you by surprise

at seven I still hadn’t discovered that talent, but now

I know the excitement I felt in the brief

time-space of a click

was tantamount to an amorous socialist earthquake

in which I sunk, elated,

into a moon crater

(Translated by Mirza Purić)

wednesday children

death grew from inside a mulberry tree

broke through the bark

onto the bicycle path

then entered my breakfast

and headaches which you, small elephant,  

cope with using your trunk really well

you spiced up your arms around my waist

you made wednesday giggle

but i now saw her, death

because i was running

death came even earlier

when the oregano stopped breathing

and you continued to whisper that I am your little bird

that i am all the birds in all the world the taxonomies

especially the swallows

as you kissed me

as though I were candied fruit

through the kiosks of laughter

death swayed into a hair color dyeing brush

parceling out hair so the greys could be covered

you—the part behind me, which I cannot see,

me the part reflected in the window

but not even there did i see death

because i was running

so it sprouted from your

radiant face

when you had the scent of a small child

when we were we

maybe that is why our two bodies have become too much

death boiled over

in a dream in which you were eaten by a crocodile

she hugged you with all her might

reminding us of a popular series from our childhood

when you wash dishes death made winter mornings glow

and heat up fingers with soap suds

you sit by the tv screen

knock on the wall

as an i love you reminder

aromatic death

in your always half-open mouth

with your high gums

while we dance our happy dance in half-darkness

you, who will not be upset by any natural disasters

you, because of whom i always dive into a fainting love spell

and desires

death has leaked out from dark knots

long jumped

but i did not see

because i ran persistently

because i looked at you continually

where she is not

where the sea is

and continued to run

as if it were wednesday each day

towards love

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović


v.šš. doesn’t buy any more fruit

meat is a luxury found on the table every three,

or even four days,

the meat of the poorest quality.

she and her eight translucent sisters wither doing the dishes.

making the inventive new meals out of leftovers of cheap aliments and

reaped traumas of the day

e.klj. ran out of costly shampoo

that mildly dyes her hair and makes it lush

she suffers because she got used to this special shampoo

and her special luxury anti-wrinkle creams

with indispensable spf factor 66 of course

e.klj. has a lean sister and pyramidal

brother, thank god they are all rich

đ.đđ. shares his room with another four and a half. he doesn’t have peace quiet a chair a table or a book, just stacked bunk beds and piles of butts in the glasses. their father sometimes sleeps in the room, drunken, emitting vapors of garlic and brandy, thrown out of bed by mom.

when his eldest brother feels hot he opens the window. no matter whether others are cold. every day the residents of this residential unit play emotional ping-pong until petrified by weariness, usually during the sixth stanza of the comic operetta

đ.đđ. might not get enough money for his studies because, you see, ideology claims he is not exceptional

j.kpr. wakes up when he wants, studies when and how much he wants.

it is tough because he is thirty-two and lives at his parents’ place.

it is simply not the time yet for him to leave. it is hard to live on one’s own work on one’s own study on one’s own manage one’s own food. otherwise, mom does the cooking. the most colourful meals in the whole world.

he has no siblings, he stares at the gigantic dough of music and smokes weed to roll out of his misery

r.str. has never ever been to the seaside. she can’t swim, apart from stroking her arms in a plastic basin that her homeless parents once bought at the marketplace. r.str. has porcelain skin so she might be better off without going to the seaside and exposing herself to the sun, she hasn’t got the money for a high spf factor cream anyway. r.str. suffers for she has never had a boyfriend nor sex nor a real kiss with a tongue, if you don’t count the smooch in year five of primary school at a birthday party

in a round of ‘Spin the bottle’

kss.s. suffers for she has to repay a student loan.

that is hard and she will have to renounce her stormy shopping sessions in zara. will have to reduce shopping to once per week, and if she rationalises well, that could come up to twice per week. luckily enough her family rents two flats in a two-hundred-and-plus-square-metre home so she will manage somehow.

kss.s. has congruent tits and drinks kukicha and bancha tea.

kč.žlj. has just lost a mortgaged flat in which a washing machine used to rumble a couple of times a day. in which heavy curtains were washed together with heavy memories. for kč.žlj. is his underage siblings’ guardian, they are eleven together with six dogs. where will the brothers and sisters go now, where will kč.žlj. go, how will he do the laundry and simmer nettle with eggs… kč.žlj. drinks ‘jelen’ beer from a 2l plastic bottle.

s.sjj. calls herself a leftist activist.

she listens to electronica and dresses accordingly. she writes project proposals and owns a flat on the sixty-seventh floor,

with a view of the synagogue. she always complains to have no money.

but she has huge problems. mental ones.

she is cheating on her boyfriend and he is cheating on her, for polygamy is an essential ingredient in the soup of hiding everything from everyone where everybody thinks they are emotionally liberated

because they live in couples and keep secret of whom they fuck aside.

s.sjj. visits an army of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychodrama sessions, workshops, and whatnot,

attending to complicated pathologies of those

who can afford the services.

hlj.čnj. knows that psychology is not the cause of suffering, the society is. he got a job in the syndicate, even though the syndicates are the cumbersome tentacles of the state apparatus, but hlj.čnj. doesn’t want to give in. he frequents all the meetings and demonstrations. he blows his whistle going at it hammer and tongs. he is an actor and acting cannot make him a living so he acts he is living. is going noodles because he doesn’t know how he will manage to pay for the gas heating in his three-hundred-and-twenty-eight-square-metre villa. the heating is really costly because the gas has its geopolitical capitalist flows that are mysterious to the people and scrumptious for the companies. is very concerned about the huge number on the bill, which made a wrinkle on his forehead.

krr.crr. works overtime, unpaid, sometimes during weekends as well, in a small shop in liman. her hair has grown thinner at the age of twenty-seven, she never complains about unpaid hours, because she is happy to have a job at all.

she is mostly angry and rude, even though her employer is convinced that the turnover would be much bigger if she were to invest in herself more, if she were to smile more, communicate more. and if she were to take care of that… that… that hair, for who has ever seen a woman going bald!

drm.šs. is an attorney and she works like a yoked mare all day long, there is always more work in the office, sometimes she takes a workload with her, she goes home to have dinner and an evening tv session, an evening sex with her husband. her work is always there with her and she is proud to be so industrious. she hasn’t got children yet, she will once they have made more money and have sold the forty-six-square-metre flat, when they have bought a house as twice as big, where they will dine their workloads again. one should make some space for work. dmr.šs. welcomes new labour law reform and the extension of the retirement age, she spits on all the slackers in the world. she and her husband spend the summer holidays in corsica, sometimes sardinia, the winter holidays in hysteria. drm.šs. is mostly content, if she is not she meditates and tells herself the affirmations of louise hay. she sometimes plans a date with her husband because the handbooks advise refreshing your relationships,

relationships need to be spiced up

gf.mnd. lives in a roma settlement and has never finished primary school. because he had to work in the morning and in the afternoon he would either fall asleep in class or at home. he did the military service while it was still compulsory and he mostly holds some nice memories. apart from those couple of days then the army police found his and cile’s heroin and syringes for which they kicked them for a few long temporal paces and transferred them into the mountain. he did not mind, he got used to cold cramped spaces without wc. he does not know what spices are.

ht.wwv. suffers because she could not afford the blueberries this morning, one should eat blueberries every day because they are rich with antioxidants. luckily enough, she still has some wild oregano essential oil and a collagen anti-age lux facial mask so she can peacefully watch dr. oz’s advice on a low-calorie tv screen transmitting her torment

Translated by Ivana Anđelković


this morning from five thirty

I wouldn’t have woken up were I not redeemed

by green tea

once I tried to save a swine

from the butcher

I went up to the man and woman

and explained to them  I am a vegan

explained what that means

how much bad karma

they will accumulate because of the exchange of energy

I explained to them the process of entropy and negentropy

I wrote down Schrödinger’s equation for them

prayed for them

looked at their birth charts

saw moon knots in the eighth house

and again begged them not to do it



the swine screeched

I sent a text to the police on my cell

but they didn’t come to save it

I plunged into despair

blood was splattered all over

I boiled

I fermented

I was bewildered

I peed in my pants from fear

I sweated in my red sweater

I spat out my molars which had fallen out

I was full of rage

full of fire

so took a knife

and pierced the SWINE


opened my mouth wide

gulped down the recently deadened meat 

!!!!!! saved saved saved saved saved !!!!!!

(without the help of Great God/ Almighty) 

 Translated by Biljana D. Obradović with the author

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski was born in 1987, in Kumanovo, North Macedonia. He studies general and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philology, at the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. He has published the following books: Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Color of Shoes (novel, 2013), The Body One Must Live In (novel 2015), Fear of Barbarians (novel, 2018).

In 2015 his novel The Body One Must Live In won the national award for Novel of the Year. Fear of Barbarians received the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.


(an excerpt from a novel)


At the beginning of the summer, I was supposed to spend two weeks in the hospital. The last day of the first week, Vlado came and said I was going out earlier. When we got into his car, he took out from the glove compartment before me a white envelope. My name and his were written on it. I was still unable to move my right arm because of the injury. He opened it. He took out two plane tickets from the envelope and put them on my knees.

Had I not fallen off the terrace, what happened later would most probably never have happened. The night the accident happened, Vlado was throwing a party on the occasion of twenty years of his acting career. I was against that party from the very beginning. Vlado did not have a single important role in his career. He always got supporting, meaningless roles. Once he was offered a role in a film. Out of the two hours that the film lasted, he appeared in whole ten seconds. He gathered then all of his friends to celebrate. Vlado loves parties. He uses every occasion to be among people. He enjoys their attention. That’s why he is an actor, most likely. I spent my whole life in the library. First in the reading room, then as a librarian. Reading and writing pieces of criticism was all that gave me pleasure. I was like a shadow to Vlado. I accompanied him everywhere, but no one noticed me. That’s what it was like that night as well. Apart from all of his colleagues and friends, he also invited at the party everyone from the music scene as well as political figures. Vlado loved to hang out with politicians. He is one of those people who are close to every governing structure. People from the opposition can frequently be seen at his parties. He considered that he should always be in good relations with them because when they come to power, you can become their minion more easily. Although I considered this hypocritical, I never told him that. I didn’t have much of an attitude about anything. Not even about the books that I was writing criticism on. I know Vlado considered this to be hypocritical, but never told me that.

That night, at the party, Ivan was present as well. Vlado and I hadn’t mentioned him for more than twenty years. When we saw him on TV, we’d immediately change the channel. Or when one of our friends mentioned him, Vlado would immediately change the subject.

I avoided him all night, as I have all these years. I greeted him and left, just as he left twenty years ago. Without explanation. I felt bitterness at his presence and anger that Vlado didn’t tell me that he was also invited.

I found a shelter in a dark corner of the terrace. The whole city was below me. I stood leaning on a willow whose branches fell over the lights of the city. Apart from a waiter who was passing by with a tray of drinks, no one else approached me. Not even Vlado. That night I was drinking alcohol for the first time after a long while. I wanted it to be over soon. I took from the tray whatever came to my hand. I drank fast until I felt nausea in my stomach. I turned to the fence and started throwing up. And then the darkness just swallowed me. I had a feeling that I was falling on the city. I felt a strong hit on my head. My right arm was tingling. I tried to move my body, but I couldn’t move. At one moment, I no longer felt anything.

I regained my consciousness in the hospital. Fortunately for me, there was another, larger terrace under the one I was standing on, which was from the lower hall. Vlado was standing next to me and looked at me with concern. Ivan was standing behind him. When I saw him, I closed my eyes. I had a feeling that I still wanted to throw up. I didn’t want him to see me in such a state. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid to open my mouth lest I throw up. And then I sank into darkness again.

Vlado wanted us to give ourselves another chance and go together on a trip. That trip was supposed to bring us closer, and therefore decided not to invite any friends with us, as he used to do every summer.

Then, in the beginning of the summer, a few days after I got out of the hospital, we set off on a trip. Him and I. Alone. On the island of C.


Vlado wanted us to spend time alone as much as possible. We didn’t go to the small beach that belonged to the hotel in which we stayed. He considered it would be best to spend the time on a wild beach at the end of the city, far away from any human presence. Vlado rented a car so we wouldn’t have to walk every day. I had the feeling that he prepared this trip for months. He had planned each step we took. He knew what restaurants we should eat in, which beach we should go to, where we should rent a car from. That was unusual for him. All his summers so far were planned by his friends who went with us. He’d always have a pretext that he was very busy, that I’m not good at organizing, and that it would be best for others to plan our trip.

At the wild beach where we went, there were no people, so we didn’t have to use bathing suits. While our naked bodies were laying one next to the other, the only thing we felt was shame. We have been sleeping in separate beds for ten years now. Vlado always comes back too late. Often drunk. He loves to tell how many people came to take a picture of him, how many women and men hit on him. I pretended I was sleeping, but that didn’t stop him from talking. When he comes in, he turns the lights on throughout the whole apartment. When he enters the bedroom he always shouts loudly “goooood eeeeevening”, and then throws his shoes through the room. Often after he undresses, he lays on the bed naked and immediately falls asleep. And I get up to turn off the lights, and then can’t fall asleep for a long time. When I tell him the next morning that I don’t like that behaviour, he starts laughing and asks “did I do that”, “what did I say then”.

Until one evening I started sleeping in the guest room which I only used when Vlado’s parents were visiting us. I listened to him speaking all night, thinking that I was next to him. The following morning during breakfast he asked why I got up so early. He hadn’t even noticed that I was not sleeping by him. I continued sleeping in the guest room the following evenings. And he continued speaking as though I was next to him. He never asked why we no longer slept in the same bed.

When I lay down naked by him on the beach, I felt deep disturbance. How long our bodies have not been next to each other. I felt shame such as when you undress in front of someone for the first time, and you are supposed to spend the evening with him. I didn’t even think about passion, it simply did not belong to us any more. Unlike me, he was tranquil. He undressed calmly and lay down first. When he saw I was still standing, he looked at me in surprise and said “what are you waiting for, undress yourself and lay down”. After I lay down, I couldn’t endure it for long. With an excuse that I was uncomfortable in the sand, I wandered along the sea coast. I collected pebbles or went into the water and swam to a rock, then sat on it and didn’t go back for hours. When I returned, he looked at me confused as if he didn’t even notice I was gone.

I spent the first few days hoping that he’d get bored and he’d wish us to go to the beach by the hotel. We spent the days in the same way. In the morning, after we finished breakfast we went to the beach. He mostly solved crossword puzzles or took a nap. We spent the evenings in one of the taverns. First we had dinner, then we walked along the port until we wanted to go to sleep.


For the first ten days since arrived on C., our relationship not only failed to change, but even that little communication that used to have was lost in the past days. He, as I, most probably thought that this trip was a mistake.

The eleventh day after breakfast Vlado said that on that day we’d go on the beach near the hotel. He didn’t surprise me at all. He went alone in order to find place on the deck chairs, and I returned to the room to get the necessary things. I shortly hesitated before the pile of books that I brought with us, and which were not even touched, just as our relationship. Among them was Ivan’s new novel. I knew I wouldn’t read it in Vlado’s presence. I read his books at work. I usually did that during the break, when everyone went out, I locked myself and read. I never read them at home, not even when Vlado was on a business trip. The last drawers of the table I work at is where I keep his books. I never write pieces of criticism about them. You can’t be objective about a person who means a lot to you in life. I reluctantly took a book which was on top of the file and put it in the bag.

Vlado was standing by a bar, hugging two children, and a woman was taking a photo of them. He was smiling. He smiles only when you praise him. His hair was messy, his white shirt unbuttoned on his chest, and he had a pipe although he doesn’t smoke. When he tells of something important, or at least he thinks it’s important, as he mostly does, he puts the pipe in his mouth, half closes one eye and looks somewhere far away with the other. In this way, even when he says something meaningless, he leaves the impression on others that he is saying something profound. And when he wants to express a certain point, he opens the eye, and looks at everyone separately with eyes wide open, and after observing everyone, he comes to the point. Then everyone is nodding, and he contently says “and now, let’s have another glass of wine”.

When he saw me standing on the side, he let the children go and called me to join them. These are Nita India and Mila India, he pointed at the two girls who were twins. Nita India stretched her hand in order to greet me, and then quickly withdraw it, looking at her sister. Mila India was looking at me as though she didn’t notice me, and a few seconds later she also gave me her hand. She held me tight and wouldn’t let go. Although they were the same, there was something that made them different. I was looking at her curiously while everyone was looking at me. The mother pulled her toward herself, and then she let go of my hand. Vlado decided to put an end to the awkward situation and waving in the air the hand in which he was holding the pipe, he said “and this… and this…” and he took the mother’s hand and said “this is their beautiful mother Ilinka Indira”. Ilinka Indira smiled with false shyness and looked at him seductively. “She and her husband are from Macedonia, they have lived on the island for several years now.” – Vlado said. I was silent. I didn’t want any new acquaintances. Least of all did I want Macedonians on the island who would recognize Vlado and run after him all the time. “Look, look, doesn’t Ilinka Indira look like the widow of Zorba the Greek. Look how much she looks like Irene Papas.” Whenever he gave complements to women, that’s what he said. Indira Ilinka joined her hands and bowed to him.

She really did look like Irene Papas. She had natural dark tan, but there was something infinitely false in the salvar she was wearing, in the green eyes that I was certain were lenses, all the way to the chain bangle on the ankle of her right leg, which jangled every time she moved.

Indira Ilinka looked at the Sun and, surprised, shouted “Oooo… ten o’clock already. It’s time for me to go. But we’ll meet tonight as agreed in At three blue boats. Then she turned to me and with her hands joined together she bowed. Then she turned to Vlado and, while she was bowing, winked at him. Nita India waved at us, and Mila India was looking at us baffled, as if she sees us for the first time.

I was angry at Vlado all day long. I wanted to tell him so many things, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. I wanted to tell him that the greatest mistake was that, on the day he invited me to move to his place, when Ivan left our lives forever, I accepted and decided to stay there forever. As well as the day in the car when I should have told him I didn’t want to go with him on any trip.

The crowd and the music on the beach created additional anxiety in me. He lay all day on the deck chair. Occasionally he’d lift himself a bit and look around to see if anyone was watching him. He didn’t mention Indira Ilinka or the children at all.


Vlado got a job in the theatre several months after I moved to his place. At that time, I was working for a year at the University Library. In the beginning, I was providing for him. He was greatly troubled that he had to depend on me financially. He was always very proud, and therefore often reiterated that it was natural for the artists to be without money. After he started working, he never mentioned that. Even once when a journalist asked him how long we had lived together, he said that in the beginning of our relationship I hadn’t had a job and I had lived in a rented flat, so he had proposed that I moved in his place. “Nothing romantic,” he added in order to avoid additional questions. He knew I’d never tell it wasn’t like that.

He was never a favourite among the colleagues and directors. Ever since the first year he started working in the theatre, Vlado rarely gets parts, and when he does, it is usually a supporting role. He was always saying that they didn’t give him any significant roles because of vanity and jealousy. That’s how he passed the first ten years of his career. And then, one night there was a great change. In a TV show, a well-known journalist called the theatre where Vlado works to ask for his phone number. The journalist wanted to invite in the show another actor who is also a famous comedian, and who also happens to be called Vlado. When Vlado appeared in the show that evening, it was too late to correct the mistake. The journalist saw him for the first time in his life. In order to avoid the fact that he wasn’t prepared for the interview, he told him to imitate someone. Vlado felt this was an excellent opportunity to do something in his career. That night he imitated a politician who was considered to be untouchable. The show became very popular. The journalist suggested that he imitates a politician in every show. Then they started inviting him to the theatres in other towns. Even the politician himself mentioned in an interview that he was imitated so well that he couldn’t get angry. And then came the film in which he briefly appears, and Vlado used his popularity to attract the attention with those ten seconds. His popularity reached such a level that people were laughing even when he didn’t say anything funny.

Translated by: Kalina Maleska

Flogerta Krypi

Flogerta Krypi

Flogerta Krypi is born in a small village of Tirana, in 14 July 1993. She is the first born of a family with five kids. Her father is a police officer and her mother a dressmaker. When she was seven years old her family moved in Tirana, where she got educated. Her connection with literature started since she was a kid. She wrote her first poem eleven years old and never stopped writing, even though she has finished her studies in Finance Accounting.

She is the Executive Director of the NGO “I choose to change the world”, which has organized many literature projects. She found two book clubs, “New Pen”, who supports new writers in Albania and “The Republic of Books”, where she gives reviews for books she reads. She can speak fluently English, German, Spanish, Italian and some Turkish.

She started with publishing in a small publishing house a collection of poems “Waiting for you” which she wrote during nine years and after a year she published her first novel “The tracks of the nameless shadow”. The novel got positive reviews from the critics and was well accepted among readers. In a few months she published her second novel “A promise in the last kiss”, a romance. In 2015 she published the sequel of her first novel “A promise carved into the sky”.

After facing a lot of problems because of denouncing corruption she decided to move in Germany, when she currently living. For three years she never stopped writing and in the Book Fair 2018 after an agreement with Argeta Publishing House she published her new book with two short novels called “Everything around nothing”. Her work got awarded from the Association of Publishers in Albania, when she took the Encouragement Price for New Writers with the motivation “For her originality in the description of humanity”. Now she is working with her next book “Arthropods”, a book with three short novels; the spider, The Hospital 256, a post office for death.

In January 2020 she was chosen “Person of the year” for 2019 in Albania from Radio Travel for her project of donating books to primary and high schools. She has reconstructed eleven school libraries since 2015 with her personal funds. 

The Spider – PREFACE

When I decided to rent this house, the landlord explained to me that the contract included the room where I would live, the toilet, the balcony, my bedroom, and a spider. I listened in silence and made no comment. I am a financial officer. I know that when I am negotiating economic matters, as a client I should speak as little as possible and ask only about the risks that the agreement may involve. Each comment gives the other party an opportunity to have more arguments for selling their product. So, the fact that he specified the existence of the spider left me wondering whether I should ask for more. I had never heard of such an element, and just as I was about to question his importance in the contract we were to sign, he hastily added:

-You don’t have to worry about the spider. He comes tomorrow.  He stays only three months, from June to late August, because of the heat and then he leaves. He usually stays in the shower cabin or in the bathtub, so move him with style when you have to use any of the two.

I was about to if he was poisonous, but while I was considering his argument, I did not find the question necessary. All in all, he specified the duration, the reason, the cause, and the place of stay. He might be poisonous, but this does not mean that he would bite me. Every deal has its downsides, and if they come to happen – my bad luck.

-He is silent. With that, he ended the discussion on the spider and went straight to the question whether I would take the house because there were other people asking for it. I didn’t make it long. I said I liked the apartment; it was close to my work and the price was reasonable for the space and the conditions it provided. The agreement was concluded with a signature from both sides, a security payment in case of any incurred damage, and the handing out of the keys. I moved in the next day, the same day as the spider. It was the first of June and since that day my life changed radically. Such days are forewarned by the signs that existence itself gives you, but I have never been given to these things. They seemed excessive and sometimes as excuses that people used to feel good about their failed lives. 

The only thing that struck me was how I would spend my days with the spider. Generally, I am e loner. I have tried several types of cohabitation and none have worked so far. Perhaps due to the fact that I’m a woman full of dichotomies when it comes to sharing my world with others. I feel misunderstood, unread and above all unappreciated for what I represent. I don’t know if this is because I was born ugly, but to be honest I have always felt comfortable. What I mean is that women like me are naturally ugly, others are artificially beautiful, so at this point, inferiority to them doesn’t exist. I feel bad if I’m less intelligent than those around me, but the last thing that impresses me is my appearance. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t so curious about my new cohabitant, but I resented him without even meeting him. He will not be paying anything for sharing the apartment with me, although to be honest, living in a shower cabin is not that interesting.

The first day I didn’t even meet him. I just sorted out my stuff and went to bed. I love water, but I take a shower only once in forty-eight hours. I go to the bathroom once in the morning and once in the evening for my needs. Our first official meeting took place on the third day of my moving in. I saw him standing on the shower head by the bathtub. That day I did not intend to take a bath, so I did not speak to him at all and went straight to the shower. After I took a shower, I noticed that the spider was in the same place. I didn’t bother to say good night. I just turned off the bathroom light and laid down. I usually fell asleep with wet hair and woke up with a bunch of curls. This was one of few things I complained about. If I had a normal hair, I would probably be less ugly.

My life had taken a normal course. Probably because I was far from anyone I knew, and I knew no one would turn their head to see me. No one was going to talk to me, and I really liked that. That’s how I’ve always been. I even didn’t talk a lot to the two men I had lived with. Daily life comments about work and perhaps some planned trips for the weekend would usually suffice.

It’s not that I don’t like to talk, but I often think that my words are gone with the wind.  I have never met anyone who really wants to hear my thoughts from beginning to end. Perhaps because all my conversations revolve around books, death and loneliness. I am hopeless when it comes to other topics. I don’t even dare to talk to myself often because I don’t want others to think I’m crazy. No one would hire such a person.

When I took a second shower at my new home, I was forced to ask the spider to move because he was already in the cabin. I told him he could stay in the bathtub, I rarely used it really, so he wouldn’t bother me there. He remained silent. I don’t think he even took my warning seriously. The moment I stepped into the cabin and turned on the tap, he got scared and climbed through the glass to get out. He went to the bathtub, the same place as the first time. As the water poured on me, I saw that he was moving something with his feet. He was playing with a thin chain which was hung to the stopper used to drain the bathtub. I laughed to myself.

-Move, I said. Don’t worry about me. You don’t bother me.

He raised his antennas and moved his head once again. Then he started to play with the stopper again. I didn’t understand why.

When I went to sleep, I had a strange dream. It was as if the spider was sleeping next to me. He had wrapped his pillow in white powder and had fallen asleep. It didn’t look like a dream. It looked like some memory, from a life that didn’t belong to me, but I was in it.

When I woke up, I looked around, everything was in place, like the night before. I went to the bathroom and the spider was standing there. He had wrapped the black stopper around him and was sitting on it, as if he were sleeping. I brushed my teeth and let him rest. He laughed. Who knows what he was dreaming about! I could tell by the way he stood on the stopper. I noticed his ankle joints, antennae and his eyes. Unlike me I think he felt accepted, calm and appreciated in his dream. The serenity of peace gave such an impression. I left him alone. In our day and age, sleeping peacefully is a luxury that few people have.

-Everything fine?   – I asked him while I was getting ready to leave for work.

-I’m thinking, the spider replied coldly.

-About what?

-I was thinking about ugly women.

-Have you met any lately? – I said turning to him.

-Ugly women are everywhere and I’m not just talking about their appearance. No. They are ugly in every way, in the way they look, the way they dress. They are beings without a portrait. Their souls are filled with jealousy, wickedness, and ignorance. They are empty. You can see in their eyes the absence of a heart, or blood flowing in their veins. Women who produce hatred. You can feel it in the air around them. Everything is vague, scary. You don’t feel like touching them. It is as if you’re getting in touch with cancer itself. They don’t know how to do anything. They don’t know how to work. They have no sense of humor, they laugh for no reason, going after other people just to not feel alone.

The spider stopped talking and looked at her cohabitant. F.K. turned to him as if wanting to continue the interrupted dialogue.

-You are right. They have no personality, or joy in their souls. They would sleep with any man, no matter if he was fat, ugly, criminal, because they are aware that a man with reason would not dare to touch them. They would do anything to feel desired. Women who have no self-respect. No. They would ruin families, because for them this word does not make sense. If any of them has children, you could see how much they hate them. They blame them for the cruelty of their lives. Is it because they were born that everything went to hell? But there are moments when they repent. These are rare moments and that is because they fear they will be alone forever.

The spider listened silently and added.

-You are right. They are everywhere. Sometimes they are in front of you. If you ever meet such a woman, get out of there. There is nothing more horrible than being with a woman that no one wants.

F.K smiled. She finished dressing up and left without saying goodbye to the spider. His words remained in her mind throughout the day. She worked very little that day because she was looking around to see if she would find such a woman or a man. Of course, the other side is not be excluded. But the ugly men were even worse. Because a woman would put a little make up and look decent, an ugly man would be just that. Insecurity, lack of self-confidence appeared in every inch of their being and this made their reality even more disgusting. So, there are ugly people in this world. They are everywhere, sometimes you can be one of them.

A mailbox for death – PREFACE

Ever since F.K. came to life and became aware of her existence, her father informed her that she should not rejoice too much in the idea of breathing. There was nothing beautiful or interesting in this whole process, for one simple reason. She would die. No one knew when or how, but it was certain that death would come to take her to its bosom. There was no need to be sad, because it was a tax imposed the moment one is conceived in this world. Such a fate was billed to every living thing in this world, including F.K.

Such words would frighten any child or at least cause them anxiety about the future, but it did not bring any change in her life. She behaved as if death would never come to her or to the people around her. To some extent she considered it a lie told loudly by adults, to scare children before they go to sleep. Of course, this was not a normal behavior for a parent. What kind of father is he whose first conversation with his daughter is about death?

F.K would surely answer “one of the types of fathers to be found in the universe”. Taking her word for granted, so as not to create any prejudice about the man who brought her to life, we can say that F.K’s father was a man who lived every day as if it were his last and did not worry about anything. He led a completely illogical life, accompanied by a pronounced dose of irony about people who were very concerned about work, paying taxes, or the importance of raising a child.

Their whole life together went awful, but apart from the neighbors’ calling the police every time he broke anything, no one else bothered. They wouldn’t actually bother were it not for the sake of the little girl. They came to Utai when F.K was only four years old. The running away of his wife did not impress anyone. And who wouldn’t want to run away from such a man?

The father and daughter life went on at the same pace until one day the least expected happened. Death came to her father and took him away, while F.K was left alone, in a half-ruined house, where every drop of rain got in as if there was no roof. That day something changed inside her. Death took a form, a portrait, a dark reflection, for which she could not find an explanation. She was fourteen years old. Her mother abandoned her at birth. Nobody liked her. No child her age in the neighborhood approached her. At school she had very poor results and as a result, she led her whole life with a man who thought that every day was his last day, but it is not that he would go out to seek death. He stayed at home waiting for it. He did some small work here and there, enough to have something to drink and nothing else. No one cooked in their house. They did not know what it meant to have an organized life, and worst of all they did not bathe because they had been cut off from water supply for a long time.

F.K grew up alone, at the mercy of the people around her, who spared a slice of bread and a plate of food for her. At times, she would express her gratitude by helping them with something they needed, but it’s not that this thing brought them any positive feelings. It was just some kind of tax one had to pay. She hated school, not because she had any specific assignments or readings. She just couldn’t stand her teachers. Most seemed unprepared and she always ridiculed them. For this, she would get poor results, but while her father didn’t care, why should she? She was a child brought to life with no specific purpose. She breathed until the day death came to take her. This was enough for her and she never asked for more. What happened between the breathing and its end was an insignificant process that sooner or later would be given a name by everyone. Some called it life, others called it opportunities to discover yourself and as for F.K it was just a big spider web which would be torn at some point.

Ward 256 – PREFACE

The universe is a web of energy scattered in infinite directions without any purpose of existence in itself. From every spot thousands of threads surge looking for power to fill the void. Their infinity creates tangles, and the tangle gave birth to the only species that can survive in this quagmire, the arthropods. Species divided into two simple categories, predator and prey. At least that’s how it’s always been. But what if the prey decides not to be part of the web anymore? Will the system be able to keep only predators in it? What if the predator is also a prey? What if the pray is also a predator?

This is a simple story of arthropods looking to discover their identity. To understand this occurrence, you only need the following information. Don’t feel bad about anything you read. The curse is mutual, so it is not right for me and others like me to be the only ones to know this information. I apologize in advance for the dissolution of this web. It is not in my mental capacity to control this information. Perhaps it won’t be in your capacity either. So long!

General information

Planet: Arthropods

Location: Country of Truth

Year: 2026

Population: 250.006 inhabitants

Composition of the parliament: Twenty-seven Geniusships

Parliamentary elections: Every four years

Head of State: His Godship

Participation in the last elections: 250.005 inhabitants

Age at birth: Four years old

Right to vote: From birth

The most serious crime: Suicide

State Hospital: Insignificant remnants after The Great War

Border line: Iron curtain

Neighborhood: The insignificant

Division of population strata:

1. His Godship                                 

2. Geniusship                                                         7. Murderers of Faith

3. Bankship                                                             6. Dependence of Thought

4. The Janitor                                               5. The Uncountable

5. The Head Nurse                                              4. The Unnamed      

6. The Director                                             3. The Sensed

7. The Guard                                                 2. The Historians    

8. The Blessed People                                        1. Ward 256  


It was the first day of autumn when an unusual notice came to my office, which terrified us all. It was shorter than all the other notices, but I believe it was due to its compromising nature. For the first time since the opening of the “Hospital of the Insignificant”, in “Ward 256” there had been no patients. I was shocked when I read it. I don’t know what terrified me more. The fact that in our country there were still crazy people of this category or that we would have to deal with such a dangerous man.

What scared me the most in the letter sent was the lack of information about the patient. It read briefly:

The citizen named “Patient 256” to be sent to “Ward 256″‘. It is important that the transfer of this individual is made only by the most trusted people of the hospital director. She will be fed three times a day, will drink water five times a day and can only go to toilet twice. She is not to be brought out in the afternoon to mix with others. She is more different than the different”.

I reread the letter, but my fears grew even more. All the while I was thinking that the patient, we were waiting for was a man. All those belonging to this category were men. When I read the notice, I was frightened even more by the idea that for the first time this ward would open for a woman.  Not that other wards were not previously opened for women, but usually they ended up in other wards associated with their role in society.

I stopped thinking. I wasn’t paid to think. I was paid to carry out the orders from above. I called the head nurse, the guard and the janitor of Ward 256, who is the hospital’s first employee. I briefly informed them that for the first time after The Great War, a patient would come to our hospital in the forbidden ward. For a moment none of them made any specific reaction although I felt some kind of liquid desire to know more. After I gave them proper instructions, I was asked to keep this between us because our country had entrusted us with a madman of this nature, unlike everyone else, and we had to study this as a good opportunity to find answers. They left without asking questions, waiting for the day of her arrival.


From the day the notice came I knew it would be a nuisance for us. I just didn’t understand at the time what they meant by “she is different from the different”. Different patients had different diagnoses, but I could not imagine why our country had sent her to this ward. I gave up the questions. I did not deal with this issue at all and waited for her to come and find out what was wrong with her.


When the director of the hospital gave us the news that the first patient was coming to my favorite ward that day since after The Great War, I felt good. We all know this is a special sector in our hospital, but no one knows why. It is assumed that “different” patients will be hospitalized here, but I do not know what could be different from what I had seen. The hospital is divided into seven main wards according to their importance.

The first ward is the “Murderers of Faith. These are all patients who have lost faith in our country. Losing faith in its power and claiming that there is something greater than us on this earth is the most pathetic thing one can ever think, let alone say it out loud. This is the “Country of Truth” which lifted the iron curtain. It protects us from the war and the horrible life that others have outside our borders. It protects us from all evil. It follows that those who have lost faith in our country do not believe in themselves. People who do not believe that their power is directly related to that of their country are weak people. The link that needs to be eliminated from society in order not to infect others with their empty and meaningless thoughts. This is the most populated ward, to be honest. Despite the perfect genes of our nation, after the war some of the women and men of other countries had stayed here leaving us their genetically flawed cells. Unfortunately, these genes ended up in the fertilization plant and these are the results.

The second ward is called “Dependence of Thought“. This ward is about as populated as the previous one, but here are all those patients who are genetically flawed. They depend on their thoughts and believe that thanks to these thoughts we can build a more perfect world. They even consider themselves more intelligent than the rest of the country and often claim that if anyone had listened to them, this hospital would no longer exist.

The third ward where I started my career hosts “The Unnamed“. They don’t have a specific character. Although the number of patients in this ward is relatively small, it is very difficult to cope with them. They have a problem that I still don’t know how to solve. They see things that the rest of us can’t see. So they say, because of course we know there is no such thing. They believe that there is a series of sounds that intertwine with one another and create divine music. And these are very close to us. This is their madness. Of course, I know that the only music that exists is what we hear every day when we sing the anthem of our country.

The fourth ward hosts the “The Uncountable”.The patients in this ward are even crazier. They believe that in this world numbers have a function and there are more numbers than the number one thousand. We all know that this is the last number on earth, but they fight like crazy to prove they’re right. They claim that we do not know how to count, that is why we do not understand them. The words they repeat the most are:

There are 999 units in our country with 250 inhabitants each, and the last unit with 256 inhabitants. This means that there are numbers greater than one thousand, and of course the last unit is the most special because it has six more inhabitants. These are us. Don’t you understand?” They even say with conviction that there is a science in the world called “mathematics” and that it is the most perfect thing in the world, even more perfect than us. Meaningless logic. I deal very little with these. They are very aggressive and we don’t take them out.

In the fifth ward there are only five patients.  Very soon only four will remain because one of them is very old. They are called the “The Sensed.” The unit of measurement of their existence is feeling. They have different feelings from us. We can feel mostly cold, fear, anxiety, irritability and nervousness, but other feelings are also part of our program. According to them, there are other feelings in the world. Things like love, friendship, respect and gratitude. We used to laugh because these feelings do not exist and do not make sense according to the logic of any of us. They get food on iron plates. One day they will say that even iron has feelings. They are mad. They also have another uncontrollable genetic problem. They can dream. They said that when they talk, they often see visions with open eyes. They see dreams. They even predict the future.

The sixth ward hosts the “Historians“. These are the funniest of all. They believe that our country has had a different political approach in the past. They believed that we have another version of history that no one has told us and even we are part of this history. They say that world is still out there, but we are not allowed to look at it. According to them, our ancestors were people many times smarter than us, but most of them died during “The Great War”. This is how they call it. In our history it is just a war. In our perfect educational system, we have the history book of our nation, the most powerful nation in the world. It was written by our country and no one is smart enough to discuss “state affairs.”

The last ward, the seventh one, which is being populated for the first time since the War, is the most undeciphered of all. Unlike all the wards that have names, this one has a number – “Ward 256“. It is separated from all the other wards and no one enters except the janitor and the guard, who are not able to give many details about the ward. It’s just a room with a toilet. There is no yard, trees, belongings or bed. It is all painted black, even the window glass of the ceiling. It is a perfect seven-meter cuboid room with only a small toilet compartment. Unlike all other wards, which have one thing in common. They are not allowed to see their feces. For this reason, this process takes place only during the time set by the country and in our presence.

I have never seen the seventh ward. These are the details that the doctor who designed the room explained to me. He was the Minister of Health in our country and happens to be my father as well. This is the specific reason why I was chosen as the caretaker of “Ward 256“. Only perfect families like us can save our almighty country from being different. They are genetic mutations which unfortunately remained here after the war. And yet we managed to isolate them the day we opened the “Insignificant” hospital, the thousandth unit of our state.

Translated by Qerim Ondozi

Vladimir Arsenić

Vladimir Arsenić

Vladimir Arsenić (1972) was awarded M. A. in Comparative Literature by the University of Tel Aviv and M.A. in Literary Theory by the University of Belgrade. He is a staff  writer of the Serbian web portal and the Croatian web portal He has published articles in portals, journals and magazines such as Beton, Quorum,, and He has acted as a mentor within the project Criticize this! In collaboration with Srđan Srdić he conducts Hila creative writing workshop, and co-owns publishing house Partizanska knjiga. He is a regular contributor to the literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina and is a member of the Bosnian PEN Center. His texts have been translated into English, Albanian and Slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. He is a member of the editorial board of the literary magazine Ulaznica issued in Zrenjanin, Serbia. In 2019. his first book of collected essay on Montenegrian literature The Ethics of Narration has been published. He is a Tottenham Hotspur FC fan. 

Dasa Drndic and the post-truth politics

It is self obvious fact that we are living in post-truth world. The very notion designates that the truth is in a way unobtainable, that it is somehow beyond our reach, and not only because it is hidden, or mysterious, but by a simple fact that there are instances which are very much concerned with putting the factual truth out of our sight. Factual truth, the one that can be crosschecked through evidence, and put under scrutiny of proofs is nowadays very often changed with the post-truth, the emotional one with which the power and the community are blackmailing its subordinates and/or memebers. For instance, if you are a Serbian citizen it would be expected of you not to talk about the genocide, but about mass murder and organized crimes of large proportions that had happened in the region of Srebrenica in July of 1995., in spite of the International Court of Justice ruling from 2007. This appeal is emotional in several reasons. Firstly, because one wouldn’t like to connect ones homeland with most disgusting crimes. Secondly, by doing so one would endanger Serbian prosperity because the state would have to pay compensation. Finally, the role of the government would be investigated, and that would not be nice for everyone was involved one way or the other, actively or passively. So unless you are very interested in facing the past and finding out what really happened and one can do that rather easy, you will accept the official interpretation of the truth, the one served through the official media in Serbia, the emotional one, the post-truth that stands instead the factual truth.

Serbia is not unique example. Quite the contrary, the whole world is drowned in post-truth poltics and that is yesterdays news. But what is the role of the literature in these circumstances since the truthfulness of art according to Aristotle’s Poetics is universal, and not particular. To quote: „But they differ in this, that the one speaks of things which have happened, and the other of such as might have happened. Hence, poetry is more philosophic, and more deserving of attention, than history. For poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars.“ Let me argue that it could be exactly the field in which we might look for reinvention of the role of literature in todays society, in which the media are corrupted and particularized and vulgarized, and the social networks are taking over the space of public debate which is, in turn, becoming exactly like them, according to old McLuhan’s teaching – medium is the message. It is very personal, very non argumented, and very emotionally intense – one could not expect anything else from Twitter or Facebook. The factual truth, on the other hand, should not be like that – it should be objective,  proved, measured, and calm.

The field of literature is changing. Or to be precise it has changed forever right after the invention of internet. The times are fast and furious, they can not stand anything that takes time. And literature does take. A lot. But that is why there is a chance to be calm and objective, and measured, and proved. One can put into literature things that once should have been in media. Of course not in the same way, not by turning fiction or poetry into newspapers, or opinion pieces, but exactly by being truthful. I know it sounds silly, but let me give you an example.

One of the most acclaimed Croatian authors abroad is Daša Drndić. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and received very positive critical response all over Europe and in the States. But she have not won any important literary award in her homeland. She had been shortlisted several times but that os all. One may ask why, and the only truth is that she is writing about things that are not very pleasent for the ears of those in power. She is writing without any restraint about the rise of clericalism, nationalism, very harsh and rude capitalism, in other words about the things that are occuring in Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans and Europe. She is not dealing with any emotional truth as one would expect from the point of view of literature, and not with, or not only with the things that might have happened, but with very specific and precise truths about some of the crimes that had happened during the nazi or ustaša regime. That simply means that her novels are well documented and subjected to research that led to the construction of the plot. For her books are novels in the strict sense of the word, they are fictious, the protagonists are not historical characters, but the scenery and historical circumstances are thoroughly researched. Daša Drndić has readership and no one can deny her success, but the establishment is silent because they are concened with the post-truth poltics. She and the likes are not welcomed in todays Croatia in which, as in Serbia, the role of partisan movement in the Second world war is questioned, murderers and war criminals are restored, and factual truth about our past and present is very often blurred and changed with the emotional one.

Daša Drndić’s work is just an example for what I am proposing here – a slight change of roles. Because they usurped the media, we should turn back to literature, to art as conveyors, among other things, of factual truth. It is not as fast as the internet, radio, TV channels or even newspapers, but there is another advantage, it lasts forever.

Translated by the author, edited by Ana Schnabl.

Natasha Sardzoska

Natasha Sardzoska

Natasha Sardzoska (Skopje, 1979), poet, writer, essayist, literary translator, interpreter (FR, IT, ES, EN, PT, CA), anthropologist, has lived in many European cities, among which Milan, Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, Stuttgart. She holds a PhD in anthropology from the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and University of Bergamo. She is Affiliated researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies South East Europe in Rijeka in Croatia and Assistant professor at the Institute for Anthropology and Ethnology in Skopje.

She has published the poetry books Blue Room, Skin, He pulled me with invisible string, Living Water, Coccyx, essays, short novels and stories. She has published poetry books in the USA, Italy, Kosovo and her poems are translated in more than 15 languages in various international anthologies and literary reviews. She has translated more than 50 authors from Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan and Spanish languages, among which: Pasolini, Saramago, Carnerio, Montale, Boyunga, Margarit, Sanguineti, and others. She has won the prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy for best translation of the book Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. She attended the literary and translation residency in the Institute Ramon Llull in Barcelona.

Her poetry readings are with performative and interactive character, combining vocal experiments, music and dance. She has performed at many international poetry festivals and literary venues: Ars Poetica Festival in the National Gallery of Bratislava: International Poetry Festival in Genova in the Palazzo Ducale; in the Museum Revoltella in Trieste; at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sofia; at the Academy of Arts in Berlin within the Poetry Festival of Berlin; at the Sha’ar International Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv performing with sax, contrabass and contemporary dance in Yaffa Arab-Hebrew theatre; as well as many literary readings across many cities in the Balkans (Belgrade, Plav, Tirana, Rijeka, Struga etc.)

In Skopje with the French Institute she organized the poetic soirée Les rivages de l’exil for the francophone poetry on exile; with the Italian Embassy in Skopje the Italian poetic-musical evening Il vino è la poesia della terra where she has performed poems in Italian language; and the poetry reading For a World Without Walls in collaboration with the International Poetry Festival of Medellin. Her poem Doll on Strings has been published in English and Spanish in the International Poetry Anthology against child abuse. She is part of the European poetry platform Versopolis.

Her poetry intertwines sensuality, reminiscence of the flesh, exposes inner pain, exile, homelessness and reveals spiritual freshness. Her poetic memory has performative character capturing the dramaturgy of the chamber space of the human existence.

Useful links:


Cold fire in the forest

Rough rinds on the edge of this window

I see, I burst shivering without thinking

in a burning interzone

That restores me and glows and wriggles my bones my womb

And yelps without my name without your recognition

A fish from a northern sea

You give me

Grasp of wheat and you spit a bit of wine in my mouth

You are my race, my unease

turgid seeds

uprooted dry layers


Four men in you I saw

And when you came in I felt you were searching for me

And everybody shut up and the world around fall apart

And all movement turned slow and blind

The clock was beating with the sound of a home

Green leafs and red female tongues were burning

Hungry for your thirst you pulled up my head

With a silk string you pulled me proud to you

All those women that made you lonely reached me

Grasping my feet

But my hamstrings and cartilage were bursting into pieces

And my ankles were calling you voiceless

I do not understand why this night washes me away as wine

From where you are yowling elegantly and softly

You eject a wolf cry weaved with opal

You hit me with your tongue through your open leg

I am not afraid that I will not have you

Nor do I go away from your exit gate

I have thrown on your eyes a veil weaved with my hair

So you can see me better in the middle of a burning forest

A nomad lost in the void of his own sea

I pronounce mutely your name

I call inclement your skin

I caress you slowly in my mouth

Beauty deeper than all sensual thoughts art you

Dark knight bewildering white horses

Soft node leather rein translated into rhythm

You are coming from distant cities powerful

You are swelling down the boulevards deaf for any other luxurious inquietude

You are expelling sparkles underneath your leather shoes

While you are boiling steaming in the coffee cups of my silver mornings a

A balcony red wine raw meat and livid sunset you sip in me

birds beak

liquid breath

broken lace

satin hours

whirlwind pine trees

irritated tigers


in my womb


Walking down the blacktop

While wild rabbits are screaming in boiling water





And at each step I take I inhale blood

fragile leaves in a Japanese garden are caressing my lips

while I am laying down in the gush of blood and thousands of bewildered flowers

flowing in my hair

You and I

Tokyo and Home

Incalculable steps of the flesh

And again those animals are screaming as if they were the forgotten pot of boiling


And I wash your feet so you can lie down underneath my skin

To become a city like any other city that we walked

And we did not know

And we did not know each other

And we did not know

When all those energies were fermenting in us as in bewildered rabbits

slaughtered but alive in the vertiginous water

The tongues of the dead kites to tell us to tell you

I am here

I follow you from each airport pathway and I know when I hear your name

It is music with unknown rhythm

And nobody knows that music

But I tremble from your gaze and I lost my voice when you came to me

And my skin was becoming darker after each bewildered step that you were taking

towards my chests

Growing nipples burning lips in winter

I knew we were one same city one same shadow one same rain and same skin

And the night before I met you I was crying like a child because all crazy plans crashed


And before you came in the Japanese garden

In me I could hear screaming all the slaughtered animals

And I was growing shamelessly mute

With open legs underneath you

As a layer of fertile wheat in your overwhelming whispering

humble and perverted

you arise above the eradicated overcoats of the purple passion


Something begin to grow and beat

Unclear and innocent

While we were drinking wine with strange girls

I could hear you smiling in the rhythm of an African candombe

When they serve you with a glass of wine

I weave myself around one moment imprisoned in confused kernels

I spit seeds

I stay awake at every dawn to feel your beats


How can one fear to grasp the night and then to throw it away?

The violet flowers with morning dew and the mad recalcitrance were not enough?

Leave I cannot

I come to you without knowing if this path has an end

But I know wild berries are flowing in my blood

And I weave a spider’s nest with black spit

A layer of tiny boats

is your promise to me

when you are not here

you are present as never

and your silence is hurting

louder than a cup of black tea breaking through the white wall

you are in my kernels a fish bone valves interstices in between my teeth

black sperm on someone else high heels

night porter that knows all my secrets

strange angel that does not talk but says it all

that on this soil someone else’s blood is boiling


I close the venetian blinds

And the closet full with socks so sad miserable and weak

Reflections of this and each and every city

Where we are not but we could

We could, but in this world there should be a balance

Blood and vein that explode

And all those violins should promise peace


And you will take a bow

And your head will bend down

As if you were sucking blood from a finger

As if you were soaking up

As if you were pulling out a nail from alive meat


I got air stuck in my throat at each alarm signal

because you strangled me.

You came into my dream secretly

You twisted my spatial dimensions

You pulled me as a servant to your decision

You thread me in your leg

You stamp a burn-mark against evil thoughts

You discovered me in the middle of the screaming mouths and evil eyes

You slip me up as a woolen sock in the middle of war times

I was shambling around your neck like a goat on a hill

Very lonely chewing wild grass cracking my teeth

And I am holding on my vision and my breath in one fixed point every time I see you


You are splashing around vertiginous cognitions

And so I stopped counting down the illusions

And as an act of rebellion I decided to miss all my flights

To wait, to grow my hair pale, to darken my skin

To impel myself as a hyena on your sex

Finally alone

Translated by the author, edited by Sinead McMorrow

Iztok Vrenčur

Iztok Vrenčur

Iztok Vrenčur (1985) was born and grow up in Titovo Velenje, town renown for coal mining and heavy industry located in the central-north Slovenia, part of former Yugoslavia. After Gymnasium, he moved to Ljubljana, where he studied Archaeology. He continued his postgraduate research at Filozofski fakultet Zagreb and Freie Universität Berlin and defended PhD work focused on Iron Age Archaeology of Eastern Alps and Balkans in 2018. He published two novels: Odrekanje svetlobi (2013) and Urnebes (2016); several pieces of short stories, poetry and an illustrated book of archaeological fairytales for children. He’s singer and guitarist for 2nd bsx murder.


Father’s voice is muted as if he has just woken up. It can often happen that the whole family glides into a collective dream. I suspect my parent is drunk again and is calling me without even knowing the real reason. This is always happening. A lot of my mornings are ruined like this. But now I get the impression my father knows what he’s talking about, though he’s not sober. He asks:

“How quickly can you come?”

“What are you talking about?”

“About speed, my son. It’s all about the day and what we make of it, before the night falls and everything goes to hell again. So, how quickly?”

“I have to wake up first.”

“You can wake up later. Or as far as I’m concerned never if you want. A quick reaction is what I need now.”

“Oh, it is?”

“Very much so. Don’t be stiff, please, just come running, do as your father asks!”

“So I won’t brush my teeth, I’ll just wash my face, I won’t drink my coffee, just a glass of water, and I’ll be there.”

“That’s the word, son. You’re the pride of the family.”

“Am I really?”

“Definitely. Our only pride. There’s no other. So, you’re coming?”

“On my way, dad.”

“Great. You know where to find me. Try to make it before dawn.”

I know where to find him. How do I know that? How can a man know anything at all? It’s freezing cold. I see the world in a negative. The remains of the snow are black patches. It could be an evening or a morning – there’s fog everywhere and everything’s grey. There’s no real light yet. A walk down a macadam road. By the stream. Crabs are whistling quietly. Like the voices in your head, humming slowly; they’re difficult to hear. I whistle myself and answer them with their own melody. The creaking of boots on limy gravel reminds me of walking.

A black Mercedes with open windows drives down the road. Three grim mobsters are sitting in it. Two are in front, one who is totally pale, almost translucent, is seated in the back. The driver stops the car. He’s smoking. He lifts his gaze from the steering wheel and looks straight into my eyes. A stranger in these surroundings. He’s got the stern and cruel face of a bully, one who doesn’t think much when  there’s  a person who has to be served with pain. I know his type well. I expect he’ll ask me for directions or something even more unpleasant, but instead of doing that, he speaks in verse. He pronounces the words slowly and with an unusual accent.

“The world is a range of vanity,

a field of the passage of time and ruin,

all paths lead to nowhere, life is unbearable

vigilance, mercy spent,

a nervous habit.”

Afterwards, we look at each other for a few seconds. The man is frowning, wrinkling his forehead as if he’s worried I didn’t get the point.

“Oh, I see”, I say. “And what should I do with this?”

“Nothing”, he says. “Just remember it. You are now me. If you don’t believe me, just wait for a bit. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”

He clears his throat ceremonially, spits on my trouser leg in an elegant arc and drives away. I have no idea what I should think about all this. We’re all crazy here.

I carry on walking, and I think about the weakness of my own body. It keeps diminishing, more rickety by the day. Something is twingeing in my lower back and in my upper left leg. It must be sciatica. I spend too much time sitting in cafes. It looks like my kidneys are ok today, but it’s not too late for them to get worse anytime later. The pain is here to remind me. The world is a range of vanity.

I can already see my father’s donkey. Through the veil of mist, it looks like it’s the only one left of its species. There is frost on its mane and on the hair of its back. This donkey must have been standing still for some time. A hemp rope fastens it to a wobbly wooden fence that leads through the village to a church. God’s house has fewer holes in its roof and façade than the rest of the buildings in this hamlet. Where there was a mosque some years ago, there is now a parking lot and a small stand made of orange plastic. The devil is selling chewing gum, hot dogs and cigarettes at the stand.

Father never had enough dough to buy a real horse. The donkey is a stylish alternative; you have to admit that, like it or not. The animal is standing still; it’s not young anymore; somehow we all expect it will die before the winter’s over. Or maybe it won’t. It’s still chewing and drooling abundantly. It has some teeth. You can find out what’s going on inside it by the colour and taste of its saliva, they say.

The bench is made of a spruce tree trunk, split in half. It looks good next to the roughly squared table where fragments and chips of wood can still be seen. A litre-bottle of spirit is half empty. There’s a smell of spruce resin and tobacco in this fresh air.

“Good morning, son.”

“Greetings, father.”

He’s as drunk as a lord. There are dark bags under his eyes. He hasn’t slept all night. He’s drunk just enough rakija to make him feel bored on his own so he wanted to have a debate with someone who is not just a voice in his head.

“Have you eaten breakfast?”

“You know very well I haven’t. There was supposed to be a hurry. What do you want from me?”

He’s poking around his coat and then around his faded bag.

“Wait. There was a half of a roll here.”

“It’s ok”, I resist. “I’m not hungry.”

“Just you wait, I’ll find it. Unless… Unless I ate it myself.” “Never mind, I’m really not hungry.”

“I’m sorry, son, I just remembered I ate it last night. All the same. When you’re hungry we’ll eat the other half. Would you like it now?”

“Thanks, I don’t feel like it. I don’t eat bread in the morning anyway. So tell me, why did I come here?”

“You came here because I told you to come, ha ha ha. But why are you so impatient, the day hasn’t begun yet, and we have plenty of time. Before the whole thing ends, everything will be crystal clear. Then you’ll understand what’s going on. I suggest we don’t hurry; that was never our family’s way; we should take it slowly. A man has to have a system.”

He pours two glasses, hospitably, drinks his in an instant and meaningfully puts mine on a gnarl in the table. He rolls a cigarette and expects me to drink bottoms up. I take my time; I want to show him I don’t drink as immorally as he does. And especially not before nine o’clock in the morning. But my father’s unspoken command and our family instinct take precedence. As in a dream, I grab the little glass and pour it into my mouth. I swallow half of it immediately,  and slowly roll the rest of it around my teeth. The plaque on the dentine melts. The clapper beats hollowly against the bronze in the stone belfry. It’s a quarter to six in the morning.

The alcohol fires up my cerebellum. Damn it. Where did the old man find such excellent spirit? The cheap poison that usually puts him to sleep is alright for cleaning various dental things at most, and spells certain death for you and me. It doesn’t do any harm to the old man; it seems the spirit makes him even stronger and insightfully meaner with the years. His body is capable of transforming the alcohol into sugar in an instant. Maybe the poison has dried him up a bit, you could say that. But he’s still well enough to sit on the bench before sunrise and sip this first-class spirit. Where did he get the money? Could it be that the madman called me just to show me a half-emptied bottle and brag about the quality of his morning aperitif? I think it’s called aperitif.

My dad waves a freshly-folded piece of paper in front of my nose which makes things even more mysterious. Even though his hand is shaking, I still notice the writing is suspiciously similar to his. Thin, unevenly backward-sloping letters in cursive, with some occasional scribble caused by delirious ticks. I can see the building company Balkanasfalt watermark on the edge of the paper. I don’t know anyone working for the company, but I’ve heard about it, of course, who hasn’t? You’ll hear about it soon too if you haven’t already. But didn’t Balkanasfalt go to the dogs? Most likely. Every company in the world  is on its way there. The paper has been torn out of a notebook or a calendar, the kind that’s printed every December in ten  thousand  copies by big companies. I know my father doesn’t use this kind of thing. There’s only one sentence written.

“I took your money and took the fuck off across the border.”

What a lie, I think to myself. This stinks to high heaven. Haven’t we already seen something like this? So he’s out of money, that’s what he’s trying to tell me this fresh morning. This is no news of course, more like a normal condition. Sometimes, when he gets a bit of a money, my father switches into his abnormal state. He’s staring at me like somebody who is planning revenge, and is totally convinced about being right and keeps on agreeing with his own ideas all the time. He’s just an old, drunken man. Nothing more. He speaks in a weepy voice:

“My son! Did you see what this bastard has done to us this time? He destroyed us! We’re done!”

He crushes the paper with an outraged movement into a ball and throws it at random over his shoulder.

“Do you know who it was?”

“Who else? Our arch-enemy. Oh, what have we done so wrong for God to punish us with such a cruel enemy?”

He looks up into the sky with an accusation; then he looks towards the church and drinks out of the bottle twice under the weight of his sorrow.

“There is no God, dad. There’s just a lot of unclear and contradictory voices that confuse us even more.”

“You’re wrong, son. There is God. There definitely is. He hates us and wants to exterminate us.”

“So we are ruined.”

“That’s right. But we’re still going to fight! An exciting life is the best life. We’ll catch the devil today. Tonight or never. Are you with me?”

I think it might be best to clear things once and for all. Enough is enough. There has to be an end to these constant thefts. There is nothing left, and the poverty has totally worn us out.

“I’m with you, dad. Let’s go hunting.”

“That’s the word; I knew you are my son. I’m sorry to wake you up, but as you can see, the situation is dangerous. Catching this devil is more important than sleep. After we cross the border and find him, the dog will be finished. We’ll break his bones and cut off his dick, nose and ears. We’ll punish him for his past sins and prevent future ones make sure he can’t commit any more.”

“Let’s go, old man. I can’t sit still any more.”

He cries with excitement. He puts out his fag and slips the bottle deep into a pocket of his dirty coat. He lifts a finger into the air:

“There’s one crucial thing to do before we set off.”

“Weapons?” I read his mind.

“Re-vol-ver”, he spells out with satisfaction. I nod, even though I don’t believe him. Flakes of fog are falling lazily from the sky and hovering over the fields. Let’s arm ourselves for whatever may come.

my father’s revolver

He steps in first. I fill my lungs with air before I follow him. The log cabin is dark and stuffy. They don’t waste money on paraffin. It’s getting harder and harder to buy it lately. Like everything else. Except for coal, milk and eggs.

I’ve known humpback since childhood. He’s very ugly and very mean. These are his main characteristics worth mentioning. You feel a little pity for him, you feel a bit of disgust, this is how it is with him. And with all that, you can’t figure out whether he’s mean because of his hump or he’s ugly because he’s mean. He doesn’t like seeing us here. He spits on the ground in disgust when father tells him in his drunken voice that he wants a revolver and he wants it on loan. He doesn’t have any money with him because the criminals have stolen it again, but he will repay and return everything as soon as he gets back everything that’s his, with the revolver of course. He needs it to send a bullet into the thief who is robbing and hurting his family over and over again. I stand quietly beside him. The humpback’s mute wife is standing in the back of the shop, wildly shaking her head. She’s sitting on a cupboard swinging her legs in the air. I can see her figure in this semi-darkness. As far as I know the whole family are midgets. Midgets and mean. Who knows, maybe they’ve figured out this is the only way they can survive among us, the wild ones.

It’s no use; the humpback doesn’t want to give the revolver for free, despite the passionate persuasion. He says he’s not stupid and that my father hasn’t paid any loan back in his whole life. I have to agree with the freak on that.

The negotiations fail. It seems as if father has given up. He comes up with material arguments. Determined, he pokes around his coat, and secretly gives the salesman something into his hand so that I don’t see what it is. The eyes of the humped freak sparkle in the halflight. A satisfied growl. Suddenly, he’s in a good mood, I think he’s even smiling a bit, but it’s hard to tell from his permanently frowning face. His midget lady purrs as if her husband had given her some especially rare satisfaction. She slips off the cupboard; we hear a hollow sound while she’s rummaging somewhere in the dark below. Then she approaches on tiptoe, and without any further hesitation we see the thing father came to get. The revolver looks huge in her tiny hairy hands, and the barrel unnaturally wide. She whispers respectfully:

“American stuff. Best quality. Careful.”

“You be careful of the fire!”,

hisses father and quickly hides the gun. “You and your home!”,

I shout, then we quickly step out of the stuffy shack.

During our negotiations in the store, the fog has frayed. The revolver is shining, glittering in the sun like some kind of fucking diamond. It’s brand new and greased. I’m impressed. Not only have I never seen my father with anything so beautiful, I’m totally serious when I say my young eyes have never before seen anything more beautiful than this. It’s a completely different kind of weapon than the rusty old double-barrelled shotgun, which is really a single-barrelled shotgun, that hangs on my back even when I sleep. It hurts me, but I never take it off, I’m such a militant.

Father sticks it proudly under his belt so that the barrel is resting nicely parallel to his cock. That’s how a real man carries a cold weapon. He walks with a swagger and I follow, absorbed in my own thoughts. I’m mesmerized. What did my father give the humpback for this revolver? Secrets. I’m racking my brains, but I can’t guess. First, quality spirit, then the weird note and now this. There’s no money, yet there is. But still, there isn’t, that’s why we’re going to get it. It’s a beautiful revolver that now belongs to my father. The secrets are multiplying faster than Kosovars under a warm blanket.

The excerpt from the novel Urnebes, translated by Dolores Malič and David Lythgoe.

Jasmina Topić

Jasmina Topić

Jasmina Topić is a Serbian authoress mainly focused on writing poetry, but she is also established as an occasional short prose and essay writer; literary reviewer; editor/editor in chief of two significant projects. She started a contemporary poetry edition called “Najbolja” (“The Best”) with another poet from her hometown Pančevo in 2012 and is in-charged in (co)editing as well as book design. She cooperates with the Youth Center in Pančevo as editor-in-chief of the publication “Rukopisi” (“Manuscripts”) since 1998 – a collection of young poets and short-prose writers from former Yugoslavia, published annually. Jasmina Topić has six sole-authored poetry books and several stories printed in journals and specialized thematic books (listed below). Furthermore, she has been continually publishing articles, columns and essays for journals (paper and online) throughout the ex-YU region. From 2000 until 2009, she worked as a freelance journalist. Her poems are translated into several languages and she is included in some major selections of the Serbian and ex-Yugoslavian poetry (the latest: Cat Painters, Dialogos, New Orleans, USA, 2017). Her poetry is often presented in a multimedia context and she managed to present it through video-works in a DVD called “The quiet renewal of the summer” (2008) and also with audio CD “Languages of Poetry”, in several languages – prepared for the final exhibition of the AIR program in Graz, Austria (2014) (available on Soundcloud).

Jasmina Topić had the opportunity to be called on a few Artist in residence programs: the “Milo Dor” stipend from KulturKontakt (Vienna, Austria, 2008), Kamov residency (Rijeka, Croatia, 2012), “Tirana in between” (Traduki program, Tirana, Albania, 2013), RONDO residency (Graz, Austria, 2014) and Create in residence (Baltic centre for writers and translators, Visby, Sweden, 2014). At the end of 2019. she was a resident in Krems, Austria, as a part of the writers exchange project between Austria and Serbia.

She won several prizes on literary contests, and two for her poetry/poetry book: “Duškovićeva zvona” (Pančevo, 2002), “Matićev šal” (Ćuprija, 2003 for the book “Pension. Metamorphoses”), respectively. Her latest poetry book “Beach Insomnia” was short-listed for all major poetry prizes in Serbia in 2017.

Major publications

Topić, Jasmina. Plaža Nesanica / The Beach Insomnia. Kulturni centar Novi Sad. Novi Sad. 2016.

            (the book was nominated last year as short-listed for three most significant poetry prizes in     Serbia: “Vasko Popa”, “Đura Jakšić” and “Milica Stojadinović-Srpkinja” (female poets) )

Topić, Jasmina. Dok neko šapuće naša imena / While Someone is Whispering our Names.                      UKKPP. Pančevo. 2012.

Topić, Jasmina. Tiha obnova leta / The Quiet Renewal of the Summer. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2007.

Topić, Jasmina. Romantizam / Romantizism. Alfa – Narodna knjiga. Beograd. 2005.

Topić, Jasmina. Pansion. Metamorfoze / Pension. Methamorphoses. Centar za stvaralaštvo            mladih. Beograd. 2002.

Topić, Jasmina. Suncokreti. Skica za dan / Sunflowers. Portrait for the Day. Udruženje književnika   Pančevo. Pančevo. 1997.


Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Čiji grad – književni protest. Kontrast. Beograd. 2016.

Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Grenzverkehr III. A new beginning – but where is it leading?.

                        Kultur Kontakt & Drava Verlag, Vienna. 2012.

Topić, Jasmina, et. al.  Kod srpskog pisca. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2011.

Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Leksikon božjih ljudi. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2010.

Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Projekat Kortasar. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2002.



first translator: Novica Petrovic (SRB)

second translator: Biljana D. Obradovic (US)

third: author and Lara Jakica (AUS)

order of poems:

Serbian > English


Bili smo tihi. Kao one kržljave ptičice

nesvesne ovog sveta.

Još uvek zlovoljni.

Moje telo pored tvog uvek blago dehidrira.

Tvoje telo je mekano i cedim

iz njega svetu vodicu svojih nedostataka.

Vodu koja mi uvek nedostaje.

Mehuri sapunice i mehuri deterdženta,

dva proizvoda sa istog odeljenja, to

smo postigli u traganju za idealom.

Letimo po ovom stanu kao perje

Očerupanih golupčića spremljenih za dobru supu.

Svako za svojim kompjuterom,

U video igrici postiže cilj. Na sledećem sam nivou.

Pregovaramo o Second life-u.

Ko izgubi iznosi parčiće slomljenog

na veliko gradsko smetlište.

Nakon svega znam da ćemo postati još tiši.

Ulegnuće u krevetu raste kao i svako predgrađe.

U taj stan se nismo uselili.

Sve je toplije i uskoro će leto.


we were ljuiet. Just like those tiny skinny birds

unaware of this world.

we are still morose.

My body always dehydrates slightly next to yours.

Your body is soft and I sljueeze

from it the holy water of my shortcomings.

The water that I always lack.

Soap bubbles and detergent bubbles,

two products from the same department, that’s

what we achieved straining to attain the ideal.

we fly around this flat like the feathers

of plucked pigeons ready to be made into a good soup.

Everyone sitting at his or her computer,

achieves his or her objectives in video games. I’ve reached the next level.

we are negotiating on Second life.

The loser gets to take broken fragments

to the great city dump.

I know that when all’s said and done we’ll become even ljuieter.

The dent in the bed grows like any suburb.

we did not move into that flat.

