Open Call / Reading Balkans 2021 / The Literary Residence Programme


The Literary Residence Program is a part of the Reading Balkans project, which  is a cooperation project of the Publishing House Goga (Slo), Goten Publishing (MK), Krokodil (Srb), Udruga Kurs (Cro), Poeteka (Alb), Qendra Multimedia (Kos), PEN Centre (BIH) and partners. 

The Reading Balkans project is supported by the EU Creative Europe program.

The Literary Residence Program within the Reading Balkans project is supported by the TRADUKI network. 

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Open Call / Reading Balkans 2020 / The Literary Residence Programme

The Residency is pre arranged by Reading Balkans project in cooperation with the Publishing House Goga (Slo), Goten Publishing (MK), Krokodil (Srb), Udruga Kurs (Cro), Poeteka (Alb), Qendra Multimedia (Kos), PEN BIH and S. Fischer Stiftung (De) & partners.

The Literary Residence Programme ‘Reading Balkans 2020’ is open to welcome fiction writers, poets, essayists, playwrights, screenplay writers and comic book writers from Southeast Europe (Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Albania, Romania, Montenegro, Bulgaria).

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Reading Balkans Residency – Ukraine 2018 – 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 – Ukraine 2018


The Reading Balkans Board received 19 applications for this call.  3 applicants were selected.

The selected applicants are:


  • Kateryna Kalytko for the residency in Novo mesto (Slovenia)
  • Andriy Ljubka for the residency in Belgrade (Serbia)
  • Viktoria Khomenko for the residency in Skopje (Macedonia)

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

Poeteka (ALB)

POETEKA is one of the most active cultural organizations and what’s more, one of mainly influential movement in the field of art, culture and education in and through literature in Albania. For nearly 15 years of its presence, POETEKA, in cooperation with local and international partners, has been developing diverse activities, that have attracted more and more writers, translators, art critics, researchers, performers and, for more than all, public.

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Drago Glamuzina

Drago Glamuzina

Drago Glamuzina, born 1967 in Vrgorac, graduated in Comparative Literature and Philosophy from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb. From 2003 to 2011 He worked as the editor-in-chief at the publishing house Profil between 2003 and 2011, and since 2011 holds the same post at VBZ Publishing. His poetry, prose and literary criticism have been published in various magazines, newspapers and have also been broadcast on the radio. With Roman Simić he compiled an anthology of Croatian erotic short stories His publications include Mesari (Butchers, poetry, 2001), Tri (Three, novel, 2008), Je li to sve (Is That All, poetry, 2009) and a book of selected poems Sami u toj šumi (Alone in This Forest, 2011) featuring photographs by Stanko Abadžić.

Mesari won the Vladimir Nazor Book of the Year Award and the Kvirin Award for the Best Poetry Collection, and was translated into German (2008), Macedonian (2004), and Slovene (2011) with selections from it also published in English and Polish. His novel Tri won the T-portal Croatian Novel of the Year in 2008.





20. Epilogue or How the Last Chance to Keep Things Under Control Was Lost

Here I am, my boy.

And here is now a tiny piece of my promise. What follows was written because you talked me into it, under the strong impression of Durrell, in the Split Hospital, my leg broken, in April. Now it seems unbearably pathetic. But, so be it:

“This is a story about a woman who was not touched by everyday life. It would unfair to say—who did not understand the everyday life—after all, her writing was better and nicer that yours or mine; also incorrect—who despised the everyday life—men followed the trail of her perfume and her every step with animalistic tenacity. Still, even though she had the mastery of even the most sophisticated lessons of gracious architecture of urban and erotic relations, that woman treaded about some completely different world, dragging us into it like a dark whirlpool of thick, intoxicating fluid. Flogged from the inside by some dangerous forces, which she never even tried to understand and which she allowed to push her toward the otherworldly abyss of pure madness, she turned reality into an even more incomprehensible fabric of painful passion and squandered time. Sometimes she desperately clung onto us; the very next moment, she poked poignantly at the most sensitive of places, always teetering to some new bed, bringing the opposites together with complete spontaneity and never looking for the sense of the whole array of grotesque situations. And so, seemingly weary and vulnerable, one day she ran into me.”

Take two.

Durrell: “A city becomes a world when one loves one of its inhabitants.” — A little private mythology, your own love geography, “City Maps” and places that belong only to you. The two of us did not live like that. Why? Because I could not understand her. I rejected her readiness to cling, I ironized her emphatic, weird sentences: “I hate every woman you have ever looked look at.” I could not believe she really thought this.

Take three.

A leitmotif from Durrell: “Life, the raw material, is only lived in potential until the artist deploys it in his work.”

Okay, chief, nice start. Here’s the beginning of another chapter in the novel that already exists virtually.

Take care,


While waiting for Bero, I once again read the sentences he’d emailed to me more than three years before, and I wondered if I would be able to use what he was about to bring. For a long time, I’d been talking him into giving me his diary from the time he’d been with her, and he kept refusing, claiming that it was too personal and completely worthless to anyone but him. “I kept a diary to somehow explain what was happening to me, but these are just notes, written down without even a single thought that anyone else besides me could ever read this.” And then he read a couple of chapters from my novel, which, as I told him, “this diary has to be a part of.”

Anything can be used, of course, but turning that text into the building material for the novel was not the only reason why I wanted it. I wanted to once again see her unburdened by anything else but the desire to seduce a man she liked, or to read about the pain that had swept over her when Bero had escaped to another city. I wanted to check the sentences she had told him back then with the experience I now had. I wanted to go back to beginning once more, to a time when that woman and what she had been doing to Bero had fascinated me, and I wanted to get to know her. “Why are you afraid of her, so what if you can’t understand her? You’ve already been with women who have jealous husbands,” I’d said back then, encouraging him, but he’d remained cautious to the very end. Bero thought that the most important thing in life was to avoid suffering, while I believed that life was a sum of experiences, emotions and knowledge that needed to be invested into, but always with the awareness that at the very end none of it, nothing remained anyhow. This nothing was hard yet liberating. He was convinced that “the darkness would swallow him” if he abandoned himself to her, while I wanted just that, I wanted to jump into the whirlpool she was creating and disappear, even though back then I didn’t think it would ever happen.

Besides, reading about her was almost like being with her. And that’s why Bero’s diary was important to me, just like her diary about that old doctor, her stories—which I keep pondering whether to include at the end of this book or not, like a kind of appendix—then sentences she underlined in books she loved, writing about her… All of it only expanded the space she occupied within me.

I was sitting at that dive somewhere in one of Zagreb’s suburbs, waiting for Bero and trying to bring back the memory of those days. Of one of many afternoons we spent sitting in my rented apartment at Jarun, talking about books on philosophy we were reading while preparing for our final exams. That’s when he mentioned her name for the first time. They attended some press conference—Bero had already been working as a journalist—and after the conference, Bero walked her home. When they reached her street, she stopped and told him: “That’s far enough, my husband could see us.” That sentence was the first clear sign that they weren’t just two colleagues walking home, and then, after she’d already moved away a few steps, she suddenly turned around, ran back to him and threw herself into his arms. A few weeks later, she came to his apartment. The moment she walked in, he tried to hug her, but she just slipped through his arms and dropped to her knees. She took him into her mouth, her purse still on her shoulder, and when he was about to finish, she picked her hair up with her hand and asked him to ejaculate all over her neck. Then she got up, kissed him, told him her husband was waiting, and left. Anyhow, it all ended by Bero calling me after every time they met and telling me what had happened.

And then he moved to another city, because of his work, and maybe, in part, because he wanted to move away from her before it became too late, and she kept calling him from time to time, “when the wasteland in which she lived became unbearable.”

A couple more years had passed before I saw her for the first time. It was summer, a hot early afternoon. I’d come to the Association of Croatian Writers to attend my good acquaintance’s book promotion, and I sat behind a woman whose back was completely bare, with two, thin straps crossed somewhere around the middle. Everyone was sweating, and it seemed that even the promoters thought the thing was boring, so I fixed my gaze at the beautiful back in front of me. I observed the lines, winding, long, supple, and suddenly thought it was she. To this day I don’t know how, because back then I knew nothing about her appearance. All I knew was that she was a journalist, and when I leaned forward, I saw she held a pad and a pen in her hands, but this didn’t tell me much. When she later confirmed she’d been to that book promotion and took out of her wardrobe the dress she’d worn back then—she always knew what she wore where—I told her I’d know that only she could have such back, and that only she knew how to make her back stand out, but that was all flirting and sweet-talking, accompanied by laughs and kisses. I recognized her by the way she held herself—Bero had talked so much about it. By the way her back showed themselves, and invited to be watched.

