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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Igor Pop Trajkov


Friend

Translated from Macedonian in English by the author

 

How come everybody thinks it was so nice to be with guests? I don’t understand this. Somebody will walk through your home, then all that must be wiped. In most cases — regarding this issue — my mother comes to intervene. She constantly has some comments for me– that I just vaguely wiped, I didn’t actually finished my cleaning. She was sensing ever-since I was boy I was very nasty, I am simply hoping she will not notice this carelessness of mine. However it wasn’t easy with her, she underlined this to me all the time, she knew with whom she had to deal with, which is why she always double-checked everything about me. I bet this is why my father left this world so early; it is not easy spending a lifetime with somebody like my mom, who is always right and always perceives everything. They found him here, where I am watching TV right now, with his stretched mouth, laid down from a heart attack. I am like my dad, which is why I was so mean– almost every morning, as she is waking me up for high school, she is roaring this through her teeth. Luckily daddy left us a lot of money; he was working as a doctor in Germany. I know one should speak only best for his parents, but how shall I tell you respectful readers, my mother is a dreadful woman. She always had to tide up everything behind me, that’s how she is telling me, because I was thinking she was stupid and oblivious. We do not live in the Stone Age — that is how I fight back to her — we are in the sixties and in the middle of Europe. She is not cleaning, but the vacuum-cleaner; she is not washing, but the washing machine.

He is always late, this friend of mine whom I depleted waiting for… Hell is he tiptoeing something too? I doubt, obviously he is silly when he thinks many things do not exist, but are actually in front of his nose. As for example that we all go to Sing-Sing, as directly are named the extracurricularities in the Hollywood productions, mostly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was speaking about this in most open manner; when we begun our friendship I asked him whether he would like to join me in the extracurricular activities. Then he responded: “Do not thrust those– filling your head with stupidities, something like that doesn’t exist; I heard others speaking of this, to go somewhere and tell everything which we do between each other, because that was good for our economy.” “Please stop”– that is how he is telling me. It wasn’t good for me to indulge myself. So…

As always when coming at my place after 9, he knocked at the door very carefully and silently; in these hours he never uses the doorbell. It is astonishing how polite he is, although he is from the Balkans. My mother first asked: “Who is it?”; he cautiously murmured: “Z. M. auntie[1] A.” He delicately walked through the furniture and the crystal decorations on them (which are as firmed in the time my father passed away), while aunt A. even more delicately was following his steps with her sight. Damn those shoes of his which prints somebody will have to wipe out! This time he didn’t even begin to take his shoes off, since always up till now we were telling him: “No, we are not Turks so that you will have to walk in your socks.” I and mama felt that he wants to think that his circle of people should be as of those who grew up in the West. I remembered Estee Lauder many years after this; when her son became ambassador of USA in Austria, she was constantly making presentations so that she can make us, the common Balkanians, more or less decent. She disapproved to us that men in our region were wearing white socks a lot, which was terribly ugly. Hence nobody dared to tell her it was because our streets are too dirty; if white socks could be washed on high temperatures. That’s how life goes on, with us everything is injustice. Nobody will care if you are in trouble, nobody will try to correct it, nobody will help you, nobody will give a shit if they rob you, that you are a victim, simply you will bother them because you are a wretch! This is my ancient, first lesson I learned in my life, which I always firmly grasp!

Z. M. repulsively stinks when he comes to my place. He is telling me it was because his family was not favored by the communists, they were raising their water and electricity bills all time. In these kinds of situations I am always brotherly advising that shouldn’t be excuse for him not to fix himself in another place. I am explaining him that there are establishments, institutes where in exchange for his offered collaboration, they would give him warm bath and soap. But he again: “No!”, he was a home-man, he couldn’t possibly like that, he was inquiring about this as well, those favor-baths didn’t exist. Than let him rot till the bone, I told myself.