It’s getting warmer and summer will be upon us soon.


vse moje izkušwe

grejo naravnost v literaturo

Primož Čučnik

Iskustva iz figurativnog ranca

idu pravo u poeziju

I po kiši dosadnoj i uopšte rečeno groznoj

može se pisati – 

Taj maleni napor trošenja hartije,

zagrevanja prstiju

u igri šaha ili solitarea s dosadom,

a i kreativnom besparicom

trenutne odluke

podrazumevaju promišljanje,

naglost, adrenalin (tim redosledom ?!)

kao gledanje sportskog susreta

prebacivanje loptice

to je podgrejani nacionalizam paprikaš

džepni izdavač instant saznawa

pesma je sada gerilac

guram kolica naravno prazna

igram igricu koja bi se takođe i od stiha

mogla animirati

za mladost buduću

tu je pevanje ostalo pred vratima

iskušenje s iskustvom

za stan u koji sutra nećeš moći da uđeš

jer si švorc

Onda muziku ugasiš

jednoličan ritam ambijentalnog haosa

i sitne, sitne, još sitnije kao

pirinač za sirotinju –

Kiša je jedino konstantno iskustvo

koje će upravo postati literarno.


all my experiences

go straight into literature

Primož Čučnik

Experiences from the figurative sack

go straight into poetry

Even in boring rain, which is dreadful generally speaking,

one can write –

This small effort aimed at using paper,

warming up your fingers

playing chess or solitaire with boredom,

and with creative pennilessness

instantaneous decisions

presuppose reflection,

rashness, adrenalin (in that order?!)

watching a sporting event

heated-up nationalism stew

pocket-sized publisher

a poem is now a guerrilla fighter

I push the cart, empty, of course

I play a game that could also be animated

by verse

for future youth

there’s singing left in front of the door

an ordeal involving experience

on account of a flat where you won’t be able to move in

because you’re broke

Then you switch off the music

the monotonous rhythm of ambiental chaos

and tiny, tiny, even tinier, like

rice for the poor –

The rain is the only constant experience

that is to become a literary one.


Iz čistog nezadovoljstva. Mislim kako se grad

prepun mogućnosti neprestano sužava.

Nešto malo pre toga, tog predvečerja,

bakuta šeta s štapovima u rukama, samo što ona nije skijaš,

i sneg skoro neće pasti. Nedelja je i nema graje.

Zato je noć idealna za nesanicu.

I dok odmiče… nemam ni časovnik koji će

odbrojavati nezadovoljstvo ili prebrojavati ovčice.

Nasmejem se u gluvo-doba-noći tako da to

niko ne čuje, pa na trenutak zastanem,

da udahnem i izdahnem.

Ne klopara li neko zavojitim stepeništem

i nije li sad već na mezaninu!

Čisto fizičko zadovoljstvo osetim kada jagodice prstiju

dotaknu tastaturu projektovane nesanice.

Kada me već sasvim obavije čista runska vuna postrizanih ovčica

iskrsnu fotografije, lice u kreču, glini ili prahu,

ne razaznajem baš najbolje.

Tada, nalik čudu, krv sama potekne iz kažiprsta i vene na vratu

nabreknu nalik boraniji u zelenom omotaču. Trenutak živosti.

Kažem naglas da rasteram što je preostalo: Mi smo stvarni!

Iz čistog nezadovoljstva.


Out of sheer discontent. I think of how a city

Overflowing with possibilities is constantly narrowing.

A little before that, before that dusk,

A granny walks with sticks, only she’s no skier

And it won’t be snowing anytime soon. It’s Sunday and there’s no clamour.

That’s why the night’s ideal for not sleeping.

And as it unfolds… I don’t even have a clock

To tick away discontent or count sheep.

I smile in the dead of night so that

No one gets to hear it, then I pause for a moment, to inhale and exhale.

Is that someone rattling up the spiral staircase

and isn’t he in the mezzanine already!

I feel pure physical pleasure when the cushions of my fingers

Touch the keyboard of my projected insomnia.

when I am entirely enveloped in the pure new wool of fleeced sheep,

Photographs crop us, a face in lime, clay or dust,

I can’t make them out very well.

Then, like a miracle, blood flows out of the forefinger of its own accord                                                                                                    

                                                                                and the veins in the neck

swell like French beans in a green envelope. A moment of liveliness. 

I say aloud to dispel what’s left: we are real!

Out of sheer discontent.


Izgubila se u prostoru jedne knjige,

pratile me reči pesme na nepoznatom jeziku,

toplog mediteranskog melosa, kao zajednička

bivanja na ostrvima gde uvek treba obnoviti radost.

I dva prostora, oivičena senkama i muzikom,

potirala su me; U istu ravan dovodila

s linijom nepovučenom,

na dnu lista, izvan fusnote.

Tamo gde je pripadnost zamirala

izbijala je strast za napisanim, jednim

od mogućih svetova što so ih ispere

kao štamparsku grešku.

A prostor knjige menjao nam je oblik

lica, dodeljivao namenu. I bila sam. –

Zaistinski priljubljena za stihove, za slike

kao za nekadašnje rame,

sanjajući o severnim morima tako živahnim,

iz pisama prelomljenih u stihove.

Osluškivala kada će zlatne bubice hlebne

mileti mojom kožom, drhtureći. Boravila

pod polarnim svetlom, nadohvat drugosti

drugog, realnog života…

Ali ne živesmo osim čitajući, odmeravajući

ono pre i posle napisanog dok su tvoje oči,

male orahove ljuske na liniji imaginarnog,

Bile i more i nesanica.

Sada tako lagano klizim pored glečera čija imena,

a i namene ne prepoznajem.

I kao u dubokom, najdubljem snu ispod santi,

poneki glas me doziva iz svetla

u kojem se ne da više boraviti.

Ovog jutra, od jutra do mraka.


I got lost in the space of a book,

the words of a poem in an unknown language followed me,

warm Mediterranean ethnic music, like joint

stays on islands where joy is always to be renewed.

Two spaces edged by shadows and music

annulled me; they brought me down to the level

of a line not drawn,

at the bottom of a sheet, outside the footnote.

where belonging was dying out

the passion for writing emerged, for one

of the possible worlds washed out by salt

like a misprint.

And the space of the book changed our facial

form, gave us a purpose. And I was. –

Truly attached to verses, to pictures

the way I was to a shoulder of bygone times,

dreaming of northern seas so lively,

from those letters arranged into verses.

I listened, waiting for gold bugs

to start milling across my skin, trembling. I resided

under polar light, within arm’s reach of the otherness

of another, real life…

But we never lived except when reading, sizing up

that which preceded and followed the writing while your eyes,

tiny nutshells on the line of the imaginary,

were both the sea and insomnia.

Now I slide slowly by the glacier whose names

and purpose I do not recognise.

And as if in a deep, deepest dream under ice floes,

occasional voices call out to me from the light

in which it is no longer possible to reside.

This morning, from dawn till dusk.

Translation from Sebian into English

by Novica Petrović



Polako, leto se završavalo pljuskom kiše.


Uvek, na kraju, mora biti taj pljusak.

Zamišljena međa između lakoće i ozbiljnog –

Završili smo svoja putovanja,

željni sunca i igre – svega!

Još jedno leto iza nas, i more,

veliki sentiment, u kojem bi se mogli udaviti.

Napuštali smo naše zimske kaveze,

kao obavezu održavanja plamena u peći,

drhtavicu smetova, svet u snu.

Završili smo s pejzažima,

kroz prozor autobusa u suncu,

svetlucavoj vodi zalaska.

Dok putem isplovljavamo

ka dobrim starim sobama vidim nestvarni su…

Gradovi, kao preslikani, na vodi.

U noći, dok duša spava otvorenih očiju.

Gradove u kojima smo mogli poživeti,

daleko od svojih, vraćajući se sebi.

Isprali nakupljenu kišnicu otrova.

Na trenutak odložili maske.

Patetika roni iz vozačevog kasetofona,

ka zavičaju.

U istoj sobi počeli, u istoj okončaćemo,

S ponovnom slutnjom zime.

Prisećajući se lakoće,

stvarnosti svojih udova…

U senovitom kutu sobe ta maska čeka.


Slowly, the summer ends with a rain shower.

J. Hristić

Always, in the end, must come that rain shower. Here

on the imaginary border between the light-hearted and the serious—

we’ve ended our travels,

eager for sun and fun—for everything!

Another summer lies behind us, with its big sea,

a large feeling, in which we could have drowned.

we left our winter cages behind, as if

under an obligation to keep the furnace firing,

for shivers of snowdrifts, a world in a dream.

we’ve finished with landscapes, fading away into the distance

through the window of the bus , gleaming over water in the sunset.

As we rise above the water on the road

towards home sweet home, I can see the vistas are unreal…

Cities, appear in silhouette above the water.

At night, like ghosts we sleep with eyes open.

In cities where we might have lived

away from our loved ones, we return to ourselves.

we have washed away the poisoned rain.

we have put our masks aside for a moment.

Pathos emerges from the driver’s cassette player,

towards our homeland.

we began in the same room, we’ll end in the same room,

but now with a new foreboding of winter.

Remembering the lightheartedness,

the reality of our body parts…

In the corner of the room, in shadows, that mask awaits.

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović


Odrastam (– odrasla!) među senkama leta,

u tajanstvenoj kretnji asfaltom, ka dosadi.

Kao da još uvek traje: zrenje, slatkoća zrelog,

prezrelog. Bljutavog.

U kolima, putevima u krug, prija povetarac,

iznenadan smeh – kao prah odnet u senku.

Skupljeni na istom mestu, zatvoreni u sobe

naših strahova, već prodati u bescenje.

Tek nekolicina, drugara, zaista budna.

Priče se isprepliću…

Ne putujemo nikuda. Odredišta su kao luke

na sedmoj strani sveta, isijavajući iz tv aparata.

Nužne obmane, da se u sebe vraćamo

jedva okusivši užitak. Slobodi da se bude svoj,

ipak u tajnosti. Tu u mraku, gradskoj mitologiji,

između svega što nam neće dati da budemo,

još jedna tura: penušavca i iskamčene sreće.

Vodi se simulirana strast.

Pamtićemo se po mirisima kože.

I vidim, poređani kao svetiljke autoputa,

i u ludilu smo, i u dosadi.

Šta je ispred, nego mrak.


I am growing up (–grown!) among summer shadows,

in the mysterious movement on asphalt, towards boredom. Though

it’s still happening: growing up, with the sweetness of being ripe,

overripe. Sour.

In the car, circling the roads, a breeze soothes,

with a sudden smile—as if dust taken in by the shadows.

Gathered in the same place, locked in the rooms

of our fears, already sold into pricelessness.

Only a few, friends, remain truly awake.

Our stories are intertwined…

we don’t travel anywhere. Destinations are like ports

on the seventh continent of the world, only emitted from the TV.

Necessary deceits, that we might return to ourselves

barely having trusted life’s pleasures. Free to be ourselves,

still in secret. Here in the darkness, lost in the myth of the city,

lost among all things that won’t allow us to be,

yet another round: of the foaming liljuid,

of the happiness that comes from begging.

A simulated passion takes place.

we’ll remember each other by the smell of our skins.

And I can tell, from the line of lights along the highway,

we are enveloped in madness, and in boredom.

what else is ahead of us, but darkness.

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović


I palma u pozadini! Dodatak fotografiji,

pridružena razglednica nekome tamo, u domovini,

koju nikada nećemo poslati.

I tamne fleke po pitomom moru.

I tresetnica lako pada preko oblih kamenčića.

Biće razbacani posle po kutovima sobe,

kao idoli morskih noći, kao zalog tih dana.

Ritual spuštanja na plažu, ritual poniranja

u vodu, oživljavanje one boje

koja je život u punom sjaju.

Sa obaveznim kartama, bez keca u rukavu,

i zveckavim novčićima, svetlucavim sunašcima

za koja se može dobiti popodnevno pivo.

Zagarantovana fatamorgana.

Na fotografiji videće se jasno,

i koju marku piva pijemo, mokre kose…

A u pozadini palma!

Jesmo li svi, koji ovde boravimo,

privid nas samih, ili ostvareni snovi tela

u odblesku na vodi?!

Obavezno je nekoliko SMS poruka

prijateljima i inima. To. Da smo na plaži.

Da pijemo pivo. I, uopšte, nije loše.

živimo mali poetični privid. Plavu čistinu.

I ova pesma je kao i fotografija.

Uvlaenje u triko uplaćenih deset

all inclusive tretmana.

I da, na plaži merkamo, kako da zaboravim,

bludnog, divnog sina: Kavafija. Eto

je i poezija.


and a palm! An additional note to the photograph

on a group postcard for those back home

in  the homeland, a postcard we’ll never mail

And those dark spots on the calm sea.

Heat easily falls over the rounded stones.

They will be scattered afterwards all over the room’s corners

as icons of sea nights, as souvenirs from those days.

The ritual of our descent to the beach, of diving grandly

into the water, of reviving that color of life in full splendor.

with the obligatory cards games, with no ace up your sleeve,

and the clink-clank of the coins, those small, shiny suns

with which one can buy an afternoon beer.

A guaranteed mirage.

In this photograph, you can clearly see,

even the label on the beer we are drinking, wet haired…

And in the background, a palm!

Are we all, we, here on vacation, all

a mere illusion of ourselves, or a dream realized in our bones

by our reflection in the water?

Must we send a few text messages

to friends and family; tell them how we’re at the beach?

How we are drinking beer. And, how it’s not bad, overall.

we are living a small poetic illusion. Under a clear blue sky.  

And this poem is like a photograph:

of me sljueezing into my leotard

after ten, all inclusive treatments.

And yes, on the beach we eyed, how could I forget

that promiscuous, marvelous son: Cavafy! Now,

that’s poetry.

vijena – beograd via budimpešta

Budimpešta promiče u noći

kao svetleći jo-jo. Cena na etiketi da padneš u nesvest;

bečki žirovi, ušteđeni, grče se na dnu kofera.

Odavno nisam videla svetleću stvar.

Zvuk njegov čujem još samo kao eho reklame koja

je preživela



Tako isto ne mogu da se setim ni Budimpešte

jer je nemam u sećanju.

njene zašestarene površine i odmerene milimetre

imaginacije dok panorama klizi

pred staklom noćnog voza –

moja lampa za čitanje nasuprot svetlima

prigrađa. Kao hrčak u transportnoj laboratoriji.

Mišomor za varvarina.

Prebacujući se s desne na levu i leve na desnu

stranu kuka-regulatora.

Ravnoteža je ključna reč pesme. Panorame. Pogleda.

Za bivstvovanje i prelazak preko granice

iz civilizacije u ono što je iza njenih rubova:

moja domovina.

15 minuta kasnije voz usporava

i sećanje na jedno drugačije postojanje briše se

kao i prostor načet mirisom prepoznatljivih krajolika.

Hor u slušalicama na crno kupljenog mobilnog telefona

zapevaće nedefinisano Haleluja!

raspad. slagalice 30-godišnjeg bivstvovanja.

rat. svega.

u pauzi između Budimpešte i nastavka

dugog puta kroz noć… zvuk zrikavaca

Prekinut ponovnim noćnim slikom

i kloparanjem šina.

Vienna—Belgrade via Budapest

Budapest passes during the night

like a flashing yo-yo. The price on the tag, for you to faint;

Viennese acorns, saved, stuffed at the bottom of the suitcase.

I haven’t seen anything for awhile now.

Its sound I only hear as an echo of that billboard that has survived

the falling apart,

the war.

In the same way, I cannot recall Budapest

since I don’t have her in my memory.

Her clearly marked center and measured space

purely left to imagination, as our panorama

slides by, in front of the night train’s tinted glass—

my reading light reflected against the lights

of the suburbs. As if a hamster in a lab on wheels.

Or a mousetrap for barbarians.

Moving from right to left and left to right

along my hip—the regulator.

Balance is the key for any poem. For the panorama. The view.

For existence and going over the border

from civilization into that which is just past it:

my homeland.

Fifteen minutes later the train slows

and the memory over a different existence disappears

as if a room filled with the scent of familiar places.

The choir in the earphones of my brand new black mobile phone

will soon start to sing indiscriminate Hallelujahs!

The collapse. The riddles of the last thirty years.

The war. Everything.

In the rest stop between Budapest and the continuation

of our long trip through the night…the chirp of crickets

is broken again by the long obstacles of darkness,

and the clatter of tracks.

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović



Ona otvara prozore i spušta kapke,

Dan je savršeno zimski miran i nijedan vetar

neće poremetiti pauzu između dve praznine:

One u kojoj je zatečena i druge u koju leže.

Ispod kapaka vri nemirna zenica koja

samo želi da pogleda, da vidi uvek, samo još jednom,

neki mogući put. Ono drhti nemirno kao ptičija krila,

nervozni cvrkut na čistom plavom,

na jasnom pogledu kroz otvoren prozor:

neće pogledati

neće usniti

Ona je budna pod niskim nebom tavanice,

ali njeno telo ne želi pokret u svet.

Svet je igralište oivičeno rubovima kreveta,

Dok ispod kapaka, dok pod njima kapka,

splin unutrašnjih mapa, drugačije opisanog grada:

neće pogledati

neće usniti

Prošla je prva izmaglica prošlo je toplo telo,

Leto je proteklo kao pesak odnekud pod zubima,

Lomljen u buduće kamenolome –

Ona pevuši tiho, ona jeste tiha, ništa joj ne može

nijedan glas razuma, niko je ne može dotaknuti

neće pogledati

neće usniti

Ona spušta kapke i rukama napipava novouspostavljeni mrak

Ona dolazi, ona ostaje, ona odustaje

I neprestano kaplje u dodiru sa svežim zrakom.


She opens the windows and closes her eye-lids,

The day is in a perfect winterly peace

and no sound can disturb the pause between two emptiness:

The one she finds herself in and the one

she is about to lay down in.

Beneath the eye-lids, a restless pupil is boiling

its desire to look, always to see, just one more time,

a possible path. It trembles without peace like a bird’s wing,

a nervous twitter on the clear blue,

on the bright view through the open window:

it won’t look ahead

it won’t fall asleep

She is awake under the low sky of a ceiling,

but her body does not want to move into the outside world.

The world is a playground wired with the edge of the bed,

And behind the eye-lids, the lids are melting in drops,

a spleen of inner maps, of a differently described city:

it won’t look ahead

it won’t fall asleep

The first haze is over, the warm body has gone by,

A summer slipped like sand, out of nowhere, between her teeth,

Crushed in the future ljuarry –

She sings a ljuiet song, she is ljuiet, nothing can get to her,

not a single voice of reason, no one can touch her anymore

it won’t look ahead

it won’t fall asleep

She closes her eyes reaching for a newly discovered darkness

She comes, she stays, she is giving up

And continuously melting in drops when in contact

with the fresh air.

(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)

Translated by the author and Lara Jakica


Jutrom se oslanjala na senke plavlje od izmaglice,

kroz prozor uvale dok otvara čistotu sveta izbrisanog

u velikom zamahu; a noću taj isti svet sužavao se na nebo

iznad terase, uvale, iznad mora.

Dole u luci, brod Marin susretao je gospa Snježnu,

plavo za dečake, crveno za devojčice, i njihova tela ukotvljena

ispred povremeno bučnog kamenoloma.

Nije moglo bolje ni u sevdalinci, jer su im se kljunovi

uvek nežno mimoilazili, i jer je ona odlazila, ali se i vraćala.

Sloboda se kupovala, na sitno, u oštrom kamenjaru

i predvečernjoj bonaci, u nijansama koje ne traži reči,

ali traže pogled i radost sagovornika.

Pila se vina, uvek izrazito žuta, normalno divlja,

jer ne idu bez sunca; dovoljna za opijanja i potrebne fatamorgane;

Na plaži, bilo je i previše sati što stoje, čak i u bučnom motoru

lokalnih barki, dok prevoze, od vode, do vode –

I telo se neprestano radovalo, jer je telo samosvoje.

Misao popodnevne senke četinara, nemarno je bežala nad njim,

a noću iznova golicala telo prahom što zvezda sipa nadole,

dok je radost tražila mlečnu pȕt, da prekrije dnevne opekotine.

Nije bilo ni meso ni mesto ovo što traje u nama, ili prolazi pored nas,

Ni nesigurni odraz što nas je terao na odjeke u drugima.

Tek slučajni miris i soli, pojedena sardela, ili poziv da se odvoji

od upravo obrisanog velikog sveta, ovde, na ostrvu –

Kao tajni kod, jer podne oslobađa senke, sunce briše razloge,

kamen upija toplotu sigurnih povrataka, a

Ostrvo je tiho disalo svoju i sve slučajne prošlosti.


In the morning, she relied on shadows bluer than the mist

through the window of the bay revealing the pureness

of the just erased world,

with a massive momentum; and by night that very same world

narrowed down to the sky

above the terrace, over the bay, above the sea.

Down at the harbor, a ship Marin met lady Swežna,

Blue for boys, red for girls, in a periodically noisy ljuarry.

It could not have been better, not even in a serenade, as their prows,

always gently miss passing, as she was always leaving,

always to return.

The freedom was bought for small coins, in sharp rocky surroundings

and the evening calm waters; in the shades that seek no words,

yet seek a glance and the joy of a companion.

The wine, here, is specifically yellow and normally wild

because it can’t be without the sun; Enough for getting drunk,

for indispensable mirage;

So little time to spend, and too many hours to stand still,

Despite the roaring engines of the local boats,

from water to water –

And the body is in endless rejoice because the body is only its own,

although this hand is just a thought of an afternoon conifer’s shadow,

carelessly running away

The body is tickled by stardust falling over and over again

and the joyfulness hopes for the milky way to cover-up

the daily sunburn.

It was neither the flesh nor place, that what endures within us, and that which passes by,

Nor was it a vulnerable reflection that was driving us to echo in others.

Just a random scent, the salt, a small anchovy, or an invitation to hive off

from the freshly evanished big world, here, on the island –

Like a secret code, because the midday rids you of any shadows,

The sun erases reasons,

the stone absorbs the warmth of the safe returns,

And the island was ljuietly breathing its own and all other coincidental pasts.

(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)

*the island in the Adriatic sea, in Croatia; shares its name with the island Corfu in Greece, and the name was given after the nymph Kerkyra, from Homer’s Odyssey

translated by the author and Lara Jakica



konačno više

ne pomeraju stvari

Danas sam uspela da sastavim

prvi sa šezdesetim minutom

U otkrivanju grada

Zabavila mišiće vežbanjem

zdravog razuma


čaj od nane

pa onda sipala pivo

Tišina je

I odakle sad želja

da se još nešto kaže

dodirne još jedna





koje uporno sabijam

u 4,8 posto tirana

a nije dovoljno

ni za šta.

Hoće li me sutra

probuditi dodir

poznate ruke


da je već kasno

da je kafa skuvana

i da me čeka.


Ponoć je konačno


Tirana, 2013.



finally don’t move

their belongings anymore

I have managed to pull together

the first walking minute with the sixtieth

Discovering the city

Had my fun practicing muscles

with common sense


my tea

then poured myself a beer

It is silent

this desire

to say something

from where does it comes now

to touch one more


of the inner sceneries

The absence

in which I pour in


4,8 percent of Tirana beer

but it is not enough

for anything.

Will I be awaked


with the touch

of a familiar hand


that is already late

how coffee is made

and it awaits.

I won’t.

Midnight is finally here


translated by the author

Senka Marić

Senka Marić

Senka Marić writes poetry, prose and essays. She has published three collections of poetry: Odavde do nigdjeTo su samo riječi and Do smrti naredne, and the novel Kintsugi tijela. She has won several literary awards, including the European Knight of Poetry Award in 2013, the Zija Dizdarević Award in 2000, and the 2019 Meša Selimović Award for the best novel published in 2018 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. She is the editor of the internet portal for literature, culture and art

Body Kintsugi – Senka Marić

The summer of 2014 was shaped by three events.

            On 17 June, just a few days after that afternoon you’d spent sitting on your king-size bed in which the two of you hadn’t slept together for over a year, in silence interrupted by the odd weary word, your husband packed his clothes into two large gym bags. You brought him one more from the store room and packed two sets of single bed linen, a pillow, a terry blanket, three small and two large towels. As you zipped it up, you thought about the coming winter. You returned to the store room, where you spent five minutes looking for a big plastic bag in which you stuffed a quilt. The hall was blocked with things. A few times he made to say something. Each time he changed his mind the moment he saw you arms akimbo, breathing deeply. He managed to pick up all three bags. Eyes cast down, hurrying down the stairs to the taxi that was already waiting for him in the street. After that you sat long in solitude in front of that bare wall and slowly realised that he hadn’t left behind a feeling of emptiness, only a sense of defeat.

            On 15 July your left shoulder started to hurt. It hurt the most at night. You couldn’t sleep, so you sat on the bed and cried. It turned out you had calcific tendonitis – a jagged deposit of calcium which sores the surrounding tissue, causing an inflammation. The doctor said the only thing to do now was to take painkillers and wait for it to cease. And you hated waiting. And you hated medications. They were at odds with your need to control everything, with your inability to trust anyone enough to ask for help. You kept reducing your dosage. You took half the prescribed quantity. That sweltering July there was nothing in your world but pain. It was the dust settling on your time which refused to pass. You wore a shawl around your neck. To sling your left arm in. Lest it move. To make it hurt as little as possible. You could only think about how you were stronger than the pain. More tenacious. It will pass, I will remain. For a bit you thought about how unlucky you’d been, how bad things had been coming in a succession for years now. Incessantly. Maybe it was because you thought you could take it, you were stronger than all of that? If you’d screamed: Enough! would everything have stopped? Would the wheel grinding everything in its path have gone off the collision course with your life? It was night. It was hot. Kids were asleep. The moment was perfect for crying. For screaming: Enough! Enough, all right! But deep inside you didn’t believe. You knew you could take more.

            It is 26 August. It hurts a bit less. You even manage to sleep. You have to be very careful whilst you lie in bed. A single wrong move could send you into agony. When you turn from your right to your left side to fix your shoulder in place, with your left hand you grab yourself firmly below the right armpit. A part of your palm lies on your right breast. As your body turns, slowly, over your back and onto your left haunch, your palm glides back. Your fingers, pressed into your flesh, move across your right breast. And then you feel it. There, to the side, on the edge of your breast, almost hard by. Like a pebble that found its way into your bathing suit top.

            You lower your hand. You’re lying on your back. Staring at the ceiling. You don’t feel the pain in your shoulder, just your heart beating in your throat. You sit up and touch it again. It’s still there, moving slightly under your fingers. You remove your hand again and lie on your back. You can’t close your eyes. You don’t even blink. They are agape, swallowing the ceiling. The house changes shape and size. It bends. Flows into your eyes. And with it the city, the surrounding hills, the river trying to flow away from the city, the sea, mile after mile of land, the entire continent rolled up like a paper cone full of hot, sooty chestnuts, till there’s nothing left but the dead, black sky.

            But I mustve got it wrong!

            You sit up and feel it again. Your breath fills the room. Bounces off the walls. Breaks the summer night into the day. The round lump withdraws under pressure (the feel of it is forever imprinted in the memory of your fingers). The panic is mud. It fills your mouth. The night swallows you.

            You decide to smash the image. Like a mirror hit with a stone. It leaves behind nothing but a smouldering sense that you’re not yet even aware of what has been taken away from you.

            Your breathing slows down, becomes inaudible. You say: Now you will sleep. You wont think of anything. It’s easy. Your thoughts are too scattered anyway. You’re in a place that is above words, their meaning and sense. You distinctly feel only your skin, a membrane you share with the world. You sleep, never so deeply, never so completely, until the next morning, when you discover that the lump in your tit has supplanted the pain in your shoulder.


How does one begin to tell a story that crumbles under the tongue and refuses to solidify?

            You knew you would get cancer on the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago, didn’t you?


            Since the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago you’ve been convinced you would never get cancer, haven’t you?

            Both statements are equally true. The dots falling in place to capture that moment which transpired so long ago are two sequences that form a perfect oval shape, parsing the linear logic of time. Two parallel realities, one of which becomes real only when it reaches its destination. You knew you would get it and you were convinced you never would. The present retroactively renders the past true. You are imprisoned in a reality which refuses to admit that it could have ever been otherwise.


So, you were a sad child? Seems that way now. You had everything, but you could never escape the feeling that everything was a bit off, that there was something dark and oppressive lurking in all things. Still, all that time you thought you knew you’d be happy someday. Because you were meant to be happy. In a world in which happiness doesn’t exist.

            Is it possible to pin down the point which cuts into the flesh of time, setting the trajectory which leads you to this moment?

            You’re little. You’re sitting under the desk in your granddad’s study. You don’t remember if you’re trying to hide. You don’t know what happened before or after. You’re wearing a red-green plaid dress and thick tights. You feel dirty. Bad. The tights are white. Traitorous grey stains can be seen on the feet. Your hair is brown. Now you’re not quite sure, but it may have been greasy and clumpy. The image melts into the image of a cat emerging from a dark cellar. You wouldn’t want to touch it. Yet, the girl under the desk (is it really you?) is longing for touch. Granddad’s room is on the ground floor. The kitchen and the sitting room are upstairs. Everyone is upstairs all the time. Why are you downstairs, alone? Especially seeing that you’re afraid of the Gypsy man who will come to steal you. He looks like Sandokan, and he’s monochromatic. He’s a strange black-and-white figure which sneaks into your house, hides behind the screen under the stairwell, waiting for you. From Granddad’s room you can hop out straight onto the stairs. Sandokan the Gypsy can’t reach you. You run upstairs. Nan is up in the kitchen. The pressure cooker hisses. Pots clatter. Heavy aroma of food. You don’t want soup. You don’t want anything. Nan moves swiftly, juggling pots and plates. She’s twirling in her blue sleeveless dress. She can’t see you. But her presence makes you feel better.

            In your memory, of the whole house, only the kitchen stands untouched. Like a spire atop a magic castle. One entire wall is glazed. Light glares. You’ll never forget the silence and darkness raging down below. You’re even dirtier in the light.


You didn’t open your eyes immediately. You lay there. You waited. You thought if you kept them shut everything would just go away. You could hear birds and you thought you were happy it was summer and the window panes didn’t sequester you from the world. You got up, went to the bathroom and showered a long time. At first the hand steered clear of the spot. You thought maybe it wasn’t there, maybe it was all a mistake. You would phone your friends. You would go for a morning coffee. You would drink wine instead, or whisky, or cherry liqueur, doesn’t matter. You would toast loudly. Laugh at the stray bullet that whizzed just wide of your head.

            The lump is still there. Unyieldingly present. More supple than last night. Dancing under the wet skin.

            You take a violet dress from the wardrobe, one of your nicest, strapless, no shoulders. It flows over your beautiful, firm breasts all the way down to your knees. You tie your hair in a ponytail. You put on make-up. You think that you’re beautiful. You look at the kids sleeping, drunk on the August heat, calmed by the serenity of the early morning, and you go to see your GP.

            When you start to speak you realise you’re speaking too fast. Or not fast enough. The day seems too thick to admit your words. You slide down your dress top. You keep silent as he feels your breasts. He purses his lips, raises eyebrows. He nods slowly, lowering his gaze. Your stomach feels heavy. You should’ve been sent back from that initial stop. You counted on that place to be the point where life would flow into a familiar riverbed. Into a telephone invitation for a coffee that isn’t quite a coffee. A celebration of a bullet dodged. A moment of crystal clear awareness of everything you’re doing wrong, a decision never to make the same mistakes again. You would love those deserving of your love. You would eat healthy. You would practise yoga. You would feel every day.

            The doctor wrote a referral note and sent you to hospital.

            There were two doctors there. One, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of the multitude of black and white dots making up the inside of your breasts under the ultrasound scanner stick. And another, sent for by the first one. He applied a coat of cold gel onto your breasts again and circled round with the stick. They agreed you were fine. The other doctor told you to bring the report from your regular check-up six months ago, where findings were normal, and schedule a mammography in twelve months.

            You stepped out into the street. Maybe you knew already and your hands were shaking. You felt like crying but you didn’t want your mascara to smudge. You still wanted to be pretty. You told yourself to be quiet, though there were no words in your mouth. You told yourself: Don’t jinx it! Don’t stare into the darkness. Turn your back to the abyss! You got in your car and drove, although you didn’t know where to.

            Then you saw him in the street, the radiologist you’d been entrusting with your tits for years now, determined to forestall, by going for regular check-ups, the illness that had ravaged your mother’s body. An hour before that you’d looked for him in the hospital corridors, but they told you he wasn’t in. Now you stopped your car in the middle of the road, in a sea of speeding cars, and you ran after him. You told him that you knew you were crazy, and that you were sorry for pestering, his colleagues having told you were fine. But you knew, you felt that stone under your skin, the cry of the tissue sick and tired of the pain you’d been swallowing like bites of a bland dinner at a stranger’s house. He smiled and told you not to worry. He would expect you at his surgery at three. You would check everything. And everything would quite certainly be fine. You knew he had no way of knowing that. But you felt reassured because he wasn’t going to send you home, tell you to come back in a year and stop thinking about you.


When you entered his surgery, on 15 September, he said: Did you really come alone? Four days prior he’d run MRI and biopsy. The results would take two weeks. When he acquainted himself with your lump via the ultrasound, on the day when you ran after him in the street, he was convinced it was nothing. It looked benign. Six months prior, there was nothing there. But, on account of your family medical history, we will do MRI and biopsy. Don’t worry. Looks fine! You would wait for the optimal moment, the period between the seventh and the twelfth day of your menstrual cycle, and perform both procedures.

            When he scanned you on the MRI four days ago, he said nothing. He didn’t want to look you in the eye. He muttered that he was snowed under. That he didn’t have time. That he would let you know as soon as the biopsy results were in. You’d seen him walking into the MRI room examining your scan report. For five minutes. After that, as he was performing biopsy sticking the needle with which he extracted bits of the lump from your body (o, what a brutally dull, final sound), you talked about your daughters, who were the same age, about yoga, and the waning summer. You kept silent about everything else as you breathed deeply, lying on the narrow bed, covered with a green sheet. Over the following four days you didn’t think about anything. You were in no hurry to be scared.

            On Monday at ten in the morning his nurse phones you and asks you to be at his surgery at eleven. Minutes are slowly dripping excess of eternity. You dress slowly. You put on make-up, long and carefully. You fix your hair. You put on your ring and earrings. You get in your car and drive to the hospital.

            – Yes, I really came alone – you even smiled.

            – We have bad news, but also good news – he said, finally looking you in the eye.

            – Let’s start with the bad news – is what you said.

            That wasn’t courage talking.

            – Cancer it is.

            – OK – you say – OK.

            Something in you wants to whimper, cry. But all those things, the room on the ground floor of the city hospital, the great big desk behind his back with the giant computer screen showing about twenty images of the inside of your breasts, the big black chair on which he moved a bit to the left, then a bit to the right, you on the low sofa opposite, one hand holding the other on your knees, the strident blue sky seeping in through the interstices of the window blinds and the squeaking of somebody’s rubber soles on the linoleum floor in the corridor outside, all of that seems insufficiently true, like a glitch in reality that’s going to be corrected any moment now. And all things will return to their proper place.

            – But, we’ve caught it on time – that was the good news.

            – Good – you say – good. 

            For a moment, the room wraps itself tight round your neck. You think you’re going to burst into tears. The next instant you realise how pointless that gesture would’ve been, how unnecessary. Redundant. You lean forward. You listen to him attentively. He says a surgery is to be scheduled. He should see with the surgeon if the entire breast is to be removed, or just the section with the tumour. And a number of lymph nodes. The surgeon will decide how many. He says nothing about what happens if there is tumour in the lymph nodes, too. He talks about how good the prognosis is when cancer is caught so early on.

            – This is certainly very early, certainly in good time.

            The words are an anchor stopping reality from dissolving.

Translated from Bosnian by Mirza Purić

Photo: Radmila Vankoska

Faruk Šehić

Faruk Šehić

Faruk Šehić was born in 1970 in Bihac. Until the outbreak of war in 1992, Šehić studied Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb. However, the then 22-year-old voluntarily joined the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which he led a unit of 130 men as a lieutenant. After the war he studied literature and since 1998 has published his own literary works. The literary critics regard him as the voice of the so-called mangled generation.

His debut novel ‘Knjiga o Uni’ (2011; tr: Quiet Flows the Una) was awarded Meša Selimović prize for the best novel published in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia in 2011, and European Union Prize for Literature 2013. For his book of selected poems in Italian and Bosnian language ‘Ritorno alla natura / Povratak prirodi’ he received XXXI Premio Letterario Camaiore – Francesco Belluomini 2019 (Premio Internazionale).

His books have been translated into English, Turkish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, German, Bulgarian, French, Spanih, Dutch, Arab, Romanian and Macedonian.

He work in respected political magazine BH Dani as a columnist and journalist. Faruk Šehić lives in Sarajevo.

Womens’ War

Nađa is a kid. Greta is an elderly woman. Nađa goes to secondary school, she’s not quite a kid but that’s how I refer to her. From time to time, her friends visit our refugee home. One of them has a fair complexion, blue eyes. I sometimes think she eyes me furtively, but I pretend not to notice because I am a soldier, a grown man, although I am only about twenty. Then again, it’s not proper for kids to fall in love with young adults. I’ve no time for love; I’ve devoted myself to other things. Amongst them war, but I’ve mentioned that more times than one. Comradeship with other soldiers, friends, acquaintances, rakia and weed, but I’ve mentioned that, too. One might say it’s a case of fraternal love between young men, but that’s quite beside the point now.

I soon forget about Nađa’s friend, for one must press on, one must be mature as long as there’s a war on; I’ve no time for by-the-ways like love. Love, at the moment, is a bit stand-offish towards abstractions such as homeland or nation. There is, however, such thing as true love for things quite concrete and tangible, like home, street or town. Here I mean the lost home, the lost street, the lost town. The town has lost us and we are alone in the universe. It’s not the town’s fault, and it isn’t ours, either.

I don’t know what Nađa is thinking about and I don’t take her seriously. Nađa spends time with Greta. The two of them live in a world of their own. Greta raised Nađa, she is like a second mother to her. Greta is an elderly woman, very wise and knowledgeable. Nađa and Greta play patience and listen to Radio Rijeka on a set connected to a car battery. Greta is a passionate smoker, she loves crosswords but there aren’t any in wartime. Inside the radiobox Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.

It’s as though Greta and Nađa were two dispossessed noblewomen. Greta, of course, is a countess, Nađa her right hand. They have now been expelled from their county. Nobody knows them; the faces in the street are strange. None treat them with due respect. In turn, the two of them don’t much care what people in their new town think about them. Greta and Nađa listen to the news, remembering the number of shells that have fallen on such and such town on a given day. They remember the number of dead and wounded, because we all do. It’s an informal sport of sorts, it may become an Olympic discipline someday, and it consists of a radio speaker informing us in a distraught voice that such and such number of howitzer, mortar and cannon shells were fired on town XY during an enemy attack on the very heart of the town. Greta and Nađa are able to tell howitzer and cannon shells from one another, because the former fly a lot longer than the latter and you have time to find cover. They learnt this from our father. At times, radio reports made mention of surface-to-air missiles, which are used – ironically enough – not to shoot down aeroplanes but to destroy our cities and towns. For nothing is the way it may at first seem in war.  The missiles have poetic names: Dvina, Neva, Volna. The surface-to-surface missile Luna has the prettiest name. One missile landed near our house, the blast lifted a few tiles off the roof. Dry snow seeped through the hole in the roof onto the concrete steps carpeted with varicoloured rag-rug. The cold falls into our home vertically.

Greta & Nađa remember all that. Nađa goes to school. Greta stays at home with our mother. Father and I are on the frontline all the time. The radio-sport of remembering the body count and the destruction of towns and cities spreads to every house without exception, be it inhabited by locals, or by refugees. It goes without saying that we, being refugees, couldn’t have possibly brought our own houses along on our backs like snails can and do, so the houses we’ve moved into have become the way we are – homeless, with few possessions and many human desires.

Suada, our mother, is the barycentre around which all things and living beings in our home orbit. Apart from Greta & Nađa, there is also a little tomcat, as well as a dog that has survived distemper and twitches a bit as he walks. His name is Humpy Horsey, after a character from a Russian fairy tale. Father and I are optional subjects in our refugee family portraits, as we are seldom home.

Suada looks after our civilian lives. Every year she takes a horse cart to a remote village where she plants spuds. The yields range from 500 kg to 700 kg. This guarantees that we won’t starve, in case we also don’t die in some other way, and the ways to die are many, and they form part of life. 

Once I was detailed to spade up a patch of the green behind our house. I was at it until Mother saw me toiling and moiling, my face flushed, pushing the blade into the hard soil with the sole of my boot. She snatched the spade from my hands and did the job herself. I was dismissed, and I could go out, where my mates were, were the alcohol was.

Suada procured not only victuals but also articles of clothing to meet our modest needs. Thus I was issued a terry robe with an aitch emblazoned on the chest, and I called it Helmut. A kind-hearted Helmut donated his robe and helped me feel a bit like a human being. It’s not advisable to feel like too much of a human being though, lest your being assume an air of haughtiness, and you become toffee-nosed, as they say in the vernacular. A being could get all kinds of ideas into its head. It might lust after this or that, and there is neither this nor that to be got in the new town. Unless you have a lot of money. Still, even with money, many pleasures remain out of reach, and all they do is feed our fancy and lend us faith in a future better than counting shells and remembering body counts.

That is the main sport in our County. It’s just about to go Olympic.

Nađa grows and goes to school. Greta is always the same. Patience, news and Radio Rijeka playlists shape their time. They have a room of their own – they may have been expelled from their lands, but they’ve retained some trappings of nobility. Greta sends Nađa out to survey the prices of foodstuffs on the black market, things such as oranges, juice, chocolate. Nađa returns and briefs Greta, who decides what will be purchased. Sometimes Nađa fetches ingredients and Greta bakes a cake. This happens when Greta receives money from her relatives in Slovenia. The two of them have a special nook in the wardrobe where they stash their goodies. Inside the radio, the blind Andrea Bocelli and  Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.

Suada looks after the house and all the living beings in and around it. The little tom is becoming less and less little. At some point I can no longer remember what happens to him, he vanishes into a mysterious feline land, far from the radio reports, far from the laundry soap with which we wash our hair, far from the bath tub mounted on four bricks, far from the cold tiles of the toilet in which I often see my face, distorted with weed and alcohol because it cannot be otherwise. It is the same bathtub in which Mum washed the shot-through blood-encrusted camo vest I strutted about in during nocturnal piss-ups, flaunting my spoils. I’d stripped a dead Autonomist, as if I was about to wash him and wrap him in a white shroud for funeral. But he remained lying on the melting crust of snow on a slope overgrown with stunted conifer. Almost naked, in his pants and boots with socks showing. He lay there for a few days before somebody thought we should bury him, then dig him up again to swap him for victuals.  For we were made by nature, and to nature we shall return, naked like the day we were born.

Nađa goes to school, and school, like war, drags on forever. Greta plays patience, feeds Humpy Horsie, feeds the tom who pops down from the mysterious feline land every now and then because he misses us (at least I like to think so), and the birds, for Greta loves all living beings.

Suada picks pigweed in the dales and meadows. She is a pigweed gatherer, in pigweed dwelleth iron, and iron we need to keep the blood red. Greta and Nađa may well be blue-blooded, what with that room of their own, whilst Mum, Dad and I sleep in the sitting room. The tom slept there, too, before he broke away to live a life of roaming and roving. When he was little he would stalk me, and when I blinked in my sleep he’d give me a brush with his paw. Humpy Horsie is growing up and twitches less and less. Prognoses are good for Humpy, even the end of war may be in sight, but we cannot afford to have such high hopes, we are not accustomed to such luxury. Therefore we cannot allow ourselves to entertain fancies and reveries about a better world that is to come. We are wholly accustomed to this one, like a lunatic is used to his straitjacket. Although all fighters are wont to declare that they would get killed on the frontline eventually, deep inside I believe I will survive, but I don’t say it because I don’t want to jinx myself.

Smirna is a pal of mine. She works as a waitress, rumour has it she moonlights as prostitute, which is of no consequence to me as I’m not interested in rumours, even if they’re true. I’m interested in human beings as such, and Smirna is one, and so am I. Majority opinions don’t interest me, I don’t cave under peer pressure, I rely on what my heart tells me. The only difference between the two of us is that she isn’t a refugee. Smirna likes to read, I’ve lent her a copy of Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. She’ll likely never return it, there’s a war on, who would remember to return a borrowed book in times like these? I remember the closing sentence: Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.

Zuhra, known as Zu, is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other since before the war. When you say since before the war, it’s as though you remembered that you once used to live in a lost kingdom, the same one in which Greta & Nađa had been noblewomen. In the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War, Zuhra worked at a video rental, I rented tapes at her shop. We listened to the same music, we patronised the same regal café. She once sent me a beer with a dedication note to the frontline. Zuhra is young and combative, she doesn’t lack optimism. We listen to grunge music, we drink beer and rakia. It makes us happy. Although we are young, we know full well that there’s something missing. Someone has taken something from us and refuses to give it back. We don’t know what that something is called, or what it looks like, but we do know it’s something very important for our young lives. Older adults feel the same way, they, too, have had something taken away from them, they, too, don’t know what it’s called or what it looks like. When someone takes something like that away from you, it’s too late for common sense. The only thing you know is that there’s a hole that’s getting larger and larger and there’s nothing you can fill it with.

Zuhra is strong enough not to think about these things. That’s what we’re both like, that’s why we’re friends. We’ve known each other since the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War. We like to spend time together because it makes us feel that the hole in and around us is shrinking, if only by a smidgen.

Azra, too, is strong and upright. She is tall and beautiful in a special way. I was on a perilous line once, beech and hornbeam trees outside were crackling with cold, Azra phoned me via the brigade phone exchange. One flick of the switch on the switchboard, and we were transported to a realm of magic where nothing was impossible. She was at home, her civilian receiver in hand. I was in a dugout, holding the olive-green receiver of a military field phone. I keep it away from my ear; the phone is prone to tiny electrical surges that zap the ear-lobe. During my stint at that line on Padež Hill I wore Azra’s turquoise scarf. It held the smell of her skin and the swoosh of unknown seas, a memory of all the kingdoms we lost, and all the ones we might someday regain.

I envy her for the fact that her family home is intact. All things inside are in the same place all the time: the photographs on the wall, the telly, the sofa, the armchairs, the tables, the doors, the shelves above the basin in the bathroom. Immobility is a virtue. When you get uprooted from your pot and forcefully transplanted into another one, all you want to do is strike root and stay put. Books gather dust as if the war never happened. Azra’s house keeps the memory of a bygone peace. It is peace.  When I come over and talk to her parents I feel like a phantom. As if I’m making things up when I say that we, too, had a house and a flat before the war, a family history of our own, that is now undocumented, since we no longer have any photos.

Azra works at a café, I’m constantly on the frontline. Sometimes, on leave, I drink at her work and I don’t pay. With her wages she’s bought a pair of Adibax trainers, and we admire them, although the brand name betrays a counterfeit.  Matters not, the trainers are new, fashionably designed, worthy of admiration. Sometimes she buys a Milka chocolate and a can of proper coke for each of us, and we give our mates a slip. We hide behind the wooden huts where smuggled consumer goods are sold, and we greedily eat the chocolate and drink the coke. That is also how we make love, furtively, in places secret and dark. Azra keeps me alive by loving me. I have a higher purpose now, something loftier than bare life and the struggle for survival.

Dina is a strong, brave young woman. She has a child with the same name as me. I used to see her around in the Kindom of Before-the-War. I was younger than her and we were never formally introduced, the great generational gaps that existed in that realm were difficult to close. Black-and-white was the kingdom, it was the eighties, films with happy endings, New Wave.

Dina works in catering, like Azra and Smirna, due to the circumstances. We’re sitting in the garden of her refugee house. We’re drinking instant powder juice from jars: glasses are superfluous in war. All glasses are broken, all hands bloody. As Azra and I kiss feverishly, our bodies intertwined like in the sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, Dina’s son darts towards the road wanting to hug a car, but Dina catches him in the nick of time and my little namesake is safe. Azra and I were charged with keeping an eye on him, but our kisses took us far from reality. We drink Step Light instant juice from pickles jars, because we’ve been expelled from our empires, and now we can be barbarians if we jolly well please. We’re entitled to all kinds of behaviour, and getting a-rude and a-reckless is just our style. We all fight in our own way. Women’s war is invisible and silent, but it is of vast importance, though we men on the frontline selfishly think we matter the most. There are women medics and women fighters on the frontlines. I can never forget a young female fighter I once saw, and her firm, confident gait. From one of her shins, through a tear in her uniform trousers, jutted out the nickel-plated bars of a fixation device.

Greta & Nađa play patience. Suada manages the planets of our household solar system. Azra, Dina and Smirna work at their cafés. Zuhra waits for her brother to return from the front. She also waits for us, her friends, to return so we can hang about. Somehow, all things grow and eventually collapse, like a great big wave when it finally reaches the shore. Someone in us plays patience, goes to school, does chores, washes up in a smoky boozer, goes to the front, digs spuds, someone in us laughs at us and our lives. We have an ancient life force inside, and it refuses to leave us. The blind Andrea Bocelli and Sara Brightman sing Time to Say Goodybe.

Tranlslated by Mirza Purić, Istros Books, London (2019)

Photo: Yusuf El-Saadi.

Staying connected and creative in pandemic times

At a well-attended press conference held on the 30th of June at the Goga Bookstore in Novo Mesto, we shared the news on our project Reading Balkans: Borders vs. Frontiers with Slovenian journalists.

The project is already known and recognizable in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, and Southeast Europe since it is a continuation of the project Reading Balkans: South and East Reach West that was supported by Creative Europe in 2017. The new two-year edition of the Reading Balkans project started in autumn last year. This time our focus is on borders and multilingualism in literature as well as cooperation with refugee writers. Against nationalism, exclusion, and fear, and for connecting, empathy, and solidarity through literature, creativity, mobility, and dialog – these are the main visions of the project that are realised through the promotion of writers (website, mobile application, and international book fairs) and the literary residency program. We planned 42 one-month writers’ residencies in seven different countries and the promotion of writers at eight festivals with the two main themes: Borders vs. Frontiers and Exile in Language.

The literary residency program is a cooperation of the Publishing House Goga (SI), Goten Publishing (MK), Udruženje Krokodil (SRB), Udruga Kurs (CRO), Poeteka (AL), Qendra Multimedia (Kosovo), PEN Centre (BIH), Traduki and other partners.

In the last couple of months, the borders as a central theme of the project got the central position in our personal and professional lives, too. Since Reading Balkans is based on travel, mobility, and crossing borders, we are doing our best to continue the project within the new challenges of pandemic travel restrictions. Although most of the international promotion has moved online, we are hopeful to be able to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair this October. Our spring residencies were postponed due to the lockdowns, but summer brought some more travelling.

Senka Marić, a writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina was at Krokodil residency in Belgrade in June. Local readers had a chance to get to know her better during the literary event. She wrote a diary about her stay in Belgrade for one of the most prominent Serbian dallies, Danas.

Jasmina Topić, a writer from Serbia, is now in residence at P.E.N. Sarajevo while a writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina Faruk Šehić is at Goga in Novo Mesto. The literary event with Jasmina Topić will be held in Sarajevo on 24th July at Museum of Theatre and Theatre Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Literary event with Faruk Šehić will be held on the 7th July at Goga in Novo Mesto and on the 8th July at Vodnikova domačija in Ljubljana.

Dinko Kreho, a writer from Croatia, will spend July at Krokodil residency and Jean Lorrin Sterian, an author from Romania is going to Qendra in Priština for the August residency.

Everything is prepared for Petar Andonovski, a Macedonian writer and winner of this year’s European Prize for Literature to come to Novo Mesto and for a Macedonian writer Nikolina Andonova Šopova to start her residency at Kurs in Split, but at this moment we have to wait for a better epidemic situation in the Balkans.

Special thanks go to Slovenian Ministry of Culture and The Municipality of Novo Mesto who understood the importance of the project and helped us overcome bureaucratic challenges and brought Faruk Šehić to Slovenia.

The Reading Balkans project is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

The Reading Balkans Press Conference

We will be holding a press conference for Slovenian media in the Bookstoore Goga in Novo Mesto on 30 June at 10 a.m.

Since the main activities of the project are connected to literary residencies programme, travel and mobility we have to deal with many challanges due to the coronavirus pandemic but we continue to connect writers from the Southeast Europe (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia) and to fight nationalism and intolerance through dialogue and literature.

Join us in Novo Mesto press conference for all the information about the future plans, events and residence programmes within the Reading Balkans project!

Congratulations to the laureates of the European Union Prize for Literature 2020!

We are excited to announce that Peter Andonovski, the laureate of the European Union Prize for Literature 2020 for North Macedonia for the book Страв од варвари/ Fear of Barbarians (Ili-Ili, Skopje, 2018), will be the guest author of the Reading Balkans Residency Programme in Novo mesto in Slovenia in July this year.

Congratulations to Peter Andonovski and to all the laureates, among others, Lana Bastašić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Stefan Bošković (Montenegro) who were also the authors in residence in previous years of the Reading Balkans programme.

The EUPL is organised by a Consortium comprising the European Writers’ Council (EWC), the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), and the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), with the support of the European Commission. The award is funded by Creative Europe.

Reading Balkans: Borders vs. Frontiers

Reading Balkans: Borders vs. Frontiers is a continuation of the project Reading Balkans that was supported by Creative Europe in 2017. This time we have put in the focus topics of borders and cooperation with refugee writers – at the time when old wounds from Balkan Wars have not yet been healed, the question of our borders still not solved, new politics of fear and nationalism is built when refugees are crossing our region (and actual border walls are built as well) – through our activities we want to work on dialogue, debate and deeper understanding of our actual problems.

The project is a cooperation of the Publishing House Goga (SI), Goten Publishing (MK), Udruženje Krokodil (SRB), Udruga Kurs (CRO), Poeteka (AL), Qendra Multimedia (Kosovo), PEN Centre (BIH), Traduki and other sponsors and donators. The Reading Balkans project is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

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Andriy Lyubka

Andriy Lyubka

Andriy Lyubka, born 1987 in Riga, is a Ukrainian poet, writer and essayist. He graduated from the Mukachevo Military School and went on to study Ukrainian Philology at Uzhhorod National University and Balkan Studies at the University of Warsaw. His books of poetry include Eight Months of Schizophrenia (2007), Terrorism (2009) and 40 Dollars Plus the Tips (2012). He has also published a collection of short stories, The Killer (2012), a German translation of one of his poetry collections, Notaufname (2012), a book of essays Sleeping with Women (2014), and a novel Karbid (2015), which was short-listed in the final selection of the Book of the Year by BBC Ukraine. Its Polish translation was short-listed for the Angelus Central-European Literary Award in 2017. His recent works include a collection of short stories The Room for Sadness (2016), a book of essays Saudade (2017) and the novel Your Gaze, Cio-Cio-san (2018).

He is the winner of the Debut Award (2007), Kyiv Laurels (2011), recently he received literary award of Kovalev Foundation literary prize in the USA and the Shevelov Prize for the best book of essays of 2017 in Ukraine. Lyubka also translates from Polish, Croatian, Serbian, English and is the curator of two international poetry festivals.

Ilija Đurović

Ilija Đurović

Ilija Đurović, born 1990 in Podgorica, writes short stories, poetry, plays and film scripts. His first collection of short stories, Oni to tako divno rade u velikim ljubavnim romanima, was published in 2014. His short story The Five Widows, translated by Will Firth, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in its anthology Best European Fiction 2016. His second collection of short stories Crne ribe (2016) was one of the 2017 finalists for the Istrian literary award ‘Edo Budiša Prize’ for best collection of short stories published in the region of the former Yugoslavia.The manuscript of his first poetry collection brought him the top prize at a Serbian competition for best unpublished manuscripts from the region. As a result of the competition his first poetry collection Brid was published in 2018. He is currently preparing for the publication of his first novel. He lives in Berlin.





Parts of Town

“Put the leash on me so I can take you out for a bit,” Hans told me. Hans is a perfectly groomed German shepherd. He and I have lived together for five years now. My friend doesn’t really speak, of course, but I recognize his every glance, twitch, and movement of his ears as precise orders. Sometimes I myself give orders in German. If he starts bounding toward the traffic lights and I fear he won’t patiently wait for green, I yell “Halt!” and he turns around perplexed, quivering, his tail slapping against his flanks. Hans still remembers his language from when his owner, a German, perished somewhere high up in the Durmitor mountain range.
Milena and I didn’t like dogs. The fierce, powerful creatures in our suburb, Zabjelo, always scared us. We believed they could bite a person to death. But Milena’s death was different. It went roughly like this: we got out of the car after a trip around the city. Stefan, our neighbors’ son, was standing at the front entrance of the block with a baseball bat over his shoulder. Visibly drugged-up. When we came closer, I gave a laugh. He wanted to know why I’d laughed. I asked him to move aside and let us through, but he just stood in the doorway and was persistent: “What are you smirking about?” he said. “C’mon, what’s the joke, you fudge packer?” Sensitive and eager to learn everything she heard, Milena repeated “fudge packer.” That echoed several times in Stefan’s head and was enough to put him into a skull-splitting frenzy . . .
When Milena and I first moved to Zabjelo, it was different. We didn’t notice the children become violent until one of the boys stood in front of her and spoke in a slow staccato: “You’re gonna suck my cock”. The girls jeered “deaf Milena” at her. She read their lips and smiled. But then the boy broke her skull and ended up in a home for delinquents. His father started to call me “fudge packer.” The woman at the tobacconist’s near the front entrance refused to sell me cigarettes. I went to the store at the other end of the block, but the tale about the “fudge packer” was soon heard there too. The other tenants gossiped that I’d sent a child to jail. Two months later I had to move away. I sold our apartment and chose a smaller one for the same price in the Block Five housing project at the other end of the city.
I soon got used to the noise of the children playing down below the building. I watched them and thought of Milena. It was in those days that I saw Hans in the newspaper. His owner had died while mountaineering and the German shepherd ended up here in Podgorica, in a cage with local mutts and mongrels. Still thinskinned after Milena’s death, I went straight to the animal shelter and came back with the dog. 7
And so I became Hans’s owner in Block Five. Everyone knew his name. Whenever we went into a local bar, the waiters would say “Achtung, Achtung!” and laugh as Hans went and lay under the tables. They didn’t know that some people actually have good reason to be afraid of my friend. He loved every peaceful passerby and every child, and he never once punctured a ball on the grass in the park. But Hans had been strictly trained and was loyal. Doctor Kaluđerović, who lies tied up in our basement, is a witness to that. 
Dr. Kaluđerović is an otolaryngologist—or rather he was, now he’s just a tangle of bone and fiber on a filthy bed—who operated on Milena and made her hear again several months before her death. He compared her deafness to having a balloon in one’s head. He perforated that balloon with a team of surgeons and let in the sound to Milena’s brain. When she woke up after the operation, I asked her “How do you feel?” and she started to cry. Later that day she said I had the voice of a little girl. I called the doctor. He laughed and explained that everything was fine: Milena’s brain was just getting used to the new frequencies like an eye adjusts to the light after being in the dark. Soon everything she heard would sound natural to her ears.
After leaving hospital, Milena went to see Dr. Kaluđerović every day. The main part of the recovery was familiarization with the words she heard for the first time. During one of the exercises, as he was reading her the days of the week, she started to cry at Wednesday. He said that almost all patients reacted to the new words with tears. He went on from Thursday, but Milena was already sobbing again at Saturday. This worried me greatly. The doctor emphasized that her reactions were as expected and asked me to go and wait out the front. Through the door of the surgery, I heard him reading out the days of the week and the months of the year again. Half an hour later Milena came out in tears. She was silent as we drove home. When we got back to the apartment, she said she needed to have a sleep. It struck me that she was speaking more distinctly than before.
  Her recovery progressed well. After the days and the months it was time for everyday items. She listened to the words spoon, knife, table, and stove, learned slowly, and cried at the surgery. Then the cities began, and that was the hardest for Milena. When Dr. Kaluđerović spoke the names of cities to the north of Podgorica, she burst into tears after the first few. She never lasted longer than Kolašin, Mojkovac, and Bijelo Polje. The weather forecast on television at home was particularly torturous. Here the host would sometimes mention a month, a day, and a series of cities in the south, north, and central part of the country all in one sentence. Milena sat in the armchair and cried, unable to unglue her gaze from the three-dimensional map. I tried to persuade her to turn off the television before the forecast began, but she wanted to practice and be tenacious, as Dr. Kaluđerović instructed.
She learned to follow the voice on television. She still whimpered from time to time, but the possibility of mastering a word diverted her attention from the pain the sounds caused her. I watched her sitting in front of the screen and repeating. For the doctor, this was a perfect recovery. 
She didn’t have to go to daily exercises anymore. She could do some of them at home with me. My task was to contrive games for her. One of my favorites was “parts of town.” I spoke the names of different districts and suburbs, and Milena said them after me. Then one day she wanted to go with me and visit all the places whose names she’d heard. She believed that would help her cope with the sound even better. It was a Sunday morning. We got in the car and set off.
I told her we were going up to leafy Gorica, where she could hear the birds. “Birds,” she repeated. We parked the car in front of the church, scaled the hill, and sat down on the meadow by the path. Tall residential blocks rose up from among the low buildings. Yellow, pink, and blue houses on the hill opposite glistened like huge plastic flowers. She was happy. I spoke: Brain Building, the Five Widows, Block Five, Tološi, the Old Town, Baston, Konik, Momišići, Zagorič, Pejton—everything I could remember. And she repeated my words. After the game we drove down to the city center. Children were having their photos taken with their parents in front of the fountains without water. Milena’s face went like that of a dull child. I told her it was time to head home. We bought the meat for our Sunday roast in the supermarket on the square, drove back to Zabjelo, and at the entrance to the building ran into Stefan, doped up and with a baseball bat in hand.
  All of Dr. Kaluđerović’s exercises caught up with us the moment we were confronted by our neighbors’ son. The boy said “fudge packer,” and that word was like another new lesson for Milena. I grabbed her by the arm and begged her to stop, but her head had already been cracked. Her arm suddenly went heavy and slipped through my hand.
I don’t remember how many years passed before Hans said, “Let’s go and find the scum who operated on deaf Milena and torture him in the basement.” Hans considered that Dr. Kaluđerović was to blame and that Milena would still be alive if he hadn’t taught her to repeat words. I couldn’t imagine her living in an apartment with a dog. I reminded him that he and I would never have met if Milena were still alive. He would have stayed at the animal shelter, and I at the other end of the city. “But that doesn’t mean the doctor should get off scot-free,” he said. He was relentless. I asked how he planned for us to carry out the abduction. He pointed his muzzle to the newspaper on the table. In the corner of the page was an ad for Dr. Kaluđerović’s private surgery.
The next day, half an hour before closing time, we were out the front. We waited in the parking lot. The doctor came out, throwing a good-bye to the nurse. Before he could unlock his car, I bludgeoned him over the head with a stick. Hans gave a cheerful squeal and helped me get him into the trunk. An hour later, Dr. Kaluđerović woke up in our basement, tied to a bed. Hans had never been happier. He ate his dinner, had a good drink of water, and stretched his forelegs. “Now you’re going to get what’s coming to you, Arschloch. Repeat after me—,” he snarled. I turned the doctor onto his stomach and let Hans do the rest. It was rather painful, and he did it every, yes every, night.
I didn’t know how long Hans planned to keep torturing the doctor. It didn’t bother me that it had been going on for a while. He worked like an expert and no one in our building suspected we had a guest in the basement. For several days we heard about the disappearance of the well-known otolaryngologist on television. An anonymous patient told journalists about sexual abuse at Dr. Kaluđerović’s surgery. Even without this revelation, I would have hated him enough because of what he did to Milena.
Yesterday, while I was watching the evening news, Hans came back from the basement and told me the doctor had admitted everything: that he was to blame for Milena’s death, that he’d unnecessarily forced her to listen to and repeat the days of the week, the months of the year, and the names of cities, as a result of which she snapped and started pronouncing everything she heard. I replied that he could keep on enjoying the doctor, but Hans had also begun to tire of him. My friend talked more and more often about the neighbors who’d insulted me. The next on Hans’s list was Stefan’s father, then the woman from the tobacconist’s in Zabjelo. Because of her I’d had to buy my cigarettes at the other end of the street. 
“Tomorrow we’ll kill that bastard, and then we’ll see to the others,” Hans said when I put the leash on him so he could take me out for a walk. 



Translated by Will Firth


Viktoria Khomenko

Viktoria Khomenko

Viktoria Khomenko, born 1989 in Kyiv, Ukraine, studied journalism and communication at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and also completed a CSM course in Cultural Criticism and Curation (2014, Ukraine) and a summer course in Communications and Human Rights at the Södra Vätterbygden Folk High School (2011, Sweden). She was a film critic and cultural columnist for national media as Insider, Bird in Flight, Kraina and Korydor. From 2015 she has been working as an editor at Docudays UA IDFF and as a communication coordinator of DOCU/PRO (industrial platform for film professionals) and producing Ukrainian documentary and fiction films. The first presentation of her literary work was at the Intermezzo Short Story Festival in Vinnitsa in 2015. In the same year she won a special prize for her collection of short stories Crude Earth at a Ukrainian competition initiated by the publisher Smoloskyp.

Mehmet Yashin

Mehmet Yashin

Mehmet Yaşın, born 1958 in Nicosia, is a Turkish-Cypriot poet and author. His poems, novels and essays are considered part of Cypriot and Greek as well as Turkish literature. He is one of the internationally best-known contemporary literary voices from Cyprus. His first poetry collection won the Academy Poetry Prize in Istanbul in 1985, but was banned by the ruling military junta that came to power after a coup d’etat in 1980. In 1986 Yaşın was deported from Turkey for what was characterized as his ‘subversive’ poetry. He lived between Cambridge, Nicosia and Istanbul from 2002 to 2016 and has since been living in Athens.

Yaşın has published ten poetry collections, three novels, three collection of essays, three anthologies and literary studies of multilingual Cypriot poetry in Istanbul. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his books have been published in various European countries.

Photo by Ayşem Ergin

Nora Verde

Nora Verde

Nora Verde (Antonela Marušić), born 1974 in Dubrovnik, studied Croatian Language and Literature. As a student she published her first poetry collection Sezona Bjegova (1994). She publishes poetry in several magazines and she is the author of the novels Posudi mi smajl (2010) and Do isteka zaliha (2013). Her prose and poetry have been translated into English, German, Slovene, Albanian and Macedonian.

She is one of the founders of the feminist portal Vox Feminae to which she contributes and for which she been an editor since 2011. She collaborates with several Croatian national and regional portals and media on independent culture, literature, music and human rights (Novosti, Kulturpunkt, Proletter, Maz, CroL,

Renato Baretić

Renato Baretić

Renato Baretić, born 1963 in Zagreb, is a Croatian writer. He used to work as a journalist for newspapers and magazines such as Večernji list, Nedjeljna Dalmacija, Slobodna Dalmacija, Feral Tribune, Globus, Nacional, Autograf, Tportal, Otvoreno more. He also used to compile quiz questions for the TV quiz shows Kviskoteka and Tko želi biti milijunaš. He was involved in the screenwriting for the television series Nova doba and Crnobijeli svijet 2 and the 2005 comedy-drama film Što je muškarac bez brkova. He also lectured at the House for Creative Writing in Split and the Center for Creative Writing in Zagreb. From 2007 to 2016 he was creative director and program editor of the Pričigin Storytelling Festival in Split.

His poems, short stories and excerpts of novels have been translated and published in English, Slovene, German, Macedonian, Italian, Ukrainian and Polish.





