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> Flori Bruqi:Kush eshte Kim Mehmeti
Flori Bruqi
Postuar nė: 29.10.2006, 16:09
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Kim Mehmeti (b. 1955) is a leading and innovative prose writer from the Albanian community in Macedonia. He was born in Gėrēec near Skopje, where he now lives and works. He is the author of eleven volumes of prose, including Lulehėna (Moon Flower), Peja 1997, Fshati i fėmijve tė mallkuar (The Village of the Damned Children), Peja 1998, and Ritet e Nishanes (Nishane's Rites), Peja 2004. One of his novels has appeared in German, Das Dorf der verfluchten Kinder (The Village of the Damned Children), Klagenfurt 2002. Mehmeti also writes in Macedonian and translates between the two languages.
THE MEN'S COUNSEL ROOM
Had I wanted to play the role of a pretentious writer, I would have begun this tale by describing the hairpin road leading up to the village. To do so, I would have to insert one of those boring flashbacks which writers use when they go into detail about various incidents which took place in various localities long ago. Many writers assume that they can awaken interest this way, though in fact they are only deluding themselves and others. Their various narrative descriptions only show that they are concentrating on the past because, compared to the present, it can be embellished with so many lies that it becomes convincing, even for the authors themselves.
No, no. You cannot force me to go into some superfluous descriptions of Syla's Grove which lay parallel to the hairpin road that led from the mill at the foot of the hill up to the school building at the entrance to the village. Were I to begin to describe the oak trees and bushes growing at the two sides of the road, which was so narrow that the heavily laden mules would brush against the brambles, I would inevitably have to reveal the secrets of our youth. These, in turn, had to do with the initial fuzz and hair between our legs which showed that we were gradually turning into men. Hiding behind the thick bushes, we proved our manhood by frenetically milking the source of the white drops which fell onto the fresh grass. Nor would I want to write anything about Bala's widow and her little bedroom window through which we climbed, one by one, to give natural proof of our manhood, that is, up until the night when all the villagers were saying their prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. It would be an even more despicable revelation, were I to tell you the story of Galin who, just after he had entered the bedroom of Bala's widow for the first time, came out as pale as wax and moaned to us, as soon as he was lying naked beside her, his body went into a spasm, the muscles in his legs went stiff and, already limp and moist, he did not even manage to caress her smooth thighs, not to mention anything else. He wiped the sticky drops of sperm off his belly and it was only later when he had revived that he was able to tell us about the insults hurled at him by the young widow who was trying to get her fill of our hot bodies, inexperienced though they were in such matters. Then it was my turn, and I took the brunt, when Bala's widow, hot and flushed in unsatisfied lust, turned to me bitterly before I had even finished undressing, and cried: "Hey, snot face, you better get your act together, better than that last guy, or I'm going to whip your butt with a clump of nettles." And then... Well, I would not even dare to go into all the details about how I got into bed with her, groped for her swollen breasts, how my hand glided down her bare belly, and... touched her thighs, oh... My hands had only begun to stroke her hot thighs when a couple of warm sticky drops fell onto my belly. My manhood had collapsed, like the defensive walls of a fortification. Something sweet and somehow inexplicable deceived my body into giving way and coming, without even having felt the warm insides of her body. She gave me an infuriated look, as if she were going to slap me. "Don't worry, a real man doesn't abandon the battlefield that easily. I'll show you what love is!" I proclaimed, covering her in kisses. Lying on her, I was determined to carry on to the point of collapse. I don't know how long the indescribable ecstasy lasted, or why I didn't hear the whistling of my companions outside her window who were trying to let me know that it was either someone else's turn or that one of the villagers was about to discover the reason why Bala's widow kept her bedroom window open and the lights turned off during the early hours of twilight. What I do remember, though there is no need or reason to go into all the details, is sad and rather embarrassing. When I jumped out of the window onto the road outside, I found myself face to face with the brother of the late Bala who had died after two years of marriage, leaving his widow to seek solace in the pleasure of our young bodies. My mother gave me such a beating and covered me with such insults that I still don't know how I managed to survive her rage.
By the next day, to make things even worse, news of the incident had spread through the whole village. The consequences were terrible. My family got into a dreadful clash with the Mulajs. I managed to ignore all the curses and insults which I received from my father, my uncle and all my other relatives, with the exception of the women of the family who gave me embarrassing glances and could obviously not imagine how I could possibly even go out into the courtyard after such a scandal. I was more worried about the conflict between the two families. It is an embarrassing story that casts light on the concerns of that age and on Bala's fair widow whom we had sent packing, after having gone through that first phase of manhood, i.e. jacking off in Syla's Grove. Two weeks later, the brother-in-law returned the widow to the bosom of her family, and we slunk off to Syla's Grove once more. The elders of the village had mediated and put an end to the animosities between our family and the Mulajs.
