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EVERY COUNTRY HAS its Samarkand and its Numancia. That night, both places were here with us on the Morava. Numancia, located in the Iberian highlands, had at one time been the last refuge from and bulwark against the Roman Empire, while Samarkand, whatever it may have represented in history, became and remains legendary, and will still be legendary when history is no more. On the Morava, in place of a fortress we had a boat, to all appearances a rather small one, which styled itself “hotel” but for quite a while now had primarily served the writer, now the former writer, as a dwelling. The HOTEL sign merely provided cover: almost anyone who inquired about a room for the night, a cabin, would be told “No vacancy” and sent packing. Such inquiries, however, hardly ever occurred, and not only because the boat always anchored in places along the river to which no proper roads led. On the rare occasions when someone did find his way there, it was because of the “hotel” sign beckoning at a great distance through the darkness, across the fields bordering the river: MORAVIAN NIGHT.
The boat was not really anchored, merely moored to trees or pilings, and in such a way that the hawsers could be loosened quickly and easily—whether for a quick getaway or simply for pushing off without any fuss, for maneuvering upstream or downstream. (After many years of sand and silt buildup, not entirely the result of war, during the period in question long stretches of the Morava had become quite navigable again, all the way to the sources of its southern and western branches, thanks to a flourishing and—almost—universally recovering economy that was spreading even beyond the borders of our country, previously reduced to the most wretched backwater of Europe.)
On the night when we were summoned to the boat, it was tied up between the village of Porodin and the town of Velika Plana. Although Velika Plana lies closer to the river, the summons came from the riverbank on the Porodin side, far from the bridge linking the two towns, and as a result we zigged and zagged, each of us wending his way separately from the village, turning now left, now right, along cart tracks that switched direction from one field to the next. Since all of us happened to be in Porodin or nearby villages, on various farms, we, the friends, associates, distant neighbors, collaborators of the former writer—each of whom had been his traveling companion on one leg of his journey or another—soon formed a convoy of sorts, in cars, on bicycles, on tractors, and on foot, the latter making as rapid progress cutting across fields as those in vehicles, who had to follow bumpy tracks that kept veering away from the destination on a course to nowhere that soon petered out. Even those on foot, with that glowing MORAVIAN NIGHT sign seemingly just a hop, skip, and jump away, would unexpectedly happen upon a deep canal that forced them to make an abrupt turn, only to find themselves facing an impenetrable thicket that forced them to turn off again.
Why had our boatman chosen to make the Porodin area, of all places, his residence? We could only guess. Some surmised that it had to do with a story told all through the Balkans between the wars—it had always been either wartime there or “between the wars”: apparently a peddler had been killed by a local resident, for which the entire village had done penance ever since on the anniversary of the murder. Others believed that he had moved there because of the Morava, to be able to gaze out at the river, especially its shimmering bends, one just upstream, the other downstream. Still others speculated that it had to do with the many crossroads and forks in the good-sized village, where he simply wanted to sit on the terrace outside one of the little Balkan taverns, watching flocks of sheep grazing as far as the eye could see, a glass of the cloudy, iron-rich local wine in front of him.
It was long past midnight. As if by previous agreement, we had gone to bed unusually early, and were already fast asleep when the summons reached us. Yet instantly we were wide awake. Not a moment of bewilderment or confusion. The wake-up call had come in a number of ways, but mainly by mobile telephone. One or two, however, heard a messenger knock on the barnyard gate or toss a pebble at the window—one little knock or a single little stone was enough. And one of us, opening the door to find the procession assembled outside, told the others that as he had lain in his bed in Porodin with the curtains open as wide as they would go, he had been startled out of his sleep by the seemingly imperious flashing of that neon sign far off in the meadows along the Morava, and the next person claimed to have been jolted awake by a signal sounding more like that from a seagoing vessel than from a houseboat. Jolted? Maybe so. But it had been no ordinary jolt. And however it happened, the rousing had taken place without words. And one way or the other: each of us felt as if the summons had seized him by the scruff of the neck, at once roughly and gently. The telephones had beeped only once. And one of us, who answered a fraction of a second before the ring, with the kind of presence of mind one has only when one has been fast asleep, heard nothing but a very brief, almost inaudible laugh, sounding to him, on the threshold between deep sleep and wide-awakeness, all the clearer, and that meant, without words: “Get up!” The laughter was melodic, and it was not the laugh of our friend on the boat but unmistakably that of a woman, which, however, came as no surprise to the person thus summoned. Nothing surprised him at that moment, nor did anything surprise him as he then made his way across the fields and the fallow stretches—despite the highly fertile land along the river and the all-pervasive new economy, the untilled areas continued to expand—all the way to the MORAVIAN NIGHT. Nothing surprised us, any of us, in that moment of waking long before midnight. And likewise in the hour that followed, as we hobbled and wobbled over sticks and stones: not a flicker of surprise. The prevailing sensation: that of great freshness, coming both from the night air outside and from deep inside us: an all-encompassing freshness.
Those who went on foot reached the boat first. Those with vehicles, even bicycles, had had to abandon them long before they reached the banks of the Morava; it was impossible to make headway in the increasing tracklessness, with more and more drainage ditches and thorny thickets. The hikers, accustomed to the dark, had little trouble finding gaps and crossings, while the drivers and bikers had to grope their way forward, night-blind after switching off their headlights. This description gives the impression that there must have been many of us, quite a large number indeed, a convoy. But that was deceptive: we merely seemed numerous as we made our way across the river valley by night. There were not more than six or seven of us, corresponding, so to speak, to the hours stretching ahead, the episodes, the chapters of the night, until morning. The season: not long before the onset of spring. The date: not long before Orthodox Easter, which that year, in contrast to earlier practice, had been aligned with the pan-European Easter, as was supposed to be done for the foreseeable future. Moon phase: full. Wind: gentle night breeze, stronger down by the river. Fields of clouds drifting slowly from west to east. The first summer constellations, which for a brief hour toward night’s end made way for a glimpse of Orion and a few other winter constellations.
Contrary to one expectation or another, the former writer received us alone on his house- and escape boat. Contrary likewise to various expectations or fears, he looked healthy and, as might have been said in an earlier time, hale; no spring chicken exactly, but steady on both legs (whereas during his years as a writer a typical habit of his had been to shift his weight from one leg to the other, although that “meant nothing; all the people in the village back home did the same, from childhood on”). The way he stood there quietly was reassuring, especially after all the things one or another of those summoned had heard about his tour, his daura, in some stages of which he had been fleeing, in others wandering aimlessly, in others courting death, and in still others running amok on his native continent of Europe.
On the other hand, it accorded with the general expectation that the host seemed not especially elated to see his guests arriving. Not so much as the whisper of a greeting could be heard from the silhouette visible up there by the railing under the invitingly glowing MORAVIAN NIGHT. Not even the hint of a wave to beckon our little band, by now gathered one and all on the brushy riverbank, onto the boat. True, down by the water lay a kind of plank that connected the boat to the land somehow. But it was so narrow, and furthermore angled so steeply, that we teetered precariously as we made our way up it, as if on a chicken coop ladder, dropping onto all fours, one behind the other, as the plank shuddered and we kept sliding back. Obviously he did not reach out to any of us to heave us onto the deck, let alone welcome us. Perhaps also noteworthy was that he initially left us alone on the boat for a long time, only later coming to join us, appearing from god knows where.
Although he had had us summoned, it seemed now as though we were disturbing him. Not only did our arrival not please him; it actually displeased him. He resented it. We were undesirables, interlopers, river pirates. We had expected such a reception, to be sure, were accustomed to this apparent lack of hospitality, contrasting so harshly with the tried-and-true Balkan tradition. Nonetheless, that night we were offended, especially when his first words after a long, rigid refusal to speak chided us for our “servile punctuality,” our “predictability.” And the next thing he did was to switch off the neon sign, leaving us in total darkness on the boat for a while. And likewise the Balkan music, which admittedly had lured some of us on board, fell silent. In its place nothing but the skull-splitting frog chorus from the vegetation along the Morava, which would go on all night, the only other sound being the howling of the trucks on the expressway near Velika Plana, it, too, persisting unabated through the night: the long-distance freight traffic, not only to Turkey and back but also from continent to continent, roared by without a second’s letup.
Once our eyes had adjusted to the darkness, some of us discovered something unexpected about our host: he was swaying his head to the squawking of the myriad frogs and accompanying the distant thundering and roaring of the tractor trailers with a humming that seemed intended to convey a melody. This was new to us because we knew no one more sensitive to noise. Hadn’t this sensitivity escalated to the point that a sudden gust of wind, no matter how gentle, had been enough to make him jump as if an enemy had laid hands on him? And had he been joking when he said again and again that he had given up writing out of a growing dislike for noise of any kind? As time went on, he had come to experience every sound as a racket, as noise, malevolent noise. Even music? Yes, music, music especially, that of Claudio Monteverdi as much as that of Franz Schubert. And after the whistling of wind and the rustling of leaves, once two of his favorite sounds, which had always filled him anew “with an inchoate love,” eventually his third-favorite sound had also become repellent to him—the rhythmic and melodic scratching of his pencil in silence. Could a change in his attitude toward the world of sounds be the result of his participation in the International Congress on the Acoustics of Silence and Sound, to which, as one of us who had accompanied him there knew, one stage of his tour had been dedicated?
We who were summoned to the boat that night were all men; again in conformity with our expectations, he told us to remove our shoes, as one would before boarding a seaworthy yacht. But supposing a woman had been present, no matter who, he would not have hesitated to issue this order. He spoke, however, in an oddly soft voice, different from his usual soft voice. Although we were all trusted friends of his from way back, not all of us grasped immediately that he meant this soft speech to be contagious. To some he had to whisper insistently, “Shush, shush!” At that it became clear to each of us that the prohibition on resonant voices was neither a foible on our host’s part nor a point of etiquette, but a response to danger. Suddenly we all became aware of the danger, though not its specific nature. We felt it: the danger of danger. Not that all of us began to whisper like him; we fell silent. We became completely silent, from one minute to the next. And in that silence we realized that the cessation of the music, like the extinguishing of the MORAVIAN NIGHT sign, had had a hidden significance: both had signaled danger. We stood motionless on the strip of deck by the door leading into the so-called reception area; from there on one side one could enter the “salon” or “restaurant,” on the other side the cabins or hotel rooms, which in actuality, like the “restaurant,” served the boat’s owner as living, sleeping, and watch areas.
What we smelled next was not danger, however. It was the smell of the Morava, as it had smelled for millennia on April nights, when—or so we imagined—the snow began to melt in the southern and western mountains from which it flowed; this smell, at least in our imagination, was something that had persisted through the ages—at most a hint of another smell seemed mixed in with it: maybe that of iron rusting away deep in the water, iron from all the bridges destroyed along the river’s upper course (it goes without saying that they had long since been rebuilt, joined by more and more new ones, including those for the high-speed trains)? maybe from the constantly puffing-up bodies of the hordes of frogs in the reeds along the banks? More likely from the frogs; hadn’t each of us kept in his nose the smell that even a single frog’s warty skin deposited in my hand when I caught him?
