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