I even whispered to my wife, who was sitting by my side, “This is Bero’s girlfriend. I told you about her.” I didn’t dare talk to her later during the reception, but I kept looking at her, observing how she talked to people, and I wondered how it could be that I knew so much about that woman, yet she didn’t even know I existed.

It was one of our fortuities, which Kundera—the writer whose books she knew by heart—said were key to every unforgettable love. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi’s shoulders. It was one of a dozen or so sentences I underlined in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. And she gave me her copy with lots of notes and comments on the margins. We did this all the time while she still lived with her husband, before cellphones barged into our lives. I couldn’t call her, so we exchanged books in which we underlined sentences that were important to us. That’s how we communicated even when we weren’t together. I, of course, usually underlined sentences I thought talked about her. She simply and magnificently is; we have to put up with her, like original sin. But to call her a nymphomaniac or to try and Freudianise here, my dear, takes away all her mythical substance—the only thing she really is. Like all amoral people she verges on the Goddess. It seemed that this sentence—which I underlined feeling some unclear anger, who knows with whom, and expecting her to answer to it—Durrell had written about her too, not only about Justine. While the sentence—Yet with her one felt all around the companionship of shadows which invaded life and filled it with a new resonance—spoke about me who was just starting to fight the phantoms that kept charging more and more unstoppably from her former lives. I was in love and I saw her in Justine, and in Katharine Clifton, and in Tea in the Sahara, and in Banović Strahinja’s wife. I saw her even in Cavafy’s lovers, whose desires in dark and sticky bars of Alexandria glowed plainly in the eyes that gazed at you and quivered in the voice for you. All of this was about her.

She, on the other hand, underlined sentences laden with sorrow, melancholy, fear that all the energy driving her seductive instincts was not enough to overcome her despair. “My supposed arrogance is just a pellicle on the outside keeping me from falling apart, and in my center lies the utter lack of self-esteem. In the first grade, I was convinced the teacher would send me to sit in the back of the class with the grubby student who had fluked the first grade and whom everyone was afraid of,” she wrote as an answer to my comment on the margins of The English Patient. A bit further, between two paragraphs, so I didn’t misunderstand her, she added: “We, the melancholics, care only about ourselves.” But I could never make peace with the grief that was springing out of her even when were most inconsiderate towards the world that surrounded us.

When I got a job at the newspaper where she worked, the fortuities began to multiply. I didn’t even remember she worked there when I applied for the job, but I soon started running into her in the hall and I followed her doggedly with my eyes that knew it all. But, it took me a long time to dare approach her, even though every time he called, Bero asked if I had finally met her. More questions followed: “What’s she like? Do you like her? Is she seeing anyone?”

“I haven’t met her yet. I think she’s the only woman in the newsroom I still haven’t talked to. I didn’t have a chance. Maybe I don’t want to meet her because I know I’m going to like her. Just as I know that it’s going to happen, eventually. I see her as she walks around the halls and I take pleasure in expectation.”

Such were my answers, somewhat playful and laconic, because that constant questioning was slowly getting on my nerves. Back then nothing showed that soon I would be the one asking all those questions and steering the conversation towards her. I sensed disappointment in Bero’s voice, and, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to avoid the same question the next time he called, I tried to come up with an answer that would offer at least some sense of progression and satisfy him. “I haven’t talked with her, but I’ve talked to some colleagues about her,” I would say. Or: “At the archives, when I was looking for some old issues, I found some of her stories. She wrote the storeis when the two of you were together. Maybe they’re about you.”

Later, of course, both Hana and I regretted the lost time, the year in which every day we passed by each other. True, I was persistent in saying hello to her, and she returned the greeting with slight hesitation and wonder, because she didn’t know who that kid was and why he said hello to her. As all lovers, we kept going back to the beginning, to first chance encounters and accidental physical contacts when the thing was still brewing. Who thought what at which moment—this is what we dealt with while lying in bed and wondering how it could be that we weren’t always together. I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant, who imagines or remembers a meeting when the other had passed by innocently… But all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur. These sentences were also underlined in my copy of The English Patient. My atoms were already ready to jump, but she knew nothing about it. I remember once when I stood behind at the newspaper’s cafeteria, waiting for coffee. She wore her short olive-green dress and I was swept over by the smell of perfume in her hair. Back then, I didn’t yet know the scent, but later—even when she stopped using it and I smelled it on other women—I always associated it with her. Escape laid the foundations of our first physical contact, I felt it in my nostrils when I first sniffed her naked body, her clothes smelled of it when I gathered them at the hotel room and helped her get dressed so she could go back to her husband. And I too spread the scent around me when I went home after meeting her.

As she talked to the waiter and the graphic designers who stood by the bar, in that stinky cafeteria, I inhaled Escape from her hair and drew closer and closer to her. “I could press against her,” I thought, “there’s only a couple of inches between us,” but I didn’t. And she, when a couple of years later I told her about it, said, sincere regret in her voice, “Well, why didn’t you? You should have.”

When I started writing for the newspaper’s culture section, she asked around about me and concluded that I was hired because “someone above ordered so.”

“I thought you belonged to the Croatian Democratic Party, some young member or something, because back then they didn’t hire anyone but them. I even told this to a friend of mine. When he asked me who was the Goran at my newspaper who wrote about books on philosophy, I told him they must have brought you in so we could become more ideologically correct and waved my hand in derision,” she told me during one of our returns to the beginning.

Of course I couldn’t allow myself to let such opportunity slip by. My answer was fast and fierce. “You told everyone I was with the party, while at the same time you screwed their minister. You didn’t find that a bit inconsistent?”

She didn’t say anything, but today I know that in her world this wasn’t contradictory at all.

A whole year had passed before we went out to grab a cup of coffee. It was on account of some text both of us were involved with. It took only a couple of sentences to recognize the woman who had fascinated me so much in Bero’s stories and I started acting as if I’d known her for years. I wasn’t only interested, I was obscenely direct and open. Only a day or two after the coffee, she called me in a panic and asked to come to her desk and help her search her hard drive and find the text that had suddenly vanished from her screen. The newsroom was crawling with journalists and reporters, and I stood above her and watched as she helplessly messed about her keyboard. And then, all of a sudden, instead of by her side, I leaned forward over her, putting my left hand on the keyboard on the one side of her body, and my right hand on the other side. I pressed the keys, drew the mouse across the desk, and felt her shoulders going up and down under my muscles. When I stopped typing, I did not move my hands, I kept them there, on the desk. Embraced but almost not touched, she threw her head back a little and pressed it against my chest. She kept it there for a short while, and then, without looking away from her screen, she said, “Why is your heart pounding so hard?”

Somewhere around that time, Bero came back to the city too and renewed his relationship with Hana. When he met her, he called me on the phone and said, laughing, “Buddy, you had enough time, but since you haven’t done anything, you should step back.”

But he came back too late. The dark engine of desire was already hissing within us, ready to get in motion.

When her husband went away on a business trip, I phoned Bero and told him she’d asked me to meet her, for the first time outside of the newsroom. He replied that they’d just agreed she would meet him at his place the next day.

“So, what are we going to do? Are we going to tell her we know each other?” I asked him worriedly.

There had already been a couple of moments when I could’ve told her I knew Bero, but I said nothing. I didn’t know how to pull it off because if I mentioned him first, it would be obvious I knew about their relationship and she could get angry with Bero because he hadn’t been discrete, and she’d never mentioned him because she didn’t know we knew each other. And maybe there was something in the fact that the imbalance in what we knew about each other I found interesting, it allowed me to compare situations, to play. When I asked her to get a drink together for the first time, at the bar right next to our office, she refused, and when I asked her why, she didn’t tell me she didn’t want to, or that she was busy, but that her husband could come pick her up at work and that he could see us, and I immediately remembered the first time Bero had walked her home and what she’d told him then. But, as time passed, this was becoming more and more unpleasant. And it seemed more and more unfair. But that’s not what Bero thought.

“I wouldn’t tell her anything,” he answered my question. And then laughed into the receiver.

“It seems we’ve taken this too far. She’s alone this weekend and it may happen she sleeps with both you and me. If we don’t tell her we know each other, it really might look like we are screwing around with her and yanking her chain,” I said.

However, Bero insisted we said nothing to her.

“I think she’s the one who wants to yank our chains. I don’t want her to slip through my hands again. We’ll just meet her and then tell each other what’s going on. Who knows what kind of stories she’s going to tell us? And how contradictory? How is she going to act with one, and how with the other? This way both of us will be able to be with her without getting lost in her. We’re going to be able to control what’s happening to us, and that’s precisely what I always thought wasn’t possible.”

But that’s not the way it turned out to be.

On that same Friday, when she came back from Bero’s place and sat down at my desk in the newsroom, I asked her where she was.