Unexpected—or perhaps not—a hug from the boatmaster. One after another we received a wordless, tight, prolonged hug, accompanied by the obligatory mutual three kisses on alternating cheeks; how could it be otherwise? And the door to the enclosed area was held open for us, as if by a bellman, and likewise that to the salon or lounge, as if by a master of ceremonies. The salon was heated by a crackling fire, welcome on that April night on the river. Amazing, a fire like that on a boat, but as previously mentioned, nothing surprised us that night, as almost nothing had for a long time, especially nothing involving our faraway neighbor. This fire, sometimes blazing, sometimes just glowing, provided the only illumination for the rest of the night. And it was sufficient, and thanks to the windows all around the salon we could look out, at the Morava on one side and the floodplain forest on the other. It probably upset no one that various features of the room could only be guessed at; nor did it interfere with the course the night took—more likely the opposite.
One could only guess, for instance, at the face and figure of the woman who later unexpectedly joined the group. She slipped in from the open deck after the guests, left alone by the boatmaster, had been standing around the salon indecisively, feeling keenly the absence of their host. The tables seemed to be set, but each for only one person, or was that impression deceiving? Group or no group: no sign of anything resembling a dinner table. Each separate table was also markedly at a remove from the next, forming in relation to it, and likewise to all the others, an angle that from the outset did not merely render any kind of grouping more difficult but also made it more or less impossible. Of course we could easily have pushed the tables together to create a dinner table of some sort—straight, diagonal, curved, semicircular, L-shaped. But we knew our host, and his mania for not tolerating the slightest displacement of anything in his home by anyone else, only too well; had one of us dislodged a single possession of his, whether a book or just a chunk of brick, by less than “half an inch” (he liked to use old nonmetric measurements) from its appointed place or merely given the object a tiny spin—and by the way, there was no way to recognize that it was in “its place”—the result would have been a tongue-lashing in comparison to which a rap on the knuckles would have seemed almost like a caress.
The woman guided the guests, one at a time, to the separate tables, where they then sat with their backs to each other or at least half turned away, in a pattern suggestive of being abandoned and scattered at random—at least initially they felt a kind of estrangement. This feeling was soon forgotten, however, in our being attended to by the unknown woman, and in another way, incomparably more pleasing, in our intuiting her beauty as she moved among the tables in the dim light, describing circles, spirals, and ellipses. We had all long since lost the habit of being waited on, and by now were generally loath to accept it. We did not like having anyone get close to us; we wanted to take care of ourselves! But to be waited on by such a beauty, or by beauty altogether, that was something we could accept. And what seemed beautiful to us about this stranger, this somewhat shadowy woman, was primarily her hips, which in fact could be seen clearly from time to time, between light and semidarkness. Their curve harmonized with the movements she made in the course of attending to us, no, anticipating our needs, yes, anticipating. These hips struck us as beautiful? Her beauty manifested itself in them. Surely the entire woman, the entire human being there, had to be equally beautiful. And the beauty of those hips radiated kindness. In the curve of her hips beauty and kindness became one. The unknown woman’s hips were the seat of kindness, with nothing more necessary.
A question, then, unspoken, when, after his brief disappearance, familiar to us from other meetings, the boatmaster expectedly unexpectedly reappeared and lent the woman a hand between galley and salon and among the tables; he and a woman: what was that about? No one, or at least none of us, his chief associates since he had settled on the boat on the Morava, far from his country of origin and also from his earlier home, had ever seen him in the company of a woman. And if someone had, he had immediately made it clear that he had nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with the woman. She just happened to be with him, for technical, financial, or other reasons, and her gender was irrelevant. He seemed embarrassed to be caught with a woman, and he went out of his way to show how unconnected, how inconsequential this other person was to him. It was a random person—another person, that was all. He deliberately moved away, and if he spoke to her in our presence, his tone was businesslike, and he emphatically and repeatedly used the formal mode of address. And when we left, he saw to it that the woman departed before us, or at least at the same time.
Some of us thought he feared we might jump to conclusions; perhaps he wanted to avoid having any conclusions drawn about himself, let alone about his relationship or nonrelationship to a woman; wanted to prevent anyone from forming an image of him, from putting any image of him in circulation ever again. Others thought he was afraid of women altogether. “He’s scared of them!” said one, and a second went so far as to say, “He’s terrified of them, terrified to the core.” And didn’t such a fear, or terror, haunt some of his books, although his time as a writer was now quite far behind him, the emotions of his early years a thing of the past? Yet hadn’t the tour through Europe over the last few months—as we knew from hearsay—been motivated at least in part by a need to escape, to escape, in fact and in particular, from a woman, an escape very different from the one that had once caused him to start writing?
Not that he and the unknown woman there in the boat’s salon appeared as a couple. But there was an easy familiarity between the two of them, at least so long as they were tending to the guests, serving the meal and pouring wine for them. We were not merely his guests, we were their guests. Apparently the two had experienced something that had brought them together. But what? Evidently, too, it had not been only a momentary experience, a brief episode. And if brief, if momentary, then in a different time dimension, where neither brevity nor length held sway, but rather some third element. They seemed to assume the role of accomplices during that first hour of the night on the boat, devoted as it was mainly to eating and drinking, with hardly anything said, let alone recounted. Nothing more natural than that the stranger should display a dancer-like quality in the calm way she passed back and forth through the swinging door to the galley and circled among the various tables. But that the man, too, whether in front of, next to, or behind her, joined in, becoming something like her dance partner, this man of all men: that was amazing. True, they were dressed in no way alike, he more in “Western” style (if that term has any meaning nowadays), and she, as one could dimly make out, more in “Balkan” style. Yet each outfit looked coordinated with the other. A woman and this man complementing each other so naturally: that was something none of us would have expected. Much less his providing a woman with a home, as seemed to be the case. And one or another of us remained skeptical all night long.
And what did they give us to eat? Since it was still too early for Easter lamb, what else but catfish and carp from the Morava, accompanied by salads whose main ingredient was cabbage, kupus, flavored with caraway, and potatoes baked in the glowing embers of the fireplace, and before that aspic, piktija, made from fish and also wild hare, accompanied by flat bread, freshly baked, and followed by sheep cheese from those sheep grazing as far as the eye could see on the hills beyond Porodin, drizzled with Montenegran olive oil, which, thanks to United Europe, had completely shed its former taste of rancid motor oil and, according to the label on the bottle, could be classified as “toscanissimo.” And as a beverage they poured us wines from the southern plains of the Morava—from vineyards in Kruševac, Aleksinac, and especially Varvarin, long since in Burgundian, Lower Austrian, and Californian hands but allowed to retain their old vintage names: “Emerald,” “Ruby,” “Onyx,” “Exhaust,” “Market Hall,” “Melencholija,” “Bridge Cider”—and even wine produced more to the south, far from the Morava, in what was earlier Kosovo Polje, and generally labeled “Bordeaux-quality,” was still called “Blackbird Field.” Only “Rakija,” once the most indigenous brandy, no longer existed, at least not under that name; but on no account were brandies to be drunk that night in any case.
At a certain moment the issuer of the invitation had joined the rest of us and eaten the evening meal, also alone at a table. The beautiful stranger, however, stayed in the half-darkened galley, in a throwback to an almost vanished Balkan custom, emerging only later to clear the tables wordlessly. Through the bull’s-eye window in the galley door anyone who got up from his table could glimpse her, when her work was finished, perched silently on a stool in the niche by the stove, motionless but not rigid, her hands folded quietly in her lap. But soon after the meal the boatmaster got up and began to pace back and forth in the salon. With the tables standing every which way, hewing to a straight line was hardly possible, so he snaked among them, first erratically, later smoothly, and eventually keeping to the same path back and forth, back and forth. It was as if he had no intention of ever stopping. He had opened all of the salon’s doors and windows, and as time wore on the rest of us began to feel chilled to the bone.
After he had finally aired out the space to his satisfaction, he continued his pacing for a while—except that now he went backward, backward upstream and backward downstream. When at last he seemed ready to sit down, one of his shoelaces had come loose, and having tied it, he resumed his pacing, back and forth, backward, as if there were no help for it. And a second time he was already seated when a log in the fireplace did not explode, no, but must have been insufficiently seasoned, for it began to sizzle and hiss, sounds akin to a whining or whimpering. And the third time he was not only seated but was already straightening his back, turning his head to the nocturnal horizons and at the same time surveying the circle of guests, and had just taken a deep breath when—no, it was not that one of our mobile telephones rang, not even that someone’s stomach growled (how could it, after such a meal?), but merely that a breathing became audible, a very, very soft breathing, in preparation for pure listening (perhaps precisely that became an obstacle?)—and once more: see above. So apparently the master of the house was not cured of his noise sickness after all, even though he had given up writing for good? Perhaps in the meantime the sickness had even intensified and now interfered with his speaking, as it had earlier with his writing books? The slightest, most innocuous sound, when it reached his ears, could constitute a disturbance, seal his mouth, constrict his throat, snatch away his speaking breath? And even a sound that anyone else would have perceived as open, friendly, plainly well disposed toward the speaker, a sound, the sound, signifying selfless anticipation, yes, unconditional assent, promptly stifled his breathing, assumed material form as a blockage in his windpipe? Yet he had rather sturdy ears—with multiple ridges surrounding the auricle, providing concentric fortifications, as it were, ears seemingly made for hearing—proper listening organs.
What finally induced the former writer to remain seated after all, to speak, to tell his story during that nighttime hour on the Morava, was danger. Before it showed itself, I think he would have perceived a disturbance even in our holding our breath. Danger? He might have merely imagined it, or had he perhaps seen signs that were in fact no such thing? Signs? Suddenly, from the trans-Balkan expressway a searchlight raked across the meadows on the other side of the river, so powerful that it could hardly come from the tractor trailers—which in any case all had to drive straight ahead (the highway had no curves in that section)? And here, on our bank, at the moment when this light swept across the trees and bushes lining the river, it silhouetted a figure, that of a woman, who seemed to be aiming at the boat, as if with a weapon, yet empty-handed, and making faces that mimed the sound of shots, several in quick succession, yet inaudible? Imagined danger? Signs that were nothing of the sort? Whatever the case, I think it finally prodded the former writer into speaking, made him loquacious, or caused the story to speak. Was that figure out in the fields actually a buck, roaring in the night, as if in a rage and at the same time piteously? The owl that now hooted: was it a real owl? (A strange time, when one felt one had to add “real” and “actual” to so many words.) He ignored both sounds, and likewise the crash as something in the galley fell to the floor, the squeaking when one of us shifted his chair, someone’s coughing, the kind of coughing produced only by Balkan tobacco, even if it had long since found its way into all the world brands.
