Filip Grujić (Serbia, 1995) is a dramaturg, a playwright and a novelist. He published the novels Podstanar (LOM, 2020) and Bludni dani kuratog Džonija (Samizdat, 2017). He is the recipient of the Sterija Award and the Slobodan Selenić Award for his play ne pre 4:30 niti posle 5:00. He plays in the band CIMERKE and as a solo artist.
A FRESH START
(saying goodbye to my landlord, moving to a new flat, my father-in-law, my job again, and some realisations)
Saying goodbye to my landlord
It turns out that you do best what you feel most familiar and comfortable with. I came to this realisation while I was lying on my mattress, which I already described many times before, and waiting for Sonya to have a shower. Since I was living closer to the city, and her work, Sonya often stayed at my place. The flat, meanwhile, has changed. More often than not, stuff would be scattered over the floor. Sonya was messy. I wondered why, and I couldn’t figure it out. She had the same amount of stuff at that time as I ever had. I wouldn’t say Sonya was a big spender, on the contrary, over that couple of months we’d been together I rarely saw her buy something for herself. You could say this was because of her budget, which was not big enough to cover everything she wanted to buy. But despite the messiness that had befallen my rented flat, I didn’t feel bad. I liked the liveliness that my floors, walls and bed had acquired. I liked, of course, sharing my life with someone. If I were completely honest, I also liked that I was capable of sharing my life with someone. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the logic of the story requires it now – Sonya had a flat on the other side of the river, an average, quite acceptable flat, which she shared with her younger sister, about whom I will talk more, oh much more, later. The flat was hers, and that being so, she didn’t have a landlord. She was, so to speak, her own landlord. Anyway, Sonya was having a shower, and I was lying on the bed when it dawned on me that you do best what you feel most familiar with. The day I was supposed to move out was coming soon. That’s what Sonya and I agreed, and I didn’t protest much. She reckoned that it made perfect sense for us to live together and I was pretty much of the same opinion. Considering our financial situation, and taking into account that I had just lost my job, which had caused a few small tiffs between us, I probably wouldn’t be wrong if I said that those were the first ones since we’ve been together, primarily because I had lost my job practically because I’d had a fight with her ex-boyfriend, my ex-friend, which in fact she was the cause of, anyway, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t pay for both flats, and we were spending the nights together much more often than apart, so we sensibly and practically decided that I should move in with her to the other side of the river and be done with what until then had been my bachelor pad. That’s what she called it – a bachelor pad. It sounded good to me because it meant I was the guy I was expected to be. While I was lying like that thinking about the sentence I’d mentioned earlier, I was overcome with irrevocable sadness for leaving the flat. I got up and looked around me.
Everything I had ever made was there. The mattress I was lying on, so neat and comfortable, was mine. All the things in the flat, apart from the walls, and a few kitchen cupboards, the bathtub, and the parquet floor, were mine. There weren’t too many things, but the truth is that I made it cosy for myself between all those walls. I looked, and in the kitchen I could clearly see forks and knives, in the rooms a couple of chairs and a clothes horse, and suddenly, I remembered how I went to a chain furniture store and had a good time there.
Where did it all go?
Looking at all those things, even back then, I felt as if I was witnessing a memory. I couldn’t comprehend it.
I had applied myself to furnishing the flat with so much passion, and now I had to leave it all behind. Every single thing I had bought, acquired or dragged here in one way or another, I had handpicked as if I would never part from it. I had been choosing them with a joy I could only feel at that moment, a moment I thought was worth remembering. I couldn’t understand what I was going to do with all those emotions I felt for every piece of furniture. I was supposed to leave the flat in three days. Until then, I had to clean it up, polish the floors, perhaps put a lick of paint on the walls, return the keys and never, definitely never again return to that flat. Luckily, Sonya interrupted my musings. She stepped out of the bathroom, wet, naked, erect nipples. It took me only about six seconds to feel good again. I forgot why I was sad and indulged in happiness.
At that moment, it seemed to me that there was not a thing that could make me sad as long as I was near those breasts, I felt like a man that had neither past nor future, nothing but a desire to touch.
But those moments can’t last forever. The next three days, while I was bidding farewell to my stuff and my furniture, Sonya would go and have a shower a few times, at least three, she would nip down to the shops, go to work, and I was alone, feeling the sharp pangs of melancholy and questioning. For instance, I would remember how I started smoking. What was that all about? I couldn’t comprehend. The moment I started smoking, and you could say that I was now a seasoned smoker, seemed like a moment that happened to somebody else. I could clearly see myself standing outside and smoking, as if observing myself from the window, but I couldn’t understand how.
Whose life was I living and whose life could I see? Where were the time and space, my brain couldn’t discern, all I knew was that I couldn’t comprehend, couldn’t accept that if I forgot the moment when I started smoking, it would be as if I’d never started smoking in the first place. But, as I said , those were the moments when I allowed myself to indulge in those thoughts. At the same time I was packing my stuff into boxes.I didn’t have much, quite enough for a man like me one could say. Suddenly, all I had could fit into three boxes. Even I, if I were to twist and bend my body properly, could fit my entire self in a box. The thought amused me and made me think about myself as a living being. Everything that had happened to me was inside me, somewhere, who knows where, but inside me. I, as I said, my entire self, with all the people I’d ever met, with all the joys I’d created for myself, with all the sorrows I’d accepted, would fit in a box if, again, I were to twist and bend my body properly.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. On one hand I found the thought intriguing, but at the same time it made me feel restless. And then, of course, I’d forget I’d ever had such a thought and start snogging Sonya as if it were the only thing I knew how to do and wanted to do.
