Drazan Gunjaca - Love as punishment

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Love as punishment
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EDITIONS
- Balkan Farewells
- The Balkan Roulette
- The Shade of Reason
- Love as punishment
- Half-way o heaven
- Good night my friends
- Dreams have no price
- We are all brothers
- The Balkan aquarelle
- The sky over Dalmatia

 

 

TATYANA STORY

(a fragment from Chapter IX of the novel LOVE AS PUNISHMENT, the third part of the trilogy BALKAN FAREWELLS)


There you are, everything's passing by, I thought as I was closing the door, turning on my PC and TV, in passing. The thing is that since they invented electronic mail, I had to, willy-nilly, adapt myself to the marching globalization, which, no matter how I may largely dislike it, does have its advantages, as I have to admit. On one hand, you have the Internet where you can pick up any piece of information, one the other, you have the e-mail that saves you paper, delivery, waiting for answer. One of the arrived e-messages was Tatyana's letter, from Australia. Recently I was having rather rare contacts with her, through letters that tended to be shorter and shorter. Time is doing its work, topics become exhausted, life is imposing on you some new commitments which devour you hours, days, months, without you being aware of it. But this letter struck me, first with its unusual length, then even more with what it was saying. I turned on the printer, got the printout and started reading carefully:
«Dear Robby,
On more occasions I wanted to tell you my 'story', but couldn't summon enough strength. For one thing, it didn't appear to me any more special than any other Sarajevo story from those times of war. Or I didn't have guts to return to it. Be it as it may, one day, after some hesitation, I sat down to write it. Days and days afterwards I was re-reading it until finally deciding to send it to you. I hope you'll understand what I wanted to say with it.
Well then, try to imagine having 25 cruel years behind you, thinking that everything is possible, that you just have to want something and work hard towards achieving it, and then, all of a sudden, you are flooded with hopelessness, despair, madness! Imagine that your guiding idea is to make your dream come true, to settle down in some already emerging world of success, and then, out of the blue, there comes a mustached peasant (with due respect for the hard-working peasants) who nails you down to that disgusting 'new, future, the only true' reality. Buries you in it. It's not easy to imagine, the truth is not as simple as that, there is always a stumbling pitfall in it that will make you pause or lurch forward, just to make things different from what they appear to be.
Myself, however, I am not imagining, I am remembering. I remember a parting nearly five years ago, next August it'll be exactly five years, but in my pain time seems to have stopped, waiting for me to finally decide what to do with it. But I am still looking about for fair-haired men on the off-chance to meet his eyes, just in case… Every now and then I get startled, is it Him? I stop with a tremble, then I walk on. Mirage!
Požarevac, Serbia, a dingy bus station replete with sweaty people, saturated with their own stench, soldiers in ragtag uniforms, women in black, and the two of us – aloof, not belonging to these people, not belonging to this town. They are looking back at us, our accent betrays us: "Bosnians", we hear them murmuting. I still can't get used, I am still at a loss, only half-aware of where I am, who I am – fumbling all the time with my handbag, still wrapped in the scents of Miljacka river and Channel 5. He wears cheap civilian clothes borrowed from a friend, because his clothes were stolen, he has turned gray like an old man, parched from the mountain sun, burns on his face, haggard-looking, exhausted. I know all too well what's behind this facelessness. Surrounded by merciless stares, we are in a whirl that is squeezing us together and pulling away from each other at the same time. The bus is about to depart, people are getting on, we are rendered speechless. What can I tell him, tears start trickling down my face, I clutch to him desperately, at the same time I hate him for saying that he 'must' go, that he is 'forced' to go, I refuse to accept the notion that neither of us is given a start role to play, that our little show is nearing its end, that it's our last part before the imminent curtain falling. Of course, in those moments were not quite aware of it, but now I think that at the bottom of our hearts we knew it. At first you just feel the end, then it grips you physically. A pressure in your chest blocks your breathing, but at that moment you don't know what it is. The end. He is muttering something, hiding tears: Love, don't be so sad, you're just making it more difficult for me, all this will soon be over, don't lose the Sarajevo key, I'll be back in no time… So many useless, unconvincing words you can't remember because they lacked any sense, because they meant nothing, just as the two of us meant nothing. The only thing which was more absurd than those words was their purpose to give me some comfort.
I still remember his breathing, the timber of his voice, the desperation of his embrace that was telling everything, explaining nothing… I still remember the ramshackle bus I was following with my misty eyes, walking after it in a daze, treading over watermelon peels and raspberry spots. The moment the bus carrying him disappeared, I burst out crying, tears pouring down my face. I tried to understand what had actually happened, where I was, on which planet. Some hoodlums toting beer bottles started making overtures to me, I sent them to hell and they stared at me, baffled by the close sight of a girl well-tended, perfumed, elegantly dressed, wearing smart leather sandals…