Yet he was not the one who began the story of his so-called tour, a story that would be interrupted time after time, then continued at another spot on the river, and would finish, as day dawned, on another river altogether, no longer the Morava. The first sentences were spoken, on the urging of the boat’s owner, by the person among us who had set out with him in the beginning. “You tell it. You start.” Once the story had got under way, the former writer chimed in. For the duration of several sentences the two of them spoke in unison, or almost. If they contradicted each other at all, it hardly had to do with content, more with the use of one word or another. Yet it must be said that these few clashes, inconsequential for the most part, pertaining to minor details, nothing of note, were waged with an apparently obdurate insistence on principle, with each party fiercely defending his version; when it came to individual words, the host was adamant, in that respect probably still considering himself an authority whom no one in our circle had any right to question, in spite of his having abandoned writing as a profession.
From the moment the first speaker uttered his introductory phrases, the host seemed to be taking notes, apparently only a single word each time. It had been so long since the rest of us had seen him spontaneously pull out a pencil and jot something down. The action seemed almost involuntary, for every time he quickly put his writing instrument aside. Yes, was he embarrassed to be seen doing this?
That was how the recounting of the stages or stations of his tour continued all through the night: he signaled those who had accompanied him during the phase under discussion to begin, and he? he picked up the thread as soon as they provided an opening. In between, for one or two sections, especially those in which he had been particularly active, he would tell the other to keep on talking, and hearing the two voices from a distance, during these moments and transitions, one might well have mistaken them for a conversation, a dialogue, a harmonious one, well suited to such a night on the river—but (see above on the main speaker’s niggling over words) from one moment to the next an irritable, almost shrill, choleric tone would erupt: Was someone yelling bloody murder on that boat? Would the first shots ring out any minute? How could that quiet murmuring be swept away so suddenly by such yelping? (Which lasted so briefly that from a distance one might think one had been mistaken—had it perhaps been just a parrot screeching on board?) And what else could one have heard from a distance? All through the night the vowel sounds the trees along the banks made in the wind, and the sounds the storyteller on the boat made in harmony with them, like a response, an addendum. The trees’ vowel sounds? Basically nothing but an ah—ah—ah, again and again …
Some stages or chapters of the tour the boatmaster recounted without a second voice. The stages in question involved stretches during which he had found himself cutting across Europe alone, the case especially during the last phases before our rendezvous near Porodin, the starting as well as the end point (point?) of the journey. In that stage no eruption of sound interrupted the flow of the narrative. The voice of the solitary speaker became not only softer and softer but also smoother, yes, and then completely smooth. It also trembled. Was that possible, to be soft and tremulous at the same time? Yes, it was possible, a soft, tremulous, smooth narrative flow, far from resonant, yet close to it? And did this tremulousness stem from what had happened to him as he traveled on alone, or from the current, changing, real or imagined threats? Or from both? What struck us listeners as most important, to be sure, were the current threats: were he to be jolted out of his equanimity, he, and we with him, would be done for, as a column of mountaineers trying to cross a glacial fissure on a bridge of snow and ice would be if the person in the lead shifted his weight for so much as a second. And during that night his tremulousness infected the rest of us: the tremulously soft-spoken storyteller was surrounded by his tremulously silent listeners. And as day broke, when on the boat, now in motion, colors began to emerge, eventually we, too, felt responsible for any threat hanging over us, saw such a threat as almost justified: for was it anything but a provocation, and a dangerous one, at least at this particular time, that the owner had not only equipped his Moravian Night with an outsized flag from a long since disbanded or disgraced country but had also painted the entire vessel, from the hull to the very top of the funnel and from stem to stern, in those ominous colors? Did he want to see his houseboat as an “enclave,” as a self-proclaimed extraterritorial refuge? Did he refuse to acknowledge that such enclaves had long since been banned? That anything of the sort, any “enclave mentality,” was totally “unacceptable”?
He created more and more obstacles to his undertaking, or imagined them, which amounted to the same thing. Without these obstacles or challenges that night of storytelling would have been meaningless. Under no circumstances, however unpleasant, could he dispense with them, as he gradually, not immediately, became aware. He had to keep to his circuitous route (which did not mean that the circles, or even a single circle, had to close). During these hours, during this time, something was at stake, for heaven’s sake—who knows what? He appeared ever more determined, ever more defiant, ever more undeterred; ever closer to a kind of fanaticism. It seemed then as if nothing, nothing at all, could put a stop to the undertaking. Thunder and lightning would have merely heightened its intensity, likewise the onset of fever, an injury, a blow to the head, a collapse of the ground beneath his feet. It was a fact that in one way or another this night-long speaking eventually had such a powerful effect that not only the speaker but also we, his listeners, felt closer to taking action than ever before.
There was something, however, that could have brought the night-long speaking to a screeching halt, from one moment to the next. He had no need to mention it. The rest of us recognized it without words. This one thing, one single thing, could have made him instantly forget the earthshaking expedition he had experienced. And it became clear to each of us at his own table when later that night the woman, the stranger, showed her face in the galley door’s window. The story at that point also had to do with her, and she had emerged from her corner, probably to listen. And what became clear to us? That for the sake of this person, if she were in need, in truly dire need, if she had to be rescued, he would abandon not only the current tour but any imagined or actual storming of the gates of heaven. This one person in need of rescuing took precedence over the tour. At that moment we did not yet know, or had at most intuited, that on the contrary it was the young woman who had rescued the man, and not merely “as it were,” and not merely “so to speak.”
Although the former writer did not explicitly say so, the journey had begun as an escape; in the beginning, and later on as well, though less unambiguously, it was a kind of flight. And this flight—how assiduously he avoided the word!—was an escape from a woman. That woman: at the time he did not know her in person, did not even know what she looked like, did not want to know. What he did know was that the woman was his enemy, his mortal enemy. She made that plain, and there was no way to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to that. If it had seemed at first that her enmity was directed at him as a writer, at his writing, it became evident later that the woman, this complete stranger, hated not merely his way of being but the very fact of his existing, his very existence. Once he had stopped writing, her letters—initially those of a single-mindedly hostile reader—expressed her satisfaction at having played a part in “getting you to shut up at last.” But then the letters did not stop coming; on the contrary, they became more numerous, one a day, then several a day. And as seemed to be usual in such situations: even after the former writer moved to another country, an entirely different one, to the boat here on the Morava, she soon, very soon, obtained his new address, and … There seemed to be no escaping certain people. She had a sixth, even a seventh or ninth, sense for tracking down this man on whom she had fixed her sights. And not in a lifetime would she let him be, not in her lifetime. She would neither rest nor let him rest until he faced her for a showdown that he could only lose, even were he to win it.
The rest of us wondered what accounted for such hatred. He had no explanation either. But he did not want to know. He did not need any explanation; the question did not arise for him. In his childhood it had already become obvious to him that he attracted hatred, groundless hatred. And since then he had accepted this fact. This was how it had to be. The more groundless, the more self-explanatory, not that he accepted the hatred without defending himself. His entire previous life—whether in this role or that or whichever—had been dogged to a greater or lesser extent by inexplicable haters. By men as well as women, who would one day disappear somehow or other, or run out of steam, or, as sometimes happened, even make amends.
He was used to these haters. But eventually this last one in the series took even him by surprise. Such persistence on the part of the woman in question, accompanied by steady escalation from one act of hatred to the next, was something he had not experienced earlier. It began to affect him after all, or to wear him down, the more so because in the last few years all his other enemies had fallen silent, whether because he lived so far away, because they had forgotten him, or for some other reason. Wear him down? Yes, in that the woman had found her way into his dreams and become the main character in them.
And this she achieved by switching from letters to signs and symbols. Another writer, ah, so long ago, had once told him that his favorite letters from readers were mere signs. Or rather, his preferred visitors were those who left nothing behind but signs, at a decent distance from his house: a feather in the hedge along the path; a hazel or whitethorn stick carved by the reader and left leaning against that same hedge; a bottle of wine; a bag of nuts. But the signs left by this woman were not nice at all. By light of day they might seem trivial—a dead baby hedgehog at the foot of the gangplank, a baby bird speared on an acacia thorn, a snake in a canning jar among the dill pickles, one of his books (a book he himself considered a failure) dipped in liquid manure, its pages smeared and stuck together, or merely a few beheaded flower stalks from the riverside, or perhaps just one, a tiny one. These trifling items, however, took on much larger significance in his dreams, with the unknown woman calling the shots.
How did he even know it was a woman, when none of the letters, written in a clear, decisive hand, were signed? He knew, just as the other writer immediately knew whether a bag of nuts or a feather had been left by a male or a female reader. Did he also have an idea of how she looked? (A question shouted by a pushy listener.) “Her face came to me clearly in a dream.” “And how did it look?” “In no way as ugly as the woman, the reader, in the story by Stephen King, I think, who takes the writer hostage when he happens to fall into her hands, and eventually wants to kill him. Quite beautiful. Actually beautiful. Downright beautiful.”
Escape? It was probably an exaggeration to characterize his setting out on the tour as an escape. One day or one night he had simply had enough of all the evil or horrid signs left in front of, behind, next to, by, or under his houseboat on the Morava. He wanted to breathe. Besides, the trip had been planned for a long time, and this sense of being hemmed in had perhaps provided the necessary impetus. So if not escape, at least a sort of capitulation, which, as one of us flattered him, “isn’t really like you”? No. He wanted to face up to her, or, on the contrary, had been burning the entire time to make her face up to him—except that this person did not show herself, refused to let herself be seen. And he toyed with the idea that they would finally meet precisely while he was traveling. And what exactly did he have in mind? To kill her. He would kill this woman. Really? Yes, really. Absolutely. And why? Because she had pestered and persecuted him for all these years? No? Then why? Because—because in one of her letters, no, not just in one, in all of them, she had insulted his mother. No, not merely insulted, but called into question, no, doubted, no, besmirched her memory—and she had escalated this besmirching through her signs. On his tour he would confront the woman and kill her. No, not with his own hands, but with the help of a killer, a female killer, a hired killer. He himself would not touch the woman. To hell with her.
A few stations on the tour had been planned in advance. In addition to his (still uncertain) participation in the aforementioned conference or symposium, or whatever, on the topic of “Noise—Tone—Sound—Silence” (or such) in a godforsaken village in the Spanish Meseta, not far from the ancient settlement of Numancia, destroyed by the Romans long before Christ, he intended to look in on his brother in Carinthia, who had been ill for a long time; also to stop in to see his former colleagues Gregor Keuschnig and Filip Kobal in villages nearby, who, in contrast to him, had not yet sworn off writing; to circle around the birthplace, in the southern Harz Mountains, of his father, whom he had never known and who had been dead for a long time; to roam the island in the Adriatic where, as a very young man, he had written his first book, working almost entirely outdoors, in the blazing sun. But one station or another, one direction or another, would also be left to chance, to whatever came up along the way and might give him ideas. What came would come. It came as it came. “As chance would have it,” as people said, and not only back home.
