Petar Andonovski was born in 1987, in Kumanovo, North Macedonia. He studies general and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philology, at the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. He has published the following books: Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Color of Shoes (novel, 2013), The Body One Must Live In (novel 2015), Fear of Barbarians (novel, 2018).
In 2015 his novel The Body One Must Live In won the national award for Novel of the Year. Fear of Barbarians received the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.
(an excerpt from a novel)
At the beginning of the summer, I was supposed to spend two weeks in the hospital. The last day of the first week, Vlado came and said I was going out earlier. When we got into his car, he took out from the glove compartment before me a white envelope. My name and his were written on it. I was still unable to move my right arm because of the injury. He opened it. He took out two plane tickets from the envelope and put them on my knees.
Had I not fallen off the terrace, what happened later would most probably never have happened. The night the accident happened, Vlado was throwing a party on the occasion of twenty years of his acting career. I was against that party from the very beginning. Vlado did not have a single important role in his career. He always got supporting, meaningless roles. Once he was offered a role in a film. Out of the two hours that the film lasted, he appeared in whole ten seconds. He gathered then all of his friends to celebrate. Vlado loves parties. He uses every occasion to be among people. He enjoys their attention. That’s why he is an actor, most likely. I spent my whole life in the library. First in the reading room, then as a librarian. Reading and writing pieces of criticism was all that gave me pleasure. I was like a shadow to Vlado. I accompanied him everywhere, but no one noticed me. That’s what it was like that night as well. Apart from all of his colleagues and friends, he also invited at the party everyone from the music scene as well as political figures. Vlado loved to hang out with politicians. He is one of those people who are close to every governing structure. People from the opposition can frequently be seen at his parties. He considered that he should always be in good relations with them because when they come to power, you can become their minion more easily. Although I considered this hypocritical, I never told him that. I didn’t have much of an attitude about anything. Not even about the books that I was writing criticism on. I know Vlado considered this to be hypocritical, but never told me that.
That night, at the party, Ivan was present as well. Vlado and I hadn’t mentioned him for more than twenty years. When we saw him on TV, we’d immediately change the channel. Or when one of our friends mentioned him, Vlado would immediately change the subject.
I avoided him all night, as I have all these years. I greeted him and left, just as he left twenty years ago. Without explanation. I felt bitterness at his presence and anger that Vlado didn’t tell me that he was also invited.
I found a shelter in a dark corner of the terrace. The whole city was below me. I stood leaning on a willow whose branches fell over the lights of the city. Apart from a waiter who was passing by with a tray of drinks, no one else approached me. Not even Vlado. That night I was drinking alcohol for the first time after a long while. I wanted it to be over soon. I took from the tray whatever came to my hand. I drank fast until I felt nausea in my stomach. I turned to the fence and started throwing up. And then the darkness just swallowed me. I had a feeling that I was falling on the city. I felt a strong hit on my head. My right arm was tingling. I tried to move my body, but I couldn’t move. At one moment, I no longer felt anything.
I regained my consciousness in the hospital. Fortunately for me, there was another, larger terrace under the one I was standing on, which was from the lower hall. Vlado was standing next to me and looked at me with concern. Ivan was standing behind him. When I saw him, I closed my eyes. I had a feeling that I still wanted to throw up. I didn’t want him to see me in such a state. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid to open my mouth lest I throw up. And then I sank into darkness again.
Vlado wanted us to give ourselves another chance and go together on a trip. That trip was supposed to bring us closer, and therefore decided not to invite any friends with us, as he used to do every summer.
Then, in the beginning of the summer, a few days after I got out of the hospital, we set off on a trip. Him and I. Alone. On the island of C.
Vlado wanted us to spend time alone as much as possible. We didn’t go to the small beach that belonged to the hotel in which we stayed. He considered it would be best to spend the time on a wild beach at the end of the city, far away from any human presence. Vlado rented a car so we wouldn’t have to walk every day. I had the feeling that he prepared this trip for months. He had planned each step we took. He knew what restaurants we should eat in, which beach we should go to, where we should rent a car from. That was unusual for him. All his summers so far were planned by his friends who went with us. He’d always have a pretext that he was very busy, that I’m not good at organizing, and that it would be best for others to plan our trip.