There would be no point in me writing about the bitterness of my companions. For several days they would not talk to me at all and made me responsible for what had happened, even though they had been just as deeply involved in the matter as I had. They accused me of being eternally voracious and of sacrificing regular daily meals for an ephemeral moment of gluttony. I did not even try to convince them that you could not take an instant of ecstasy with you. There is absolutely no need now for me to go into the details of how shocked the villagers were that some shameless individuals like us had stooped to such depths while they were saying their prayers. Once Bala's widow was sent packing, we were faced with a long period of male deprivation.
Had I the tendency of certain pedantic writers who concentrate on long, detailed descriptions and other nonsense which I consider superfluous, I would have to mention Dalip's cornelian cherry tree, which was situated to the left of the road, just before the penultimate bend on your way up to the village. A description of it and of the surrounding area would lead me inevitably to refer to matters which ought better not to be put to paper, or rather, should they be put to paper, then only in indirect terms. But I dislike allusions and prefer to avoid revealing the truth by means of incomprehensible symbols. At any rate, no one really knew why they called it Dalip's cornelian cherry. It was a term that gave rise to various and sundry interpretations and speculation, among which is the story of a certain Dalip. He was an old man who had stopped there hundreds of years ago to take a pee on a tree trunk and had died in excruciating pain from a bite he suffered, having opened his trousers right over a viper's nest. They also tell the story of another Dalip, who, according to the villagers, was a handsome young man. No one really remembers all the details, but they say he hanged himself from a branch of the cornelian cherry tree after his first night of marriage, apparently because his bride had a bleeding nose, and a spider emerged from between her legs at the very moment he was making love to her. It is a story you can believe or not. If you don't believe it, well then, you're free to make up another one about Dalip's cornelian cherry tree. Like every cornelian cherry on earth, it is the first tree to blossom in spring, a harbinger of the songs to be sung by maidens upon their covered balconies and of swallows up in the sky. The blossoms were a sign that life was shortly to return to Syla's Grove.
Dalip's tree was also the spot where the men of the village deposited the placenta when their wives had given birth. The custom had been going on for centuries and probably stemmed from the fact that there was no brook anywhere near the village. No one took the time to hike down into the valley and hurl the placenta into the waves of the river in order to ensure that the new mother would produce enough milk and that the child would prosper. They simply wrapped up the paunchy round piece of meat dripping in blood, which had surrounded the embryo until it turned into a human being, and placed it carefully at the foot of Dalip's cornelian cherry, only to return home concerned, but also overjoyed at the birth of their child. The rite was always accomplished in the early moments of twilight. The next morning, the father returned to Dalip's tree to see if the viper there had in fact eaten the placenta which had been placed under it the night before. He was the only person in the village who ever actually saw the serpent, which he insisted had the eyes of a baby, a body several metres long and two or three hairs on its head. They also said that at midnight it began to hiss in a deafening manner. It was a rare occurrence. Everyone believed that a child born on a night in which the viper hissed would never be able to shut his eyes from sunset to sunrise, and would suffer terrible agony and die, if the viper did not swallow three eggs, each of which had to have two yolks. This terrifying being, of which all the inhabitants of the village were somehow proud, would only leave uneaten the placentas of those women who had given birth to stillborn or short-lived children or to children stemming from the semen of another man. i.e. of women who had been unfaithful to their husbands. It was a terrible blow for a father to find the placenta untouched the next morning at the base of the cornelian cherry tree. He would not know whether his wife had given birth to a child which would not live long, or even worse, to a child of the blood of another man who had brought shame upon his house and permanent damage to his manhood. Many children are born in our village and fortunately there have been few cases of the viper living at Dalip's tree refusing to eat the fresh meat because it sensed that a wife had deceived her husband. More often, the child died at an early age, as the snake had portended this to the parents by not eating the placenta.