Yet he also planned to be back soon in, and on, his Moravian Night. But what did “soon” mean? Some of us felt his absence had lasted far too long. Others, however, had the sense that hardly a month, indeed not much more than a week, had elapsed between his departure and his return. To me, for instance, it seemed as though both his departure and his return had occurred only yesterday. I, on the other hand, felt the former writer had left me alone all winter, while to me, yet another friend, it seemed like a whole year. And what did “yesterday,” “winter,” “year,” “a long time,” “a short time” mean? To the boatman or traveler himself it seemed during the night in which he narrated the story of his departure, or had someone else narrate it, as if he had “just then” taken his small suitcase, after locking up the houseboat rather carelessly, then stood on the gangplank, which he then “locked up” as well, and teetered down to the bank of the Morava, yes, as if he were just in that moment teetering there, on and on; as if he had “just now,” while crossing the Semmering by train, encountered the person, the near-child, reading an old book, who looked up from the book and immediately recognized him, even though it had been a long time since anyone had been able to “recognize” him, and how; as if “just then,” lying in a woman’s arms by the Atlantic, he had realized in a terrifying moment, yes, a moment of terror, who his unknown enemy was and what her face looked like.
So he had returned to his point of departure “in no time”? “In no time” from A to B, from B to C, and so forth: had driven, walked, stumbled, roamed? Had been on the road “in no time”? Which time, which tense, which type of time was the operative concept for the former writer’s round-trip? First of all: no “round” form of time, just as the trip itself had in truth not been a trip, and certainly not “round.” The operative concept was all times at once, together, intermingled, juxtaposed, parallel, running in opposite directions, canceling each other out, crossing. And primarily, most prominently, connecting, uniting, and obliterating all these times, tenses, and types of time were the seconds that came into play now and then, and not merely the seconds of terror, not merely the seconds of terror and being terrified. Second of terror. Second of pain. Second of sorrow. Second of joy. Second of horror. Second of love. Second of patience. Second of letting be. Second of taking pity. Second of taking heart. Second of inhaling. Second of exhaling. When it came to the condition of being on the road as well as telling the story, seconds were the appropriate, the vital, the natural measure of time. (Some other measure would have been operative for the enumerating and reporting.) Not minutes, not hours, and also not, definitely not, tenths and hundredths of seconds: only my, your, his, our, your, their moments, the quivering, crackling, alarming, reassuring seconds. The seconds that mean both what comes after something, what follows it, as well as the primary thing, the thing that precedes it, that combines what precedes and what follows. Praised and feared be the second.
The first second was rather slow in coming on his tour. For a long while each hour resembled every other, each day resembled every other, each moment passed like every other. And for a while that was fine with him: although no seconds pulsed and darted through him, at least there were moments, one after another, at a steady pace, as seemed normal for any departure. The single cup he had left standing on purpose, unwashed, on the table in the boat’s galley. The single map that he then removed from his luggage, having decided he would try to find his way without technical assistance. Likewise the pair of shoes, and the one book (of two). Then blowing, as on every other morning, on the ship’s bell, oversized, with its massive, heavy clapper, in actuality a bell from one of the churches farther to the south, where it was no longer needed: the daily attempt to make the clapper swing and strike the bell with a mere breath, a gentle puff—if he succeeded, it would signify something, something in his imagination. Something important, indeed earthshaking—but once more nothing, his morning and departure breath too weak—the only effect being that, as on every previous morning, the clapper’s bracket gave off a tiny whirr, audible probably only to him. And then, from the bank of the Morava, a glance over his shoulder at the entire boat, which by now, in the course of an entire decade, had become his domovina, his little house and home, with the thought—or was it a premonition? no, premonitions had no hold over him, for either the future or the past, but only for now, for the moment, for the present—with the thought, then, that he would never return from this tour to the boat here. Wasn’t this one of those aforementioned seconds, a quivering one? And again no: the thought did not dart through him, caused him neither sorrow nor pain. In the meantime such thoughts came to him daily, even if he simply went shopping in Porodin for half a day, even if he simply disappeared for an hour into the floodplain forest, the luka, to collect firewood or do something else; came to him just as much as before the great departure. His refuge glowed blue-white-red at his back, and from bank to bank the ceaselessly pulsing streaks of the Morava shimmered, and again that could be his last glimpse of them, and—? All right. Whatever.
I was the one friend of his who did not live farther upriver or downriver but directly across from the river in Porodin. My farm, or rather my late father’s farm, was located there, if hardly operated anymore, and likewise, outside the village, was located my, or rather my father’s, vineyard, which I would have liked to keep running, if only it had not become life-threatening to do so, as it has become for all of us in Porodin to use the land beyond the ever narrower village limits, since, well, you know since when. Our only outlet was a sort of corridor to the Morava, which was the route I took to pick him up on the morning of his departure, on my tractor, which thus had something to keep it busy for a change. The man on the boat had at one time done a lot of driving, or so he said, but since his accident in Alaska, which he described to us in the same words almost every time we saw each other, he had stopped driving. Wearing his hat and long coat, with his suitcase on his knees, he looked on the tractor rather like a refugee or evacuee, this impression reinforced by his facing backward, his eyes fixed on the river landscape. Was he looking? Not really.
I had suggested that I drive him—he seemed not to object to the tractor—to Velika Plana, on the other side of the Morava, roadblocks be damned, checkpoints be damned, and even farther if he wished, and why not all the way to Belgrade? But he wanted to take the bus from Porodin, the one daily bus, and also the only one that went anywhere outside the enclave. Our bus station no longer existed, and neither did any proper bus stop or stopping place—and how should it, after all, when the bus did not arrive from anywhere, and always simply parked overnight, after returning in the evening “from out there”? Its parking spot: not the village center, wherever that had turned out to be, or in front of the church either (at least the church had been left us, though with almost indescribable additions—of which more later, perhaps), but in a rear courtyard, in rear courtyards that changed from one time to the next. “Towns with rear courtyards,” you say, “yes. But a rural area with rear courtyards—where do you find such a thing?” It did exist, there in the Wallachian village of Porodin, where behind the former farmhouses one courtyard bordered on the next, one rear courtyard extended farther into the fields than the next, some of them as long as freight trains and as wide as a highway, some of them with patches of lawn and flower beds, finally merging into orchards, lined on both sides by cow, sheep, and chicken sheds, barns, equipment and machine sheds, except that most of them had long been neglected, like the fields beyond, or stood empty, or had collapsed and been torn down, so that most of the rear courtyards had become enormous dumps, rutted, muddy, hummocky—but where else could our enclave bus have parked?
On the morning of departure, it seemed to me that the entire enclave had gathered at the debris-filled depot. Yet only a few of those present were travelers. As happened every time, these few were given a big send-off, not only by their relatives but also by their neighbors, more distant ones rather than closer ones, than ones who lived next door. The gathering made a positively cheerful impression on me, perhaps because of the huge amount of luggage, stowed in a trailer, not so much satchels and suitcases as crates, which I imagined as containing equipment for the various acts of a traveling circus. In addition, beds, wardrobe chests, and mirrors were being loaded, looking more like found objects than heirlooms (there had been nothing, at least of that sort, to inherit here for a long time, had never been). Patches of snow formed a pattern in the courtyard, so it must have been winter, the beginning of winter or the end? never easy to tell in our region. The crowd was so dense that these patches were promptly compacted, along with the tracks of doves and sparrows from the previous hour, when the courtyard was not yet serving as the bus station. “And nonetheless you could see traces of birds’ toes here and there,” the retired writer intervened in my narrative. “Retired writer?” Who posed that question? He could have been the one asking, too.
Of the few passengers none was in a hurry to get on the bus, whose engine, as always, had probably been running since the first rooster crowed—if it were switched off, it would not start again all day, or at least not until late in the afternoon, and that would mean no departure today; any trip on the bus in the dark, the bus of the enclave, held dangers quite different from those of the daytime, even with police protection. But what a racket our bus made in that dump (and how black the fumes puffing out of the tailpipe, known in German very appropriately as the Auspuff, “and”—here the former writer intervened again—“by your Balkan loanword from the German, auspuh”). It was a racket that increasingly incorporated and absorbed other rackets, the rattling and chattering of the imperfectly closing rusted doors, the clinking of the windows—as if about to shatter, all of them with radiating cracks and loose in their frames—the passengers’ possessions crashing against each other in the trailer. Added to all that was the racket, alternatively the noise, alternatively the din, made by the enclave inhabitants as they shouted to each other, tried to outshout each other. (From my time as a guest worker in Germany, I have retained a few common turns of phrase, such as “alternatively,” also “notwithstanding,” “granted”—adopted from my friend—“including,” “be that as it may,” “gross income,” “clearance,” “seemingly.”)
Seemingly a racket like that did not trouble the former writer. Perhaps he even sought it out. Why else would he linger in the crowd, in as little hurry to board as all the others? I seldom saw his eyes glow, ever more rarely with the passage of time. But in this situation they glowed. Still, no cries of joy of any sort from the crowd. These were no rejoicers (“rejoyers,” the boatmaster offered as a variant). The people there had to shout to make themselves heard amid the gradually escalating din of departure; every second person, at least every third one, was actually yelling. Yes, here and there you could hear loud talking, bellowing, shouting. But the underlying tone—if at top volume, then at a different kind of top volume—was a pervasive weeping, penetrating everything, yet not at top volume at all, the more quiet the more pervasive, the weeping of the children. And on closer inspection it also became apparent that not a few in the crowd, yes, maybe the majority, were neither shouting nor crying but were silent, not only at this moment but for quite some time already, and would remain silent for some time to come.
But what accounted for the glowing eyes? During that night on the boat on the Morava, the time came when in place of me, born and bred in the enclave, the host picked up the story. (As for me, I merely added comments here and there to round out the story of the departure, now taking place at long last.) Yes, a profound sorrow was present in this rear-courtyard throng, a great sorrow. Squeezed in among the others, he felt his heart breaking, yes indeed. At any moment he might fall down dead, quite possibly with his forehead impaled on the jagged bottle neck poking out of the debris. And at the same time, yes, the very same time, his heart, this very heart, opened up to him, took on palpable form, and bled as it had not bled in “an eternity,” or so it seemed to him. He did not feel as if he were hemmed in by the crowd but rather free in its midst, free as a result of it, freer than he had ever been in all the years, whether alone or with us, his friends, on the river, wide as it was in some places, on the boat, which no turbulence ever rocked.
He, so dependent, or so he thought, on distant horizons, presumably greatly in need of them, rediscovered in this crowd the advantages of narrow horizons, close ones, more than close. In fact, and in his narrative he emphasized the word “fact,” it was a rediscovery, a recovery. Everything had begun for him, long ago, with close horizons. It did not have to be his mother’s face—as he recognized, and not only after the fact—which often came too close and tended to block out larger vistas. Closeness could also be found, for example, in the so-called “eyes” in the wooden floors of his house, or the knots in the planks, wide ones, that came together to form a ship, a term whose etymology—just think of it!—goes back to the concept of a hollowed-out tree. Closeness could also be found in the heavily scarred chopping block in the shed, with the ax buried deep in the wood and bloodstains that had seeped into the grain from the many chickens beheaded there. It was in the large fungus gathered in the woods, attached to a piece of wire and stuck into a bonfire outside the church at Eastertime. When you took it out and swung it through the air, it would glow red-hot. It was in the kernels of corn when you husked the ears, especially on those occasions, rare ones, when the kernels were not yellow but red or black.
