Sašo Ognenovski (1964, North Macedonia) has published three books of poetry, two books of plays for children, two plays for adults, and a novel, for which he received the Književno Pero Award. He has worked as an actor and a professor, writes literary criticism, and is the editor of the Macedonian online literary magazine Elementi.
excerpt from the novel
CHAPTER IV – THE STOLEN BALALAIKA
Natalia Nikolaevich Volkova slapped her fleshy hand on the carved mahogany table and threatened to spread her dominant alto widely.
“That balalaika will be found. This is where I’m the thinnest, and that is what my punishment will be for the one who dared to do such an act. The suffering of my family was enough. I had a veil over my eyes and allowed that balalaika that was owned by my great-grandfather to be listed as a prop of the theatre. And now on top of that someone stole it. No, this will not go unpunished. Fyodor Sevastopolovich Krajnitsky, look me in the eye.” Fyodor swallowed and looked with great fear at the People’s Actress of Russia and the current first actress of the New Komsomol Theatre in St. Petersburg, who when she took the balalaika at the rehearsal of the trilogy The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard, concluded that it was a completely different balalaika bought from a store, and the one from her glorious Romanov family disappeared somewhere. “When the English can write about the famous Bakunin, then the real Russians will have to keep at least those things that are important to their history. What is all this? Everything is twisted! The lines I utter sound like I’m about to take a hot dog out of a basket at any moment. Come on, please. Immediately call Matryona Alexandrova to explain this repertoire move. I, Fyodor Sevastopolovich, had patience and did not dismiss this shitty project from the theatre’s repertoire, but the American who smells of menthol and says “wonderful” after every rehearsal, when we have not moved a finger, will not bring us world fame. Let’s us think for a moment and realize where we are going.”
“Well, let us see, what do you suggest?” The play has already started, there’s nothing to do. Money was spent and…”, Fyodor swallowed, and Natalia straightened up and looked at him contemptuously.
“First let’s find the balalaika, and then we’ll talk. I have a plan, but here, I give in and it’s costing me respect and tradition. And open the window. It stinks of cheap tobacco,” she said, slamming the door, while Fyodor Sevastopolovich smelled around him to check how poisoned the area was when knocking on the door routinely Anyutka appeared, the secretary who informed him that the Macedonian Theatre was due to arrive in St. Petersburg tonight. Fyodor slapped himself on forehead and panicked immediately.
“Is everything ready? In fact, nothing’s ready. And when do they arrive?” he asked, raising his anger at his co-workers. “Weeeell… I think tonight … yes, tonight around midnight,” the secretary said uncertainly, and Fyodor just sat down on the wide director’s armchair, sweating profusely. “Can I get you some tea?”, added the not very smart, but beautiful secretary, to which Fyodor responded by throwing at her The Idiot by Dostoevsky, the writer whose name he bore, and the rather thick novel stood on his right side, ready for negotiations as the next project. Anyutka skilfully evaded Fyodor Mikhailovich’s difficult novel and disappeared through the door. Fyodor lowered his head to the desk and after a few minutes he yelled: “Seryozhaaaaaa, Nikoljkaaaaaa, Ivaaaaan!!!” In less than a minute, Seryozha Nikitin, Nikolay Namusov and Ivan Kratkiy, who was the tallest of them, appeared before him. “The Macedonian group is coming iiiin…” the calculation of the hours while staring at the wristwatch raised his anger and despair even more: “in ten hours. I want them to be well accommodated and the theatre prepared for their play tomorrow.”
“You mean the day after tomorrow,” Seryozha corrected him, smiling bitterly. “We were turned down from the Sevastopol Hotel because of the unpaid bills from last fall when the theatre group from Tanzania came, so I’ll have to go to the Viy Hotel. I know we don’t want to go there, but that’s the only option.” They didn’t want to go to the Viy Hotel because the manager of that hotel was Fyodor’s political opponent and they shared an affair he didn’t want to talk about, let alone use their services. “Okay, there is one variant left, and that is to put them in a hotel a little further away – Priamukhino, but they’ll have to use the metro, etc. “Done,” Fyodor replied shortly. “Let them take a little ride on the subway. Something else? “Ivan replied that he would inform all the media today and that the press conference would be held the day after the show, but that… “All that today, right? And what have we been doing so far?” All three looked at the ceiling, and Fyodor just waved his two hands, saying through his teeth: “I want everything to be perfect by ten o’clock tonight, otherwise don’t come back to work.” The three organizers, who pretended to have done everything they said, went out the door and immediately set to work. Fyodor covered his face with both hands and sighed desperately. Then he took out a bottle of vodka from the bottom drawer and poured himself a small, wide glass. He drank it bottoms up and snorted angrily.
It was ghostly quiet on the bus, where even the steward no longer wanted to talk. All that could be heard was the quiet squeaking of the engine and the occasional snoring of the drunken Pande. Nobody slept. The fact that in ten days two of those with assigned roles from the striking “Hamlet” were gone seemed terrifying and Borjan was already forging a strike in his mind to end this tour which he maliciously thought was useless, but given that it offered to visit countries he would never afford, he offered no resistance, although, frankly, no one paid the slightest attention to his opinion, the Bulldog the least of all. “Now,” thought Borjan Sterling, whom his opponents called Bed Bug in their secret gossip, “is the right time for a coup.” To put an end to this useless madness that might cost us our lives and finally get on the right track.” He stared around his constrained colleagues and counted those who would stand by him, terrified, wondering who might be the next to be eaten by the wolf.