It would be tasteless of me to mention the case of Balan who one night, full of pride and joy, took the placenta out in the early hours of the evening after the birth of a son. The lad was so indescribably handsome, healthy as an apple, that even today, when the women of the village refer to him, they spit two or three times in the direction of their feet and say "Allah be with him!" Very few of the villagers were willing to talk about Balan and even fewer were willing to recall to mind the sorrowful moment the next day when he went out to Dalip's cornelian cherry tree and froze with horror. On the ground before him was the uneaten placenta, still dripping in blood. He stood there pale and sombre for a moment, but then had the presence of mind to pick up the placenta and hurl it as far away as he could, so that the other villagers would not find it. But did it really matter that the other villagers did not know what he knew? He returned home with poison in his heart, though he managed to conceal his emotions from his young wife. He hoped that it would be a case of a short-lived offspring rather than, God forbid, the result of his wife's infidelity. But was it easy to live with the fact that the heir whom he had longed for would depart from this world after such a short stay? Of course not. Yet it was certainly not easier for him to live with the thought that the blood of another man was flowing through the veins of that little being who would call him daddy, and that he was wasting his love on the fruit of foreign semen which had dishonoured him and the property which belonged to him alone and to no one else. Only poor Balan knew what it meant to live with such a fate, and as such, if nothing else, it would be an elementary lack of taste for me to carry on about the feelings of another man, as other writers often do, who are only trying to make fun of their readers.
I shall therefore not even endeavour to describe how Balan spent night after sleepless night staring at the baby in the hope of finding some similarity to him, some sign that his blood was flowing in the child. Nor do I propose to describe the whole gamut of emotions which the poor man suffered, although I must admit openly that I find such reticence difficult because I am thereby robbing my fantasy of a chance to graze on lusher pastures and perhaps indeed give definitive proof that God does not do what people think or imagine.
To make a long story short, Balan's son grew and thrived. He survived measles and whooping cough, and it was now time for him to be circumcised. This child will be the death of me, Balan had said to himself from time to time ever since he saw his son, or rather the child he called his son, take his first steps near the well. The child grew and Balan worried. But the belly of his wife grew, too. She was pregnant with a second child. Within Balan grew a mixture of anger, joy and sorrow. On the night in which the second child was to be born, Balan sat at his wife's bedside, wiping the sweat from her brow. When her agony had become such that she was rivetted to her bed and when she had the feeling that every bone in her body had been broken, he leaned towards her and whispered in her ear: "If you do not tell me who the father of the child sleeping in the other room is, I will force you to eat all the placenta, which is going to come out of you at any moment." The wife forgot her pain, stretched her arms out to him and stammered in a weak voice: "They tricked me! Oh Balan, that he grew of foreign seed in my womb does not mean that I would not have preferred yours, but I had no other choice. They told me it was the only way for me to save you that night when they summoned you to the Men's Counsel Room. It was that bastard Asim who told me that I would never see you alive again if I did not agree to give myself to him. The government had accused you of serious crimes and only the village elders could save you." Balan groaned in pain and agony. It was as if the baby were pushing its way out of his body and not out of his wife's.
It would be senseless to bother you with Balan's story any longer. After all, I don't want to give an argument to those writers who assert that a storyteller must garnish and embellish a tale which could be told simply in order to create the impression that it is terribly complicated to write about the deeds of mortal beings. In short, it would go much too far to bring forth all the details describing the state in which Balan found himself on the night of the birth of his second son. He felt no pride or joy. His brain was flooded with thoughts that kept him mute and silent. It was the memory of that certain evening which robbed him of all his joy. It was so vivid in his imagination, as if it had been last night and not years ago when his wife lay on her side to feed the baby which had just emerged from her womb. Yes, the elders had summoned him to appear that evening at the Men's Counsel Room. It was certainly no small matter to be summoned at his young age to the place where good and evil were judged, where proceedings were held and sentences passed. Some were deprived of their honour as men, and others got it back after it had been tarnished by someone else. Every word spoken in that room was measured carefully because it echoed throughout the village. Some men would then be admired and others would be despised. He did not know what had given him the honour, after several years of marriage. But he was rightly proud. In that night he would be witness to some important decision which the village elders, the wisest of their community, would take. His companions would later envy him and would listen attentively whenever he spoke. They would no longer measure him with the same rod as they had that spineless Balan who had no brothers and who had an old fool for a father whom everyone, small and large, made fun of. He was not the Balan who had grown up on his mother's warm lap and who had been fed crumbs from almsgivers which she had received and stuck in her pocket for him, to make sure that her only son did not grow hungry. He was now being invited to the Men's Counsel Room to hear counsel from persons whose word was not to be contradicted. How often he and his friends had looked from a distance at the pale light shining in the big windows of the Men's Counsel Room. How often he had seen villagers standing, quivering on the main