Close horizons like those, whose peculiarity was that they were experienced neither as close nor as distant, but simply as horizons, as something to be seen, something that offered itself to be seen, as something with which you came face-to-face (a phenomenon not to be taken for granted, at least not by him): they had been constituted in those days almost exclusively by objects, by things. No matter how intently he focused his memory—a long, long pause in his narrative—it did not yield a single close horizon made up of human beings, not a soul, either whole or in part. At most he could think of animals, and usually only very small ones, such as a frozen bee that one wanted to try to revive by blowing on it, a daddy longlegs, lying dead in a dusty corner of a room. There were also larger ones, alive, perhaps in the eyelash line above a cow’s eye or the curve formed by a horse’s back.
For a long time, human closeness, the proximity of human beings, other than his mother, had meant not horizons to him but rather a sense of being surrounded. This was the case with individuals, and he felt still more surrounded when a number of people approached him at once. Even at a certain distance he had the sensation of being confined, trapped, and one (he kept slipping into this “one” perspective) became completely encircled, fenced in, hogtied, in a crowd. The first human horizon he had encountered, before all eye, ear, and lip horizons, was a girl’s genital area, still hairless: the act of looking, admiring, being drawn in (without touching), feeling a sense of belonging, continuing to look. Didn’t all that deserve to be called a horizon, whether close or distant?
Later, in the course of time, such horizons turned up now and then, including in a crowd, amid pushing and shoving, indeed often under precisely such conditions, and a couple of times even when he was hemmed in. It did not have to be at a soccer game or among tens of thousands leaving a rock, or some other, concert. In a crowded train human horizons could take on more monumental proportions than any Monument Valley; there were other situations, too, in which one horizon after another would become visible, or sometimes one horizon would give way to another. Such a situation might arise if one were caught up in the close quarters of a funeral procession for some unknown person, caught up unintentionally the first time but more intentionally with each succeeding time; or it might be in a subway car into which the passengers were packed so tightly that only the most shallow breathing was possible, like that of fish taking their last gasps while being transported in crates. Such a horizon might consist of the line of a person’s neck a hand’s breadth from one’s eyes, or hair literally standing on end in the crush. At such moments the gill-breathing could be supplanted by deeper and deeper breaths, a breathing for which one did not need to inhale; a breathing so deep inside one’s body that it seemed to create its own air in there; a breathing that did not originate with oneself.
A mistake, as he now realized: that was what his search for wide horizons had been. A mistake? An erroneous pursuit. A sickness, because more and more, day after day, hour after hour, he had focused exclusively on finding such horizons, and not only since he had moved onto the boat in this land so foreign to him. It was no longer an avocation but an addiction. How could he have forgotten that the Great Horizon never let itself be seen from the outside, from way out there, even at the most distant distance? And above all never when he intentionally looked for it? That it emerged at most in a particular proximity and then took shape internally, and often could remain there long after the moments of proximity, as Goethe had reputedly continued to see certain afterimages on the inside of his closed eyelids months later.
Didn’t horizons in the midst of the crowd around him dart through him now, in the form of guidelines, and wasn’t that therefore the first quivering second, before he properly got under way? No, these lines communicated themselves to him only gradually, first one, then another, and so forth, all in, oh, such a gentle symmetry, as the waves of a strangely still ocean there in the Balkan interior, a classic interior. It was less the weeping, or the earsplitting bawling, in the crowd that allowed him to rediscover the “decisive” horizons (his term) than the silent waves emanating from an unfamiliar brow line close to his shoulder, a cheek line, a neck line. “It fled, and the heart bled.” (We let him get away with that sentence, not his usual style.)
He was the first, then, to board the bus. Yet he was in no more of a hurry than the others. Delaying, postponing, retarding had become almost second nature to him (perhaps starting during his time as a writer, when he felt increasing urgency to turn everything into a narrative—following what model?). Three times he had hugged me, quite spontaneously, something new for him, and so warmly that it was as if he were hugging not only me. And then I could see him sitting in one of the windows, one of the cracked ones, as I would have expected, in the back, also as expected, and in the only row of seats that faced backward. He was staring intently, also as was to be expected, yet neither at me nor at the crowd below, which was gradually calming down and here and there risking a laugh and even snatches of song, but rather at part of the garbage-strewn courtyard that quite obviously offered nothing to see. How predictable my friend was. And in the end, shortly before the bus departed—which happened without warning, like so many other events in our Balkans—I caught sight of him again, jumping up from his seat and, as I could guess, mechanically digging through all his pockets, according to a deep-seated habit, in search of a pencil and paper, apparently without success. So did he want to write something down again after all? Had he forgotten that his skin broke out in a rash if he touched a piece of paper, especially a blank one, and sometimes even if he merely heard paper rustling? That he had broken all the pencils on board and had thrown them into the river?
Now the former writer resumed the storytelling, and would carry it on during the next nighttime hour without a second voice, for on the bus and also for a considerable time after the bus ride he had traveled unaccompanied. It was true: he had involuntarily groped around for writing materials, but not to write something down. It was a sudden urge to draw. To draw? To trace contours, merely to sketch them, or to reinforce them wherever an opportunity to do so presented itself. Presented itself? Yes, presented itself. Or no, to discover the contours in the process of drawing them—for that reason any kind of photographing would have been completely out of the question. Did he feel an urge to draw the people outside the bus? (He asked himself that very question.) The line of a cheekbone here, of a chin there, of a thumbnail over there? And again no: it was the contours of things that interested him, as they had when he was a child. But that rear courtyard: Wasn’t it empty, except for the bus? What was out there to draw? The backs of the seats in front of him, every one of them torn or slit open? The brackets for ashtrays, the ashtrays themselves all missing?
And again, no: the debris-strewn space suddenly appeared not as empty as it had seemed at first. The huge block of stone in the farthest corner of the former farm was in reality the last intact structure of those that had once rimmed the courtyard—the sheds, the stables, the barns, the wine cellar. It was the hut where at one time the local brandy had been distilled. The stone block formed a dome that rose out of the debris, leaving an opening into a hollow space with just room enough for a still and—how could there not be one here in your Balkans—a bench, short and narrow, but nonetheless.
The bunker, which was how he viewed the hollowed-out block, stood there without the large glass bulb filled with clear brandy. But the bench was still in place, at worst a little askew. This bench, and above it the stone dome, demanded to be drawn or sketched, if only with a last pencil stub, which was actually better, and if only on the back of a sales receipt, also better. And since neither one nor the other turned up, he traced the contours not on the bus’s windshield but in the air. He felt carried away, knew he was carried away at the sight of that bench in the former brandy-distilling cave, shimmering in the early morning light. Carried away? Did such raptures still happen nowadays?
Being carried away was certainly not the same as losing touch with reality. To be carried away in this fashion did not mean being torn away from the world, or, as far as I am concerned, from the present. How real everything (everything?) appeared in this rapture, not only the bench, not only the structure. That was it. That is it. That will have been it. This form of being carried away whisked things into their proper place. People, too? That was an entirely different question, not to be answered, or at most to be answered during a general rapture, in another time. One way or the other he would have liked to revise or correct a sentence from his days of writing things down: “Only when engrossed do I see what the world is”?—“Only when carried away do I see what the world is.” Might that now become his new profession?
That lasted all of one moment, though an immeasurable one. But it was enough time for the stone cave with the bench to become populated. Not that flesh-and-blood people took their seats there, or at least not those who had disappeared into the long-ago past. Rather it was conceivable human beings whose presence filled the empty dome, a virtual gathering place, so to speak (no, not “so to speak”), yet such a tiny one that it could hardly hold two or three people, a conceivable togetherness that had nothing to do with the structure’s earlier purpose, namely settling down and sampling the rakija—though perhaps that could happen, along with one thing or another; who among you would object to that? At the moment, however, there was no aroma of brandy. No songs rang out from the cave as if from the depth of the years, and no crisp, colorful peasant figures celebrated the Ascension before icons, as in a film flashback. This was no flashback, and these were no hallucinations; the rapture offered nothing of the sort, but rather? See above. Furthermore there was nothing rustic in this, hm, glimpse of a tableau—which otherwise inspired the thought: “Land ho!” Land? What kind of land?
The bus jerking backward. Slowly, slowly, to make sure the trailer did not jackknife. The sound of the engine in reverse: on the one hand threatening, on the other as if threatened. (If he had a consistent goal in mind for his tour, it was to pay attention to sounds, to reflect on them, to compare them, to translate them.) The trip began with jerking, which was to persist for a while longer, especially for the stages taking place in the Balkans. Balkans and jerkiness: for him those two went together, and he almost felt something was missing when, on days spent only on the boat on the Morava, the jerks did not come—not the case, however, now, during the night in question.
Much waving outside in the debris-strewn area, with little response from inside the bus. How few passengers there were in comparison to the crowd seeing them off. And not a glance outside; if one of them did look, it was a blank stare. But most of the passengers, as soon as they had taken their seats, were preoccupied exclusively with themselves, including members of couples or families, each individually unwrapping a packet of food, biting into an apple, taking a swig from a bottle, chewing on fingernails, starting to work on a crossword puzzle, a Sudoku (even in the Balkans, even in Porodin, the days now began with Japanese number puzzles), and one—yes, are my eyes not playing tricks on me?—even opening a book; no, not the former writer himself.
No residual effects from the recent crying and sobbing, not even a sniffle; and the eyes so dry, positively hyperdry. Because no one blinked? No eyelid movement could be detected? Or perhaps after all: in the one person who was reading a book, very rapid eyelid movements that caused the observer to doubt whether that person was reading at all, or whether it was real reading, the kind of reading that he at least would define as such. He, he would not read, not yet. For the time being he would read no book, and, listen to this, during the entire tour no newspapers: another firm principle, this one, however, relating to refraining from doing something. A single principle involving doing, not a few for refraining from doing something. Would he be able to follow through?