“I was at an interview,” she said.

To what I said, “Bero is my friend.”

She went quiet and just gazed at me as if she didn’t understand what I was saying, so I added: “He told me about the two of you some three years ago.”

I though her reaction would be more intense, but she pulled herself together quickly, and even if this did shake her, it didn’t show.

“You played me, huh,” she said and then got up and left. But the next day she called me as if nothing had happened and asked when we would see each other. Actually, I think this made it all the more interesting to her.

This was a mythical anecdote of our love, a story we often went back to, and, as we leafed through his diary, Bero and I remembered it again.

“You were right. I missed my last chance to keep things under control,” I told him, putting the tattered notebook back into my bag. Just as I often told her about my great lost chance. Unlocked cellphones, spying on her around town, none of it could be compared to the possibility to learn from her other lover everything she had told him or had done.

“Imagine if we’d kept it a secret for the whole year. You would’ve been sleeping with both him and me, and all the while you would’ve been telling me I had pushed everything else out of your life.”

“No, my love, I wouldn’t. At that moment, you were just getting into the picture, and not even twenty days later everything was different. By then I’d stopped seeing him.”

“Yes, but you did it only because you knew that we knew about each other and that this deprived you of a possibility to push any other women out of our lives. You didn’t want such relationship, so you had to choose. Bero was old, and I was new. There, that’s how it happened. But, if we hadn’t told you, you would’ve carried on with both of us and would’ve been jealous of both of us.”

“Don’t say that. You mustn’t. Back then we were happy and completely preoccupied with each other. It’s not that I’d chosen you, there was no choice.”

For some twenty days or so she really did see us both, and it seemed to be all right with everyone. With Bero, because he could not entangle himself into something he would not be able to untangle, with me, because I found it interesting and unusual, and it agreed with my insistence on relationships free of jealousy and constraint, and with her because she had us both.

One evening, around midnight, Bero called and asked me to take his place and meet her tomorrow morning, before work. He had been sent somewhere and he could not call her and cancel the meeting because it was late and her husband was at home. Not to let her sit alone in the restaurant in the morning and get angry, he asked me to go and be with her. When before work I really did show up at Vinodol, she wasn’t surprised, she acted as if the substitution was something completely normal. If one couldn’t make it, there was always another. Nice. But, soon it all changed. In a couple of days, I went to the seaside with my wife and child, and she stayed in Zagreb. And she never called Bero again.

“The moment you left, I knew you were the one,” she explained when I came back.

The bar had emptied a long time ago and, at the end of this long conversation, we dedicated a couple of minutes to those pains-in-the-ass from work, to our children, to literature… and then, getting up from our table and putting his cigarettes and lighter into his pocket, Bero said, “You don’t have to give the notebook back to me, I’m actually glad I don’t have to bother with all those papers anymore. Use what you can and then throw it away.”

“All right,” I said, and then, getting up to my feet, I asked him once again, “Please, don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t know how many times I asked you this during all these years, but now there’s no reason to lie: She really didn’t call you that summer? Not once?”

“No, she really didn’t. But does it even matter now?” he answered and laughed.

“I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out how she operated.”

“Let her leave,” he said and gently punched my shoulder.

“Well, I did. Have you forgotten, we’ve been talking about it the whole evening.”

“Okay, okay, I’ve gotta go. My wife has called me twice already,” he muttered, checking the missed calls on his cellphone, and then he put on his coat and said, “Just let her go, for real. Finish the novel and forget about her.”

It snowed outside. And everything looked different than earlier that afternoon when I’d entered the bar. I hurried down the street towards my car threading on the virgin snow and remembered the conversations Hana and I had led about that first summer, about her waiting for me to come back and me ironizing her wait.

“I always doubted she was telling the truth, and I told her this, but only to make her tell the story again. I liked listening to her trying to convince me she was only mine.” I said this under my breath as if defending myself from being so suspicious with her, and then, removing the snow from the windshield, I once again remembered the sentences she’d pronounced when I had come back.

The train took forever to enter the station, I couldn’t wait to take my wife and son home and run to her. I didn’t even help Sandra unpack the bags, and she resented it so much that even today I’m afraid to write about it, after all this time. I heard our baby cry as I ran down the stairs, but she was waiting for me. And when I got to her place, she stood in front of me and before we touched, said those couple of sentences she later had to repeat so often. In the end, she wrote them down and sent them to me on a postcard from Prague, where she was doing an interview.

On the postcard there is a picture of a naked woman standing in front of a doctor, a hat on her head, stilettos on her feet, an umbrella in her right hand, and a small pig on a leash in her left hand. On the back it said, “The whole summer Bero and I were alone in Zagreb, and nothing happened. Had I wanted it, I could’ve gone over to him, at any time, what was there to stop me, but all I thought about was the day when you would come back. I was in love and I anxiously waited for that desire to crumble everything within me.”




Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović

Zhivko Grozdanoski

Zhivko Grozdanoski

Zhivko Grozdanoski, born 1986, has lived most of his life in his home village of Bigor Dolenci in the western part of Macedonia. He attended the American High School Skopje and went on to study Italian Language and Literature at the University of Skopje. He translates prose and poetry from Italian and has published four books (a book of poetry, two collections of short stories, and a novel). In 2006 he presented a short amateur documentary during the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. Grozdanoski most recent book, the novel The Final Name of the Future, 2018) is set in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina where a tunnel engineer from East Germany is sent to work on a site and comes across some life-changing revelations.

Lisandri Kola

Lisandri Kola

Lisandri Kola, born 1986 in Shkodër, studied Albanian Language and Literature in his hometown and in 2010 obtained an MSc in Criticism and Literary Theory from the University of Tirana. In 2014 he earned a PhD in Literary Sciences from the same University.

Since January 2016 he has been a full time Professor of Albanian Modern Literature and History of Albanian Sonnet at the Department of Literature in the Faculty of History and Philology at the University of Tirana and also teaches Theory of Translation at the Department of Journalism and Communication. He has published a number of books of poetry, translations, research and a novel. With his poetry collection Butterflies Die in May (2014), he won the National Zef Pllumi Prize. Kola’s poetry has been published in English and Montenegrin. He is also a playwright.

Saša Savanović

Saša Savanović

Aleksandra Saša Savanović, born 1986 in Novi Sad, studied International Relations at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade and Sociology at the Institute for Sociology of the Freie Universität Berlin. Her stories, essays and articles have appeared in electronic and printed magazines, journals and several anthologies of short stories. She is one of the editors of Zent, a magazine for politics, technology and the arts, and co-author of the recently published book Zajednička dobra i granice kapitalizma (Common Good and the Boundaries of Capitalism). Her first novel Deseti život (Tenth Life) was published in 2018. She works as freelance researcher and project manager in culture and the non-profit sector.