Tell Me About Her


She was the last to leave the smallish courtroom, her shoulder leaning against the wall three steps away from the door. She crossed her arms and stared directly into his face. He noticed her and looked several more times, but old man Stamenković, the client for whom he had just won a non-final appeals judgement, was doing his best to grab his attention in its entirety. The old man was pumping his hand, as if he would be happiest pulling it off and taking it home to put on top of the television in place of a plastic gondola or vase.
“Mr Tomo…” Stamenković said again, his eyes filling with tears. “Mr Tomo, I don’t know how to thank you… I hoped, my wife hoped… the children are a long way away, but we couldn’t believe that this was really possible… You don’t know just how grateful we are… You must come to visit us on Čiovo, once this is all finally sorted out, you… You’ll see what a proper fish stew is!
Tomo kept nodding, smiling uneasily.
“My house is your house, you’re welcome at my table whenever you wish…” continued Stamenković euphorically, using a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that had appeared all over his brow. “You and your whole family, whoever…”
He suddenly stopped and stiffened, and Tomo’s insincere smile spread across his face.
“I’m sorry. You understand what I mean…”
“I understand”, Tomo finally replied, sending a brief, pleading look towards the young woman who had leant against the wall behind the old man and was observing them enigmatically, as if she were enjoying the spectacle. “But let’s wait for the Supreme Court, they’re certain to lodge another appeal…”
“Well they can appeal as much as they want”, Stamenković continued, clutching his hand righter, his courage renewed once again after his gaffe. “There isn’t a court that would…”
“Mr Kriste?” she finally interrupted him, peeling herself off the wall and stepping towards them with her hand outstretched. Tomo quickly retrieved his palm from Stamenković’s grasp and offered it to his newly-arrived saviour.
“Anita Čelan from the crime desk at Novo doba…” she introduced herself.
“I know”, replied Tomo. “From the newspaper and from here, from court. My favourite journalist. No, I mean it seriously, don’t laugh! If nothing else, at least you’re decent and impartial. And you’re a lot more literate than most of your colleagues. How can I help?”
“Well it’s nothing really, I wouldn’t want to bother you, you just…”
“No, no, on the contrary, I was just saying goodbye to my client… We’ll be in touch, Mr Stamenković, we’ve got a fortnight to wait now. I guarantee that they’ll file their appeal tomorrow, but we’ll beat them at the Supreme Court too. Everything will be as it should be. Goodbye! We’ll be in touch”.
The old man nodded, confused, waved and walked off down the empty corridor, turning round and smiling. 
“Anita Čelan, Novo doba… Thank you, Anita Čelan!”
“Oh come on, I didn’t really want to…”
“I don’t know whether you intended to or not, but thank you. He almost tore my hand off, the poor man. So tell me, what can I do for you?” Tomo asked, picking up his briefcase from the floor.
“Can I ask you something… you know, just by the by? I mean, it’s not for the paper, it’s more something that interests me personally…”
“I’m an Aries, married, father of a big girl of eight…”
“No, not that… I knew all that already, some of it from talk in the bars, some from the paper, and some from TV. I’m not interested in those things, but…  Well, I’ve been watching you for a whole year, every now and then, and I can’t understand how you can do it. They screwed everything for you, your house, your family, your life, and yet it’s like you’ve become a specialist in defending them. And you successfully defend each and every one, which is the worst part!”
Tomo’s look darkened.
“Do you go to church?”
Anita was confused. Had she known how he would immediately counter her with such a left-field question she probably would not have spoken to him.
“I don’t exactly go, you know… but what has this…”
Tomo cut her off sharply:
“I don’t go either, but that’s why I go every day to have my marenda1. That’s what they’ve taught me to do here. Do you want to come with me today?
*  * *
“OK, we’ll make an agreement. I’ll tell you everything, even the disasters that happened… Well, you remember that, you must have recited that over and over in school… So, everything, but first you have to tell me something that I’m now really itching to know. You have to tell me a secret.”
“Yes, it that OK?”
“I don’t know what you consider to be a secret… I’m divorced, have no children, I’m a Scorpio, no idea what my ascendant is, I’m a hypochondriac…”
“Oh no, not that, something really personal!”
Anita froze, mid-gesture, swallowed deeply and stared him in the eye, challenging him:
“OK, let’s try, why not? I’m really curious what it is about me that interests you and that you wouldn’t dare ask me at this time of day.
“Well, I find this incredible. Yes, I am from Slavonia, I’m not from here and all that, but how on earth can you order a coca-cola when you’re eating smelt? How can you do that? For me it’s an even greater mystery than, I don’t know, immaculate conception. Like a fruit yoghurt with, I guess, fiš2! Please try to explain that to me and…”
Relieved, she laughed for the first time in the last few days:
“Well yeah, it is a bit… like… OK, I’ll have some bevanda3 too.”
“Hey, Vinko, give us another clean glass! But I do mean a clean one, not like my one”, Tomo shouted over his shoulder, and then, leaning on the table, peered curiously at Anita:
“Let’s see. You wanted to know how I could defend Serbs, is that right?”
“I don’t defend Serbs. I don’t have any better opinion of them than you do. You’d be surprised by what I think.”
“No, I didn’t mean… I…”
“Take it easy. I simply defend people who are trying to hold on to what is theirs according to the law. So, yes, of course there is a possibility, and not just a theoretical one, that some relative of theirs is roasting a pig in my living room up there, over a fire made up of my parquet floor. Right? If you ask me, I could bleed him dry right now; I paid for that parquet and laid it myself, but the ones down here are in no way to blame for that. If they were to blame, they’d be up there with their relative, or literally anywhere else but not here. It’s easier for me to represent those people who are defending what’s theirs rather than those who want what belongs to someone else. And that’s the whole story.”
“So, basically, you just love your job?”
“I don’t have any special love for it; I just do it to the best of my ability. Do you love your job?”
Anita was silent for a few seconds.
“It depends on the day. If we’re being honest, I love it less every week”.
The doleful waiter brought a glass that was too warm, dried and heated up on the coffee machine, and then, dragging his feet, went back behind the counter.
“So, you see, that’s the whole story”, Tomo continued more quietly, pouring wine for her and nodding towards Vinko. “He’s a great landlord, but he’s clearly not having a good day today. Every minute makes him sick of the job he does, but he’ll be back again tomorrow. I do what fate has me doing. And it doesn’t seem to bother me that much. As I said, it’s a lot easier to defend people who are protecting what’s theirs, than people who want to take other people’s property. That’s what I tell myself when I have a moment of crisis…”
“That’s… well, yes, it sounds logical…”
“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t…”
Tomo tossed a couple of the little fish and some bread into his mouth, then smiled at her as he chewed. Anita raised her glass and proposed a toast:
“OK, to all the good people who sometimes get sick of their jobs”.
They clinked glasses and she took a small sip, then raised her glass in the direction of the waiter who was behind the counter, blankly leafing through the paper.
“What’s up, Vinko?” Tomo called out over his shoulder. “Not busy today?”
“It’s not time yet, it will be in a few minutes…”
“There they are, they’ve started…” Anita muttered, her mood suddenly darkening.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing… my idiot of a boss…”
Tomo turned towards the door, through which two men had just entered. One of the men, balding and with a dark moustache, headed straight for their table.
“What’s this then? No time for a break while you’re busy with your marenda?” he asked Anita. “I could already be on the beach at Bačvice with my kids if those court reports had reached me on time…”
“Oh come on, you didn’t hear about the quake? The whole court building reduced to dust and ashes… Zvone, let me introduce you to Tomo Kriste, attorney-at-law… Zvonko Skračić, my editor…”
“Pleased to meet you… My apologies, I didn’t recognise you straightaway… you know, with the light coming from behind you…”
“How do you do”, replied Tomo, getting up. “Don’t worry, why would you recognise me…”
“Well then, you just keep on working”, Skračić turned back to Anita, “but make sure everything’s ready by one, half past one… OK then, you just carry on having fun…”
“Let’s get some coffee, but somewhere else”, Anita said quietly once Skračić was leaning on the counter.
* * *
“So, did my answers disappoint you?” he asked her when they had left the cafe and set off down the street. 
“No, they didn’t, it’s basically what I had expected. I’m sorry if I was annoying you.”
“No, you weren’t at all. You’d have been annoying if you’d wanted an official interview.”
“I really wasn’t asking that. I know that you’ve turned down Novo doba alone at least twice for an interview. I thought that was something to do with us, but then I heard and saw that you don’t give them to others either… I mean, it’s obvious that you find it hard, but then again…”
Tomo stopped and pointed to a shop window across the road. Inside, arranged in two rows, were six television sets, all switched on showing the same channel. The six pale screens showed a list of towns which had just declared a general state of alert. The letters weren’t legible from across the street, but it was clear that they almost filled the screens.
“There you go, you’ve got at least a thousand people in each of those places for a better interview than you’d have with me. What use am I to you? What could anyone ask me? About my wife? Everyone knows everything about her, and nothing at the same time. What you don’t know, I don’t know either. Do you know what I’d tell you? I don’t know what I would answer and, believe me, you only think that you know what you’d ask. If, please God, we find her alive, then you have her and you can ask her when she comes. I’m just… I don’t know, some sort of industrial waste”
“Oh come off it!”
“Well, what else am I? I was complicit in turning her into a hero, into some sort of symbol. No one asked me if that’s what I wanted, but it doesn’t matter any more. I was complicit in it, and that’s that. I don’t know any more if she is a hero at all or if they made her one. But that’s what’s transpired, with my help. Now things are the way they are, the reality is only what they’ve made… only what you journalists helped them to make. So what do any of you have to ask me, when it is you who know best what is and what isn’t, and what will or won’t be there tomorrow?”
“Now you’re making me sound like Vava the oracle…”
“I don’t mean you personally, not you Anita Čelan, rather all of you. And you’re not… you’re not prophets or oracles at all. Most of you haven’t got a clue about what you’re actually doing.”
“Hey, hold on a sec!” Anita interrupted him. “What’s got you in a lather? I don’t work for anyone, no one pulls my strings, and I sure as hell am not complicit in anything and didn’t help anything the way you said, I didn’t do any of that…”
Tomo finally switched his gaze from the television sets across the road to look at his new acquaintance. 
“…and I’ve had more than enough of everyone slagging off journalists”, she continued, flushing redder and redder. “For fuck’s sake, isn’t that what you all wanted? Freedom of the press? Of course it is. And now that you’ve got freedom of the press, it still isn’t right for you! The way I write today is the way I’ve always written, about the city, the country, and now…”
“I’m sorry”, Tomo interrupted her. “None of this has anything to do with you, with anything. You touched a nerve and in a trice…”
“And you touched one of my nerves, Mr Kriste. The most sensitive one. What is it that you want? To antagonise everyone, to save Serbs from being evicted, to be the widower of the most famous wartime journalist, and at the same time to live in some sort of ivory tower where no one can ask you anything or tell you anything? Is that how you picture yourself?”
“Anita…” he started, his tone conciliatory.
“Oh I’m sorry… the widower thing just came out. I didn’t mean that, I was just…”
“Mirjana, look at this lady!”
Tomo pointed deliberately, arm outstretched at an elderly woman who had come to a halt a few paces from them. In each hand she had two plastic bags full of vegetables and she had been standing there, nosily, in the same place for at least half a minute, and now, faced with Tomo’s pointing finger, she started to turn, searching for a reason to be there. 
“There you see”, Tomo continued, imitating a Split accent “people stopping and listening to us, because they understand the issue. One day everyone becomes impotent. So what? Does anyone wonder why he’s impotent, why he can’t get it up? Those are things that get solved together, Mirjana, together, in private, and not on the street, not like this! Hey, missus, can your man get it up? Look at her running off, look! Look!”
The woman quickened to pass them and disappeared around the corner in the direction of the bus stop in front of the theatre. Tomo waited a couple of seconds, then ran after her and stopped on the corner:
“What’s wrong? You wanted the onions but didn’t want to pay for them, is that it? In the evening she’s off to the theatre, Turandot, Swan Lake, and in the morning she’s stealing onions. There she is, folks, take a look!
Anita stood there and waited for him to return, grinning at his very Split-like humour and extremely clumsy imitation of a Split accent. 
“Thieving whore!”, he hissed, feigning rage, and stopped in front of her.
“Mr Tomo…”
“Hold on, let me go first. Can we have another coffee, so that we can part without quarrelling?”
“I can’t, I have to write about what happened, with Stamenković and all that.”
“Just one drink? One little drink? Really little? It’s silly like this – we’ve said all sorts of things to each other, without really telling each other anything.”
Across the road, all six screens were now showing the video to the song Hrvatina.
“I can’t, you saw for yourself my idiot of an editor. I have to go, I really have to.”
“OK, no worries. I’ll see you around.”
“Of course. You’ve got Trifunović on the twenty-second, that’s next Thursday, right? So, if not before then…”
“OK, I’ll see you in court”, finished Tomo, wagging his finger at her.




Translated by James Cook

Petar Andonovski: The Body That Has to Be Lived In

Petar Andonovski: The Body That Has to Be Lived In

The Body That Has To Be Lived In follows the internal struggles of Brigitte, a sixty-year-old judge at the very end of her career who is suddenly assigned the only challenging and complex trial she has ever undertaken in her working life — a criminal case concerning the rape and murder of a young woman. Before this final case, Brigitte has only ever judged minor cases of divorce and petty theft – a kind of cheap theatre. But now she becomes abruptly aware of the marginal role she has played in the world – and of the opportunity this murder trial offers. The case opens the key for Brigitte’s path of self-realization as she finally assumes the power given to her as a judge – the power of arbitration. The novel follows Brigitte’s internal test of character in parallel with the development of the trial of the young man accused of killing his girlfriend. This internal journey is initiated by her confronting the lawbreaker — confronting the body of the accused, over which society and the law, embodied in herself, will execute its

Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has won prizes and commendations in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize. She has been widely anthologised and translated into several languages. Her work concentrates on the themes of women, refugees, identity, exile, love and loss, as well as the political situation in Cyprus. Her poems deal with everyday episodes which go beyond reality in their atmospheric concentration, pointing to symbolic interior worlds.

Best known in Cyprus for her book of short stories Ledra Street (2006), she has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) and Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017). Her latest books are the collections of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (bilingual English-German edition) (2017). The author Anjali Joseph has said of her work: ‘Nora Nadjarian’s distilled short stories are abrupt and intense, as invigorating and aromatic as a double shot of literary espresso.’

Jasna Dimitrijević

Jasna Dimitrijević

Jasna Dimitrijević, born 1979 in Negotin, graduated from the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade. She writes short stories, poetry and reviews. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Liceulice. She is the co-organizer of the first regional short story competition ‘Biber’ on the topic of reconciliation, and the co-editor of the resulting multilingual collection. She published her first collection of stories Prepoznavanja (Recognitions) in 2015. Her second collection of short stories Fibonačijev niz was published in 2019. She lives in Belgrade and works in a bookstore.

Photo by Tamara Zrnović.





Happy end 

Rain woke me up. It sneaked into my dreams, and at first, I did not know where it came from. I swam through the endless Pacific. I knew it was Pacific, I know it from television. I swam through turquoise and crystal. That’s how they put it in TV reports, turquoise and crystal. I had crystal beads on my hips, part of my swimsuit. I know it from the photos. My first swimsuit, as a kid. The day was done as I was fixing the knot. Heavy rain was falling on my head and my arms, each time becoming thicker and heavier, until water filled up the entire world. It covered me like an eternal embrace, like an impenetrable uterus. I tried to swim vertically and then I woke up. What a pity. I wish I learned how to swim. But at least I was sure the ocean was not the solution. 
My dreams are more intensive since my childhood. More complex. More convincing. More exciting compared to my daily life. That life is just numbers. Accurate calculations. Accounting and fiscal accounts. Net and gross. Percentage for health and social insurance. One part through bank transfer, another in cash. It’s been decades since I also got paid by bank transfer. I try not to think about it. It’s not that I thought a lot about it thirty years ago either. I was just like everybody else. At the end of each day I longed to go to sleep. This morning I had to wake up at the first beep of the alarm. I had to do yet another laundry, packing, payment of remaining bills and the reconfirmation of appointment with the agency. Irena – the agent who sold me the travel arrangement – regularly reminded me of everything I should do before leaving. She showered me with helpful advice, recommended insurance companies I could trust and the health insurance packages I should purchase. She withdrew timidly when I told her I did not need any insurance and that she should stop pestering me, otherwise I might think of changing the agency. I reacted similarly when she said the offer included some fine cruises with the similar price. She looked at me worriedly, as if she was not sure if tropical zones are suitable for me. I interrupted her harshly. Since I don’t have regular encounters with people, my level of tolerance with this type of shit is quite low. Though it was not easy for her either. I could slap her in the face, and she would just nod her head gently, she would say I understand and excuse me for interfering,I just wanted to help, because that is the treatment one gets when one pays to travel to the destination which I’d just chosen. I remember our first encounter and Irena’s doubts when I asked her to calculate one of the most expensive offers at their agency. I am sure she expected me to write checks for Becici or Halkidiki. When I got Irena’s attention, her face turned red as blood. 
Raindrops hit the windows. I got to the terrace and peeped through the blinds. On the other side Marina’s shadow is fixing the window curtain. Of course, she is already awake. My friend wakes up every morning at 6.45. While the room is aired, Marina burbles pumpkin oil for detox. She got herself an alternative therapy. She believes there are methods which can preserve the body. I even believed myself that this could be true, but that did not last long. 
There is half an hour left until Marina is done with her daily rituals. She always listens to weather forecast,does exercises recommended by her chiropractor, mends her clothes. Retired early due to back injury, Marina does not give up. She believes in a happy end and she’ll welcome it happily. She always does grocery shopping with her make-up on, her fingernails painted. She matches her earrings with her clothes, her smile with the look of the interlocutor. When she returns from shopping, she puts the fruits in a rattan bowl, the flowers in a vase, the vegetables in a pan to cook slowly. If she were to waste her health, she says she would be spending time in pubs. She never misses gatherings with her former colleagues, once a month until dawn. And then again, balanced diet, early rising, daily walks, pumpkin oil. She is twenty years older than me, who would have thought. She sticks to this world like a cat and she does not intend to give up on it. Luckily or unluckily, Marina does not give up on me either, she always calls me, either to get free theatre tickets on Facebook or to visit Roman lagoons around Belgrade. She goes everywhere and always comes home stronger. She always calls to let me know how it was. Yesterday she called me to ask if I remembered that old chanson which was popular when we were kids, the one about a city and waves. She wanted to look it up on the Internet, but she did not remember the lines. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t remember either. That saddened me e little, more because of her than because of me. 
Marina is the reason for me to wake up, brush my teeth, answer the phone, because everything is easier thangiving her reasons for the mess and the carelessness. 
Las month I found a dead dog behind the garage. When dogs sense death, they isolate themselves. They hide from people and spend their last hours far from the curious gaze. This one got himself between the garage and the container. His jaws, glued by the dry drool, looked as if stiffened by a last try to get some air. Around his pear-like head circled mosquitos, and green wings came out of his nostrils. If we disregard all these things, he looked like he was sleeping. I took the phone out of my purse and took a photo of the dead dog, taking care not to be spotted. Later on, Marina, appalled by this, did not want to see the photo but rather joined her lips making a squeamish gesture: „I don’t know what fascinates you here. Animals, unlike humans, cannot have any impact.” „Humans are animals too,” I replied. This was the usual act of my petty malice towards the reasonable, calm and accurate Marina. I install some insecurity in her orderly life, as if – without her knowledge – I prepare her for surprises which hide behind the corner. Out of everything which is to follow, Marina for now knows only that I sold my apartment and I am going on vacation.”
I set by the edge of the bed, and started to get dressed. These pills give me fatigue and heaviness. I’ve learned to live with an invisible octopus which sticks to my body and embraces my joints. She is my ten-year-old child whom I cannot pull off. That is why I walk, sleep, and think with that heaviness as if this was always the case. Bur now, there are new moments too. Lately my blood circulation worsened, and I put on two pairs of socks and fingerless gloves. I have a hard time putting on the sweater. Lower pajamas are the last ones to go. When I moved my butt from the bed, I had an unpleasant surprise. Wet red spot. If this infernal changing body have ever had any lucky moment, that was when my periods stopped. And now, many months later, I am bleeding again. My own body is reprogramming me, getting me used to incessant changes. Fooling me, in other words. Hashimoto syndrome has always been a demanding guest, but since last month it got worse. 
I found some old pack of sanitary pads. I opened the green pad and stuck the thin layer on the lower part of the worn-out underpants which I took from the bag with the old clothes. I am not someone who keeps unnecessary stuff, I am not a hamster. There are people who never throw anything. Their shelves and drawers are full of articles which gather dust but throwing out is simply not an option. I am not like that. I don’t accumulate, I remember. Material memories suffocate me, they are demanding, they take up space and daily life, they demand care, they decay, their end is yet another small grief. Remembrance is my discipline, and every day I update my collection. Perhaps that is the reason why I feel at ease about this departure. 
I have already packed a great deal of stuff and took it to the rented basement. My drawer and wardrobes are neatly empty. There are only books on the table, some crime stories to keep me busy, and some documents. Passport, health file, recipes for pills I have to get, report from Social service office: 
Age: 53
Gender: female
Marital status: single
Children: no
Parents: deceased
Education: professional economic high school 
Employment status: unemployed
Length of work: 8,2 
Length of work experience: 32 
Decision of the committee: social assistance rejected
Marina is a pestering, dubious goat. She asks me what I am doing alone all day long. She talks silently, but clearly, word by word. We know each other for a long time, she must have sensed that something important is going on behind her back. I couldn’t tell her the truth, and I didn’t know how to lie. I don’t want to see her face when she finds out my intention because I am afraid she would not understand. I answered vaguely: I am getting things done before leaving. Marina thinks I paid for my trip to make up at least a part of that which I’ve missed in my life, and that I’d return in three weeks’ time as a new person, just like her, with motivation and newly discovered tranquility; that I’ll move in the new apartment which I bought with the rest of the money. 
Pain does not scare me anymore. Nothing is harder than to remain awake and incapable in this bed, in front of a flat screen, under the cracked ceiling. Painful climbing up the hill, painful cold sea, backpack and stones under the soles. Painful bloated stomach and lungs and back and tongue, but that is nothing, everything is temporary. For me, nature is the undiscovered planet and now I want to enter it as many times as a can. I don’t have other wishes. 
My lump, my tiny freedom. If it didn’t show up on the screen of the scanner and announce the billions of its voracious offspring, perhaps I would’ve never dared to leave this old apartment. In fact, I’m not even sure for how long they’ve been there, I don’t remember when I’ve done my last UV scan. When complications started to appear, I called the doctor because I thought he should change my therapy, and this wouldn’t be the first time. The doctor’s appointment was set several months in advance, so I spent half a year in obliviousness. I interpreted my throat pain as virus, Marina always brings some parasites from the outside world. Then I met with the new diagnosis – anaplastic thyroid cancer. The doctor said we’d lost a lot of time and that we should react quickly, so I reacted. 
I don’t believe in god. I believe in Marina and the dark-skinned man in plastic slippers who waits for people from the West at one end of the village. His presence gives me safety from pickpockets and guerilla soldiers. Then he takes them to the local sorcerer, counts their money and takes them to the shallow, dark room of the earthen floor. I believe that this man, skinny and trapped in his own village, knows how to get a gun. He’ll try to bargain with me, he’ll not know I’m ready to give up everything. When I stop enjoying the water and the rain, when I have a hard time to even open my eyes or take a sip of tea, all that I have will belong to him. 
I slept almost all day. Sometimes fatigue takes over for a couple of hours, sometimes longer. However, I still stick to the habit that the night rest is the best, when I take a shower, change my clothes and wash my teeth. I go to bed only when I see the light in Marina’s bedroom is off. The air smells like rain. The waves will overflow this city, I remembered the lines, and take me back to sleep. I will tell Marina first thing in the morning. 




Translated by Qerim Ondozi

Lana Bastašić

Lana Bastašić

Lana Bastašić, born 1986 in Zagreb, is a Bosnian writer. She studied English Language and Literature and holds an MA degree in Cultural Studies. She has published two collections of short stories, a book of children’s stories, and a collection of poetry. Catch the Rabbit, her first novel, was published in 2018 in Belgrade and was shortlisted for the NIN Award. Her short stories have been included in major anthologies throughout former Yugoslavia. She won the Best Short Story Award at the Zija Dizdarević Literary Competition in Fojnica, Bosnia; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ short story festival in Podgorica, Montenegro; the Best Short Story Award at the ‘Ulaznica’ festival in Zrenjanin, Serbia; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright Award at the competition organized by Kamerni Teatar 55 in Sarajevo, the first award for best unpublished poetry collection in Zrenjanin, and the Targa UNESCO Prize for poetry at the Castello di Duino festival in Trieste, Italy. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom with Borja Bagunyà and co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She lives and works in Barcelona.

Photo by Milan Ilić/RAS





Catch the Rabbit


[She never wanted to talk about her brother. But that night something was different, something broke inside her like a feeble straw fence. It was the first Monday after college graduation, one of those weeks when your life is supposed to start, or at least another stage of it. I had waited for the whole weekend to feel different. Nothing happened. Like someone had sold me bad weed. 

We were sitting on the couch in her room. Stray cats howled painfully in the streets. 

‘Twenty marks,’ she said, stroking the brown plush-cover that stretched teasingly between her and me. ‘The man came and changed it.’ 

‘What color was it before?’ I asked. It must have been the hundredth time I was in her room, yet I couldn’t recall that couch in any other shade but brown. 

‘Beige, of course,’ she said. ‘Don’t you remember?’

To me this was unacceptable: she and beige. She was never a person for beige. Those people are silent and ordinary. I didn’t dare ask for other colors that, I was sure, stained the pale couch during the years I hadn’t visited. I was quiet most of the time. Nervous. After that day on the island she had stopped talking to me. Three years of college without a single word from her. And now, out of nowhere, I was there on her couch, given in to the first call, embarrassingly ready to accept anything.

We were drinking wine, even though I didn’t feel like alcohol. Lejla poured me a full glass and said firmly, yet gently, ‘Drink.’ And so I drank. Wine or something else, I can’t remember. I only know her black-haired 10 head was surprisingly heavy on my shoulder. I say black because to me she has always been the scruffy raven from high school, regardless of all the bleach she now used as camouflage. I remember her eyes flickered with the reflection of a tiny window and the thick darkness spilled behind it. I remember her handsome brother observing us from the only photograph in the room. Time had faded his cheeks, his sky, and his swimming trunks. And what else? What more? What was the carpet like? Did she even have a carpet? Did the ceiling still have that hideous lamp with fake black pearls she had bought in Dalmatia? Or had she gotten rid of that? How should I know? It doesn’t matter. I can’t explain Lejla by describing her room. It would be like describing an apple using mathematics. I can only remember her heavy head and how her painted toenail peeked through the hole on her sock. I remember her brother. If it hadn’t been for that photo, there would have been no life in that room.

Her mother kept banging with pots in the kitchen. A bit of wall separated us. I think I said something stupid, something that seemed funny at the moment, like aren’t you too old to have a mother in the kitchen? or something like that, and that Lejla smiled benignly – after all, I had one too. It seems like our town was that way back then – full of grown children and slouching, gray-haired mothers.

Why had I come that night? I wanted to ignore her and not jump at the first bone. But that morning she had found her rabbit dead on the cold bathroom tiles. I say cold – someone will correct that someday. They will say I wasn’t there to touch them, how do I know they were cold? But I know a bit about that rabbit of hers, and the bathroom, and those fingers always going towards the 38th Celsius. I know she was probably wearing those puffy apricot-colored slippers and that she crouched to touch the corpse. I know she thought corpse. I can see the bruises on her bony knees.

He never had an official name. He was Hare, Rabbit or Bunny, depending on Lejla’s mood. I remember we buried him in her backyard, under the old cherry tree, which she claimed was radioactive. It was the first time I was burying an animal. 

‘That’s not true. What about your turtles?’ she asked me almost desperately. I remember how her hands were full of her dead Rabbit and how she held him, like precious dowry, in a blue garbage bag. 

‘The turtles don’t count,’ I said. ‘They were like 5-6 centimeters across, like uštipci. A couple of moves. That hardly counts as serious undertaker’s experience.’ 

‘So, what are we gonna do?’


The neighbor lent us a shovel thinking we were planting strawberries. It wasn’t a big tool, just a toy for adults really, lighter than hand. It took me forever to dig a hole big enough. I wanted to reproach her for the size of the corpse, but I swallowed my criticism that day. She looked small and frightened, as if she had fallen out of some nest prematurely.

We laid the bag with Bunny in the little vault. Minute roots crawled up from the earth, embracing the corpse with their thin fingers, and then pulled it deep down into their cold womb. When it was over, I laid two white stones on the ground to mark the grave, which quite expectedly made her roll her eyes. 

‘Go on, say something,’ she said. 

‘Say what?’ 

‘Whatever. You built him a monument, so a couple of words are in order.’ 

‘Why me?’ 

‘You’re the poet.’

How vicious, I thought. One pretty lousy poetry collection and now I was supposed to deliver eulogies to poisoned rabbits. But given the lost look in her eyes and her white hands sadly emptied of her Bunny, I coughed and, staring blandly at the two silent stones, pulled out the appropriate lines from some past life or other:


‘Speak low and little.

So I don’t hear you.

Especially about how smart I was.

What did I want? My hands are empty,

they lie sad on the cover.

What did I think about? On my lips, dryness and estrangement.

Did I live anything?

Oh, how sweetly I slept!’


And that’s when she cried, I think. Perhaps it was me, I’m not sure. It was dark; perhaps her eyes just sparkled in the streetlight. If she is reading this, she will be pissed; she will call me a sentimental cow, because she never cries. Whatever the case, the verses did the work – they closed an unmarked chapter better than a mere college degree.

My conscience was bothering me because I had made her believe the poem was mine. But in that moment, with dead Hare under the ground and Lejla above it, any idea of authorship made little sense to me. Verses were like runaway brides, free from Alvaro de Campos – who never existed in the first place, just like those strawberries – free from Lejla and me, free from the heap of cold earth with two stone eyes, free to be in one moment, and in the next to stop.

I can’t remember whether we returned the shovel to the neighbor, whether we said anything else or not. I only know that later that night her 13 head was heavy on my inappropriate shoulder and how I cursed both that shoulder and the brown cover which hardened into asphalt between us. We were looking at her pale brother inside four paper edges while her mother banged on in the kitchen.

Lejla said, ‘She still has a photo of Tito. It’s in the pantry, behind the turšija jar. If you look closely, you can see his eye between two pieces of paprika.’

I laughed, though I didn’t feel like it. I always found them unbearable – those silent nostalgiacs and the sinewy bubble in which they go on living their better, happier versions in some country where strawberries grow forever and rabbits don’t die. A country they could describe as perfect because they deprived us of the possibility to confirm that claim. I have heard her mother many more times than I have seen her. That night was the same. After a while, the pots went quiet – she laid her trombones down.

Lejla looked at the books lying on the shelf next to the photo of her brother, shut her made-up lids and whispered: ‘I watched it die.’

I looked at her in confusion. She opened her eyes and, noticing my lost expression, laughed and said, ‘One point for me.’ When she realized that I still didn’t understand what was going on, she rolled her eyes and added, ‘It is swollen now, like a corpse.’ That’s when I understood. It was our private game: one of us would spit out a forgotten quote from some of the books in sight, and the other would have to guess the title. But I couldn’t understand why she remembered our almost forgotten ritual at that moment. We had played with quotes at the beginning of college, back when we thought it was enough to say smart words so that people would think you understood them. But we were no longer those people. College was out of our lives – for me like a lover I had overestimated for four years, for her like a painful vaccine someone else had told her was necessary. It is swollen now, like a corpse was no longer the same sentence, just like we were no longer 14 the same kids. To Lejla, that game had always been just a fancier version of hide and seek. ‘Words are empty anyway,’ she had once told me during a Morphology exam. But that night she needed words, at least like placebo, so I followed the rules obligingly.

‘No, it has not shrunk,’ I whispered, ‘cold and empty it looks much bigger than before.’

‘Dark,’ Lejla said. 


‘Dark and empty.’ 

‘Yes… Dark and empty. The Travelogues.’

Once I had offered the satisfying answer and she nodded in acceptance, I closed my eyes and pressed her warm hand as if to save it from the brown plush and its charlatan, beige past. It calmed me to see that she was still able to play, to resurrect quotes from some books she pretended not to like and share them with me as if she hadn’t ignored me for three years. I wasn’t angry. I was happy she could still believe in beauty after she had witnessed death crucified across bathroom tiles.

That was the first time she asked me that vile question.

‘When are you gonna write a poem about me?’

I opened my eyes and sat up straight. I had known her longer than I had my period and this surprised me anyway.

‘I’m sure you still write them. After that morbid book. Right? Admit it,’ she said, suddenly making me feel ashamed, as if writing poetry was the same as hiding a bottle of rakija in a paper bag and sleeping under a bridge.

‘I do,’ I said. It was past ten p.m. The pots from the kitchen had long gone quiet. I knew I should have gone home after the funeral. Nothing good can happen after you bury somebody’s pet. 

‘So, why don’t you write a poem about me? What’s wrong with me?’

‘And what am I,’ I asked, ‘fucking Balašević1?’ 

I felt bad about it later. I should have said yeah, sure, she would have forgotten after a couple of days that she ever asked, or would have laughed her silly request off, adding she’d rather rot dead than play someone’s Muse. But I couldn’t help it. Not that my poetry was any good, but Lejla’s absence from that part of my life – the way she had diligently ignored the whole endeavor including promotions, reviews and awards – hurt like a dangerous pile in the middle of my body. No, I wouldn’t let her get away with this. Even if she had buried her mother that day, she wouldn’t humiliate me in such a banal way. Anyone else, a beggar in the street, could have asked the same thing, and I would have believed his request was genuine. But not her. For Lejla, life was a rabid fox coming at night to steal your poultry. Writing about life meant to stare at the slaughtered chicken the next day, never being able to catch the beast at its crime. Above all, it seems like she could never grasp why anyone in their right mind would sit down and write poems. Even less so, why I, in that place and that time, would ever choose to spend my nights that way. And now, after a lifelong policy of demeaning the only somewhat successful attempt in my altogether unspectacular life, she is sitting there, on her fake-brown couch, with her fake-blonde hair, insulting me. Well, hell no.

‘Geez, Sara,’ she said and stood up. 

‘I was joking.’ She wasn’t angry, just tired. If you ask Lejla, poetry isn’t even worth fighting over. She went to the shelf, took the photo of her brother and wiped the glass with the end of her sleeve. 

‘He didn’t wanna draw me, either,’ she said, putting the photo back to its place. Then she looked at me all wide-eyed as if she had suddenly remembered something.

‘Have I ever told you how he touched a painting?’ 

I was quiet, all of a sudden completely pointless on her couch, the way one slipper loses its point entirely when it’s not paired up. She obviously didn’t need an interlocutor, only an ear to empty herself into, like an animal before it’s stuffed. She said he. The first time after that terrible day on the island.

‘I don’t remember it,’ she went on, ‘I was too little. But mom’s told me the story a thousand times. We were in some museum. Armin was seven or eight, I think. I don’t know. Anyway, he stood on tiptoe and touched the painting. But really… Fingers on the painting, you know? And then the whole show – the alarm went off, the guards running around, our parents freaking out…’

I was sitting on the couch saying nothing. After all, what could I say? What could anyone say? The fox had already run away, I couldn’t catch it. All of a sudden words seemed false, expired, like stiff-dry makeup on an old woman’s face.

‘But, what matters is that Bunny got his epilogue,’ she said and shrugged, cutting the whole story about death, poetry and protected paintings. She was a simple girl again – the one that wouldn’t ask for a nine in an exam, the one who prefers to drink her beer and not talk too much. A blonde girl in plastic slippers who could joke about the rabbit that, I remember clearly, she used to love more than people. A girl who doesn’t know that Vienna is swollen like a corpse, who doesn’t talk about her brother. Someone’s frail, dumb Muse. I couldn’t stand her.

I said it was getting late and it was time for me to get going. Her mother had probably gone to bed already. She stared at me for a while – her eyes creeping about my face, from my lips to my eyebrows, as if I would change my mind if she looked long enough. I would stay, drink her wine, write her a poem – she only has to tug at the leash a bit. When nothing 17 happened, when she realized I had really made up my mind to go home, her eyes fell off my face like a sheet falling off a statue. She walked to the door, opened it and said, I think, I’m almost certain, though later she claimed it wasn’t like that, ‘Go fuck yourself.’

I finished my wine, or whatever else was in that glass, in one sip and left Lejla’s room. I reached my house too soon, so I just kept on walking, as if I hadn’t recognized my own front door. I walked for a long time, listening to crickets in unattended hedges and wondering where moles were hiding that night and whether it was true what they said about big venomous snakes by the river. I walked until all the churches tolled five o’clock and, it seems, long after that. I walked until twelve years later I reached St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, pulled the cellphone from my coat and said her name. Yes, I mean your name. Then I stopped.]




1 A popular singer-songwriter from former Yugoslavia. Many of his songs are dedicated to women he 



Translated by Lana Bastašić

Daim Miftari

Daim Miftari

Daim Miftari, born 1979 in Gostivar, Macedonia, holds a Master’s degree in Albanian Language and Literature from Skopje University. He has published a number of books in both Albanian and Macedonian, his poetry has been translated and published in anthologies, newspapers and literary magazines in Macedonia and abroad and has earned him acclaim with literary critics. In 2017 he was granted the POETEKA literary residence in Tirana, Albania.

He lives in the multilingual city of Skopje, where he works as journalist, translator, and teacher.






If it Wasn’t Me 

if it wasn’t me
someone else would be living
in the apartment where I live today
in the same city
on the same street
at the same address
and those days would be quite the same
with all the seasons inside
all the happenings
joys and sadnesses
glees accidents foolishnesses
like loaded trucks
if it wasn’t me
someone else would be standing
on the same balcony where I stand
late at nights at times
watching the street fall asleep
like a tired traveler
under the neon lights
and the shadows of trees
suddenly his thoughts would fly
across the mountains
to the childhood home
that he too might have abandoned
and to some dreams
teared like the clothes
by some stubborn tree branch on the street
and to his word
his given word
that he would love her and cherish her
and later on he’d ask
where did she disappear
her joyous stare
her thin laughter
and sometimes like a bird
on an April-green branch
sadness would rest upon her face
if it wasn’t me
someone else similar to me
would suffer to the bone
from the frauds unjustices
revenges greeds
losses infidelities
and when feeling tired
from the urban noise
he would yearn to put his head to rest 
he would also hide
far far away
if it wasn’t me
someone else like me
would have friends
to go out with 
and the world would seem nice at times
and sometimes he’d spit on it
and he’d hate his bad fortunes
for not living somewhere else
where he’d be better off
with his family
because he would also be married with kids
and would go out with them at the weekends
and carry them about
and worry about them
and their future
and play with them
in the evenings and read them tales
and often trapped
by some curious question
would try to find answers
when his kids would grow up he’d tell them about life
and his past
his loves
his dreams
his regrets
and against his will a tear would drop
like water gathered from tree leafs by the wind 
after a crazy rainstorm
and still he’d say
he’s happy anyways
with everything he’s accomplished in life
he’d have a library full of books
to read
any time he’d get a chance
or perhaps he’d have another trade 
it’s mustn’t be poetry

There May Come a Day 

there may come a day when I cry out
kind of annoyed
to hell with all my poems
written and unwritten
I’m so tired of them
putting each word in its proper place
in each sentence
much like a kid lost in his gaming world
and I sure was happy just as one
each time I believed that I had succeeded
and then just like a kid started all over again
thinking surely
I could be doing something else
easier perhaps or more useful
than wasting my time like this
but I realize then
I am not really skilled to do anything else

Sometimes My Life 

sometimes my life
thinks in vain
about many things
that might have been different
and turned otherwise
unsure until the end
how everything could have developed
if things didn’t happen
the way they happened
and made everything as it is
my life goes nuts 
when I say you still
should be happy
with how everything turned out
and that I envy myself


Translated by Sasho Spasoski

Azem Deliu

Azem Deliu

Azem Deliu, born 1996 in Skënderaj, Kosovo studied Albanian Literature at the University of Prishtina where he was honoured with the prestigious Distinguished Student Award for his first poetry volume The Funeral of Rain (2013). His first novel The Illegal Kisser (2016) became a national bestseller and has already been translated into English. Interest in the author is also growing in other countries. The French press have called him ‘a great author from a small country’ and ‘the new star of European literature’.





Notes of the worm Smolinski



“I am a dishonest worm” was all I could write in my journal on January 24, after Liliana’s burial. It was difficult to define what I really felt. I only knew I was tired. Exhausted after a hard day and with the feeling of Liliana’s unexpected death that was squeezing me within with an unbearable pressure, after I wrote these words, I felt like I was writing for days. Fatigue has priority, I said to myself. Man can feel many things at once, but nothing beats the fatigue. This type of fatigue, not the physical one.  
Then, as if I wanted to add something else to that sheet, I turn to it again and threw a glance at: I am a dishonest worm. 
 I stopped for a moment. Being a dishonest worm had accompanied me throughout my thirty-eight years of life. Now and then I heard it being said to me as a mockery or as an accusation. But I had never taken it so seriously like I did today when, with a convinction that encompassed all that I heard about myself, I labeled myself as such in my journal.
“Man takes seriously only what he said to himself before others say it to him,” I said to myself and without taking off my coat and without putting the paper sheet into the drawer, I went to bed. 


I barely caught the bus number 7 of city traffic of Pristina, which should take me behind the National Theatre. In front of it I was supposed to meet a young woman regarding a show, a journalist of culture. Near the bus stop, I saw some black-bearded young men moving strangely their bodies, as if they were dancing. I was astonished for a moment, and then when one of them gave me a very fierce glance, I moved on. Perhaps it is in their rite, I thought, not to be seen by anyone while they dance. I went to the other side of the sidewalk divided by side plants and I ran after the bus until it stopped a few meters behind the station and just before Bill Clinton’s statue. Humbly climbing the stairs, I felt that I had an unpleasant odor. It was my third day staying in Kosovo. I remember having a shower yesterday. I never cared about personal hygiene and my sister, Katrina, has suffered a lot with me at the time of my studies, when we decided to rent a flat together so our father would not have to pay two rentals. 
While the bus climbed uphill, a poster caught my left eye along the way. The note was quite clear: “February 24, 18:00. Meeting with Polish writer Piotr Smolinski at the Faculty of Philology.”   
My eyes, acostumed with variations of correction, they rearranged eveything in the head and came up with this variant: “February 24, 18:00. Meeting with the dishonest worm Piotr Smolinski, who disappointed his father and betrayed his girlfriend, at the Faculty of Philology.”
If I went on, there was a risk of projecting all the faults of life to my picture on the poster beside the road. I felt, though, a little bit relieved because it seemed to me that he had something different from me in the picture. He was an image, even though it was my image. “Blame the image!” – almost screamed the voice inside my head. 
While dealing with this, I felt that the theater station was nearby. I could hardly get off, and when my foot touched the ground, I caught myself thinking that I would like it more if after the bus stairs instead of the ground there was a huge hole waiting for me, an endless abyss. I headed towards the theater. I had difficulties crossing on the other side of the street, because a Mercedes Benz, a very old type, could hardly stop. 
Next to theatre, where the square begins, I put my hands in the coat pockets and although I felt that the scarf was not well adjusted, I did not even try to fix it. Perhaps because now I was looking at the young lady that was waiting for me in front of the theater stairs and with all those images of me around the town, it was impossible to believe that she did not notice me. So, it was too late to fix the scarf. Good that I did not have troubles with my pants, I said to myself and I relaxed my hands in my pockets. 
Regardless of my opinion, it seems that this miss or misses did not even notice me.  It could be that she did not notice me because I went around the square that stretched to the left of the theater, but a man with fragile self-pride as me doesn’t  need much to feel neglected. That she did not notice me is related to her carelessness towards me. Every normal person would have the right to call me a crybaby, because I was expecting from a stranger to deal with problems and uncertainties that I had with myself. 
As if she had felt that suspicious atmosphere inside me, the moment I apporached her, she said, “Excuse me?” and then she leaned to let the light fall to my face, she added: 
Are you Piotr Smolinski?
I reacted with enthusiasm.
Yes, I said with a glitter which I bet was visible in my eyes even from outside. – Liliana? I said to her. 
She nodded.
I was happy that I satisfied her with my enthusiastic reaction. But, in fact, I was not enthusiastic about getting to meet her, but because of my expectation that she would refer to me as a “worm” and when she said, “Piotr Smolinski”, it seemed to me as an applauding bonus. It almost got out of my mind that I, the dishonest worm from my neighborhood with thousands of inhabitants, was even Piotr Smolinski, the most prominent writer of Poland, a country which has forty millions inhabitants. Strangely, when debating with myself about these two identities, most commonly the worm was the winner.     
Maybe the screams of the neighborhood kids for the worm were stronger than the screams of the national and international press for the writer. Or the screams within me, to my surprise, were more fit with the kids screams.  
How can I to know, I thought and only when we approached the theater door, I realised that Liliana was speaking. To avoid embarrasing situations when she would at any moment  understand that I was not listening, I said to her: 
– I’m so sorry to interrupt you in this important discussion, but I just want to tell you that you look extremely beautiful today, – and by lowering down my hand and with a respectable bending of the body I said: – Please, continue.
It seemed to me that the compliment faded out a bit of what I said in the first part of the sentence. 
– Piotr, she said, stunning me by addressing me by my name, I was not saying anything important. 
Instead of shutting my mouth or at least changing the subject, I got even deeper into my dialoguing stupidity.
– That’s relative, I said, different things matter to different people. 
– Is that what I said really important to you? – she was surprised and by drawing two fingers to her lips, said: – What important thing was I saying? 
With that innocent voice, that seemed that as much as it was directed to me, was aimed at her too, made me feel guilty.  I was ready to admit that I didn’t hear her at all when, as if she was sparing me from this embarrasing moment, she shrugged and said in amazement: 
– Ah, you writers. Always the insignificant details, many times boring for other people, are so important to you.
Look at this, I said to myself. Once again, the fact that I am a writer spared me from an awkward situation. Would it spare me from being a worm? One nil for the writer.
When Liliana told me, after we left the theater, that one of the reasons she had invited me was that I was bisexual, I felt insulted. I was convinced to expect that the reason why a journalist of culture would be interested in me would be my literature, it was a fair expectation. But she told me so bluntly and shockingly: she hated writers.    
Perhaps the word hatred was a momentary exaggeration, but she had never felt any respect for any living writer. She called them “a priori arrogant”. The case changed only with dead writers. She liked them. I guessed more or less why she had such a notion.  
Within any cultural journalist, a failed writer is hiding. We used to joke around with this saying so many times in the literature students’ clubs, that it was almost demode. But it remained true, according to me.  
Each of us had a version of this phenomenon in the head. As for me, it was like this: I imagined cultural journalists as semi-connoisseurs of culture who were glowing in salons holding glasses of wine, while celebrating literary awards, who made mythical introduction to the writer that was invited to an interview, but always being a step away from him. Their beauty was only in the way in which they tried to conceal their intellectual inferiority.  
However, I could not wait for Liliana to approve something like that. Trying to make it as objective as possible, Liliana told me that the reason she does not like living writers that, unlike the dead that were colossus of the letters, among the living could hardly find anyone who was not influenced or not gave political stances.   
. “Victims of their ideologies and glory,” – Liliana called the writers.
I, however, couldn’t believe that she was defending so fiery an opinion that she had created, according to her, during the studies and she did not change it yet. This was a real problem for me. One should not remain with opinions he had when he was at the beginning of his studies. If so, studies have no value. 
Anyway, beyond theories, now as a writer and not as a bisexual, I had the right to tell Liliana that she was completely wrong. Not that writers today were angels or colossus of letters as she was saying about the dead, but neither the latter had been such.  
For example, she highly praised the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. You could see her eyes shining when she spoke cheerfully about him and without any critical examination. Otherwise, being an anti-marxist liberal and who bowed before the Holocaust, she could not, under any circumstances, have such love for Knut Hamsun. The latter, though perhaps the greatest writer of Norway, was a die-hard Hitlerian. This would be enough to say to her that her “colossians”, beginning with Dostoyevsky who was extremely infiltrated in Russian nationalism, then Turgenev about whom I’ve been told that has abused his workers and all the way to Hamsun who was Adolf Hitler’s die-hard fan, cannot be removed from the frame of her statement “victims of their ideologies and glory”.  
All these names, I agree, were geniuses. These facts, none of them, I did not tell Liliana. 
“Anyway, she hates living writers, – I said to myself. – Why make her hate dead writers?” Moreover, it was about the writers that I loved, without exception. Especially Dostoyevsky. Because the worm loves the worm. 
When I told Liliana that my nickname was a worm, she became curious, how and why they gave me this stigmatized name. I almost forgot the source of this label. So, searching every nook and corner of the memory I rebuilt the pieces of the confession.  
I don’t exactly remember how I realised that Pawel from the neighborhood was homosexual. Maybe he was a bisexual too, but at least I knew he was homo.In Poland of the nineties, when communism has just fallen and the Catholic Church, due to the help it provided in this fall, was quite strong, public calls against homosexuals were becoming more pronounced. Pawel and me had decided to challenge this. Of course, there was still no question to do a public challenge. 
We had just finished high school and, when we were eighteen, we were old enough to have sex. We were determined to do this with each other. No other place than in the church premises. 
“We need a plan,” Pawel said, half a year older than me, “ monk Smolinski never leaves the church.”
He did not know that monk Smolinski was my uncle. I did not want him to know. For a moment, I felt I made to Pawel a great injustice. But he would not do it with me if I told him. Pawel was quite a coward and if he was not angry because of the stigmatization done by the newspaper close to his father’s church, a prophesor at the Bialystok Institute, I could hardly convince him of this rebellion against the Church.
His proposal was that, on Sunday evening,when all the Masses were carried out, while the side door was still open, we would enter the church secretly and climb up to the bell chamber, where the priest did not go except to ring the bells. 
And so we did. As soon as we approached the bell, in the darkness that moon’s dim light just made it look grayish,  we started to make love. 
 “Slide, slide,” – Pawel groaned. Who knows how it came to him when my uncle and three nuns walked through the door and caught us in action, he was saying, “Slide like a worm.”
I don’t remember exactly how we avoided that situation. I don’t even remember what was my uncle’s first reaction. Immediate revolt or attempt to join us, if he wasn’t with nuns. But I know that the next day, across our entire Warsaw district were distributed leaflets liki mini posters, which read “Piotr and Pawel, gays and are hated by God” and “Piotr slides like a worm.”
It was strange that, perhaps because my uncle intervened, I was presented without a surname. So, I was not Piotr Smolinski, but Piotr the worm. That was the main placard because the other one, the one with “Piotr and Pawel, gays and are hated by God”, was immediately removed with intervention of a girl working on the largest Polish supermarket network, Piotr and Pawel. Maybe it was not her intervention. But my memory, more often illusory than earthbound, tells me so.   
Pawel commited suicide two weeks later. A few years later, when it seemed that everything was forgotten, in audience at the Palace of Culture, where my book of poems was being promoted, someone shouted, “Piotr the worm” and “Smolinski the worm”. That’s how my hell started. 
I do not know if Liliana liked my explanation. In fact, I had no way knowing whether she like it, because I did not give it to her. I retreated at the last moment and, instead of giving her the letter in which I wrote this story of explanation that had some shortcomings, I gave her a part of manuscript of the story that I came to Kosovo. I heard on a train across the Balkans that in the Elbasan district, in Albania, there was a family called “Mark Bala’s family”. They, according to the story I heard, sheltered a Jew in the Second World War and after he abused their hospitality, by making love with their daughter, the latter decided to kill him. 
But the mere killing would not satisfy the insulted Mark Bala. After he had protected him from Hitler, Mark wanted to kill him just as Hitler would kill him. Thus, he took a long way to the most knowledgeable old man of the area to ask how Hitler killed the Jews. The journey was almost in the fashion of Don Quixote. 
However, when we met next time I had given her the story, she told me she had not only liked it but was beginning to think that the writers were not necessarily “a priori arrogant”. This was for me the greatest success. With my both hands I checked my body, whether I am dead. She got my humour and, surprisingly, she was not embittered as was her custom. 
I was not a dead writer, and yet she liked me. Finally, I broke the ice. I did not interest her only because of homosexuality, but because of literature. 
“Yet, she reasoned, you have to be careful.”
I did not understand why I had to be careful. However, I would find out when I met Hajdin Bytyçi, the residence coordinator through which I had come to Kosovo. I met him twice. Both times were incredibly uninteresting to be described here. For that man I had only two feelings: intellectual disrespect and sexual attraction. 
But we had an official relationship and so we had to stay like that. For the sake of the truth, that intellectual disrespect, more than from meeting with him, I had because of what was said to me about him, but for these there would be another opportunity to say it.
Liliana, extremely beautiful and moderately wise, was worried about me. I do not call her moderately wise neither for the job she is doing nor for her lifestyle. I call her moderately wise because she was stupid enough to worry about a man like me. For someone like me, about whom I almost did not bother to care myself either.   
If she was like me, someone who is scorned by society, then I could understand the sense of solidarity..
Here for a moment I stopped. It did not make sense to seek solidarity only from those who were like me. The whole core of solidarity is to solidarize with someone unlike yourself. So a wealthy man can be solidarized with a poor one. So, I said to myself, there is no sense if a poor man is solidarized with a poor man. They are solidarized at all times. 
However,  in order not to become an irreparable detallista, as they often told me that I was, I no longer have to deal with solidarity. Perhaps she did not have no sense of solidarity, but she was scared. This suspicion aroused in me when, after she followed me to the entrance of my apartment and despite the fact that I wanted to but did not invite her inside, she said, “The novel you are writing is good enough. Unfortunately, many of its parts are of some relevance here.”
I saw from her body language that she was serious about it. What was of relevance here? The hatred towards Jews? Feeling insulted by minutae? Psychopathic murders? Or all together?
I did not care. I was a worm. A worm can be crushed at any time, but its crushing, in addition to the surrounding fluids, also caused an unbearable stink for the pusher.
So, if they killed me, Piotr Smolinski, my fragrance would wander through world literature as a damned ghost. Then I would have much more imortance as a writerthan as a worm or bisexual. Two nil for the writer.
It is not very difficult to say that Pristina is beautiful, but with chaotic architecture. I remember once during my studies, the art history teacher, M.G., told me that it is odd how the chaotic architecture of places indicates the chaotic mentality of the people. Not always, of course, the professor hastened to clarify so he would not be misunderstood.
However, until now I have not encountered any exceptions. 
This “however” seemed to me like Giordano Bruno’s famous saying “eppur si muove”, who, facing the trial of the Church, was forced to admit that Sun moves around the Earth and not the opposite, he said while leaving the hall “eppur si muove” – “and yet it moves”.
Anyway, neither when he gave the assertion, nor when he explained the exceptions, my teacher did not take into consideration this small country in the Balkans.
Meanwhile, what was really hard was to talk about my residency cordinator, Hajdin Bytyçi. I met him, seriously, very late; except for two meetings that were quite administrative and short, when he handed me the keys of the apartment that I would use in Pristina and when he gave me the document by which I could withdraw the money. It was the very day that Liliana got a good news about the change of the editorial office and when, in order to celebrate it, she and I went a little further in our relationship. 
Hajdin was forty-eight years old. He kept his neck-tie tight against his throat and he did not take off his jacket even in dog days of summer. I never met him when it was hot, but they told me about it. There are some other things I’ve heard about him, but they did not impress me very much. What impressed me in him was his developed physics, despite his age, if his forty-eight years could be called age.  
 don’t remember where I heard an intersting story about him. When he was a teacher in gymnasium one day some students pranked him by giving him a poem of Adam Mickiewicz, translated into ghegh dialect by a teacher in Pristina, saying to him that it was a poem written by Gjergj Fishta, an Albanian epic poet. Hajdin began to highly praise the text, while the quarrelsome students were sneering. This lasted until a girl in the first row, one of those eager students that make sure to remind the teacher that he had forgotten to give homework, explained to him that he was caught in the trap. Hajdin ashamed by of his students, suspended  them from class for two weeks. 
He smoked a lot of cigarettes and spoke with admiration about literature. More precisely, he spoke with admiration about writers. As for literature, I do not know if I can tell you that he had any knowledge about it. He was a little nationalist and he had a lot of problems with humor.
“There can’t be a good relationship between ideologies and humor”, – I remembered saying my teacher of art history again. “This is because ideologies tend to launch great truths, while the humor strips them and makes them fall apart. There is nothing more disarming than a laughter.”
And my teacher was right. In the face of the disarming laughter, ideologies strike only moraly, that is, only below the belt. Sometimes acting like a victim, sometimes mocking the humorist personally. There is no nationalism, no religion, or thought, which can face individually, one on one,  against the humor. 
I was barely waiting to get away from the meeting with Hajdin. With an unpleasant stink, from a beer spilt on my shirt, I walked towards the door. He insisted on paying by explaining that Albanians did not allow their guests to pay. I didn’t mind. Intellectually, Hajdin was completely unattractive. A good part of our the meeting he spent reading to me some of his own poems and I could make a simple evaluation: those poems showed that they were written by a close-minded person. 
It is difficult to like the poetry of close-minded person. Morever, knowing the author. 
Before my father realized that I was bisexual, he had read and liked a lot some of my high school poems. The ones that were especially caressing his primitive pride. Many times our minds often make a mistake, we do not try to read poetry so we can experience it or not, but we read it so we can agree with it or not. 
“What’s wrong with that?” – I told myself as I approached Liliana’s appartment. – “Poetry is not an argument.”
As I was saying back then, my father, now deceased, liked many of my poems, until I wrote a poem which I titled it “Poem of Colors”.  My father, though close-minded, was sharp-witted in his backwardness. He understood quite well that within the poem of colors I had declared more or less, as one of the verses said, “I was not only white or black”. 
My attempt to explain to him that this is the way how the subject of poetry is felt, that I was not writing about myself, he did not swallow it. Unfortunately,  this exceeds his cognitive abilities. What followed was traumatic. 
I would continue to remember the case with my father if an orange taxi would have not stopped before my feet. Maybe better so. A man needs a brief break of thoughts from time to time. 
It was raining, so I could be labeled not only as a worm, but also as a fool, if for two euros and some change I would not take taxi to Lili’s apartment.  
Lili, on her part, did almost everything. She took care of every detail, so I began to feel ashamed because I smelled of spilled beer. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper where she worked, invited her to the office today and gave her good news that the newspaper editorial board has decided to move her from culture section to politics section.  
“Culture does not produce any news,” she said full of joy, “now I will be paid almost double.”
I felt empty at the full table. She was celebrating for leaving the culture section hoping for a better life. Would that mean that good life depended on how far you get from culture?
It sounds cynical, I thought, but, unfortunately, that’s how some of the truths are. Deeply cynical. 


Translated by Fadil Bajraj

Ana Schnabl

Ana Schnabl

Ana Schnabl, born 1985, is a Slovene writer, journalist and literary critic. A doctoral student of Philosophy since 2016, she focuses her research on the female autobiography and confession, and the woman in psychoanalysis. She writes for literary journal Literatura and the online portal AirBeletrina, has collaborated with daily Dnevnik and is the editor-in-chief of the European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture. In 2014 her short story MDMA was the winner of AirBeletrina’sshort fiction competition. Disentangling (Razvezani, 2017), a short story collection, is her first book. Schnabl is currently working on a play and a novel, with the latter delving into the topics of infidelity, illegitimate children and the ‘golden 80s’ in Slovenia.





Ana and The Only Son



As a little girl, my sister was always stronger and faster than I was. While I spent my evenings reading in the armchair given to us by our grandfather who hoped one of us would use it to broaden her horizons, she was always on the prowl. At the neighbours’, in narrow valleys, under hayracks, among the ruins of the old factory. I envied her never truly getting tired, I envied her the rosy glow of her skin as she returned from these ramblings. When we were getting ready to go to sleep and she sat on her legs on the bed in front of me, brushing her long, heavy brown hair, I’d wish, if the night was particularly hard on me, for all her hair to fall out. I’d hope she’d wake up as I was, with a sensitive scalp, dandruff, with problem skin that took on an ugly reddish frown with greasy white lines whenever I worked up a sweat. I envied her that dad, whenever she ran in to hug him, would nimbly lift her up and spin around hugging her until they both hallucinated. As we came back home from the supermarket one afternoon, she jumped on his back, and he, despite being caught off guard, held her up, and they spun around for so long that he lost his balance. He fell back on the radiator, on top of the little girl, and the girl’s head just missed the sharp edge, so that the fall wasn’t lethal, merely extremely painful. The scar was later overgrown by hair, and the memory of danger by laughter.
Her laugh. So full of life and sparkle. A laugh that heals instead of repressing. Laughter that I was invited to share in but kept choosing to remain outside.
She was also the first one to start growing breasts. She carried them with pride, like she used to carry girly necklaces that dad brought back from his trips. While my chest was undergoing nothing but fatty, funny little buttons that I liked to stick my thumb into, checking whether they’ll pop out again, mom was already buying my sister her first bras. “75B,” she’d boast. Thanks to her breasts and the playful hair that rested on them, thanks to her narrow waist that hinted at womanly hips and thanks to her sense of humour, driven by a waking libido and flirtatious nature, she was popular with boys. Back then I thought the worst of her, however, my anger had nothing to lean on. Her actions, her answers, her jokes – everything was straight and average, silly as one would expect of a teenager. Only now and then did a glimmer of adulthood shine through in her behaviour. Like when she accompanied me to the doctor’s when I got salmonella and remained with me long after our parents had gone to sleep; when she confronted the Slovene language teacher because she called a child from an immigrant family a preemie for being so scared of school that he barely ever uttered a word. When my sister found that her pride can be hurtful, she consoled me with kisses and hugs.
The only thing my anger could lean on was her beauty. I tried my best to cover it up with other justifications, I told myself I was bigger than that, bigger than myself and my vapid impulses. But such efforts tend to be fruitless. Beauty has no force of its own, always using another’s to hurt, always returning what it receives. When it receives hate, it responds with injury. When it receives love, it responds with an illusion of its immortality.
In the last days of August before we entered high school, her body overtook me once more. As we were running around stores looking for clothes to mark the first week in high school, she got her first period. She reported that it arrived unannounced, with no burning or cramping, and that euphoria only came over her as she felt her first pad scrunch between her thighs. She requested ice cream. As she stared into the colourful pots, mom lectured her: “It’s all going to be different now. You’ll be adult and responsible. At least I hope so.” I resented her again. Her breakthrough to the next level again filled me with a dismal sense that life would never pick me up from the closet floor, that I would always remain pitiful and forgotten.
This was the last victory of her body.
I often ask myself whether I’d even have noticed, towards the end of the first year of high school, that her face had contorted into unhappiness if she hadn’t previously been so beautiful. I watched her intently, like a rare, precious insect under a magnifying glass; the twitching of the wings, the flutter of the antennae, the squirming around, the quiet crackling voice – I responded to everything. I noticed details. I noted how the regal arch of her brow drooped ever so slightly. In a couple of months, the skin around her eyes took on a grey tinge, giving the appearance of her velvety green eyes resting in a spider web. The sheen of her hair was no longer elvish, merely greasy. Her hair was falling out like an animal’s winter fur, in clumps, which I discovered in the unlikeliest places. On the edge of a refrigerator shelf, between the pages of a fashion magazine, in the kitchen sink. Muscles were stripped off her arms by an unknown wind, taken off her bones, upper arms, shoulders. Her palms became comically elongated and her knuckles jutted out from her hands. One evening I saw her naked, just for a second, before she wrapped herself in a towel in panic: above her still round breasts, ribs stuck out crudely, making it look as if the breasts were hanging from a grating, sticking out from a prison. Her torso seemed thirsty. Dry. On the screen of my memory I can still see the sharp round edges of her pelvis into which her transparent skin was desperately sinking.
I took these changes for innocent erosion and enjoyed them. After all, they were just details, slight deteriorations, dust bunnies of ugliness. I hoped my time would come. The time for the sister who was born first and thus received less. For the first child, the one that’s taken for granted.
She started hiding. Even from me. She knew that the density of her body was an intimate concern of mine and often sneered at me that I was crazy. “And if you aren’t, you will be,” she screamed and slammed the bathroom door. I remember hearing her yelling at the top of her voice for the first time that spring, at dad, who was the first to voice his concerns. His dear daughter was no longer his ally. When he hugged her or placed a firm palm on her shoulder, she froze. Dread descended upon her face and her sternum tensed and jerked towards the ceiling as if the heart underneath it was trying to jump out. She never told him about school, never talked to him about her girlfriends. One night she ran into him in the hall, wrapped in a thick bathing robe. I heard him ask: “Been relaxing a bit, huh?” Afterwards she spent the night sobbing and twisting in her bed. I didn’t try to console her, as I couldn’t understand what perfection could possibly be grieving.
Her voice grew dark, bitter like coffee. She started wearing baggy clothes and leaving her lacy lingerie at home, having convinced mom to buy her a pack of cheap cotton briefs. They had argued in the store, because my sister wanted them to be a size bigger than necessary, to cover the crease where her thighs met her buttocks. Mom hadn’t relented, arguing that this was all a weird phase that would pass and leave her feeling sorry about being stuck with a dozen panties the size of a tent. To avoid further conflict, my sister started leaving home looking like mom wanted her to, only to change clothes in the school bathroom, break up her bun and fluff the hair around her face in such a way that it was almost totally covered. The weird phase didn’t pass, it unfolded into years. At that time, our mom couldn’t tell adolescent foolhardiness and vanity from frantic threats. From the paving of the end.
She started smoking. By sixteen, she smoked a pack of the strongest cigarettes a day. I bypassed her if I saw her in the schoolyard as I was disgusted by her nervous sucking of the cigarette end, which our schoolmates had, only half jokingly, already started associating with her. She had rejected her beauty and now spoke in a caustic tone. And her constant rejection, her dedication to an incomprehensible goal stirred within me a terrible, self-righteous rage, a dark state in which everything that she did, she did to mock me, to gloat at my lack. Those who have are able to reject, while those who lack can never patch the hole with a piece that would fit. The pieces that come by are always wrong, too small to cover the hole or spilling over its edges.
I can still see her, nervous from nicotine and thin as a beanstalk, as she leans on the metal frame of the bike shelter behind the school: she steps on her cigarette, searches in her bag for a bottle of water, drinks it all and then turns away from the audience, slumped in her gloom, again reaches in her pocket and brings her hand to her mouth. Perhaps she sticks it in. Perhaps she just swallows. A mysterious ceremony, the most brutal of my rages.
She quit running. Mom was told that she’d stopped going to practice by the varsity coach. At home, the air was buzzing with rebellion. “I want you to leave me alone! I’m never going back anymore!” In a display of foolhardiness, my sister lit up in front of mom and blew smoke in her face. Mom froze. Her eyes darted around, her lips opened like the beak of a panicked bird, her breathing was shallow. When her daughter blew smoke in her face for the second time, she slapped her. The girl’s cheek showed a bloody, bruising dent, the mark of mom’s wedding ring. The scar remained, making her a further bit uglier.
My sister pushed away while I and our parents grew closer. Mom kept saying she always knew that I’d grow up to be a level-headed person. She never interrogated me about my sister, likely sensing how complicated the ties that bound us were. She was probably feeling pangs of her conscience, realizing how hypocritical she’d been, thinking about the neglected relationship with her daughter, the weird and ugly one, realizing that she, a mother, had measured out her love for us, giving more to the beautiful one. My dad followed me around like a forsaken dog, expecting me to provide him with the sort of warmth that he’d received from my sister and the sort of ease that she wielded. I’d always yearned for closeness, but when a connection did form between us, it formed in perverse circumstances. I was still a mere substitute and she was still the one they wanted. I wrapped myself in hatred. I dreamt about my sister never having been born, that all the beauty that had accumulated with her was instead infused in me, the single child, that all the loveliness and grace of the accepted, the loved daughter settled on myself. My hatred burned persistently and dangerously. It was only interrupted by a coincidence.
I was in third year of high school and it was the last Tuesday before the summer holidays. After the afternoon classes were over, I started off towards the gym locker room where I’d forgotten my equipment. The hallways were empty, sparse jabbering could still be heard from classrooms here and there. The locker rooms were in the look-out basement at the end of a damp, cold staircase that echoed every breath I took. As I descended, the amplified vibrations of my steps drowned out any other sound, but as the noise of my steps died down, I heard a deep male voice that I recognised as the teacher’s. I walked towards his study to explain what I was here for. His commanding voice gradually coalesced into words and sentences, but I was so focused on my mission that I didn’t really understand anything. I was only stopped in place by a forceful “do you understand?”, synchronized with a scene in which the teacher’s spade-like hand was grabbing the thin shoulder of my pale sister, bent over in hunger and hysteria. She wheezed out a resigned, tired “yes” and turned towards me. Her eyes stared like eyes of dead livestock, with pre-death horror frozen in them. I don’t know whether she recognized me, it seemed as if all her life force was channelled into the word that she’d spoken and that all that was left of her was a flimsy, ugly, decrepit frame. The teacher spoke to me, but I was nervous and confused and kept looking at my sister. As she slipped past me, I managed a fractured “Ana, what’s going on?” I retreated backwards from the study without really registering what the huge man was saying to me. In a panic, which I was unable to make sense of but which held me whole in its clutches, I ran upstairs. I couldn’t find Ana anymore. 
I asked her about the incident once again before going to sleep. She muttered, facing the wall: “Leave me alone, it’s none of your concern.”
All I’d wished for came true. My sister’s beauty and joy had withered. People started turning towards me as if they’d just discovered me. A new continent, a rugged, unexplored area that had always had a lot to offer. As my sister wrapped herself in darkness, a land of new opportunities for happiness opened in front of me. With every layer that evaporated from my sister’s body, my will and power grew. But that night something burned in my chest. That night, the magma of my wrath settled down abruptly, even though I hadn’t yet vomited it all out and it hadn’t yet burned everything down. Maybe my sister was suffering, I thought. Maybe her body, porous at that point, was not trying to take its revenge on me. That night, I listened to her breathing and tried to percolate down its column into her mind, her memories, her experiences and sensations. But I discovered nothing; I didn’t know my sister and in my envious, insidious schadenfreude, I never saw her as human. Sympathy could not bridge the distance between us because I couldn’t provide it with substance. In my imagination, the afternoon incident grew to terrible proportions from which I gathered every possible reason for my sister’s bitterness. In hallucinatory oscillation, the incident’s contours grew hazier and I burned with intuitions. Worry appeared as a powerful earthquake. Worry of one wanting to redeem oneself, of one who’d seen violence in one’s hands. A selfish worry.
The summer that followed was marked by a game of ingratiation and avoidance. I was convinced Ana’s silence was just that – a game. That she would soon lower her shield, as her strength had all but been depleted. She only carried the heavy armour and defended herself to punish me for the torments I dealt her in my thoughts. And I was ready to serve my sentence. I never shared my intuitions regarding my sister’s unhappiness with my parents. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to be the first to bond with her after her descent. And at the same time, I didn’t know the actual substance of my intuitions. Had I called what I spun out in my sleepless nights by its true name, it could come true and then I’d be overwhelmed by responsibility for a new injustice – and I could barely carry the one. I was afraid. I kept quiet in front of my parents mostly to protect myself. Because Ana, Ana would tell them everything by herself sooner or later.
I kept quiet when they took her, dehydrated and delirious, to the hospital and fed her concoctions of raw butter, sweetened cocoa and milk for a week. As the pale brown liquid flowed into her, tears of disgust streamed down her face. I kept quiet when mom took cotton pads from her purse that was hanging over the side of the bed and burst into tears. Dad held her to his chest silently and stared at his daughter who no longer lied on the bed, but was draped over it like a frayed piece of fabric. I looked upon the despair that they walked up and down the floors of our house with the patience of the disgraced. I kept quiet when she spat in the face of the nurse who brought her a high-calorie beverage and scratched her bloody. I didn’t lose my faith in her even when she couldn’t walk anymore and still refused any sort of food. There was no reason to be afraid, my sister was good, in her core she was good, and she’d make things right. She’d deliver us from suffering, she’d absolve me. I kept counting on her goodness long after she’d ceased to be human. I held her hand tightly and watched the lanugo on her face, the grotesque tangle of blue-violet veins on the palm and back of her hand, the rising and falling of her pointy clavicles. Her lively wet body had disintegrated into paper. I touched her absent face and placed my hand on her abdomen. I wanted her to feel the pulse of my flesh and know that we can start again. My young hand would not crush her, would not finish what had been started in hatred against life. I hoped boundlessly, disguising my guilt into hope that she’d explain what I saw on that morning in June, that she’d tell me just how innocent it was. I kept quiet until her eyes glazed over. I stood by her and kept quiet so resolutely that I heard, in the tranquillity of her room, the exact moment when her heart stopped beating. Mute, I stood by the body of my twin sister.