The backward jerking happened so slowly that the crowd outside, all together, could keep up with the bus, providing an escort. The crowd still ran alongside after the rear courtyard had finally been left behind, on the narrow side street that led past the Porodin church to the major highway and thoroughfare, still called “Magistrale” on the old maps, as even the most wretched arteries in the Balkans used to be called (the term now long since out of use). It was not only because the access road was so narrow that the bus continued to crawl, jolting along, though no longer backward. It was important to be on the alert, especially as they neared the church, for things other than the sides of buildings, trees, or parked vehicles. In truth this stretch had neither houses nor trees nor vehicles, and it was not even an alley but a mere passageway, a passageway that took shape only as it was traversed in that particular jerky fashion through an apparent no-man’s-land surrounding the church (which bore no resemblance to a village church, a common phenomenon in the post-Pannonian lowlands). Apparent: this no-man’s-land was actually a cemetery, its grave mounds so small that they hardly protruded above the grass, their plaques, if they had any, just a hand’s breadth above the ground. That might still correspond to the old burial custom in the Morava region, but it was certainly not the old custom to bury the dead in the middle of the village, next to the church. In this region the cemeteries had always been located outside the village, often very far outside, surrounded by semiwilderness, beyond the last cultivated fields and meadows, not seldom on the crest of a hill, the graves easy to mistake from below for weathered chunks of limestone. So was this a new custom, introduced or simply evolved in the course of the general homogenization? No. It was out of necessity that the deceased of Porodin were buried in the middle of the village, around the basilica, rather than outside in a former vineyard. It was simply not possible to do otherwise. The old cemetery was completely destroyed, and any gravestone installed up there would have been smashed to bits the very first night, any fresh grave mound, no matter how shallow, leveled. And this dire situation had not existed only since yesterday. The sole burial place still possible, the churchyard, had become packed with graves during the enclave years; if Porodin was a village, it was a large one, densely populated, indeed overpopulated, as a result of all the refugees from the surrounding area, whose—what is it called—“death rate” was considerable. The apparent grassy no-man’s-land at the center of the village was a graveyard, with the burial mounds cheek by jowl, so the crowd escorting the bus tiptoed through it, twisting and turning, more meandering than walking, their arms raised to help them keep their balance and not make a false step, which created the image of a mass prancing, much like traditional round-dancing. And the bus likewise twisted and turned, making its way across the remaining free space at the speed of a walk. Maybe as soon as tomorrow this terrain would be impassable. But then the bus would in any case be departing from a different rear courtyard.
Having finally lumbered onto the Magistrale, the bus would not have been prevented from picking up speed; the road was deserted. At first, however, the bus slowed down even more, if possible. Some of those escorting it, and not only children, had climbed onto the running board and the trailer. One scrambled onto the hood in front. It was an old-style bus, from the middle of the previous century, which had once seen service as a postal bus in Austria, long before the advent of automatic doors, tinted windows, and adjustable seat backs; a donation from the neighboring country after the last war, the postal horn symbol from that other country still on the sides, not painted over, the only recent addition being the word “Porodin,” but unmistakably clear, and in Cyrillic to boot: ???????.
Then, from one moment to the next, without any warning, acceleration. The running-board riders and their comrades seemed to have been expecting it. They nimbly jumped and rolled off to the side of the road. And not a few among the crowd picked up their pace as well, running, sprinting, storming along beside the bus. It took the vehicle quite a distance before it could leave them behind. Billows of diesel fumes, some of which also seeped into the passenger compartment, obscured the view of the last few pursuers, though not so completely that one could fail to notice that as they ran and leaped they were also grieving, and with them the entire crowd, soon out of sight. Before he gave up the chase, one of them executed a somersault on the road’s cracked asphalt, and then another, before he, too, dropped back, the last one to do so, and performed a salto mortale (wasn’t that the soccer star—even villages, even enclaves, had their stars—of Porodin?). Yes, that was possible: high-jumping, somersaulting, performing a salto mortale out of grief, a sprinting, leaping procession of grief. It was a wild grief, expressing resistance where resistance was futile, and for that reason all the more unconstrained.
In the bus he was the only one with eyes for all that. The people for whose sake all the others had run after the bus with such a fervor paid no attention. They remained intent on biting into their apples, causing a crunching, squeaking, and gnashing; they stuck their earbuds into their ears and turned up the volume on their music devices so high as to drown out any melody, singing, or instrument, also drown out any beat to which others might have tapped their feet. Nothing made itself felt but a rushing sound, permeating everything, inescapable all through the bus, despite the roar of the engine; having solved the first puzzle, they ostentatiously turned the page to the next; they combed their hair thoroughly; they picked their noses; one after another they stuck cigarettes in their mouths (though without lighting them); they incessantly tapped on their mobile telephones (just to pass the time); they munched sunflower and pumpkin seeds as well as their own fingernails (that, curiously enough, drowning out the engine); and one of them popped a toothpick in his mouth, in addition to the cigarette.
How he wished they would feel grief, too. Would act inconsolable, hopelessly distraught. Why didn’t they hurl themselves to the floor, or onto their stomachs in their seats, why didn’t they slit open the backrests with their fingernails instead of biting them, or at least pound the seats with their fists? How he wished they might be a different sort of company, one worthy of his journey. He almost went so far as to order them, with a stern expression, to behave as he imagined they should: if only they, the couple of them who were leaving their village forever, would take each other in their arms, or even just put their hands on each other’s, exchange a few words, however inconsequential, cozy up to each other, the couple of them. But no, each sat there on the bus alone, silent and stiff, except for one up front, diagonally across from the driver. And what this one jabbered, incessantly and at the top of his lungs, also in no respect matched the solemnity of the moment, resembling instead the prattling of someone the former writer recalled from his bus rides as a child, in a bus almost exactly like this one, who always sat or stood next to the driver and for the entire trip would bombard not only the driver but also the entire bus, all the way back to his, the schoolboy’s, seat in the rear, with nonsensical chatter, with changing content but always at the same volume and equally unavoidable. In those days the role of the jabberer had usually been assumed by a woman, whereas today it was a man—though that was nothing new—and quite an elderly one, too. The tone of voice, the incessant chatter, even the laughter—when really there was nothing to laugh about?—filled and battered the auditory spaces now just as they had for an eternity.
That these passengers paid no attention whatsoever to him, who rather affectedly turned his head now and then to observe them: that he did not exist for them was fine with him. What was not fine with him, however, was that their comportment clashed with his conception, or his will? his ideal? his idea?—his sense of a narrative based on all he had just witnessed. Ah, you and your damned neo-Balkan inadequacy, obtuseness, mediocrity. Things had not always been this way, had they? At one time no voices more animated, no eyes more wide open, no gestures more inclusive than could be found among you. What had happened to your eloquent gaze, your eloquent shaking and rocking of heads, your eloquent sighs? It was not even necessary for someone to turn up with a gusla, fiddling a tune on its one string that pierced one to the bone, and singing to that accompaniment a centuries-old tragic heroic ballad.
No sign indicating where the village of Porodin ended, one of the last enclaves in Europe, barely tolerated, and one that stretched mile after mile, “werst after werst” along the road. Did it end at the point where not even a dog still panted along beside the bus? Or where the first of the barns out in the fields lay in ruins, where the first vineyard huts had been burned to the ground, or at least charred? Where, despite the fertile pastures, neither sheep nor cows were grazing, and certainly no pigs skidded through the muck from one fenced orchard to the next? (Orchards still there, but abandoned, and the fruit, whether in early winter or early spring, still clinging to the trees everywhere, unharvested.) Where no road sign was not pockmarked with bullet holes, painted over with death’s heads, smeared with threatening slogans, in Roman, not Cyrillic, script?
Perhaps the most obvious indication of the crossing from the enclave into the other realm: way out on the Magistrale a second police or military-police vehicle joining the one that had been serving the bus as an advance guard from the time it left the village center, this new vehicle bringing up the rear, so that the bus was now traveling in a convoy. (It was from that moment on that he, the solitary traveler, began to see the passengers and himself at certain moments as “we,” and thus also referred during that night to “us.”) We had unmistakably left the orbit of Porodin when the exits from the Magistrale, leading to side roads, even to (former) wagon tracks across the fields, were now blocked by tanks. And where there were no tanks, the barriers consisted of coils of a particularly tough barbed wire, apparently hard as steel, alternating with tank traps. The tanks’ muzzles were all extended, aimed not at the highway, still almost deserted, but at the chain of hills on one side, the river valley on the other, where the absence of human beings and anything else was total. Constant waving of hands from the tanks’ hatches, not so much friendly as impatient: “Move it! Keep going! Step on it!” And in fact the convoy sped up, or perhaps it merely seemed so to us.
The former writer now experienced something that would recur now and then in the course of the tour: looking back in the direction from which they were coming, he saw the bus from the outside, from a furrow in a field, with the driver, the emigrants, and himself silhouetted in the windows. They all appeared in profile, thus hardly differentiated from one another. Through the window, its cracks resembling a star or a spider’s web, he saw his own profile, facing backward. And all of a sudden, still in the view from outside, the windows of the bus steamed up, the vapor on the inside, from them, from all the passengers, so dense that all at once, while the profiles did not disappear altogether, they became shapeless blobs. Involuntarily he used his sleeve to wipe away the steam, which was no illusion, none at all. From one moment to the next the panes had steamed up. And he was the only one who wiped and wiped—after each wipe a fresh coating formed. And his glance, then, again over his shoulder, at his fellow passengers: how rigidly they sat there, the impression of rigidity reinforced by those jackets, once worn throughout the country, now only in the enclave, of coarse, stiff leather, that reduced men as well as women to boxy shapes. The prints of a cat’s paws on the back of one of the jackets: was that something he was imagining, or a pattern, or did they really come from a cat that had stepped on the jacket? And on another jacket’s back, a dog’s paw prints? And on a third traces of a wolf’s paws! He jumped up and slid open the vent in the roof of the bus, a gesture familiar to him from rides in that same postal bus when he was an adolescent: how the sky shone blue once the vapor had dissipated, what a mild blue (which he transformed in his narrative to “wild”). And again he could see the bus from that distant external perspective, with the profiles of all those inside once more distinct, and curiously enough a thought now came to him unbidden, in these very words: “Have mercy on us.”
Then a side road, actually just for tractors, which was not blocked by either a tank or coils of barbed wire. Why did the bus turn off here instead of continuing on the Magistrale? No one posed that question, however, including him, as if during his years in the Balkans he had lost the habit of asking questions, or at any rate mostly; in these parts hardly any question did not sound like prying. The bus was moving very slowly now, rumbling along no faster than a walk, although no obstacle was in sight. The increasingly rocky landscape, untilled and treeless, was bare far and wide. They were leaving behind the river valley and the highway that cut through it and heading up into the southern hills, still in convoy with the police cars, one leading the way at a distance, as a pilot, so to speak, the other close behind the bus, the three vehicles, seen from the outside, wrapped in a single cloud of murky yellow dust, which, despite the slow speed at which they were traveling, billowed massively skyward in that uninhabited waste, at the same time confined to the convoy, wrapped around it, while on all sides the atmosphere remained that much clearer. No, there was no longer any reason to fear mines; all that belonged to the distant past. What slowed our bus were the many curves in the road, rather puzzling in this uncultivated terrain, as well as the narrowness of the tractor tracks, left over from the time when the fields had grown crops and were lined on both sides with old irrigation ditches, now without water, but clogged here and there with rusting machine and car parts, tangles of rags and plastic bags, animal cadavers either rotting or reduced to skeletons, and in between, not infrequently, jumbled crosses from graves, wreaths that could be mistaken for automobile tires decorated as if for a wedding, sections of car antennas with bows on them (which actually did come from weddings), rubber boots buried upside down, and, above all, the rubble of houses and cottages. Unexpectedly—“well, not so unexpectedly”—he interrupted himself during the Moravian night, something resembling a settlement. If this was a village down in the hollow, it was one fundamentally different from Porodin. Not just that it was built in a huddle rather than strung along a road: the styles of the houses were different, so different that it was like being transported suddenly not merely to a new country but to a far-off unfamiliar continent. Were these farmsteads, or more likely forts? If forts, then not surrounded by classic palisades but rather by stone walls higher than any imaginable palisade. The forts’ interiors, almost entirely roofed over, were hidden from view, even from the crown of the hill, which was where the settlement in the hollow first became visible.