Life no.10

That evening was as promising as any, a rainbow sluiced down the streets, a reason was found, as if the apartment were overheated, we were sweating. You landed some coke and were pleased. You drew two lines and handed me the sliced-off section of a straw. Bitter and seductive. You lit a cigarette, took a sip of rakija, settled into the armchair. Relaxation and contraction of muscles, backs straightening up. Soon you were chatty, words like grasshoppers came bubbling from your mouth. You retold events, circumstances: aboard a night train on the way to the seacoast. With Mama and Papa. You were still a boy. A rickety couchette, an endless ride. In the bunk across, a girl you didn’t know was sleeping. Older, maybe twenty. Her knees were shapely and provocative, they poked out from under the bedding, she breathed deeply, with excitement, dreaming about something. Her lips were slightly parted. All night your erection didn’t let you fall asleep. Then there was something in Barcelona (or was it Madrid), you were supposed to catch a morning flight to Belgrade. You got up on time. You were ready. You sat down briefly, fifteen minutes or so, just waiting for the right time to head for the bus stop. You fell asleep at the table propped on your hands. The previous night had been wild and draining, you’d hardly slept. You woke with a shock, sprinted to catch the bus, nearly missed it. At the last stop it became obvious you weren’t at the airport, you’d gone in the wrong direction. Once you realized this it was already too late to go back. The plane was taking off any minute. You got drunk and had the time of your life. Photoshopped memories. There were more:, something about waking up in a strange hotel room, in an Arab country (Kuwait? the Emirates?). Alone. With no recollection. How did you get there? So exciting. You were quick-witted and charming. I laughed. Then how you stole some ice cream in the third grade and were later caught. Afterwards what a mess…
What you give to me, you’ve given to everyone else.
The right side of my jaw had grown agreeably numb. I was alert and present. I listened to you carefully, with focus. You were in control, the master of the situation, you spread yourself around the room like some sort of lush carpet. You were proud, completely drawn into the story, the memories. Your life, such a special life. All the events, actions and people. You digressed. There were so many engaging experiences, one after the other, big ones and little ones, some of them sensational. You flickered on and off like a firefly. These stories were all you had. They were your skin, they interlaced your organs, multiplied by mitosis, flowed through your blood vessels. You must have told them so many times. You knew their trajectory by heart, every curve, every detour, the crowning moment, every pause, every place for a smile, every passing detail suddenly so interesting, in color. Trained, well-versed, up to speed. I found your performance appealing, I liked your stories and your practiced, self-confident moves. All those successful methods, for years tried and tested.
This was our third time together. Each time in your apartment. A familiar setting, familiar scenario, the only change being the light, and the props. We kept our distance, didn’t touch. You wanted to step out of yourself, to detach, you wanted to do something, undertake something, but you didn’t know what. You couldn’t figure out how, this was an unfamiliar story, in it there were no other people, there were no names to be named, no facts to be laid out. This story was not in the past, it depended only on you, it was terrifying, it was uncertain, it was unknown, it was unpleasant, it had no clear end. Then again, maybe not. It is more likely that you were merely bored. You needed company, something to distract you, light entertainment.
At moments the silence was as loud as a thunderclap.
Nervously we clenched our teeth, drummed our fingers on the table. We wanted to sink into something soft and warm, a thick duvet, pillows. We wanted to stretch out, to grow curvy and moist, to blossom, but there was no place for that, no time. Only a twinge. Drifts of expectation, a gaze wandering, inflows of unpleasantness, mild boredom, a non-specific need for us to do something. To enunciate everything, eyes wide open. As if we’d set out to go somewhere, we’d headed in some direction. If something happens? But we couldn’t remember where. We marked time, we waited for somebody, we wished for a signpost, some guidance. You played your role, it had its own identity, experience. The path before us branched and sank. An idea about retreating, a scene set, cleansed of all the noise.
You drew two lines more and poured yourself another rakija. Your eyes glistened in the dark. You paced around the apartment, poured some water, and did something else. You were opening the refrigerator, drawers, looking for something, you fed the dog. You felt me watching you, you felt me hearing you perfectly. I was so pushy. That made you uncomfortable. You were smoking, cigarette after cigarette. Defended yourself. You wanted for the attention to flag, the unbearable immediacy. You wanted to vanish, to become one with the background. You wanted to exist in the eyes of others. You wanted to be outdoors, among people. You wanted dimmed lights and arms to hug you. You wanted easy company. You wanted it to be dark. You wanted there to be somebody else. Someone you could turn to. Someone who knows your story, who accepts it. You wanted to forget. You wanted to speed up sluggish time. You were anxious. Non-specifically. You texted someone, talked on the phone. Fidgeted. You suggested we go somewhere. I didn’t care. We smoked while we gathered our things, listed our options.
We went out, legs carrying us. And the cocaine. Late autumn, but very mild. We walked along side by side and watched the streets. We each had a beer. Full of ourselves, we chatted and swayed, cruised through the city, had another beer, took each a line. The evening was passing without excitement. Back in your comfort zone, among familiar people, you kept a safe distance. You stood in the dark, in corners. You drank moderately, you texted relentlessly, bought some people a couple of drinks. Same distance from everybody. Good-natured and cheerful. You are a man who is always close at hand. You’re a fine friend. You’re a person who says hi, who laughs. You’re charming, you’re seductive, you’re so dear. You’re dignified and serene, long time accustomed to not feeling anything overly strong. You are a person other people talk about. You are a person who talks about others. You are desirable company. A commonplace. You are like the English language. Small talk. Nearly kitsch. An empty story. Service information. Pop culture. On everybody’s lips. You’re a part of the world. You are not the other, you are someone  else. You are a lifeless thing, a still life. You are like a model, a life-size sculpture. Reminiscent of a person.
We circled the club a while longer, slowly finishing our beer. It stopped being interesting. We drew closer. All out of boredom. We left.
We woke up without a word, each on our own side. Depleted and absent. We stared at the ceiling. We patted the dog. We breathed. I reached over with both hands. I wanted to touch you. Skin that is real, the only thing able to talk.
But you leave my hands there all alone. Superfluous and in vain. You don’t notice them.
I stretched out my hands, I wanted to touch you, to create you again, but you didn’t want to allow that.
You turn your back, you pull the duvet up over your shoulder, you shut your eyes.
I wanted to get closer, to press my body to your body. I wanted to wake you, to shake you, to bring you back. I wanted to wake up, to feel aroused, to remind myself, I wanted to imagine you, give birth to you again. I wanted to tell a lie. I wanted not to know. I wanted to be a weak body. I wanted to be a body that hopes, that gives of itself. I wanted to be arms that hug, breathing that quickens. I wanted to be lips that think that if they were to kiss tenderly enough, long enough, these kisses will somehow continue inside me. I wanted to defy certainty, to repel it, make the present last as long as possible, this unbearable deaf moment. You lay there calm, distant and still. I lay there calm, distant and still. Afterwards I got up to make coffee. Morning changed nothing, the day still hadn’t begun.
I am awake, nevertheless. The coffee tastes the same, and under the hot shower the body relaxes in spite of itself. I have obligations! I ride like a phantom across the concrete prairie. Around me, Belgrade breathes and multiplies at every step. It could be said: a big city. But where are all these people otherwise, where are all these dimensions, the hidden worlds eluding grasp?
World no. 1: At the bus stop. Not a lot of people out on the streets, mainly its buildings and the occasional structure: gas stations, cars and furniture showrooms, billboards, the omni-present containers with trash. Among them a car holds the place of honor, a prize for something or simple advertising, its making a show of itself on a pedestal, at the intersection of Omladinskih Brigada and Jurija Gagarina, red, a reminder instead of a monument, always well polished, it is a placeholder. But the Chinese are awake. Already busy and rushing, rolling by in their vans and swarming around the shopping center which comes alive and is almost about to stand up, slowly straightening up on its four stunted, scrawny legs, in its natural, modernist habitat, surrounded by massive swaths of concrete, frozen earth, muddy grass and broad paths intended for vehicular traffic of something much larger, this gigantic green-blue armored bug, which now stands entirely stable, like an intergalactic AT-AT, shakes off colored beads, plaid tote bags, while people step out of their freshly opened shops studding the façades of the building, joyously clapping their hands and waving gaily. The mobile shopping center, Kowloon, a walled city, tiptoes off, step by step, somewhere in the general direction of Bežanija. Right behind its back left leg, the articulated #95 bus, finally swings into view.
(Jurija Gagarina – Antifašističke borbe – Milutina Milankovića  – Milentija Popovića  – Mihajla Pupina)
