Monday, November 27, 2017
not even now that death is circling around me in this small
hospital ward, where fate decided I should end my days,’
Vera continued her story to Fata, and she was all ears.
‘Perhaps, in a bit, when my soul takes leave of my body,
I’ll get to meet her, right? But she will definitely be in
heaven – what awaits me is hell. I miss her to bits. Oh, the things I need to say to her!’ Elma held her tight, as if she was never going to see Vera again. And she didn’t. Tani offered the tips of his fingers
for a goodbye handshake, and, with his head to one side, reminded Elma it was getting late and they had to leave. They took one piece of luggage. Tani said that was all they needed, as they’d be buying more clothes in Italy. There, they’d dress like the Italians, so their old clothes wouldn’t be of any use. All Vera knew about the journey was that they were leaving by ferry that evening and, once in Italy, in Bari, Tani’s friend would meet them. They would live with the friend until they were settled into jobs, had a place to live and had resident permits. Tani wasn’t that keen on work; Vera knew Elma would be carrying most of that weight. Elma was scared of the water and, as if to spite her, the sea that night was stirring, waves crashing fiercely against their ferry, as if to warn her not to go. She spent all night locked in her cabin, barely holding her food down. When they landed in Bari, she had lost all colour in her face. Her eyes had circles so dark they looked as if they were bruised from a beating. The awful night she’d gone through had left its mark. The ferry docked. The anchor
touched the blue waters of the sea. Elma finally set eyes on land again. She’d been missing the shore for the past twelve hours, enough to feel like a lifetime. At the security check, they had to behave normally, even more normal than usual. No one should suspect their visas were fake. They tried to appear casual, hoping to fool the Italian policeman. In Durrës they’d had no problem – the policeman barely noted their names down before letting them through. He would have never realised the visas were fakes. Sometimes, the policeman didn’t even understand the documents passengers handed to him while going through the security check. They finally checked out clear at the Italian side too. When the security officer stamped their passports and let them enter Italy, Elma’s freedom was over.
Tani’s friend was waiting by a Fiat on the other side of the road, sporting a black leather parka; Elma never understood why everybody wore those. She had never met him before, but it wasn’t hard to see that that was the guy. Tani’s friend leaned against the car while also trying to wipe the dust off it. It was clear it hadn’t been washed in months. In the other hand, he jangled a set of keys. He drew intensely on a cigarette which, if he didn’t stop polishing, would soon be searing his lips. He was smoking the wretched thing right down to the butt. Elma was far too tired to care much more about her first impressions of Bashkim, or Baçi, as everyone called him. All she wanted was a bed to lie in and pull her bones together, as the sea seemed to have rattled them to every corner of her body. They set off. Her eyes could not focus on the astonishing views that unfolded along the road. What she had left back home was completely different, way too different. There was no comparing it to what she found here. The road lay along the seashore. She’d never had any good feelings about the sea. Fear, if anything. She’d never seen the sea this close up before, let alone live a night on its body. Did it not feel pain when their ferry was cutting through it towards Italy? Of course it did, or it wouldn’t have
unleashed all those waves onto us. They were the sea’s endeavours to show its pain, to tell those people it hadn’t agreed to this. They were stepping over it, spoiling its peace. I’m so stupid, she thought to herself, then went back to enjoying the beautiful view that erased away all her thoughts and words. There were elegant palm trees lining the shore, swishing to and fro in the wild wind. She had never dreamed of such beauty. Tani and Baçi were chatting away in a low voice. Elma didn’t bother trying to make out what they were saying. Their conversation was half-Albanian, half-Italian.
‘Wake up, Elma, we’re here,’ Tani said.
They’d been driving a long way, almost all night. It was
dark, although dawn had shown its first signs. So there it was, another day signalling its arrival. She couldn’t remember a thing, she’d had a bad sleep and her neck was aching. She froze. The sea and the magnificent road had made way for a house that barely stood up. Baçi lived there. The house looked like a wreck, but all she wanted that moment was a bed and clean sheets she could lie on. She felt like she could go to sleep for eternity.
‘We’ll stay here a few days, just till we find work and get a place of our own.’ Tani shook hands with his friend once more as a sign of gratitude and invited Elma to thank him too. She smiled and nodded in approval, as her man told her to. Even if she wanted to do otherwise, she couldn’t. She was on the outskirts of Milan, in a small neighbourhood of that big city. Baçi’s wife, Nora, received them in the doorway. She was no taller than a metre fifty, with a chubby figure and short black hair. Nora was wearing a red top and a pair of white trousers. The attire only accentuated the bulges of her body.
She had three young children who ran about in the small, dilapidated house. The plump woman was unaffected by their mind-numbing shrills. Compared to the outside, the interior of the house was not so bad. Nora showed them the room they’d be staying in. In that house you could hear even the slightest sound, but still Nora made a point of shouting. And later, Elma had to hear Nora’s complaints.
‘I hope they’re not staying any longer than the two weeks you said they would,’ she was saying to Baçi.
‘Be quiet or I swear I’ll kill you!’ he screamed.
‘You can’t touch me, or I’ll call the police. Do you remember what happened last time?’ she threatened him.
‘All right, all right, they’ll go. Things’ll be just like I promised.’ Baçi managed to calm her down in the end. The yelling ceased. No one peeped anymore. Elma found the whole thing weird, but Tani slept, pretending not to hear. Helpless as she felt, she lay down and tried to sleep too. She tossed and turned, the old metal frame creaking with every move. She couldn’t sleep in that so-called bed.
The feeling she had the moment she stepped into this house wouldn’t leave her alone. Everything seemed out of place: clothes thrown in all corners. It seemed like a maze with a secret she couldn’t uncover.