An unknown continent, toward which the bus convoy was rolling, even more hesitantly, if possible? Yes, and furthermore, or at least so it seemed to him, the stranger to these parts, a forbidden one. And that was as it should be. Above all, no questions. But the fellow passengers, too, natives of this entire country, expressed through their heads, retracted at the sight of the hollow, the sense of something like an illegal border crossing. Even without changing seats—which they did do, after all, as the bus entered the village down there—they seemed to edge closer together. The nibbling of pumpkin seeds, the gum-chewing, stopped. Or, in the case of one or two of them, it intensified, just as the puzzle-solver suddenly worked more furiously and the book-reader followed the lines in his book more intently. The majority, however, fell into a shared state of bated breath. And now he got up from his seat in the back, moved forward to join them, and likewise held his breath.
Bated breath, which at the same time involved looking out. Yet no one looked out when the bus, still groping its way along the narrow tractor track, reached the farms or forts with their windowless walls and probably padlocked gates, in which, one after another, peepholes opened, then closed, if possible even more quickly. Those in the bus were looking, not at what was right before their eyes—at times the bus almost scraped the walls—but at the gaps between the buildings, and then at the ruins there, which, overgrown with brambles and weeds (not the useful kind), were so difficult to distinguish from the uneven ground that to the unaccustomed eye they became identifiable as ruins only as the bus passed gap after gap. (And the gaps distinctly took up more and more space, until the end of the village turned out to be one big gap, one expanse of ruins, hardly recognizable anymore.)
Unaccustomed eyes? No, not theirs, not those of his fellow passengers. They knew what they were seeing. And they were seeing something entirely different from what was there, in many places almost swallowed up by the earth, perhaps more to be intuited than still to be seen. And their eyes focused, more often than on the ground, out through the gaps into the empty countryside, to the slopes of the hollow and up to the top, where there was nothing, nothing at all. Down in the village not a single being out in the open, not even animals, whether dogs or chickens. Or only the sparrows that whizzed back and forth in front of the bus—always a calming sound—or, untroubled by the heavy vehicle rumbling past, bathed in the dust, also in patches of snow.
It was no longer a track on which the bus traveled uphill after the settlement ended, it was a steppe, trackless and increasingly steep. When would the bus finally stop? No, no questions. And then it was standing still, aslant on the ruin-strewn slope, yellow against grayish brown. All out!? No need to make that explicit. Were they, and he with them, asking no questions, now headed uphill on what must have been a path at one time? Hardly any traces of it, but the matter-of-factness with which each of them in the little band of pedestrians set out across and up the steppe allowed one to sense where it had been. Apparently the old path had taken a serpentine course, a wide-looping one. Possibly it had been intended for the transport of heavy loads; walkers without packs would have taken a more direct route to the top, snaking in less leisurely fashion or heading straight uphill, as did the military policemen providing security up ahead for the procession.
Providing security? Yes, indeed; for upon arriving at the top, we found ourselves surrounded by them as if by sentinels, posted at the four corners of an empty field that formed a plateau high above the village in the hollow. Submachine guns at the ready, aimed not at us but away from us in all directions; and the plateau ringing and crackling with two-way radios. Was there a connection with the figures far below, who, little by little, in ever more rapid succession, emerged or actually swarmed out of the fort-like farmyards, which had previously seemed uninhabited, and closed ranks as they headed uphill, the vanguard halfway up already?
Except for him, the bus passengers seemed to notice none of what was taking place around them. Or if they did, they had no eyes for it. The only thing for which they had eyes was their destination, located on the farthest edge of the empty field. They stayed on course toward it, undeterred by the uneven ground, and it was clear that he had to follow. The sun shone warm in the southerly blue sky, almost hot. Underfoot the withered herbs, wild thyme and rosemary, gave off a summery smell. Eyes only for their destination? And how. Even down below, while they were still on the bus, their demeanor had changed at the sight of the hilltop. After all their earlier corpse-like staring, their eyes suddenly came alive, even if only for a hasty, almost surreptitious glance. And now, as they hobbled and stumbled toward their destination, with one or another of them tripping and falling now and then, their gaze became completely open and unabashed; no fall could deflect it from its goal.
But what was the destination? No, he still did not ask, not even himself. Clearly the edge of the square field, now turned to steppe, the verge of the wilderness, was as empty as the rest of the field, at most somewhat rockier, as such edges usually are. Whatever the case, this strip at the end of the field was the destination. The entire group, except for him and the bus driver, who had come along, squatted in a circle around a spot where, other than grass, rocks, and brush, there was nothing to be seen. One after another they pulled out of briefcases, handbags, and plastic bags various items to eat and drink and placed them in the circle, all this taking place smoothly and with gestures as practiced as those in a Balkan shell game. Then the various items were unwrapped, if necessary, and organized: cookies and waffles removed from their packages, chocolate bars slid out of their foil, cheese taken out of its wrapping; apples were added, also oranges, one or two bananas, even a couple of homegrown kiwis (the enclave was not that distant from the rest of the world); and the caps of the beverages were loosened slightly.
An odd picnic, for which all of them remained in a squat, no one sat down, let alone ate or drank; and at which in broad daylight a candle was lit; and at which, after no word had been spoken for a long time, in fact since they got off the bus, no, even longer, since they turned off the Magistrale to the village, now weeping broke out among these emigrants, entirely unlike that of the crowd that had accompanied them in the morning: a weeping from which one wanted to turn away at once, whether to the sky, or to the earth, or to nowhere at all, just turn away; for which one felt responsible without being to blame or having any urge to blame someone else; a weeping that challenged one to take responsibility.
Wanting to turn away from people weeping in this fashion did not signify closing one’s ears to them, did not signify failing to absorb these tones, each and every one, or failing to let them imprint themselves on one’s consciousness. It did not mean consigning these people to their fate, the earlier nose-pickers, nail-biters, belchers. Or did it? Or did it? Was being forgotten, being ignored perhaps the kindest thing that could happen to these people, whimpering here in this deserted place? And they themselves wanted it this way? No. They wanted nothing, and certainly not anything from someone like him. They were beyond wanting anything.
As the weeping continued, on and on, the driver shared with him, quietly, the story behind it. Before the last war, the village in the hollow had been inhabited by two peoples, and those crouching in the circle here were some of those who had been driven away after the war, let’s call them the Wallachs. Now, for the first time since the end of the war, some members of this former second people had returned to their region, if only for a visit, and the first time would also be the last. And this spot was where their graveyard had been located. Not a trace of it left. Or perhaps there was: the couple of darker, marbled chunks of stone among those indigenous to this place and the Balkans, the lumps of white limestone jutting out of the reddish eroded soil. According to the driver, these were the only remnants of a grave, all that remained of the burial ground on the plateau high above the village, long since and probably forever inhabited by only one people. The, hm, driven-out and now actually resettled people were crouching at a distance from the ruins of the grave marker at a spot where nothing was left. In approximately this location, the driver continued, during the war one of them had witnessed several members of this people being surrounded by a group wearing masks that suddenly burst out of the underbrush and dragged them off, never to be seen again. (He, crouching behind a nearby grave, had gone unnoticed.) The ambush had occurred during a festival celebrated by his people that called for visiting the dead and bringing them food and drink, while the living sat down on a special bench at a special table—of those not a trace either—and joined in heartily; this cult of the dead or the ancestors constituted a main feature of their religion, still strenuously observed at the time; each tribe preserved the memory of its dead going far, far back, and thus one feast day, or at least one feast hour, by the graves led to the next. Yet traditionally this practice also signified danger, and more acutely in wartime: feast day and crime, feast day and betrayal, feast day, decisive battle, and defeat all went together “for us.”
And now the survivors were visiting what was left of the cemetery, bringing food and drink. But how could it be—without the ancestors’ graves, and also graves for those who had disappeared, who had not yet been declared dead and whose corpses, hm, if indeed they really were dead, were decomposing somewhere else, probably unburied? No questions. It was as it was: the survivors, those who had escaped and gone away, were crouching where, according to that one witness, a father, brothers, a sister, an uncle, aunts had sat shoulder to shoulder, and then, a few moments later, were gone, dragged away by the masked men into the underbrush.
The candle placed in the middle of the victuals kept going out, extinguished by the wind on the plateau, or something. How about crouching down with them? Heaven forbid. They were weeping so loudly into that empty space, completely unabashed. Perhaps the weeping of the men was not quite so unrestrained, especially that of one man, broad-shouldered, with a, hm, low forehead, who in the bus earlier had glared in all directions as if on the verge of perpetrating murder and mayhem; the weeping emanating from him was more intense than a child’s, when, after screaming and screeching, bawling and whining for help, in the realization of being totally lost, nothing remained but this one long-drawn-out, high-pitched wail, much higher than the others’, and likewise much softer than that of the others, the women. There was no help to be had. And as if in confirmation, as one of those crouching moved some fallen branches aside to make room for a new candle, out shot a snake, awakened from its winter paralysis and set in motion by the burning sun, but it did not strike, merely slithered away, after whipping into view, into the grass of the onetime burial ground, with a rustling that came not from any rattles but from the snake’s skin rubbing against the brush. And for the group there in the grass the moment when the snake darted forth had not existed, or it did not count; not one of them reacted in any way. And for him, the bystander, the command to keep his ears open remained in effect. Listen: the creaking and squeaking of all those stiff black leather jackets, together with the continuing chorus of wails, together with the moan of grief passing from one to the other. The bleating of sheep down below in the village and the bleating of a hawk overhead in the sky.