World no. 2: Brankov Bridge. A back up on the bridges, the narrow bottlenecks of the city. We inch along, the view opens out before us, the vastness from all sides presses in on our yellow tin can even more harshly, more brutally, I breathe a little, modestly claustrophobic, a panic attack anticipated as I suck in what’s left of the air, and imagine its abundance… outside… with a view of Belgrade Waterfront, which intersects the horizon, sparkles for the poor, actually against them, each day all the higher, more grotesque, less needed. Time flows by in bits, or overflows, waves with a regular and irregular beat, three eight time or as needed, today, for tomorrow, one hundred fifty hours all at once, or fifteen per day, out of necessity, just once more, for those who are moving, who are fed by no one, for those who are late, those who collide, who thrust one another away or are thrust away, who faint or cling heroically to that speck of smelly oxygen, eagerly awaiting the next opening of the door, heads raised above the mob, noses stuck up not out of arrogance but out of need, on the bus, planted in the seats, the grabrail in hands, motionless, like gymnasts, acrobats, but with no skill to defy the pull of gravity, or, merely, to defy. Planted. Regularly. Like sardines. Among windows fogged by breathing, by all the sighs, not amorous. Feet welded to the wheels, they bounce as they meet the potholes, tram tracks, cracked and re-patched pavement, they jounce, glued, tied by drawstrings, affixed by skins and hairs and the occasional bobbypin that comes undone, umbrellas dripping onto boots already caked with slush. Heads drop into laps, then roll away.
World no. 3. Zeleni Venac. The pljeskavica burgers are on the grill, the smell of Macdonalds’ fries spreads, uphill, down stairs, a line for bread rolls, through an underground passageway where there are no beggars, nor cardboard stands vending socks, watches and belts this early in the day, then upstairs, the exchange office is (always) open, uphill, another bakery, a pastry shop, another exchange office, a shop, a crosswalk. Hotel Moscow, people trading album stickers, I run for the trolley. Everybody’s asleep, I’m dreaming.
World no. 4: A Postcard from the Future. The traffic jam in the city is not as bad so the trolley slides elegantly toward the Slavija roundabout, with the lavish musical fountain right at its center. While we circled (the obligatory three times around, as required by the new traffic law) the fountain changed hues from blue to red and sang brightly “Belgrade, Belgrade, we all adore your singing streets…” The trolley was beeping as were the other vehicles, while the people in them (including me) joined in to sing the song and swayed back and forth, beaming (this is also required) and so we inched along performatively around, around. On all sides of the roundabout people in clusters gawked at the fountain, enchanted, or—cell phones held high—filmed this spectacular attraction: harmony within and chaos all around it, the authentic Slavija experience. Others waited in line at the control panel that manages and guides the fountain’s water jets, impatient to become, themselves, its more or less talented conductors.
Similar installations now grace the city at the Bogoslovija roundabout and in Karaburma. The Slavija fountain remains, however, the most grandiose, by far, with its 800 square meters of water surface, 300 reflectors, 350 water jets, and the crossbar a full 32 meters long. Heaters keep this lithe water ballerina toasty all winter long, so it can perform uninterrupted, even when the temperatures drop to -20 C°. “Every city aspiring to make its living from tourism must have at least one such structure; this is what sets the great cities apart from the small ones,” said the city manager when it opened in 2017. No argument here. The fountain certainly proved to be a big hit for tourism. And not only the fountain. There are other features of note: the highest tower in the Balkans, the largest shopping center, the longest café garden (almost two kilometers in length, it runs down the Sava Quay on the Belgrade side of the river from the old railway bridge to the bridge at Ada). Other record-breaking accomplishments: the most billboards per square meter for instance, or holiday lights up all year long—snowflakes, sparklers and Christmas trees. Many other measures are equally notable. Factories and all other plants manufacturing anything in the city were privatized years ago, and later transformed into mixed-use commercial-residential properties. The explanation was simple: factories are ugly, and besides, why should we produce anything if we can simply import it, and at a lower cost? Public and communal services were modernized through private-public partnerships, after which they have ceased to be available in the unprofitable parts of the city. The population is largely employed in the service industry, meeting any and all touristic needs—restaurants, clubs and cafés, fast food and delivery, hotels and private accommodation, shops, tourist agencies, companies for cleaning and organizing, the taxi industry, call centers.
Contemporary Belgrade is postmodernism incarnate, perhaps even more convincingly than is the case with Skoplje. The Skoplje project signified something, even if what it signified was fake or fabricated, it did serve a symbolic function. The Belgrade project, by contrast, has remained true to the decision to symbolize nothing. Anything goes. It has nothing to say but: money. Ultimate de-territorialization. In that sense the newly built infrastructure in Belgrade was even more efficient in creating museum-like experiences and impressions, it was even more aggressive, even more vacuous, more lacking in ideas, especially ever since the urban development of the city has turned exclusively to the needs of tourists, foreign investors, and business owners. Belgrade became a top destination to visit when the Municipal Board for Branding came to understand that the city’s tourist potential and receptivity lay precisely in the senselessness on which its recent urban transformation was based. Not long thereafter, the brilliant ad slogan “Belgrade—Horrors of the Postmodern” saw the light of day, spreading out in an instant, like an Adriatic wildfire, among the hipsters of the world (of course the concept was stolen from an anonymous Facebook group). The slogan “Horrors of the Postmodern” literally ate Berlin’s “Poor but Sexy” for breakfast, and the city has since then been swamped with tourists. In no time there were almost no residential buildings left in the city center, except those used as apartments for tourists or ones belonging to the gated communities springing up all through the city after the famous “Belgrade Waterfront“ project came through. The area is mainly hotels, supermarkets, restaurants, parking lots, co-working and co-living spaces, start-up incubators, banks, commercial and shopping zones. The former Military Headquarters building has been transformed into the magnificent Splendid Hotel. The Museum of Contemporary Art is now the seat of the White Community company, that owns large portions of what used to be Vračar, Upper Dorćol, and Zemun. These are now White Community I, II and III. As of last year, White Community owns the entire area of the former Friendship Park where ground was recently broken for White Community IV, a new lavishly furnished residential-commercial property. All the property within the circle of #2 Tram line was successfully privatized some time ago, due to which the city center is now closed to visitors at night, from midnight to 6:30 a.m., except of course for those who are staying there, and over the weekend, when the sky above it, for security’s sake, is thick with drones, and the streets are bristling with the automatic weapons of private security companies.
When a jet of water shot sixteen meters skyward, dozens of overjoyed observers, tourists, and Belgraders took selfies next to this grandiose symbol of the city. Meanwhile I went on loudly singing “As if the time stands still for yooooou,” while traversing through the window of the trolley, where I’d been sitting, to a nearby tram that was running along in parallel, the way they do in action movies, but as if in slow motion. This performance, switching transportation midstride without waiting, was, of course, yet one more of the famous attractions of Slavija, which I finally lost the sight of once the tram I transferred to, began moving up Beogradska street.
World no. 5: Along the Boulevard toward Vuk and farther along to Đeram and Lion. Nameless trees along the city’s avenue slice into the sky. Preventively castrated decorative plantings, reduced to their desirable size—height and width and depth, and all other dimensions, such as—time, which stands motionless, tamed, for the trees which will never reach their full height. For tree rings are not years, no sirree, what do you mean dendrochronology, forest anthropology, stop. Ready set go, for those who are not there yet, for those hurrying into yet another pledged day, from the morning on, in a fog, the pace drops off with the increase in concentration of those who are pacing, the number of thoughts per square meter, the number of screws, the density thick like fresh-cooked rubber, silence tiptoes out stealthily, the breaking of the sound barrier or mere noise, rush hour will start soon. The scattered light of the sky has squeezed itself into the bags under the eyes of the man behind the wheel. Crimson-purple. A strip in the windows, red like the map of capillaries on his nose and cheeks, traces of unslept nights: a surfeit of alcohol, sugar and caffeine, some say, simply, a rotten gene. The rhythm commanded by the miniature gearshift of the gigantic city monster—the red snake. The hour ticks by, the light is now translucent, the day dawns, it hesitates but yet it comes, always evenly, always untimely, the streets fill with hands and feet and mouths, propulsion on all fours, internal combustion of stomachs and motors, a row of muscles and a row of chassis.
. . .
I am the first to arrive at work, I smoke in the kitchen while drinking coffee. Then others arrive. Time passes slowly, though I’m constantly rushing. I copy and print, pack. I calculate—I tally chairs, signatures, public events, I count female participants, subtract nights spent, flights, meals, express everything in terms of quantity. Then I multiply that by type of expense and list it in four different currencies, calculating in exchange rate oscillations and rate of inflation for the last nine months. I operate on operating systems. I sign on extras, take bids (three bids for each expense running over €400), I schedule meetings, set up catering and sound. I organize panels, conferences, rallies, cocktails, and donor events. I write promotional materials. I plan activities and their optimal budgets, I justify their purpose, general and particular goals, the desired and anticipated outcome. I list indicators, describe everything in detail, taxatively enumerate the sources of information for their timely confirmation. I formulate strategies, inform policies, finalize the minutes. I respond to emails, produce statements, translate into English and French. I write reports, requests, and applications. Appeals. I sign. Stamp. Scan. Skype. I answer the phone and open the door. I write and register contracts, issue invoices. When nobody is watching I steal office supplies, teas and juices, household cleansers and toilet paper.