Desolation, fury, pain, all mixed up with my shattered hopes, plans, desires. Back in our Sarajevo apartment, I am choking in tears, throwing things around, including his piece of paper with the address ' left bank of Drina' – fuck the Drina river, its banks, both left and right, and some goddam battalion stationed there – what do I need a battalion for, or a state or the national law – all I need is only one man for my life to get some sense and direction again, to resume the path he and I started together, only to be cut short by the conscription department, followed by a kind of two- or three-day seminar, then a military exercise, or that's how they call all those silly clattering tours of hilltops and mountains, suitable for an ibex, not a decent educated man like him. In only few months we underwent a metamorphosis like larvae: from an engineer he became Indiana Jones, from a teacher I became an errand girl in a local would-be company (50 employees, of whom 25 directors!).
Who the hell is playing games with me, what am I doing all alone in this flat with mediocre furniture, with stale air? I refuse to look out the window, because I can't bear the look of this day, yet another day, I hate the very glass of the window, because, although dirty, I can see the environment that makes me wish to jump out of my skin! I am lighting a cigarette and, beside myself, sit on a chair. Things around in a terrible mess, oh how I hoped that I'd manage somehow to get out of here, that it was the end of my troubles, that it was all nothing but a bad dream, that…
Like a déja vu, the scene from the bus station is with me again, and again I am writhing in pain, tormented by all the things I wanted to tell him and didn't know how to. So many times before his arrival I used to rehearse what I "must" tell him, I knew by heart my theatrical speech, but all this stuff would melt down under the warmth of his presence. I hoped we'd find a way out of this chaos, of this madness, we didn't need it, we'd had is so good before… Hoping that we'd again bring together all our friends for New Year celebration, fooling and dancing and screaming all night through, that we'd wake up together in the morning and at the breakfast table exchange our nightmare impressions…
But that nightmare isn't over yet, no matter how many things have happened in the meantime, it's still the same old bad dream! Sometimes I dream an angel, it's Him, talking to me, comforting me. Then I don't want to wake up, I feel his breath, I hear his voice, devouring every word he says, reveling in this ethereal bliss, intoxicated with a dream that should have been my life, my future. But then the dream ends, and the other bad dream takes over stays with me while I'm awake.
Now, so many years afterwards, on another continent, I still can't understand what was the fucking "cause" for which all those people I needed, loved, cherished, respected had to die! My fellow students from university, my schoolmates, my colleagues from work, all those dear people with so much humanity in them, so much knowledge and wisdom that all this self-styled "new elite" taken together can only lick their boots. The "elite" spat out of the war. For me the war began when some of the people dear to me began picking up bits and pieces of their lives, migrating each season like storks, for me the war ended when I received the message that the soldier so-and-so "bravely defending the honor of the Serb nation sacrificed his life on the altar of…" On the altar of what or whom, for which nation, which country, what kind of honor?! Is it really honorable if some idiot shoots you off, blows you apart in some cragged ugly mountain where even goats need a compass to find grass, where even a pompous morale-raising officer (the most stupid occupation I've ever heard of) couldn't find a willing listener? In the name of "the holy cross and precious freedom" a man vanished into oblivion, unburied, unmourned, maybe in agony, maybe tortured to death, maybe abandoned in wasteland, maybe… All these maybes are tearing my heart and mind apart. Maybe he was dying slowly, thinking about the world he was leaving, about things he wanted to do, maybe he was thinking about me, while I, knowing nothing, was scheming, trying to find a way out for us, and…
This is an unfinished story though, just like my life, like our reality, like the rest of our kind, like our fate, and it'll remain so to the end of our ruined lives. It's awfully unfair that we can't change the past, it's even worse that we can't understand it. For if we could understand it, if we knew the answers, we might know what to do tomorrow, how to make it again at least reasonably tolerable. As it is, however, we can only ask questions without seeking answers, because there are no answers. And be happy having somebody to ask questions, because they are so dismal, so ghastly that you can't even spell them out for fear of being killed by the very sound of them. Only once you're gone far away, as I am, where they do not keep resounding, because they mean little or nothing there, can you find strength again to utter them. That's something, too, isn't it?
Finally, why am I writing this letter to you of all people? I don't know. I wrote it recently, as I said, and have nobody else to send it to. You didn't know well either of us, and yet somehow we got close to each other, I have no idea how. It must have been the very first words we exchanged, when I sincerely hated the whole human race, without exception, when my only purpose was to take my child away from those ill-fated lands, and then somebody like you offered a helping hand, said a nice word, made a friendly gesture, and I felt that not everything was lost after all. I still wonder what's left of that, of us who have survived, and if there's anything left, it should be kept alive. At least as a way of not forgetting that we did exist there and then. Tatyana».