The Only Son 

Rivulets of sweat poured from the nape of my neck, over my temples and chin and between my breasts. Hair matted my forehead but I didn’t have the strength anymore to push it away. The air in the room was heavy and acidic. I didn’t feel the bed I was lying on, my legs had gone numb. I could barely keep my eyes open, the blurry scene at the other end of the room was framed by the contours of my eyelashes. Two fat women were using a wet cloth to wipe down the baby. Its short limbs protruded into space and writhed grotesquely, the surface of its skin was greasy and bloody and disgusting. It screamed and coughed and breathed. I had almost fallen asleep when the thin-haired fat woman put the baby in my arms.
“Watch the head.”
I awkwardly twisted my forearms under the blanket that framed the inhumanly wrinkled face. I tried, but my arms refused to nimbly come together in a hug. Its eyes were half-closed. It seemed to me that the supple skin covering its skull moved inward, I saw it pulsate like the tiny bodies of Mediterranean lizards. Its wobbly head scared me. I didn’t open the blanket at all, I wasn’t interested in what lay underneath it. On my thighs, I felt the same weight that had resided inside me just a day before. A swollen tongue protruded from its mouth, its lips twitching greedily and leaving droplets of spit on my arm with every twitch. Chills went down my spine and engulfed my limbs like lava.
“You’ll have to let him latch on now,” giggled the other fat woman.
“What do you mean?”
She pointed at my huge, aching breasts riddled with blue and violet veins.
“Let him nurse. He has to nurse now. I think it’s time we called your husband.”
I did as the fat woman said, I opened the soaked-through gown and pressed the baby’s face to my nipple. I took a deep breath before its lips made contact with my flesh. It sucked forcefully, I felt as if it were stabbing me with a sharp awl that travelled through my breast, bored underneath my sternum and scratched my shoulder blade. It suckled and suckled, and I was unable to move, it was pushing me towards the top of the bed with all its strength. I shut my eyes and held back tears. I couldn’t let the two fat women see through me.
As the door opened, I felt the warm glow of hallway lights on my face.
Jan approached me as one would approach a wounded she-wolf that jumps at the mere sound of wind blowing and hurts at the sound of rustling leaves. Compared to my shallow, tense gasps, his breathing was even deeper and more serene than usual. He gently touched the baby’s head with his left hand, brushed aside the lock of hair that was getting in my eyes with his right hand, and kissed me. The contrast between the nervous suckling baby and the loving man stung in my chest.
“You’re so beautiful, Jasmin. You’re both beautiful,” he said. His eyes travelled across the baby’s face that radiated joy at him, while I stared at its thick, rough hair, hoping that the panic would pass before I had to look at the baby again.
“He is beautiful,” I lied. “He’s going to nurse for a couple of hours now. Will you stay with me?”
“Would you like me to?”
I asked myself what he was seeing. In front of him lay his helpless wife and his newborn who was throwing up a storm because the milk was lacking something. I wasn’t glowing and I’m sure Jan noticed it. The proverbial peace and tranquillity had not descended upon me, and my wishes in that tight little windowless delivery room were engaged in the same battle against time as they had been before.
“I’m exhausted. Maybe you could come back a bit later? We’re not going anywhere, I promise.” I did my best to sound caring, to give the impression that I would connect with the baby when I was alone and transfer to it the first pulses of love. I even believed this myself. He nodded understandingly and showered the baby’s brow with a thousand delicate kisses.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.” Light shone on his eyes and brow as he gently closed the door. Not a wrinkle, not a smidgeon of doubt.
We were left alone. The room was filled by the sounds of the baby’s sucking and by a sullen purr that rose from its stomach. My nipples were numb. My vagina was numb. I wanted to touch it to check the damage that the baby left behind but I couldn’t reach across it. I was overcome by tears, the first one falling right on the baby’s fontanelle. A thought came over me: if I cried on the same spot long and hard, I could hurt the baby. Then it’d leave me alone.
You’re paranoid and insane, I berated myself. I’d never responded well to new things in my life. That’s what it was.

After a few hours, the two fat women took the baby away to better wash it, measure it, weigh it and take its blood. Maybe it’s ill, I thought, and would have to remain here. It’d be fed by tubes or by another woman.
As soon as we were left alone, Jan sat down on the side of the bed. He tried to hug me but I stopped him in time and held a hand in front of his face. He grabbed it and took it to his chest.
“I’m hurting all over.”
“I understand.” He touched my hair.
“Congratulations, honey. A new human being.” The green specks in his eyes glowed, he seemed curious, alert, in love.
“He is new, isn’t he.” My lips softened. I forced a smile. “So new that I’m afraid I’ll break him.”
I wished he’d sense my helplessness so that I could open up to him. I wanted him to listen to me and patiently sift through what I was feeling. To explain to me that sleep deprivation could easily distort reality and suppress beauty. That beginnings are far from being the only thing that determines the intensity and ends of stories. I swallowed nervously and felt my face flush.
“Is there something wrong?” The question rang like a shot in the room. It didn’t belong there, didn’t belong in a place where new life begins and vulnerability rests in its original form between the walls. It emboldened me.
“I’m all …” I tried to find words befitting a mother, “I’m confused. I don’t know how I’m supposed to act.”
“Of course you are, honey. How couldn’t you be, we’re first-time parents. Everything is different all of a sudden, there’s three of us now.” He kissed me on the lips. The mature textures of his skin and beard were soothing. He convinced me that we were feeling the same, that we were talking about the same thing.

I left the maternity ward after three days. During this time, the baby had changed noticeably, the milk had strengthened it and given it colour. When it opened its eyes, it opened them wide, and as it did so, its eyelids pushed deep under its brow. If it weren’t so tiny it would have seemed deranged. The two fat women at the maternity ward kept saying that he looked upon the world with intelligent eyes and that he’s sure to have it easy with the ladies. As we were saying goodbye they just couldn’t get enough of its cuteness. Just before we left, Jan inquired as to whether the baby’s weight was standard, whether it was big enough, whether the slightly ashen tone of its face would eventually disappear. They engaged in conversation that I was unable to follow.
I asked myself whether my body would ever be as firm as it used to be. Mothers lose their youthful volume. As their body is a prisoner of another, much smaller and weaker body, it takes on those qualities itself. In my mind I counted all the washed out, listless, desperate mothers, mothers with huge butts and thighs supporting a crumbling body, mothers with short-cut, withered hair, mothers with sunken eyes and with limbs flimsier than firewood. I shuddered thinking of their shapes. I stood silently at my husband’s side, absent-mindedly holding the baby whose body I wanted to divorce. I wouldn’t let it take me over.
The fat women watched me out of the corners of their eyes. I knew what they were looking for.
“Be well, Mila. Be good to him,” said the fat redheaded woman.
I replied with the tone of one who’s hiding something: “Too bad we’re leaving. It’s so nice and quiet here; I could stay for a while longer.”
“You know, space issues. We have to give others a chance as well, other women are mothers too,” said the other fat woman, pithily stressing the word mothers, and that was that. 
Jan thanked them for their care multiple times, further accentuating the difference between his excitement and my indifference. Tired of standing around, I tugged at his sleeve. We walked to the car. With the baby on my breast I sat in the back and avoided Jan’s seeking gaze in the rear-view mirror. I stared through the window, giving automatic answers to the stream of his questions about the delivery and comparing myself to the women I saw strolling on the sidewalks. The baby suddenly threw a powerful kick at my abdomen and my breast.
“Ow, damm…,” I stifled the swearword and felt it settle in a more treacherous place.
“What’s going on back there?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Jasmin kicked me in the stomach. His eyesight probably isn’t very good yet.” My voice was clinical, and Jan noticed it as well. I felt a pair of doubting eyes settle on the top of my head.
“No, it really isn’t. The midwife said that he’d truly be able to see only in a week, maybe ten days,” he said, and then, as he realized I wouldn’t pick up the conversation, added with an acerbic tone, “So don’t be too mad at him.”
A wail rose in my throat but I swallowed it. Sitting here in the back seat of the car, where Jan and I had made love years ago, I was overwhelmed by rules and commandments. Mothers only become mothers once they’re spayed, I thought. Our fertility is that which first takes away our freedom. From now on, all my emotions would belong to a being that I wasn’t supposed to be mad at. I sunk into myself, and the wail that I had stifled dissolved in my milk and was swallowed by the baby. In its body, it became the devil’s cry.
“Wow, what a voice,” smiled Jan as he drove.
“Yeah. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe you could rock him a bit? Whisper something in his ear or sing something to him?” The suggestions turned into admonitions and Jan’s morning cheerfulness dissipated. What remained were big pieces of joy and smaller, jagged pieces of impatience.
I started singing to the baby and rocking it. Its screams intensified, reached its guttural culmination and broke off into silence just as I wanted to ask Jan to stop the car. The baby had lost its voice; however, that doesn’t mean it stopped screaming.
“You see, you’re doing well, it’s true that your voice can charm just about anybody.” Condescension didn’t suit him. He realized that and apologized, but my pelvis was already tingling with loneliness. Underneath me, attached at my nipple, rested the baby that seemed as alien to me as the man in the driver’s seat. Their expectations had pushed me away from my founts of spontaneity and relegated me to resigned silence. Again I held back tears.
The landscape that stretched between the city and the village where we lived was being evaporated by the heat, losing colours and contours. We were driving towards a house that was thoroughly prepared for the newcomer. From the rooms where the child would be free to go once it learned to walk, Jan removed all furniture with sharp edges and fixed all heavy objects to the walls. The scent of freshly baked bread or apple strudel may have still wafted upstairs. The baby was awaited by a lovely little room that Jan and I had furnished together, back when the germs of my fear were subclinical, back when I waved my hands arrogantly at the thought of infection and ascribed all symptoms to the pregnancy. Just above the door of the room that it would only occupy a year later, I hung a sign saying Welcome home, Jasmin.
As I crossed the threshold of the house with the sleeping baby, I lost my breath. The baby responded to my stillness with anger and crying, it kicked and stretched its hands towards my hair as if it wanted to grab it and pull. It wanted to control even my breathing. As I looked around the hallway in confusion, looking for a surface where I could set the baby down – I was afraid I’d lose consciousness – Jan approached me from behind speaking calm assurances: “There there, Jasmin, it’s all right, don’t be afraid, you’re home now. You’ll always be safe with mommy and daddy.” I turned around, pushed the baby in Jan’s arms and collapsed on the living room couch. In front of me, the brochure from the expectant mothers’ workshop awaited on the coffee table.
Holding the baby, Jan seemed relaxed, as if his skin simply flowed into the smooth skin of the baby. His hand gestures were fatherly and composed. Convinced that the baby would be soothed by vibration, he walked from one room to the next, while I asked myself whether he’d ever call me Mila again or would we forget our true names like all other parents.
The baby’s crying quieted down. Jan placed it on my numb thighs as if it were a gift and said, “I know you’re sick and tired, but I think Jasmin needs to nurse.” He sat down on my left and watched intently for my reaction, waited for the magic of nursing. I felt a burning pain in my left cheek that immediately moved behind my eyes. I felt as if I’d gone blind, my head was ringing and I could no longer tell the ringing from the baby’s cry. Jan’s voice joined the commotion, demanding, “Come on, take him! His head is going to fall back. This is not a joke.”
“Sorry. I can barely keep awake, I have to get some sleep,” I told him, never really hearing my muttered words. I picked up the baby and leaned forward to give it to my husband again, when he hesitantly grabbed my upper arm. “But Jasmin really has to nurse. The midwife said we shouldn’t withhold food from him while he’s so little.” He was trying to mask the shock that I immediately saw in his eyes, make it look like reluctance. He was talking in plural, which had nothing to do with my breasts, my thighs and my hands. I was overcome by rage, which the baby immediately translated into terrible wailing. I kept repeating, “The baby has to nurse.” I used one hand to pull the tunic over my head, unzip my bra and throw it on the floor. I felt as if my breasts expanded to fill the room, as if they were pushing at nooks and corners, as if their weight was pushing down furniture and crushing it. I was a factory under somebody else’s management. I pressed the baby at my nipple and wanted to squirt all the milk into its mouth, so that it would never go hungry and never cry again.”
“There you go, see, I’m feeding him. He’s drinking his milk and he’s quiet. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
These were not the family scenes we imagined mere months ago; Jan tried to nudge us in the right direction. He put one arm around my shoulder, kissed the top of my head and ran his fingers across my collarbone. 
“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to feel pressured, but …” his voice again accommodating that sterile, composed, pragmatic tone, “but it’s just that you’re his mother. You’re the only one who can feed him now. But I promise to take care of his food when he grows up a bit.” And he giggled as if this was all just a diet issue.
“You’re right. I’ll feed him and then I’ll lie down.” I had to work hard to manage the conciliatory tone. All fibres of my body remained aflame.

Nevertheless, I didn’t rest that afternoon. The baby’s demands intensified and it was constantly pushing towards my breasts. Tiny wounds were already appearing on my nipples, which leaked a couple of red droplets that mixed with milk while I was breastfeeding. They accumulated on the baby’s lips and then, when it made a face, ran down to its neck. The hallucinatory image was so enticing that I forgot to wipe them off. The baby’s bloody lips were the only truth that I could afford.
I walked around the house as if it were a museum of my former life. The baby always came between me and the objects. The porcelain cups, the pretty dresses, the stilettos, the cigarettes drying on the windowsill, none of this was meant for me anymore. I always hurried past the mirror in the hall, knowing that I couldn’t bear the moment of contact as it gazed into me. I didn’t respond to the phone calls of my mother, my sister and my friends, as I knew they’d expect me to be excited. I wrapped myself in silence, because my voice would break glass if I ever spoke. Whenever me and the baby slipped from Jan’s gaze, he’d call for me, checking what I was doing. He had lost control of his unease as well.
At night I sat with my back against the wall, staring at the naked, unmarked and attractive male body that had pushed the corrupt woman to the edge of the bed. In spite of my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. I gazed at Jan’s erections wishing to be their cause. I was overwhelmed by jealousy; I knew the place of every woman he dreamed of, but as soon as the baby cried, I realized that they were more powerful than I was. I belonged to a different order, an order that we mistakenly consider eternal. I had become substance, I had become love. Sitting on the bed, I silently dismembered myself; the legs, the arms, the neck, the back, the anus, the vagina, the hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the abdomen, the birthmarks, the scars, the scratches, the indentations, the stretch marks, all for one baby, a baby that would never change the world. Whose choice was it, I asked myself and felt the first tear running down my cheek. It was followed by others, cutting, gouging. They were no match for my despair and my aggrieved rage. They could only pour oil onto its fire.
When I failed to respond to the baby’s cries and leave the bed, Jan woke and admonished me, just like I often admonished him for snoring.  I rose and walked to the crib.
It seemed as if I’d walked for hours. I found myself standing above the crib in pale light. The baby writhed, its mouth was open wide, but the sound never reached me. I was falling in its maw, it was swallowing me like a black hole. I couldn’t feel the floor beneath my feet. The surroundings were dissolved and distorted. For a moment, I regarded the abstract image as if it were a guarantor of possibilities. The baby floated under my hands, the only things I could clearly feel were its warmth, the beating of its heart, the crease between its neck and chin. Its body a variation on our bodies, its history one of parasitism. Its heart beating faster and faster, its skin becoming feverishly sticky. I took a deep breath and held it. My fingertips were tingling. My fingers sunk into the silky soft folds of its tiny body and, reaching the bones, pushed against them. The black maw narrowed and eventually closed. The tiny bones of the baby’s body gave way like piano keys. I placed both my hands upon them. Above the fugue of fingers, breasts and palms, the light of my eyes went out. Every mother has to make concessions.
The silence was pierced by a terrible screaming. I felt a cold sharp breath on my shoulder, followed by a powerful push towards reality.
“Mila, what are you doing?!” Jan took the baby out of the crib and held it against his chest. He backed away to the opposite corner of the room. He was pale, bathed in cold sweat, his teeth chattered and his hands gently brushed the baby’s head. The baby hid its face, sinking into Jan’s chest. Jan’s legs were flimsy, he was held upright by horror. Nobody runs away from a mother, but he wanted to run.
“Mila …” the words stuck in his mouth, “what …?”

“… are you doing? Sleepless again, are you?” He grabs me under my right arm, pulling the left arm that still clings to the railing towards himself.
“Calm down. You’ll wake all your neighbours. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
I rub my palms against the baggy nightgown to make the tingling stop, but it just moves elsewhere. To the crease between my neck and chin. To my nose, my brow, my temples. He grabs me again, pressing my nervous arms against my sides. He leans over to find my eyes. Once our eyes find each other, he continues: “Shall we go for a walk? That usually helps you.” My head is spinning, I lean on the young man in white with almost all my weight. He unlocks the door of the room and a long hallway with yellow walls unfolds in front of us.
“Will Jan be here tomorrow?”
“No, Mila, I’m sorry, Jan won’t be able to come in tomorrow,” says the stuttering young man. He barely manages to intercept me when I collapse. We sit down on a bench. There’s nothing, nobody to be seen in the long yellow hallway. Only children’s cries echo from the walls, inconsolable, mournful cries.
“He’s taking care of his only son.”
“Yes, he’s taking care of him.” He smiles and turns towards me. It seems as if his smile takes me in its arms, telling me I’ve nothing to be ashamed of.


Translated by Jernej Županič.

Tanja Šljivar

Tanja Šljivar

Tanja Šljivar, born 1988 in Banja Luka, holds both a BA and MA degree in Dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, as well as an MA degree in Applied Theatre Studies from Giessen, Germany. She is the author of full-length plays How Much is Pate?, Scratching or How My Grandmother Killed Herself, We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About, But the City Has Protected Me, All Adventurous Women Do, Regime of Love and the short plays Stillborn, Self-Sacrificed and Europe – The Death of a Saleswoman which were published, publicly read and produced in professional theatres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Spain, Poland, Austria and Germany (Deutsches Theater Berlin, Schauspiel Stuttgart, Theater Dortmund, Theater Paderborn). She also writes short stories, radio plays, screenplays for short films and texts in theatre theory. Šljivar co-wrote the script for the full-length fiction film The Celts, directed by Milica Tomović. She won several awards for her playwriting, most recently the prestigious Sterija Award for the best contemporary play in Serbia, the MESS Market Co-production Award for All Adveturous Women Do in Bosnia, as well as the nomination for the 2017 Retzhofer Dramapreis for the same play in Austria. Her plays have been translated into over ten languages.





Aber die Stadt hat mich geschützt

1 The title of the play is a paraphrased quotation from Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden. This was filmed in Frankfurt-am-Main and the play takes place in the same city. I felt that it was nice and appropriate for the title to remain in German. Translated into English it would be “But the city protected me”. Fassbinder used the plural rather than the singular: “But the city protected us”

The action takes place in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. It takes place in Frankfurt am Main on the day that the new European Central Bank building is opened. And it takes place in Frankfurt am Main on the day of protests against everything that this phallic, glass forty-eight-storey building should represent, protests against grand concepts such as Capitalism, the Dictatorship of Capital, like Germany’s economic and political domination within the European Union. The city moves through the text and the text moves through the city. March in Frankfurt am Main is an idea which could change at any moment. The drama has five scenes. This should not be changed. 


2 This monologue is given at minute 79 of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden by the character J. Smolik, the chauffeur of Anton Saitz (with whom Elvira, before she was Elvira, was in love), who became wealthy through unlicensed construction, by purchasing and demolishing slums and building skyscrapers in Frankfurt am Main. The city of Frankfurt and its buildings and its then mayor and its streets and officials and police officers protected him in all of this. The quotation translates into English as: 

Previously no one had given him orders. Those were the times. We bought old houses and emptied them. It was pretty difficult at times. Believe me on this. But in general, we still always managed it. We would let the prices of these slums fall. And we would build anew. Skyscrapers in the main. And then sell them for a good price. Great. Sometimes there was some anger about this. That’s normal. People are envious. But the city protected us. 



Dramatis personae:

ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, a girl with cubic zirconia on her nails



Mr. Tesla

Sorin Ivascu

Iosif Stalin

And also MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT, 52, a businessman from Loznica

And also OLD MAN SAVO, 77, a pensioner, formerly an employee of IG Metall

And also NAOMI KLEIN, 44, who has come to Frankfurt from Canada, specially for the protest

And also a TV REPORTER

And also the squares, streets, traffic lights, skyscrapers, bridges, museums, river banks, river, Hauptbahnhof, zebra crossings, pavements, cafés, patisseries, Starbucks, art school, small museum on a bridge, park on the riverbank, horseshoes on café walls, planetrees, blue and white glass on the tall buildings, the blue Euro symbol with yellow stars on Willy-Brandt-Platz, the Yok-Yok kiosk and the 280 skyscrapers of Frankfurt (as CITY OF FRANKFURT)



The body of a naked girl, with cubic zirconia on her nails, is on lying on the pavement in front of the new European Central Bank building. TV Reporter, next to the body.


Standing next to the dead, naked body of this nameless, unidentified girl, next to this body on which only the cubic zirconia are still recognisable, we can safely say that we have proof that capitalism tramples over bodies, we have proof that capitalism leads to people dying, we have proof that capitalism always uses people’s deaths to accumulate capital. This girl’s head is shattered on the pavement, everything around her is blue and glass and tall. She too is blue with bruising, and her bones have been smashed to pieces as if they had been made of glass and scattered all over the pavement. The buildings around her are tall, but she is short. The monstrous buildings around her sparkle, the zirconia on her nails sparkle, albeit less brightly.




Željana the Waitress is on the roof of the European Central Bank, while everyone else is on the streets of Frankfurt.





From the air, my Sarajevo looks like a little dot of light and a heap of mud, while from the air my Frankfurt looks like a huge ball of light and a heap of asphalt. From up here, from one hundred and eighty-five metres, everything is simple and understandable. I have understood everything and made this decision myself. And I had someone to protect me. The city protected me. 



I burned, today I burned beautifully, most beautifully, I burned today, but I protected her. The protests are at no. 20 Sonnemannstraße, in front of the glass, blue forty-eight-storey building and in front of its forty-eight-storey sister. The protests are in front of the towers, almost like twins, the protests are at no. 20 Sonnemannstraße, very close to the flat and big and wide and beautiful river that is in my name, though my name is not in the river’s. 

They are walking along the streets in front of the Dom and Römer,

they are walking along the streets behind the old opera house,

they are walking along my beautiful, flat streets.

The protests are where eight police cars were set alight,

the protests are on Römerberg and in Innenstadt and in front of the Alte Oper

the protests are also in my flat, beautiful suburbs, where people have family lunches and set fire to HGVs

the protests are in my Sachsenhausen

and in my Bornheim, and in my Eckenheim, and in my Eschersheim, and in my Fechenheim.

The protests are on the Internet too.


Gas entire Israel

Fuck capitalism fuck communism


tremble America your end is near


love germany and its people, dignified


Tesla is like Kosovo = Serbian

Muslims smell like piss

Fuck entire universe


one big fantasy

and fuck this protests

they’re doing nothing

if you know where Frankfurt is

fuck you all religious pussies


any certain belief system is wrong, the banks are fooking you and your future up, and you are talking about allah, god, and other shit people don’t suck, just our worth system can suck


This is so sad instead of rioting and confronting the police, they should be rioting and confronting non-whites in Germany


Hitler caput!3


The demonstrators stink. Their armpits stink. And they stink because they have spent a long time travelling from other cities, by train, by bus, by car, by motorbike, by bike to reach me. And their crotches stink and they are torching me so that I too might stink, that I might stink of petrol and corpses and the carcasses of dogs, but it isn’t that easy. She alone is fragrant. For this occasion she bought her Magie Noire perfume in me and now she is shattered on my pavement; in all of me she alone is fragrant. 


I have a special message for the ECB today: YOU are the true vandals. You don’t set fire to cars. You set the world on fire.4 


My lorry, which says Miki Export-Import on the side, something that was then crossed out and the name Željana sprayed over it in pink, is burning, anything that is in me is mine, anything that ever touches me is mine, I remember this, I know this, anything that scratches me is mine, anything that ignites me is mine, anything that drops a cigarette butt on me is mine, anything that spits at me is mine, anything that builds me is mine. My lorry, which says Miki Export-Import on the side, underneath the word Željana, sprayed on in pink, is burning.

One part of me is smoking a cigarette

One part of me is called Miki

And says:


I said to myself, Miki, you’ll make it in the West. I said to myself, Miki, you’ll be the boss. I said to myself, just be strong-willed and that’ll be that. I said to myself, Miki, you’ll have fifteen lorries. I said to myself, you’ll have eighty-eight employees. They call me Miki. And I said to myself that I would call the company Miki after myself. When you see a lorry going past that says Miki on the side, you’ll know that’s mine. When I was little, everyone said to me, young man, the West is the promised land for you. When I set off, my mother sprinkled water after me for good luck. But there you go, this girl has screwed me over, and this fucking city has screwed me over. But whenever a lorry goes past and it says Željana in pink letters on its side, you’ll know that that’s also mine.5


We have a choice between democracy and capitalism!6


My Mercedes S-Class W220 is on fire. 

One part of me is burning. One part of me is burning beautifully, most beautifully.

One part of me is called Old Man Savo

One part of me is smoking a cigarette

One part of me says:


The fucking Germans have organised all this very well, everything going to clockwork. And I was good at organising the smuggling of this car. I brought the guy to the border, to us in Gradiška to get the customs done quickly. It had to be, I organised all this, all because of the girl, all she talked about was that car, like she was obsessed. But, fuck it, there you have it – she won’t get it.

I was at the protests too. I put on my Muji scarf that cost me 10 Euros in the Christmas sales and my Massimo Dutti jeans that cost 100 Euros, and a Massimo Dutti T-shirt with three little buttons down the back that cost 10 Euros in the sales, I was proud of that, and my Mona leather bag, I won’t say how much that cost, my shoes are also expensive, well, sort of, but they’re good quality, so I’ve worn them for five years and that means they don’t count. When there’s a bit of sunshine, like today, I put on my purple Trussardi glasses, about 150 Euros, that mum bought for me. With a value of nearly 900 Euros in clothing alone, I am standing on Hochstrasse and shouting, surrounded by other bodies generally wearing clothes that cost as much as my own, I am standing, shouting and singing A – ANTI – ANTICAPITALIST.


Those people, who are the same as me, who are in me, who are walking around me and marching and setting fires around me, who are singing in me, they hate all my skyscrapers, they hate all two hundred and eighty of my skyscrapers. But most of all, more than all that glass and steel and cement and concrete, most of all and above all else, they hate the European Central Bank.7

But she, she who is also me, she loves me, she cares for and caresses me. She stands on me, she stands on my building, the tips of her fingers tickle me and I laugh happily and the liquid from her hole falls on my building and is smooth and sticky and warm, and again I laugh happily. 

Eight police cars were torched in the protests, but two other vehicles were also torched, the police cars were torched in the city, but in the suburbs, my flat and beautiful suburbs, an HGV, a lorry which had Miki Export-Import written on the side, underneath Željana written in pink, and a Mercedes S-Class W220.

Why did they torch cars that were not police cars and that were not even in the city centre, that were their own private property, why did they torch something that didn’t belong to the state, something that belongs to them, and yet still belongs to Frankfurt am Main, why did they torch a lorry that says Miki Export-Import on the side, something that was then crossed out and then Željana sprayed over it in pink, a lorry that when I feel it on me, I know that it belongs to Miki, a businessman from Loznica, why did they torch the Mercedes S-Class W220, they torched it because they were desperate, they torched it so as not to torch themselves, they torched it to torch me, they torched it because she loves me more than them. 



Commerzbank Tower


Westendstrasse 1

Main Tower

Tower 185




Deutsche Bank I

Deutsche Bank II


Euro Tower

City House

Frankfurter Büro Center

Messe Torhaus

Japan Center

IBC Tower

Westhafen Tower




I took a long time choosing, I thought for a long time about which building I loved most, which building is the most beautiful part of what I love, which building could look most like Haris. From a height of one hundred and eighty-five metres, Frankfurt am Main looks like New York, Frankfurt am Main looks like Sarajevo, Frankfurt am Main looks like Haris, but most of all, Frankfurt am Main looks like me. The river flows like my blood, and all the lights on the tall buildings are like my eyes, and the pavements are like my skin, only softer, and the planetrees on Zeil8, in the wind, are like my hair. I am standing up here, and down there cars are burning, I am standing up here, and down there the little dots of people are protesting. I am naked and it is nice and everything is available to me and I myself decide on everything. 
I decide to jump.

3  All lines taken from the live-stream chat of the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt on 18 March 2015. The complete footage can be seen on:
4  Part of a speech by Naomi Klein at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Footage of the whole speech can be seen on:
5  Part of this monologue is taken from an audio recording of an interview I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend in Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is called STE-015.wav, recorded on 18 March 2015.
6  Part of Naomi Klein’s speech at the Blockupy protests.
7  The building that is symbolically (and literally, given its size) the thematic centre of this play is 185 metres tall, or 201 metres with its antenna, that was built in the architectural style of Deconstructivism a building whose construction cost approximately 1.4 billion Euros, and was designed by Coop Himmelblau, the building from which Željana the Waitress, the girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, jumped.
8  Shopping area in Frankfurt am Main, with beautiful rows of planetrees



Dramatis personae:
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, 22, a girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, she is mentioned, but she is not here, although she should be at work, she isn’t, and we saw earlier approximately where she is 
MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT, 52, a businessman from Loznica
and also GRANDFATHER 1, owner of a failed bra factory
and also GRANDFATHER 2, attempting artificially to stimulate his excitement
and also OLD MAN SAVO
and also YOUNG MAN 1
and also YOUNG MAN 2
generally all Bosnians
and of course, CITY OF FRANKFURT
The action takes place in the Gute Stute café, where Željana the Waitress, the girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, worked at the bar while she was alive. The subject of conversation among the regular patrons of the café is like a metaphorical Wachstum – the economic policy of growth, but in actual fact it is really Željana the Waitress. Furthermore, in keeping with Wachstum, everything in this scene is growing. The amount of alcoholic beverages being poured is growing. The amount of pressing of the colourful buttons of the slot machines grows. The desire for sex with the absent waitress in the café cellar grows. The skyscrapers of Frankfurt grow. And in Frankfurt, in the real Frankfurt, they grow daily. Whenever I come by train, I really can see with my naked eye how they are growing. The audience should also be able to see this on stage. If the skyscrapers could grow on stage in front of the audience, I would consider that fantastic work by the director or set designer.
Whether the growth is natural or artificially stimulated is less important in this scene. Thus money can be pumped into the European Union monetary system, old men can take Viagra so that their penises will grow, the buildings’ growth on stage can be some sort of optical illusion or video footage.
And yes everyone in the café is in love with Željana the Waitress, who is no longer here and will never be here again.
There are some parts of me that stink worse than a dog’s carcass or stale human urine, there are parts of me where dogs in the street eat human flesh, there are parts of me called Bahnhofsviertel, there are parts of me that stink of stables and the skin of immigrants. There are parts of me that I myself prefer not to look into, where only mares and idlers go, to warm each others’ hairy bodies. If I want, I can also take a good look at my arsehole here, a look at what oozes, fluid and stinking, every day from my bowels, and that isn’t money, and isn’t protests, and isn’t light or museums or skyscrapers or glass, if I want, I can also look into the Bosnian café Gute Stute10. I don’t check and I don’t understand everything in me, my ulcers and migraines, my haemorrhoids and infections, my inflammations and herpes and tumours and pus. I do not check my stables, but I can sense them and I can look at them. They eat meals that stink, and they munch on bean stew and pork ribs, they eat the peanuts that come free with beer, and they drink brandy. I have no idea how they entered me, and now they simply won’t leave. They entered me because they have been raped, set on fire, killed and someone who makes decisions about me, and I don’t know who that is, felt sorry for them and let them in and now I am food for them instead of their being food for me. They eat peanuts with pork ribs and dip my buildings in fat to make them easier to swallow and digest. But it won’t be that easy.
How’s it going in Frankfurt? How’s it going in Frankfurt? It’s good, we sleep until midday and go for a walk in the afternoon. We’re a team here. Anyone who has a business is doing well, anyone who doesn’t is a failure and that’s that. It’s good here, there are people here from all over the former Yugoslavia and no one meddles in any kind of politics, you see. I had a factory here, but I failed. I only sold bras and I failed completely. Trade. I had, do you know what I had? I had a designer from Sarajevo, but he didn’t do it well Women from thirty to eighty-five, that was my target group. I had a somewhat different plan. No lace, no silk, no black, only plastic and white and makes the tits bigger. I had a shop in the city. I had business. It went well, at first. I registered a growth in profits and then… then everything went tits up for me. Now the Krauts are giving me a sponsor for finances. Again the Krauts sub me for a bit, they give me a bit of Hartz IV11 a bit of this, a bit of that. Because you have to fail three times. I failed once, so I’ve got two more times to go. You have to fail three times and then they throw you out. Then it’s finished. So that’s how I failed, while I had my target group of women from thirty to eighty-five, I worked well, because they only want to have big tits, they don’t have to be firm or pretty, just has to be obvious that they’ve got ’em. And then I rushed into making a collection for this girl, black, silk, lace, with a hole over the nipple, I was really fooling around. And I didn’t advertise this well and I failed. And that was the first time I failed. The second time I failed was when I brought her the unique creation that I had the guy in Sarajevo make for her based on my instructions, with the nipples peeking out and two golden tassels hanging from each black cup, that’s what I imagined, but when she refused to accept this gift, the earth swallowed me up. And now I’m drinking brandy, waiting to fail for the third time, so that I can go back.12
Because today you’ve got Women’s Secret, you’ve got Yamamay, you’ve got Intimissimi, you’ve got Victoria’s Secret, you’ve got whatever you want. But no, the old man fell in love and wanted to go into competition which couldn’t work.
I’m an expert on the Balkans down there. Politics. Politics. Yes, politics is important, very important. I don’t work. It’s not right to work. No, no, it’s not right to work. You know, some people work, some people don’t work. That’s not right. It should be everyone. Either everyone should work, or everyone should not work.
How do I live? Well, a bit of this and bit of that. That’s how it’s been my whole life, here and there, and now I’m getting ready to go to Kuala Lumpur, and who knows where after Kuala Lumpur.
I’m A-grade material. I’m respectable, logical, realistic, 100 per cent.
It’s not fraud, it’s easy to commit fraud, you can always do a bit of this and that, and bit by bit that little initial stake grows into fraud. It was only with her that I couldn’t pull anything off. I tried everything. The suffering I went through for that girl… that’s God’s honest truth.13
I was at the strike in Bonn. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Twenty-five thousand people striking, for fuck’s sake. And then they set off down that street. All the workers were there. IG Metall from all over Deutschland. All the workers. We were all in Bonn. Oh I don’t know what year it was, damn it, it was, it was twenty years ago. But it shook the country. But those Krauts, how fucking organised are they? They come by train. Fucking trains coming in, trains picking us up from all parts of Germany. Train comes in, unloads, it just goes there, and another train is already rolling in. We were striking for a pay rise. Something like that. I think we got something like five percent. And now someone says that I’m supposed to go to these protests today. You know, for the opening of that huge building. And these protests have a Reihenfolge14. Like you’ve got a timetable. So, you’ve got a fucking timetable of where to gather, at what time, there’s no room for anything accidentally not going to plan. And then you’ve got those guys who torched the cars. I reckon that even that was according to a specific schedule. So it’s 15:04 and according to plan I set fire to the car that I wanted to give to her. She was always talking about how she fucking wanted a Mercedes S-Class W220, and like a fucking fool I buy her one, OK, I did some wheeling and dealing, the Montenegrin helped me, like all of them here in the café, we’re a team here, people know that, and our guy down in Gradiška did the customs and then there’s the fucking car outside the café, with a blue bow on the bonnet, and she’s not here.15
Old Man Savo sets fire to the Mercedes S-Class W220. Not as an anti-capitalist act of terrorism, but as the act of an enamoured old man who has gone soft in the head.
I bought a box of Viagra. It’s said that the Krauts are artificially stimulating market growth, and I’m artificially stimulating the growth of my cock. So, I’m sitting at the bar, and we all knew already that the girl was a little tipsy and that she was somehow in love with the city, we didn’t realise how, and fuck it, we didn’t know whether it was with Sarajevo or with Frankfurt, or with Sarajevo, what we miss in this city, what we had there, if there’s something of Sarajevo in Frankfurt, or nothing of Sarajevo in Frankfurt, or something of Frankfurt in Sarajevo. And that’s it. And then all of us, dead drunk, sang to her together.
Together we grew, oh city, you and I
The same blue sky gave us our verse
Under Trebević we dreamed our dreams
Who would grow quicker and who more beautiful.
You were already great, and I was born, 
From Igman, with a smile, you sent me a dream,
The growing boy fell in love with you then,
And here stays connected to his city.
Wherever I go, I dream of you
All roads lead me to you
I await your lights with longing,
Oh Sarajevo, my love.16
((Zajedno smo rasli grade ja i ti 
isto plavo nebo poklonilo nam stih 
ispod Trebevića sanjali smo sne 
ko će brže rasti ko ce ljepši biti 
Ti si bio velik a rodio se ja 
s Igmana uz osmeh slao si mi san 
dečak koji raste zavolio te tad 
ostao je ovde vezan za svoj grad 
Bilo gde da krenem o tebi sanjam 
putevi me svi tebi vode 
čekam s nekom čežnjom na svetla tvoja
Sarajevo ljubavi moja))
And she would grieve a bit, but it was nothing, there’d be brandy and beer on the table again, free peanuts, and we would grieve a bit too sometimes, and it was nothing. We’re a team here, everyone knows it, we don’t care.
Well, the old man managed to save for twenty years, back from the protests in Bonn when they raised his pay. He saved, saved, for a house, saved, saved, none of us knew for what, and after the girl started working here at the Gute Stute, since she was always going on about the Mercedes S-Class W220, we all learned by heart what her favourite car was, he told her that he would buy it for her and he stumped up all his money for that Mercedes S-Class W220. So he bought it and now the girl isn’t here. I gave her a gift too, to ward off the old man. I said to myself, I’ll call the company Miki after myself. When you see a lorry going past and it says Miki on it, you’ll know that it’s mine. Well, I crossed out my name on one of the lorries and wrote her name, I used a pink spray to write Željana. And when you see that, that’s mine too.
Miki Export-Import sets fire to the lorry that says Miki Export-Import, that has been crossed out and Željana written over it in pink spray. Not as an anti-capitalist act of terrorism, but as the act of an enamoured old man who has gone soft in the head.
I brought her a vibrator shaped like the European Central Bank, it’s a double vibrator, an awesome product, I found it in the Bahnhofsviertel, you get one that’s forty-five centimetres long and the other that’s forty-eight centimetres, and they can stay connected for, like double penetration, but you can separate them too. Since she’s not around, it’s left to us, so we’ll see what to do with it.
Well she was a strange one. It is what it is, fuck it.
And, as usual, since the waitress hasn’t been around for a while, the men, who have all in some way and for some time been really, truly in love with her, now that she hasn’t been around for such a long time, slowly begin to think and talk about other things.
All of us came for a month or two, to lay the foundations, the first tiles.
Some go back. Some don’t go back.
We’ll go back in a box.
I won’t be going back, not even in a box. The only way is maybe if they burn me and shove my ashes into that ECB vibrator so that the girl can at least benefit from me when I’m dead.
There are those among us who were born here, so you were born here, you’re a foreigner.
This is a country for thieves, for idlers, for shitheads.
You’re a nice, well I can’t say thief, I can’t say idler either, you’re something like Njeguš.17
Why am I here? I don’t speak German, and I’ve been here for eighteen years. I don’t speak, I don’t speak, I don’t speak, in fact, I have no desire to. And it’s superfluous.
Women. They come and go, and sometimes stay. There are women all over. Listen, I like men.
Well, that’s honest. There’s no shame in that.
There’s no shame in that. Women? I’ve had, I’ve had two or three of them, one of them turfed me out.
The last one turfed you out.
Not the last one. What do you mean the last one turfed me out? Come on, who could turf me out? This is how it was, when I was four, I didn’t listen to my father. From when I was four until now. There were lots of them, but only a few long-term relationships, only three. I wouldn’t turn around for the president. If Merkel were to come in, I wouldn’t turn around, but when that girl started working here, I stood up every time she approached the table bringing us beer. Out of respect. There you go.
You don’t speak German, but I passed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. I’ll say it again: I passed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
You’re invalidating marriages of two men or two women.
I’m only interested in black guys, I’m not interested in anything else, just black guys.
Well, each to his own, and you enjoy then, and that’s fine.
Of all of us here, no one works, apart from you.
They work, they work, there are people here who work.
You sleep until midday, and then go for a walk in the afternoon.
We’re all on benefits. We all have flats for free, we get money to live, there’s no country like this one.18
Now it no longer matters which of them is talking. They can all speak, and the lines can be assigned to the actors as the director wishes.
I entered on the sly
I was in the camps, raped, burned, killed, roundabout, and now asylum
When the war started, we all came, and at that time you didn’t need a passport or anything
Through the forest, over the hills somewhere
After one hill there’s another hill
Then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth hill
Then you get rid of your passport when you arrive, they can’t send you back, they don’t know where you are
They wanted to send him back to Kosovo
And him back to Bosnia
You can stay, you can leave, it’s all the same, it’s your decision
Listen to me, don’t leave under any circumstances
And after the eighth hill there’s a dump with as much paper as you like
This one here is an Abgeordnete, what d’you call it, a representative of Herzegovina
They didn’t let me into from there
But now that I’ve got in, I won’t ever leave again
I await your lights with longing
Oh Frankfurt, my love19
9   Quotation taken from an unsigned text on an Ökologische Linke party flyer which I obtained at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Translated into English: In capitalist centres low growth is currently stimulated artificially by the central banks flooding the market with cheap money.
10  In English: Good Mare
11  Translator’s note: Long-term unemployment benefit
12  Parts of a monologue taken from an audio recording of an interview that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
13  Ibid.
14  Translator’s note: Sequence, order
15  Parts of a monologue taken from an audio recording of an interview that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
16  Song lyrics taken from, the whole song by Sarajevo songwriter Kemal Monteno is available at
17  Old Man 2 says Njeguš, but clearly means Petar Petrović Njegoš, the most significant Montenegrin poet, philosopher and statesman of the 19th Century.
18  All lines taken from interviews I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main, audio file: STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
19  95% of the lines are taken from the audio recording of interviews that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main, audio file: STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.


Die EZB versucht gegenzusteuern, indem sie noch mehr billiges Geld in den Markt pumpt.20
Dramatis personae:
CITY OF FRANKFURT, as before, omnipresent, although it says nothing in this scene.
MARIO DRAGHI, 67, handsome Italian, works in the Frankfurt multi-storey building against whose opening we are protesting today, he says only one thing in this scene
Mario Draghi is in the tall building. I see Mario Draghi, we all see Mario Draghi in photographs in the European dailies and weeklies, only ever wearing navy blue suits. Sometimes Mario Draghi decides to fool around and wears ties with psychedelic patterns. Mario Draghi absolutely never wears a topcoat or overcoat. Regardless of the outside temperature, Mario Draghi is never afraid of freezing. Mario Draghi orders and buys his suits from just one tailor. Mario Draghi has a briefcase, of course, but never ever an overcoat or topcoat. Mario Draghi is looking out of the glass windows of the new European Central Bank building, he is looking from the forty-seventh floor, he is looking at Frankfurt, at the street, at the river, at the ditch, at the barbed wire security fence. Mario Draghi watches the cars burning on the streets and watches how, in the buildings, cheap money is being pumped into the European Union’s monetary system.
But on this occasion, surprisingly, Mario Draghi is not wearing a navy blue suit. Mario Draghi is wearing a bathrobe, and says just one thing.
Within our mandate the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the Euro.21
In fact, he adds one more thing.
And believe me, it will be enough.22
He says this and the deflation of the Euro stops immediately. J. L. Austin called this speech act theory: Said – Done.
He slides off his bathrobe. He gets into the Jacuzzi. Hot water is pumped into the Jacuzzi, which has been delivered from Mario Draghi’s homeland, and massages his body, hot money is pumped into the European Union monetary system and massages us all, and we do not know where that comes from. The only thing stopping Mario Draghi from relaxing is a naked woman’s body falling past the glass window of the forty-seventh floor. Mario Draghi, in surprise, is slightly sick into the Jacuzzi. But the water and money keep being pumped in.
20  Quotation taken from an unsigned text on an Ökologische Linke party flyer which I obtained at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Translated into English: The European Central Bank is trying to counteract this by pumping more cheap money into the market.
21  Speech by Mario Draghi at the Global Investment Conference in London on 26 July 2012, following which the deflation of the Euro was partially, temporarily halted.
22  Ibid.


In a Downtown Athletic Club the Skyscraper is used as a Constructivist Social Condenser: a machine to generate and intensify desirable forms of human intercourse.23
Dramatis personae:
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, we have met both of them in the previous scenes
I won’t look for Bistrik or Višnjik or Vratnik or Kovači or Čengić Vila or Pofalići,24 I won’t look for them in Hauptwache or Ostend or Bornheim or Eckenheim, or Eschersheim or Fechenheim25 either. All I’ll look for is a Mercedes S-Class W220.
I don’t need to look for anything inside myself, I just need to take a look at myself and see three cities, and then many more cities, to see Manhattan and Istanbul and Paris, the sadder parts, when it’s raining, and when it’s not, I am my stinking Bahnhofsviertel and I am my parochial Innenstadt and I am Lloret de Mar and I am the towns they talk about, ones I cannot even pronounce; I am Čelinac, Prjnavor, Celje, Prijepolje, Banja Luka, Zvornik. 
We rolled around groping in the VW Golf that Haris used to pass his driving test and where I lost my virginity and all that he could say when he caught his breath was “I have to go to Germany and earn enough to buy myself a Mercedes S-Class W220”.
There are at least 32,874 Mercedes in my garages and on my streets.
He pulled my hair and said fuck this scratched and battered Golf, fuck it a hundred times more than I’d fuck you. I want to drive a Merc into the yard. And all I could think was how my head hurt because he was pulling me and my jaw was about to explode, and I just stayed quiet or moaned – I can’t quite remember now.
Sometimes the wind pulls up tress from my pavements, but I keep quiet or I moan – I can’t quite remember now.
Then he dislocates my jaw, then I scream, that I know for sure, and all the time he’s in me, and it’s both beautiful and ugly. I couldn’t get out of the Golf now, even if I wanted to.
Then they say, austerity measures. They trash my jaw, and it’s both beautiful and ugly. I couldn’t leave myself now, even if I wanted to.
Then he pinches my little tits, and even he doesn’t know what he wants any more, and they get bruised, and then again he says only one thing, when he catches his breath, that he has to go to Germany and earn money to buy himself a Mercedes S-Class W220.
When the rain is pouring down my streets, over my stomach, even I know that everything will be all right again, that the fire that torched each police cares and torched the Mercedes S-Class W220 and the van that says Miki Export-Import on the side, with that crossed out and Željana sprayed in pink over it, will be extinguished.
And then he disappeared. No one could find him in Sarajevo any more. I knew that he had gone to get the Mercedes, that cocksucking Mercedes, and we could have done everything in the Golf.
I will never disappear, when there is nothing, there will still be my buildings and the trees that grow out of them and it doesn’t matter what else there is.
How did I get up to  the roof here? How did I get here? It doesn’t matter how I got here, what matters is that I am here now. I gave a start whenever I saw a Mercedes S-Class W220. And I realised, for fuck’s sake, maybe he’s not in Frankfurt, maybe he was fucking with me. And I got a job in a café and thought constantly about what he said, and continued to think: I have to go to Germany and earn money to buy myself a Mercedes S-Class W220. 
If we haven’t realised it yet, Željana the Waitress and Frankfurt am Main are just about to have sex on the roof of the new European Central Bank building.
It’s a challenge to be truly intimate with a public structure, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.26
Haris had one cock.
Frankfurt am Main has at least two hundred and eighty of them.
And Željana has chosen one, the European Central Bank, which enters her, she is so moist and capacious.
Željana cums. Frankfurt absolutely doesn’t – we probably wouldn’t survive that. Željana stands on the edge of the roof. Željana’s right foot and then her left go over the edge. Željana falls, but to her and to us it looks as if she’s flying. And Frankfurt am Main, like every man, carries on as before.
The naked body touches my asphalt. Her nipple splits on something bulging out of me. I feel that just as much as I feel those who are marching around me and carrying banners that read:
Kapitalisten aller Länder enteignet euch!
Troika Kolonial!
Sie retten die Welt zu Tode!
Austerity kill, stop it.
Ich bin nichts
Ich kann nichts
Gebt mir Uniform
Kapitalismus geht über Leichen.
And here, those protesting against capitalism walk over the corpse a naked girl, almost without noticing her.
The all think and say together:
Let’s take the party over.27
Of course, the City of Frankfurt is also invited to the party.
All together they think and say something that is not written on a single banner:
Frankfurt am Main is being fed by the crisis. And we, its citizens, are also food for it.
It’s nice to be chewed.
It’s nice to be soaked in spit and chomped on.
It’s nice to be in the concertinaed dark intestines.
It’s nice to be swallowed and digested.
And if the naked girl could think and speak now, she would say:
How nice it is to be dead.
23  Rem Koolhaus, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, The Monacelli Press, New York, 1978.
24  Suburbs of Sarajevo.
25  Suburbs of Frankfurt.
26   Quotation from a documentary on sexual behaviour  labelled as objectophilia, where women fall in love with large public objects, Married to the Eiffel Tower, screenplay and direction by Agnieszka Piotrowska, 2008.
27  All lines taken from banners carried by demonstrators at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015.


The City of Frankfurt is on stage. It is the eighteenth of March two thousand and fifteen, and night has fallen. Frankfurt shimmers and flickers and sparkles and shines and glows and glimmers and gleams, as if nothing has happened in it today. In the centre of the stage is a river, large and flat. The river is in the name of the city. The city is not in the name of the river. There are three cities within the city. There are many more other cities in the city, but the first and almost sole Frankfurt, the Frankfurt of skyscrapers, as always, shimmers and flickers and sparkles and shines and glows and glimmers and gleams the brightest of all the Frankfurts. Lights flicker in the windows of the tall buildings. The lights flicker from the Europaturm, from the Commerzbank Tower, from the Messeturm, the lights flicker from Westendstrasse 1, from the Main Tower, from Tower 185, from Opernturm, the lights flicker from the Taunustrum, from the Silberturm, from Deutsche Bank I, from Deutsche Bank II, the lights flicker from Skyper and from the Euro Tower. The lights flicker through the glass blue and white windows, and through the windows we can also see the small heads of the big people deciding what they would like to do with us. It would be nice if the amount of electricity needed to make Frankfurt am Main, in Hesse, in Germany, shimmer and flicker and sparkle and shine and glow and glimmer and gleam at night could be brought to the stage and for the stage to sparkle like Frankfurt, for the stage to sparkle like the place that all the characters in this drama imagined as a paradise before they came to it.
With most of the characters whom we know from the previous scenes who are all Frankfurt am Main already.
I said to myself, you’ll do everything, but you’ll make it in the West.
Austin’s speech act theory is not as easily applied to the Bosnians in Frankfurt. In their case said does not also mean done.
I shimmer. I flicker. I sparkle. I shine. I gleam. I glimmer. I glow.
And believe me, it will be enough.
I shimmer and flicker and sparkle.
The Germans know how to organise everything.
I shimmer and flicker.
Listen to me, never leave here under any circumstances.
I shimmer.
Pause. The city is flat and beautiful.
From the air, my Sarajevo looks like a little dot of light and a heap of mud, while from the air my Frankfurt looks like a huge ball of light and a heap of asphalt. While I am falling from the forty-eighth floor, I know that I am going to myself, going inwards, going to what I came from. As I pass the forty-seventh floor, I see a naked man in a Jacuzzi, vomiting. As I pass the thirty-ninth floor, the wind whistles its hardest. As I pass the twenty-fifth floor, I scratch part of his building’s glass, and I feel as if I have touched myself on the stomach and navel. As I pass the seventeenth floor, I remember when I was seventeen in the Golf in Bistrik with Haris. As my cheek touches the concrete I know that we will always be together, I, a spot of blood and he, the ball of light. I enter him and he enters me and it’s no longer clear who is the man and who the woman, nor who has the bulge and who the hole, nor who controls whom, nor who is insecure with whom, nor who is shy nor who did whom first or more. We simply become one, forever and only one, we become one, and we shimmer, flicker, sparkle, shine, gleam, glimmer and glow like a huge ball of light, Haris, Frankfurt am Main and I.
And there is Željana on the pavement. She has disappeared and is not there. She has escaped from Hartz IV assistance, from Aufenthaltstitel28, from paying for ARD and ZDF, from extending her visa, from submitting requests, from electronic residence permits, from online banking, from TAN numbers, from university module codes, from her electronic library membership card, from paying commission on SEPA payments in the European Union, from group health insurance, from tax numbers, from the number on her Bosnian passport which broke, but which somehow can still be used for travel, from her Stud.IP portal number, from her students’ forum code, from electronic access to everything. And here am I, still in Frankfurt, and I have to contend with all this, to bear this for a long, long time to come. 
I burned a little today. Only a little bit did I burn, and this was the exception, and I sparkled a whole lot today, and this was, as always, the rule.
The city burned. But the city protected us. The city is now sparkling, and the city always guards us.
I flew from him to him. But the city protected me.
28  Translator’s note: German residence permit

Translated by James Cook

Nikola Nikolić

Nikola Nikolić

Nikola Nikolić, born 1989 in Podgorica, is a Montenegrin novelist, short-story writer, essayist, journalist and the artistic director of the Podgorica International Book Fair. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Montenegro and his Master’s thesis examined with phenomenon of collaborationism during the Second World War.His published works include the novel Čvor (2011), a second novel Meandar (2014), and a book of short stories Atakama (2016). His short stories have been published in local and regional literary magazines. In 2017, he won the ‘Bihorska Venera’ short story prize

Dijana Matković

Dijana Matković

Dijana Matković, born 1984 in Novo Mesto, is a Slovene author, translator, journalist and editor with a degree in Comparative Literature. In 2013 she published her first book, a short story collection titled In the Name of the Father (V imenu očeta) and is currently working on a book of essays and novel. She established and edited Airbeletrina and Državljanska odgovornost (Civil responsibility). She edited and contributed as a translator to Antologija tesnobe (Anthology of Anxiety, 2016), a book on anxiety with essays written by writers from Slovenia and other countries from the former Yugoslavia and was also an editor of Antologija svetlobe (Anthology of Light). As a journalist and author, she has contributed articles to Delo, Dnevnik, Mladina, Literatura, Le Monde Diplomatique, Pogledi, Airbeletrina and others. She organizes public discussions and tribunes about media, culture and society and has translated authors such as Danilo Kiš, Andrej Nikolaidis, Ognjen Spahić and many others.





The Return


I have been here for a few months now, in this house that, before my arrival, before I started talking to it, before I thoroughly cleaned and renovated it, wanting to also restore and cleanse it of all the bad things that used to happen here, had long stood desolate and abandoned. I have still not processed in my mind how I have come to once more be at the epicentre of all that I was terrified of as a child. Back at the bottom of the hill that casts a shadow over the vineyards which only ever produce sour wine, back in the four streets of the place where I was born, streets extending along the river like the veins of some small rodent, a rat perhaps. Back among the same people, even more exhausted than they were when I last saw them. Here, where I have been sent by anonymous commentators – ‘Go back to where you came from!’ – whenever my words happened to tread on some sore point.

I ponder over the degree to which I chose this rural withdrawal myself and how far my return was inevitable. I am aware of the human tendency to create narrative meaning, stories with which we nurture the illusion of free will and of forging our own path. Stories with which we reduce all the moments that have come before and the circumstances that surrounded them, eventually bringing us to the present juncture, to a superficiality of the I-am-exactly-where-I-should-be kind. Even worse, we believe this banality has a spiritual dimension. That we are on some kind of ‘path,’ created exclusively for us. Life is no path; we are going nowhere, not progressing towards anything (apart from death). Progress is the logic of markets, not human lives; we humans just are. Sometimes in better, other times in worse circumstances. To survive, however, we tell ourselves, and in conformation also to others, stories about our lives – as if weaving a blanket with which we can cover ourselves at night so we can fall asleep. And so I returned to the place of my birth so that I could write in peace. That is my narration, my own creation of purpose.

Beyond the narration are the facts, which are more difficult to live with.

It’s a fact that I did not as much leave town as it was the town that, with its impossible cost of living in combination with an unlucrative field of work, closed the door on me, pushed me back to the periphery. Towns are places that need no kind of fence or walls to eject from their centre any unwanted population, those with weak purchasing power. The barrier is invisible but effective: high rents and living costs alone act as gatekeepers.

It’s a fact that it is practically impossible to step out of the social class into which you were born (in my case a working class marked by immigration, poverty, lack of education and all their psychopathologic consequences), bolstered by numerous factors, not least by the individual’s tendency to recreate their home surroundings or rather their inability to sever their bonds with them. To put it differently: even if a series of unbelievable events, persistence, talent etc. lead to the rare opportunity with which one might change their life and drag themselves out of the misery of a constant survivalist mode of operation, the possibility that one will recognise and comprehend the opportunity is remarkably small. The experience of ontological inferiority prevents people from functioning in changed circumstances, generally leading to ignominious failure, regardless of how excellent the opportunity.

It’s a fact that my incapability of suppressing what I have seen within the toxic, discouraging or simply pointless working environments which I have encountered in town, and with it also an inability to enter into compromises, could lead nowhere but to a withdrawal of one kind or another from the world which I, prior to getting to know it, thought was real and one in which I belonged. Once I also began to recognize the pattern of activity at the systemic level – pointless reproduction of much of the same within the context of the rat race where there is no space for talent, innovation, common good – I could no longer bear it. I stopped participating. I stopped producing. I simply stopped. And, for a person with no backing, stopping is enough to set in motion a rapid downward slide. You no longer play along? You no longer believe? There’s the door.  – This is, if we listen out carefully, the mantra of the so-called free market that purports to be ethical at its core.

It’s a fact that I do not even belong to the world that I ran away from as a teenager and to which I have returned all these years later. I did not fit into the place of my birth when I was growing up, nor do I fit in it now that I am more equipped than then to figure out why shop keepers and bank clerks give me suspicious looks.

My position – the one I have chosen or that has, more probably, befallen me – is one of a person in between. Of one looking out from between the panes of glass of a double, Russian window; into the space where I happen to be at a given moment and out beyond it. And as I am neither here nor there, as I am nowhere, I am everywhere. From here I can observe better, see better. At least that’s what I’d like to believe.



Christmas Eve. My sister calls me from England, worried that I am ‘alone today’. “How interesting,” she soon establishes, “I called to offer you some consolation and here you are, consoling me.”

“Of course,” I reply. “You’re among people.”



Who are you and where are you going, what is your true calling, your mission? What makes you happy? These clichés, kitsch you come across even by only slightly opening the door to the world, serve not what they purport, they do not create truths and meanings, instead their function is to direct us towards a narrowly apportioned effectiveness and partial usefulness for those who drive the system – in return for an enslaved life. The purpose of this quasi-spiritualised kitsch is primarily to conceal the truth. It conceals the fact that the search for personal conceptualisation is intended for the poor, the workers – the well-off are allowed to just live.

With property in the village, even if I am penniless most of the time, I have a privilege similar to the privilege of the well-off – an attained space in the world that is not conditional on what I create. I can simply be in this world without owing anything to it for my existence. Even more – as I’m no longer playing along, I don’t need to nod, shake my head or reach my hand out anywhere and to anyone. I don’t need to go along with anything. And I don’t. I no longer cater to clubs of a common denominator, I no longer go for ‘positive alignment,’ for ‘self-fulfilment’, for ‘let’s go, just a little more, let’s tighten our muscles,’ for ‘you need to exploit potential,’ and least of all for ‘sometimes you need to so something just to pay the bills.’ I simply no longer play along. I doze. Repose. And rhyme. Mostly I rhyme. Probably because beside myself and those like me, only rhymes are more redundant. Probably because the world doesn’t give a fuck about rhymes just as I don’t give a fuck about a world in which you are worth only what you can produce and spend.



January. I ask a writer colleague to write a contribution for the Anthology of Light (my editorial work being a rare arrangement bound to the outside world that I have maintained after my move). A few days later he sends me a piece with a simple hypothesis –‘happiness is not thinking about things’– that he elaborates on over two scenes, one of which talks of a holiday trip to some exotic islands, when, writes my colleague, sitting on the boat, he has no thoughts and no angst. Perhaps this is happiness, he contemplates.

“The essay you sent me,” I tell him, “is written from a privileged position.”

“What’s wrong with privilege?” he objects. “Are you saying that simply writing from a privileged position is bad by its very nature?” he says. 

“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with privilege as such,” I reply. “But don’t let your privilege to send holiday postcards into your essays.”

He disappointed me, my writer colleague. By carrying out the task that petty bourgeois literature has in society – that of consolidating the idea of permanency and continuity of the familiar – he represents part of the problem, not a solution. By stopping at half the step. By stopping at half the step in life as well.

“But there is no exit, there’s no freedom, it doesn’t exist,” he told me when I articulated the problem I had with him.

I used to support him, but then… then I began reading more carefully, seeing things more clearly and, accordingly, became more and more radical, increasingly uncompromising.

“Of course there’s no freedom and no exit,” I tell him. “Just as there’s no safety and no stability for which you sacrifice freedom. What matters though is what you set out towards.”




A friend of mine concluded that I was suffering from agoraphobia when she read my piece on my trip from the village into town on which, after weeks of silence in isolation, the first person I came across had a serious case of verbal diarrhoea, a person whose raw existence is the embodiment of violence and an aesthetic crime that I could not, however escape – as we shared the ride – so I reacted with a panic attack. My friend’s conclusions are mistaken; for it to be a case of agoraphobia I should have a fear of open spaces, but it is not so. What I have a fear of are the people who inhabit spaces, and even that is not quite accurate, for I do not have a fear of people in general, but only people who are aggressive, wicked, obtuse. What scares me is the absence of reason with individuals (who like very much to connect into groups), who are not in touch with themselves or what is happening around them. And I am not only afraid of them when I find myself in their midst.

Long nights in the village between November and February; I am afraid of a situation where this absence of reason of theirs invades my world, after they discover that we do not match, when it detects what I think of them, when it locates the last sanctuary of common sense where I have found refuge. The absence of reason and with it a sudden irruption of violence that excludes me from the dominant equation of a world that is not made to my measure but that of the measure of the obtuse majority, that is what I fear.

I console myself with the thought that I am of no interest to anyone. My little prayer, even though I know not who it is intended for, contains a single plea: that the world would leave me alone.

Something is happening to me after the age of thirty. I see people more distinctly, they shine like a naked blade, I write in a novel in the making. When I look at them I see pain, but more often also what is missing; a severed connection and a greyness that forecasts even darker shades for the future of human existence.

An open, empty space? No problems. Quite the opposite. Open emptiness is what I long for.



I want to rest. I want to read on the balcony for as long as it takes, walk up a hill for as long as it takes, potter around with the soil for as long as it takes for all that is superfluous to drop away, all that I have accumulated over my years in town and probably even before. Beginning with fear, with a lot of fear. In the village I am alone, so I take care of everything myself, even fear. I know how to do that, I am adept at that. Creating stories from nothing. “Only humans are capable of that,” says my sister. “A horse, for example, will not make up some story and then jump back – boowhah, what’s this??” But my sister newer saw the horses that, after someone had attacked them with an axe, something that, to the delight of the outraged masses, the media reported on for at least a month, recuperated at the Veterinary Faculty close to where I used to live. There were two of them, beautiful, with coats that glistened in the sun when they moved their slender muscles, gracious creatures – with deep lacerations on their faces. If you approached them, and I once went right up to the fence, they twitched nervously and moved to the far end of the enclosure. After what they had been through, the horses had also become masters of creating stories ‘from nothing.’



It is spring. My trees are budding. All that pushes below the surface simultaneously opens upwards.

“Don’t give up, Dijana,” an acquaintance says to me. “In our neck of the woods women don’t give up either.” The commonplace is made of Teflon, nothing but another commonplace ever sticks to it. No real emotion, no thoughts, no song, no Nobody in the making. I give myself to reading, into tradition. I give myself to a room of my own with a door that seals well. I give myself entirely, under the skylight (that terrifying skylight!) through which the stars shine on clear nights, from Major to Minor, yoked to the Plough. I am the gap for Danilo, Virginia, Aleš, Boštjan, Felix, Marko, Thomas, Sylvia, Oscar, Gregor to reach through – all who did not like the outside world because they did not need it. Or it was the other way around. I give myself to the exit towards the balcony, facing the river, high enough that I do not need to be communal, low enough for the postman to pass me any parcel over the top of it. There are two postmen in our area, but only one motorbike with which they push their way up the hill. One of them never says anything, which is good, the other kindly addresses me by my name, which is nice. “Dijana, a little book for the holidays for you,” he says.

Recently people have all been calling me by my name, perhaps because I have given it up to anyone who might want to do something with it.

I unwrap the packing of the little book that has just arrived, removing all that is redundant, and read, read, read.

Rade is gone*, they write.

Now we can start getting to know each other, I think.

I am becoming a beating core, a crossroad traversed by numerous suns.

Give it all you have.

This has only just begun.





*Rade Krstić, Slovene poet (1960-2018)




Translated by Gregor Timothy Čeh

Igor Angjelkov

Igor Angjelkov

Igor Angjelkov, born 1974 in Skopje, graduated in Interdisciplinary Journalism Studies and completed his master’s degree in Media and Communications at the Iustinianus Primus Faculty of Law of the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He writes literature, music and film reviews for numerous Macedonian magazines.

In 1996 his first self-published book was published under the pseudonym Angel Gorski. His official debut as a writer was in 2006 with the short story collection Krotki Prikazni, the first domestic author to be published in the Macedonian literary edition PROaZA. His stories have been published in various Balkan literary magazines and his novels Kraj-pat (2010) and Foto sinteza (2013) have been very well received, leading to further editions.

Photo by: Maja Nedeva

Anja Golob

Anja Golob

Anja Golob, born 1976 in Slovenj Gradec, studied Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana and worked as a theatre critic for twelve years, mainly publishing for the newspaper Večer and has also written around 750 theatre reviews. She has so far published seven books of poetry – three in Slovene, a reprint of all three collections in a single volume, two in German translation, and one in collaboration with Nikolai Vogel. Selections of her poems and other texts have appeared in numerous magazines. Her second and third books were both awarded the Jenko Award (2014 and 2016), a literary prize for the best collection of Slovene poetry published over the previous two years. 

She works as poet, writer and translator. In 2013 she co-founded a small publishing house Vigevageknjige, where she is now the chief editor. It specialises in publishing Slovene translations of graphic novels for both children and adults. She also occasionally still works as a dramaturge for contemporary art and dance performances. She lives between Maribor and Brussels.

Portrait by: Ute Helmbold

Marija Pavlović

Marija Pavlović

Marija Pavlović, born 1984 in Leskovac, is a Serbian writer. She has written short stories (American Dream, Discopolis, Disco Inferno, All Is in Line), a theatre piece The Strange Case of Mrs Jekyll and Dr Hyde (performed as an audio-visual performance in the Cultural Center Parobrod in Belgrade), a poetry collection (Imperatives), a book of short stories Horror Stories of Everyday (2014) and a novel titled 24 (2018). Pavlović has participated in regional festivals and initiatives, such as the short stories festival Kikinda Short, the UN project Writers for the Future, implemented in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Montenegrin Literary Festival and the programme Neighbourhood Bound organised by the association KROKODIL. Her story Rapid Euro Movement has been translated into Hungarian and published in the anthology of contemporary Serbian literature Hogyan legyél mesterlövész? / How to become a sniper?. With the support of the association KROKODIL and the Swedish Institute in Serbia, she participated in the literary residency on the island Gotland in Sweden, during which time her story Memoirs of Ptolemy Tenia Solium III was translated into Swedish. She lives and works in Berlin, where she is completing a PhD degree in Comparative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič, born 1979, is a Slovene writer and literary translator of English and French with a BA in Translation Studies from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana. She first worked as an in-house translator at an agency, but has been freelancing as a translator since 2007. Among her translated authors are Khaled Hosseini, Julie Otsuka, Jeet Thayil, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., John Boyne, Mircea Eliade, Marie-Aude Murail, Jacqueline Raoul-Duval and many others. In 2016, she published two collections of her own short stories, Težkomentalci (Heavymetallers) and Bojne barve (War Colours). Težkomentalci was nominated Best Debut Book of the year, while Bojne barve was nominated Best Short Story Collection of 2016 at the Novo Mesto Short literary festival. Topics covered in her poetry range from psychiatric hospitals to LGBT issues. Her latest book was published in 2018 and is a novel entitled Vija vaja ven (Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe) dealing with the theme of new-age healers and sects.