At the wild beach where we went, there were no people, so we didn’t have to use bathing suits. While our naked bodies were laying one next to the other, the only thing we felt was shame. We have been sleeping in separate beds for ten years now. Vlado always comes back too late. Often drunk. He loves to tell how many people came to take a picture of him, how many women and men hit on him. I pretended I was sleeping, but that didn’t stop him from talking. When he comes in, he turns the lights on throughout the whole apartment. When he enters the bedroom he always shouts loudly “goooood eeeeevening”, and then throws his shoes through the room. Often after he undresses, he lays on the bed naked and immediately falls asleep. And I get up to turn off the lights, and then can’t fall asleep for a long time. When I tell him the next morning that I don’t like that behaviour, he starts laughing and asks “did I do that”, “what did I say then”.
Until one evening I started sleeping in the guest room which I only used when Vlado’s parents were visiting us. I listened to him speaking all night, thinking that I was next to him. The following morning during breakfast he asked why I got up so early. He hadn’t even noticed that I was not sleeping by him. I continued sleeping in the guest room the following evenings. And he continued speaking as though I was next to him. He never asked why we no longer slept in the same bed.
When I lay down naked by him on the beach, I felt deep disturbance. How long our bodies have not been next to each other. I felt shame such as when you undress in front of someone for the first time, and you are supposed to spend the evening with him. I didn’t even think about passion, it simply did not belong to us any more. Unlike me, he was tranquil. He undressed calmly and lay down first. When he saw I was still standing, he looked at me in surprise and said “what are you waiting for, undress yourself and lay down”. After I lay down, I couldn’t endure it for long. With an excuse that I was uncomfortable in the sand, I wandered along the sea coast. I collected pebbles or went into the water and swam to a rock, then sat on it and didn’t go back for hours. When I returned, he looked at me confused as if he didn’t even notice I was gone.
I spent the first few days hoping that he’d get bored and he’d wish us to go to the beach by the hotel. We spent the days in the same way. In the morning, after we finished breakfast we went to the beach. He mostly solved crossword puzzles or took a nap. We spent the evenings in one of the taverns. First we had dinner, then we walked along the port until we wanted to go to sleep.
For the first ten days since arrived on C., our relationship not only failed to change, but even that little communication that used to have was lost in the past days. He, as I, most probably thought that this trip was a mistake.
The eleventh day after breakfast Vlado said that on that day we’d go on the beach near the hotel. He didn’t surprise me at all. He went alone in order to find place on the deck chairs, and I returned to the room to get the necessary things. I shortly hesitated before the pile of books that I brought with us, and which were not even touched, just as our relationship. Among them was Ivan’s new novel. I knew I wouldn’t read it in Vlado’s presence. I read his books at work. I usually did that during the break, when everyone went out, I locked myself and read. I never read them at home, not even when Vlado was on a business trip. The last drawers of the table I work at is where I keep his books. I never write pieces of criticism about them. You can’t be objective about a person who means a lot to you in life. I reluctantly took a book which was on top of the file and put it in the bag.
Vlado was standing by a bar, hugging two children, and a woman was taking a photo of them. He was smiling. He smiles only when you praise him. His hair was messy, his white shirt unbuttoned on his chest, and he had a pipe although he doesn’t smoke. When he tells of something important, or at least he thinks it’s important, as he mostly does, he puts the pipe in his mouth, half closes one eye and looks somewhere far away with the other. In this way, even when he says something meaningless, he leaves the impression on others that he is saying something profound. And when he wants to express a certain point, he opens the eye, and looks at everyone separately with eyes wide open, and after observing everyone, he comes to the point. Then everyone is nodding, and he contently says “and now, let’s have another glass of wine”.