Although he doesn’t believe me, he will unlock himself for me. Although he doubts, he will confess to me. He doesn’t have with whom to talk with, to go out, to share. For his persona structure is of utter importance that he’ll feel the way he imagined he should, not the way he must. Z. M. cannot with “must,” he can only with “want.” This is what will finish him. The world of his costume dramas, his gothic novels, of the philosophies of the dedication, of the self-giving to the virtues of the Christianity; all these are cards which are in my interest. That’s why I shouldn’t lose a single game, having in mind I tend to win everything. Whereas somehow he’d find out he is under the internal investigation, it will be too late. Then he will have to say that somebody from his closest environment is impairing him — but in vain — there will be nobody to hear him. His parents are also with that ideological fanaticism towards the West. Presenting something which is not local, they risk losing their only son. Don’t they understand that on ideological grounds they can be deprived of their paternal right?

So Z. is telling me — as always we continued talking till after midnight — how terrible it was for him here, how he wanted to run away, that there must be some way this to happen, although his family was in poverty. He heard there were some scholarships, in the embassies. I asked him about his relatives in Australia. He told me about them they were unequivocally egoistic. That they were continuously checking the mail arriving from us, that they weren’t allowed to communicate with us– those behind the iron curtain. Me with my, let’s say, modest knowledge of the politics: “Aren’t we the ones which are not with the East, we are from the nonaligned movement[2]?” He answered me like a nerd: “Yes, but that was so only on paper, and we were with the scum.” Although in these activities I locate my prosperity, I showed some extra interest in some human issues: What is Z. actually doing in his life? Does he have some hobby, sport? Doesn’t it seem to him that sperm will blast out of his ears; now we are young, in our best years, doesn’t he want to have “something”? What’s happening with his love life? He is tall and charming. Wouldn’t he like to merge with some chick? He lives in the elitist part of the city, with the legacy of his aristocratic ancestors. When I asked him, though, I got an unexpected answer, even though I am solidly acquainted with the darkness of his soul. He couldn’t even dear to think about something of this sort, he didn’t wanted to have any children due to the political repression. He hated the location where he was living, since he knew that if they move to the West, the communist authorities will take them everything. His parents wanted to keep the house from their ancestors by any means, which is why they didn’t want to run away. For Z. his home seemed as prison, since although he knew he was of same standpoints as his parents, they would never help his escape. So while I was hearing his misery, I began pleasantly, convulsively to think how to help him; in my entirely individual manner… I told him the neighbor above me is working in the Embassy of Great Britain and that I could schedule him meeting with the attaché for culture. Z. agreed and said if he’d make it, he would help me run away too. I told him that for my friends I would do everything, and that for me who is from Žabrane (unlike him who is Markovski), afterwards he wouldn’t have to take care about. But, I underlined him, not to go to them stinking like this; if necessary he could take his shower at my place. “I am completely satisfied with my Balkan swamp.”– I concluded in front of him.

Not even 3 days passed by, he was already in the embassy. I phoned him after the meeting, somebody hanged out, than hanged down. I wasn’t tiring myself with the problems of his family. To be honest, I always found them peculiar. I thought it would be better if I focus on my problems and the possibilities which opened for me. Namely they decided to open department for building engineers for hydro-centrals. This would last just one generation. So I wouldn’t have any competition; I have glittery future in front of me. In particular, from reliable sources I found out they will accept me. Then I found out that others too were trying to contact Z. M., that he stopped attending high-school, that he disappeared, like his parents. The consensus was that their ax felt in honey, they inherited some fortune from abroad or found job in the rich world, and now like all other scumbags from our region they forgot all about us from here.

Then a lot of time was passing by, sacks of months were passing as just for a day. I married, I am with a son, we are doing well, every day I go to work through the hydro-centrals, here and there, as I said time is flying by. Once my wife told me some beggar was whistling beneath the window of our building and with a whisper asked her whether I am home. She told him that she will tell me he was asking for me; she wanted to tell him what her name is, but he disappeared. Once around New Year, with the presents in my hands, I was checking in the corridor whether there is some post in the mailbox. Then from the basement which was beneath the stairs emerged a dark, scary figure, all shadowed, just the dizzy eye-whites were glittering on its beardy face. “Hey man did you see who I am?”– it whispered furiously through its teeth. He was stepping exhaustedly but decisively towards me. His immense hands were dirty, with blackness beneath his nails. I thought he wants to kill me. I carefully run upwards to my home, squeezing with my hands the sacks with the presents, so that I won’t drop anything. I immediately called the police, which arrived after 10 minutes. They made a report, but they said there was no base for denouncement, as they added they will observe the location, since others too complained about some maniac in the corridors.