The loot for the day: gifts for Mom: a 16GB USB memory stick, three rolls of toilet paper and lavender-scented air freshener. Well armed. Prepared for a family dinner, a dinner for which the fact that it is happening within the family circle can only mean irritation and unpleasantness.
The familiar aroma of a gravy roux envelops me at the door. Father is watching television, a program about politics, while Mom is adding the finishing touches to a bean dish she pre-cooked last night. She is not particularly enthused about the gifts, or perhaps there is something else going on here: it looks as if, again, they aren’t speaking. Mother is disgruntled, and Father is disinterested and would be happiest if everyone would just leave him alone. We eat in silence, with the ever-present voice of the television announcer—the news. After dinner, Father disappears into newspapers, books, reports from the front, party debates, arguments, the opinions of political gurus, experts and independent observers. Or he naps, maybe he went out? As soon as he vanished from my field of vision I stopped paying attention to him, when the door closed behind him both Mom and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The two of us, like conspirators, but with no particular conspiracy, no mission, cloister ourselves in the kitchen, barricaded, we drink wine and smoke. Mom reports: a detailed description of her fight with Dad (all four phases which I’d missed since we last saw each other), a brief interlude about how she misses her job (she was only happy when she was at work and now that she’s retired there is almost no joy left in her life), service information about members of the close family (brother, uncle, grandmother), and then again about how she can no longer bear the life with Father, this apartment is like a jail, here she feels uncomfortable, and more still, all the things that she does, which he never even notices… nor does anybody else for that matter (brother, uncle, grandmother), all this is expected of her, taken for granted…
At least some acknowledgment, at least a little gratitude, that’s all she needed, but to ask for it she never dared, or was able to. As usual I was full of compassion for her and disapproval for those others, those who hadn’t put her in that position, but who nevertheless kept her there, by the skin of their teeth, implicitly, through the rules they’ve imposed on her. She wasn’t able to stand up to this. Things happened, one after another, life the way it was supposed to be, it now seemed imposible to grapple with it, she felt she’s been locked in, and this position seeemed, in an obscure sort of way, to agree with her, it had left her generous space for complaint: everything was bigger than her, mastering this mountain was unimaginable. That which was giving her a sort of peace of mind was her deliberate embrace of this destiny, as she understood it, which allowed her to always already be half a victim, and half in control, convinced that nothing is up to her. Also, she believed that what goes around comes around, both the good and the bad. She wasn’t particularly religious, but she believed in justice, “someone up there sees it all”, and that somebody, of course not she herself, will sooner or later free her (probably in the form of death). Also, somewhere in her deepest depths, she thought that she probably doesn’t deserve better, or rather that people as such don’t deserve better, she understood life as an ever-present dull ache and worry, an eternal field of everyday routine and defeat, quiet sorrow and creeping calamity, with the occasional, rare but precious, random joyous moment (mainly connected to her children).
After we’d spent the usual hour or so on her self-pity—all her choices bad choices (except for having children), irreversible decisions, fate sealed, already played out, her life as déjà vu, been there done that, experienced, permanently beyond her reach—Mom changed the subject.
“My doctor says I had a little stroke,” she told me as an aside, while lighting her tenth cigarette, finally sitting down again after having put all the food into smaller containers, hermetically sealed them and stowed them in the fridge.
I stared at her, astonished, in a state of mild shock, and couldn’t think of anything appropriate to say (except some confused half-questions—excuse me, how, when) before she, after holding back a moment, launched into her explanation:
“That thing a few weeks ago, you know, I told you, when my vision suddenly blurred … Well, remember, that’s what it was, apparently, after the tests. It’s not so bad,” she added quickly, “it was just a brief interruption in blood flow to the brain, blockage of blood vessels… Don’t you worry a thing… it’s just a little stroke (stroke, this echoed), no permanent damage, in any case nothing chronic… I’ll do fine… I’d do fine, but he, I’d do fine, this is all happening to me because of him, I can’t bear it anymore, and can you imagine what he says, he says I’m exaggerating, I’m a drama queen, I’m making this all up or I brought it on myself, he says, imagine that…”
I was no longer listening to her with full attention because I was already deep into studying search results to the query “causes and prevention of strokes”, which I undertook with lightning speed, on my phone, and besides, there was no other useful information to be extracted from her anyway. “Here, it says here… Ah ha…” I read out loud, interrupting her new monologue about Father and all the other indignities visited upon her which were responsible for her physical and mental state: “a ‘transient ischemic attack’ (TIA) is a brief episode of neurological dysfunction lasting no more than sixty minutes which does not result in permanent brain damage… It may manifest as a brief disruption of brain functions or the retina.”
Mom had meanwhile stopped talking, she’d withdrawn and seemed sheepish, like a child who knows it has done something it shouldn’t have, completely helpless, she stared at the floor, wanted me to feel sorry for her.
Because of this behavior of hers I suddenly lost my usual cool and compassion, her sickliness endlessly infuriated me, and I was irritated and edgy anyway. I set upon her like a downpour, as if that would accomplish anything.
“How about smoking less, Mom,” I continued, giving her a judgmental glare and was already yelling, “or why not, just quit? A proper diet…,” I consulted my phone, reading, “A proper diet after a stroke, here, it says everything here, Mom, I’m always telling you, less meat Mom, less salt Mom, be sure to avoid all processed meats Mom, fatty cheeses, milk and butter, pork lard Mom, also you need to be exercising Mom, and stop being so nervy, that makes no sense at all… how old are you, anyway, make your peace with your situation or change it, enough with all the complaining, Mom…” I was starting to snap and was really losing it. “I’m serious, cut out the suffering thing already, your endless fatigue and helplessness, always the victim, it’s like you want to be oppressed, the more you suffer the more radiantly you shine, the more you agonize, the prize you imagine grows ever more magnificent, seriously, it’s as if you’d love to die, maybe you’re even hoping to, no, you’re actually wishing for someone to kill you, this is how you think you’ll become a proper martyr, a canonized saint, lavished with the praise you deserve for all your pains, awarded with a certificate: the words she sacrificed herself selflessly for others inscribed on your death notice, but that’s pointless, Mom, I’ve told you a hundred times, the prize you’re holding your breath for isn’t there, nobody will notice your sacrifice, not here or anywhere, understand this for once, nobody cares, at least not that much, and even if you were to get your prize, you’d be dead, it just won’t matter.” Then I stopped abruptly, regretting that yet again I hadn’t been able to bite my tongue.
“Yes, yes, you’re right, I know you are,” mumbled Mom in a conciliatory tone while getting up to find her savior, Bromazepam, or the equally efficient Xanax, the heroes of oblivion, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“You didn’t upset me, Mom, I’m not upset,” I said, now calmly and reasonably, “you’re upset, you’re always upset.”
“Yes, yes, I am…” she repeated, “This is all my fault…”
“Come on, nothing is your fault, woman!”
“Don’t you worry about a thing, dear,” she smiled, “everything’s over now.”
“Over? Nothing is over,” I began to fume again, “nothing is ever over.”
“Don’t get all worked up,” she said after she’d taken the pill, “Mama’s little darling. Everything will be just fine.” And right after that, as if the tablet had an instant effect, the shine left her eyes and her body went a little limp. She was no longer there, she was shrinking in the chair, hissing like a deflating balloon, her cheeks sagged, and her hands hung by her sides as if they didn’t belong to her.
“It will be, Mom,” I said, “I keep telling you, think a little more about yourself.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right…: she was already sinking into numbness. “Mom’s going to lie down now.”
“OK, Mom, I’ll be off then.”
“Good, good, Mama’s darling.”
. . .
A little later that day (night was already well along), out for a drink with Mini (who quickly switched to rakija) all the talk was about survival strategies (this has long been the only subject of discussion). As if wrapping up the conversation, Mini sang:
our hearts are empty
the smoke is heady
we didn’t see the day
Then she changed her tune, because she suddenly turned seductive, becoming in a flash a true Eurydice, sensitive and tender, ready to be saved or ruined, fully obedient and meek, her voice soft and velvety, and her hips curvy, breasts round.
wounded and so alone
wounded right in the heart
she hums as she sidles over to the bar, she’s been actively flirting with this waiter for some time now. He is nice-looking enough, but does that even matter. He could have been a zombie, no difference in the end. Mini twitters with laughter at his every word and swings her hair. She purses her lips meanwhile, but mostly she talks loudly and brashly twirls her glass.
The rest of the bar as expected. Mutual assessments and observations. Secret signals. After all, the soul police is everywhere, moralists of all stripes, the guardians of bourgeois ethics, they lurk from dark corners, poping up at every turn, poised to advise, to share their experience, their valued opinion, as if somebody has asked for it. In all the eyes, hunger; had there existed some sort of omniscient reader of human thoughts, I’m sure it would be constantly shrieking—let something happen, LET SOMETHING HAPPEN. But nothing happens.
Except, is that my phone ringing? I finish my drink, kiss Mini, I’m off to Vinsent’s.




Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać

Goten’s Writers Residence Program (MK)

Goten Publishing House has been organizing writers’ residencies in Skopje, Macedonia, for authors and translators mostly form Southeast Europe since 2013. In that time we have hosted more that 30 authors and translators. The overall aim of the residency is to enable the contemporary Southeast European authors and translators to get more acquainted with literary, cultural, and social life in Macedonia, and particularly in Skopje, while at the same time the local audience gets to know the prominent regional literary scene. While in Skopje, the visiting writer/translator uses the time of scholarship to work on their current project.

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Qendra Multimedia (RKS)

Qendra Multimedia, based in Prishtina, Kosovo, is a cultural production company, working in the field of arts and culture since it’s foundation in 2002. It’s main focus is in contemporary theater and dramaturgy. Qendra produces and co-produces cultural activities for all ages; locally andinternationally. It cooperates with cultural institutions, universities, theaters, theater schools and art organizations from all around the globe. The exchange with international partners is a key element of the work of Qendra Multimedia. Over the last years, various international cultural co-productions have emerged.


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Davor Stojanovski

Davor Stojanovski

Davor Stojanovski, born 1987 in Skopje, is a writer, poet, playwright, translator and musician. He holds an MA in Macedonian Literature, has worked as a copywriter, proof-reader, and translator from Slovene to Macedonian.

He won the Anne Frank award for his debut theatre play in 2005, the Short Story Award from the daily newspaper Nova Makedonija in 2011, was shortlisted for the Utrinski Vesnik Award for his debut novel Untitled Moonlight Sonata in 2013, and won the same award for Collecting Аshes in 2016. His short stories have been translated and published in Serbian for the Rukopisi Poetry and Short Fiction Anthology of Young Authors from the Ex-YU (2011 & 2012), his short story Requiem has been translated into German and published in Ausallen Richtungen: Karlsplatzierungen (2015), and his poem Bez naslova has been translated into Serbian and published in the Anthology of Macedonian Poetry: IX-XXI century (2015).He is a former member of the Macedonian alternative rock band Foolish Green, with which he released the album Escape in 2013.