Where’s That Written? 

“No, thanks. I take pills in the morning at home and I’ve had enough for the time being. It’s what the doctor and I agreed on. I’ve already taken them today,” I explain at the doctor’s office.
“Take this. It’s what the doctor ordered. Here. Now.” She looks straight up into my eyes, but since she’s a few heads shorter she perches her hand on her hip and looks peevish.
“Just ask him,” I reply.
“So you would just ask him, eh?” Nurse Leopoldina looks around contemptuously, her gaze triumphantly sweeping over the clinic where the doctor is nowhere to be seen. “Know what? We won’t trouble him. It’s written right here. Seroquel, 600 mg. You’ll take it here and now, and then off to the group you go. End of discussion.” She hands me a cup of water and mutters, “You always have to be something special. You, you, it’s always you.”
This jolts me. Envious or sneering authority is something I don’t trust. I hold the cup of water in one hand, the pill in the other, but something in her voice indicates derisive, enormous anger at me for my not wanting to be a moulded patient. The nurses would be writing up the therapy themselves, wouldn’t they? – to take revenge on me? But they can’t do that, can they?
“I’m not taking it,” I say and try to sound conciliatory. She calls the doctor and it’s obvious I’ve gotten on her nerves. “Yes, Doctor. She doesn’t want to take it. Yes, but if she refused! She says she’s not taking it. I don’t know what to do with her,” moans Leopoldina into the phone, while the other two nurses look on in commiseration. Defiance is always unwelcome in the ward, which is why I, standing by the dispensary counter, am beginning to feel that my only joy today is souring the life and career of well-intentioned people.
He pops up with suspicious alacrity, as if he had anticipated my revolt. That’s not what we agreed on, I say. I’ve told you a hundred times that Seroquel makes me faint, I say. What’s the need for it now? I say. Do you really need the statistical data that much? I say. There’s no need for it whatsoever, I say.
He watches and measures me in silence, then coldly snaps, “If you don’t take this pill right this minute, there may be catastrophic consequences for your whole family.” His voice is that of a radio announcer, his eyes a pressure drum. That’s all he says and as I’m coming to terms with the long-term effects of his statement, I realize that I never had an ally in him. The entire white team is in on this massive betrayal, and together they are forcing my hand up to my mouth. Some are helping with gazes, others physically. First they lift my pill-hand, then the one with the cup. I’m turning into a robot. I’m regretful. I think I have tears in my eyes when I swallow. “Say ah.” Seriously? Don’t we know each other well enough? They repeat the command. “Say ah. Come on, quick. The group’s about to start.” I say ah and now I’m really crying. The tears are gushing, even I don’t know where from, as I tamely move over to the room for groups. I can feel that they’re hot and that my skin is cold, and I’m reflecting on how I managed to be so delusional about mutual respect. Only one nurse looks at me with compassion, everyone else is joyous at having crushed me. Only one sits down beside me and remains calm, never looking me straight in the face. Only one can muster up the decency not to stare into my tears but just to let me breathe. Maybe they also pay her, and only her, solely to watch over me.
The group is off and running and everything is as it was before. I can’t follow because I’m expecting an assassination, insofar as one can even be on the lookout for an ambush. The Seroquel strikes for the first time, my back breaks out in goose bumps. Chills. This is something I recognize. I’m shuddering with the thought that I might die since I’ve already taken a double dose this morning, and on top of that also various other types of pills. It occurs to me that they’re out to destroy me, that they’re getting rid of me for the sake of peace in the group. I’m hissing too much, that’s what it is, I’m poking my nose too far into the system. Oh fuck, they’re gonna get rid of me, sweet Mother of God, they’re gonna…, this is it, I’m tripping out. And immediately after, the voice of reason, which is not actually a voice but a screaming thought, says: No, no, get a grip on yourself. I tell myself that I’ve just strayed off the path a bit, otherwise I’m not sick, no matter what they say. There’s nothing I’ve got they can heal with pills. There’s no medicine for me.
At this moment I see myself, from below the ceiling, how I’m setting in motion “catastrophic consequences for my whole family,” and I bash my fist against the chair and stick the index finger of my other hand into my mouth to make me puke out the foreign object. I gag and there follows an entire uproar as the common folks all gawk at me, and the personnel begins to prance around me in a rhythm dictated by gagging. If I didn’t know I’d done that myself and in anguish, for sure I’d be thinking: Look at her, what an attention-whore. She’ll do anything just to get their attention. What’s with all the theatrics? I have no idea what should be done after all this when I’m crouched in the middle of the circle. Though I’m doubled over, there’s no vomit. When the only nurse approaches me and starts to rub my back so I can feel her soft chest and the promise of a secure lap, I decide that this was a bad idea. I race over to the sink, which by sheer chance is on the wall just behind the doctor’s back, to put my hand under the cold water and wake myself up from this creepy dream the pills have lulled me into. One little pill and all this uproar.
They rush over to me and grab me. Only then do I realize what it must have looked like, what my “attack” must have looked like to the doctor. Because I’m tall, at first I can shake them off, and I howl: “I just need the sink!” But they’re already back, these gadflies. I can feel the room’s gazes upon me, some of them urging me on, even cheering for me, and some staring smugly at me as if to say didn’t we already knew there’s something seriously wrong with her. I don’t care, slackers, we’re all inside here and it’s time for us to start behaving like it. This isn’t a fucking Sheraton, dimwits, it’s a Charenton, where people disappear if that’s how it has to be and if that’s what the system wants. I cough and succumb, oh how I succumb. 
They’ve already tied me back to the chair, and I can see less and less through the veil. Partly because I’ve lost my glasses, partly because of all the excitement, and partly because of dizziness. When I calm down, a silence descends, but the gawking doesn’t cease. It’s like the weather. What’s the forecast for today? Foggy with gawking. I almost crack a smile, but all I can manage through the coughing is, “This is a bit much, you bloody cows. It’s all your fault, you and your Seroquel.” The nurses, positioned around Doctor Traitor, the rooster in this henhouse, are almost all nodding. The only friendly one, the one who rubbed my back, sits down beside me and holds me gently by the wrist. Her wrinkles deepen when I don’t shut up immediately. One of the cows at the trough says, “Whose fault is all this, Amber? Who’s the cow? Nurse Sanja, perhaps?” Nurse Sanja surreptitiously squeezes my wrist and her every gesture suggests I should resist temptation. But it’s beyond resisting.
When I stand up, I am careful to strike out at and hit precisely the one and only who belongs in the same basket with all the staff and I have no intention of sparing her on account of some personal inclination. “Yes, each and every one! Even Nurse Sanja is a cow!” I holler.
After too short a time I’m so much in my element that I add, “Milker!” and Nurse Sanja, the one and only, lowers her gaze. I’m so embarrassed that I burst out of the room and make for the john, where else? My head is spinning so much that I lie down on the floor and before that I turn the lock. The team chases after me, but they’re not fast enough. I hear faint knocking and voices, while my gaze clears at the touch of the necks and hands against the icy tiles. This is definitely enough to put me in the lock-up ward, I think. The knocking is steady and incessant, but I don’t answer until I hear something close to panic in the nurse’s voice. “Can’t you let me pee in peace? I haven’t even been able to crap for two weeks. You know everything. I couldn’t even slit my wrists in peace, remember? I had nothing with me, when you fucked me up,” I howl from the ice cold floor. There’s a bit of silence, with no knocking. Oh, that’s real good.
I probably blacked out for a moment because the knocking wakes me up, this time at head-level, just above the floor. It’s hard to imagine Nurse Sanja, in late middle age, sitting in front of the john with her back against the wall, watching over me. But it’s true. When I open the door she’s so surprised I almost knock her over. She looks at me turgidly but earnestly, and apologetically, it seems. My attack has passed and I’m ready to talk about how and when they’ll deport me to the lock-up ward. The only fleeting regret I feel was for calling her a bloody milker. How did that fly out of my mouth, at my one and only ally? If I apologize and tell her that despite her ample bosom she’s no milker, it would sound stupid, but keeping quiet would also sound stupid. So I tell her I’m be ready to be admitted in five minutes. “Admitted? Why would you want to go there?” she asks. 
“I didn’t say I want to…” I begin, though actually a bit of peace wouldn’t hurt. “Can’t I just sleep over at admitting?” I ask. “No, Amber, I would never recommend admitting to you,” she persists and tries to take my hand. I slip away from her and decide, out of pure defiance, that I’ll go ask by myself at the lock-up ward whether they’ll take me.
It turns out that they’ll take anybody who wants it badly enough. When I get to the ground floor, I first have to buzz at the door to the ward. A hospital attendant, for whom my wish was a huge nuisance, opens up. I’m persistent and wish to speak to a doctor. He understands, clearly. He just nods and writes something in my file. Satisfied, I leave the consulting room as the lock-up ward’s newest resident. As if by order, the blaring radio starts to play Honesty. Then they call me back to the doctor’s office. For my morning medication, they say. If you search for tenderness, it isn’t hard to find. I shake my head, it was all a misunderstanding. I’ve just told the doctor that I’ve been given two doses, which is why I’m here. Two, I raise two fingers, giving the victory sign. “I swear, if there’s anything I’m full of, it’s pills,” I say with a smile, but when I try to open the door from inside, the technician blocks it with his foot and silently, roughly, turns me around.
“I’m here voluntarily,” I say. “I can leave whenever I feel like it, right?” I give him a cutting look.
“Where’s that written?” he replies, and hands me a cup with medicine. There are three pills. Three. And mostly what I need from you. And when I take them, I have to stick out my tongue so they can confirm whether I really am going to die.

Michael Jackson Simply Liked Children


Fugazi on my USB player while out on the balcony a discussion rages about Michael Jackson and about this, that and everything. Sancho says he thinks Michael Jackson simply liked children, that’s it. He says that for him zyprexa is a miraculous pill and that he’ll never get so fat you won’t recognize him because he works out all the time. Sitting in a waiting room… waiting, waiting, waiting. To prove how nimble he is, Sancho, right there in front of me, drops from a standing position onto the floor and starts doing push-ups, a hundred of them, out of pure mania.

Sancho has never heard of Don Quixote and Don’s never heard of him. In fact, his real name is Samir, and his parents’ names are Samir Sr. and Samira. He says they had no imagination. Sancho has only just arrived but already he’s the boss of this ward, because practically everyone is afraid of him and because he’s so strong he could crush anyone who isn’t. He’s respectful towards the elderly, he says. He’s respectful towards everyone, always and everywhere, because that’s how you earn respect for yourself, he explained to us five minutes after he was brought up to us in his pyjamas. When he wets his gangster hair and slicks it back, I notice that tattooed on his neck below the crew-cut is some sort of letter, or maybe even an inscription, in Arabic. Hafez, he says, the Sufi poet. But he doesn’t know what the line means and neither does he care, he says. He’s supposedly arrived from Afghanistan, where it’s not known how many people he’s killed in the service of his homeland. Probably nobody.

Sweat is running down Sancho’s cheeks. I’m waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. He says it’s because his body only cools itself down when he’s upset and restless. I ask him whether now, among us, he is upset and restless, but he just shakes his head anxiously and says that one has to differentiate between physical-effort sweat and psyche sweat. Michael Jackson was constantly sweating when he danced, he says, look at him, he swept away all the competition and yet there’s no sign that any of that fame went to his head. This statement makes me choke on the coffee that I just took a swig from, but I don’t think it would be wise to break his authority and embarrass him in front of everybody, because it’s still not known how many people he has killed.

I’m in line for a talk with the shrink. I’m sitting in the waiting room… I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, so he can start with his questions. So long, Fugazi, because he’s gesturing to me to turn off the private entertainment running through my headphones. Lately my world has been revolving around the people in the hospital, so it’s only with difficulty that I can think when the doctor interrogates me about my family beyond these walls. I can easily occupy myself with what’s inside, among these stumbling ones, and I’ve learned to love their sweat and tears. Sancho says things are similar in the army. You forget about the places and the people outside those confines, you get wrapped up in the drama inside. Gradually, that’s how I explain it to myself, in this world in miniature you practice reality seriously enough that you’re able to function along a similar pattern even after you go back home.

So the shrink is not satisfied with my progress. Throughout the interrogation about my family situation, I respond with concrete examples from the hospital balcony. I’ve been spending my whole time talking about Sancho, the shrink remarks. Am I aware he has his own history and I have a completely different one? I am aware, I am, but histories are contagious, I say. In what sense? I don’t know. I fall silent. It seems to me that I’ve caught something, I think, and pretty soon I’ll have to pull myself together. And if he confided in me that Sancho is having trouble with the law? That’s sobers me up. So he really did kill some people, down there, I say. No, no, no. Let’s just say that you should keep an eye on your stuff, the doctor imparts. So he’s a thief, nothing drastic about that, I think, and besides I haven’t taken anything valuable with me into the hospital, some old clothes and a few diaries and pens.

When I put my headphones back on, I shuffle the songs back to the start and I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, to clear up what kind of virus is spreading through my brains, making me feel more at home here than in my own home. I don’t turn to the balcony, because Sancho is too loud as he awaits his conversation with the doctor and he’s showing off, doing his push-ups. Instead I think about how much I’d love to give him something, so he won’t have to steal. But I don’t have anything here. Maybe in my car, which is still parked in the nearby lot. It’s worth checking. I just can’t let myself be tempted into driving off, that’s all.

So I go beyond these walls and the song changes the instant the automatic door opens. I go back to the beginning, I’m not sick of it yet. As if I’m waiting for someone to surprise me. I stare through the windshield for a bit and then it dawns on me. In the trunk I’m still hauling around my out-of-date collections of cassette tapes for which I don’t have a player. There are a few boxes of them, and hidden among them are some gems, which are slightly embarrassing to me, such as Michael Jackson’s Bad album. I’ll give them to Sancho.

Heaped high with these precious objects, I take the elevator back up to the ward on which, it seems, they’re in a state of emergency. The doctor is standing in the corridor in front of his office, the nurses are dancing around him, their arms raised in dismay. I can barely see over the boxes, so it’s really not clear to me what’s going on. When I put them down, at the end of the hall I see Sancho, who is moving towards his room around the corner, and I can see he’s cooked something up. I ask the first nurse what’s going on, but she just says: “They threw him out of the ward. He stole a car from the parking lot.” No, no, that can’t be true, I think, and run after Sancho, who’s already at the door to his room. I’ve just come from the parking lot, and I didn’t see anyone. They’ve either mixed something up or he really got on their nerves. “You were on the balcony the whole time! I’ll vouch for you!” I call after him. Sancho shakes his head, while from behind me I hear a doctor: “He is well aware of the why and the how. We have zero tolerance towards criminals here! That sort of stuff won’t work here.”

I grab Sancho by the shoulder and say, “Aren’t you going to defend yourself?! Stay and fight, you’re a good fighter!” He tells me there’s no point and that the shrink has already decided because that’s just the way it always is, the poor get screwed over. Then he moves over to his hospital bed and starts stuffing things into plastic garbage bags. At that moment I decide I know what I’m going to give him. I run into my room, across from his, on the women’s side, and I pull out Bad. The album will protect him from real criminals, since Sancho has no home, though he does have a dealer who’s threatening to kill him because he can’t pay for the horse he’s already shot up.

I reappear at the door of Sancho’s room and offer him the Michael Jackson tape. So he’ll remember that, like Michael with children, he simply likes cars. So he’ll know that he’s not guilty because they’re accusing him of theft, that even good people do bad things sometimes, which goes against logic. That the tape will remind him of the way back, which is always possible. He has tears in his eyes and he gives me a manly thanks, and we smack hands like some guys from the hood, and one minute later he’s on the woman’s side of the ward asking me whether I’m really sure about wanting to give him the tape. “Is it really mine?” he asks. “Yours and yours alone, but it’s not like it’s worth anything,” I say with a shrug. In his currency, it really isn’t worth anything, since he can’t smoke it or suck it up into his veins. After that Sancho doesn’t say a word. He disappears into his room to pack.

A little while later, I receive a very small package from one of the hospital attendants. A “friend” has sent it. Inside there’s a slightly bent and slightly bloodied earing for my un-pierced belly button. At first I’m frightened because I’m sure, completely sure, that it’s stolen, perhaps plucked right out of some local chick’s navel, and I’m also afraid that he has hurt somebody on account of the earring. He doesn’t know his own strength. But the hospital attendant just tells me, “Don’t overthink it, just accept it and tell him thanks.” Right, I thank him, I think, and stow the earring into a pocket because they’re calling me from the doctor’s office.

The shrink wants to talk to me, for the second time today, to “clarify” something. We’re wedged in right away when he mentions Sancho. It means a lot to me to uncover the real perpetrator, because I think of how awful it feels if you want to go home after getting healed and you realize that some perfidious swine has taken away your means of transport. But I know Sancho can’t have been the perpetrator. I had him in my sights the whole time, with the exception of when I popped out to the car, but even when I was gone I would have been the first one to see him, I explain.

How about if you worried a little more about yourself, the shrink points out, about your life? I don’t answer. Right now the most important thing is not to send an innocent person to jail. If you must know, he didn’t steal the car himself, he just let his accomplices know that the car was unlocked, says the geek on the other side of the table. I bet his mommy cooks him lunch on Sunday and proudly shows him off to all her friends, and, above all, he’s not the one who supports her, like Sancho does. It would have been impossible, I staidly claim, for him to move off the balcony while I was gone. These people have all kinds of manoeuvres, whether you’re aware of it or not. The doctor divides people between these people and us, I realize, and that really disgusts me, which is right then I get up and slam the door behind me, and in front of the door of his office, indiscreetly bellow down the corridor: “Damn!”

The definitively departing Sancho, who is not ready to stand up for himself and who does not know what his own tattoo means, looks at me in the hallway, stunned, and asks me what in God’s bloody name, what in God’s bloody name just happened to him. Because that’s not entirely his business, but between me and the doctor, I just mumble that the shrink labelled Michael Jackson a paedophile, whereupon Sancho simply shrugs his shoulders.

This is obviously not so important to him, even though he spent half an hour this morning defending the King of Pop’s innocence. Actually, I feel like I’m the only one for miles around who is not indifferent to him, to Michael, or to the owner of the stolen car. Out of general protest and because it’s not clear to me what it was that got into that damned Michael Jackson to make him snap, I snatch the earring from my pocket and chuck it into the laundry hamper because today’s the day they wash our pyjamas. I hope it will rip holes in all of the bottoms and all of us will end up looking like those people. I enter my room so I can put my headphones back on and wait for something decisive, then I go smoke on the balcony and accompany the dull afternoon as it runs its course. I check my backpack. I check my cupboard. I check all my pockets but I can’t find the headphones. Maybe I forget them in the psychiatrist’s office.

I knock, but right as I’m knocking I realize where my most valued possession is or at least that it probably already departed, with that poor guy. I change my mind, and when the doctor opens the door to ask me what’s up, I tell him I’d just like to apologize for before and that maybe I’m ready for my therapy to finally commence.

He gives me an approving pat on the back, and right away I regret my self-humbling. I’ve found myself on the side of the privileged, of those who don’t care if others creep knot-throated through the scorching sun to their dealers, debt collectors and creditors. And, disgusted with myself, I suddenly feel relieved. I sit on the blue chair and hope that the doctor’s joy will eventually dissipate, because I don’t like to be docile. We’re hanging in the air. For a moment. Then I begin: “I broke up the family by myself, by my very own hand.”

The doctor fights back a smile and listens.




Translated by Jason Blake

Marko Tomaš

Marko Tomaš

Marko Tomaš, born 1978 in Ljubljana, was one of the founders and editors of the Kolaps literary magazine in Sarajevo. He has worked as a journalist and radio speaker and has published extensively across the region. He is a poet of a rare sensuality and emotional refinement with a rarefied bohemian touch reminiscent somewhat of a young Leonard Cohen. His published works include, Hands Under Head (2002), Mama I’m Successful (2004), Life Is a Joke (2005), Marko Tomaš and Other Poems (2007), Goodbye Fascists (2009), Midnight Conversations (with Mehmed Begić) (2012), Boulevard of the People’s Revolution (2013), The Black Prayer Book (2015), The Paper Boat Race (2016), Thirty-Ninth of May (2018).





Selected Poems


When I Return From War 

Perhaps I should go to some war.
Become a real man in a manly situation.
I am no longer good at predicting the future.
I am curing alcoholism with a rather conservative method.
In other words — I am gradually trying to quit.
How did the sea enter my verses? How did I grab the gun? 
My face covered in moss, the smell of unknown soil. 
I dream of agaves – our names carved into a single leaf.  
                                                           I miss you. 
When I return from the war, I will kill you, I’ll sit on the sofa,
light up a cigarette and let you bleed lying on the carpet.
Today I ate snails. How did we end up here? We have gone far, 
                                                                       way too far. 
I have tattooed your name on my forearm. You won’t like it. 
Perhaps I should try describing the sky? I think yesterday 
                                                                       I killed a man. 
When I return from war, I will kill all of those who seduced you
                                                                       while I was gone,
I will kill them before the eyes of their dearest the same way they
                                                                       killed me
When they slid between your thighs.
I have problems writing. Worms. Fire. Mutilation. However, 
                                                                                              it’s mostly worms. 
I feel sorry for the tree we knocked down yesterday. Do you like me, kitty? 
Today it’s raining. Soon we’re off to the woods. Nature 
                                                                                              is beautiful.  
When I return from the war, I will make sculptures out of wire,
I will calmly mow my lawn, grow roses,
keeping your heart safe in a jewellery box.
I’m all sticky from the mud. We’re listening to the radio. Some sad song
                                                                                              for the sad soldiers. 
One of the murdered boys looked me straight in the eye. I was pissing blood. 
                                                                                  They say I caught a bad cold. 
When we reached the sea, the captain shot himself in the temple. 
They are supplying us with rations of marijuana and brandy. Many of us 
                                                                                  Are inconsolable. 
We got hooked on death. I’m writing a poem for you, expect it 
                                                                                  in the next letter. 
On the bedside table my photo in uniform. 

Try This, Dear Wagner 

Now, awaiting my thirtieth birthday,
I can never get rid of the depression,
because I still don’t understand baseball.
I wasn’t born an insect.
I cannot forgive my mother for that.
There is no efficient poison spray
for my kind.
I don’t listen to the radio anymore.
Everyday on the shortwave radio God is being
reborn as a voodoo doll
in the hands of a Nazi war criminal.
I can barely stand
the hysterical yoga practitioners.
They have found meaning. They live stress-free.
My ass!
Bing Crosby, the Christmas torture,
I cannot think of enough disparaging terms
for all the bullshit humanity falls for.
I should be listening to Wagner,
but I cannot find any Wagner on my computer.
A woman will take my last name.
Our kids will be prow angels. 
I will bring them handfuls of juicy and ripe oranges.
The house will smell of olive oil.
I would love to be perfect like the sea.

My People 

My people are scattered in distant cities.

My people wake up in Saigon and Managua.

They drink in bars in Zagreb and on those parapets in Split. 

They get wasted on speed in Sarajevo nights.

They drive their kids to school on the streets of Vienna.

They hallucinate underneath the Berlin sky.

They hurry to work in Paris.

They play banjo in the bars of Edinburgh.

They practise yoga in Sombor.

They urinate in the entrances of buildings in Belgrade. 

They make love on Bosporus.

They tell juicy jokes in the gardens of Mostar.

They wash dishes in the Copenhagen restaurants.

They are looking for a sunny spot in Oslo.

Homeless orphans, much like those Dickens’s boys and girls.

My people – I say.




It’s still here, the mean bank of the river. 

That’s where I grew up.

Raised by my grandma and my grandpa.

My whole childhood I listened to horrible stories.

That taught me respect.

Those stories and terror I used to feel

walking down the street.

Sometimes I would hear distant echoes

of some pointless desperate battle,

would sense the stench

that flame-throwers leave behind.

And only the smell of wet dough

in my grandma’s kitchen

would bring me back to reality

that each time looked more and more yellow

like that Mitteleuropean sky.

In fact those young Israeli pilgrims

are really horrible. 

They stumble in drunken rage over that place with so much sadness.

The sadness I haven’t been able to shake off my whole life.

My girlfriends, the stewardesses, all tell me

that the worst flights to work on

are those from Tel Aviv to Warsaw.

You hear no kaddish, just burping and drunken cussing.

Oh, those Israeli youth in the Zamenhof Street

always used to creep me out. 

Every time after they would depart,  

leaving behind the smell of alcohol,

heaps of paper waste and cigarette buts,

I would just like in my childhood

hear the distant echoes

of some pointless desperate battle.


A Little Man In a Little Town

Little men in little towns are obsessed

with their own stature. 

The same goes for me, I’m looking for a perfect

little spot for all these little words

in order to electrify my homeland.

But this search for the homeland will someday

be the death of me.

Tom Waits hates me

whenever I try to write

like American poets.

For this little history little words

that can bypass each other on a narrow road

should suffice. 

Not to mention that try as I might

I could never be able to get rid of the heavy Slavic accent.

In a little town everything is a little toned down.

For example, street-lights are never strong enough 

to light up this entire prosaic fresco, 

as they can barely embrace a young couple

having a fight, or that linden

to whose smell I have always been allergic

to the extent that it makes me really hate

this little town spring.

I would like – like other little men in big cities –

to really mind my own business, but I am too bloodthirsty,

plus the little parks in my little town have indeed turned

into little cemeteries and I never fail

to rub that fact into everyone’s nose, because

the glorious war merits of us little people

are just enormous.

Nobody wants us – little people – for his enemy!

Our condescension, our haughtiness, our haughty-naughty-haughtiness

will always defeat every decent word.

For we are little people,

we are arrogant people,

we are not-entirely-fulfilled-people.

Walking across this wasted land.



Morning in Mahallah1 

It is morning – Tuesday!
The spring is fat
like a castrated tomcat.
Behind the high walls of the houses in mahallah
someone’s waking to a cough.
Paul Celan’s wandering look
gets stuck at the top
of a cypress.
Resting there
like a shot-down Sun
releasing a yellowish butter of light.
The houses, the fortresses
blown up from the inside
are resting in ruins. 
The way someone chews food
can easily turn into an unbearable experience.
One finds refuge in a dream
as if fleeing before the Barbarians.
One wakes up reluctantly getting into
the heavy armor of short-lived future
marked by the money
you have to set aside for utilities.
In fact, the night has the color of coffee.
Soon the former proletarians will begin they daily quarrels. 
1 Mahallah (or mahalla, mahallya, or mohalla; from Arabic: محلة‎, Persian: محله ‎, Urdu: محله ‎) is an Arabic language country subdivision or neighbourhood term. Also the historically important Ottoman section of the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.



Translated by Damir Šodan

Vitomirka Trebovac

Vitomirka Trebovac

Vitomirka Trebovac, born 1980 in Novi Sad, has published two poetry books, Plavo u boji (Blue in Colour, 2011) and Sve drveće, sva deca i svi bicikli u meni (All the Trees, Kids, and Bicycles Within Me, 2017). Together with Jelena Anđelovski she edited a book of poetry Ovo nije dom (This Is Not Home, 2017). She works in a bookstore and at the publishing centre Bulevar Books in Novi Sad.





Selected Poems 



in front of the 
‘olga petrov’ 
retirement home 
a man kissed
a woman’s hand
she raised her head 
and he blushed
and what happened after
I don’t know
because the wheels of  my bicycle 
are big 
and I’m
already in another part of town.
here it begins to rain lightly and
there is the stink of mcdonalds
a girl plays accordion in front of it
stiff families eye her  suspiciously. 
I would crush 
them with my big bicycle, 
but I am polite as well
my upbringing does not let me
cause any issues.


some woman reading proust

in a tram in gdansk

and a fat cat who 

ate my pancakes when

I was a child

I will not forget

how mom screamed

when they told her something over the phone 

and the view

of the skyscrapers from  some hotel 

I will never  forget

the waiting line for visas

and how we played frisbee

drunk in a park  in berlin

before dawn

then I will never forget

how they helped uncle to escape the army 

because the war began

and my grandma’s hands shaking

I will never forget when sara was born 

and I was at the pool

first second third 


I will not forget

when I saw you 

on the staircase of the bookstore. 




maybe I’ve already said

that I had three friends

one liked Russians

one Americans 

and the third  was so-so

he didn’t know whether to go

left or right 

and he’s still like that


once when we 

were children

I beat them in a street race 

to the lamppost

(and they were in a good shape) 

I touched the post and  collapsed. 

now I have a scar,  a small one, 

in the middle of my forehead

I wear it like a trophy through life.



s. and I wandered away a couple of times

yesterday at the cemetery 

and we barely made it to the funeral.

we took a strange route

three kilometers on foot

through terrible mud

and we mostly talked about

gaudy gravestones

odd last names

about the fight from the previous day 

he said that

the grass is really nice here

and I agreed

but the whole time 

we were walking 

I was thinking

how the saddest thing in death 

is not the death itself 

but a sunny day

compared to a dark grave.



maybe one should not write 

about old age 

and about me  bathing you 

and how you were ashamed

because I touched

your decayed body and freckled skin

with your downcast eyes


you suddenly

talked about how your  feet 

were small and charming

and how now

one should die

but not even that is easy

while you were talking

the smell of a sharpened pencil 

overtook me

and I see my childhood self at once 

I’m sitting at my desk,

sharpening my pencil,

but the lead keeps falling out

then I remember

that my feet today

are small and charming

I got that from you

I thought

I shut the water off

and hug your 


weak body

my grandmother little girl

maybe this is not

a poem about old age. 



Translated by Tamara Božić

Alen Brlek

Alen Brlek

Alen Brlek, born 1988 in Zagreb, won the ‘Na vrh jezika’ Award for the best unpublished poetry collection Metakmorfoze in 2013. His second book, Pratišina, was published in Serbia in 2017. He participates in the Zaron Project where he explores spaces and atmospheres of poetry and music with the poet Darko Šeparović and the musician Emil Andreis. His poems have been published in a number of magazines and translated into various languages.





Selected poems 



We don’t build lighthouses, we’ve got phones –
the firebug’s urge compressed into signal.
I don’t like the bell in any form because on the other end
someone’s eyes always lose focus. Waiting is a journey
into astigmatism. 
I’m teaching myself to be close to the water every time it dives,
reach out with my palms facing away from the sky because
I don’t trust the laws of the market.
I’m teaching myself to enter as if for the last time,
plant a pillow, exit as if I’d never entered at all.
To put Neptune to sleep. Cut into the night in all the right places.
Not to scratch my back every time it itches, not to forget
the details. To put more
trust in the depth of the dive.  




We should find a place, an open intention
which doesn’t deprive. Like dams
built by beavers. We should
lift the belly skywards, invite god
to lay his head down and try to sleep.
We should give up on the right angles
and other things that cannot be touched,
forever split the heart in two with our thumbs like an apple,
give the pieces to children.
We should decant, as if a flock of birds into the crown of a tree,
humans into humans.


Today is Sunday, I breathe eerily softly
like a stag with an arrow stuck in his neck. This is the place
of a thousand bloodhounds rushing into my arms.
In the morning I read the silence of sleepy birds, the sound of
dishes which is always to do with the space between two buildings
the same distance stretches from the balcony.
At noon I look in the mirror and repeat – it’s all a dream
all a dream. 
Later I read deeply into what’s been said, I await symbols
and symbioses, and some other Ss. Like sky, like
smile, sleep
At night I read about people fleeing famine and war
about the sea and the death of poetry, I cry and all things lean towards the blue.
Today is Sunday, in all things I discern you
in all things I wait for you. 


Suddenly, everything we do is a prayer,
all that is between us
an altar and swimming reflex. Tart
earth conquers us,
supplies the body with softness for a breadly tomorrow.
Tomorrow, your metals will forget the war,
tomorrow, my tongues will learn the art of wound cleansing.
Tomorrow, our lips will be botany and fish. 


Light was hollow this morning.

On the kitchen table, motionlessly,

an onion levitated, and I wanted to say

I missed the ring of your voice.

Alongside water, thoughts boiled into

sugar isn’t awake, fast,

one should fast.




For days I’ve been trying to describe parquet. Parquet is
unvanquishable, it agrees only to scratching 
and it’s always potentially full of water.
Parquet is an indescribably harrowing version of the East,
a cherriless space. A journey of palms and
feet into the pain of a lonely man.
I shall not agree to dying above parquet level,
just as I don’t agree to trams, lifts,
clocks and hate.
Parquet is an indescribably permanent absence of oxygen
and her.


I shall carry you, o, roots,
even after a thousand ploughings,
fear not.
God is here, drupacious,
right behind the eyes.


These days the sky crumbles into dust
and everything ends up in the kitchen somehow.
The cold opens up softly like a cotton flower,
the hot hens I tell no one about shiver
they don’t go out, don’t sing.
Sometimes, silence carves the city into my bones
and my smile, using the dream and distance
technique it builds you a home.
Only sometimes it becomes the water from the North’s edge.
The white enters behind the eyes
tries to remember which way you tilt the plate 
when there’s just a little soup in it,
what storks in love sound like
and at what temperature roof tiles are fired.


Out of the atomic mushrooms in my chest flocks of
yellow vowels of her take flight,
with the horizon inscribed into their third eye.
Let whoever translates this poem write thus:
silence is thickest from eight to quarter past.
We are all hybrids of ancient dust and light
and we only differ in the way we dive.
With time,
all things turn white.


From my window I watched,
through the scope, the aerials on the city’s rooftops,
shore them of tips.
Your hot hair inscribed the big bang
into my skin, we pulled the knife
between each other’s feet
and prayed. Love is an abattoir
we march towards, tireless and calm.


Days are patient, safe and cold.
The heart is wet cotton. I get up, cotton
courses through my body as I approach the radiator
expecting a change. When nothing happens,
I return with my palms warm and I cover my back,
that soft universe which
contains innumerable definitions of freedom
(we’re free from waking till the first cup of coffee,
we’re free when we reduce everything to chemistry and biology,
when we ask about the freedom of others
when we stand in front of the mirror and we don’t choose pronouns
and adjectives
we’re free when we don’t think about freedom)
but, with us, everything is equally innocent and deadly.


Translated by Mirza Purić

Ahmed Burić

Ahmed Burić

Ahmed Burić, born 1967 in Sarajevo, graduated in Journalism at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science. He is one of the most influential reporters, columnists and intellectuals in South-Eastern Europe. He writes columns with humorous and insightful comments about Sarajevo and the World, published on the of Radio Sarajevo portal. He has published over 4000 articles about cultural and political topics relating to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of South-Eastern Europe. His work has been translated into English, French, Czech and Slovene.Burić is also a poet and has published four poetry collections, Bog tranzicije (The God of Transition, 2004), Posljednje suze nafte i krvi (The Final Tears of Crude Oil and Blood, 2010), Maternji jezik (Mother Tongue, 2013) and Vrata raja (The Gates of Paradise, collected poems in Slovene, 2015). In 2017 he published his first novel Tebi šega što se zovem Donald?.






Selected Poetry




Brought to the walls of the Eastern Empire of evil rulers and the good
but hungry and naïve,
like Janosik,
to finally tear it down, you are leaving now.
You are leaving now
for the place where you preached the eternity lived,
you are leaving your audience, the show goes on,
all cameras are on the squares,
and all roads lead to Rome.
At Christmas, everyone will sing again,
Rejoice, O people,
and you will be like a dream. The one that has gone.
And we don’t know who will answer,
for the 80s Gdansk,
for the poverty after the Wall,
for the tea shortage in Georgia,
for the blank gaze
of the unemployed.
in Detroit or Dushanbe, all the same.
for the shameless world.
You are leaving now and I already
await a new world,
the same or worse than this one,
and one of the successors,
some clerk,
a protector of the brand of the Cross and
the institution of confessors.
You are leaving now and that is the only difference between us,
you and Coca-Cola will live forever,
they will read about you in
3D encyclopaedias. Merry singers will devote 
farewell songs to you, mein gott, even Karel Gott may sing for you.
You are leaving now and I can’t help thinking
that your duty was only partially done,
I was 11 then, from the living room echoed
the voices of the elders, someone said, perhaps my Father, 
he was happy the Pope was finally 
a Slav. I mourn you today, but did you stop
the slaughter of my Slavs – you did not.
I had an illusion you could have after all,
you, the Polish poet who did not despise his Polish roots.
A woman who was crying in front of St. Anton’s Church 
said her Muslim name and 
said you were a father to all. 
Well done for Africa and Jerusalem to you and all, and
for the church in Krakow and the friendship with the old poet,
we are all alike at this age,
so take surahs prayed for you,
but to me, I repeat, and to my people you were no father at all.
Mind is to sword what poetry is to banks,
no enemy worthy of respect,
I know it won’t be the same,
what is to follow, my dear,
could bring even more contempt.
Brought to the walls of the Eastern Empire of evil rulers and the good,
but hungry and naïve,
like Janosik,
to finally tear it down, you are leaving now.
You are leaving now,
for the place where you preached the eternity lived.


There were several rounds of beer in front of us, our youth behind us.

And a match on TV: just like in a TV ad.

“Ulf Kirsten” – the commentator said, totally 

unaware what those two words with a nine on his back 

could stir in us.

“Ulf Kirsten” – you repeated and we remembered watching Dynamo Dresden 

on the coast so many years ago, mourning the city and drunkenly cursing 

the allies for flattening it. Yet, we were happy that 

this fervent centre-forward defended their colours, the colours of the vanishing country, just as ours was vanishing, too.

“Ulf Kirsten” – I repeated and we laughed. When he ran on to the pitch in a white jersey

with an eagle on his chest, instead of a blue one with a sickle 

and a hammer and a DDR sign, nothing was the same any more.

Neither we nor Europe. He alone, robust and strong-legged, always reminded us that it

was possible to survive. And score.

We drank beer and he played on. The result was 0:0, in life, too; the defence 

opened up, the ball crept into the penalty box from the right, and he simply put his foot out.

He raised his arms, and stood with his legs and arms wide apart,

in shape of a red star.

A great monument to revolution.

“Ulf Kirsten” – was written on TV, and we jumped in front of the screen,

kissed him and promised to bid him farewell from the pitch 

in his last match. The red and black jersey he celebrated in 

evoked memories of Vardar and Sloboda, of Čelik, of football 

that was once played for people to clear up their lungs shouting names, 

swearing at the referee. 

For Ulf Kirsten, the red star man. 




Last night I dreamt I found

my mother tongue

I spoke about something important with my mother

about my future, and 

I laughed, and then bitterly cried 

I woke up happy

some harmony echoed in my head

vineyard, vineyard, vineyard

ninth, tenth, bronze, Bosnia

and deep inside, with my mother’s help,

I found my mother tongue

but I found not much about myself.

She told me: you could have lived,

continued to love music and theatre,

continued the family name, gotten married,

so I could have some grandchildren 

in my late days, but no,

you kept on dreaming.

And I dreamt how I once

kissed at Tromostovje

and perhaps then missed the grandchildren boat 

while holding on to her tongue,

which is not my mother tongue, but it was the

sweetest thing I had ever tasted.

The places I left at the crack of dawn

were meant to become well-lit, magic cities

with wide streets, but they had no such luck,

and neither did I with

my mother tongue,

we didn’t find each other, we just

occasionally meet in dreams. 

Or in a French kiss.

I, merely a talker,

and he, a monster under beam lights,

but with little,

too little light

which gives any hope.

In my mother tongue. 




Tonight, in a theatre cafe,

after a play from Bonn 

we had a pleasant chat over wine

and found faults with everyone. 

We all get on well

as long as we talk food or the others

our words cling to napkins and

dance around the table, hanging out is so nice.

They ask “why don’t you write art critique”

you were so good at it once,

“No” I replay, mouthful,

why spoil fantasy for the audience?

Step by step, joke by joke,

the mild night pulled out its last caprice

and before sleep, there seemed to have arrived 

some news of stable peace. 

Landscapes pass by, the evening act is on

the wise proclaim banalities an “artefact”,

yet it hurts inside, I know, this peace is the devil’s act,

nothing more than the upstarts’ banquet. 




For Milorad Popović

Years pass by

and there is less and less hope for me

to ever see Buenos Aires.

To take a deep breath

of fresh air.

We are Europe,

we fight against plastic packaging,

and for the human rights,

and for the aquarium fish 


we who enjoy living among

the artificial algae,

while through a pipe placed behind glass-walled sovereignty,

we are given oxygen.

There is less and less hope for me to sing and tango

and go crazy at La Bombonniera,

and, like a Polish prince, W. Gombrowitz,

not give a damn about what they think of me

back in my homeland.

To forge ahead fake plans

about my homeland,

plans that will fall apart as soon as

the plane touches its soil,

I, a former emigrant,

the herald of freedom.

They pretended to welcome me back 

only to start strangling me 

with bare hands.

Years pass by and there is less and less

hope for me to see Buenos Aires,

to have my homeland of

fresh air. 




Almost two decades have passed,

while we have not written anything good or honest

about the breakup of Yugoslavia.

There, on the sea bed, are remnants of destroyed vacation homes

whose owners, mostly Serbs, will probably never return to the cove.

From the surrounding hills, the cove was bombed,

on their behalf, by Montenegro army reservists, 

their descendants’ success is evident

 in positive reports for institutions for European integration.

Stories weaved at the table hold a thousand and one nights,

the ghosts of heroes of roads and lies float by,

this tension only matters to us,

Thanksgiving is celebrated, those dates when, contrary to the Geneva Convention,

kilometres of territory were “won”, kilometres whose fate had been decided long before,

just like the fate of the grilled fish.

Carnivals, celebrations in the country of peasants on the hilly Balkans,

Nowhere to be found so many algae,

Nowhere to be found so many squeaking beds and safe sex on the beaches,

Nowhere to be found so many young people untrained to be waiters.

And could love, after all, be what it takes 

to persuade you that this life was not in vain,

that it was not wasted.

The walls of solitude are broken by

children’s laughter,

like a run of cards, the ace of spades, 

jack of hearts, queen of diamonds,

and show me a child who has not imagined

their house completely filled with water, 

and themselves swimming between chandeliers, canopies,

pianos and brocade curtains.

This country has thus sunk.

And children?

The children believe they have learned to swim

in the pool of new rules of solvency,

in the ads of enhanced taste and smell,

which is all 

with so little imagination,

much, much less than a dream

of a country under water.




There is no need whatsoever to go across the ocean, to where He may have arrived from. 

Or, at least, not until He goes somewhere else. To yet another bar where we will also go 

to have one more pint before the waitress kindly warns us: it’s closing time. Like Maljević’s cross that has only kept its shape, my life stands.

Unstoppably, like a train through a field, the God of transition has dashed through it.

I ate His body today –

in a sausage pastry which an Albanian guy makes for a pence in a bakery near

the bridge, I saw Him in the papers this morning, I saw Him in the mirror tonight

for the last time before I decided not to see His face ever again. 

As I said, there is no need whatsoever to go across the ocean, to where He may have arrived from.

Or, at least, not until He goes somewhere else.




“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Matthew 5:13-14

“Don’t put so much salt

it’s not good for your blood pressure.”

My mother says while

one drop of sweat falls into the plate

making the meal saltier.

My aunt takes a painting off the wall

and gives it to me saying:

“Look, I may check out soon, and the painter is also biting the dust,

so the painting may be worth something.” She gives me five books as well:

one, I throw away immediately, the others are

Death in Venice, a bibliophile edition,

Poetry by Crnjanski, Buñuel’s biography

and Miodrag Stanisavljević’s diary 

published in Novi Pazar in which 

he mocks chauvinists.

It doesn’t matter to anyone anymore,

our paintings will not be seen by anyone,

nor our books read,

we are a fallen society

we have fallen while

admiring beauty and fooling

ourselves that, for our fall,

we are not to blame. 

In a salt-free society

we live our epoch,

it is still found only in tears,

in sweat. 




What is good for your poetry
is not good for you.
It’s been nineteen years since the signing of
the Dayton accord.
Life after the war
is boring
and goes too fast.
Or have you finally accepted
what they taught us 
in the 4th grade:
“that the period between the two Wars“
is the darkest period
in the history of our peoples?


Too much time was wasted on the stations,

glory grows only in the sun

and darkness is the sanctuary of illusions,

in a buffet, it looks like a cop is

protecting a woman,

everyone speaks as if they had something important to say,

as if all this had already been recorded,

there, the sun may also be a unit of time.




I didn’t know what really mattered in life,

I am not making excuses here, before the towers of a new Babylon,

that imagine the sky to give absolution

for oil-stained money made by slaughtering brothers and infants.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life – birth, circumcision, baptism, marriage and death.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life: I preferred talking football

and retelling anecdotes about musicians whose talent I would never match.

It was more important to set out to save the world than to choose the right side.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life, it was more important to be loyal to my friends than to my homeland.

I cared more about hearing or telling a good story than publishing a book.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life: I loved, mostly in vain – is it not what real love is all about? – I didn’t take part in the creation of national programmes, or TV programs, or computer programmes, for that matter.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am the last of the Gutenberg dynasty.

The one reaches for a book rather than clicking a link, and who, in dreams, sees letters mixing with images collapsing like realism.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am the one who meddles in everything but is sure of nothing.

And the one who knows that having one thing means losing another, often at the same time, most often for good.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am standing in the desert, sand slipping through my fingers, wind blowing through my face and eyes.

I will remain here for a while, and then, like a phantasm of an oasis, like a mirage, disappear into nothingness.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life. I am Ahmed, the son of desert that

was created after my world dried up.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

All I know is that all the poems are Snowman’s tears.




We are travelling to Prijedor

through the Sana river valley

all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

this was an ad then 

when we thought that 

Keraterm was a ceramics factory

only two years later

it became a concentration camp

with four rooms

where prisoners were beaten 

to death 

Fikret, Fahrudin, 

Ilijaz, Uzeir, and one Jovo 

whose wife was a Muslim

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

while we are reading  poetry to

retired language teachers and 

some two guys with cameras

whose presence would be understood later

I feel nails piercing my neck

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

there is a stout man with longish grey hair and

neat beard around his mouth

I cannot say it didn’t cross my mind

what he did during the war

but he seems civilised

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

he also read a poem

and then we went to the town called the Sana Bridge

the bridge made of dreams and we spoke for a long time

about how people from riversides are different

from the mountain folk

people from Krajina and I

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to  you

I saw the Commercial Bank sign

that’s where my father 

when we thought

that Keraterm was a ceramics factory

set up a computing centre

people from Krajina and he

it was all way ahead of their times

at weekends he would return home delighted

and I started dreaming again

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

we stayed in a hotel

where in 1995 Željko Ražnjatović Arkan 

had his headquarters

screams pierced through the walls

which an inappropriately loud prayer from the mosque

tried to out loud at dawn

you asked why everyone acts 

as if nothing had happened we spoke of our

poetic achievements 

and headed back to Sarajevo

to tell the Writers` Society 

how everything went very well

how we earned our daily allowance

when we returned to the Society

a photo of the grey gentleman from Prijedor

who read his poem was already waiting

and bitterness

why they said you poets did not

go to bow to the murdered victims

to Fikret, Fahudin, Ilijaz, Uzeir

and perhaps to one Jovo

whose wife was a Muslim

this guy was the commander of the concentration camp

shame on you

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

he was invited to the event by 

a fellow poet who was 

the camp prisoner himself 

and he said

do not preach me about it

I am a Muslim and I know what happened

I understand goodness and forgiveness and 

who should be invited and who should not

ashamed and anxious I went home

I found no wisdom in what had happened today

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you




May I tell you that I love you?

Will any trace ever remain,

no longer is the old play on

like, you’re an angel and I the devil’s gain.

But inside me, everything is the same,

I fear the beginning, because 

I fear not the end

I know that an escape is just 

a false delay and for a long time

I have prayed to no god, old or new,

but still, sometimes I ask myself:

“May I tell you that I love you?”

And what are you going to say to me,

in the end it does not matter either,

for this Nothing in which I build

a perfect you,

to me, in fact, is everything,

it would actually be

a victory over an android,

and not the love of two people,

of which at least one wonders:

“Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

all those moments in time, like tears in the rain,

I had a musical delirium:

Bach’s blindness, the deafness of Ludwig Van,

I pondered Brahms’ great suffering,

I carried mad paintings of William

Blake, screamed the Munk’s cry,

closed the dark chamber of Robert Cappa,

rode with Lawrence of Arabia,

secretly loved Marlene Dietrich on return to


broke the jeep Patton’s Cadillac crushed in, and yes,

I told Kennedy:

“Come on, what kind of a Berliner are you,”

 so I was a little sorry afterwards,

I stole Mona Lisa, tore down the Berlin Wall,

racked Yugoslavia,

attacked the Gulf and defended Kabul,

there, I did all this,

but I still have not found the courage

to express a clear view,

and still sometimes I ask myself 

May I tell you that I love you?




Dear Aleida, forgive me that I rarely write and do not be afraid.

Everywhere around, indeed, are Zenteno’s people,

but we will try to break through, next to their shadows.

It would be good to reach the Americans,

all these dogs were trained in their camp.

There’s something damn cold in Terán.

My life is in his hands, but who am I to judge, I was like that myself

in Santiago.

I hope, darling, you have forgiven me.

I forgave the Compañero.

Raúl, you know, was always with us,

F. is the leader, but Raúl is capable of anything.

Even of that fake letter.

No, Raúl was not married to the Revolution,

and he followed him.

The Russians finally left me,

I’m slim again Aleida

and you will like me when you see me.

It would be nice to take a walk now,

La Habana was our only home, after all.

When they killed Artur and Antonio,

I remembered that you had once said:

“Ernesto, you have three people in the world.”

I have only you now.

I love you.


El Cigala



Translated by Azra Radaslić

Ivan Shopov

Ivan Shopov

Ivan Shopov, born 1987 in Skopje, studied General and Comparative Literature at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in his hometown.

His first book, Azbukaizalutanizapisi (An Alphabet and Notes Gone Astray) – a diptychally structured cycle of 62 short stories, 4 poems and a newspaper collage – won him the Novite Award for best debut fiction in 2010. He followed this success with Meshenagodinata (Belly of the Year), a collection of neo-surrealistic prose poems described by Macedonia’s leading modernist Vlada Urošević as “remarkable” and “inaugural… of new words and sensibilities”. In 2017 he published a flash fiction booklet, 091 – antirazglednici od Skopje (091 –Anti-Postcards from Skopje), a lyrical commentary on the controversial architectural remodelling of Macedonia’s capital.

Shopov’s poems and stories have been translated into English, Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Romanian and German. He was a board member of the AnOther Story Festival and has moderated the Nights Without Punctuation multimedia artistic event at the Struga Poetry Evenings.





Eight narrative rounds with a Fikjo –  or what I learnt about writing from a Zastava 750 


From time to time, without any particular cause or reason, an orange ‘Fikjo’ with SK 121 BJ plates joins the busy traffic on the main road of my present from the side streets of my memory. It was made in 1982, five years before my birth. This orange little tin pot was owned and driven by my father and I spent my entire childhood and the beginning of my adolescence riding in it. It was a hero of many stories that I recall with joy.

Seven or eight years after my family had already parted with the Fikjo, I started writing stories myself, without any clear poetic awareness about what I was doing and what I wanted from the literature I had read and written. In the years that followed my knowledge of literature widened and deepened and the Fikjo and my memories of it kept receding somewhere far away. As if I had parked them in an old garage I had completely forgotten.

While reading various books and drafting new stories, I tried to answer the following question: ‘What is good writing?’ or ‘What kind of books I like reading?’ or ‘What kind of stories would I like to write?’’ And then, completely accidentally, I came across the old manual for Zastava 750 LE. I smiled when I remembered that the manuals for the Fikjos had undoubtedly been one of the greatest Yugoslav bestsellers. They were printed in the same number as the number of produced cars of this make, at the least, and that number is 923 487. Maybe even a bit more. 

I usually don’t like the books branded as bestsellers much, but the manual for the Zastava 750 has always been dear to me. I remember it from the time when I loved reading books that I didn’t understand (while today I read books that I pretend I understand). I can see, though, that the expectations I have from a book in order to call her good do not differ much even today: it needs to be difficult to fathom, magical if possible, with an illustration or two; it is desirable that it refers to a thing that has a certain kind of existence in reality, just as the Zastava 750 model existed on the streets and car parks, and exists mainly in memories at present.

The sudden discovery of the Fikjo manual helped me understand what kind of books I like and it led to other new discoveries: that the magic tin pot called Zastava 750 can teach me a few things about writing.

I have no ambitions to enlighten, but I would gladly take the reader to eight narrative rounds with the Zastava 750, strolls through my memories and my reading and writing training. Let’s ride! – I would say if I were learning from some other car. But, this is a Fikjo and that’s why I’m saying – You have to push me to make me go.



Quite often in the 1990s – I can’t remember the exact year: I might or might not have been at school already – my father would take me with him to where he worked as a teacher at the Nikola Tesla secondary school for machinists and electro-technicians. Sometimes I’d attend his classes and other times I’d sit in the library, looked after by his colleagues or entertaining myself in various ways. Most of these conversations, games and drawings have forever disappeared from my memory, but what I remember very well is the anatomy of a Fikjo stripped down to its mechanical parts, without its shell or interior, that was used as a teaching model for the students. ‘What is this?’ I asked when I first set eyes on it. ‘A Fikjo – just like ours,’ my father replied. I didn’t believe him at first since I knew very well what a Fikjo should look like, with its distinctive ‘eyes’ at the front, its rounded badge with a bar going across with the letters ZASTAVA, the grille on the lid of the boot where the engine was, and its ‘nose’ that made it look like as if it was frowning from behind… but there was none of that on this model. When I asked why it looked nothing like our own Fikjo I was told that this was what ours looked like on the inside. It took me some time to accept the truthfulness of this answer. Nonetheless, from that moment on I became obsessed with the insides of cars – their anatomies rather than their façades – and always tried to penetrate my gaze through the exterior of cars as if I had X-ray vision. The Fikjo’s likeable exterior design no longer interested me. Instead I always tried to imagine the mechanical skeleton of every Fikjo I saw. That stripped pile of iron – that magical mechanism elevated on a pedestal in a schoolroom, letting everyone see what it was made of – attracted me much more than the cars that rolled past along the streets or stood still in the local car parks.


Sometimes the stories that allow you a peek into the way they were made – those stories that disclose their anatomy – are more exciting and powerful than those that deploy magic tricks to hide their mechanisms behind a veil.



May the 1st, some time in the 1990s. Every year the morning of May 1st  began in  exactly the same way: getting up early, all excited in anticipation of a short trip to one of the picnic sites near Skopje, imagining the games we’d play with our cousins and the walks we’d take in the countryside. Despite their brevity, we always experienced these trips as mini-adventures. 

My mother would pack the food she’d prepared and my father would take it down to fit it somewhere inside the Fikjo together with the drinks. My sister and I always carried a ball and a toy or two. All four of us would manage to squeeze inside the Fikjo together with our little mountain of food, plastic crockery and all the other necessities for a hedonistic celebration of Labour Day. 

We were all ready to go. The engine of the Fikjo started this time with no problems after only one attempt and we set off on our way. Just ten metres down the road, however, the Fikjo stalled and we could go no further. For the umpteenth time in my life I heard the words ‘It must be the coupling’, and as usual had no idea what they meant. I only knew that this required a mechanic’s intervention and that our picnic would not happen after all.

I liked those May the First picnics but I have to admit that they were all somewhat uniform. I remember certain conversations and games. I remember the taste of the soda drinks and barbecue. I even remember some arguments. But all that has been placed in a box with a ‘May the First’ sticker on it and all my memories are jumbled inside. I can’t possibly remember which part of which picnic belonged to which year.

And yet the only memory that stands out really clear and distinct is that attempt at a picnic abandoned only ten metres from the car park in front of our block of flats in Kozle. 


Sometimes what we remember best are the stories that were interrupted – those stories that were never told or written to the end.



My father never installed a radio in our Fikjo. None of us ever asked him to. But there was always some music whenever we took a ride in it, even on short trips. I sang together with my sister, making my parents happy, since they enjoyed our singing more than any music they could find on the radio.


Sometimes you need to know when not to overburden a story. Only then will it transform into music.



It was summer, the middle of July, and as an elementary school pupil I enjoyed all the privileges the summer vacation had to offer. I was glad Skopje was a dusty city since it meant the car got dirty sooner and needed more frequent washing. I delighted in the ritual of making the Fikjo spick and span, shining in front of the entrance to our block. I enjoyed the cooling jet of the hosepipe, the streams of foamy water meandering to the drain. I couldn’t wait for the Fikjo to dry and make the fruits of my labour even more self-evident and indisputably clear for all to see.

But this ritual didn’t always go so smoothly. My father would turn up from time to time. He would object to the order in which I did the cleaning. He would advise me to start here and continue there, to hold the hose like this and the sponge like that, and use the rag like … but I can’t even remember like what any longer. After just five minutes of this I’d start fiercely opposing his prompting and meddling and threaten that if he didn’t leave me alone to wash the Fikjo in peace he would have to do the cleaning himself. Eventually he’d relent and disappear somewhere behind the block of flats or hide from the heat in the cool of our home. Only then could I continue happily washing the car.


A story cannot have two masters. That always causes problems. 



The law did not prescribe that particular piece of winter equipment, but every driver of a Fikjo knew that it was necessary regardless:  a chamois (well any old rag would do) and someone in the passenger’s seat were a must – and perhaps a passenger or two in the back – all tasked with wiping the fogged-up windows. The Fikjo was well known for its overheating engine, but no heat could ever reach the interior. There were openings aimed at the windscreen, but the anticipated warm air never reached the glass to demist it. My father would wipe the window of the driver’s door, while whoever occupied the passenger seat was in charge of the other window. The windows in the back were wiped by any passengers in the backseat. My father obviously did not enjoy driving with fogged up or even half-fogged up windows, yet they were always misty because they fogged up almost immediately after every wipe. And behind this new layer of ‘mist’ the smudged traces of the previous attempts at wiping remained visible, further annoying the driver. For me as a passenger, though, these misty windows were lenses that offered a different and uniquely distorted image of the world – my neighbourhood transformed into a distant planet or an unknown city; a space that I had yet to explore, or perhaps even a colony in the midst of the clouds. 


Since then, stories that simply reflect reality have never satisfied me. I strive to make my writing a quest for just such a lens that fogs up and distorts the vision while offering a glimpse of more exciting and – paradoxically – truer worlds.



On the streets of Skopje one could often see Fikjos adorned with the emblems of Mercedes and BMW or even Volkswagen instead of the Zastava emblem. Their owners indulged – in the spirit of Rimbaud, however modestly – in identity games, turning their Fikjos into something else. Those who couldn’t afford a more comfortable, safer, faster or more powerful and expensive car, which at the same time would have been more prestigious, could at least afford the emblem –a symbol that strongly reflected their yearning for a better car.

Despite being otherwise just the same as other models of Zastava 750, I never found those Fikjos with false emblems that tried to be something else as likeable as the ones with their true badges. Their stories seemed phony to me.

The Zastava 750 was only a license-produced version of a Fiat 600. Everyone knew that. But when a Fikjo was passed off as a Mercedes it became repellent and grotesque to me.


A story should not hide its sources and must remain authentic.



‘The coupling’s gone’ … ‘The coupling’s broken’ … ‘It’s that coupling again’ …  ‘I changed the coupling’ … ‘The coupling is dead’… These sentences recurred throughout my childhood until the day my father decided to get rid of the Fikjo. It had gradually started lost its usefulness, fading away before its replacement –Renault 5. The old Fikjo came to resemble some ridiculous ikebana, covered with pine needles shed by the yew tree under which it was parked. Before it was sold, this former favourite was all ‘sorted out’: its famously problematic couplings were replaced with CV joints from a Zastava 101; the shell was knocked into a decent state; the brake belts were replaced… It seemed we parted with it when it was at its best.


Stories should be liberated and the writer should set them free when they are at their peak, even though the writer might be sorry somewhat for letting them go at that moment.



Summer 2017. I was taking a walk with my three-year-old son through the settlement of Zhelezara. While walking home, he glanced at the row of parked cars in the car park near the tower blocks on Kotse Metalets Street. He noticed a Fikjo that in his eyes must have looked like a toy in comparison to the other vehicles. He pranced about excitedly, smiled and approached it to kiss one of its front sides.

He had never seen such a car before, nor had we ever talked about it. This ‘recognition’ made me happy – my child’s fascination with the Fikjo – though I couldn’t fathom where it came from.


Every good story must contain a small dose of mystery. Or at least an indicative coincidence. 




These narrative rounds with the Zastava 750 helped me learn something about writing, which does not at all to imply that I know how to apply this knowledge when writing myself. Writing is like driving a Fikjo: you know where you start and where you want to arrive and at what time, but this does not actually mean that you will eventually get there or that you will follow the route planned in advance and arrive there at the expected time. And yet you push the key inside, turn it and…


13. 01. 2019




Translated by Marija Jones

Marko Vidojković

Marko Vidojković

Marko Vidojković, born 1975 in Belgrade, is a Serbian writer. He studied law at the University of Belgrade. He has published several novels as well as two collections of short stories. His stories have appeared in many newspapers and the following collections, Projekat Bukvoski, Podgoričke priče, Pričaj mi o ocu, Priče o Kosovu and Orlovi ponovo lete. His works have been translated into German, English, Bulgarian, Slovene, Macedonian, Hungarian, and Czech.The novel Sve crvenkape su iste (All Little Red Riding Hoods Are the Same) received the Vitalova Award for best book published in 2016, while the novel Kandže (Claws) received the Kočićevo Pero Award and Zlatni Bestseler Prize. Both novels sold over 20 000 copies. His novel E baš vam hvala (2017) was translated into Slovene, Croatian and Macedonian and was shortlisted for Biljana Jovanović Award bestowed by the Serbian Literary Society. It was also short listed for Fric! Award and has sold 23 000 copies since its publication.






He reached the building. Straightaway he glanced up at the windows of her apartment on the first floor. The light in the living room was switched off, but the bathroom light was on. He looked up at the window to the left of the bathroom, the kitchen window, but there was no light there either. It was a Saturday in November, about nine in the evening. He rang the intercom. He rang it again. He waited a couple of seconds, spat on the house number and then rang a third time. 
“Who is it?” asked a woman’s metallic voice.
“It’s me. Open up.”
There was a buzzing sound and Toma pushed the door, but at that exact moment the buzzing stopped and the door remained locked. He rang again.
“Oh come on!” the woman’s voice was intractable.
“Press the button for a bit longer” said Toma.
The buzzing started again. He pushed the door and finally was inside the building. He climbed the stairs to the first floor
The door to the apartment was ajar. He went in, closed the door behind him and locked and bolted it. The bathroom door was open and the light was on in there. Now, the light in the living room was also on. Anita was sitting on the sofa. Two books lay open on the table in front of her. Judging by their weightiness and the amount of underlining in them, they were university textbooks. Anita was wearing tracksuit bottoms and a vest-top. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Her nipples were clearly visible, and Toma looked away, feeling himself get hard in an instant. He went up to her, his head cocked, and gently kissed her on the mouth.
“It’s November, Anita, aren’t you cold?”
 “No, the heating’s really good”.
He took off his cap and placed it on the table. He slid off his belt and put it on the sofa. The weight of the baton, pistol and handcuffs made the sofa sag an inch. 
“How come you’re here?”, she asked him.
“It’s Saturday evening, they’ve sent us all out onto the streets. I was with Ljuba, so we agreed that he would go round to his girlfriend and I would come to see you. We’ll meet up at ten at the petrol station and then go to shake the kids down a bit”. 
“Be careful they don’t find you out. You haven’t done this before”, said Anita, just to say something. 
“Even if they do find us out, I can’t cope with these Saturday evenings. Everyone goes out; the fuckers run wild, racing around in cars, boozing it up. The whole time I’m wandering around, and right in front of me they’re breaking into kiosks, fighting, stabbing each other and nicking each other’s shoes”.
“They do what with the shoes?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I hate this day and everyone who’s enjoying it”. 
“I hate it too, that’s why I’m happily sitting at home”, said Anita in agreement.
She put her hands behind her head and leant back against the wall. Her nipples were no longer visible under the vest. 
“I can leave, if I’ve interrupted…”
“Oh shut the fuck up, Toma, please. If you weren’t working tonight, we’d definitely have seen each other, so sit down and enjoy”.
“What about the books? You’re studying?”
“Well, sort of. My exam isn’t until January, so this evening was the official opening”.
Toma was sitting half a metre from her. He looked straight ahead. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her staring at the ceiling.
“How come the light in the living room was off a minute ago?” he asked suddenly.
“The living room light was off. Only the bathroom light was on.”
“Oh, that… I went for a shit. I’d just finished when you rang.”
“But why did you turn off the light in the living room when you went to the loo?”
“Toma, are you conducting an investigation?”
“Well, no… erm, no. I just found it strange”.
“I was getting changed and I didn’t want the people opposite watching me. You wouldn’t want them watching me, right?”
“No, I wouldn’t”.
They sat in silence again. Anita flicked on the television. There was football on one of the channels.
“Do you want me to leave this on?”, she asked him.
“No, I haven’t come to watch football. I’ve come to see you.”
“OK”, said Anita, turning off the TV. “Do you want some tea or coffee? Or maybe some of grandpa’s plum brandy?”
“Coffee would be nice”.
Anita went off to the kitchen. Now there was a light on there too. Three of the five lights were switched on. Only the light in the hallway and the one on the balcony were not on. Toma got up from the sofa and went to the window. There wasn’t a single light switched on opposite. Who could have been watching Anita getting changed from those darkened windows? Perhaps there had been someone in those apartments but in the meantime they had turned off the lights and gone off to have fun? Or maybe they were watching her in the dark? Toma went back to the sofa. Anita returned from the kitchen.
“What’s up with you? Why did you get up?”
“No reason, I don’t know. I’m kind of on edge.”
“Saturday evening.”
“Yeah, it must be that.”
Anita sat down next to him, putting her right arm around him.
“Anita, about the day before yesterday…”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Toma, I’ve already forgotten about it.”
“But I really went too far. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all OK. I was really on edge too. It was just an ordinary fight. It happens.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t had a single fight in a year. I don’t know what was wrong with me, it was as if something took over.”
“You were just a bit jealous; you’re probably more paranoid because of your job”.
“I’ll get rid of the uniform, the baton, everything… People hate me as it is just because of this uniform.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Toma, you’ll get used to it. You’ve only been working for a month”.
Toma bit his lower lip. Anita’s light had three bulbs, only one of which was working. 
“What was that?”, he asked her.
“What was what?”
“I heard a noise.”
“There was no noise. What’s wrong with you, Tomislav?”
“I heard something. Something like a knock-knock.
“Yes. Knock-knock, tap-tap, something like that.”
“There’s a bit of a difference between a knock and a tap.”
Toma turned round, confused.
“There it is again.”
“Toma, what’s wrong with you? You’ve cracked.”
“Can’t you hear it? Knock-knock! It’s definitely a knock-knock. It’s coming from there, from under that cupboard!”
“Go and crawl under the cupboard to see what’s knocking. You’re too tense, Tomislav. I didn’t hear anything.”
Toma grabbed his baton and went over to the cupboard. He crouched down and swung his baton two or three times underneath it. The cupboard was old, standing on four feet. Even a mouse couldn’t have found room under it. Toma stood up, looked at his baton and noted that there wasn’t even a single speck of dust on it. Anita cleaned her apartment regularly, even under the cupboard where the strange sounds were coming from. 
“I’m going to put the coffee on”, she said, and went into the kitchen. 
He sat down on the sofa, but didn’t lean back. He sat with his hands resting on his knees, his baton swinging between them. One minute he was looking under the cupboard, the next out of the window at the neighbour’s switched-off lights. From where he was looking, he could see absolutely diddly squat: five centimetres of space under the cupboard and the upper left two centimetres of the neighbour’s window. He couldn’t even say for certain that the lights there were still switched off. Anita came back from the kitchen with the coffee. Toma observed that she hadn’t turned off the light in the kitchen. He put the cup to his lips. The coffee was steaming hot, and its mere proximity burned his lips.
“Anita, I really am sorry about the other day”.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, I thought we’d just dealt with that. You got a bit jealous, it wasn’t anything major. In fact, I should really be impressed by that. It shows that you like me.”
Toma’s hands were on his knees. The lanyard from which his baton hung was wrapped around his left index finger. The tip of the baton was touching the floor. In his right hand he held the coffee cup which was getting hotter and hotter and hotter. 
“I’m really on edge. I’ll end up killing someone tonight.”
“What are you saying? Chill out!”
“I can’t chill out.”
“Can I help in any way?”
“No, no one can help me.”
“Bollocks to that defeatist attitude, Toma. Just tell me how I can help you.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I can’t think…”
“Come on, tell your little Anita. Fancy a quick shag? Eh?”
“Erm… a shag?”
“Yeah”, said Anita softly as she started to wind herself around him. His knees started to tremble and the coffee cup shook in his hands. Anita leaned into him, letting him clearly see her tits under the vest. He could see almost everything.
“Oh, well not exactly a shag, but if you could…”
“What? Tell me.”
“If you could… well… one of those… you know…”
“One of what, Toma? Don’t be shy. We’ve been together for a year.”
“Yeah, but that fight; it’s like we’ve grown apart since then.”
“Don’t be silly. We’re closer than ever. What would you like me to do for you?”
“To give you a blow job?”
“Well… yes.”
Anita bowed her head and unzipped his police trousers (60% cotton, 40% polyester). She pulled out his already swollen dick through the slit of his white Y-fronts, the kind worn by children at primary school. Toma put the cup on the floor and grabbed Anita’s head with both hands, and just held her like that while she rocked back and forth in a sucking rhythm. After a couple of seconds, Toma starting to imagine Anita doing this to someone else. The next minute, it was all over. Anita tore a page out of her university books, spat the cum into it and wiped her lips.
“I guess I won’t need that page”, she giggled.
Toma did up his trousers and, looking at his watch, realised that he had ten minutes left to reach the corner where he was supposed to meet Ljuba and it was a brisk 15-minute walk to get there. He stood up and pulled on his belt. He kissed Anita; there was a strange smell on her breath. 
“Better now?”, she asked him.
“Oh, yes, much better!”, he said, his brow wrinkling as he glanced at the wall which was bereft of any pictures or posters. “I have to go.”
Anita walked him to the door. Toma took another look at the room. He saw his coffee cup. It was almost full. He kissed Anita again and left.
She closed the door, locked and bolted it. She went into the living room, picked up Toma’s coffee cup, took it into the kitchen and left it in the sink. She turned on the tap, which quickly made history of the coffee in the cup, then bent down, drank a little water straight from the tap, swilled it round in her mouth and spat it out. Going back into the living room, she opened the cupboard door. A stark naked man got out of it. 
“Fuck, I got so stiff inside”, he said. “Couldn’t he have left a bit sooner?”
“He left as soon as he could”, replied Anita as she started to undress.
“When he was sniffing around the cupboard I was so afraid I almost shat myself”.
“Hahaha, well, if you knock… Knock-knock, hahaha.”
“I got a dead leg from crouching and everything started cracking.”
Anita took off her vest, tracksuit bottoms and knickers. She was stark naked. The naked man switched off the light in the living room and they lay down on the sofa.