Then the time, that unmistakable judge continued to pass again — with uncompromising, unstoppable tempo. The eighties arrived. I don’t know why, I didn’t like them. There was some economic crisis, but then I didn’t know that was the worm which was eating me. There was something cruel, chilly in those winters; I knew everything around began to change, on my account. I sensed some new time was arriving, which will not be the best for me. As I was speaking with her about this, my wife was telling me with frenzy laughter: “You are nuts man, you should attend therapies, sessions!” Afterwards she was giggling sweetly for a long time. Then for the first time I felt the fatal loneliness about which the poets are writing, actually singing. Are we in deed so lonely in the universe– we have nobody to speak with, even about the things which torment us mostly? In this period I watched the interviews with Estee Lauder, in some female transmissions on TVZ.[3] She was making presentations throughout the factories; she was teaching the she-proletarians how to make themselves more beautiful. She was telling them: “Here you are with something very cruel, it shouldn’t be like that, don’t put the color directly on your hair, you’ll burn your head with the acid, like this…” And she was demonstrating to the poor she-workers how to dive their hair. She was packing the pieces of their hair with the color, in packages of aluminum folium. My God, I’ve never seen anything like this! I know one dives her hair by throwing color on it, as my wife does. Plus here everybody dives their hair platinum blond, so that they will be better paid, so that everything will be whored. Estee was diving their hairs in some undefined honey nuances, which were not a lot different from the authentic color of the hairs of the she-workers. To all of them she was presenting an ounce of powder, which she was packing in that worker’s, gray paper for wrapping boxes. Subsequently she was instructing them: “Look girls, you should know this world is dangerous, I would have never ever had a success in my cosmetology career if everybody knew I was Jew.” Later I read somewhere that after the very productive visit, she went in Vienna to her son. On a basis of what have they made a conclusion her visit was very successful?! And what did this nosy one wanted to achieve? I got scared feeling somebody destroys the world in which I am comfortable, I wrapped myself and covered my head, I felt very cold, fever got me and I fell asleep as bear in winter.

Just few days after this the televisions announced there were some demonstrations. That Yugoslavia was falling apart. That there will be firings, that our economy was fake, with indebts. Immediately I went to the director, he always lets me in without any timetabling. He knows very well why, I am not anyone; he knows what I can do to him. I began in front of him, without even sitting, to murmur perplexedly. “Did I do something wrong?”– I am asking dearly: “Have I perhaps forgotten to write some report?” He understood I was in panic, he placed his hand over my shoulder, together we stepped towards the bar. “Don’t be afraid, those like you, loyal to the state, will always be safe.” Me: “Which state?” “There will be no state soon!” Suddenly all wrinkles appeared at the director’s forehead, his face grayed, he is not a-bit-aged anymore. “Ours!”– and he gave me Ballantine’s on rocks which I drank as water. Then he threw himself at the armchair. As he didn’t sit, it was as the back of the chair inhaled him, in a form of a septic, inky mouth.