Collecting Ashes

Beatrice had a divorce, a scar from her Caesarean, an attractive English accent, an elegant camisole that she wore when for me in bed and in which she fell asleep together with me; she had a busy agenda and a desire to meet new people, she had enough charm to make everyone want to spend some time with her, she had excellent knowledge of the social and political issues and tough skin that protected her from the absurdities of the quotidian. 
She worked for the French embassy as its cultural attaché and was temporarily inhabiting the ground floor of a two-storey house in Crniche. We spent most of our time together there. I came to hers, we made dinner and then I slept over. For the weekends, we usually visited the attractions in and around Skopje, those that there worth their name or worth visiting, and I learnt that she knew much more about their history than I ever knew or ever wanted to know.
When Beatrice had to travel to another town for her work, I usually stayed in Skopje. Later, as our relationship grew and developed, despite the fact that none of us had any intention to depart from the convenience of casual sex at first, Beatrice gave me the key to her house to stay there and wait for her to come back.
And so, gradually, I moved in and lived with her. One day, I invited Kosta for a beer and explained to him that I wasn’t going to share the small flat with him any longer. I offered to pay my share of the rent for the following month if necessary, but he refused. He had no objections to my moving out and it seemed that I was more surprised about it than he was. Eventually, instead of finding another flat-mate, he moved back in with his parents who lived in one of Skopje’s suburbs.
I did some temporary work here and there. I taught one ambassador’s children for a while. I met the ambassador through Beatrice, who recommended me to him. Several times a week I went to his house to teach his children basic Macedonian. It didn’t last long, but it was worth it.
When we went out with Beatrice, we usually took her embassy car or a taxi, for which she always paid. She wasn’t much into walking, unlike me, the few short walks in the park being the only exception, concluded with a rest on one of the benches on the embankment. If I weren’t with her, she would sit down on a bench on her own and practice her Macedonian with the grandpas and grannies sitting next to her. She believed that this was the best way to learn. During one of these bench breaks, I discovered that the French had two words for river. I gradually learnt an occasional word or phrase in French from her. We might have even ended up knowing approximately the same number of words in our mother tongues. 
She took me to various cultural events, meetings and gatherings, that always included some French visitors to our country in one way or another. Sometimes we met young people who had arrived here via various non-governmental organizations. When she introduced me, she progressed from calling me her friend or her associate to calling me her partner. And I got used to saying an entire sentence or two in French, which usually provoked smiles and encouragement.
She gave me several French school books as a present and arranged for some private classes for me with a friend of hers for a good price. I tried, I learned, but I was never persistent enough.
I could hear her whimper occasionally behind the locked bathroom door.
She never told me why, and I never asked. She didn’t even know I had overheard her secret and clandestine crying over something. It remained a secret for me. And after those secret moments, she just sat or lay down next to me and talked about the coast of Brittany, her homeland, where she stood by the sea and stared in the direction of Great Britain, imagining the channel as it was many thousand years ago, during the Ice Age, when the dividing body of water was much shallower. There was no deep sea to divide the people on both sides, it was more like broad river that could be crossed easily. Or she just talked about the dialect spoken by her ancestors that she never managed to learn as a little girl. And while saying this, she would sometimes mention her daughter, whom I knew she had sent to a boarding school in Paris, I didn’t know much else because she avoided talking about her and I wasn’t inquisitive. But, in the rare moments when the conversation touched upon the subject of her daughter, I could sense her wish to change the topic as soon as possible. She pretended that she had lost the thread of the conversation and just reverted back to talking about the vanishing Breton dialect that was now taught as the first or the second language in the schools in her home area.
Whenever she talked about her dialect, I started thinking about my own, not used by me for a very long time. But unlike her, I did know it and had used it in my home town as a child. I never said anything about it to her.
It was clear that she wasn’t going to stay in Skopje after the completion of her mission as an attaché. We were both aware of this.
She asked me once whether I had any thoughts on the subject. I replied that I didn’t, but that at the same nothing was keeping me in Skopje. She didn’t continue with the conversation in this direction.  She just nodded with her head, and then proceeded to talk about some trivialities. 
But we had similar conversations many times after that, especially when I moved in with her in Crniche. 
She always talked about the things she missed before falling asleep: her walks on the seacoast and on the tall reefs, the cold water of the blue sea, the sunsets on the beaches of her childhood, the unpredictable weather and the humidity of the Breton air.
She referred to all this on several occasions with a certain amount of nostalgia.
She was convinced that the northern coast was much more exceptional than the more famous southern cost of France. She said that I would have the chance to corroborate this myself because she was intending to share the experience with me.
Then she just continued reminiscing about Brittany, about the lawns and the flowers she picked as a little girl, about her riding horses on the cliffs, kayaking with her parents, preparing cider and chouchen, the second of the two, as she explained, being a beverage similar to mead, made with fermented honey, that she was sure I would like.
She asked me whether I can see myself living there. I said that I saw no reason why I couldn’t do that. She said that I would like the place and the people. The Bretons were relaxed and prone to drinking, most of them were smokers like me and loved dancing, and they were honest. Mainly bon vivants, I remember her using this exact word.
She said that we would have to visit the Pink Granite Coast and watch the powerful waves hit the rock of the Pointe du Raz promontory. We were to walk on the islands, or rent a caravan, just as her parents used to do, and dance the Celtic dances at the traditional ball.
It was clear that we were not staying here. It was almost a done deal. We both agreed that we didn’t want children, that was important. But the idea to get married cropped up only when we decided to live together in Brittany. It was going to make it much easier for me to get a permanent stay and a work permit. And so, without much pomp and with no special intentions, we got engaged.
And yet, in the days that followed, the sounds of her clandestine crying still reached my ears.
Of all things that Beatrice told me I remembered the story about her solitary experience on the beach in Le Pouldu the best.
There was no one around. She stood on the very edge of the coast. It was almost sunset.
She entered the sea slowly. The water reached her ankles. She buried her feet in the sand. There was no wind and the water surface was smooth.
She dropped her eyes, having watched the sky, and looked down at the bottom of the sea. All of a sudden, she was appalled to see starfish arms, octopi’s tentacles, some baggy bits that might have been jellyfish once, green lettuce leaves and fish intestines, all floating under the surface of the water.
She felt sick immediately. She wanted to escape as soon as possible.  She thought she got stuck in the sand for a second and that she would not be able to extract herself. She couldn’t make a single move and she even thought that the sun went down on her and with the sudden onset of the night, the fish tails and the baggy bits began glowing in the sea water as if fluorescent. Then, she closed her eyes and shook her head. This might have helped. She walked out of the water, not turning back.
She said that these were most likely just ordinary remains that accidentally fell out of some turned over fishing boat making a delivery to the nearest inn.
But now, whenever she remembered this incident, she wasn’t sure any longer whether it had happened for real or it was just a dream.
A week before Christmas, we were invited to a party somewhere in the Old Town. Among the guests, whose faces I knew by heart by now, I saw the sideburns of the sycophant who worked as a simultaneous interpreter from French. Beatrice was in a particularly good mood, but I was convinced that she just wanted to leave the impression of having fun. She danced with the interpreter all the time while I stood in the back, drinking red wine. I looked around disinterestedly, even though she kept coming to me to ask me to dance. I kept refusing.
Then, the sycophant with sideburns relaxed somewhat and I was convinced that he was hitting on her. He was holding her a bit more brazenly than he had dared before. It occurred to me, and I was almost convinced, that they had already slept together and that they were going to do it again if I left earlier that evening.
I don’t know why this occurred to me.
When coming back from the toilet, Beatrice told me that she would like to spend Christmas with the family, with her daughter, and that she hoped that I would understand why she wanted leave for France alone. I didn’t even ask her who she had in mind when she mentioned the holiday with her family, but I guessed that her daughter would surely attend. I said that it was fine by me. She kissed me and went on dancing.
Then she returned. She told me that I was going to meet her one day. Whom, I asked. She said that she meant her daughter. I replied that this would surely happen. She waited for a short while, we stayed silent, and in the end, she blurted out that nothing interested me. I asked her how she had come to that conclusion. She told me not to ask her anything. Then I said that there was nothing to ask about. That she was free to go and celebrate Christmas wither family, and that she should definitely do so.
Then, it seemed to me that she got angry a little. She said that I was supposed to become part of her family soon. I sipped some more wine and nodded, saying that it was true that I was going to become part of her family. She waited for me to add something to this. But, because I stayed silent, she left and continued dancing with the interpreter with sideburns, who was all sweaty by now and his shirt stuck to his weakly body.
On the way back home, Beatrice silently shook her head in the taxi and sighed somewhat reproachfully. I noticed this, but went on staring out of the windscreen. Then she turned towards me. She told me that we had been together for a long time and that I had to admit that our relationship was now more serious than before. I confirmed. She asked me why I hadn’t introduced her to my parents. She demanded that I took her to meet them because it was high time I did so. 
I replied that they were both dead.
She stayed silent for a while, almost mown down by the information and then stroked my knee with a certain amount of pity. She apologized profusely and excused herself for her ignorance, citing that I had never mentioned anything about my parents before. I didn’t react. She couldn’t accept my silence and asked me for the reason why I hadn’t confided in her about this. I didn’t say anything again, I only shrugged my shoulders. Beatrice apologized again and asked me whether I wanted to talk about it. I replied that I preferred not to. She said that she understood and by that time, we had already arrived home.
We had sex, but she seemed a bit absent-minded. She left the bed to take a shower and when she lay down next to me again, she said that, if I wanted to, I could come with her as early as this Christmas, to meet her family. I said that there was no real need to hurry this up and that we would eventually have plenty of time for such meetings. She deserved her time on her own with her family, she had been abroad and away from them for a long time.
Then she stayed silent for a while and said that it was awful when one left someone else behind. That the world died for that one. Or that, at least, some kind of world died in any case.
I still can’t understand what she wanted to say.
She fell asleep before me, as it used to happen most of the time.
I couldn’t fall asleep, troubled by many thoughts. I got up and looked for something to drink. I found the flask left beside the language school books on the desk. I picked it up and took a sip.
I hadn’t drunk rakija for a long time.
It immediately reminded me of the miners from childhood, my father’s friends. And the ‘Shopska Salad’ that my mother made when they came to visit.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have lied to Beatrice, but what difference did it make? They didn’t exist for her and they might as well had been dead. It changed nothing.
Everyone gets stuck in the sand in the shallows once, unable to escape from the water, overtaken by starfish arms, octopi’s tentacles, jellyfish and snails, as unavoidable as they are repelling.
It snowed the following morning. I made her breakfast. She was getting ready for the journey. 
Soon enough, in the foreseeable future there would come the day when we were supposed to leave together, me leaving my old country behind forever.
Life was a glass, a Champaign glass floating in a bathtub filled with water, a semi-empty Champaign flute floating in the white bubbles in the tub, free from anybody’s grip, liberated, drowning a little, and then bobbing up again in constant search for equilibrium.
There was nothing unbearable in the simplest things we did. It was easy to take what was on offer. I can honestly say that at that point in time, while I was living together with Beatrice, I didn’t miss anything in particular. My every day seemed simple and ordered, I felt fully accomplished and, there, I’ll say it, even happy.
It must have seemed so when seen from the outside, because it felt so inside my soul.
And yet, the essence of things gained weight in time, like a sponge slowly absorbing water, and in need of being squeezed, so that it could become light again. Something inside me kept rebelling against that kind of cosiness. It weighed like a wet sponge. My body couldn’t bear it, like unsuccessful bitter medicine.
When I felt like that, I thought of the two continents that Beatrice told me about and about the channel that separated one coast from the other. The Ice Age image emerged in my head, the shallow water that could be crossed easily in order to establish a junction between two distant lands. I saw myself surrounded by large icebergs and they were swiftly filling the entire space around me. I could hear them crack noisily. I had to curl threatened by the dizzying power of water that melted off them, everything filled with boundless quantities of water. The time passed shockingly fast and the water kept rising, above the ankles, up to the knees, up to the waist, to the shoulder blades, up to the neck. And I felt like a baby, astounded to open its eyes after it had slipped and sunk in its bathtub. And I watched fish bowels being slit open, just like during dissection, I was surrounded by cut off octopi’s tentacles, algae grew large around me and fins and intestines floated through them. I stayed between the two divided land masses. Sunken but alive.
At night, while she was asleep, I woke up panting from such and similar nightmares, feverishly trying to take a deep breath and going to the window and opening it. I was trying to compose myself slowly. I often lit a cigarette to calm myself down.
Something that used to happen to me with Beatrice often continued happening afterwards as well, with other women with whom I slept.
After making love, while we were lying in bed relaxed and elated, she used to touch me with her palm, gently stroking my somewhat clenched fist. I could feel her fingertips passing over my skin. This put me off tremendously, it irritated me and annoyed me hugely, to such a degree that I couldn’t stand her touch, although it was nothing more but cajoling and tenderness.
The ordinary caresses were suddenly tickling me unpleasantly and scratching me annoyingly, as if my entire body was itching unbearably, as if something was eating me from inside, as if some heavy layers piled up all over my body in some sort of process of sedimentation. I coarsened at the ordinary and innocent touch of the fingertips of the woman with whom I slept. 
All of a sudden, it seemed that nothing could be starker and more tactile than the coarseness of those fingertips.
At moments like those, I simply had to get out of bed, lift her hand, move it away from myself and escape. This was how it felt with her, and this was how it felt with other women afterwards, in the days and nights yet to come. 
There was another memorable sensation that left me wordless at the time. It happened rarely, but I did experience it a few times.
It happened during those nights when I awakened from my nightmares delirious. 
It was hard to discern what was going on around me and to clarify to myself with whom I was spending the night. I couldn’t tell where exactly I was. I looked around and saw her beside me. It wasn’t clear to me at first who that person was, lying next to me in the bed. Suddenly, I couldn’t recognize her face.
I stared at her for a while and it took me a long time to recognize her.
The face could be anyone’s – my mother’s, my sister’s, my cousin’s, my neighbour’s, or belonging to someone I had forgotten completely or never seen before.
I had to go through the faces of all the women I could remember and strained for a long time, with all my powers, to decipher the unknown features.
At that moment, together with her identity, all her characteristics were gone, everything I knew about her. All that I could do was to try and remember and convince myself that I did have something certain, familiar and existing, though missing at that moment. I was afraid I was remembering something that I had never had. And the desire to search for the traces of those once known things, the things I believed I knew, grew the strongest then.
Although it was very short, this phenomenon seemed to me to be unbearably drawn out. Afterwards, when I succeeded in meeting myself and recognizing the outlines of my surroundings, when the unnatural shadow disappeared from her face, I realized that it was Beatrice in our shared bedroom. And everything fell back into place. Both of us existed again.
The women with whom I was unfaithful to Beatrice always had a trait or a shade in their character or appearance that was similar to some of hers. They always had to have something that I knew she had too. This bewildered me somewhat. As if I were trying to rediscover her. As if in them I looked for the same thing I looked for in her during the moments when her face was unknown and unfamiliar to me, during the moments when I couldn’t recognize her, having woken up delirious. 
I got myself a monthly swimming club membership and I renewed it every next month.
Almost every other evening I went swimming. I really enjoy swimming but this was going a step further, it was no ordinary fun anymore. I didn’t go swimming to tire myself out, but to exhaust myself. I didn’t go swimming to distract myself, but to stop thinking altogether. Or, if I had to think about something, it had to be just my strokes in the water while my head was submerged, or the walls that I could see when my face emerged out of the water to breathe.
At first, I could swim across the length of the Olympic size pool in one go, and then the distances just increased, and soon I could swim half a kilometre in one go. I improved the fitness of my body and all distances became easier. After every long haul, I just stopped for a short while to rest against the edge of the pool and then continued swimming a shorter distance.
And so on and so forth, for several hours an evening.
But I never got as tired as I wished to be.


Translated by Marija Jones

Udruga Kurs (CRO)

With its residential programme “Marko Marulic” and the promotional activities of the international writers and translators in Split, the Association KURS connects and enables contemporary European writers and translators to familiarise themselves with the library, cultural and social conditions in Croatia – more specifically in Split, while at the same time the local audience benefits from the impact with selected European scene.

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