Translated by James Cook

Annetta Benzar

Annetta Benzar

Annetta Benzar was born in Belarus but grew up in Cyprus. She completed an MA in English Literature from King’s College London, her Life Writing thesis focusing on sham marriages in Cyprus. Her first book, I-stories (2019), is a non-fiction collection that brings together various migrant and refugee voices from all over Cyprus. She is also a poet and eagerly participates in poetry slams. She has received various literary awards such as the University of Nicosia Young Poets Award for her poem 20 Spaces, and has been published both locally and internationally. She was also a finalist at the annual Cypriot Poetry Slam. Her writing focuses on issues of immigration, feminism, and violence between the individual and their surroundings, the state and regime.

Stefan Bošković

Stefan Bošković

Stefan Bošković, born 1983 in Podgorica, graduated in Drama from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at the University of Montenegro in Cetinje in 2010. His published works include a book of short stories Transparentne životinje (Transparent Animals, 2017) and a novel, Šamaranje (Slap in the Face, 2014) that was awarded the Prize for the Best Manuscript Novel in Montenegro earlier that year. In 2016, he won the second prize of the Festival of European Short Stories for Fashion and Friends. His short stories have been published in English, German, Russian, Albanian, Macedonian, and Slovene. Bošković also has written the scripts for a feature-length film, several short films, a sitcom serial, and a large number of documentaries. Several of his short plays have been staged.






I am convinced that mother is pregnant. Her stomach is a little larger than it was last week. While I was helping her with lunch, I noticed that she ate nine meatballs. I was mashing the potato and pretended that I couldn’t see. My brother didn’t believe me. He said that that would have been a major achievement even for Mirko the Giant, who ate thirty pancakes for dinner. I didn’t know what to think about mum’s pregnancy. 
I decided to direct my thoughts as far away as possible. It didn’t really help, except when I dreamed about Madagascar. I did my best to retain it in my memory for as long as possible by opening the atlas and staring at it for several hours at a time. It resembled a chunk of walnut in water.
When I was rummaging through my father’s wardrobe and clothes, which I would sometimes put on secretly, I came across an envelope with some money. Two hundred and twenty Euros. I took ten. Then twenty, then another ten, and ten more, and then thirty. I stuffed myself with sweets and paid for hours in the playground. It was a sultry, cloudy spring afternoon when my semi-recumbent father said: “We’ve got a thief in the house”. My brother and I were standing in the middle of the room. We looked towards the window, remaining silent. There was a whistling under the silvery sky. The sound of the wind mixed with the noise of a plane. My mother was standing over my father with the open envelope. “There’s eighty missing”. He said it twice, softly. My brother shrugged his shoulders. My mother’s face puffed up. I thought that it would turn into a balloon and get stuck to the ceiling. Many people have died in that way. The walls have stopped them flying off into the sky. They would bob around the light fittings in bedrooms. It was worst for those facing the wall. Their skeletons would later clatter like the wooden bars of a xylophone. They say that it is a terrifying sound. It can enter your dreams and turn them upside down. The hollow bones eventually turn to dust, to be carried away by the wind or a vacuum cleaner.
My brother was babbling, trying to make excuses for something that he hadn’t done. His head looked like a young tomato. He was using a lot of words. I interrupted the brisk argument by asking if we could get to Madagascar with that amount of money. My father made us leave the room, with the strict promise that this was not the end of things. Our parents continued the conversation, which grew into an argument. Their silhouettes gleamed against the frosted glass of the bedroom door. My brother dragged me away by the arm, saying that we shouldn’t be there.
We went out into the yard, picked the longest bits of straw and went hunting for lizards. I was never able to fashion a good loop at the top, where the straw was thinnest and most fragile. My brother managed it every time. I knew I would never learn, that I would never be part of the category of hunters to which he belonged. It was amazing to watch how he would slip the loop over the lizard’s head, seamlessly, without shaking, without any clumsy movement, glassy eyes staring, waiting. A quick tug and zap! The lizard would leap into the air and come down. My brother would spin the straw, making large circles to stun his prey.
Occasionally I would catch one too; usually the fatter, stupid ones that made no effort even to try to escape. We laid out about thirty of them, put them in a plain plastic box and took them home. On the way back, we had to run across the garden of our notorious neighbour Šterika and his lame pit-bull, Spike, who got off on violence. The way to do it was as follows: while my brother passed, I would throw banana skins and rose petals which Spike would swallow before smelling them. I said that he reminded me of our mother, which earned me a couple of hefty wallops from my brother. Later we counted our catch in silence. The ones that had died we cautiously tossed from the balcony into the bushes, while we fed the survivors and prepared them for battle. We would only release them after several days.
Mother and father weren’t talking. He barely addressed us. He avoided looking at us and answering our questions, especially when mother was there. We had turned into a family of mummies that watched TV. I assumed that everyone was thinking about something at the same time, hoping that my thoughts were the most important, given that it was I who had created all this chaos. I began to believe in the power of money and its destructive force, sincerely regretting what had been stolen and spent. I stopped eating sweets and visiting the playground.
Mother got fatter and ruddy in the face. I caught her gorging herself again, but this time with no shame. She looked at me as she chewed some potato pie, washing it down with a gulp of chocolate milk. When I said that the money might be somewhere in the wardrobe, she simply shook her head and continued stuffing her face. My brother also refused to talk, offended by our parents’ suspicion. Every night, before sleep knocked me out, I tried to turn back time to the day when I committed the crime. I closed my eyes tight and pressed hard on my temples, softly repeating: “now you’re in the wardrobe, and only in the wardrobe”. In the morning, I would wake up disappointed, realising that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. Hope soon faded of journeying through time. I stopped opening the atlas because of the crushed thoughts that could go no further than the door. I tried several times to tell my family the truth, to repent out loud and answer before whomever was necessary, to try to repair relations, but mother was usually slumped on the sofa, while father was scrolling on his telephone. They weren’t ready to receive information in the form that I had imagined. I was consumed by sadness. I had felt like this once before, in the second year, when Kaća, with whom I was in love, moved away. Purple clouds scudded in. You could feel dust in the air. From behind the window, I observed the wind. The spring storms were magical, incomplete, full of electricity, just like mother’s mouth had once been, properly shaped, lively, with taut skin around it.
After two days of flooding and warm rain, the morning dawned clear. Father had already appeared at breakfast wearing his boots. The mushrooms had emerged. I asked if mother was going with us, but father replied curtly that this would be an excursion for men. My brother and I looked at each other, confused and impatient; we sharpened the knives, cleaned the baskets and buzzed around like trapped wasps.
The worn-out springs tossed us around on the back seat. We laughed and messed around, catching father’s deadly serious face in the rear-view mirror. We stopped on an expanse of gravel and went into the woods. We formed a semicircular line so that we could scout the terrain more effectively. I like looking at desiccated crickets on crooked tree trunks. Because they are yellow and empty. They stand there stuck silently to the bark, the remnants of a small, crispy town. My brother always said that that was the stupidest thing anyone had ever said. I didn’t like mushrooms, even though my father would point out countless times and with great passion the nuances and differences between the edible and poisonous ones’. There was a key. A clear and easily comprehensible system, for which I never had sufficient concentration. All I could do was to sort them by colour and where they grew. I do have a favourite – a wood blewit. I felt some sort of connection with it. It’s transparent. It reminds me of a semi-precious stone I once saw in my aunt’s jewellery shop. I amassed a huge amount of this sort and thought to myself that this was the ideal moment for the truth. My knees started to shake, but I was resolute. I would eat so many mushrooms that I wouldn’t think about anything other than the pain in my stomach. I would find it easy to say those terrible words, almost without thinking. If there were to be harsh words or a beating, I wouldn’t feel them, as a result of being bloated. I tore into the wood blewits. I chewed on them, managing to stop myself from throwing up. I found it hard to breathe, let alone to walk. I left the cricket cemetery behind me and went to search for my father and brother. I waddled like a water-filled balloon.  My father was calling out for me. I tried to reply. My brother was sitting on a tree stump, his head bowed, fighting back tears. The basket was empty. My father stood there unmoving and pale. Sharply and coldly he told me to sit down. I squeezed up against my brother. My father was silent and stared blankly, and the next minute, the torrent of words gushed from his huge chest.
The journey home was silent. The car skidded as if on glass. We didn’t go over seventy. My brother drew rough shapes in the condensation on the windows. I floated like an astronaut. The nausea faded, together with the worry and sadness. Something new took their place, a vague feeling, empty and persuasive. Father was leaving us, going to live with another woman. We weaved across the plain. Father put his foot down. The engine hummed as it should. Then he braked suddenly. We lurched forward, grabbing hold of the seats, our heads locked in front of the windscreen. A huge lizard was standing in the middle of the main road. Instead of a tail, it flicked a stunted black growth. It looked at us in the same way that every monster looks at its prey. We were silent, like little monkeys who would start howling at any moment, frozen with terror.



Translated by James Cook

Kateryna Kalytko

Kateryna Kalytko

Kateryna Kalytko, born 1982 in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, is an award-winning writer and translator, a member of PEN Ukraine. She is the author of seven poetry volumes, her most recent being Torture Chamber. Vineyard. Home (2014) and Bunar (2018), both bringing her the LitAccent of the Year Prize. Kalytko has also published two books of short stories, M(h)ysteria and The Land of All Those Lost, orCreepy Little Tales, which won the Ukrainian BBC Book of the Year competition and the 2017 Joseph Conrad Literary Prize awarded by the Polish Institute in Kiev – for “writing that raises actual problems, makes you think and expands knowledge about other cultures”. Her selected writings have been translated into more than ten languages. She won the CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence in 2015, was a KulturKontakt Austria fellow in 2018 and a fellow in the Reading Balkans program in 2019. She is currently working on her first novel.

Slađana Kavarić

Slađana Kavarić

Slađana Kavarić, born 1991 in Podgorica, writes poetry and short stories. She has published two poetry collections, Sjećanje (Memory, 2010) and Ljudi niotkuda (People from Nowhere, 2016). Her short story Odlazak (Leaving) was published by the prestigious American magazine World Literature Today and her poems have been published by the British magazine Balkan Poetry Today. She holds a PhD in Philosophy.

Reading Balkans Residency 2019 – Open Call Results

South and East reaches West – digital platform for promotion of writers in post-conflict societies

Open Call – Results

Literary Residence Program

Reading Balkans Residency

The Reading Balkans Board received 96 applications for this call.  21 applicants were selected.

The selected applicants for residency Goga (Novo mesto) are:

  • Marko Vidojković
  • Renato Baretić
  • Antonela Marušić

The selected applicants for residency Krokodil (Beograd) are:

  • Azem Deliu
  • Ana Schnabl
  • Lana Bastašić

The selected applicants for residency Goten (Skopje) are:

  • Zdravka Evtimova
  • Jedrt Lapuh Maležič
  • Marija Pavlović

The selected applicants for residency Udruga Kurs (Split) are:

  • Tanja Šljivar
  • Anja Golob
  • Igor Angjelkov

The selected applicants for residency Poeteka (Tirana) are:

  • Alen Brlek
  • Vitomirka Trebovac
  • Marko Tomaš

The selected applicants for residency Qendra Multimedia (Prishtina) are:

  • Ivan Shopov
  • Stefan Bošković
  • Jasna Dimitrijević

The selected applicants for residency PEN BIH (Sarajevo) are:

  • Daim Miftari
  • Dijana Matković
  • Nikola Nikolić

We thank all applicants for the interest they have shown and the time and effort they have invested in preparing their application.

Reading Balkans Board

Yordan Slaveykov

Yordan Slaveykov

Yordan Slaveykov, born 1976 in Vratsa, Bulgaria, graduated in Theatre Directing from the NATFA – National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia in 2001. He is a theatre director, teacher, playwright, writer and screenwriter.

His first novel The Last Step was published in 2015. It won two national literature awards in 2016 – the 45th edition of the Bulgarian national contest for debut literature Yuzhna prolet (Southern Spring) and the Pencho’s Oak Award, given annually in recognition of literary contribution to contemporary Bulgarian culture.




The Last Step

Part One: Back then



The idea of death has always appealed to me. The cemetery in the village where I was born and spent the first twenty-three years of my life was my favorite place of solitude. Our house was next to the last in village and a dirt road, named who knows why The Old Path, lead to the cemetery. One could never get lost on the Old Path since it paralleled the railroad tracks. I loved the sweltering afternoons when my mother and my father were having a break from all the daily physical labor that each country house demanded. It is then when I quietly opened the front door, to avoid any creaking and even more quietly I closed it behind and I set out on the Old Path to the cemetery. Later on, when my mother passed away I covered the distance from the house to the cemetery in about fifteen minutes. When I was just a kid though it used to take me a minimum of half an hour. To get to the cemetery one had to go through the rather unsafe railway crossing. There was no barrier, no sound signals or whatsoever. I always imagined I had to cross the two rails as soon as I heard the signal. I crossed them without the signal. For the thrill of it. Because of the danger. Sometimes I would stop, take my sandals off, step on the sun flushed rail and wait for the signal. The sound of the approaching train resonated, raced for a couple of kilometers ahead, reaching my bare feet, flowing into my body. That is how I felt the power, the size, the danger of the train. I would let the sound fill me for a couple of seconds then I would bounce off. I would put my sandals back on, run across the four parallel tracks and on the same Old Path I would reach the cemetery. It was located on a hill with trees planted around the graves, high grass filling everything in between and lots and lots of flowers. Not on the graves – live ones. And lots of birds. It was never quiet. Contrary to the popular belief that the eternal home is a quiet place, you could hear the song of the birds even in the most scorching of summer days. I very much enjoyed stumbling on graves I had never seen before. I sat close to the grave – I fell silent. I studied the memorial tablet. I tried to calculate how long the person lived before he or she got there. I was never shocked by the old people that had passed away. It was the children that sent chills down my spine. I stood there imagining it was me lying in the ground and someone else was standing next to the grave, crying for me. I held my breath, I tried not to breathe. Back then that was the only way I understood death. Someone who is not breathing, eyes closed. Today I do not find that plausible. Not that it matters. The deceased does have his eyes closed and is not breathing. I used to like looking at beautiful tombstones. Marble ones. With the names and dates carved into the marble. With a fence surrounding the grave. With vases on both sides of the gravestone. It seemed legitimate to me that if you loved someone you would make them a beautiful home where they can spend their eternity. My child’s mind went through the other option too. If you did not love the one who passed away, you just put a wooden cross and that was that. I stood there for a long time. Or until I got hungry. Which basically is the same thing when you are a child. I would head home in a state of tranquility. The sadness inside me resonated with the sadness that soaked the crapes. They balanced one another. When I got home I felt very light. Until the next time I would sneak out quietly again, to go and fall silent, and my inner sadness would congregate with someone else’s sadness, soaking the crapes. The same sadness which had arisen soon after yet another hospital release, after yet another life-saving surgery. The one who I loved the most in my big big family was my mother. When she found out she was pregnant with me she got scared. She already had two other children. A son and a daughter. They lived in poverty. In the times of the so-called developed socialism and planned economy there was work for everyone. Underpaid security. We never starved, but there was just enough money to cover our basic needs. Food, clothes, shoes, wood and coal. No exorbitant spending, no luxury. No vacations during the summer or the winter. Mother told some relatives she was pregnant. An unexpected child. An unwanted one. They told her to get rid of me. What a convenient term. You do not speak of a human being. It is killed. It is taken care of, one can get rid of it – something unwanted, annoying. A mosquito. A louse. And she told them Are you the ones who are going to be looking after my child, or is that going to be me? Where there is food and room for two, there is for three. So she kept me. At the end of August, nine months pregnant, with a pick on her shoulder and with my father by her side she went outside the village, across the river, over the old rickety wooden bridge to water our water garden. The whole village had lots there. About two hundred square meters arable soil in which people cultivated peppers, tomatoes, cabbage… My mother used to plant flowers between the vegetable beds. Other women couldn’t believe she would waste the space for it. She always smiled and said she enjoyed the colors. And I was happy with it. Whenever I went looking for the water garden I always found it. It was the only one with flowers. So she went there with father, her contractions started, her waters broke. She went into labor. A long and a nightmarish one. She needed more than forty-eight hours to deliver me. Silently. She said it made no difference if she screamed – the pain was the same. She had a very specific sense of humor, a sharp one. She was extremely ironic. When she gave birth to me she said to the midwife: Such agony. Give him to me so I can strangle him. The other woman’s reply came in the same manner: It is too late missis. You should have acted nine months ago. The caesarian operation method had not yet made its way to the rural town in which I was born and she did not let them pull me out with a forceps which was out of the question anyways. It was a breech birth – I came out bum first, unlike other children. Bum first and my tiny arms wrapped around my head. Unlike other children. That is what I have always been. Unlike other children. Up to my fifth birthday I was ill. Constantly. Bronchitis, pneumonia, swollen lymph nodes. Operation. But all that seems naive compared to my last hospital visit. I remember it. A warm spring day. My mother took me to our neighboring hose, where a lonely, old lady lived. Her husband had died a long time ago. She had never remarried. She spoke of him with deep love. And in the present tense. I remember the color of the house. Yellow. A yellow two story house which I found gigantic. And a big staircase which lead to the living floor. The first floor was actually a vast basement. The reason why we visited was that the old lady’s daughter was there, spending a day or two with her mother. She had her son with her. A boy my age. While the women were talking in the other room we started a game of chase. The doors and windows in both rooms were open. That I remember. I chased him – he ran. I remember the room. A window across the door. A big bed in the middle, a wardrobe on the left. Solid. Brown. The boy jumped on the bed, and I decided to corner him, but from the other side, so I took a step forward and… I fell. I flew through the air. I flew. In the rug covered floor there was a hole. A big one. Knowing that, the boy went around it. I went straight into it. And I fell. In the basement. My flight was brief. A second at most. I felt no pain. I just heard a crunch. Somewhere in my head. After that I lost consciousness. They took me to a hospital. A hopeless case. That is what they told my mother. A hopeless case. Something like “Get rid of it”. She cried. The doctor told her “Stop crying missis. You have two children left”. No one would operate on me. Two broken neck vertebrae. Nineteen eighty-one. Primordial medical equipment. And yet. Yet the national pediatric consultant gave his brief. And a doctor’s name. They flew in the doctor by helicopter. The doctor had no right to be religious. But he was. He produced a tiny golden cross from his uniform pocket, kissed it and prayed to save me. If there is a God – he heard his prayer. A long operation. Hours long. After that I slipped into a coma. They told my parents there was a chance I would not wake up. Or if I did wake up I might have experienced brain damage. I was in that state for eight days… eight days.

Years after that I asked her how she had felt during those days. When it was not certain whether I would wake up or not. She looked at me. She stared for a long time. She started saying something but decided against it. I remember the sigh that accompanied her decision. I woke up on the eight day after the operation, at dusk. I looked at her. She sat on the little children’s chair next to the bed, waiting for me to come around. And when I did I told her I wanted to eat something and she started crying. At first they did not allow my mother to visit me. They would not let her stay in the room with me. That was the law. Only children who were up to two years old were allowed to have their parents with them. I was five. I do not know what she said and how she fought, but during my stay in the hospital my mother lived in the room with me. She spent more than half a year like this – sitting on the tiny chair next to my bed. There was no bed for her. She was not allowed to get one. She slept in the tiny chair – sitting, resting her head on my bed. Mother. My mother. My own mother. She was taking care of four or five other kids in the room. Boys. Older than me. Abed – just like me. Feeding, scrubbing bodies with wet towels instead of showers. Changing the bedpans. I remember one of the boys. Later on she told me in detail about him. His family was going on vacation to the seaside. The father was driving. The driver of a big truck lost control of his vehicle and slammed into them head on. Their car was reduced to nothing. His father, mother and little sister died on the spot. Every Thursday and Sunday his grandparents would come and visit him. And along with the fruit and juice they brought for him, they also brought another bag with a spare change of clothes. They went into the restroom on our floor, they took of their mourning clothes and put on the ones they had brought. Then they entered the room. Every time he would ask where his parents and little sister were. They told him they were doing okay, getting better and that they loved him and wanted to see him and they would visit soon… The boy was twelve or thirteen years old back then. I don’t know if he knew they were lying. Probably. One day he told my mother “Mom, can I have some water?”. And he started crying. Inconsolably.




I am the first born in the family. They say that the first born in every family gets the most love. It is the most eagerly expected. Especially if it is a boy. My mother and my father come from different parts of the country. My father from one, my mother – from another, they met each other and got married in a third place. My mother worked and studied, my father worked. When they got married they were so poor that they had to steal two forks and two spoons from the cafeteria where they had lunch when they were working. They brought them in their tenement so that they could eat together in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Our home is full of black and white photos from their wedding. From their registry marriage. My mother is not wearing a white dress. They could not afford it. My dad is wearing a suit. Mother is wearing a skirt and a jacket. Or a dark dress. I can’t remember. The photo is beautiful. They are beautiful. My mother is thin, fine, with long hair. My father is beautiful, he is smiling and has his arm around her. She is his wife now. My father has wavy hair. They look happy. They are happy. Soon after that my mother gets pregnant. Or just before the wedding. They get married and they move to live in the village where my father was born. After those events I was born. The first born. What blessedness. I must have been ten or eleven years old. Not more than that. I cannot even remember what was it I had done. Honestly. It was nothing more than what a boy that age would do. Maybe I smoked my first cigarette. Or I shattered someone’s window with my slingshot. Must have been something like that. Or at the most I came home with yet another poor mark from school.

It was time for my father to go to work. The night shift. I loved it when he worked nights. I was walking around the village and I was coming home. I was starving. Both of us met in the middle of our front yard. When we were close enough he lashed. His hand hit my face with its full might.  I stumbled. He got a hold of me, turned me to face him and hit me again. On the face. As hard as he could. He took off my jacket. He took off my sweater. He kept hitting me. He was cursing. My mother came out and tried to break up the fight. He struck her too. She fell on the ground. He tore my shirt. He pushed me on the ground. I think he started kicking me. He took off my shoes. I could not fight back anymore. I only had my hands on my face. He took off my trousers. After that my underwear. He left me bare naked. He grabbed me by the hair and dragged me across the yard. In the front yard we had a lime tree, right next to the front gate. He made me stand right next to it and lift my hands in the air. Mother was screaming. He took off his belt and started whipping my back. I hollered. Our neighbors rushed on the street. Two men could barely hold my father back. He would not stop cursing and yelling that he was going to kill me, that he was not paying enough attention to me and it was high time I learnt who the father in this house was and I was going to obey him. Soon after that I ran away for the first time. I did not know where to go. I only wanted to be away from home when my father was there. Our house is very close to the railroad, which divides our village in two parts. They were respectively named The Upper and The Lower neighborhood. We lived in The Lower one. After you cross the rails you would find yourself in a field which from time to time was sowed with wheat, corn or sunflowers. After that field came the woods. I dressed properly, I found a hat and mittens. Our backyard, which we called the black yard, because it had no cement and we kept our animals there, was divided in two parts. The other part was where my parents sowed corn or alfalfa. I entered the latter part through a small gate. I closed it behind and ran across the garden. At the end of the yard my grandfather had planted about thirty threes. Sycamores. They formed a sort of a fence. After them came the railroad. I ran across that too, I was scared that my father would see me. I went into the woods. It got dark. It got cold. They started looking for me. I could hear them calling my name. I stood silent. Although I wanted to call out. I wanted to be found. I wanted to be held and kissed and told how much they loved me. And my dad to say sorry. I kept silent, because I was afraid. I spent the night there. It got very cold. I got hungry. I had not taken any food with me. I did not want to eat any food, bought by him. I stayed awake the whole night. In the morning he went to work, my mother called the neighborhood’s militiaman and some neighbors and they found me. We were silent during the short walk home. When I got inside my mother had started the stove – she had made French toast. The room was cozy and warm. I ate. I had tea. Mother told me she would turn on the heater so I could take a shower.   I fell asleep before that. I woke up. I saw what time it was and I got scared. My father would be home soon. My mother told me he would not hit me anymore, that he loved me and he was sorry. He got home from work. We had dinner. After dinner he told me he wanted to talk to me – man to man. I put my hands on my ears. He looked at me for a long time. I wished he would hold me.  After a month he gave me another beating. Not as brutal as the first one. He did not take my clothes off. He did not take his belt off. But he beat me. And I ran away again. After that he beat me again. I ran away once more.

Next summer my father, my mother, my sister and my little brother went to the seaside. For two whole weeks. On the Golden Sands beach. I could not figure out the reason, but they did not take me with them. They packed, they got on the train. My grandfather and I saw them off to the railway station. They left without me. I did not get to see the sea then. I wanted to see it so much. Very much. Very. I wanted to go to the beach. To get into the water. To go fishing. With dad. They came back. Happy. Tanned. They had brought me clams and sand. And a conch. I was happy to see them. When autumn came I found out they had withdrawn me from the school in the neighboring village where I used to go with my sister. They had enrolled me in a boarding school. In a town about sixty or seventy kilometers away from our village. How nice it is going to be, they told me. How I would change my surroundings and stop hanging out with children, who are a bad influence, they told me. How I would come back home every weekend, they told me. How truly, genuinely good the teachers and educators were, they told me. I asked mother and father how come they knew that the teachers and educators in the boarding school were good. My father got mad. He yelled at me. He did not hit me. My mother started crying and told me she loved me and she did not want me to go anywhere. I departed on the first day of school. My sister put her arms around me and whispered in my ear that she would be waiting for me every week at the train station. My little brother was delighted. He could not understand what was happening. He just kept saying: My brother is going, my brother is going. Soon after that I ran away from the boarding school. I wanted to go back home. Sometimes I think my whole life is one big run-away routine. I think to myself I was born to run. I got to the woods and I started walking along the railroad. I tried to remember from which direction I had got there on the first day of school, when I had arrived by train. That was where I was headed. I did not manage to get home. Night caught me on the road. I was constantly on the lookout for passing trains. Fog spread out. Even if there were any stars or a bright Moon it was impossible for me to see them. Hunger took over me. I was starving. I got off the tracks and went straight into the first village. Dogs were barking. I barked back. Just for laughs. It wasn’t a long time until I ran out of village. That is one of the peculiarities of small villages. The tour is brief. The paved road came to an end, giving way to a dirt road. In our village we call it a black road. The road on which the moon was not shining lead me to something like a cottage area. More like vineyards, each one accompanied by a little house. I went into the first one, where no dog was barking. Good. It was not open. I broke in. I shattered the window. Making my way in, I cut myself. I found some cans – fruit and pickled vegetables. I ate. I was full. I fell asleep on the floor. In the morning the owner dropped by. He saw the shattered window, had a peek inside, saw I was sleeping. He went back into the village to get the militiaman. They opened the door very quietly. Not to wake me up. They started kicking me while I was sleeping. Some people really enjoy beating other people up. Especially when those other people are weaker. I managed to ask the militiaman wheatear he could not find someone his own age to beat up. He smashed his fist into my nose. After that they said I had tried to run away, I tripped, fell on the ground and broke my nose. Years after that militiamen became policemen. And policemen acted in the same manner as militiamen. I was convicted after that. The militiamen turned over the case to the children’s pedagogical authority. An institution that deals with child criminals. And their reeducation. It was there where they found out it was not my first time to smash glass and eat  from cans.  I was found dangerous to society. I was not attending any normal school, but a boarding school. So I was convicted.  They sent me in a reform school. Labor adorns men. That was the reason why we did so much labor in this school. We studied quite little. I remember the first night. And the second. The third. The dormitory. Bunk beds. Rugs between them. The stale smell of unbathed boys, of feet. Sweat. A light smell of urine. There was a keeper in the hall. He pretended not to hear anything. They turned the lights off. They beat me up. With no reason. Just so I would know I was the new guy and the old dogs were in charge. They urinated on my bed. I slept on the floor. Gullible me to think that the worst part was over. Breakfast – four top tables, the cafeteria was actually a basement space with windows through which you could see anyone’s knees if they were passing by the building from the outside – they pushed my food tray on the ground. They laughed. They did it again during lunch. And during dinner. I could not take it anymore. I was starving. I went into a frenzy. I hit one of them. That was a mistake. In the evening, in the dormitory, they raped me. For the first time. There were several of them. The one that I hit was one of them. It was brutal. They turned the lights off. I stood in the corner, but they were so many. First they kicked me until I fell on the ground. After that they put a pillow on my face. So that no one would hear me scream. Two of them were holding my hands. Two of them my legs. They took my clothes off. For a minute there I imagined I was home, and my father was taking my clothes off and he was going to beat me. They lifted my legs up. They were holding me very firmly. And they did it. I think I passed out after the third one. When I came to they had put me in my bed and tucked me in. I was bleeding. I was in horrible pain. A cutting pain in the lower half of my body. I got up. Slowly. Very slowly. Everyone was asleep. I went into the hall. The light was on. The keeper was snoozing in an old armchair, his newspaper resting on his lap. He woke up. He told me where the bathroom was, to go and clean up and warned me not to whine. That is how things were there. Every newbie went through this. It was nothing to be alarmed about. Tradition. In the bathroom there was only cold water. It cooled down my flaming body. The bathroom was lit by a single light bulb. There was a cracked mirror there too. I was alone with my shame. I did not cry. I went back into the dormitory. Everybody was still sleeping. I took a pillow from my bed. I went to the guy who I had punched during dinner. He was sleeping on the lower floor. I clutched the pillow. With both hands. Really clutching it. I approached his sleeping face. I did not know what to do. I wanted to cause him pain. And a lot of it. The floor creaked. He woke up. Opened his eyes. He did not move a muscle. He was not blinking. I was not blinking. The Moon was out. She always does what she pleases. And always shows her face when the time is wrong. He took his hand out from under his blanket. And he slowly approached my hands, still clutching the pillow. We stared at each other. We were not blinking. He touched my hand. His palm was cool. I let go of the pillow. I was hypnotized. He opened his mouth, his tongue brushed his teeth. To this day I remember what he told me. Go on. Do it. I want it all to stop. I could not move. I felt my heartbeat in my throat. I gathered as much spit as I could and I spat. In his face. He did not move. The following day after dinner they beat the hell out of me. He and his friends. My every muscle was sore. One of my eyebrows was split open, my nose swollen and my lip – split. I could not breathe. He came next to my bed, he propped my head up. He helped me drink some water. And he said it again. Kill me. Stop me. A couple of years later I was in prison and news of him reached me. They let him out earlier for good behavior.

He went home. He killed his parents. He slaughtered them. Like animals. And after that he cut his throat. Maybe I should have stopped him. I should have put the pillow on his face. Should have. Done something. Maybe he was aware of the monster which he was becoming. Maybe.





Poverty made me sing. It is how I kept myself from screaming. While singing I was actually daydreaming. I was the oldest of three children. I have been taking care for my sister and my brother for as long as I could remember. Spoiled children. Weak. But I loved them. Flesh and blood. There was no other way. The three of us went to school. I prepared breakfast. I took them to school. It was in the village next to ours. I picked them up from school. I made lunch. Our parents were always busy. Always on the fields. I raised my brother and my sister. My mother gave birth. I raised. I did not sleep when they were ill. Always patching and tailoring old clothes. Trying to make them look appropriate. But my most vivid memories are from something else. From taking care of our animals. I was our sheep’s shepherd too. And the goats’. I took care of the pigs too. I am not complaining. Those were the days. The bad thing about it was that those were not our animals. I was taking care of other people’s animals. All summer long. Every summer. I smelled like barn and manure. I was a pretty girl. Slender. Fine. With long hair and a Roman nose. I wanted to become a pharmacist. I do not know why. It sounded so prestigious to me. My father would not allow it. A pharmacist and an actress for him was the same thing. Frivolous professions. Whorish. That is how he referred to them. Whorish professions. He did not want his daughter becoming a whore. He said he would shave my head if he found out. I ran away because of poverty only to end up in another kind of poverty. Just my luck. I ran away. It was not planned. One day it just happened. I stole some money. I knew where my mother kept it. I walked on foot from our village to the next. I took the bus from there to the closest city. I went to the station there and bought a ticket with the remainder of the money. I arrived late at night. With no money. Hungry and free. The same night I slept on a bench in the park, next to the river. No one bothered me. Those were the days. In the morning I found a militiaman and I told him a made-up story, about a dead aunt and the money I have lost. I even cried, for the sake of authenticity. He bought it. He got me breakfast and paid for it. He accommodated me in a dorm and helped me get a job. He did not want anything in return. That is how men were back then. I started working on a building site. Crane operator. An honorable occupation. Side to side with men. Far from family, the sheep and the pigs. Far from being a pharmacist. But I was making my own money for the first time. And that was when the miracle happened. I saw him. He was coming down from the scaffolding on the site. His hard hat fell right in my feet. Serendipity. I looked up and my breath stopped. Tall. Broad shoulders. Full lips. Wavy hair. And as it turned out – engaged. For the first time I felt fire in my loins. I found out his name. I followed him to the place where he was meeting his fiancé. I called out his name. He turned around.  I smiled and reminded him we were supposed to meet tomorrow at the park’s entrance. I walked away. Behind my back all hell was breaking loose. He came to the park’s entrance with the clear intention of killing me. Instead he kissed me. I thought I was already pregnant. I taught him how to smoke and eat olives. My fingers brushed his beautiful wavy hair and I was happy. We got married in a couple of months. And the fairytale came to an end. He turned out to be poor. Like most  young men in our country back then. Back then there was a minimum of a year’s wait to get a television, a ten years’ wait for an automobile and for a panel flat – more than twenty. My husband was a good man. My husband is a good man. He has a temper. But he doesn’t stay angry for long. Sometimes he hits me. But that is normal too. He has difficulty expressing his feelings. That is why most of the time I wonder wheatear there are any feelings or not. He is clumsy. Gawky. If he decides to make something with his hands it always comes out ugly. He is thoroughly deprived of the sense of how things work. I fear he might pass this on to our children. After we got married, we left the city and went to live in the village his father was born in. I ran away from one village. I ended up in another. His father was very thin, almost dry. Tall. A widower. Tough character. I kissed his hand, I called him father. I immediately set about cleaning the house, washing the windows, doing the laundry and cooking. I picked some flowers, I put them in glass jars. The house just lit up. I wanted to turn this men’s house into a home. And I did it. My father-in-law helped me out and my husband would occasionally not get in the way. My husband always managed to find a job, not that there were any other options. He never got the right job though. The job that would get him on the waiting list for an apartment in the city. Or if he did find such a job there always came someone with all the right connections to cut in line on the list before him. I yearned to live in the city. To have running hot water. To not have my rest room at the back of the yard. To have central heating. To wear dresses, not robes. To have high heels, not slippers. Not that I did not buy the occasional dress. I quickly gave up on them. There are not many places to wear a dress to in the village. Actually there is no such place at all. Those were my dreams. I was young and beautiful. And some other man could have make my dreams come true. Instead in no time I found myself mothering two children. Then came another one. My life was on repeat. Irreversible. When I had my first son I had no idea what I was supposed to do, nor what changes this event should bring upon us, nor how I should tend to this child. It is not true that you start loving the child immediately after it comes out of you. They gave me a wrinkled, ugly piece of meat that would not stop crying. He would not suckle. That is how I became a mother. I did not know what to do with him. I did not want him. I wanted to go home alone. I was exhausted from the last nine months. I needed a break. In a couple of weeks I started to feel motherly. My husband wanted to hold him. I did not want to give him the child. I wanted to keep him safe. My once beautiful husband now seemed too big and too clumsy. I was afraid he was going to drop the child. I did not want his huge hands on my baby. One day the baby was sleeping and I thought I could not hear him breathing. In a manner of seconds I just froze. I wanted to die. That is when I knew I loved him. When I was pregnant I came down with the jaundice. I gave it to my baby. Inside my womb. I stopped breastfeeding. I developed complications. My liver was damaged. My son made a full recovery. I never did. He was a calm baby and grew up to be a calm child. Thin face, wax-like, black hair, green eyes. Beautiful. Thoughtful. Quiet. I almost felt I did not have a child. He was present in my life, and in his, very delicately. I do not know how things went wrong. I do not know when. It was my first time being a mother. No one taught me how to be a mother. There is no school for that. No textbooks. There are no makeup exams for parents who failed. I would never know why he suddenly started doing badly at school, he started skipping classes, he missed a lot of them, so they called a parent’s meeting, then the pedagogical council and they punished him. I tried – I tried to help him, to understand him. I talked with him. Daily. Many times. I fought with him, I urged him. I could see that something was not right with my child. Something was changing him before my eyes. I did not know what it was. I procrastinated things with him. I begged him to talk to me. To tell me. There was no use. He was silent. Or he would say that he was sorry and he was going to make things right. His father had none of my patience. He started beating him. That I was never able to forgive him for. It is what I never forgave myself – I let my husband beat our child like one beats an animal.

A year passed after I gave birth and I managed to convince my husband we need to take a shot and try to make it in the big city. In the capital. I worked as a genitor, but that did not bother me. We were living in the city. My children would not tend to sheep and goats; they were going to have walks in parks. The children. The one that I loved most was the girl. My daughter. I delivered in the capital. She was everything I was not. She was prematurely born. She had a malformation on one of her eyes. She was almost blind. They operated immediately. They saved her from going blind. But the eye which they worked on remained visibly smaller. It broke my heart. She had a strange regime too. Up to her second birthday she would sleep all day and stay up all night. Every night. Me and her father lived in a rental home and we worked shifts. Brother and sister loved each other very much. I remember that when she peed herself, he would take off her wet panties and her tights and try to put them on. It was about that time when my father-in-law got ill. His daughter was living in the capital, she had a job a family and an apartment. There was no way she was going back to the village. It was me and my husband who did go back. We had jobs and a family too. But we had no apartment. And so the scales tipped. We went back. To look after him. So he would not be alone. To help him out. So much for my dreams. I left those to her. My daughter grew up to be a bright and stubborn child. She was very good at drawing. She read a lot. She did not have a lot of friends. She was always self-conscious about her eye. I noticed that and I kept telling her it was a minor defect, barely noticeable, that she was mommy’s girl and I loved her very much. I would not allow her to do any choirs. I would not allow her to set foot in the kitchen. That got my husband angry. He said I was not bringing her up like a proper girl. I did not want my girl becoming a house-wife like me. I did not want her to spend her days in the kitchen and the bedroom. When not in the bedroom – watching TV. When not watching TV – in the restroom. I did not want her to wonder where to wear her dresses to. I did not want her living in the countryside. I did not want her talking to rude people. To work shifts in the factory. I did not want her getting married when she turned eighteen, just like I did. I wanted her to have a different life. I dreamed of her becoming a famous artist or a writer. How her beautiful paintings would adorn the walls of prestigious galleries and museums. Or how her novels are sold worldwide. Or how they would interview her on television and she would say: Everything that I am, I owe to my mother and the way she brought me up. I am seeing this on TV and my tears of joy are rolling down my cheeks. I laugh. A laugh of joy. Then she stopped drawing. She started writing poems. I encouraged her. I still keep the notebooks with her poems. I replaced the novels in my dreams with poetic books and I was still happy.

My little one came unexpectedly. Most probably I would have had an abortion, if my husband’s relatives were not rooting for the same thing. I kept the child in spite. I never came to regret this. Giving birth to him was excruciating. Difficult. It took ages. Soon after I gave birth, they discovered there was something wrong with my kidneys. One of them just stopped functioning properly. I started having problems with my blood pressure. I was less than thirty years old, I had three children and bad health. No one has ever given me so much love as my little son did. Never. That child loved me with every fiber in his body. He never asked me to love him back. He demanded my love for him to be at least as strong as his. He was constantly ill – suffocation, lung problems, asthma… he demanded my full attention. And he loved me to death. He did not get a lot of sleep when I was working the night shift. And when I finally got home, tired, he would ask me to read him a story and told me I could sleep with one eye closed and keep my other one open. He slept in my bed. Until he got into the fifth or sixth grade. No one else could find a good enough reason for that, but the two of us. That way I did not have to share my bed with his father. It was a battle between the two of them. For my bed and for my heart. My child needed me. I did not need his father in my bed. The little one made the change from an unexpected baby, to momma’s boy. He was a willful child. Capricious. It took him years to start eating spices. He was capable of removing a microscopic peace of parsley in his food, place it on the table with disgust and stop eating. He was a chubby child, he lost weight afterwards. He had very sensitive skin, so the clothes he wore were always inside out – the edges, stiches and labels sticking outside. Otherwise they would irritate his skin. He was bossing his friends around, but they loved him. He quickly developed quite the strong sense of justice. Of what was good and what is wrong. He had his own moral tape line, with which he measured everything and everyone. Pity the soul who did not measure up. Bless those who did. He became friends with some gypsy kids from our village – he did not like our neighbors’ kids, he read a lot, he read as if he were an adult. Passionately. He finished his first book when he was about five – his sister taught him to read. He has not stopped since. He was clever. Too clever for his age. No matter his age, when he was growing up – he was just too smart. And very lonely, very melancholic. I could perfectly see it. And I stopped loving him. I started adoring him. Because I saw my sadness in him.




Having a nickname is like having an incurable disease. You cannot die of it. But it cannot be cured. You are scared. Your name is erased. And your essence. And it does not matter who you are or what you did. Or what you did not do. Sometimes I think that when I die, no one would remember my name. Only my nickname will be engraved on my tombstone. The eyeless.

Children, especially girls, can be cruel. They fixate on your defects and bring them to the foreground. I did not wear any glasses. I refused. I broke all the pairs I had. But you could see it without them. It was obvious to the naked eye that one of my eyes was smaller than the other. The eyeless. Hey, Eyeless, better watch your feet so you don’t stumble. Eyeless, could you count my breakfast money, please? Hey, Eyeless, how do you comb your hair, how do you brush your teeth, can you see yourself in the mirror?…

Eyeless this, Eyeless that… Eyeless all day long, no exceptions, no weekends. I never cried, I never complained. Once or twice my brother beat up one of them. I told him not to. Things got worse. They cornered me after school – the boys. Good boys, our neighbors. They pushed me on the ground and started kicking me. They we asking me: Eyeless, where’s your brother now, eh? And they called me names. I dreamed of being a princess. To have two identical eyes. And to be loved by all boys, I dreamed they all want to marry me. I really wanted the boys to just let me love them. And marry them. And they would forget my nickname. I was a good writer. I was a good artist. Alas they were not impressed by those talents of mine. Whenever I went out on the street, or in recess in school, or wherever it was, regardless if I was alone or with my friends it was all I heard. The nickname! I loathed them. And I loved them at the same time. I craved their attention. And I was determined to get it. To win them over. At any cost. I went to the places where they hung out – at the stadium, on the hill, next to the locked church, in the woods surrounding our village. At first they chased me away. They would call me names to my face and I would just leave. Afterwards they were just making fun of me. Eventually they stopped paying attention to me. Just as if I was not there. But I was. I learnt how to play their games. And to win. I earned their respect.

Halfway. When I started making games up – I won their attention. I was not a good archer, because of my eye, but whenever we played Cowboys and Indians everyone wanted me on their team. I came up with brilliant hiding places for the Indians. And great tactics for the Cowboys. But before they let me in, I had to be baptized. It was during a summer break. At midnight. My parents were asleep, I went out.

The boys were waiting for me at the stadium. They told me my task was to go to the cemetery alone. And come back with evidence that I had actually been there. I said nothing. I was not afraid of the dark. I set out. I came back with a bouquet. I gathered the flowers from the graves. The boys laughed their lungs out. I threw it at their feet. One of them kicked it and the laughing seized. Something heavy fell on the stadium’s grass. Matchboxes were produced. Matches were lit. Amongst the flowers there was a crucifix replica I managed to dislodge from a wooden cross. Someone gave out a whistle. That was their reaction. After that – a silence as loud as a wild applause. They got on their bikes and set about the dark rural streets. But before they did, each and everyone of them came to me and gave me a hearty pat on the back. Like guys do. But I became no tomboy.

My life changed, it started to resemble a fairy tale. I became a princess. The boys looked at me with respect. With admiration. I became one of them. The only girl who had been given the honor. An enchanting summer. Each morning I woke up with the sense of having overslept, being late, that the day would not be enough for all the games we had to play. The hours would prove short for all the expeditions we planned on setting out on. We demolished the old rickety bridge over the river and started building a new one. That job turned out to be more difficult than we had imagined. And instead of giving us a hard time, all the adults decided to give us a hand. Headed by the mayor, who had a leather helmet and a motorbike. Our enthusiasm spread throughout the village. And on the river work was going at full speed for a couple of days. Our fathers would stop by and have a cigarette, we would drink lemonade, our mothers would cook and bring lunch. Three blessed days. Afterwards me and the boys designed birdhouses. Our village is surrounded by woods from both sides. On the left river side is The Oak Woods. On the right side – The Pine Woods. We built a lot of houses and we hung them in the threes. When autumn came we were going to put food inside – wheat, sunflower seeds, corn… I felt part of something big. For the first time in my life I belonged to a group of people who accepted me the way I was. I looked upon other girls from the village with disregard. They on the other had looked at me with envy. I felt beautiful and loved. I was beautiful and loved. I was the brave girl in a boy’s party. I started making up games. That was when they all went crazy. Everyone participated in my games – all ten friends of mine and I. They forgot about my nickname, as if it had never been. And even more – I too forgot about it. And I was happy.

I was a beautiful princess, locked up in a vast castle (a tree), who needed to be rescued. Half of them were knights, the other half – the castle’s guards. Or a slave, property of greedy slave owners… or a brave girl-pirate with whom the boys traversed the seas and oceans in search of loot and adventure. My favorite game was the one where a beautiful blind girl wanders the world all by herself. She finds herself in the hands of bad people, who make her their slave. One day the son of the worst of them all falls in love with the blind girl, has a fight with his father, defeats him in a duel and saves the girl. The two of them get married and set out on a quest to find a cure for the girl’s blindness.

The end of summer was upon us. Our parents had already bought us new backpacks, the occasional winter clothes, a pair of sneakers for our physical education classes. Everything had been bought from the fare in the closest city. Mornings became chilly, days became shorter, just like an old and worn out piece of clothing. The boys and I decided to play one of our games just one more time. One of my games. We drew sticks. The outcome was that we had to play The blind girl. We were at the stadium. The boys had left their bicycles near by. It was in the afternoon. I went back to my place to get a blindfold – that is how I played The Blind Girl – with a blindfold on my eyes. The idea was not to be able to see at all. Not just keep my eyes closed. I found one of my mother’s babushkas in the wardrobe and I took it. I went back to the stadium. I put the blindfold on my eyes and I fastened it. One of the boys checked it. I stood still, my legs slightly apart, I spread my arms and I started whirling. Ten times in one direction. And ten times in the other. So I could get disorientated. To truly become blind. And the game began. The blind girl, who had lost her way, was wondering in complete darkness, guided only by her sense of sound. The boys were making sounds with their mouths. They mimicked the sound of horse hooves. A river. Birds, dogs, they started roaring like beasts. Suddenly two of them grabbed me by the arms, covered my mouth and started leading me somewhere. Those were the rules of the game. The bad guys were kidnapping the Blind Girl. Someone tripped me. Someone put his foot behind me and pushed me backwards. They let go of me. I was not expecting that. I fell on my back. It hurt. Someone put his hand on my mouth. Roughly. Forcefully. I waved my hands. They pinned them to the ground. I started struggling. I started kicking. They restrained me. Something was happening. That was not in the rules of the game. I felt that it was something evil, but I did not know what exactly. Or I did not want to know. I was fourteen years old. They took my clothes off. From the waist down. They were touching me. They were examining me. I did not see it, but I felt it. They did not speak. Suddenly someone said: Let’s do this!

And so it started. They tried to penetrate me. I was a virgin. They were inexperienced. They spread my legs to the limit. Someone came up with the idea to put some clothing underneath my back. Boys and men always come up with things, that make their lives easier. They took turns. With no success. Eventually one of them did make it. He hollered. The others cheered. After that everyone had his turn. Thank God not all of them could do it. Out of stress or out of shame or out of fear, some of them could not raise. I knew it was over, when they let go of me and one of them kicked me: Get up, you blind whore! You’re fine. Don’t pretend this isn’t what you wanted all summer. Now you got it! I heard the scratch of a match and the lighting of a cigarette and then they left. I did not faint. I was not so lucky. I tried to get up. I could not. I laid there for a long time. For hours. I tried to get on my feet again. I made it. The lower part of my body felt very hot. The upper – ice cold. I went home, I did not have dinner. I washed myself in the bathroom. I went to bed. I felt so ashamed. I prayed I would die. Instead I fell asleep. I told no one. I thought they were going to banish me from home, so I kept silent.  None of the girls were friends with me, except one, but I could not bring myself to tell her. Of course the boys bragged about it. Not soon after that all my classmates knew. They knew their version. The boy’s version. How I had been asking for that the whole summer. Some help in becoming a woman. No one inquired about my side of the story. At first glance nothing changed in my life. I kept going to school. I stopped drawing. Not that I hadn’t done that before. I started writing a lot. And I hid everything I wrote. In my writings shame mutated into anger. Nothing changed. Except the nickname. It evolved. No one called me Eyeless anymore, I was now The Eyeless Whore. I am thankful that my brothers and the rest of my family did not find out.





Father. My father. The father. Dad. Daddy. After that – grandfather, grandpa, old man. In between – husband, spouse… I am all of these things. I was not ready for any of them. I like being alone. Living alone. A hermit. The most appropriate word. I got married, because my wife was beautiful. I was flattered she wanted me. She claimed I was beautiful too. I do not know. I do not remember. She was neither my first woman, nor the last – so it was not because of sex. Enter the children – that is how things are supposed to be. The first one, then the second one and surprise – the third one came into this world. I was happy with them. I carried them around in my arms. But I was no good at telling fairytales or singing songs. I mean which guys is? I did not understand them. Neither what they wished for, nor their whims. It was as though I had never been a child. As though I was born eighteen years old and had never traversed the world of children. When I became a father I was horrified to discover that such a world existed. I loved them. In my own way. They were my children, after all. I sometimes beat them. When they deserved it. And not all of them. Maybe I just beat up my oldest son. I cannot remember. Their first words, their first steps, their first day in school brought me joy. I celebrated with them. But there has always been this distance. I just lacked something. I could never fully fit in. I do not know why that was. How can I name something that I do not even know what it is? My children did not complete me. Later on they grew up – enter the grandchildren. I hoped that something inside me would find its way out, something would change. That I would feel part of something. In vain. I loved my grandchildren, I still love them… And when they visit me and leave me afterwards – I forget about them. It was the same with my wife – may she rest in peace. I loved her. I have hit her. That does not change the fact that I loved her. Our marriage did not complete me either. I do not have any talents. I used to draw pretty well. I stopped a long time ago. I cannot remember the reason. I read a lot, but only historical books. And with time my interest in reading faded away. I watch television. A lot. Not that I enjoy what I am seeing, but at least I get informed about what is happening in our country and across the world. I get up early in the morning. I turn on the radio. I listen to folklore music. And news. I start the stove. Even when it is warm. I love fire. I love the sound with which wood burns and turns into ashes. Into nothing. I like to mash these warm, gray ashes between my hands. Sometimes there is an ember amongst the ashes. I mash it too. It burns my palms. It hurts.




Translated by Lyubomir Lyubenov

Peter Dentchev

Peter Dentchev

Peter Dentchev, born 1986 in Varna, is a Bulgarian writer, theatre director and publicist. He graduated in Drama from the Krastio Sarafov National Theater Academy in 2010, and completed a Master’s degree in Theatrical Arts in 2012. He has been nominated and won awards at various competitions for poetry, prose and drama (New Bulgarian Drama, Contest Ecstasy, Light Stretch Award). He was twice the recipient of the second prize at the National Youth Poetry Competition Veselin Hanchev. His novel Like a Man Kissing a Woman He Loves won him the ‘Razvitie’ Award for Best New Bulgarian Novel in 2007. He has also published a collection of stories Stories from The Past (2010) and the novel The Quiet Sun (2012). He was also twice a guest at the short story festival Kikinda Short in Serbia.

Dentchev Theatrical portfolio includes staged plays by authors such as Edward Albee, Jordi Galceran, Shakespeare and Molière, which have been performed at various festivals in Serbia, Romania, Montenegro and Kosovo and been nominated for various national awards.




The Silent Sun

The voice you are hearing right now is mine.

At first it felt humiliated to speak alone. It felt alone and unsteady. I didn’t hear it either. But after it shot through the chimney, it shouted out my story in a single breath: as a dying man’s last words and felt that it didn’t reach people’s ears but their hearts. It separated from my body, which had turned to ash and dust and it began calling for me. It called but I no longer existed. Then it began to whisper then shout.  And so on until the end of the world.

The voice you are hearing right now is mine.

The story it tells also belongs to me. Unplug your ears and don’t look for the source of the sound waves. Don’t think that this voice is yours or these are your own thoughts. Even if it seems so, you must know that this is my voice. Now, when a part of my body turned to dust in the wind and the rest turned to ash, my voice is the only part of me that’s left alive. I don’t remember my name because I have long forgotten it. Names no longer take root in my head. I don’t even know the number of the urn in which my ashes are stored. This number replaces my name but it means nothing. I know who I am thanks to my voice.

I forgive nothing and no one deserves forgiveness.

To all those who destroyed me I wish endless suffering. I am in debt to those forced to be silent. That is why I’ll continue to speak. So the only thing that still belongs to me is my voice. More precisely, I belong to it. No matter the distance or climate change, it moves under the sun, telling my story. In bedrooms and corridors, auditoriums and bathrooms. Without the need for memory it speaks the story of a man, whose body turns to an old shell; an ossuary that hides the secrets to destruction. My voice tells the story of how a ban and the desire for justice have transformed me from a man into a bald baby with a wrinkled brow. For whom is this story; will anything change for me to be so excited? Hardly.

If my voice speaks of me, it does so out of love.

There was a point in my being born under the sun, to live a short life, to endure the abuse on my body and mind, to roam the quiet town, to stand by the deserted shore and to imagine the sounds of crashing waves, or so it seems to me. I didn’t like the sea as much as I loved the smell of seaweed. My father, the opposite, didn’t like even that: he was irritated by the splashes of the waves and the screams of the seagulls. But as I stood by the shore and looked at the sand, pebbles and rocks, I always thought: this is the place. The suspicious feeling that life began from here and with it the abuse didn’t leave me.

My voice has no stance on this.

Every time I thought how exactly on this very beach the sun rose one day and a slimy creature emerged on the shore from the water out of boredom and then creature divided into two. I don’t know the technology, the process by which it all took place. But something within me gave me confidence that it happened like that. The two bodies that appeared from the single creature divided further into two and formed four new creatures. Segregation and violence have begun when one had to make decisions for the many.

And so: the strong started ruling the weak.

The smarter began prohibiting the more stupid.

The trusting started to suffer because of those who lied.

When it happens, that you are destroyed, the last thing you expect is your voice speaking to everyone else by itself.  The voice cannot resemble me, it is not created by me, it is not a creation in my image and likeness but it carries me within it. How do I recognize it, you ask? By the fact that I remember what it sounded like before the revolution. By the fact that I remember how it sounded before the operation that they made in order to punish me.

My voice speaks.

Up until this point I turned out to be right about everything: one morning the sun rose, wet from the morning mist and shone upon the earth. I wasn’t there. Of course, I didn’t see my death, because I haven’t seen my birth either. This moment was special, because everyone heard my story. The sun was shining and quietly illuminated the town that I lived in. A chimney was blowing grayish-yellow smoke and the water from my body had evaporated. My voice shot through the space over the town, over the whole world and screamed my story. That’s how it happened.

That is why you hear it.

All it has left now is: to speak.

I was tortured before, because I didn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth. But now I belong to my own voice, which will haunt you and scare you in your sleep. My screams will drive you insane and I will be certain that all of you, my executioners, will be listening. I know that all of you who forbid speaking and listening, hear very well. I know that you regularly clean your ears and rub your hands when you look out the window, to see your mute subjects.

That was your goal: to hear and the rest to be silent.

Once, my father had achieved the exact opposite.

Everybody heard him, but he didn’t hear a thing.

He was silent most of the time but when he discovered his great invention: pressed cotton for cleaning ears, he didn’t stop talking. I don’t regret him discovering it. I know that you are hearing me now: guards, executioners and bouncers. You never assumed that my memory will return in order to foresee that even my voice will continue to live on after me. It’s the beginning of the end: your well-arranged world of control and power will be collapsed. One voice will speak in the space of silence and will try to make deaf ears hear it.

You think that those to whom you forbid to listen won’t hear me?

My story will be told many times over: that’s for sure.

If there is anyone to hear it.

Once, after the first punishment and the first healing procedure you caused me, I promised myself that you will never break me. You didn’t know silence back then, you hadn’t met my father, so as to impose your ban. But your desire to kill was massive.              I remember this moment very well: the cold water that poured over my limbs, the wounds, the bruises and scratches.

That’s why I promised myself.

And here it is: my voice.

It controls me now and I belong to it.

So weather it speaks or I do, it doesn’t matter. We speak. By the way it’s not about me speaking; it’s not about me speaking about myself. It’s about what my voice says to be heard. Who speaks, you ask? My voice or me: forget it. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is for you to listen. You will be smote by that, which you will never see.

Yes, you evaporated me and turned me into a pile of dust.




Translated by Angelina Alexandrova

Jasna Šamić

Jasna Šamić

Jasna Šamić, born 1949 in Sarajevo, writes poetry, novels, short stories, essays, and theatre plays in both Bosnian and French. She studied oriental languages and literatures (Turkish, Arabic and Persian) at the University of Sarajevo and wrote her postgraduate thesis in General Linguistics and Turkology, obtaining her PhD in 1977. She continued her studies at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle where she completed her Doctorat d’ Etatès Lettres on Sufism and History in 1984. 

Šamić has won numerous prises for her writing, among others the Stendhal French Literary Prize (Lauréate du programme Missions Stendhal) in 2008, the Gauchez-Pillippot Literary Prize in 2014, and the Fundations of Bosnian Publishers’ Award. From 1977 she was living between Sarajevo and Paris, mostly in Paris since the war in the Balkans, and is now a freelance writer.




The Countries of Wandering Souls



Paris 2012

Nobody wander without reason



Einstein believed that the world would not be destroyed by human crimes, but by people who would observe these crimes, and would do nothing to stop them.

On a TV broadcast I heard that there were two million empty apartments in Paris, which served manipulators from the entire planet for their speculations!

It is a sad picture of modern Paris where Alyosha and I definitely settled in the 1990s, an image that does not stop haunting me.

Beauty is a riddle, Dostoevsky wrote, convinced that it was saving the world. Was he right? I am at the age when everything is called into question, when all is reviewed and relativized, until you feel dizzy.

What to say about ugliness and barbarity? Are these also riddles? Or about evil? The evil has always awoken dark and confused feelings in me. Probably the best is: not to try to understand this phenomenon.

I note the words of nowadays philosopher in my notebook, thinking of Alyosha, but also of his family. When I say “his family”, I have on my mind three women who left their testimonies, written in a mixture of memoirs, intimate diaries and letters sent to Alyosha. Living in the era that the Westerners denote by the term the “long century” they found themselves at one point in the maelstrom of history. Their stories are both different and similar, like so many other fates inundated with blood.

The truth is that Alyosha works a lot and suffers a lot, but for me it has became annoying to attend every evening the ceremonial drinking of cheap wine, mixed with Coca-Cola, wrapped with the same cheap beer, with a powerful smell, as the last Balkan drunkard. When I met him for the first time – the whole eternity since then – he looked like a Chekhov’s hero, endowed with the same Russian, aristocratic elegance and noble laziness, which have the author’s heroes. He was one of the most elegant young men in our city! In fact, it reminds me of some of my favourite writers, as if he had just popped up from Platonov, not just because of his sentence: “Drink or not drink, we will surely die! So, let’s drink! »

He, however, does not consider himself an alcohol addict. To my remark that “people are not alcoholics because they drink, but drink because they are alcoholics”, he says it is a non-witty game of words. And then he gives me documents, which he found after the death of his relatives, and that he, who is very muddled and messy, carefully classified.

I knew only episodes from the lives of these women earlier, but then, very young, I did not get deeper into their fates, even not into Alyosha’s fate, which was part of their lives. I did not pay attention to his suffering, which was also the result of their suffering. At that time, our lips, full of freshness, were obsessing me, and, by joining them, all thoughts from the head were erased; it was the time “when we were making one body with our city”.

After reading hundreds of pages of testimonies from these women, I decided to tell, as short as possible, their stories. It is my desire, first of all, to raise the veil of the mystery that they are wrapped around by, and to clarify the riddles of their own, and therefore Alyosha’s life, and then to leave a trace about it to our son in a language that he will understand as an foreigner, born in a country that is strange to me and Alyosha. Let him know the truth, which I have recently discovered.

Today, after studying a number of letters, diaries, memories, birth certificates and deaths that swept through my arms, everything looks like Ninth Wave by Ivazovsky.

I feel that I myself have become a detainee of a great enigma. “Like a feather dipped in an obscure mixture of memories”, I seek confirmation for my own act:

The peace that gives me this job (…) lies in the fact that here and only here, in the silence characteristic of the painter and writer, reality can again be created and can find the true meaning.

Although from the perspective of the eternity, everything is hopeless, as Danilo Kish says.


Elizaveta Nikolaevna Kazanskaya                                                                                                                       


The seventies of the 20th century


Snow covered the city when Elizaveta decided to write something about her life. Through the fogged window, she was watching the snowflakes falling lazily, while the neighboring hills turned into artistic canvas of a naive painter. The day also was falling. In a few moments, hills and houses would turn into a gem.

Her own image in the mirror scared her, reminding her of the other world that would soon become her only homeland. She had blue circles around her eyes, while her body became like a bag of broken bones. Her hand stiffened by the swollen veins trembled above the paper on which the pen was slipping, making the manuscript difficult to read.

In her notes, Elizaveta wanted to talk about her childhood, her father, and her family, but also to remember towns where she had lived. Her style was sometimes simple and sometimes quite pleasant, while the whole story was rather nostalgic. Her past seemed sometimes like travelling in the opposite direction, sometimes as open wound, while her days, – those which reminded her – looked like the cry of a drowning man who was grasping for a straw: memories!

Misfortune had struck her as she was reading Kreutzer’s sonata. Right leg, which was folded under the left, suddenly stiffened by spasm, what Elizaveta realized only when she tried to lift it. As a foreign object that no longer belonged to her, it hung and swung in the air. She lost consciousness and fell.

When she woke up at the hospital, they told her that she broke her hip. Since she could not undergo surgery due to sick heart, she was forced to stay chained to the bed and to wait for what she did not dare to name.

She will probably never go to the downtown market, never go to the city’s bazaars! The children of the Ferhadija street, where she used to live, will no longer laugh at her large, broad-brimmed hats, shouting behind her: Šeširdžija! local name of a character from Alice in Wonderland, to laugh at these ladies who still weared hats in Sarajevo. They will no longer throw stones against her old-fashioned outfit.

Her desire to see the forests of her native Russia is nothing but a barren dream.

They taught me what it meant to say goodbye, in unbreakable nights filled with cry…

Farewell – who can say, saying this word, that it means an irrevocable separation?

Elizaveta noted poems by Russian writers that she loved all along her life, but also her own poems. When the physical pain invaded her, everything was vanishing around her. Mostly locked up in this dead end tunnel, she also knew moments of respite, and the memories resumed.

Like swans on the icy river,

Float my images of yesteryears,

Memories glide and murmur

Moscow, Saint Peterbourg, Kazan,

On my death bed

The accordion moans and the night vibrates under its notes

The pristine snow covers my cities with familiar warmth

Flakes like sparrows fly towards my window

Like the bell of the Kremlin rings the whiteness

The violin song melts in the icy wind

While the fire feet of a gypsy girl

Covered with ruffles

Tambourine on the snowy place

In Moscow



Late 19th and early 20th centuries

On life one can only write with a feather

soaked in tears.

Elizaveta – whom her family called Liza – was born in Omsk, Siberia, in the end of the 19th century, when the roses of the garden begin to close their petals, where everything, sky and garden, shines at dusk. This was the time when the date of birth did not matter.

Her father worked in this area after studying law in Saint Petersburg. Liza did not keep any souvenirs of this place. Her city has always been Kazan.

The old district of Kazan was “a huge pearl set between the hills where are scattered temples of all religions, while around Kazan extend forests, as dense and dark as the nights of Sarajevo”! Guessing from her bed the Seven Forests – the name of a Sarajevo neighborhood, suspended on a hill – she saw the nature around her Russian city, and more than nostalgia, it was her deep love, the Russian love.

The image of a horse-drawn two-wheeled car parked in front of Ivan’s Monastery also resurfaced; close to it, in front of a small chapel, peasants, dressed in long Russian shirts, and kneeling women, scarves covering their heads, were absorbed in long prayers. The Tatar mosque remembered the Magribija mosque of Sarajevo, where the little minaret looked like a chimney. In the Voskrsenskaya ulitsa, cavalry officers passed fast, ladies passed in their carriages, and there were also some servants carrying baskets filled with food. Sometimes the river got out of bed and turned the houses into islands, only accessible by boat.

Kazan was the birthplace of her father, as well as her grandfather, a city where both served as judges, and where most of her twelve brothers and sisters were born.

Her father, Nikolai Sergeyevich Kazanski, met her mother during a boat trip across the waters separating Russia from the country of hundred thousand lakes, as he called Finland. She gave birth to all her children at home, assisted by their nanny, Katia, but it was the peasant women who offered them their breasts. (…) Yulia became her Russian name, but Nikolai Sergeyevich called her Hamina, named after a city in her former country. In her spoken Russian, Liza’s mother kept a special accent, and never really mastered Tolstoy’s language.

Was it the reason that made her write her memories in French, although she finished them in Russian?

Their Kazan house included many rooms. One of them served as office for Liza’s father. The mother, Yulia, who did not have her own room, wandered all day from the living room to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, столовая (stalovaja), from the living room to the kladovaya (the storeroom, where fresh food is kept). She never spoke to her children in Finnish, did not evoke her parents, and rarely sang the melodies of her childhood. As an amusement, she sometimes recited regions of her homeland, which Liza and her father found poetical. It was not surprising that Nikolai Sergeyevich called his wife sometimes my Karelia, sometimes my Kotka, or Hanko, or Kuopio, Saimaa, not forgetting to joke that Hamina was the most beautiful Russian name.

Before settling permanently in Kazan, Liza’s parents lived in Saint Petersburg, a city that Yulia liked as soon as she saw it from the ship. (Liza also admired this city and wanted to say a few words about it, but all she wrote in her notebook was that since the October Revolution, the city was named Leningrad, by the name of the Demon Ulyanov, who, she will call like that until the end of her days.) Yulia, alias Hamina, had blond hair like bleached, a complexion as white as the Russian mountains in winter, and the hard look. Small and thin, she was a « quarter of a woman ». As a child, Liza was indifferent to her intimate thoughts, not even close to her. In her hospital bed, she tried to figure out her mother’s life.

Did she believe that it was her duty to give birth to children so that life, above all that of men would be prolonged? If it was so, it was not very original, because it was the fate of so many other Russian women. Did she worry about her home country? False question! The important thing was that girls find a good match to get married.

As if to reassure her, smiling, his father was whispering to Liza (in order the others could not hear?): “Our family is not decadent, we do not get married between cousins ​​like other Russian families. Your mother, while a false Russian, brought fresh blood to our family, which is more precious to me than all the Russian princesses I had the opportunity to see when I was young. If, however, we refer to the historical facts, if we look closely at our History, we will say that the Finns, without being Slavic, are more Russian than other inhabitants. The Russian word comes from Finnish and refers to the Scandinavians from the south of the Baltic.”

In this “humorous” way, her father commented on “their family genealogy”. But in this way of seeing History, there was also some pride, or a kind of this famous Russian superiority what Liza would realize much later. (…)

Her life in Russia, especially the Kazan period – or this dream, as she called it in her memories – was imposed on her by tradition: a rich childhood, in an environment of culture, where music and literature – their literature and their Russian classical music – held a prominent place. It was a lifestyle of what is called a large Russian family that was not very prone to reflection and deepening.