What am I going to do now? Where I will find myself now? Where is “me” now? Only 2 weeks after this meeting Yugoslavia fell apart. I am going again to the director for some rotation, but according to what I saw on television now there will be some other man. The director was somebody from the old ideology; am I like him too? Hell no, I was just taking care in order to have something for myself and for those closest to me; nothing personal on my behalf. But in the cabinet of the director there were 3 gentlemen (as they called themselves) in leather jackets. In common for all of them was the fact they weren’t short. They were chain-smoking while they were telling me that Z. M. managed to run away in America, where he published a book in which it was specified that he was coming to my place so that I would help him to fill the forms for the embassy and at that very time I placed my small, charged, partisan pistol in the secret pocket of his brief-bag. He knew it was mine; we were playing with it while we were kids. They caught him with it in the embassy, afterwards they asked for raid in his home, where they discovered large amounts of enemies western literature. Z. M. together with his parents ended in jails and penitentiary institutions. Only he didn’t die, the parents did; he managed to escape when everything was becoming loose, while the system was beginning to change. They asked me whether I was Serb, it seemed so to them, according to my family name which had -ić ending. They discovered that all telltales were originating from the Serbian Secret Service from the period before the WWII. I said that I don’t know what kind of family name I have, it is peasant’s one and remained so from archaic times; while about all those ridiculous things with the petty gun I said they were invented. “I was actually asking myself where it disappeared; it was dear remembrance of my dad.”– I told them. Those 3 in the leather told me for sure I am lying, and they opened one briefcase with my — as far as I could see — friendly reports from the last 10 years. “I was doing it in a friendly manner, as they required from me.”– I said with naivety. To the tallest of those 3 the ash from his cigarette squeezed between his yellow teeth, felt down; in complete anger he threw the papers with the reports, plus with the dust on them, at my face and killingly muttered: “You gained a scholarship for this, easy life, you were happy on behalf of somebody-else’s unhappiness, you didn’t even say hello to him when he visited you during his break!” I began to moan: “I didn’t recognize him, otherwise I would have surely invited him on coffee, the lamp in our corridor was out of order!” They handcuffed me, all proletarian collective was f-wording me while they were detaining me, they were calling me imbecile since I was tell-tailing them, they pushed me in the car, we drove towards…

I came home, I stank a lot. That is a normal thing which happens 2 days after the interrogation. “Bljack!”– said my wife and she closed her nose. She didn’t care what I was, it didn’t bother her at all, she even didn’t mind to go to the procedure with me. But when she found out I will stay without my job, that they will deprive us of our property, she asked for divorce. The good thing was my son was almost adult, so there was no parenthood process. And if there was, everybody knows… However I am my own best friend! I managed to get away with it in the name of the old, good times. There still are many “ours” employed in the judiciary. I self-proclaimed myself crazy, ended up in a specialized institution. I haven’t been in a prison-cell; not for a single day. Actually it is really beautiful for me here; I am always residing in nature. By the hospital there is a little lake… all right, swamp. It has flourishing vegetation, croaking of the frogs, singing of the birds. They feed us good, completely regularly. I am with just one patient in my room, indeed nice and educated one, all according highest socialist educational standards in Yugoslavia; he had completely unintentionally cut his wife with butcher’s knife, on her nose. He never farts while sleeping. This indicates he comprehensively chews his food. I am also drinking pills; I am good with them. They have mild hallucinogenic effect; my dreams are truly vivid. Sometimes I am waking up in the dawn; the chilly wind cools my perspiring physique, which was wrapped in blankets all night through. So I am watching the village stallion as he sips water from the swamp, showing his masculinity in the liquid reflection, with his fluorescent green teeth. His mane is messy and long, his body sweaty from the strenuous and long gallop. Then he proudly erects on his back legs, neighs towards the stars, saluting the demon of the darkness, his most faithful friend. He can hardly wait for the next night to arrive…


[1] In the Balkan region younger men call older women aunts; it is considered as an act of politeness.

[2] Yugoslavia was a founding country of the nonaligned movement.

[3] Television Zagreb


My House

digital collage in bright pop art colors featuring a turntable, marbled swirls, an exterior facade, and a quilt-like pattern

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Igor Pop Trajkov is renowned writer and film director from North Macedonia, multidisciplinary international artist as well. His theoretic, journalistic and social writings are very popular and influential. He participated in such literary contests as Viaggi di versi and Il mio libro. Pop Trajkov won the first place at the Day of The Poetry poetic contest of the literary magazine The Poet (2021) for his poem Unimaginable Spaces; was one of the winners for The Best Christmas Message Contest (2020) organized by American Corner Struga. He was the winner of the best poem contest of Healthy Options Project Skopje, for the Day of the Fight Against the Drugs, with his poem Body Double (2021).


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