Strange, strange all that. I’d already packed my stuff, I was leaving my flat. I’d given a lick of paint to what needed painting, Sonya helped as much as she could, we tidied up together, cleaned and scrubbed, leaving the flat to somebody else who will enter an empty space as if nothing ever existed there before. I looked out of the window, and I could clearly see myself smoking on the other side of the street. While I was living here, a burger joint had opened and had already shut down. The corner shop, the bakery, they are still there. At that very place, where the two streets joined, I was looking, pensively, at my window, wondering which was Tamara’s floor.
Whatever happened to Tamara? I didn’t know where she was. She must have been somewhere far away, I’d stopped bumping into her in the building. She may have moved away. I heard that she’d got a more lucrative job offer. That’s how, as far as I knew, you determine how successful someone was. You work at one place, and after a while you get a better offer somewhere else. Then you work at that other place and, if you’re lucky, you get an even better offer from another place. And so on, until your market value starts going further and further down, and then you do your best to stay where you are, you hold onto the job as hard as you can, your job, claiming you deserve it because of your age and years of experience, sentimentally remembering the day when you first came to the company. Anyway, I was wondering where Tamara was. I didn’t know if she was happy, or if I would ever think of her again. At that moment, while I was saying goodbye to the flat, I thought of Tamara only because I remembered myself smoking in the street wondering where Tamara was. It was really time for me to get a move on. Two other big things happened that day:
1) I met Sonya’s dad. His name is Gordan. He borrowed a van that transports donkey chemicals, if I got it right, some concoctions that help donkeys grow faster and better, anyway, he borrowed a van from a friend of his, whom, of course, I didn’t know at the time because, as it turned out, until that day I hadn’t met Sonya’s dad either, whose name was Gordan. Until that day, I hadn’t thought about him much. I knew he would come to help us move, we were, after all, moving into his former flat. But, shaken and overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions, I ignored the fact. So I just extended my hand and introduced myself.
Hi, son. I’m Gordan.
Nice to meet you.
I stared at the floor, surprised that he’d called me son.
So, what are we taking?
Here it is. . .
This is all you’ve got?
I felt he was judging me. I panicked.
It is all I need.
C’mon, son, let’s hurry up.
He took a box as I stubbornly paced the flat.
I’d left all four indicators on.
Gordan, of course, will be the subject of some of my later contemplations and dilemmas. But at that moment, the only thing I worried about was that I didn’t drop a box and, inexplicably, I wanted to show Gordan that I was strong, at least as a bullock, so I carried more than I could. As a result, I got inflammation in my lower back, and I was stuck in bed for three to five days. We put everything in the van and realised that Gordan hadn’t needed to borrow it. It could all fit in a car. We climbed back to the flat to check if we had left anything behind. Sonya was walking around in the flat.
She asked me incredulously.
It’s not exactly comfortable for us, is it?
Mine is definitely bigger.
Maybe you can sell it?
Maybe I could.
There was nothing else left. We and Gordan were going to take the stuff to Sonya’s flat. And that’s what we did. Nothing else of importance happened because I had to go back to my rented flat. Meeting the landlord, handing in the keys and the inspection of his property were scheduled for one o clock in the afternoon. So, the other big thing, besides meeting Sonya’s dad, happened after that.
2) I cried. That’s what happened. I didn’t cry much, just a bit. I didn’t know how to explain this to myself. Everything was perfect. There was the girl that, I can safely say, I loved. Consequently, there was this planned happiness. So, I, one of the few, will be living with the girl I loved. While I was waiting for one in the afternoon, sitting on my mattress, the only thing left behind in the empty flat, I wept. I lay on the mattress and stared at the ceiling. How many nights I had spent there staring at the ceiling. Sometimes, when it was light outside, when it was full moon, I could see the ceiling better. Some nights I would pull the blinds down. Some nights I would leave the light on in the hallway, on purpose, to keep me company. But, this mattress was mine. I was definitely lying on that mattress for the last time in my life, and even more definitely, I was crying on that mattress for the last time. This was supposed to be a happy day. The beginning of something new. My landlord arrived. I wiped off the tears before opening the door. He had his hat on and his pipe. We greeted each other, he asked me how I was. I said I was fine.
Do you mind?
He pointed at his pipe.
Anyway, even if you did…
He laughed, realising than in no more than fifteen minutes I would have no say in this flat.
He rummaged in the corners, this landlord of mine. He inspected the white surfaces, whether they were white enough. He looked at the door, whether it was dented. The doors often get damaged, he said, especially where there is turbulent love life. People get carried away and then when they don’t know what to do, they always hit the door…
He said that, pleased with himself, as if he too, while he had the strength, used to hit the door.