Sarajevo often reminded her of her seven-hill town, as it was equally undulating on green waves that stretched as far as the eye could see, but Kazan was much larger. In fact, the Miljacka River that cuts Sarajevo in two is not a dwarf, but an earthworm, compared to the Volga and even the Kazanka, both of which cross the city of Kazan.


Whether we like it or not, we all come from our childhood as we come from our country. Motionless in her Kosevo hospital bed in Sarajevo, Liza was convinced of it.

Sitting in the Troika with her brothers and sisters, she listened to the screeching of the snow under the sleigh and the tinkling of the horses’ bells:

We are covers up in fur blankets, hands slipped into sleeves, sled to Malmyj, south of Kazan, where we spend holidays in our dacha. The fir trees and pines look like long white candles, making the sky invisible. The path is like a thread that stretches to infinity. Finally, Malmyj appears to us like a huge snowball. Our estate is shining under the whiteness; our servants already warmed our house. We rush to the hearth. My favorite cat, Mourka, sleeps on the top of the stove and purrs. We stall goose grease on our faces, so that they do not crack in red patches like cracked dry earth, we pour ourselves some samovar tea where the water has boiled for a long time, and then, like our peasants, we climb on the stove alongside our cats. Through the misty windows where the frost has drawn crystal flowers, I see our peasants coming out of the chimneys to leave their houses, literally buried under these tall white tombs.

I take out my textbook, Dobroe slovo. To learn the letter “k”, I read: “Elena kataet kuklu”, Elena walks with her doll. (…)





Translated by Jasna Šamić

Jerko Bakotin

Jerko Bakotin

Jerko Bakotin, born 1984 in Split, graduated in Sociology and Comparative Literature from the University of Zagreb. Between 2008 and 2011 he worked as a full-time journalist at the Zagreb office of political daily Novi list. Since 2011 he has been a freelance journalist, writing mostly for Novosti, the political weekly of Croatia’s Serb minority, the web portals kulturpunkt and Lupiga, as well as other media. He has published several literary reviews, essays and travelogues in culture magazines such as Zarez and Quorum, and has also written for German media such as Neues Deutschland and Deutsche Welle and worked with radio broadcasters in Croatia, creating, among others, a number of radio-documentaries about various countries.




Brotherhoods and Massacres


(selected excerpts)

“There’s going to be a war. That’s for sure”, says Sheh, writing his name down for me in the sand. Then he underlines it, falling silent.

“This can’t go on”, he adds after a few moments. We had slept a few hours in Smara, on the floor of a mud hut. Like the others, this camp is also named after a city the Sahrawis had been banished from: El-Aaiún, Aousserd, Smara and Dakhlah in the west all have their ghostly doubles here, in the Algerian territory adjacent to the border. At five in the morning we drank some coffee and ate some Eurokrem, and now we are waiting for over a hundred jeeps to gather. We are in the midst of the hell that is the hamada, a depressing rocky wasteland with temperatures reaching 55 degrees Celsius. The nights are freezing, desert storms rage, and the infrequent rains will melt the homes, turning them into slush. The landscape is reduced to a nothingness, a cruel image of insanity.

“Could you live in this place?” he asks. “There’s nothing here. Nothing. No water, no animales, only rocks. No one could live here. Nor would we, but we were forced to”.

I say nothing. An infernal place, one of the worst on the planet. If there was but one injustice in the world, its name would be ‘Sahara’. I know, facts get in the way – but this heroic story is not the stuff of blockbusters: Franco’s falling into a coma, the chaos in Madrid and the retreat without the promised referendum on independence. A territory larger than Great Britain – inhabited by barely some hundred thousand people – was occupied by aggressors from the north and south, aided by the West. But the students – those fantasts – had already formed a movement whose miniature People’s Liberation Army traversed a thousand kilometers and attacked Nouakchott. Mauritania was cast out of the war, and hundreds of corpses now arrive in Rabat each month.

“I leave Smara, ten years old. If you got your aunt, your father on other side, you no can see him. No can speak to him”, continues Sheh. Then he falls silent once more. The white December sun rises over the hamada.

“Thirty-five years. No more”, he repeats. The king’s soldiers chopped off men’s fingers so they couldn’t carry arms, refugee lines were showered with napalm, and cities enclosed in barbed wire. Four fifths of El-Aaiún have supposedly gone into exile.

Here come Ahmed and another man: “Me llamo Ismael”. Flurrying around, there are Japanese and Russian TV crews, Gilberto, Germans, the Columbian professor Jerônimo, Aleš and his brother from Ljubljana, then my greased colleague Mustafa and others from Algeria. They are the most numerous – a country born in anti-colonial blood offers Polisario all the support: idealism and the struggle for hegemony in Maghreb. Among the Europeans, the most numerous – gnawed at by guilt – are the Spaniards. One can hear English, French, Portuguese, variations of Arabic, different African tongues, and the boisterous Angolan lad – once an engineering student during the Eastern Bloc era – speaks to me in Bulgarian. The Sahara is Babel.

The officer signals for departure. Ismael grabs the wheel and the Toyota growls, Ahmed and I riding shotgun, crammed together in the single seat. This avant-garde orchestra is joined by other engines, first one, then another, then dozens of them. The Slovenians sit in the back, the army of motors howls and so I take out my recorder and think to myself, this is going to be a great radio story. Ahmed flips through the channels and says, “do you know what’s with Vesna Zmijanac, are they both alive and well, her and Brena?”

“We’re on our way to kill Moroccans”, hollers Sheh and slams the door. Ismael steps on the gas.

*   *   *

It was a wondrous journey. Some hundred Toyotas, Nissans, Santanas and Land Rovers maniacally dash three hundred and fifty kilometers to the west: the landscape shifts, and we are no longer scraping the surface of Moon, but are instead crossing the yellow sandy sea spanning nine million square kilometers – ‘Sahara’ is simply the Arabic word for a desert, the archetype in which jeeps leave tracks like speedboats, raising a minor sandstorm. Only the bandannas over our mouths are keeping us from suffocation. Our Toyota plunges into holes, grinds and grumbles furiously, we eat dust; every once in a while, we bounce up in the car, collide then fall back down, hold on to our seats, bump our heads with a groan; the descendants of the nomads are surging, and me along with them, across this shoreless sea, in search of a state, in search of…

“Ahmed, is the Moroccan army strong?” I ask.

“Not exactly strong… They’ve never had a traditional army… Fighters, recruited common folk, the meanest men in the world… The Americans and the French are helping them… And still we managed to take guns and part of the territory away from them. They’re not an army… A proper one”, he replies. American tanks, French airplanes and cannons – Paris, the gendarme of Africa adorned with dozens of interventions – the armored cars of racist South Africa and Saudi petrodollars: Hollywood is armed and siding with the oppressors. Satellites, consultants, and CIA bases, a country now numbering thirty million against a tribe with a few hundred jeeps and rockets given by Algeria, Gadhafi, and the Cubans. The truce of ’91 – the occupying forces were given the cities, the mines with precious phosphates, and four fifths of the land. Polisario was given a promise of a referendum and a whole lot of sand.


The engines are devouring kilometers and the flags are waving fiercely, I am preoccupied with the strumming of the R’n’B from the radio. We charge towards the west like Muhammad Ali, the entire phantom republic attacks in this surreal rally – a fuming caravan shrouded in clouds: entering Tifariti I only see the checkpoint and the armored car – I mean the Soviet BMP – almost nothing else can be made out through the dust. The setting sun shines a yellow light, the bouncing makes me bump my forehead against the windshield: “Why do you say ‘fuck the scorching sun’ in your language?” I am asked, the engine howls and screams, and the tank commander gestures victory with his fingers.

“Ahmed, is there going to be a war?”

“We gotta  go to war, if no other solution. People want their freedom, you understand?”

Earlier, around noon, I stare at the watery surface on the horizon. I must have gone insane from the adrenaline and sleep deprivation, the bumping, the hypnotic music coming from the crackling speakers.

“Do you want to take a picture, should we stop?” hollers Sheh from the back seat. “when you approach it, it disappears, there’s nothing at the end” – he says. “It’s a mirage.”

In Tifariti we sup on rice and camel goulash.

*   *   *

“Viva el pueblo Saharaui, viva la revolución Cubana, viva la revolución bolivariana y todas las revoluciones del mundo!”, concludes the emissary from Venezuela. Representatives of the states which have recognized the Sahrawi Republic are speaking now, and the atmosphere is somewhat more electrified.

“Hasta la victoria siempre!” winds up the Cuban.

“Qué viva la lucha del pueblo Saharaui!” chants the Mexican. The whole thing looks like a VHS tape from the seventies. A revolution? I’d flown in from Berlin – the alternative leftie scene is strong, but a large portion of the mainstream youth consists of the mass of hipsters in Hawaiian shirts talking mainly on the subject of amphetamines, careers, and deep kissing, and the main problem seems to be the location of the next party. I have witnessed the liberal end of history in a club in Neukölln. Naked men sporting poodle fur sniff each other’s butts before the enchanted crowd, pretend to excrete brown bananas, and lather each other with chocolate. The current manifesto has only one point on the agenda – entertainment.

No, comrade, among the eighty-odd countries that have recognized Sahara there is not a single Western state. The International Court of Justice has long since ruled that the Sahrawis deserve self-determination, but the free democracies find it in their best interest to prefer a monarchy whose prisons conduct beatings with whips, chains, and metal rods, crushing with rocks, lashings on the soles of the feet – the so-calledfalaka, partial suffocation by submersion or by shoving rags drenched with bleach into the mouth, hanging the prisoners by the hands and feet tied up together behind the back and then hitting them – a method known as the “flying airplane”, hanging the prisoners by the hands and feet tied up together in the front, followed by beatings and suffocation – a procedure called the “parrot’s perch” or “roast chicken”.

Brilliant at liberation poetry is the representative of Nigeria, a roaring man with magical energy.

“Okay, when I say ‘Western Sahara’, you say ‘Hey’”, he opens like an MC. With this chant, he skillfully warms up his audience. There can be no negotiation about self-determination, he insists. Numbered among the delegates are those who have experienced poisoning, electric shocks and rape in the dungeons.

The speaker gets to the point in a nearly howling tone of voice.

“The Sahrawi people were winning the war when the Security Council reached the agreement on a truce and swindled you with promises.” Fist in the air, mouth open in a spasm, finger pointing. The deep voice commanding the entire space, electrifying the accumulated trauma.

“Considering that Morocco and the allies, Western allies – Spain, France, America, all of them! – are obstructing the referendum, it’s time you went back to the trenches and fought for liberty!”

The hall is ablaze with exhilaration – applause, whistling, yelling from hundreds of throats, “warmongering speech” – cries into my ear a bewildered female German activist. The fiercest reactions are from the youth born in the camps, where nearly half of all pregnancies end in miscarriage owing to malnutrition. Rage on their faces, gesturing, clenched fists, the fluid gratification that is the rebellion of the scorned. A sweet excitement and a warmth in the body, the scent of smoke in the nostrils. Reality is brewing, and dreams gush forth from the cracks.

“Si el presente es de lucha, el futuro es nuestro!” exclaims a hefty man standing by my side. A cigar and a wide, confident smile. I rub my eyes as I look upon Comrade Guevara. Behind him I can already see Fanon, then it’s Zapata waving his sombrero, and Luther King is yelling “I have a dream!” Leading the file is Thomas Sankara, the man who vaccinated and fed millions, and changed the colonial name Upper Volta into Burkina Faso – the Land of Upright People, and persecuted the opposition with revolutionary justice. Storming against debt, annoying the French, he ended up liquidated in a coup. Behind him now marches an entire procession of dead revolutionaries, joyfully stepping towards justice and liberty one by one.

“Long live the Sahrawi people! Long live the peoples of Africa!” howls the Nigerian.

This must have been how Kapuściński was feeling while Nkrumah was declaring the independence of Ghana, the first former African colony: this is the closest I’ll get to that. I go out and light a cigarette. A positive charge and a certain horror under the skin.

Aren’t I being naïve? Demagoguery is a simple matter. But revolution is here a bloody thirst for life! Objectivity? To Kapuściński, a journalist cannot be an indifferent witness. The fundamentals of the job are empathy and identification. So-called objective journalism, according to him, leads to disinformation. I have also always used my imagination to feel people out, to taste their terror and their hopes – however – do they really believe in…? The walls turn into rubber, reality is torn, and onto the wet ground pour my malaise, my revulsion, my pain at losing my senses. I cast a furtive glance inside. The murdered revolutionaries lie with their boots on, flies gather on their eyes, vultures sit on their uniforms. King’s tie in a puddle of blood. I rub my eyes once more. Perhaps I’m projecting it all, finally, I am familiar with the terror of living in a parallel. In their reality psychosis is a means of survival.

Sheh joins me. I’ve run out of cigarettes, he offers me his pack.

“If Congress decides in favor of war…” I open.

“We’re gonna win. For sure”.

“Kulu el Vatan avi Shahada!” reaches us from within.

“What are they chanting?”

“Hmmm… Something like ‘Fatherland whole or death’”.

Every single state in the world stinks. That’s not my thought, it’s Rolland’s, but – I’ve embraced it.



(selected excerpts)

Give me a kiss to build a dream on, sings Louis in my head, the soundtrack from a time consumed by playing Fallout. Behind us are the Hamsa-Hamsa checkpoint and the phone call necessary to keep snipers from killing us. All around us are ruins, rebars stick out from the concrete rubble, Mars-like craters, orange earth overgrown with grass, not a single dog in sight. We trek through the ominous wasteland towards the eight-meter wall, the watchtowers, the laser-activated guns and the cage-rimmed pathway. A hypnotic silence. We stand in front of the door for perhaps a full minute, then the steel door noiselessly slides sideways, a hallway and white neon lights, then another door. Round eyes are gazing at us, Space Odyssey, the icy villain Hal. Place your belongings on the table, orders the voice from the loudspeaker. Out of thin air appears a worker – the only animate life form – who takes out our equipment and offers it to the greedy electronic eyes. The next room. Our luggage placed on a conveyor belt, we enter the capsule with our arms spread out, scanners are blinking. Searching for bombs. After an hour and a half, we pass through a terminal as large as an airport, and the policewoman stamps our passports for exit. We have no entry stamps, a day spent in nowhere. When we go into the world and see how free people live – Ibrahim’s words echo in my mind –we realize we are not part of humanity. Private guards are in the parking place. Black uniforms, metallic sunglasses, automatic rifles in their hands. The road to Ashkelon, the familiar taxi driver, immigrant from Russia: Skoljka? Fallout, it means radioactive rain. A post-apocalyptic age.

*   *   *

“Last weekend three brothers were killed”, the diggers told us the previous day. An F-16 hit the tunnel with a rocket and killed the first, while the other two suffocated in Sulfur dioxide. The yellow earth and a few palm trees, the large indigo tents are concealing the damned entrances. All around, rusty steel barrels and piles of dug earth are scattered. Across the road are the Egyptian watchtowers.

“Don’t take pictures of them”, warns Sami, our charming and resourceful guide. The young lads, these moles digging in the underground, receive some twenty euros for ten hours of their daily labor. They have been digging the tunnel, at this time between five hundred and a thousand meters long – and some thirty meters deep – for several months now. Several weeks from now it will be destroyed, then a new trench will be dug some ten meters away, always carefully avoiding the wall built beneath the ground. Rafah is an underworld, an anthill in which workmen circulate, and the younger and slighter they are, the better. They have a good underground there, I recall the words of a Western imbecile from the bars of Damascus.

Sami is negotiating, gesturing towards the void, the narrow and decrepit metal ladder. One foot at a time, eyes fixed on the wall, getting closer and closer to fear. The cavern is illuminated with powerful lightbulbs and the reluctance of smiling diggers, a sweet photograph. We walk at first upright, then hunched, and finally we breathe the hot air sprayed with gasoline crawling on our hands and knees. No big man can dig tunnels. The end of the unfinished tunnel, no supporting beams. The surrounding rocks are deteriorating, sand is crumbling from the ceiling onto our heads. If they start bombing, we’ll remain buried alive here, the final curiosity in a necropolis. Then they try to dig through to the next tunnel. Some actually make it, the guide had told us before we entered. Through these tunnels pass motors, fridges, fuel, flour, clothes, diapers… If everything works out, the owner makes a thousand dollars a day. A light humming of the electric engine, the cable drags us out onto the surface. Anticipation on the faces, Sami furtively signals. A folded banknote, we, the vultures, purchase the scent of death.

*   *   *

The airstrip is furrowed by caterpillar tracks, in the VIP building there are holes the size of tow trucks. Ornaments created by grenades. We stare in amazement, this is Mad Max, objects are liberated from their roles. A yellow dome – similar to the one from Temple Mount – watches over the ghostly airport. The destruction seems even more obscene because everything is brand new. Yasser Arafat was destroyed upon the breaking out of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, several years after its construction. Sons of bigshots use the runway to ride badass motorbikes, perform acrobatics, acting out their bombed youth.

“Only those whose folks work for Hamas or the Palestinian Administration can afford it”. Recently, the wall towards Egypt was penetrated, a crowd rushed to purveyance, desperados on bikes returned. The unreal backdrop is painted with ruins, and the vague glow of the setting sun.

Pffft! – pffft! – pffft! – a dull burst of gunfire suddenly tears through the image.

“Let’s go!” howls Sami, we slam the doors in a panic, and Yusuf floors the gas pedal. The gunshots sound unreal, almost like the clicking of a toy. When shots are fired in the Middle East, they are fired to kill. Lie on the floor, and then get the hell out of there. Only fools play heroes, we recall the directions received from the Reuters cameraman. We stare into empty space, listen to the silence, look at Sami.

“I don’t know if they were actually shooting at us, or just warning us not to go any nearer. And I have no intention of finding out.”

Death seems to be as trite as a plastic toy gun.

*   *   *

Ibrahim, a professor at the UN school. “A million and a half people cramped into 360 square kilometers… This is actually a very small prison”. A quick drink on the Palm Beach terrace. “The average family has six or seven children. Everything is a problem, a job, a place to live…” His moist eyes tell the most insidious tale. “My wife has cancer. I can’t take her out of here, to go to Egypt, for treatment. The hospitals in Gaza don’t even have aspirin”.

I ascend to my room, go out on the balcony. I gaze at the enormous tortured city, the tens of thousands of crumpled, unfinished and damaged buildings, the sky which is here painted over with yellow explosions, black smoke, and rocket tracks more often than people outside see such images in movies. I see the children Ibrahim goes to teach every day, in a school without paper or pencils. I imagine him coming home at night and hanging up his coat. He strokes his wife on the head, then lies beside her and silently – utterly soundlessly – weeps. My entire existence is a clown spoiled rotten, a frivolous whim in a void. A search for a spectacle.

I walk to the bathroom and crouch next to the open toilet. For several minutes I unblinkingly observe its bottom in which – first ferociously, then ever more placidly – large, brown insects with long tentacles are desperately attempting to save themselves from drowning.


 (selected excerpts)


The historical narrative is merely dead factography, cramming without experience. I do have some personal experiences in Albanian parts, however, mostly from the summer school I attended in Tetovo some ten years ago. During the return trip from Ohrid my fellow travelers on the bus stoned me. Their nationality is unknown to me, and also unimportant. Grown demonic from the wine and naked to the waist, I blather my hotheaded tales with my followers, standing – as there are no available seats – in the aisle between the seats. The co-driver invests a great deal of effort and counsel to prevent an incident, but I am not to be sidetracked: fooling around is more intoxicating than the booze.

“Shame on you”, only the grannies are rejoining under their breath, and then the discontent slowly grows into an avalanche. The situation in the bus is complex, I realize, unfortunately too late, as dozens of inimical pairs of eyes lash us silently. A bully rips the bottle from my hand and throws it out the window, for several seconds I can portend pain in his eyes, and then the driver leaps and opens the door for me: “Run!” A mob chases us, earth flies under our feet, pebbles disperse. The lynching attempt ends after we have run back to campus.

A couple of days later a Kosovar by the name of Frasher breaks my arm during a soccer game. I know nothing about footie, and I have traumas dating all the way back to elementary school, when I used to regularly stare at the ground on the field, because the team I was assigned to invariably had to also get the two best players in order to at least partially compensate for the handicap. I also remember that the nationalists have a fondness for Croats. A group of unpleasantly wasted students forced me into a huddle while they bellowed “We hate the Serbs!” and then “Agim Çeku!”,  and on the grounds of my origins I also received free entry into the amusement park. The town pubs were segregated, and the Albanians were complaining that the judges and the coppers were mostly Macedonians. On the other hand, a member of the Skopje Philharmonic explained to me that these were all savage tribes.

There were amazing stories as well. I made friends with a lad named Festim, meaning “party” in Croatian. An elderly cab driver by the name of Đelo drove me to Šar Mountain for free, despite his suspicions that my friend was in fact a Serbian woman, that one time when upon returning I noticed a tall naval man, the spitting image of Corto Maltese, with a five-pointed star in the mural of the Historical Museum in Tirana. The Director of the campus in which we were staying took out a bottle of cognac from under his desk, and the then mayor – now prime minister – painter Edi Rama had the buildings dyed in colorful patterns, giving the city a psychedelic air. In Shkodra, a waiter referred to the mosque as a tourist building.

But even earlier, even before my witty roommate from the campus on Cvjetni told me that his father – an amateur boxer – had been forced out of the kebab business by the “Shqip mafia”, before I can pronounce blood vengeance and irredenta, even before we were laughing at the candyman from Marmont Street, who would shove a scoop of ice-cream into the cone, and then – pretending to refer to the molten chocolate – ask: “Would you like me to dip it in for you?” Somewhere back in first grade, in the school then still called “The Mosor Partisans”, I learned that “Shqiptar” is an insult of a very special flavor, a synonym for a moron of someone wearing cheap clothing bought in the Split marketplace. ‘Chetnik’ was certainly a more sinister swearword, but – despite the invocation of death – somehow more intimate, familial. Shqiptar carried the connotation of something foreign and worthy of disgust, but essentially inferior. In all the jokes, these goldsmiths, chauffeurs and merchants were sometimes cunning, but mostly just fools. The disdain of that word was accompanied by an arrogant tolerance.

In short, I have at my disposal an arsenal of prejudice, essentialisms and elements of Slavic racism. It is only fair to bust them, flip them, dissect them and write against all who believe in them, myself included. Whatever I might be imagining – it all boils down to politics.


The city park in Priština is poisoned by the disgracing of the murdered giants, originally executed on April 10, 1943 – a day as grimy as any April 10. Down the muddy road between Đakovica and Prizren the fascists had been dragging the two men in chains. The story says that spring was in the air – although the Prokletije mountains were still white with snow – when the executioners took out their revolvers near the village of Landovice and ordered Bora Vukmirović the Black – son of a Montenegrin father and a Bulgarian mother, farmer – and Ramiz “Baci” Sadiku – the mustached law student arrested even while still in high school – to separate. But Boro and Ramiz had been riding together and baking in the same Peć:  they screwed the order and took the bullets embracing. A Serbian-Albanian friendship, death-stamped: factories, streets, settlement projects and the excellent modernist sports and youth center in Pristina, also designed by a Zagreb architect, were all named after them. Many still call the location “Bororamiz”, but today the building, a dedication of sorts to Tatlin’s monument to the Third International, sports an enormous poster of Adem Jashari – the “Albanian Che Guevara” – killed in Prekaz in 1999.

In old times, two busts stood in the park, and newlyweds would bring flowers. Today Ramiz is all alone: in Kosovo – just like in Croatia – the Partisan movement was retroactively ethnically cleansed. The monument in Landovice was destroyed as well. If Albanianism is a religion, it makes sense that it has its keepers, and – as the Belgrade band Alisa would put it – God’s keepers are the worst. Fighters for brotherhood and unity have been falsified into dreamers of the ethnic state, which is, according to the chauvinists and a few liberals, the only teleology of history. In silence, I hold Lena’s hand, gaze at the insidious damnatio memoriae and remember Walter Benjamin: “[…] even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.ˮ


We sprawl across the sizzling asphalt towards the edge of the center. We hail a cab on the dusty roundabout and leave behind the Victory Hotel with its replica of the Statue of Liberty on the roof, a kitschy installation in bizarre juxtaposition to the enormous tower of the heating plant, a symbol of socialist construction. In some fifteen minutes we enter virtual Serbia: omnipresent three-colored flags, posters of Nikolić, and prices expressed in dinars. A village before the war, Gračanica has now been built into the metropolis of Kosovo Serbdom. In the building of the Cultural Center – photos of Milošević on Gazimestan. The sun is scorching the frustrations amassed in the tiny enclave, evaporating illusions into the heavy air, preventing breathing and blurring the vision. We walk towards the containers – donated by Russia – at the edge of the settlement, to hear how the refugees are living.

“My house in Obilić was burnt in 1999 and I’ve moved nine times since then. No one cares about us, as if we were cattle. We survive on welfare. The minister came for the opening of the flats. I accosted him, brought him rakija, he promised help. Six years and still nothing”, says Jasnica. Until the so-called “March incidents” – the pogrom of the Serbs in 2004 – she had been living in Vučitrn, when that house was burnt as well. Someone advised them to smash the municipality building, so the help would come.

“The worst is when people die, and we have no room to even lay them out to hold the wake”, she continues in a voice revealing a familiarity with breakdown.

Next to Jasnica, seated on the wooden boxes there are Tanja and Vojislav. On the ground a nearly empty soda bottle, cigarette butts floating, swarms of nasty flies attacking.  Tanja mostly confirms Jasnica’s words, and Vojislav – in a crumpled polo-shirt, with only remnants of his hair, partially deaf, desiccated by life in infernal containers, blinded by sightless weeks without electricity – lost in his thoughts, looking with his quenched eyes for God-knows-what, perhaps a memory of happy – or at least human – days of boyhood, his mother and school days, flashes of a joy lost for good. The settlement has to be dismantled before fall, and what will become of them – they don’t know.

Tito’s time, they say, was blessed.

“And today – day after day, death breathing at your neck. Dig a grave and just bury us”, says Jasnica. She doesn’t want to go to Serbia – the actual Serbia – she’d just be a refugee all over again. In situations such as this I’ve always worried about the boundary of identification: often, I return home soaked with others’ traumas, sometimes churning them in my mind for months. Here I also was now, vulnerable, unprepared for the abyss.

“Come inside the container”, says Jasnica, “to see how it looks”. She displays the penury of her abode, her eyes glide over the TV set, the fridge, the narrow bed, all crammed into these few square meters, and then they fall on the photo hung on the wall.

“This is my daughter”, she says. Tears well up.

“They say she hanged herself, but I don’t believe it. Her husband killed her, I know it.” She bursts into tears. We stand in silence, dazed by the moist touch of death. Lena takes Jasnica by the hand, calms her down, while I stare at the photo in bewilderment, a face with brown eyes performing a most sorrowful melody, a requiem for the living. The old woman’s sobs open up a passageway and a dark void swells inside the container, sucking into itself the table and the checkered tablecloth, the scattered rags and leftovers from the meager lunch: instead of the refugee story I had been seeking now I see a murder and a rope around a young neck, I stare at the hypnotic swaying of the legs and twitching of the hanged body, and with every sob Jasnica utters I feel the rope tighten around my own neck, a rough touch causing goosebumps on the smooth skin. For some ten seconds I gaze upon the ever-hungrier black ball, alive and terrible at the same time. Lena’s warm touch brings me back. I take a photo of them embracing, a smiling crew of the ship sailing through a forgotten, unanimously insignificant hell, ever towards greater pain.


Cigarette smoke at the hostel window, the crispness of early morning, when the world is still soft, and problems sunlit. Lena is in sweet oblivion, exhausted by the rush of the recent days. I walk into the esplanade on my own. The old street trader is taking aBatmobile, toy planes, and battery-operated cats which shriek and twitch epileptically, out of cellophane bags and placing the plastic army on the ground. Stands selling old junk, traffic signs with the Serbian words sprayed over, walls sporting graffiti such as Eulex go home with the “x” turned into a swastika, thenEulexperiment, rage over this entire remote-controlled test, andBlej Shqip, the boring admonishment to Buy Albanian… Nearby is a restaurant where there is no service during the prayers, and Lena says kissing is not allowed. The culprits have a prohibition sign placed on their tables: this is not a friendly action.


Politics is Lena’s subcutaneous obsession, fed by the trauma of being “undefined” in a bandit-like either-or environment, and feeble-minded questions such as “Which side of your family do you identify with?” Our guts are plagued, filled with balls of black bile, which is why I crave vengeance, the day when we’ll wrap all the dead eagles into the checkered red-and-white tablecloths from the French restaurant Chez Michel, and with a loud cackle let them all go down the drain. At nights we make love, slide our fingers around each other’s bodies, drawing the souls out to the surface. We dream of radical experiences which reduce consciousness to the animalistic, apolitical remnant which defies symbolic representation, with each petit mort we enjoy a novel triumph of the destruction of language and society… Touching sunburnt skin causes pain that spreads in shivers down the back, but a tiny sun of our own scorches the depressions which sizzle like slugs on a spit. “The dream of love”, Konstantinović says, “is the dream of escaping people, salvation from them, their presence, even their glances.” And illusion, for certain. We tacitly embraced the brief proviso. Later, maddened by uncertainty, we would pluck chunks of tissue, an execution known to the Chinese as death by a thousand cuts.


Four in the morning, the right time to deal with chauvinism, before the town is filled with the melodious voices of the muezzin, and the streets start crawling with cleaners. I go over the plan once more with Lena, kiss her in case matters take a wrong turn, and tiptoe into the yard so as not to wake the landlord. I take a large hammer, the one used to break rocks, from the garage. I walk towards the center. In front of the “Dubrovnik” tavern, I play “Towards new victories” by the punk band Paraf on my iPod. I take a swing, like a socrealist hero I try the stroke out, I reach the decision. The steel is already flying towards the marble – but my arm is frozen by the thought: isn’t it their job, after all? And mine is somewhere out there, in the north-west?

“We’re all connected by fate, and any nationalism must concern us all, because they are all against us”, I remember Šuvar, “They are all aiming for our heads”. I mercilessly crush Greater Albania into bits, along with it I annihilate the Independent State of Croatia and Greater Serbia as well. Dynamite would have been easier, but this makes the enjoyment greater, while refraining from criticism would be contempt, a covert kind of colonialism.

In the north, Kopaonik explodes, and from the Trepča mines gushes forth a flood: the viscous masses from the deeper layers have burst free. Through the blare of the sirens I dash towards the police station: two streets later, I have to start swimming. I enter through the window directly onto the second floor, where Lena awaits with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other. She gives me the Heckler & Koch. We run onto the roof. The enemy is already attacking. From one side Albanians are charging, and from the other, Serbs. Behind them, somewhat more gingerly, Croats, letting the bearded blokes get killed first. Boom! Dum-dum-dum! We fire in all directions, the shells are flying. Lena shoots mercilessly, hot and armed like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

The second echelon is charging – the national intellectuals, urban citizens and workers. We gleefully kick the asses of the first two groups. We think twice when it comes to the workers, but then we exterminate them as well, just to teach them a thing or two about responsibility. Dead identities are floating all around.




Translated by Danica Igrutinović

P.E.N. Centre (BIH)

P.E.N. Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a non-governmental, non-profit organization, registered as a civil association. Founded in October of 1992, as part of the International association of writers, editors, publishers and essayists, P.E.N. Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina became an equal affiliate of the International PEN in September of 1993. Since its inception, P.E.N. Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina organized numerous regional conventions, more than 40 round-table events and discussions, dialogic literary gatherings, but also successfully completed a number of Art and Culture projects.

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Lidija Dimkovska

Lidija Dimkovska

Lidija Dimkovska, born 1971 in Skopje, is a poet, novelist and translator of Romanian and Slovene literature into Macedonian. She lives in Ljubljana but writes in Macedonian. Dimkovska is currently the president of the jury for Vilenica International Literary Award. She has published six poetry collections, three novels and a diary, and has also edited a number of anthologies. Her poetry and novels have been translated in over twenty languages. She received several Macedonian literary prizes, the ‘Hubert Burda Poetry Prize’ in Germany, the Romanian poetry prizes ‘Poesis’ and ‘Tudor Arghezi’. Her novel A Spare Life brought her the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013. Her latest novel Non-Oui was shortlisted for the international literary award Balkanika.





1996 Castellammare del Golfo

Several months after Grandpa Carlo died, the morning that Grandma Nedeljka was supposed to go to Split, she said to me: “Ah, Nedi, I was alone before Grandpa and I’m alone after him. It’s as if I am not dead or alive. It’s as if I’ve just collapsed. Death is a cross to bear, even for an ordinary person, but everything is a cross for a foreigner: the past, the present, and the future. The cross is heavy, but you must carry it alone. There will be people who want to help you, to hold it for you, as if it were a suitcase, but it’s not a suitcase: it is inside, it is in your soul and cuts directly to the heart.”

I was only eight years old and, while I tried to understand what she was trying to tell me, like in school when the teacher would read us a story to us and then ask what the author wanted to say, I would stare into space, heart pounding, hands sweaty, and would keep thinking that I was too young to give an answer. I kept imagining Grandma Nedjeljka’s cross standing there inside, beside her heart. And I couldn’t get rid of the image before my eyes: her heart, together with the cross, looked like a dartboard, and where the vertical and horizontal bars of the cross met was the red spot, and only someone with a true hand could direct the arrow to number ten, the bulls-eye on grandma’s board.

Ah, Nedi, your grandpa Carlo lifted the cross for me as much as he could, he carried it from here to there, where there were stairs, he would take it over while waiting for me to come back from somewhere, and he just about bent under its weight when I came back from Split, the first and second time, but he carried it most of all, I think, when I moved here, when I carried in my suitcase and my wedding dress was made of ten metres of satin, there it is, it’s still there in the cupboard, but it seems that neither you nor Margherita will wear it. It’s true, your Grandpa Carlo carried the cross for me as if it were a suitcase, but I’ve told you, haven’t, the cross isn’t a suitcase, you don’t carried in your hand, on your shoulders, or on a cart. It’s inside, inside of you, and some people call it life. But your Grandpa Carlo had his own cross, and he couldn’t always carry two. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t because the cross that’s inside in your soul, cuts directly to the heart, and has no weight that can be measured. But during his last two years, ever since he went mute, it was my turn to carry his cross. He didn’t let me. Whenever I caressed him, he pushed my hand away, he was embarrassed that I would stroke him like a child. He was ashamed with every tenderness, thinking it was given to him as a sick person, not as a husband.

He was silent, but in his enormous eyes, that had not grown smaller in old age and had remained with no wrinkles, there was just emptiness. Or fullness from such emptiness. “But why, Carlo, why?” I would ask, but he’d just look at me. And he left without saying a word. I was already seventy-three years old and, even though you always told me I was the youngest grandma in the world, I was, in fact, already an old woman, with a cross in my soul bearing the souls broken by evil spirits, like your Uncle Luca, left alone, or your Uncle Mario with your cousin Antonio, who never did turn away from neo-Nazi ideas and now there he is, hoping to stand as a candidate for the right-wing party, or my brother, whose name will remain unspoken, the name he himself trampled with his malice, or even my mother who never came to see this house that I made my home. But I had no greater cross than your Grandpa. With him, the life-giving organ of life died inside me. Maybe it was the cross itself? I don’t know. I only know that I wanted to die, too, nothing more. And for that to be my cross. Only, God gives the cross a person carries, according to the weight he can bear. If so, then I bore it and carried it away. It seems that in this life everything is yes or no, just like you call me. But how could Grandpa Carlo die the very morning I was to go to Split for the third time? Do you remember how much the ticket your father and Luca and Mario gave me meant? And how excited I was by my trip to Split? After nearly thirty years! But to tell you the truth – that’s the way it had to be. That way, and no other. Your Grandpa Carlo died to protect me from that trip. To warn me that I had nothing to seek in Split, that there was no one there who loved me, and that the only one left was my brother who had not wanted to see me all these years.

Maybe at some point Carlo was sorry that in Bačvice, in the camp, he hadn’t killed him, but only broken his finger. Maybe that would have been better for all of us; then Carlo and I would have stayed in Split and I wouldn’t have known that moving to a new place is a cross that cuts your heart in two: one part there, the other here. But in life, everything that is bad is for something good. And knowing that, your Grandpa Carlo did not wake that morning. I am sure your mother said, “Out of spite” but quietly, so I didn’t hear her. No matter how hard your father shook your grandfather to wake him, your grandpa did not wake up; he knew he did not need to wake on the day I was supposed to leave for Split. He knew there was no reason for me to go where I was no longer even a ghost, let alone a woman who had been born and lived there.

2009 Castellammare del Golfo

Yes, Grandma Nedjeljka, maybe you were no longer even a ghost there, but in our life, in our family, or at least for me, from this side of your biography, you were everything, but not a ghost. At least up until that June 7, 2009, up until my 21st birthday. How beautiful the orange tree in the garden was that day: we all sat around the table, including Margherita’s Pietro, and when Margherita said as a joke: “Now that Neda is “forever young” she doesn’t need a man” and you asked suddenly: “Which Neda?” and we all started laughing. “You,” I said as a joke, but everyone else shouted, “Neda, of course, Neda, not you, you’re 86 years old, Neda is 21.” Then you began to scream that you were Neda, that you were twenty-one, that you lived in Split and that Carlo was waiting for you on the Riva. At first we thought you were joking, and so we also joked, but soon when you began to call us liars, thieves, and even Fascists, it became apparent that something wasn’t right with you. We quickly cleared everything from the table and got you somehow into the house. And just think, we forgot in the outdoor refrigerator the last Split cake you made, especially for me, on the evening before my birthday, not from memory, but from the recipe that you had kept since you were young. Your last Split cake lost all its flavor after several days, and mama finally threw it in the garbage. I think all our hearts were pounding in our temples. We went inside and scattered to our own rooms, and Pietro went home. And you went to your room, repeating the whole time you climbed the stairs: “Fa-scists, Fa-scists!” It was only when, after all the tests and examinations here and in Trapani and Doctor Rinaldo explained to us that you were suffering from Alzheimers, that we understood it wasn’t hate or spite speaking, as mama had said then, but illness, a very concrete, but difficult to understand, illness. Or – easily understandable for your age, but for us it was a too real, too sick illness. “Mrs. Nedjeljka Lombardo has a good heart, but her brain is no longer completely right, and from now on she will be like this,” the doctor said, “and worse.” He told us not to leave you alone, and in the evening, to lock the balcony door in the bedroom. So you wouldn’t accidentally jump over the railing. At 86 years of age? The doctor said one never knows. But who would lock the balcony door? Papa should have done it, but mama excused him when she told me that I was the one that had to lock you in, you were closest to me and I would be the only one you would forgive. And there was no bigger cross that God could have placed on my heart! Or, the nearest and dearest to me! I, your most beloved granddaughter, but more than that, your confidante, your best friend, and namesake, I was the one that had to take your freedom and kiss you on the forehead each evening while you, with eyes closed as if embarassed for me, kept repeating: “Fa-scists, Fa-scists.”

From that day on, Grandma Nedjeljka had a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and we put the slip of paper with her diagnosis, along with our address and telephone numbers into the purse, which she had always carried with her to church or on a walk before her illness. That’s what they had advised us to do: if she slipped out without our knowledge and couldn’t make her way back home, someone would find the paper and contact us. I had completed my third year of studies that day and I was free the whole summer. I decided not to work anywhere but to “take care of” grandma, as everyone said to me. And, that “taking care” wasn’t hard. Grandma was calm, like always. She often recalled her past and would tell me about it for hours. No, she couldn’t remember what she ate this morning, or where her glasses were. That was startling to me: she remembered details of the past, but she couldn’t recall anything of her day-to-day life. I prompted her to talk, to retell her stories, to recall everything that had marked her past. I already knew it all, but I listened again and again to those stories that were never boring or useless. My mother and Margherita would leave the room when they caught Grandma Nedjeljka repeating something, and papa wanted to listen less and less. Though even he was amazed that she could remember things from twenty years ago, but didn’t know whether or not it had rained that morning. It particularly bothered him when she would be presented with a fact, for example how old she was, what her name was, and things like that, and she would just repeat: “I am a young woman, I am twenty-one years old, my name is Neda, my mother is a market pedlar, my father is a fisherman, we live in Split.” No one wanted to listen to her stories any longer. But they had to because, thank God, Grandma Nedjeljka with her Alzheimers lived another five years. I finished my studies in Palermo and began working there in a bookstore. I began to travel back and forth to work every day by bus, and my biggest worry was what Grandma would do during that time, whether everything was ok with the woman we had hired to take care of her until mama, papa, and I got back from work. The woman, a simple woman from town, was named Lea and she was also getting on in years,; the priest had recommended her and we took her, although we knew that her son had been a member of the Mafia, killed by his blood brothers. But Lea said from the very beginning: “I have no family, I never had a husband, and I got pregnant when I was raped by a scoundrel, but that’s how it was, and he was killed. And it’s best that it turned out like that.” Lea was strange, but in a small town like Castellammare del Golfo there wasn’t a big choice for caregivers for old and sick women like Grandma Nedjeljka.

I think Grandma Nedjeljka was more or less calm and obedient for the first three years. She was paranoid the whole time but it was in the realm of manageable. Whenever she was frightened by something, and every evening when I locked the balcony doors, and the door to her bedroom, as the doctor had told us to do, she’d usually start shouting: “Fa-scists, Fa-scists.” In the morning, before I went to Palermo, I unlocked her door, kissed her on the forehead, and left for work. But one day when I entered the room I didn’t see her in the bed. “Grandma, Grandma Nedjeljka!” I shouted, but I got no answer. Suddenly I looked under the bed and there she was, lying there like a fetus mumbling something unintelligible. “Grandma Non-Oui,” I called as gently as I could; she looked up at me with fear in her eyes said: “Fa-scists, Fa-scists.” But Grandma, there are no Fascists here,” I told her, just like I did every other time, “Come, come out of there.” But, I had to drag her out from under the bed myself—some instinct kept me from calling mama who was getting ready for work. Lea was to arrive about then. The next morning I found her under the bed again and, once again, I dragged her out and everything was apparently ok, but the third day when I went into the bedroom there, on the floor by the bed, was a small forgotten, childhood tent—one we would sometimes put up in the yard with Grandma, pushing aside the table under the orange tree, and Margherita and I would lie down inside, and Grandma Nedjeljka would sit on the swing and we would each be in own own world without bothering the other. Grandpa would walk about in the yard, and move the little tent, but then he’d always come inside saying: “Come on, that’s enough, go inside, this isn’t for sitting outside.” And now Grandma had pulled that little tent from the closet, opened it by the bed and put her pillow inside: that’s all the little childhood toy had room for. And she was sleeping inside, her body curled like a fetus on the floor, with no mattress or blanket. If was if she had no head, her body lying helplessly as if it had been dumped there. When I saw her all curled up, thin, almost lifeless, I was very upset. Although we tried to take the little tent from her, she simply wouldn’t give it up. She cried like a baby and pressed it to her chest. She constantly whispered to me that she was being followed by Fascists and that they were going to come straight into her room through the attic and the roof of the house, and then, she’d say with a feverish sob, it would be terrible, terrible. She wasn’t only afraid of Fascists, there were days when she was faint with fear that Ustashi or Italians would come charging through the windows of the house and then she’d shout: “Boom, boom, boom” or that Partisans would come up through a crack in the floor, and then papa, hoping to calm her, would ask as a joke: wearing a cap with five stars or a red scarf? Sometimes we could hear her crying from the small tent that her brother was coming to take her home to Split. But sometimes she said that my Grandpa was coming to take her to his world, in heaven, and then she might repeat for hours, as if she talking to my Grandpa “But what if God sends me where the Croatians are? You’d be in one place, and I’d be in another. It’s not even certain there who’s with who.” Why is she talking to him in Croatian, I thought to myself, but it seemed better not to ask.

This was pure paranoia. I asked myself whether everyone with this illness ended like this, or was it only those with this illness who had had to relocate somewhere? That’s why I told papa we should leave her the tent, but we should put a rug and mattress down so she wouldn’t be sleeping directly on the floor. And from that day on, Grandma didn’t take her head out of the tent at night. But she also tried to squeeze her body into the one metre space shouting hoarsely: “Fa-scists, Fa-scists.” The tent became her haven, not only at night, but during the day as well. Lea had to feed her there on the floor, shoving every spoonful of food at her inside the tent. Mama already said the time had come for us to fine a suitable nursing home for her, and Uncle Luca and Uncle Mario agreed. We saw them rarely, at Christmas or a few days in the summer, so they didn’t have a true picture of their mother’s illness, and in their phone conversations with papa, they thought the best decision was for us to put her in a nursing home. Uncle Luca said to find the best home and he’d pay for it. I heard papa once say to him: “Neda won’t give her up, she doesn’t want us to take her to a nursing home.” I was grateful to him for that. I wanted Grandma Nedjeljka to live to the end of her life in her own home where she had come as a newcomer, and had remained as a wife, mother, and grandmother. So she wouldn’t again be a stranger in a nursing home. Grandma Nedjeljka couldn’t endure one more move. I tried to make her more at home in her own home, so she wouldn’t also be a ghost in Castellammare del Golfo while she was still alive. In the evening I would put on movies with Sylva Coscina that she had very much liked when she was healthy. She liked them now, too, and she could watch the same ones every day, even several times a day. Sometimes Lea also played them for her while we were at work: to give herself some peace, she would play Grandma two or three films on the video machine in the living room.

17 February 2013 Castellammare del Golfo

One Sunday, on 17 February 2013, to be precise, a date I will remember for the rest of my life, before going to church mama, as usual, asked Grandma Nedjeljka whether she wanted rosemary or basil tea. Grandma was sitting almost motionless at the kitchen table— at my insistence, papa and I had not abandoned the Sunday morning ritual of bringing her to the kitchen so we could all have breakfast together. Grandma Nedjeljka didn’t respond. She often didn’t answer our questions, but there were moments and days when she repeated every phrase or she’d say something resembling a sentence, a thought. But now she just looked at mama with a surprised expression and didn’t say anything. Then papa asked her whether she wanted rosemary or basil tea. She didn’t answer him either. When I asked her, she answered me in Croatian: “rosemary.” We gave it to her. That day she would only answer me, briefly, but at least with a word or two. She looked at mama and papa with a puzzled look, as if she didn’t understand them when they talked to her at breakfast. No one took this as anything other than her inclination towards me, I was the most important person in her life and she knew to not pay any attention to others. But the next day, when I went to work and Lea tried to tell her something or ask her something, grandma just looked at her, listening to her words, but only shaking her head and muttering something “in that language of hers,” Lea said, “not in ours.” When I got home everyone was in a panic, and mama called me as I came in the door: “Neda come here quickly, this is very strange, but your grandma is either pretending, or she really doesn’t understand us anymore.” My heart felt tight. I went in, stroked her hand, and asked her in Croatian: “Grandma Non-Oui, are you ok? What’s bothering you?” “Well, who are you?” she asked me. “Nedi,” I said to her loudly, “don’t you remember?” “You’re Nedi?” she said in Croatian, “ And I’m Neda?” “Yes, I’m Nedi, Nedjeljka, just like you, Grandma, don’t you remember?” “Yes, I remember Nedjeljka,” she said to me wearily. “And do you know mama and papa?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she said, “ I can’t understand them.”

Yes, Grandma Nedjeljka, that is a fact – you had forgotten the Italian language. I don’t know myself how it happened, but medical literature is familiar with such events. Was it over night or gradually? Did your brain at one specific moment shut off its language function or did it happen a little bit each day? Were you only forgetting the language you learned or were you also forgetting your mother tongue? “If it had been gradual, we would have seen it, it would have been obvious,” papa said, shocked not only by the fact that she had forgotten Italian but also by the fact that he had never learned Croatian so he would be able to continue the conversation with you in your mother tongue. Papa doesn’t, in fact, have a mother tongue – isn’t that absurd? Every person has to have a mother tongue, a real mother tongue that is, not a father tongue, which, because of circumstances, had become, or one thought it had become, the mother tongue as well. But papa and my uncles didn’t have their mother tongue; they didn’t have your language, only Italian, their father’s language, but is that enough for one person’s lifetime? Now, when your illness has taken away Italian, it has essentially taken away your sons, and Antonio, and Margherita, and I am the only one left for you, the only one in the whole family who learned your Croatian language. When you stopped understanding the language with which you had lived more than sixty years, the language of Grandpa Carlo and of all us who had been close to you, you lost everyone but me, the only one who could understand you after the short-circuit in your brain that apparently erased the years and words and a whole language. Mama didn’t believe it at first, and Lea even said to her: “How, then, is she watching the Koscina movies? I feel like she understands them.” Yes, you already knew the Koscina movies by heart and you already turned their dialogue into your Croatian, you didn’t even think about the words, you knew their meanings by heart. Or, perhaps listening to Koscina, a Croatian in Italy, you understood internally, from the Croatian core of her Italian roles. I, for one, never believed that you lost Italian gradually. I think papa also didn’t believe it, but it was easier for him to think that, rather than to acknowledge to himself that he had dedicated so little to you in your illness that he had not even noticed whether you understood or not. In one way or another, everyone avoided your presence, except on Sundays when they felt more strongly the presence of God because of the church bells in the city and the view towards St. Mary from your room, and then your presence was also more visible to them. But as for me, I would have noticed you were forgetting Italian when they turned their attention to you or when Lea asked you something. You and I only spoke together in Croatian, ever since you taught it to me as a child and the day you said to me: “This is the last time I’m going to talk with you in Italian, you know my language well enough now for it to be yours as well.”

And then your Croatian became mine, my grandma tongue. More and more I feel like you forgot Italian in one stroke as if inside your brain the fuse for the Italian language burned out, and Boom! Now it’s dark, and nothing is visible. Did you really not remember a single word? Not even si or no? Did you forget French along with Italian? But you hadn’t spoken French for years, not since you were young, and that wasn’t part of the illness. But did you even forget your name, Non-Oui? It’s a good thing that no one here called you by the Italian No-Si. It’s a good thing that God at least protected you from that, from forgetting your own name.

“She’s forgotten the language?” the Uncles said in amazement on the telephone. “How is that possible? How are we going to talk with her now?” “With an interpreter,” papa said and looked at me as I went past. “With an interpreter, with Neda,” he added. All three of there were embarrassed and ashamed that not one of them ever learned their mother’s language, their mother tongue.

Lea said she could no longer look after Grandma Nedjeljka. “How can I understand a foreigner?” she said. “A foreigner,” that’s what she said and in that instant it became clear to me what Grandma thought when she said that everything for the foreigner is a cross: past, present, and future. In the end, after everything, a foreigner becomes a foreigner once again; in Grandma Nedjeljka’s case, that was literally true, in black and white. She came here as a foreigner, then lived here as someone who had adopted the country, or at least thought that it was already hers, and in the end, before death, she was turned into a foreigner once again. You are a foreigner most of all where no one understands you and you don’t understand anyone. It is not for nothing, that programs to learn the language of one’s new fatherland are included in every integration policy. Not only is it desirable, but it is the custom for someone who moves to a new place to learn the language of the new mileau. Grandma Nedjelkja began to learn Italian while still in Split, right after she received that telegram from Grandpa Carlo saying that they would get married in Sicily. Her Italian might have had a Slavic accent, but it was the every-day Sicilian dialect, very similar to Grandpa Carlo’s. Every language has its own gestures, just like people have their own facial expressions in the language they speak; Grandma Nedjeljka took hers from Grandpa Carlo’s Italian language. Just like I took my Croatian expressions from her Croatian. And now Grandma Nedjeljka—for medical reasons, or because her Alzheimer’s had reached a new phase, as the doctors said—had forgotten Italian, and though she spoke rarely, she spoke only Croatian. When people addressed her in Italian, she looked at them with a vacant expression, surprised by the sound of the words that she, evidently, could no longer understood, and that didn’t even remind her of anything, as if the language had no echo, not even the shadow of the language.

I looked for all the books on dementia and Alzheimer’s in the bookstore but I found very little about the loss of language. People wrote that it was important in such cases to communicate with the person as much as possible with the language that remains. But who could communicate with Grandma Nedjeljka except me?  In Castellammare del Golfo there were no other Croatians or residents with a Croatian background. During the intervening years, the small town had filled with migrants, but mostly from Romania, Albania, and African countries. From the former Yugoslavia there were virtually no emigrees, or at least we hadn’t met any. In the beginning, I took vacation, an unpaid leave, and I stayed with Grandma Nedjeljka; I took care of her and nursed her as much as I could. When I had used up every option, we begged Lea to come again and at least look after Grandma’s physical needs, there was no need to converse with her. She accepted since she hadn’t found other work in the meantime. Margherita no longer dropped in to Grandma’s room, she simply had nothing to say to her, although I could have translated everything she said to everyone. Mama, too, spoke minimally to Grandma, but she did not hesitate muttering “Out of spite,” although I know it was just from habit, not only from impatience with her mother-in-law. Only papa tried to be a bit more present in her life, speaking to her those few words in Croatian he had learned, and then Grandma’s face would beam with joy and all day she would repeat the greetings “Dobar den”, “Kako si?” “dobro, dobro,” “minibus…” Surely father’s conscience gnawed at him that he had learned only those few words, and not Grandma Nedjeljka’s language, his mother tongue. Yes, perhaps grandma was at fault for not teaching her sons Croatian, but when they had grown they could have expressed the desire and the will to learn.

Sometimes I think that it would be good to get in touch with her brother in Split, now left alone with his daughter, so they could speak a little with her, but I didn’t know Marina, and my whole life I had only heard bad things about her brother. And if he said anything at all it would be some bad word, and who needs bad words, even if they are in your mother tongue?




Translated by Christina E. Kramer

Emina Žuna

Emina Žuna

Emina Žuna was born 1981 in Jajce. She has published short stories and essays in electronic and printed magazines in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as neighbouring countries. Some of her short stories and drama pieces have been adapted and broadcast on national radio. Her first novel titled Linija života (Lifeline) was published in 2016 with the support of the FBiH Publishing Foundation. The novel was listed for two regional literary prizes, the Mirko Kovač and Meša Selimović Awards. Her short stories have won prizes and recognition, Bejahad 2008, Radio Federacije 2002, Avlija 2013. Her second novel titled Čovjek iz budućnosti (The Man from the Future) is in the final stages of the publishing process.

She holds undergraduate degrees in Psychology (2005) and Comparative Literature and Librarianship (2006) from the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo, and has earned a MA in European Culture and Literature at Strasbourg, Bologna and Thessaloniki (2011). She works as a psychologist and freelance columnist and journalist and regularly publishes journalistic and opinion pieces on several web portals.




The Man from the Future



His duvet must’ve slipped down, or he’d left a window open. Nedim did not at all feel like opening his eyes and getting up, although the street noise was getting louder and louder, and he felt a breeze. It was as if he’d been trying to wake up from a coma, and a heavy shroud of sleep smothered him the moment he managed to come to. Maybe I didn’t hear the alarm yet again, went through his head. On several occasions he had been so fast asleep that he couldn’t hear it. As his awareness grew of the inconvenience awaiting him should he be late, so grew his determination to wake up.

He finally opened his eyes and saw the sky above him. It was nice, clear blue, with puffy clouds here and there, ones that the primary school geography textbook said were called cirruses. The smell of a nice day was in the air, and the realisation struck him like a bolt of lightning and coursed through his body. Several times he opened and shut his eyes, as if in a cartoon, then rubbed them and opened them again. He sat up on the wooden bench on which he had just slept.

He was in the middle of a park that wasn’t very large, but was packed with trees, bushes and benches. His bench was one of the many lined up in a row stretching along both sides of the central trail strewn with fine sand. Exactly opposite sat an old lady. Her head was wrapped in a shawl and she was contorting her face at him. It wasn’t a shawl that covered all of the face, like the ones worn by women for religious reasons, but an ordinary one that women used to wear to protect themselves from the elements. She had an expression of disgust on her face, and Nedim took a look at himself.

He was barefoot, dressed in tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt. It was the outfit in which he’d gone to sleep last night. He hopped off the bench and bolted down the rough trail, turning his head away from the old lady in embarrassment. It must’ve been a sleepwalking episode, some kind of somnambulism, he thought. It had never happened to him before, but he’d read about it. It occurred most often in children, but could also occur in adults. He’d also read that the belief that one should never wake a sleepwalker was nothing but a misapprehension – waking him was precisely what one ought to do, because someone in a state of somnambulism was a danger to himself and those around him. That was good myth-busting. Before he read that he believed what he had been told as a child – that a sleepwalker might get a heart attack and die on the spot if woken.

The park exit led into a crowded street. Nedim stopped and had a look around. He wasn’t quite sure where he was and which direction he was supposed to move in. Everything was familiar, yet somehow strange. He would’ve sworn he had seen some of the buildings around him before, more than once at that, but he just couldn’t place them. For instance, the garages opposite the park very much resembled the ones opposite his tower block, only his tower block wasn’t there, so it couldn’t have been the same place. The garages themselves were newer, the façade was better preserved and graffiti-free. To make everything even more confusing, opposite the garages was a basketball court rather similar to the one opposite his garages. Only this one was run-down and there were no hoops on the backboards, but Nedim could’ve sworn they’d renovated it recently, fenced it with wire, drawn fresh lines and installed new hoops. Except for the newer appearance, it was beyond any doubt the same court.

He turned around and ran back to the court, then stopped at a spot from which he could observe it from the same angle and distance as when he was entering his own tower block. Behind him, in the distance, one could see the old familiar flyover with its railing and lighting. All these things were equidistant, and their dimensions matched perfectly – everything stood in identical spatial and dimensional relations. The bench was exactly where his bedroom would’ve been, only four storeys down. There could be only one reasonable explanation, no matter how implausible it seemed. He hadn’t gone sleepwalking, because he hadn’t gone anywhere at all and he was exactly where he’d fallen asleep the night before, only the tower block was gone.

Where the fuck is it, Nedim wanted to shout. Has it been sucked up by a tornado, like in the Japanese cartoon version of The Wizard of Oz he watched as a child? The tower was much larger than Dorothy’s wooden Kansas house – it was a massive complex with seven entrances, five storeys each. It was new construction, built some six-seven years ago. It had an attached car park which bordered the basketball court, only it was gone now, and the park stretched to where it ought to have been.

He didn’t know what to do, so he returned to the same bench on which he woke up, and sat. The old lady gave him another disdainful glare, then she got up and left with a disgusted look on her face. But Nedim no longer cared and didn’t even notice her this time. His mind was in chaos. He was trying to get his thoughts in order, but he kept returning to the same question: why was he still there, whilst the tower block, along with all the other tenants, was gone? There had to be a good reason for that, but it eluded him. It had become certain that he’d be late for work, but even if he’d mustered up the courage to go to work barefoot, in his tracksuit bottoms, he couldn’t be sure his company building still existed. Staying where he was, trying to get himself together and coming up with a better solution seemed the best course of action.

He blocked one nostril with his finger and started breathing deeply, which he had learnt at the yoga classes Šefika made him attend. He was the only man there, except the instructor. He thought, if only he had a cup of black coffee, he would get his head together, and his mind would clear up.

A red Lada 1600 was parked by the park exit, near the garages. It seemed well-preserved, it was almost new, or somebody had put in effort to make it appear so. It was a model similar to the one Nedim’s father had had when Nedim was a child, with a four-cylinder engine and some 80 horsepower. It was made by Avto VAZ and it had double, circular headlights. The newer models had square headlights, but Nedim thought the round ones were much prettier. It could go up to 130 kmph, although he couldn’t remember his father ever going over 90.

He stopped yoga breathing, stood up, approached the car and had a look inside. Nothing seemed to have been changed and everything was in factory condition: the steering wheel with a thin outer ring and some kind of decoration running down the middle, vintage-style fascia made of brown wood with analogue instruments, gear lever ending in a brown leather pouch, even the radio was authentic. The seats were upholstered in brown leather, the door panel trimmed with wood and upholstered. It was a more luxurious model and it seemed it had left the factory recently. Nedim had a passion for old timers, but lazy and conformist as he was, he also liked all the mod cons offered by new cars. The time it would’ve taken to upgrade an older model and the hassle it would’ve entailed had always put him off buying an old car. But on that day he envied the Lada owner’s taste and audacity. Seeing that beauty helped him get himself together, so he turned round and went down the trail to the exit, in slow, careful strides, and then stepped out into the street.

What happened then cannot be put into words. Words demand to be arranged into sentences which in turn follow a certain timeline and logic of events, but the kaleidoscope of spectacles Nedim saw and the emotional rollercoaster they set off defied both. Let’s just say that, on his way from the park in which he woke up to his destination he saw a few more Ladas like the one in the park. He also saw scores of Zastava 101s, 750s and 126s, Yugos, Golfs, Renaults, Citroen 2CVs, old Volkswagen Beatles and other cars he hadn’t seen for a few decades. At least not in such numbers. Even the trams were old, older than the usual trams, although they, too, were old.

The problem was not only the vehicles, but the people as well. They were dressed funny, with hairstyles from a vintage film. It was as if he’d accidentally crashed a themed fancy dress party in the street, or a retro party everyone except him knew about. The women had a lot more hair than usual, it was backcombed, or they wore scrunchies like girls used to wear when he was a child. Alisa once made a disgusted face when they were queueing in front of the cinema because a woman standing in front of them was wearing a scrunchie. The men, too, were conspicuous with their hairstyles and moustaches, he even saw some sporting a mullet – when he was a kid they used to call those fellows yokels. They were funny and clumsy, but still he couldn’t help the feeling that it wasn’t them who stood out, that it was him with his short cropped hair and his drab grey tracksuit. Even the clothes were more colourful than he was accustomed to, with padded shoulders and cuffed trousers, but the people who cuffed their trouser legs weren’t salafis. And many wore cool vintage trainers that were nearly impossible to come by. One lad had Adidas Stan Smith; Nedim was sure the model had been out of production for several decades now, but this guy’s Stans seemed brand new.

In other words, everything he had seen since he had woken up – the park he found himself in, the people and cars he came across in the street (which he thought was incredibly familiar, but then again wasn’t) – led him to a single conclusion. Somehow he found himself in an 80s film. Everything felt familiar, and the place was the exact same place, only the time period was different. It was like in the 60s classic Time Machine, based on a book by H.G. Wells, a film Nedim had seen several times: three spatial dimensions were unchanged, only the fourth, temporal, was changed.

The street he absent-mindedly set out for and turned the corner into was a street he had walked along a million times. He knew every inch of it, every crooked manhole cover, he knew when each broken window had been broken, when every burglarised flat had been broken into, where a shell had exploded and what kind of holes the shrapnel had left in the façade. Only it was older then, while this was a previous version of itself. He suddenly remembered something and bolted off towards the garage opposite the shop. He thought its presence on the wall might prove a theory that had started forming in his head, but when he arrived he saw that it was gone. The wall was clean.

What was missing was his first ever graffito, IGGY POP. He wrote it when he was in the third year, although he didn’t even know who that was at the time, but he had seen older boys do it and he thought that was cool. It stood there throughout the war and it had only been painted over sometime in the second half of the 1990s. He was filled with pride every time he saw it, as it represented his first act of vandalism, and he was sad when it was gone. But then he felt double regret, because he wasn’t going to see his graffito, and because its absence meant that his time travel theory was false. And he’d just thought that pieces of the puzzle had started to fall into place and make things clearer.

Except for his graffito, the street was just as he remembered it. There was their tower block, the same as it was before the war. Opposite was a little garden with a bench reduced to two slats. Nearby was an improvised basketball court with a hoop mounted to a branch of a pine tree. Kata’s corner shop was right next to the garages, at the very top of the street leading to the tower block was the same old newsagent’s. Further down the street was a red kiosk that wasn’t there in his day. It was one of those red reinforced kiosks that used to be common and usually housed sandwich shops. They looked like futuristic dwellings of Mars colonisers as imagined in the 1950s. On one occasion there was a poisoning and Šefika forbade them to ever buy food there again, while they often bought comics at the newsagent’s. Nedim started with Zagor and Mister No, later he also read Dylan Dog and Martin Mystery – who became Martin Mystère after the war.

Then he had an epiphany and bolted off to the newsagent’s. He was so excited blood rushed into his head, and his heart started racing savagely. He grabbed the first newspaper he saw; it was the START. There was a naked woman on the front page, a blonde, sitting on a chair holding up her hair. She was almost completely naked and you could see her tits and pubes. In the lower right corner it said: Special feature – Start’s model of the year competition. It was unusual to see such a front page on a magazine that wasn’t pornographic and it took him a few moments for the information because of which he bought the magazine in the first place to sink in. It was printed in small print, just below the logo: 486, 5th September 1987, price 700 dinars… Blood started drumming even louder in his ears, and then he grabbed a copy of Oslobođenje. It was Tuesday, 8th September 1987. The pressure in his head became unbearable and it took him a while to get himself together, but he felt relief when he finally managed. All things finally started to fall into place.

The newsagent popped his head out and asked if he was going to buy something or if he just wanted to read for free, and Nedim, his face stretched into a silly smile, handed him back the magazine. In two years’ time, when he bought his first comic there – or a novel, as they were called then – Mr Hase was working there and Nedim got on well with him. Because of this, at times he didn’t even have to buy the novels – Mr Hase would let him borrow them. Nedim didn’t even remember the frowning man who rudely snatched the newspapers from his hand, replaced them, then waved him off and shut the kiosk window. He must’ve thought Nedim was crazy when he saw him barefoot, in a tracksuit, grinning imbecilically.

Nedim rewound the tape in his head. He was born in Sarajevo in 1980, and in 1987 he was in the second year. He didn’t go to school in Sarajevo, but in a small town in central Bosnia where the family moved when the school year started. His father had been named director of a promising company with a seat in the small town, so the three of them moved there with him, and stayed till the end of the 1988 school year. Nedim completed the second year, Nedžad the fifth. The graffito was missing from the garage wall for the simple reason that it hadn’t come into existence yet, Nedim had written it only after they came back, in 1989. This meant that he was right and his original theory was correct – he had travelled back in time! The only reason he woke up on a park bench instead of his own bed was that his tower block hadn’t yet been constructed – it was built after the war.

He went back to the tower block and sat on the remnants of the bench. Now that there was no more doubt about what had happened, it was necessary to find some kind of logic and causality in the story. He couldn’t remember doing anything differently, he had merely fallen asleep and woken up in the past. That could’ve been an accident, but it could also mean that in his case the location itself functioned as a time machine. To his knowledge, anything could be a time machine. In the film Back to the Future, Dr Emmett Brown built one in a car, a DeLorean, which was an eighties thing. But if Nedim could’ve had it his own way, and if he had known how, he would’ve built one in a Lada 1600, just like the one he saw that morning. The Lada matched his reality and his own eighties.

In the film Time Machine, the time machine is a contraption which fits, in visual terms, the period it was built in – the early 20th century – and looks like a crossover between a bike and a Singer sewing machine. Proper old school time machine, that thing. In a comedy whose title he couldn’t remember, the time machine was in a jacuzzi. But one couldn’t travel in time just by entering the machine, particular weather conditions had to be met. In some other cases the machine was a wardrobe, or some other article of furniture that one had to walk through. In more complex examples it was a druid shrine you had to find on a particular date. In Butterfly Effect it was an ordinary diary which Ashton Kutcher basically only had to read to be transported back to the moment described on the page. However, in many of the cases he was able to remember a character would simply fall asleep, much like he did, then wake up in another temporal reality.

Children had been playing for a while on the small basketball court opposite, but it took Nedim some time to register and recognise them. He barely managed to stop himself from running towards them, as if he were a child himself. It was Tasi, Goran and Zrle, his mates from the estate. For a moment, as he was going towards them, the thought he might spot himself or Nedžad shot through his mind, but was relieved when he remembered they weren’t there at the time. He couldn’t have known what could’ve happened if he had met another version of himself, and that the moment could be portentous. In 12 Monkeys there would be a time travel paradox because two versions of the same person can’t exist in the same spatial-temporal continuum and would cancel each other out due to the physical proximity. Although, sometimes nothing would happen and the two versions would co-exist without problems, but Nedim thought it was at any rate good that he and Nedžad weren’t there. You shouldn’t play with time.

The children took a step back when they saw him. He must’ve looked like a psycho from the Jagomir mental hospital, barefoot and dressed in tracksuit bottoms as he was. Back in the day it wasn’t unusual to see Jagomir patients roaming the streets in a state of neglect, talking to themselves. Some had strange tics, others were glassy-eyed with a frozen facial expression and stiff body movements. Some nutters were famous, and they had their own famous nutter on the estate, crazy Jovo who they could smell from a mile away and they loved to tease him and pelt him with stones. Jovo would then swear and chase them, and they got their kicks from the mixture of fear and excitement. But one day crazy Jovo vanished and nobody knew what happened to him. Nedim hadn’t thought of him for years, but he suddenly felt genuinely happy at the prospect of seeing him again. Now he understood him well and he’d know exactly how to approach him and what to tell him.

He told the kids that he was Nedim and Nedžad’s relative. His story was as follows: he was on his way there when a tanker spilt water onto the road and he clumsily stepped right into a puddle; so he took off his trainers in order to take off his socks, and some bloke who was passing by nicked them at that exact moment; he ran after him, but he couldn’t catch him as he was in his socks and found it hard to run. In the end he took off the socks, too, as they were wet anyway and he was better off barefoot. It wasn’t much of a story, but he couldn’t come up with anything better, and he relied on the fact that they were, after all, just kids. At the beginning they eyed him sceptically and exchanged distrustful glances with one another, but they started to believe him when the conversation turned to him and Nedžad. He told them too many details about himself and Nedžad for them to doubt him still.