square of the village to wait for a decision pronounced by the cleverest and most illuminated brains of the community. Balan set off before darkness had covered the village, happy but at the same time apprehensive that he might make a mistake and interrupt someone at the wrong moment. He entered the room and shook the hands of the sage old men with their grey beards. He greeted them all according to custom. They told him that they had invited him to listen in on their counsel and to learn from their keen sense of judgment because the day would come when the old men would lose their physical and intellectual capacities and would have to be replaced by younger ones. "And they consider you worthy to replace them," Balan stammered to himself in joy. For all the pleasure and talking to himself, Balan missed out completely on what the stern old men had said as they cast their eyes down at the colourful patterns on the carpet. He returned home late, around midnight. He lay beside his wife who was quivering strangely, but he heeded neither her quivering nor the tears on her cheeks. He felt a need to tell her all about the honour he had been given by the village elders. He talked and talked until he finally realized that his wife's tearful eyes were closed. And now, this night, too, when his wife admitted to him that her first-born child had been fathered by Asim who had appeared one night in her room and lied to her, saying that Balan was in great peril and that only she could save him. She had submitted to him, had put her arms around him as she would around her brother, around one of the most respected men of the village whom no one would ever think of mistrusting. Now, years later, Balan recalled that Asim Dalini had not been present that night long ago at the Men's Counsel Room and had subsequently never again received an invitation to take part in the consultations. It was only now that Balan realized that all of those grey-bearded old men had participated and assisted in the treachery because they knew he was defenceless as the only male in the house. The men who were wont to stroll through town with worry beads in their hands and their noses turned up, always ready to pronounce judgment on the sins of others, had made a mockery of his esteem as a man, the only cherished possession which Balan had.
So you see, there are things which are better not told in public and, as such, I am not entirely sure whether I should reveal to you what happened that night when Balan's wife gave birth to her second child. Balan wiped the sweat off her brow. When she fell asleep, he went into the other room where his wife's first son was slumbering like an angel. It was only in the early hours of the morning that he managed to fall asleep. He spent the whole next day with the mother and her new-born baby. The next evening, he set off for Dalip's cornelian cherry tree and returned home late at night, long after midnight. His wife had not noticed his long absence because she was anaemic and exhausted, and, in her anguish and trepidation, had fallen into a profound slumber. She noticed his presence when he kissed her affectionately with a: "Sleep tight. You have two sons who are worthy of your love." They both woke at the same time the next morning. "Are you going to go out and see if the viper at Dalip's cornelian cherry has eaten the placenta?" asked his wife. "No, I was there last night until it crawled out of its nest. I saw with my own eyes how it ate the fresh meat from your womb," he replied. The conversation was then interrupted by shouting which became louder and louder. The villagers were running down to the end of the village. Balan rushed out after them to see what had happened. There, slumped against the trunk at Dalip's cornelian cherry tree was the lifeless body of Asim. His face was smeared in blood. From his swollen mouth hung a piece of paunchy meat. It looked as if he had hastily tried to swallow it and had choked to death. The villagers wrapped the body in a white sheet and took it back to his home, from which one could hear the moaning of the women and the whining of the children. That evening, a lamp was lit in the Men's Counsel Room. All night long, the elders discussed the event which had shaken the whole village. Balan looked once again towards the light shining in the Men's Counsel Room and went to take a pee.
I mentioned earlier that I am not the kind of writer who is able to embellish a tale properly and, in fact, I am not even interested in all the details which might make it more intelligible to the reader. This is perhaps a reflexion of my inability to express in words everything which is swirling around in my brain. For this reason I will not even endeavour to describe the village hodja who, while carrying out his daily routine, complained to the villagers that he had found a talisman with suras from the Koran that had been thrown at the mosque. He had made it for the infertile women so that they would once again be able to bear children. When he bent down to pick up the little piece of folded paper written in holy Arabic script, he got dizzy and collapsed at the entrance to the mosque. When he woke up, he found himself beside a female corpse which soon thereafter turned into a mole that gave a squeak and burrowed its way into the ground.
It would be quite superfluous for me to recount all the commotion caused in the village by the news that the hodja had lost his voice and was no longer able to say his five daily prayers. Instead I will tell you exactly what old Salushe said, who is in fact the main reason why I recalled my old village and its inhabitants, burdened as they are by the monotony of their daily pursuits. To put it briefly, old Salushe, who is still alive and who dwells in the first house to the left when you come back from the village fountain, at the junction with the path leading up to the Men's Counsel Room, was wont, whenever she saw light in the room used by the village elders, to cup her crotch, massage the flaccid flesh between her legs, and stutter: "Your wisdom and the places I'm rubbing in my hands have one thing in common. The older they get, the more spunk they lose, and they don't even notice the world around them!"
[Oda e Burrave, from the volume Lulehėna, Peja: Dukagjini, 1997, p. 7-21. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

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