It was getting dark slowly, and Lindita, who had fallen asleep with a few sleeping pills, was awakened by the vibration of the phone. It was Pampurov. She immediately answered the phone and listened, saying only: “Good. Bye” to which Bozho startled, followed by Vule doing the same. Bozho and Lindita looked at each other in silence and she gave him a hint that later they would speak, accompanied by a movement of the hand which meant that everything would be sorted out, to which he muttered under his nose: “Well, everything should’ve been fine so far, but someone’s picking out my people. Who knows what will come out of this.” Vule swallowed and turned around just to show Bozho that he was here and that he was on the alert. The steward, disinterested in the group, waited for his term to end with his last trip to Russia, after which they would continue their flight to Beijing. He sighed, meaning: “Never again with you” and continued playing games on the phone. The least interested was the driver who sang Serbian folk songs routinely doing his job “strictly professionally.”
The ghostly atmosphere on the bus was similar to that of the Adams Family – ominous but life-giving. Entering Russian territory, all the characters from Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy began to come to life, and with them their bearers: Toci and Boci would just pop their heads to see what was happening and return to their cheerful and mysterious world, Eeeej played with the fingers of both her hands somnabulically speaking incoherent sentences, which indicated that she still somehow managed to smuggle light opiates that allowed her to go into dimensions unfamiliar to others, which in turn somehow adapted to the constantly fermented state of Pande who slept as always with one eye a bit open to be constantly in tune with everything happening around. Borjan and Bojan had already swapped places due to the quiet clash between Bed Bug and Bojan over winking with the beautiful Seda Gjungor in Istanbul, while Lavinia treating the young and cute Bojan motherly and patronizingly to avoid the tense atmosphere after Dimko and Filka vanished, began to discover some of his qualities that inflamed something she didn’t even believe in, and his presence somehow pleased her very much. At first he comforted him about the lost knife, telling him that it would be found somewhere and that when they arrive they’ll look for it “together.” She wondered if the young Bojan Shtrkovski, whom she hadn’t noticed before in the theatre corridors, considering him a hopeful child, could awaken that erotic Gorgon in her that some ten years ago was burning in the public space in Macedonia, where affairs with politicians and businessmen were her addition to every morning coffee in luxury hotels and on yachts on Lake Ohrid. She took a deep breath and smiled at her feeling that she had to admit has long since fallen asleep inside and now… it was time to wake it up. With that statement, she drew her palm into Shtrkovski’s palm and squeezed it hard, to which he turned and sweated a little, awakening the erotic fantasies he had towards her as a student while watching her in the naked scenes in some theatrical performances. It looks like they were already on the same wavelength. Somehow, the actor who played Laertes was staring at him all the time. He was always absentminded, and as such he caught Pande’s eye with the slightest thought that he might be the “still water running deep.” Isn’t it so? He will explain that at the next meeting with Bozho, but alone when Vule won’t be among them. This time Gundur and Bowie got tired of playing cards, which meant that they too were gripped by tension and lay on the back seats by the table staring at the ceiling. “It’s a lot of money… for sure… I left Tokmak and Anjar to wander around the theatre, and I gave them a list of people to follow. No answer from them. Someone filled them up, since they’re fucking me like this. We gave so much and in so many places to make things be as they should be. And whose throat is not full?” Bozho thought convulsively, sweating to find the connection of the people who were disappearing and the underground currents that enthroned him in a place that was certainly a few sized bigger, but he had a lot of experience and the structures turned a blind eye on him. “There were two auctions where everything was fine, but…” He jumped up and looked at Laertes, who with half his face came out from behind the seat in front of him and was already staring ahead for hours. “He was there… I never asked him what he was doing there. He had no money for such things, and walked among the people. We managed to buy the props from the time of the Ottoman Empire, but…” She looked at him again, and the actor stepped back and leaned back in his seat, lowering it completely, waking Toci and Boci, who were fast asleep. “But what has this got to do with all this…” Bozho grunted and stretched unhappily.
Translated from Macedonian: Zorica Teofilova
Somebody ate this morning too…
Dry utterances of tenderness
Are merging in the breath of
The new sun’s flick.
I don’t know where the sunshine had hidden.
The linden trees are whispering to each other
While the morning is crying, and the yellow
Is rising on its zenith, on his
They are playing with the shine in
I will never find the sunshine.
Sasho Ognenovski, Macedonia
It is a general feeling:
Everybody is crying, but do not know why.
Nobody is considering about anything
All looks are livid, lachrymose…
Everyone is a livid post.
Olive tree by the lake,
house of stone on the cloud,
someone crying on the threshold,
someone eating bitter olives.
The sky turns red, torn by a spit of flame.
The house is burning, the cloud is gone.
Holes in our eyes,
How was it before the fury came?
Quiet, with five letters,
limpid, cold, then warm,
fast water –
as flash of thought.
Now it is bitter,
overflowing its banks,
one day it will flood everything.
What should we do then?
Would the twilight,
which we look at every day,
give us to drink?
WHERE GRIEF BEGINS
At the place where grief is born
the heart spreads open a fan of the passions.
A fleeting glance
messengers of our bodies, naked,
play together, tongue to tongue
and are glad.
(At least we appear to be.)
is no place for tears,
where grief begins.
Sad old woman with a black bundle
carrying something black –
net in the isinglass eye of a fish.
Love in the hide-and-seek soul,
Sad kiss, sad morning,