When he saw me standing on the side, he let the children go and called me to join them. These are Nita India and Mila India, he pointed at the two girls who were twins. Nita India stretched her hand in order to greet me, and then quickly withdraw it, looking at her sister. Mila India was looking at me as though she didn’t notice me, and a few seconds later she also gave me her hand. She held me tight and wouldn’t let go. Although they were the same, there was something that made them different. I was looking at her curiously while everyone was looking at me. The mother pulled her toward herself, and then she let go of my hand. Vlado decided to put an end to the awkward situation and waving in the air the hand in which he was holding the pipe, he said “and this… and this…” and he took the mother’s hand and said “this is their beautiful mother Ilinka Indira”. Ilinka Indira smiled with false shyness and looked at him seductively. “She and her husband are from Macedonia, they have lived on the island for several years now.” – Vlado said. I was silent. I didn’t want any new acquaintances. Least of all did I want Macedonians on the island who would recognize Vlado and run after him all the time. “Look, look, doesn’t Ilinka Indira look like the widow of Zorba the Greek. Look how much she looks like Irene Papas.” Whenever he gave complements to women, that’s what he said. Indira Ilinka joined her hands and bowed to him.
She really did look like Irene Papas. She had natural dark tan, but there was something infinitely false in the salvar she was wearing, in the green eyes that I was certain were lenses, all the way to the chain bangle on the ankle of her right leg, which jangled every time she moved.
Indira Ilinka looked at the Sun and, surprised, shouted “Oooo… ten o’clock already. It’s time for me to go. But we’ll meet tonight as agreed in At three blue boats. Then she turned to me and with her hands joined together she bowed. Then she turned to Vlado and, while she was bowing, winked at him. Nita India waved at us, and Mila India was looking at us baffled, as if she sees us for the first time.
I was angry at Vlado all day long. I wanted to tell him so many things, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. I wanted to tell him that the greatest mistake was that, on the day he invited me to move to his place, when Ivan left our lives forever, I accepted and decided to stay there forever. As well as the day in the car when I should have told him I didn’t want to go with him on any trip.
The crowd and the music on the beach created additional anxiety in me. He lay all day on the deck chair. Occasionally he’d lift himself a bit and look around to see if anyone was watching him. He didn’t mention Indira Ilinka or the children at all.
Vlado got a job in the theatre several months after I moved to his place. At that time, I was working for a year at the University Library. In the beginning, I was providing for him. He was greatly troubled that he had to depend on me financially. He was always very proud, and therefore often reiterated that it was natural for the artists to be without money. After he started working, he never mentioned that. Even once when a journalist asked him how long we had lived together, he said that in the beginning of our relationship I hadn’t had a job and I had lived in a rented flat, so he had proposed that I moved in his place. “Nothing romantic,” he added in order to avoid additional questions. He knew I’d never tell it wasn’t like that.
He was never a favourite among the colleagues and directors. Ever since the first year he started working in the theatre, Vlado rarely gets parts, and when he does, it is usually a supporting role. He was always saying that they didn’t give him any significant roles because of vanity and jealousy. That’s how he passed the first ten years of his career. And then, one night there was a great change. In a TV show, a well-known journalist called the theatre where Vlado works to ask for his phone number. The journalist wanted to invite in the show another actor who is also a famous comedian, and who also happens to be called Vlado. When Vlado appeared in the show that evening, it was too late to correct the mistake. The journalist saw him for the first time in his life. In order to avoid the fact that he wasn’t prepared for the interview, he told him to imitate someone. Vlado felt this was an excellent opportunity to do something in his career. That night he imitated a politician who was considered to be untouchable. The show became very popular. The journalist suggested that he imitates a politician in every show. Then they started inviting him to the theatres in other towns. Even the politician himself mentioned in an interview that he was imitated so well that he couldn’t get angry. And then came the film in which he briefly appears, and Vlado used his popularity to attract the attention with those ten seconds. His popularity reached such a level that people were laughing even when he didn’t say anything funny.
Translated by: Kalina Maleska