Goran was Nedžad’s age, and the two of them hadn’t seen each other since the war. Just before it broke out, he left for Belgrade with his family and never came back. He looked exactly like Nedim remembered him, only a bit younger. Tasi was wounded by a sniper at the very beginning of the war and was evacuated for treatment. They were out of touch with each other until Tasi came to town for summer holidays after the war. He’d been living in Canada, and the last Nedim had heard of him was that he’d been working as a doctor in Toronto. Only Zrle was still in Sarajevo, he even lived in the same tower. They used to hang about together throughout primary and secondary school, but then they started to avoid each other. Zrle was always on something, there was a time when he was doing way too much speed and was insufferable. He never got a job and Šefika claimed he was spending his mother’s entire pension cheque on drugs. Nedim felt sorry for him, but the last time he went out with him all the readies from his wallet disappeared. He went to the toilet for a bit and when he came back and wanted to pay he realised he had no money. He got all embarrassed, but then Zrle said, with a perfectly straight face, not to worry, it was his shout, and then paid with Nedim’s money. For a few seconds Nedim weighed up whether to say something, but then he decided to play dumb.

He was looking at Zrle that day and his heart sank. Zrle was a bright child, a live wire and the initiator of most of their missions. But then came the war, Zrle’s father was killed, and from there things went downhill for him. Although, it was likely that he would’ve turned out the same even without the war, but for Nedim and the rest of his generation life was irreversibly divided into before after the war, and the war was to blame for everything. In addition, the pre-war period was painted pink and seen through the lens of childhood nostalgia. But then Nedim found himself quite unexpectedly in this much pined-for paradise, and was blown away by the realisation that nothing had happened yet. The war hadn’t started, Tasi hadn’t yet been shot by a sniper, Zrle’s father had still been alive. Could he not simply warn them about everything that was going to happen?

He was euphoric at the prospect, but the euphoria was short-lived. He remembered Butterfly Effect and Final Destination, and the feeling evaporated. The point of all those time travel films was that the past was not to be fucked with and altered. Any attempt would lead to the same outcome, or an even worse one. The events themselves didn’t necessarily have to be grand – according to the butterfly effect every change in the initial parameters, however small, could have catastrophic consequences. This is why Kutcher created a worse version of the future every time he managed to change something in the past, and the kids from Final Destination got killed every time, no matter what. In this case this could mean that Tasi wouldn’t end up in Canada, or would be wounded a second time, more severely than the first, and any improvements in Zrle’s life could fuck up the life of someone who had some kind of connection to him, whether direct or indirect. So Nedim decided to keep his mouth shut, however hard it was. The chances of them believing him were small anyway.

Officially, he was their relative who was looking after their flat whilst they were gone. The kids knew that his family had moved away and they believed him. Eventually they lost interest in him and went their own way. This piqued him a bit, but it was only to be expected. Kids that age live in a world of their own and are rarely interested in adults, and he, a grown man who watered plants in Nedžad and Nedim’s flat from time to time, had nothing about him that could interest them. Still, in the doorway he swore he wouldn’t interact with them again. One of them might mention him to him or to Nedžad, and there was no telling what kind of consequences that could have for the future.

Their front door was the old, pre-war, brown door with a metal knob. The family name was written in capitals on a plastic tablet. The present door was burglar-proof, made of dark-stained wood, with a triple lock and no surname. Šefika had read somewhere that flats without the owner’s name on the front door were statistically less likely to be broken into. Nedim grabbed the knob and its coldness sent shivers down his spine. Although he was certain that the door was locked and no one was home, he couldn’t help the apprehension that it would still open and that he would see Nedžad inside, Šefika or himself. So he heaved a sigh of relief when it didn’t open, then he sat on the stairs.

He had to decide which part of day would be best for breaking in. Night made sense because most tenants slept at night, but on the other hand it was quiet, the faintest sound could be heard, and he would therefore raise a ruckus. He sat there for a while wracking his brain, then he remembered something and his face stretched into a silly grin again. It seemed incredible to him that he was so lucky, that things could line up so perfectly as if he had arranged them himself. He knelt in front of the door, moved the mat to the side and pushed his hand into the crack beneath the doorstep.

When he was in the first year he often lost his house keys, although he wore them on an elastic lanyard round his neck. Šefika would yell at him every time, so on one occasion he pretended to have lost his key, only so that he would have a spare for when he really lost it, without her knowing. So he told her he lost it, and then hid it in the crack. A bit later he understood his folly when he was taught a lesson he would’ve been taught even if he’d really lost the key, but, in his defence, he was only six.

He held his breath, his fingers found the key and he put it in the lock. His hand was shaking as he turned it, once, then once more. The door opened and Nedim walked in.




Translated by Mirza Purić

Ognjen Spahić

Ognjen Spahić

Ognjen Spahić, born 1977 in Podgorica, is a Montenegrin novelist. He has published two collections of short stories, Sve to (All That, 2001) and Zimska potraga (Winter Search, 2007). His novel Hansenova djeca (Hansen’s Children, 2004) won him the 2005 Meša Selimović Prize for the best new novel from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. To date, Hansenova djeca has been published in French, Italian, Slovene, Romanian, Hungarian, Macedonian and English.

His short story Raymond is No Longer with Us – Carver is Dead was included in the anthology Best European Fiction 2011 published by Dalkey Archive Press in the US. In 2007 he was a writing resident at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. He was also the Montenegrin winner of European Union Prize for Literature for 2014.

Photograph:  Anahit Hayrapetyan

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski, born 1987 in Kumanovo, studied General and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje. His published works include Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Colour of Shoes (novel, 2013, second and third edition 2016), The Body That Has To Be Lived In (novel, 2015, second and third edition 2016).

Andonovski’s first novel Eyes the Colour of Shoes was shortlisted for the Utrinski Vesnik Novel of the Year Award in 2013 and was shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Literature in 2016. His novel The Body That Has To Be Lived In won the Utrinski Vesnik Novel of the Year Award in 2015.

Book proposals
Petar Andonovski: The Body That Has to Be Lived In

Petar Andonovski: The Body That Has to Be Lived In

The Body That Has To Be Lived In follows the internal struggles of Brigitte, a sixty-year-old judge at the very end of her career who is suddenly assigned the only challenging and complex trial she has ever undertaken in her working life — a criminal case concerning the rape and murder of a young woman. Before this final case, Brigitte has only ever judged minor cases of divorce and petty theft – a kind of cheap theatre. But now she becomes abruptly aware of the marginal role she has played in the world - and of the opportunity this murder trial offers. The case opens the key for Brigitte’s path of self-realization as she finally assumes the power given to her as a judge – the power of arbitration. The novel follows Brigitte’s internal test of character in parallel with the development of the trial of the young man accused of killing his girlfriend. This internal journey is initiated by her confronting the lawbreaker — confronting the body of the accused, over which society and the law, embodied in herself, will execute its


Ramiz Huremagić

Ramiz Huremagić

Ramiz Huremagić, born 1972 in Cazin, completed his undergraduate studies in Zagreb and Sarajevo, and obtained his Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Cardiff in the UK. Over a period of more than nine years, Ramiz worked on organised crime investigations. Together with writer Izet Perviz, he co-authored a script for the feature-length film Tobacco Smoke, that received a prize in 2004 from the Foundation for Cinematography of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The film was also included in the official selection of the CineLink programme for script development at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

His poetry has been published in the Croatian magazines Poezija and Novi izraz, as well as various other portals, magazines and journals. His second book of poetry Čekičanje vremena (The Hammering of Time) was published in 2016. In 2017 it was shortlisted among the best poetry collections at the Ratković Evenings of Poetry in Montenegro.




The Hammering of Time

The Victress of Belgrade

To Belgrade,

lest she drown.


A poet’s sweetheart lives in You,

petite and frail,

yet greater than You.

You’ll look down your nose at me

and tell me there’s probably no city

without at least one

poet’s sweetheart.

There are sweethearts in every city,

sweethearts of poets living and dead,

great and small,

sweethearts of men, sweethearts of cities.

You know, Belgrade,

This poet is not one

to quarrel,

his is the softest of skins.

Only, he was flayed,

alive, by Your sons,

beardless boys who took to

kicking old ladies’ corpses

when kicking a football and

burning out motorbike tyres

became a bore.

My Belgrade,

I do not wish to lay claims.

You have also birthed her,

the bearer of bliss.

Of course, You don’t remember

every tiny tot –

that was long ago, how could you.

Back then you lived

at a different address,

long gone now, razed by hate, bulldozers and tanks.

You are very big and old

and you forget.

Deep in Your underbelly

rats have long been breeding,

and we all know

that they live under ground.

Still You don’t relent,

You don’t fall back.

Still you persistently drown

Your finest babes,

like the bitch Ursula drowned her litter.

Is it because

greed has clouded

your holy vision,

or did you sell out for

a goodly appanage

and your own table at “Šansa”

with a view of yourself.

Belgrade, You hero of song and tale.

The scars on the fragile back

of the poet-warrior-boy

– even those inside –

were removed by

a single breath of hers.

Only later did she kiss him,

gently, on the neck vein and the eyes,

and slightly above the kidneys.

Was it Your breath, too, old timer,

the one You’re now ashamed of,

the one You renounce?

A breath drawn from the

wire-stitched innards,

a breath on which girls

danced out of spite

in marked sheds

full of traces

of the architect who was born dying,

of piano keys

and the most beautiful monuments

of the underground world?

Do You even remember

that You once were

a city besieged yet unconquered?

Or was it some other city,

the one that wouldn’t

step on an ant?

Belgrade, you dotard.

A poet now comes to you.

With serenity

under his soft skin,

and the widest of smiles.

With open arms

but not with empty hands,

he comes to embrace you,


Maybe she won’t

understand him at first,

he is a man insane,

still a boy,

who loves her with his

softest skin.

The one which doesn’t

remember the blade,

the one which froze

inside, all the way to the kidneys,

during that time when you weren’t waging war

at my front doorstep.

He loves her, Belgrade,

hoarfrost and expanded bullets

did not cloud his judgement.

Where he was born

the river runs clear,

his mother taught him

that one should never lock

one’s home and heart.

He only knows

the colour of death.

Belgrade by the rivers

that perish in the

briny sea

made up of their own waters.

For love, he will

lay down his life if need be.

So many times it’s been taken from him,

only to return again.

The poet only knows how to give,

belonging is a trait of locked up minds.

Who were the cries

“We are free!” for,

when the keys

to Your innards

were awarded to the

gentleman on a white horse?

He knows what it’s like to have

something taken away from you,

and he knows that You’ve been taken away

and that something’s been taken away from You.

All these lives taken

for nothing,

even the life of the great

insane rat,

what were they taken

from if not freedom

which can only exist

in man?

Fear takes away

much more than death does.

Don’t be surprised –

within You, without You,

with You, without You,

above You, below You,

You will not take her away from him,

You cannot take away from her love

and her sighs,

don’t even think about it.

It’s a war You lost

decisively long ago,

perhaps because

You didn’t start it in the first place.

Hopefully You’ve come

to your senses,

and realised You

should’ve stopped that long ago.

You lost publicly,

the poet put You in verse,

turned You into dotted

fields of white

reminiscent of Your Alley of the Greats –

although, its greatness

is marred here and there.

The poet then stripped

completely naked,

in the middle of Your

big heart – is it still big, however?

On his soft skin

a scar can still be seen,

on the small of his back,

to the left, where the third

kiss had landed.

He read to you loudly

clenching his fist

all the way to the hem of the sky

above Mt Avala,

with his mouth shut,

mouth reconciled with his

truths and silences.

Meštrović and his falcon

were silent

as they waited for their Victor

from the shed to make him known.

Praise those on high

and the universe of verse

for connecting people.

Where She, alone and frail,

astride a falcon,

Rearranges the stars in the sky,

that Good may

feel good.

Before Your eyes,

above Your parks,

I still cannot thank You.

Your daughter has vanquished you,

old timer,

with the love of mother’s flesh and blood,

with the  modesty of father’s pride,

with the purity of underwater touch.

In her, old chap,

You fall asleep every night,

as if in a most fragrant bed,

not the other way round.

I know, and the poet knows too,

hers is the sweetest scent,

the scent of freedom.

That is her, Your Victress.

The one who defeated You unprecedentedly,

a heroine as fearless

as a butterfly

that has only one face.

And you know what, Belgrade,

She’s not the only one,

not by any manner of means, mate.

You have plenty of tots like that

more, perhaps,

than You care for,

just as the poet

is not the only poet.

Though this one has

the softest of skins,

and he is taking it to her

to rest her

pale white hands on,

hands weary of dealing with You.

The poet reached out

his hands to you,

here they are, here we are.

After all, poets have always come to You.

Some to love and celebrate,

some only to

rest in one of your cemeteries.

Love makes for peaceful cemeteries

where souls curry favour

with one another

with their born-again breath,

and the bedding is white and fragrant.

O white city,

You have birthed all the colours,

but been named after only one.

Stop being

a dark shadow,

an absence of light,

a Bogeyman with which to scare

mischievous children.

Return to it

embrace it anew,

white is rather beautiful –

it is the colour of wedding gowns

the colour of daisies,

the colour of handkerchiefs in jacket pockets,

the colour of her breath.

The poet will neither

regret not begrudge

covering Your streets

with his softest of skins.

or growing pleasure grounds

of singing daisies along the pavements

from his kidneys the bulbs

which he planted with his own hands.

That, after all, is why he is coming,

but this time he won’t be

summoning back his life.

All this if and only if,

You, Belgrade, promise

that her feet will someday,

walk in peace and freedom,

over his skin,

when she takes her granddaughters

for a walk in the Tašmajdan park.

Long may you live, Belgrade, my brother!

I pray for you

in the one

whom the poet loves,

although my name

is Freedom!

They’ve always lied to us,

that Victors were men!

What a Victress you have!





Translated by Mirza Purić

Yordanka Beleva

Yordanka Beleva

Yordanka Beleva, born 1977 in Tervel, is a Bulgarian short story writer and poet. She graduated in Bulgarian Philology and Library Management and obtained a doctorate in Library and Information Sciences.

Author of Peignoirs and Boats (2002), The Sea Level of Love (2011), Her (2012), Keys (2015), Missed Moment (2017) and Keder (2018), she has won national awards for both poetry and prose. Her short stories and poems have been translated into various languages and published in numerous anthologies.

She works as a librarian and bibliographer at the Parliamentary Library of Bulgaria.





Family portrait of the black earth

When the surgeons excised one of my Grandma’s breasts, she began to hold her hands on the empty space. Like, the way people conceal some sort of inconvenience. Her cupped hand, which in my memories was the hollow of the caress and the unity of the remaining time at one and the same time, has now become a church dome. Dome of a broken church. We stood in front of the ruins and watched the pieces of frescoes, the late date of the doctors and the late human prayer scratched on them.


The village women came to check how she felt. Pain is a peculiar tourist site. Somewhere in the world there are entrance fees for the big tragedies. Houses which have witnessed someone’s torture for years, schools where there was mass shooting, road sections with train crashes. The entrance to the exhibition of my grandmother’s wound was free. Sometimes she would tell her visitors that the only place hurting was her cut breast, but they could not understand how a piece of meat separated from the body for a long time could hurt.

She sent Grandpa do the hospital several times – to take the breast so they could bury it in the garden. The garden has given good harvest for years. But it would not be a planting organ, it could only be a laboratory plant.

Grandpa pretended to go to the doctors. He would lie to her that she needed special papers, sometimes he claimed she had missed the deadline, but all that could not last forever. So, one day he came back with a package from the butcher’s. He slogged the meat and his features grew rawer than the raw meat, he was punching it therapeutically, the therapy did not help him. He resembled a diligent farmer preparing winter supplies. Like dried meat which gets best when smoked over smoldering fire. He kept the meat away from the cats and from Grandma’s eyes until it dried out enough to resemble a breast carcass.

They hoisted a small hole near the grave of Karaman, the dog. They laid the herbarium in it and buried the hole. There was no ritual. It was important for Grandma to collect all her parts together, she believed she could not leave this world if something from her body was missing. It was important for Grandpa to fulfill her last wish to be whole.

She overlived her cut breast by eight years.

During that period, we talked a lot. We tried to behave as if nothing had happened. This is a camouflage disguise of the conversation. Still, the disguise broke every time: she would suddenly ask whether I remember the song about the decapidate guerilla Vela Peeva, whether Grandpa had brought her the breast of another person and now another woman might be looking for hers somewhere, to observe her carefully again – the left half of her body is of a girl and the right one is of a shabby old woman. And such became our conversations – there was an echo in their left half, accompanied by a right-hand silence.

She did not go to the place where she buried her breast. Like all the deserted graves, this one got quickly overgrown with weeds. She once told me how she cared for the entire garden for all her life – from morning till night she plugged off the weeds, because they were the cancer of the garden, quickly covering the good plants and killing them. And how she ought to care for her health as if it was a garden. To be a good gardener, she told me.

Sometimes I wonder if we should be honest about what we’ve buried in the ground. I watched a story about two cousins ​​who tried to manipulate the lottery system so that the numbers they have filled would be in sync with the winning ones. But they have forgotten that the jackpot had to be certified by the presence of all the slots of the fiche. I said, Grandpa is a good criminal, he has changed the Grandma’s cuts so that she felt she had won in the midst of her biggest loss. And this is not an optimistic lesson.

I do not like optimistic theories, especially their sloppy templates for the half-full glass. Probably because I’ve seen half an empty bra cup.

Empty bras at home are an archaeological finding of a long-dried Milky Way. At some other places they are witnesses of a soft landing in maternity, the flags of a surrendering childhood. But all the empty bras are sad: something is gone, someone has followed step. And no substitute padding in the heart has yet been invented to flatten the losses so they are half full.

A strange plant now plows its way, near the place where we have buried the rotten meat. If I like him, I’ll call it Grandma’s Calming Herb.




Translated by Angelina Alexandrova-Kostadinova

Lejla Kalamujić

Lejla Kalamujić

Lejla Kalamujić, born 1980 in Sarajevo, graduated at the Department of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Sarajevo. She is the author of the two collections of short stories The Anatomy of a Smile and Call Me Esteban. She is also author of the contemporary, socially engaged drama Ogress, or How I Killed My Family. Her second book Call me Esteban won the Edo Budiša Prize for best collection of short stories and was short-listed for the European Literature Prize in 2015. She has won many literature awards for short stories and was awarded various residencies and fellowships.

Her stories have been translated into English, German, French, Macedonian, Slovene, Polish, Romanian, Albanian and Lithuanian. She contributes prose, essays and reviews to various magazines and web portals in Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in the region.

Gabriela Babnik

Gabriela Babnik

Gabriela Babnik, born 1979 in Göppingen, is a Slovene writer, translator and literary critic. She completed an MA degree at the Faculty of Philosophy in Ljubljana, examining the contemporary Nigerian novel and also translated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun into Slovene. She has published literary reviews, commentaries and interviews in various newspapers, magazines and journals in Slovenia. In 2008 she received the main Slovene literary prize for the best debut novel for Cotton Skin and her third novel Dry Season received the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013. The same year she was awarded the Stritar Award for the most promising young literary critic.





After Father died, Mother came on the bus. Her hands were full of translucent polythene bags packed with wedges of bread rolls, pot handles and gold and silver butter wrappings showing through the plastic when you looked at them from afar. What she brought would last a day or two at the most.
Janina could not remember when she had last looked her in the face. She thought about her mother more in terms of colour combinations; beige shoes, white winter jacket, blonde hair, so sometimes it seemed that she was invisible. Were it not for her eyes confusing her – Fadul pointed this out to her, ‘your mother is like a wild animal,’ he had said, his comment bewildering and perhaps even upsetting Janina – she might have imagined her mother was an intangible spirit moving through unfamiliar spaces.
Every so often Janina would ask Mother how she was feeling, how she was coping with the time she had left, and Mother replied, her back turned towards her, that she was fine. A dark pinkish light fell through the window of the rented apartment and all of a sudden Janina’s hand was in Ervin’s hair. The boy had become something of a buffer between them. At first mother kept saying, ‘ugh, Fadul stinks, I never liked him and I never will,’ but they soon began to collect Ervin from kindergarten together. They would sit on the plush seats and it was a while before Fadul stuck the key in the ignition and started the engine, the raindrops thumping, trickling down the front windscreen. When she asked Fadul how the drive to the kindergarten had worked out, he replied, ‘Nothing, we each sat in our seat, looking in different directions.’
In fact Janina had the impression that for Mother Father’s death was a form of atonement. That now that Father was no longer standing behind her, laughing inwardly, she had grown invisible, perhaps even angelic wings. Now it was she who controlled the house and her own life. No longer did she keep shaking her head, saying, ‘I can spend my money as I wish,’ now she just piled everything she bought in the shops onto the table. And there was the time she took Ervin to the park and some man had refused to stop the roundabout. ‘You should have seen him,’ she said. ‘Ervin stood by the carousel, waiting anxiously for the man to stop it, but the rascal just kept turning it. When I approached him and said that there were also other children in the playground, he raised his hands in the air, hissing at me that he had nothing to say to me, that I was not at his level. I asked him what level this might be. Most probably the level of idiots.’ Janina placed her hands back on the glass table. Never before had her mother looked people in the face, at least Janina had never noticed her doing so. Never before had she so openly defended Ervin. In her argument in the park the essence remained unspoken; the man whom she had called a rascal had left Ervin waiting because of his wiry hair and dark skin. There were occasions when children spat at him, shouted ‘shoe-polish-face’ at him or at best ‘African.’ Taken aback, Mother came rushing home, even forgetting in her fluster to zip up Ervin’s jacket and put on his hat. Almost sobbing, outraged, she would start describing the scene – as if she expected Janina to go out there and beat up the kids. But all Janina did was stroke Ervin’s hair and ask him whether he was hungry.
‘Mum, I will be away for a few days. I need to go to Mexico to a book fair. The publishing house is sending me,’ she said.
Mother nodded. Janina glanced at the bags on the floor, spilling into the room. ‘Fadul will look after Ervin but, if you can, come and see them. You can do that, can’t you?’
Mother nodded again. Scents of the food cooking on the stove were spreading through the room. Onion fried meat with grated carrot and a spoon of tomato paste reminded Janina of her childhood. Fadul did not likeMother’s cooking. Recently he had started mixing tuna and pumpkin seed oil into the cooked pasta she would bring in one of the plastic bags, tied at the top with a rubber band, inflating with the heat.
‘Darling, Grandma made something special for you today. Janina, get the plates ready. You can have some too.’
Janina rolled her eyes. The smell of the cooking meat mixed with what she had at the tip of her tongue. She had thought for days about whether to tell Mother about Veronika’s phone call, but decided not to say anything. When she had mentioned the call to Fadul he shrugged his shoulders. ‘So, your sister needs money, who doesn’t?’
Fadul appeared from the room. The room in which they slept, stared at the flickering TV screen, took off their socks and left them lying about on the floor for days, and most of all, where they read in the timid light. For a moment Janina thought that he, more than Mother, was as someone in mourning. Water dripped from his hair, eyebrows. He had just completed his daily prayer, his thoughts now returning to them. ‘How was work today?’ he asked gently, as if he didn’t know that her job was a compromise for Janina. Something she had never hoped for, which she put off but eventually agreed to because we always chose the lesser evil. In the mornings, as she woke up and her short-sighted eyes registered that pinkish light, inevitably a futile pursuit as Fadul used the windows to hang up his leather jackets and even her grey-brown pleated dress bought in the second-hand shop, she would tell herself that all this was for Ervin and for Fadul, of course. She could only keep both of them together if she earned some money. The illusion of their family was more attenuated by the day, but, at least for Janina, still existed.
‘Bring a plate for Fadul too,’ Mother said suddenly.
Before Father’s death the sentence would have lingered in the air, transformed into a full stop and only then go on to compose a wider picture. Janina looked at her man who had come from beyond the sea. She had not called him, he had come on his own. But now, as he sat on the chair, looking at Janina with his piercing, large, dark eyes, she thought that it must all be some kind of fate. Fadul had once called her at work and told her to hurry home as there was a flood. He had offered himself to the neighbours to remove the old plaster from the walls of the flat below them that was being renovated. ‘Water running like hell, the neighbour below will go ballistic…’ he gasped down the line. ‘There must be a valve somewhere in the cellar, find it and close it down!’ Janina shouted in panic into the phone. ‘It doesn’t work. I think it is best if you come home.’ Janina wanted to scream at him that he destroyed anything he touched but later, when she did get home, and there was no sign of water anywhere, just Fadul, covered in dust, who had pulled her into the darkest corner of the flat and adeptly got rid of her underwear, she thought that it was the other way round. It was Fadul who had brought balance into her life.
‘Hmmm, swells nice,’ said Fadul, stressing and exaggerating so that even Ervin laughed at Daddy’s funny pronunciation.
When Janina’s mother ranted and raved about their wedding, all he had said was, ‘Wait and see – she will be the first to run about after our kids.’ At the time Janina was preoccupied with Father and Veronika, two chess figures she at the time believed were crucial, though she was later proved wrong. ‘Whenever I think of the show your family made because of us, well, because of me, I want to laugh,’ Fadul said when, exhausted from making love, they embraced in the room that was meant to be a bedroom, overlooking the abandoned garden. ‘I called you because I remembered how funny your father was when he said he did not want to see you again. How he yelled that he would not allow this nigger to double cross him, how he had offered me work and I was all haughty about it. How I did not have the right, I really didn’t…’ The avalanche of words was interrupted by laughter, the high-pitched, squeaky laughter of a young boy that made Janina laugh along with Fadul. ‘After you refused to wear the work overalls he told me that he was done with me, that he did not want to see me again, not even on his death bed,’ Janina remembered and put her hand on Fadul’s thigh. She knew that their laughter resounded out into the corridor and that the wind spread it across the courtyard but she didn’t care. It was now too late for many things. Too late also to return to the publishing house after their lovemaking, too late to patch things up with her sister Veronika. It was not too late, though, to look Mother in the face.
‘Mum, sit down, I’ll do it…’
For a while the woman in beige did not want to show herself. Janina knew that her mother could be attentive and gentle despite hiding all that was sensitive and vulnerable inside her behind the dimples on her face; an eternal fear that she would, were anyone to touch her, collapse and crumble into dust.
Then Ervin suddenly jumped from his chair. ‘I’ll sit in your lap and you can feed me,’ he said to Janina, thus freeing up his seat for his grandmother. Before Mother dropped what she was doing and joined the family meal, she looked through the window. It occurred to Janina that in profile her mother was still beautiful.
Janina had been working at the publishing house for a while. Nothing special. She edited around twenty books a year, although recently the number had gone up a little and she would return home later and later, at five, six, sometimes even seven o’clock. It meant she could tolerate Fadul’s outbursts more easily. She once returned home late, darkness already appearing beyond the windows, although with those faded patches of snow that were promising a thaw into spring, and called out her usual ‘darlings?’ She put her key on the shelf and slowly unbuttoned her coat, then, as there was no answer, shouted louder, almost waking up the sleeping Ervin. He was lying face down in the middle of the double bed, his mouth pressed against the pillow and droplets of sweat on his forehead. She stroked him but he didn’t stir. Fadul’s phone lay on the table, his jacket carelessly thrown across the sofa, his shoes, as usual, on the doormat. To start with, as she stepped into the empty flat, Janina thought that he was praying in the bedroom, he often kneeled on the rug droning to himself, withdrawn, detached from the world; but when he did not return until well past midnight, she cuddled up to Ervin. Occasionally the boy mechanically reached across to her with his hand, she covered them both with the blanket and closed her eyes in order to forget that Fadul was living a parallel life, one that excluded her and Ervin.
‘Janina, there’s someone on the phone for you,’ the editor said, his abdomen leaning into her office, feet still out in the corridor. He looked more like someone who belonged to the countryside than the publishing house, perhaps even the forest, where she imagined him chopping wood and driving it with his horses or tractor to a nearby village; perhaps that was what he had done in a previous life, Janina thought, pressed the button on her answering machine and said in a stiff singsong voice, ‘Hello, how can I help you?’ This formal manner of hers made her appear arrogant to her colleagues at the publishers, though the word does not remotely describe anything that she was. Most people at the office knew that she lived with a black man, even how they met, and of course that they had a son, but she never shared any details with them. Even the morning when Fadul returned from somewhere, exhausted and crumpled as if he had slept in some strange bed, she behaved as if things were as they should be.
‘It’s me, Veronika.’
‘Excuse me?’ Janina asked despite instantly recognizing the voice. A deep, manly voice with a velvety residue that wanted to make an impression on those it was addressing.
‘I would not call you if it was not urgent.’ Janina took a deep breath. She and her sister had not spoken in three years. They had argued over some incomprehensible matter which they had both long forgotten. All they did remember was swearing that they would forget each other existed. Janina, who was more easy-going, did so in no time, as she waited for the green light at the zebra crossing, as she drained the pasta or as she looked across to the neighbour’s half-finished terrace. Veronika, older and more determined, approached it more systematically.
‘Last time you didn’t even want to know me,’ Janina said and rummaged through her handbag with her free hand. She suddenly felt she needed to moisturize her lips and thus gain some advantage over the one who was calling and had already thought out their conversation beforehand.
‘You mean at the funeral? I was in a rush.’
Janina knew that her sister was making excuses and that she had also prepared these in advance. She knew from Mother that her sister had lost her job at the restaurant a while back, the restaurant was closed after the woman owner developed widespread cancer, so there was absolutely no reason why her sister would have been hurrying anywhere. After the funeral Janina had sat on the bench breastfeeding Ervin and various relatives stood around her as if wanting to protect her from the spring breeze, so she had barely noticed Veronika’s silhouette as she, face firmly fixed on the ground, marched towards the exit. She was still a strong figure and still blamed others for her own lack of self-confidence.
‘How did you even get my phone number?’ Janina asked her sternly. She finally managed to locate the lip-gloss in her handbag.
‘Mother told me.’
Janina decided that it would be best to wait to see where this phone call was going. Not say anything, just wait. Fadul had taught her that. As she lay in bed, the thought that she meant something different to him than he did to her, for a long time upset her so much she trembled, then she curled up against Ervin and fell asleep. In the morning she tried to behave as usual towards Fadul, as if she had not even noticed his absence, but as she shut the fridge door it was as if a electricity surged through her and she could not resist asking, ‘Were you at an orgy or what last night?’ Fadul looked at her with almost pity in his eyes and then said, ‘Before you start accusing you could have first enquired.’ Janina leant against the kitchen sideboard, lifted the mug she was holding to her face, as if she was thinking about something although her head was quite empty. She then laughed in panic, ‘Now you’ll tell me that you were stopped by the police when you took out the garbage. And because you did not have proof of abode with you, they arrested you?’ Fadul also grinned, exposing the yellow stains on his teeth. ‘How did you know?’ Janina moved away and went to the bathroom to have a shower. Drying herself off with a towel still damp from the day before, she put cream on her legs. She knew that Fadul was lying although the problem was not so much the lie but that she had no access into his world. What also continued to hurt was that she could not confide in anyone.
‘What is it you want from me?’ Janina said suddenly.
‘I was hoping that enough time has passed,’ Veronika was almost begging down the line.
‘Time for what?’
‘You see, I wouldn’t like the whole thing to be dragged through the courts.’
Janina smiled inwardly, realized that she was in fact ashamed of this smile and to distract herself from this shame she held the receiver between her face and her shoulder, applying the shiny gloss to her lips. Fadul did not like to kiss her when she wore lipstick. He would say to her that lipstick signals to a man desire me, but even more works as a kind of shield. In the winter months he almost begged her to allow her hair in her armpits to grow, burying into it, saying that only there was her true scent.
‘Veronika, listen, I understand that you lost your job, I understand that you have a family, but my hands are tied.’ Janina had found herself a lawyer even before Father’s death. In fact it was Fadul who advised her to do so. ‘You are entitled to your compulsory portion,’ he said and when he said it she observed his lips. He was the kind of man who fills a room when he enters and at the same time one who stood for too long in front of the mirror. Janina even had the impression of something too feminine about him but he just burst out laughing whenever she mentioned it, so she now chose to stay silent whenever they touched upon the theme.
‘But Father left it all to me.’
‘Congratulation,’ Janina said mockingly although Veronika had never had any sense for such linguistic nuances. She had married the first man who came along, arranged with him a flat in their parents’ house, given birth to a son, cooked and later worked as a barwoman in a joint owned by her husband’s brother and a few other stakeholders, and in the evenings when she returned home, reeking of the bar, her swollen feet on the coffee table, she had sat in front of the TV. Janina wondered how, with all the space her sister now had around her, no longer having to fight with her for the attention of their parents, Veronika handled her anxiety, within which she relieved her accumulated surplus energy and that had threatened to turn against her ever since they were children.
‘Mother said I should discuss it with you,’ Veronika eased off and Janina thought that this was probably not in her sister’s pre-prepared scenario.
Janina remembered the photograph of her and Veronika taken in their parents’ bedroom. Veronika in flannel pyjamas and bob haircut, and she, Janina, in a tracksuit that she most probably went to bed in. She would read long into the night, at some point mostly comics, and would finally forget to get undressed before falling asleep. They both looked happy in that photo. They had the world before them and could, of course, not have imagined the dark shadow that would come between them, one that Janina believed was not so much their own fault as that of their parents for not sitting them down at the table and discussing matters.
‘I don’t know what to say to you. We had to know that it would come to this. And Father too, I don’t know what he was thinking? That I would vanish into thin air, that…?’ Her voice hysterical, precisely at that moment the graphic designer appeared at the door waving a sheet of paper as if it was a flag. Janina, not wanting her family conversation to become public, covered the receiver with her hand and stared at the designer, trying to figure out from her face whether she could continue the conversation with Veronika, as if the designer could have known when she began to exist in a different realm, one beyond her family. She even thought of saying something to Veronika beyond the limits of normal decency but all she would be doing was prove to her that the anger and perhaps even the offence this exclusion had caused had not yet subsided. ‘We’ll speak later, I have work now,’ she whispered into the phone. She emphasised the word ‘work’ demonstrating to her elder sister that now was not the time for her ‘third-class’ position in the family, that relationships, especially after Father’s death, had changed. It was not a case of her wanting revenge – for Janina revenge was something she believed belonged in books – but Veronika’s call caused something within her to shift. What exactly this was, she did not yet know.
Had it been springtime, Janina would have stepped to the window and opened it, but as it was winter she just wanted to look out and see the snow. Shaking her head as if wanting to discard some weight or other, she once more looked at the phone and stood up. Her skirt had gathered but she did not straighten it out. It occurred to her that Fadul of course has other shoes too that he probably wore on the night of his disappearance, but where did he actually go and what was it out there that exhausted him so much? There were no traces of lipstick on his shirt or any kind of scent. Nothing to betray him and nothing with which he would betray himself and so then even Janina gave up. She said to herself that she needed to wait for him to tell her himself, despite the possibility that she was waiting in vain as there was nothing to tell .
The trip to Mexico proved disastrous. The plane landed at Frankfurt in the middle of a snow storm and for a moment Janina feared that her darkest premonitions might come true; being suspended in mid-air totally negated her. But as the scenario she had predicted had not happened she then observed the airplanes beyond the huge glass. After the emergency landing she knew that she would be spending the night on a plastic chair instead of between clean hotel sheets. She sighed and thought about her mother who was afraid of flying, though she never admitted it. She had booked a plane ticket to Egypt but changed her mind at the last minute. So that high time when they called passengers on the cruise ship to tea at five o’clock in the afternoon belonged to just Janina and her father. She remembered how he, dressed in jeans and wearing a hat (probably to avoid sunburn on his bald patch), sneered at the stench and filth of streets in Cairo. Towards the evening the large cruise ship moored to the pier and they were driven around town in a horse-drawn carriage. At the time Janina did not know how to express the thought that a mother lying on the ground with her child wrapped in rags should not be a tourist attraction, but the sight of her triggered anxiety. And most probably the insensitivity of their tourist guide, a rounded lady with short hair who held the card with Slovenia written on it high above her head, had also projected onto Father. Hate intensified to the point that she changed seats on the bus. She felt she would vomit were she to continue sitting next to him.
‘Janina?’ she heard a voice behind her.
A man’s voice. Even before turning around to look at his face, she sensed an undue confidence. Turning slowly, almost lazily, as if she could not in fact be bothered to deal with this chance stranger. But when the turn was complete it felt as if the snowflakes that had threatened her flight were now falling behind her back, surprising her at first but then thickening into an incomprehensible fear. ‘Do we know each other?’ she asked curtly, biting her tongue before she finished the sentence. She knew the man with thick, slightly greying hair, dressed in a dark suit who was standing behind her, by name. Even more, some years ago, in some other life, she had once shared a bed with him. Just for one night, but still. She had stepped into his law office in almost new ballet flats and a slightly oversized coat and asked him to take on a case which most believed was lost in advance. She had cooperated with a non-government organization which decided to sue a well-known traveller. In a rather popular documentary film on Africa, concerning the war in Sudan, he had shown the faces of the dead. The organization maintained that this was misuse and disrespect towards those persons whose corpses had been shown; almost as if they had not died completely. The lawyer, quite a little older than her, but still with a kind of humour in his face, invited her out for a drink and then to his house where she, after a couple of glasses of wine, took off her coat, then her skirt and allowed him to penetrate her with his pink, slightly curved penis. When she left in the morning, the odour of sperm that they had splattered onto the living room floor and the kitchen counter still lingered in the flat.
The man before her raised his eyebrows with a downward curve of his mouth. Although he must have known from the expression on Janina’s face that she remembered him, this rejection was hurtful. Janina caught his internal monologue mixed with a fair measure of sarcasm, I always wanted to be something else from what I have become but I now can’t change what I am.
To apologize for her abruptness she stood up, took a step towards him, her nostrils catching a scent of musk mixed with lemon verbena, and forced a smile. ‘Sorry, Tibor, I didn’t recognize you there. Your hair is different, you are different.’
Tibor did not respond. He stood there, looking her up and down as she stared in embarrassment at his hands. Soft, with not too long fingers, familiar from the night when she had allowed them to unzip her narrow skirt and which on average handled at least one pack of cigarettes a day. Instead of replying and talking about the violation of the conventions on treating the dead – he had carefully avoided the theme and eventually did not take on the case – Tibor told her that he had calculated as a student that if he had quit smoking he could afford a return ticket to Syria. Janina saw him lying in the bed, supported by a pillow, the sheet revealing a relatively large bush of yellowish cigarette hair.
Suddenly, as if he was afraid that her thought might reach too deep inside him, he said, ‘What about a coffee?’ As they walked side by side, careful not to accidentally touch each other, Janina thought that at that moment, more than Fadul, she missed Ervin. She had filled the fridge, gently said goodbye to them in the dark corridor, kissed Ervin on the lips and wrapped her arms round Fadul, whispering, ‘I’ll be back soon, don’t worry.’ Half jokingly and half seriously, Fadul said he was not worried. Although all this had only happened a few hours ago, it seemed incredibly far away. Now, it occurred to her, she was once more a woman who could make up a new story. She did have some attributes of the past, namely her body, admittedly slightly changed since the time she had stood with nothing but her bra in the doorway in Tibor’s flat, but still.
‘Do you still have a law firm?’ Janina took over the initiative as they leaned against the high table and ordered a coffee with a glass of mineral water. Janina noticed that Tibor had not gotten any fatter and that the dark suit rendered him self-confident, dignified. She felt a sharp pain in her stomach, not because it would really hurt but because, all of a sudden, she felt regret over the opportunities that had passed.
‘Yes, I still do,’ he stayed silent as if he was thinking about whether to continue. ‘After our meeting I took on a few delicate cases.’ He stared at the table and Janina fixed her gaze on the watch on his wrist. Large and flashy it demonstrated organization, a comfortable life. ‘I realized that you were right. Law should defend fairness, be an area of creativity, but what can you do when it so often seems that this stance is merely fantasy. The idea of what law should be morally is one thing, the apathy I see all around me is another.’ Janina had the feeling that this talk was geared solely to try and impress. When he asked her, ‘And how are you?’ he stared at her as if he was not merely trying to refresh the features of her face but was reaching within her with his hand, bringing out into the open something very precious. Janina realized that what attracted her to him was the mixture of a brutality that had probably come with the years, experience and a temper that could at times probably still be taken to be a deliberate preservation of yearning.
‘I am no longer an activist. I work at a publishing house. Editing. Translated literature.’ She shrugged her shoulders to hide further her confusion. ‘It’s not as bad as it sounds.’
‘It sounds wonderful,’ Tibor said. ‘You probably need to be in a particular kind of shape?’
To begin with Janina didn’t understand, but then she thought of Father’s workshop. A large yet still dark space, quite the opposite of what was out there beyond the glass. He would shut himself inside and pretty soon Janina realized that it was not because he wanted to get away from the family or, for example, Janina’s mother, but because he was in his own way, addicted to work. Those two weeks in Egypt thus signified a miraculous step out of routine and perhaps this was why he had been so serious all the time. Janina even thought that this was why he had worn a jeans outfit, as if he was travelling to the moon, not just to the ancient continent. ‘Yes, there’s a lot of reading,’ Janina said. He was looking at her and Janina knew that this was the gaze of someone who does not understand that in today’s world of hyperproduction it is possible to make a living with something like reading.
‘Do you have children?’ he asked suddenly as if he was surprised himself he did so.
‘A boy, Ervin.’
‘That’s nice.’
They fell silent again and Janina dared not interrupt. She took a sip of mineral water, peering towards the glass surface, beyond which the airplane fuselages were lined up. She thought that their meeting was not coincidental and how amazing that Tibor recognized her in this crowd of people, almost like in a novel. At that precise moment Janina had yet to understand the link between figures and situations. ‘Do you have any idea of how to counter this apathy?’ she said suddenly.
Tibor stared at her with interest, his gaze no longer merely anticipating her curves. ‘If we had met then at a different time it would have been dangerous for you, you do know that, don’t you?’ he said as if he hadn’t heard her question.
In order to calm her pounding heart, Janina searched for sharp lines on him. She found them in the T-shirt he was wearing under his impeccable buttoned white shirt. Of course she wished that instead of all that he had said in continuation of their conversation he would have said ‘come with me,’ or ‘would you make love to me in the toilets,’ some quick, greedy lovemaking that they would not have to answer for, but she suppressed the desire. ‘I think we can only retake control of the legal state through revolution. We need to fundamentally change how we think. In a way I agree with what Sartre said – how will we get new political representatives that will look after social needs, justice and democracy when people do not recognize them and in fact reject them. We keep voting for facades, empty words…’
‘That is what I am talking about, if only part of what is written in books on the philosophy of law and the foundational rules of law, democracy, constitutionalism, enlightenment and solidarity, would come true, we would be living in a very different world…’
Janina stroked her neck, a gesture indicating a desire to shed her flirtatiousness and at the same time not entirely give up on it. Half jokingly she said to herself that although this man probably didn’t stand in front of the fridge in the shop opening the cartons of eggs like Fadul did, Father would still not approve of him. Branislav had had someone in mind who would wear blue overalls easily and, as they returned from working on site, talk to him in the car about politics and the mistakes made by the left (if he was in the mood he joked about how baby rocket leaves are the new left’s lettuce, if he was really irritated he grumbled how four-hundred square metre flats owned by political leaders were the perversity of all perversities even if their party defines itself as centre-left).  Fadul not only refused to wear overalls when he worked in Father’s workshop but even said it was a good thing he didn’t understand the language. ‘The stupidities your folk talk about are unbearable,’ he would say in the evening as they lay in bed and he gently stroked her back. ‘Ideas need to be internalized, I think, otherwise… ’ she said.
‘I see you haven’t changed,’ Tibor said.
‘Working at the publishing house is a particular kind of sanctuary for me. I am probably one of the last of my generation who managed to find work.’
‘I must say I’m worried too. Young people really are robbed of a future. But it is up to you to change things, to resist…’
Janina sighed. ‘I see all these young women moving abroad as a kind of revolt in itself…’
‘That’s not a revolt, it’s a withdrawal,’ said Tibor at the very moment the loudspeaker announced the last call to a passenger who had clearly got lost somewhere, was delayed, or had allowed himself to be seduced by a girl from a previous life. Only after the third mention of his name did Tibor flinch and somewhat theatrically pointed his index finger at himself. Janina first pulled a face and then nodded. He stepped closer to her, holding his breath as if not wanting the scene to end, and then kissed her on the cheek. ‘It was great to see you,’ he said and marched to gate number A56.
Janina watched him and thought that he was walking as if aware that she was watching him. She had hoped that in the instant he kissed her on the cheek she would be able to untangle why he, all those years ago, when she had walked into his office, thought she was just a well brought up girl who could afford an unusual approach, she had no intention of participating in a custom which the media force upon us – looking at the faces of the dead on TV. He later, romping around in his bed, tried to tear something out of her, pounding her as if he wanted to deflower her but there was nothing there. As if they had never met. Something similar to the time Father and she returned from Egypt. Janina forgot all about how he had turned up his nose at the poverty and stench of Cairo, his insistence on early evening blackout, she even forgot the hatred she had felt towards him at the time. And when shopkeepers had asked him how much he would sell her for he replied, quite seriously, ‘a million camels.’ When they realized he was not joking they despondently answered that there weren’t that many camels in the whole of Egypt.




Translated by Gregor Timothy Čeh

Zharko Kujundjiski

Zharko Kujundjiski

Zharko Kujundjiski, born 1980 in Skopje, is a Macedonian short story writer, novelist, essayists, playwright, poet, translator and film critic. He has published 11 books and his short stories, poems, essays and reviews have been translated into various languages and selected for many anthologies, Best European Fiction 2013, among others. His debut novel Spectator (2003) was the first ever novel in contemporary Macedonian literature to be published in seven print run editions.

Kujundjiski has been a member of the Macedonian writer association and of Macedonian PEN Center since 2012. He is the General Manager at the publishing house Antolog Books and one of the co-founders of the BookStar Literature Festival.





Imagine America Berti, a man with his feet thrust in the sand up to his ankles, with three hundred and sixty-five days—or three hundred and sixty-six days times thirty —under his belt, spent in joy, sorrow and slumber. One hundred and eighty-three centimeters from the curves of his cracked soles to the top of the two whorls on the ridges of his cylindrical head.  The smell of a canvas bag stuffed with oregano. His head resembled the trunk of a grafted cherry tree. Black hair and sky-blue eyes drowned in absence. Sea-blue. He had just a second ago come out of the thirty-seven percent salt solution.
Fingers slanting to the right, hair standing up on end on his chest, smooth quadriceps, auburn spots on his back transformed by the shadows of autumn into dead oak leaves rotting on a goat path. If you can imagine all this together—sewn and patched up and put together as a whole, as much as a human can ever be a whole—then you have imagined America Berti.
And now imagine America Berti stark naked and wet from head to toe.
America Berti trampled naked on the sand, his skin tanned in parts and peeling in others, looking straight at the sun—that lemon-coloured hat hanging off the horizon, out of which, like they were rabbits, he pulled his tiny decisions, brooding over them for a long time before hatching them.
It was seven minutes past two. In the afternoon, of course.
In twenty-four minutes’ time, out on the macadam road, America Berti would pass Donizetti Tartugli, the father of his schoolmate Guido Tartugli, who was visiting his wife. She had been dead for seventeen years. Following a precise timetable, at more or less the same time every day, he had been walking down that path three times a week for seventeen years. When people had nothing better to do but sit with their legs up in the air drinking sweetened chamomile tea, they used called it dedication.
The two men passed each other with a nod. One was darkly tanned, the other an eternal dark widower.
In two hours and twelve minutes’ time America Berti would arrive home. His hair would be dry. And, until he bathed, several sparkly grains of sand would glint on his question mark of a forehead.
One of the larger grains of sand fell to the ground as America Berti propped his bike against the old stone tower where the mayor let him leave his bike when he had some business to attend to in the vicinity. Frieda the cat later transferred the grain of sand onto the desk in the mayor’s study. The mayor’s wife later picked it up on her cloth while dusting and transferred it to the kitchen. She then kneaded it into the dough for the cherry pie. Her husband would later break a premolar in his upper jaw, making him curse out loud:
‘Damn it!’
And then he would cry out:
– ‘The Holy Virgin!’
And he would spit out his tooth. They would never discover the reason behind this unexpected development in the dental health of the city’s father.
At exactly ten past two, America Berti combed his hair. He then returned the comb, which only recently had formed part of some elephant’s rib, into the pocket of his shirt. He pulled on his underpants, made of pure Ethiopian cotton, while his trousers he threw over his left arm together with his shirt, without shaking the dust off them.
His wet skin dried quickly as drops of water slid down his head. Observed from some decent distance, from a neighbouring sand-dune, say, or from above the needle-like fluttering reeds, he looked as though he was crying for something that had disappeared irretrievably. That’s what he looked like.
The Romans left the apartment at five o’clock in the afternoon local time, after they’d taken their showers and the heat had died down.
It was pouring down outside now. The tin gutter pipes spouted water bubbles in the puddles on the street, forming airy knolls. Inside them floated the trapped seeds of St John’s Wort, transparent domes of unbelievably thin glass sown with plant seeds. As always, the Romans left the door key under the pot marigolds next to the socle.  What was different this time was that they were not coming back. They hadn’t come upstairs to haggle when they arrived and they didn’t say goodbye to anyone when they left.
They left quietly, without the hassle of endlessly repeating their names and mutual warnings:
– Don’t forget the mat!
The woman was holding the bags and the man was holding the gate ajar with his foot in case it slammed shut under the pressure of the spring. The children ran towards the car park. They had no umbrella.
‘Tourists,’ said America, leaning against the window frame with his elbows, watching Tintinnio dissolve in the great blue beneath and the great grey above. ‘They can’t stand a single rainy day on the seaside. People have no time to waste.’
‘They left?’, asked Myra Berti.
‘They did.’
When they had first met, Myra was called Matarazzi, and before that Lucca. She was now Myra Berti. An ordinary name, like chocolate custard.
When they got married they at once began living together. Myra Berti had already had two children.
And six years more than America.
Twelve dresses and seven pairs of worn but not worn-out gloves.
A love of cinnamon and burnt orange zest.
She brought it all over with her: the children, the years and the passions.
With the passage of time, the children and the number of years only grew, while the pairs of shoes and gloves became torn and tattered and their number reduced. They assured themselves that silk, tulle, satin, rubber, corduroy, wool, velvet, and antelope or goat suede did not last very long. They regularly updated their list of short-lived things, searching for them in the extremes of the fever of life. Snow in March, crazy luck, men sporting long nails, calm seas, redcurrant jam, iodine evaporating from salt left in the open, clean windows, fresh rosemary… For intangible things, such as friendship and loyalty, Berti the wife and Berti the husband had no room on their short list, jotted down on a napkin brought over from Las Vegas. It was something that sounded like an oasis. An oasis of all the tulle of this world.
Myra Berti yearned for gloves.
They had met three years before. America had been transporting fish to Bari, using the only pickup truck to be found within a radius of twenty-two kilometers from Tintinnio. There were almost four-and-a-half million trucks in the world at that time. But only one of them was in their immediate surroundings.
That was the first and most likely the last round that forced America to drive out of town. It was a business round.
They met at the railway station, platform seven. The fish was nicely packed in crates. Some of them were still flapping here and there. Most of them were dead already. It smelt vile. As luck would have it—luck and a few small but important factors such as gall-bladder pains and diarrhoea—while the workers were unloading the truck America found himself in the way of the passengers disembarking from the Altamura-Bari line.
He had approached girls four times before that.
Jeanne S. had not even looked at him. She was a girl from the upper years at school. He was asking to borrow a pencil. They were both about ten. More or less.
Iva Ferrucci had smiled, kissed him on the cheek and ran away. And every time they met after that she’d laughed like a lunatic and then whispered something in the ear of a friend walking next to her.
He had spent three hours together with Guerra. They had vanilla and forest fruit ice-cream from Tito’s. They went together to the shore. Thousands of wasps were buzzing in the sea. The sea was like yeast that evening. With their feet in water they looked up at the sun. America could stare at the burning round mass without blinking, but she squinted and couldn’t last half a minute. What they experienced together in those moments of silence and breaths was … fascination.
She placed her hand on his chest. It was the first time that America had felt a girl’s hand anywhere near his stomach. He couldn’t stop staring at the burning sphere, and later, into the far distance, somewhere behind the Adriatic line of water, where people were supposed to live that no one in Tintinnio knew anything about. He and Guerra left soon enough, with a smell of the insipid all over their knees. He wanted to see her off to her house.
‘My father will kill me!’
The father who killed all those who courted his daughter. That was something to be afraid of.
‘Get away from here!’
He got nothing in return for the entire day they’d spent together. Just a look. A farewell gaze. Bluish like the sea without algae. Like the sea that is just water. Water and goggle-eyed animals. The sea that emitted the sound of an overfilled nest of rattled wasps. Then she ran off down the slope. He could see the clumsy slant of her left foot. She didn’t turn back once—not once all the way from under his nose to under the nose of her strict father who always killed her when she came back from dates with boys. The next day she walked hand in hand with Carlo Retti, who had been brought into this world four and a half years before her. Bones protruded from his body everywhere you looked. They never talked again like on that day when their legs quivered.
This last time, America approached the girl the way he would have approached a ticket booth.
‘Where are you going?’
‘I… I’m meeting my aunt.’
‘How nice.’
‘She was supposed to arrive two hours ago.’
‘That’s a long time, even for a place like this.’
‘Time is contractible. Sometimes I imagine it as a mathematical segment with no end. It won’t let you do anything you want. Time won’t. It is like… like…’
It looked like he was going to say ‘Open Sesame’ or something similar. This was a man who suffered from motion sickness.
‘…a snail’s trail.’
No one could guess what won Myra over. America was not a ladies’ man, nor was he a philosophical type who could discuss consciousness for hours. If a wise man—with or without a beard—were to describe America he would have to spend a lot of time thinking about it, however wise he might be. And I don’t believe any wise man could say something more suitable than:
‘A cloud.’
When America met Myra, he was like terra incognita for everyone. A child who was supposed to grow up tomorrow, who was supposed to wake up early one morning as an adult. He rode a unicycle. He submerged his hands in the seawater and watched their size and shape change under the diffracted sun rays, and he never did any work… no serious work.
America was good at mechanics and motor vehicles. He was a certified talent.. He first learnt how to drive the truck, the only pickup truck in a 22- kilometre radius, and then tried with everything else—cars, motorcycles, and bikes. And he succeeded, smoothly and with no glitches,
Myra had the two girls. A five-year-old and a three-year-old.
America had never traveled further away than Bari, except for once.
Myra only wore dresses with pleats, and when she wasn’t busy with housework she pulled on her gloves, took out her shoes from the chest of drawers where all the important things were kept, and then clasped her arms around America’s neck.
In their living room there was an old exhaust pipe hung on the wall, polished but with no motor.
Myra and America never got married—never experienced the wheat and rice, the bouquet being thrown backwards to the girls, partying till sunrise, wedding guests vomiting in the bushes. Nonetheless, they used the titles husband and wife when talking to each other.
That was the deal, if there ever was a deal.
An overgrown child called America at twenty-seven was not was not an ideal candidate for a marriage.
America and Myra Berti lived in continental Europe.
They lived in southern Italy.
The region was called Apulia.
The town was called Tintinnio.
Halfway between Monopoli and Brindisi.
It was easy to attract travellers interested in the sea and some history. Virgil died in Brindisi. An old poet who wrote only masterpieces. Monopoli was in a very obvious way related to a board game. The mathematicians could determine Tintinnio’s position with a simple operation. A compass circle with its centre in Brindisi intersecting with a circle with a centre in Monopoli and then a line drawn through the intersection to the coast of Italy where it should read, in the tiniest letters possible – Tintinnio. In the tourist information booklets it said that its ancient name was Tintinium; ‘under Greek influence since the 8th century BC’; ‘has a cathedral’.
‘Economic activity: fishing and tourism.’
America, a true Tintinnian, dabbled in both.
His family’s house had two floors with two entrances—that is to say it had a ground floor and another floor on top.
Part of the house belonged to Guiliano and Guarda Berti, America’s mother and father.
Guarda Berti died in winter, from tuberculosis, when America was seven.
A week later, Giuliano Berti departed too. ‘Departed’—that’s how they say it. It might be more appropriate to say his spirit sailed away. Until the moment when death was established as a permanent state of his body, Giuliano had had no registered health anomalies.
At that time young America had just learnt the alphabet and managed to write the word house.
The second entrance belonged to his father’s brother.
Amaro Berti. Amaro Berti was wifeless. Amaro Berti had never had a wife. And Amaro Berti would go stone cold without ever having slept next to a woman.
Amaro Berti had looked after America since his parents’ death.
He taught him the family trade. Fishing. They pulled ropes together and barbecued tuna, scampi, sardines and trout, even octopus at times. When the going was good.
Amaro had disappeared at sea a day before America turned eighteen.
Tintinnio gossiped:
– What a misfortune!
– Pfff!
– That was an imprint left by a leech!
A boring story.
Both entrances and both floors then belonged to America. A lot of room for a single person.
He abandoned fishing. He redecorated the house and rented it out.
The contacts were established through agents who came covered in sweat, elderflower under their armpits, with soaking collars and their ties loosened. He signed contracts with percentages, accounts, strange graphic symbols to win tourists willing to spend.
It sounded swell.
It didn’t go so well.
After a while he went back to his old trade of fishing.
At times, in the evenings by the stove that boomed with crackling wood inside, before achieving his second specialist subversion, America felt a sore itch in his hands. He missed the pain of the ropes cutting into the flesh, the flutter of the fins fighting for salvation and expressing their strife for fish liberty. After a while, one can get used to any kind of pain. It might even become a habit—though the hake Myra drowned in oil in the frying-pan to celebrate the unannounced rain might not feel that way.
The way America abandoned jobs earned him a reputation for not being quite serious. A man that wants to get rich never throws his catch back in the water.
He was now dabbling in both trades because it wasn’t easy to feed four.
America, Myra, Venezia and Catania.
I could never have thought of better names if I were allowed to choose. Venezia. Cataania…
A long a, a fleeting t.
‘The essence of beauty!’, America would say, and then grin three quarters.
Myra and America. They looked really funny together. The past evaporated from every pore of her body, while inexperience enfolded America’s body like an almond shell.
When she was walking on the pavement, one could see the Eiffel Tower, orange plantations, red castles with cracked walls, two black women stroking a dolphin, chandeliers with hanging crystals and a symphonic orchestra.
America’s eyes were his skin, reflecting the town, the sun and the sea. A superior yellow and a far too light blue. He had never had that childhood experience of stealing eggs from wild birds’ nests on the surrounding hills. Kites, hawks, eagles and other birds of prey.  When America saw a raven, he would say:
‘A bird.’
And when a seagull would fly past.
‘A bird.’
That’s what he was, more or less.
Myra always responded with laughter.
They say that in those moments one can understand the simplicity of life, its space and beauty. A sticky sounding sentence.
As simple as a tooth that has fallen off all by itself.
As pretty as the light falling onto dry hay through the holes in roofs of the small barns, and as spacious as Italy.
Sentences that used to excite women in the past. Well-worn sentences before speed and mechanical devices were invented, together with the relativity of everything else in existence.
‘Like the boot of Italy!’. Marco Bravoni enjoyed making comparisons.
Everybody knew Marco Bravoni. The guy with an awkward sense of humour and taste for comparisons. And a taste for trade, too. Since we’re making a list, trade should occupy the first place.
He lived off trade and humour. Trade and ornate charm.
From Milan he was sent costumes that simply gave off the smell of basil and herbal extracts. He had a shiny smile and greasy hair. The need for change nestled in his eyes. An itch that constantly egged him to scratch. He pretended that they didn’t bother him.
He drove a Fiat 500. According to the town gossip, since he had been one of the first to buy the new model, he was handed the keys by Giovanni Agnelli himself. A Topolino. The best car in Tintinnio. The only car. A car that could not be resisted.
Both vehicles in town that had a motor were his. His pride and salvation. Pride mostly.
The children were the rough shavings of steel in the case of Marco Bravoni’s magnetism. They ran after him and climbed on the back bumper and on the side skirts of his Topolino. The number plates were loosened by the kicks of the so many shoes and patched knees. They sang songs to him—his favourite chansons ordered directly from the best-stocked phonoteque near Montmartre by the only single middle-aged woman in a radius of seven point three kilometres. The refrains were always catchy, and in them eyes were always filled with tears and hearts broken by unrequited emotions that ended up lost in ditches under lonely ridges. Words filled with congealed black pepper.
Bravoni usually put up with the children, but sometimes he beeped loudly to chase away the packs of rapscallions playing hopscotch on the road in front of him or engrossed in the game they called the pig.
Whenever he managed to strike a good deal, he would ride in the car with the window rolled down and throw out handfuls of sweets at the children. They crunched them greedily, their teeth rotting. Their fathers and mothers, workers on the plantations and in the workshops owned by Bravoni, had to take them to the aggressively iodized dentist surgeries outside Tintinnio. And again the children were thrilled—the entire world was out there!—and the parents were peeved because of the additional hassle and the great expenses that lay hidden in ambush outside their little town.
The parents hated Marco. He had enough money to interfere with their private lives. They had a good reason to feel this way. He made their children’s teeth decay, depleting their accounts at the same time.
Marco Bravoni often had Venezia and Catania sit on his knees and stuffed their mouths with toffee and candied sugars from Naples.
America always protested against this.
‘Come on, Catania!”
Myra collected the rustling wrappers in a kind of album of wrappers. She kept it in the chest of drawers, together with what was left of her shoes and other short-lived objects.
They were related somehow, though the connection was difficult to explain. Marco certainly couldn’t explain it. Neither could America. In addition to the house, this was the other thing he had inherited from his parents. It was one of those things one could touch if they wanted to.
Marco couldn’t stop producing the petit bonbons. The girls believed his pockets were magical. But they also went off the sweets after a while. They often spat them out once they could escape his lap and his bad breath. No one is that brilliant. Marco was known for the stench he produced whenever he opened his mouth. It left a residue in one’s insides, all over in fact, right down to the duodenum. It smelled like a rotten porcini mushroom after rain. That’s why he always carried sweets on him. Because of his bad breath. But it was of no use, obviously.
Bravoni treated the children as if they were his own. He had a son himself. Six years shorter than America and nineteen years richer than Myra’s elder daughter. They didn’t get on. His son’s fascination with military discipline and order, with training to kill and with the small calibre weapons, had long ago catapulted him far away from here.
This was the other reason that made the whole of Tintinnio hate Marco Bravoni. His son was a fascist, anchored somewhere between Malaga and Guadalajara at the moment. There has rarely existed a more adequate reason not to give a damn about being separated from your son for three years and a couple of months.
Marco liked helping America whenever he was in need. Because of the children, because of himself, because of the feeling of self-righteousness that this charitableness produced. This time he offered cash. America didn’t even want him to mention it to him. He shook his head and looked out of the window. A group of boys were abusing a donkey, hitting its ears with canes as though they were dead fig-leaves. The animal didn’t budge. They spat at it, but the donkey was just watching them calmly.
Marco offered his hand:
‘Partners. Do you want us to be partners?’
‘What partners?’
‘Business partners. In the olive trade. Very soon there’ll be a lot of fully mature olive trees to the north of here. Plop, plop, plop—the countryside will look like a hedgehog. This is our chance to get rich.
‘You are rich.’
‘You’re not. And one is never too rich. When you become a fat cat whose pockets get holes from the large wads of notes, and one day you will, you’ll see that it’s never enough.’
America was a fisherman who rented apartments to tourists. On occasions, he drove the pickup truck filled with sea life. Or fixed it. Though, see it whichever way you wish, his hands were as black as though he had spent several lifetimes picking tobacco. His occupation was no business in his eyes.
Partners. Heh!


Translated by Marija Jones

Igor Štiks

Igor Štiks

Igor Štiks was born in Sarajevo in 1977 and has lived in Zagreb, Paris, Chicago, Edinburgh, and Belgrade. His first novel, A Castle in Romagna [Dvorac u Romagni], won the Slavić prize for best first novel in Croatia and was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for 2006. It was subsequently published in English, German, Spanish and Turkish. Earning his PhD at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris and Northwestern University, Štiks later published a monograph, Nations and Citizens in Yugoslavia and the Post-Yugoslav States: One Hundred Years of Citizenship. His novel The Judgment of Richard Richter, originally published as Elijah’s Chair [Elijahova stolica], won the Gjalski and Kiklop Awards for the best novel in Croatia and has been translated into fifteen languages. In addition to winning the Grand Prix of the 2011 Belgrade International Theatre Festival for his stage adaptation of Elijah’s Chair, Štiks was honored with the prestigious Chevalier des arts et des lettres for his literary and intellectual achievements.

Photograph: Velija Hasanbegović

Marko Pogačar

Marko Pogačar

Marko Pogačar, born 1984 in Split, has published eleven books of poetry, essays and prose, for which he has received Croatian and international awards. In 2014 he edited the anthology Young Croatian Lyric. He is an editor of the literary magazine Quorum and the web-magazine for cultural and social issues He was the recipient of numerous fellowships such as Civitella Ranieri, Literarische Colloquium Berlin, Récollets-Paris, Passa Porta, Milo Dor, Brandenburger Tor, Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Literaturhaus NÖ, and Krokodil in Belgrade. His books and texts have appeared in over thirty languages.




God Will Not Help

A Dream of the Bottom

I have a fear of right angles. The room in which I’m lying, and I’m lying because for a while now I cannot get up, is a rectangle of crudely cut logs filled with a multitude of rectangles made of the same timber matter, some a bit smaller, some so tiny you can take them into your hand.

It’s difficult to say with certainty whether I’m not getting up because I can’t or the reason lies in the complete absence of any desire for an upright position, the fear of closing the right angle with the ground. In any case, I’ve been aligned with it for days, the angle we make is a dead angle, as dead as I will be too, sooner or later. Days turn into weeks, weeks multiply into months, swarming like white mice out of my father’s collar until they flood everything in front of them, cover the horizon, and take me from this world, bit by bit, in their tiny teeth. This, I believe, is good because then I will finally and once and for all become part of the ground, inseparable portion of the bottom which, one way or another, I’ve been scraping for quite some time.

My bed is set in such a way that from it I see as little as possible: only what I want to see and what is necessary to see. The largest part of this always the same scene is, thus, made of a window whose edges are lined with clay brought from the banks of a frozen creek and still cold and wet. Through the scratched glass half covered with a curtain by night I see and by day I feel my star, my guide, which, nested on top of the highest chimney of a sugar plant, twinkling into the darkness, sends the Morse-coded message of the end; the message only I am able to read. Within reach, to my left, on an overturned washbowl stands an empty frame with a picture of my brother István, that is, what is left of the picture. The frame’s edges, just like the window’s, are lined with a thin layer of flattened clay. The list of what I wish to see ends here; my other wishes begin where the look no longer means anything, in that deep darkness I’m winning for myself with my arduous wait.

Of what I must see, there’s just a little more, but it makes me exceedingly more miserable. This mostly includes a piece of a table, a good portion of a northern wall, several dried pig heads on it, a cabinet with four drawers, and several crates placed under the hanger which contains my coat, rifle, and a pair of boots tied together with a wire. None of this have I taken into my hands for a while now, the boots I don’t put on. The only thing I ever touch, and it requires me to stretch just a little, is a string-tied bundle of matches removed from their box. I use them, when the fog is too thick to see even a flicker of my star, to light a wick inserted into a glass jar of oil, and under this light then I watch the face within that frame, dulled with wet clay.

My wishes are few and quite reasonable. They can, I believe, be brought down to just two, although each in itself, just as with any other wish, like my drawer cabinet, hides a secret compartment or two, some false bottom. I’ve already mentioned the first: the wish to reach that final bottom once and for all; to become a part of it. The method I developed for this purpose is simple yet sometimes exhausting. It consists of a persistent, resolute self-deprivation of all cravings. According to the frequency of their occurrence they are: the craving for things edible, the craving for female flesh, the craving for someone else’s fear, the craving for total humiliation of myself and others, the craving for death of small and swift animals, the craving for my own son, and so on. The persistency in recantation of the first, it is clear, will be the quickest and most reliable way to my goal. Insofar my first and my second wish are not completely commensurable: it could almost be said that, in one segment, they completely cancel each other out. In order to write a letter to my brother, to finally compose a text I have been avoiding for years and to explain in it everything that is possible to explain, I need my hands, my head, as clear as possible. The logic thus suggests that the wishes should be fulfilled in an orderly fashion. I’ve decided to put an end to its irksome implacability by executing my first wish as strictly as possible without it compromising the implementation of the second.

The fact that all this is possible, this mere vegetation, this horizontal semi-state between life and death whose only purpose is the wait, the wait for a letter to you, my brother, István, I can thank to an uncommon concatenation of circumstances. On my own I would not be able to endure this, and for a long period of time loneliness was my only and everyday condition. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one day that was just a little less icy than others, Csaba Utz appeared at my house. I would not have even known it, by then I had already completely lost interest in the outside world, had the fellow not, hesitating, knocked on my door. That surprised me greatly. The villagers, those few that dared to venture across the frozen heath that separated us, gave my house a wide berth. I could not blame them for this: I avoided them even more thoroughly. Satisfying one of my cravings, I even spat at them, which gave me great pleasure. If someone did take heart and appear at my door, it was back when I, thanks to my rusty yet efficient traps, still had a supply of dried pork and could offer it in exchange. I however was in want of few things so I mostly sent them off empty-handed across the heath. I never knew and I still don’t know what made Csaba Utz appear at my threshold, but he did appear at the right moment. I owe all this to him; he is my scourer angel; only he stands between me and the bottom. That’s why Csaba Utz is at the same time the object of my love and of my hatred.

I considered the day Utz