Then, as if nothing had happened, back down to the bus, in silence. In the meantime a crowd had gathered around it, so large that these people could not possibly all come from the village? Yes, they could, this many and even more, thousands lived there, though on ordinary days most of them could be neither seen nor heard. But this day was no ordinary one, for anyone, on one side or the other. Yes, in contrast to the crowd that had gathered for the departure from the enclave, there were two sides here, and the crowd belonged to the other one. The crowd seemed neither angry nor hostile. The military policemen did not need to hold it in check. The gathering kept its distance without even one weapon’s being drawn. All the members of the crowd completely expressionless as they took in the little band from the bus. They in turn, without making any move to board the bus, gathered in front of it, appearing rather relaxed, and returned the others’ gaze, but as if among the thousands of faces they were searching for a familiar one here and there. And a number of them succeeded. That was clear from a glow in their eyes, a strange glow, certainly not a happy one, and the glow was not returned in any way by the other side. General wordlessness, as the one group strolled back and forth in front of the yellow bus with its Cyrillic lettering while the other, the children included, remained almost motionless, if possible not even blinking. This crowd looked almost beautiful in its silent, wide-eyed symmetry, also in contrast to the jerking and jumping, the flailing and floundering of us visitors, caught in the trap of their gaze. And then, with us back on the bus, as it started up and pulled out, a single motion in the crowd, which greatly outnumbered us, the motion of one individual. One of us on the bus, seated by a window, had suddenly waved, as if it were nothing, as if nothing had happened, as if nothing had ever happened. Unquestionably the wave was not meant for the crowd, for the horde, which is what it was now after all in the moments of departure, pantomiming in unison taking aim with guns and firing, alternated with an orchestrated blowing of kisses, accompanied by a sardonic grinning, as if on command—but meant for a single person in their midst. The former writer, following the direction in which the waver, male or female, was looking, managed to make out who it was. Was it obvious that the wave was intended for a child? No, he would have been no more surprised to discover it was for an older person or an adult. The waving was aimed, yes, aimed, at a child, whether coincidentally or not. And the child, almost hidden in the throng, waved back. He had realized that he was meant, he alone. And what a waving it had been!
During that night on the Morava boat, our host interrupted his story. The event he had been describing seemed to have happened long ago, and at the same time it was taking place again. And thus he shifted from the paster-than-past and the past, after a pause to catch his breath, into the present. What kind of a waving is it, actually? The child from the other people, the “enemy,” does not react right away, and then only with his eyes. He does not know what to do. He feels ashamed. The whole thing is embarrassing. He blushes. He would like to look away. He would like to get out of the situation altogether. Yet he also does not want in the slightest to go away. He would like to blow a kiss like all the others, to the woman waving from the bus. He would like to stick out his tongue at her, stick out his tongue until his whole face is contorted. For a quivering second that is not merely possible but is about to occur, as the very opposite is also not merely possible—otherwise this second would not quiver, and with it this child on the other side of the dividing line, quivering all through his body, without the quivering’s making its way to the surface and becoming visible to any of the bystanders.
This quivering remains confined to the inside but takes hold all the more powerfully, a quaking deep within that makes an eruption unavoidable. Any minute now it will happen. And now it is happening. And this eruption takes the form of the child’s waving back, a hardly noticeable gesture. The little stranger waves almost imperceptibly, also entirely unobtrusively, no, that is not the word, but rather? tenuously, yes, that is the word. Unlike the woman on the bus, he does not make any move to wave, does not raise his arm. Rather he lets his arm droop, alongside his body. His arm droops down to his knees, as a child’s usually does. And the answering wave appears as the mere jerking of a finger, a brief, one-time reflex like the reaction to a hammer tap on the knee, which bobs slightly.
So teeny-tiny is the wave, no, that is not the expression, so—secretive. And it is “in fact,” “really” (see above) a wave, not a reflex. For a reflex the motion of the hand is too slow, even if the curling of the finger occurs only once and is so slight as to be almost imperceptible. And the little hand does not move automatically, but rather reflectingly, no, reflectively; as slowly as reflectively; hardly noticeable is this curling of the finger, but it emanates from the entire body. And the former writer apologizes to his listeners on the boat for this “close-up”—but only in this way could that second be conveyed, and he owed it to himself and to the others to convey it, especially to the child listening to him in his imagination, perhaps long since not a child anymore. Or actually still a child after all? And what did “actually” mean? “If things were as they ought to be.”
Back to the side road where, after the detour into that wasteland, a large crowd lined the road, motionless on both sides except for various obscene gestures, and back onto the Magistrale. Over-the-shoulder glances by the occupants of the bus, for one last time, then for one more last time, and yet another last time. In the meantime the solitary traveler had taken a seat among them and, instead of imitating them, looked around at all of them. Unlike in school buses, where, as he knew from earlier observation, the pupils, or at least the younger ones, always sat way in the back, as if in obedience to some law of physics, usually leaving the front seats empty, these emigrants were crouched—yes, it was as if they continued to crouch as they had in the vanished cemetery, and it seemed as if that had been long, long ago—in the front, near the driver, all in a heap, as it were. As expected, once the bus was back on the broad Magistrale, they reverted to their earlier preoccupations or attitudes. Puzzling over numbers in Sudoku. Spitting into a checkered Balkan handkerchief. Spooning food out of a tin canteen (which somewhat resembled a military helmet). Except that these actions (including someone’s snoring) produced no mere sounds of one kind or another; they created reverberations that, even when they came intermittently, yielded a kind of harmony, a fleeting one, for perhaps an hour. And another constant feature could be seen in their hands, those that were idle. (“Ah, here come the hands again!” the storyteller interrupted himself.) These hands were resting on people’s thighs or were thrust between the seats as if doing something indecent, something that had developed a life of its own, yet remained completely still, at most vibrating along with the bus. All of them had their palms facing up, forming bowls, empty ones, and it seemed to him—an effect probably created by the vibrations—that something was being weighed in the bowls, a bird, to be specific, a more-or-less small one. Live weight? Dead weight? An image and a question that would stay with him on his tour. Then a dog was running alongside the bus, in the middle of the Magistrale, spray-painted, or was that a coincidence, in the former national colors. It ran and ran, refusing to give up, and was eventually taken on board for a stretch, without further ado.
Later the first larger settlement, located along the highway, which wound its way through it. And there the first rock was thrown at our bus, which had to slow down on the curves and thus offered an easy target. At first the storyteller did not know it was a rock that struck one of the windows sharply. It sounded and felt like a vigorous blow from a fist, hitting not only the window but the entire bus. Yet the passengers did not react, and neither did he. The glass, a special kind, did not shatter but was merely nicked, with delicate cracks radiating from the point of impact. One question, “Was that a rock?” and in reply a nod, just a brief one; the others seemed to find the incident not that unusual. On the next curve another rock, and a third as they were leaving the settlement (earlier called Malishevo, but meanwhile, under the reorganization, Malisheva, all the short o endings having been replaced by a endings, fuller in appearance and in pronunciation).
And so it went as the trip continued, through the reorganized country, from settlement to settlement, despite the escort vehicles in front of and behind the bus, yet without ever amounting to a hail of stones. Each time only a single rock crashed, clinked, or clattered against the glass of the “Steyr Diesel” or the whatever-it-was-called rust bucket from postwar Austria, and perhaps leaving, but also perhaps not, yet another dent. In any case, from a certain moment, or stone throw, on, the trip took place accompanied by a kind of constant expectation and premonition that were something other than fear, and nonetheless, to quote the storyteller verbatim, “not entirely without.” A couple of stone throws after the first one, and then a few stone throws later, they were no longer just stupid child’s play.
Yet it also seemed as though the rocks were all on the small side, certainly no large chunks. Although all of them hit the bus squarely, the most pronounced effect remained the unexpected suddenness of the crash every time, impossible to anticipate no matter how one braced oneself for it. And for a long while there was no glimpse outside the bus of one stone thrower or another. No matter how intently one—or only he—scanned the surroundings: no one to be seen, either before or after the rock landed. Not once did a stone come flying when one expected it, thinking Now! and Now!, for instance when, from one settlement to the next more and more groups of youths gathered along the road, apparently informed in advance of the passage of the extraterritorial bus; no, not one of them bent down, or so much as moved, even grimaced; all that could be seen was their silent, dark, wide-eyed staring—veritably iconic (though they would have objected to such a characterization). In addition, the driver, who had cranked up the window on his side as if for no particular reason, now turned on music, loud, completely un-Balkan music, without rattling harmonicas or short-tube trumpet blasts, music that could not possibly provoke anyone; instead it was the long-distance echoing guitars from the “Apache” instrumental piece, the most universal sounds imaginable, while he, the lone passenger, felt as though he had already heard these same Apache guitar chords accompanying his ride to school years before on the same bus as now.
Moments of absentness while the music was playing, accompanied by the dwindling and disappearance of expectation. And out of just such absentness he then saw the next stone-thrower, and after that, because he now knew how to look, the next one and the next. All of them were children, and for the most part so little that the stones they threw suddenly seemed disproportionately large, so little that—if there had still been anything that provoked astonishment—it was astonishing how sure-handedly they all, without exception, set about their work. They squatted in the dust along the Magistrale, seemed to be playing, and perhaps really were playing in earnest, each of them alone, engrossed in his play, and apparently unaware of the bus approaching. And nonetheless each of them hurled his rock without any windup, popping up from the dust without one’s being able to see the object coming, let alone follow its flight through the air, and almost at the same moment one saw the child squatting again, playing. Was it the noise of the engine? The bright yellow, caught out of the corner of their eye? Yes, one child after another snapped to attention upon glimpsing something out of the corner of his eye. But it was not really the yellow so much as the gray-blue lettering on the yellow surface. Each of the children was still too young to be able to read the script of his own country or nation, let alone the foreign Cyrillic script. But what they did know, or instinctively grasped: in the form of this script, no matter how bleached and blurred it was, the letters half blending with the yellow surface, it was the enemy approaching, and this enemy, they knew reflexively, before any thought or decision could register, had it coming—and pow!
The bus picked up speed. No more music. Dusk. It would not last long—they were still in the south—and it was clear that the driver was not the only one in a hurry to get to the other side of the border before dark. Yet the acceleration in no way resembled flight. The settlements, and with them the hurled rocks, lay behind us. We were driving through a no-man’s-land, apparently interminable, no lights anywhere, as if depopulated once and for all. The acceleration resulted rather from impatience and, even more, as the storyteller recognized when he moved to the front to sit next to the driver, from anger. And there it also occurred to him that when the first rock had hit the bus and later as well, until he caught sight of the little children, he had pictured the stone-thrower or the organizer as his unknown enemy, the woman; the idea haunted him that she was on his trail, hot on his heels.
The noises made by the bus, by the engine, now increasingly sounded like expressions of this anger. Only the words were missing—otherwise every feature of an angry outburst was present. The driver let the engine rise to a howl, let it bellow, screech, drone, spit, grind its teeth, howl, sing off-key, growl (yes), threaten, and all this rhythmically, with a steady beat that harmonized with the angry quivering inside him and resembled an instrumental prelude, now really comparable to the first notes on the thick plaited string of the Balkan gusla, a merely apparent cacophony, in which, if one listened more closely, the sounds were kept distinctly apart, easily recognizable individually, and at the same time giving rise to each other, yielding a rhythm. An anger at once wild and controlled, even playful, issued from the engine and from the entire bus, too, both of them furnishing the driver with instruments for his overture, and the equally rhythmic flashing on and off of the headlights’ high beams, not necessary on the completely deserted Magistrale, formed part of the performance. Soon words and a voice would be added, and it did not have to be a singing voice.
And that in fact happened. But no, this was not the voice of a gusla-player, breaking forth suddenly, from deep inside the breast cage, filling the space. The words came from the driver’s lips, half under his breath and not directed at any audience. If the storyteller had not intuitively moved close to the driver, they would have remained incomprehensible, indeed inaudible. There was also no rhythm to what he said, no coherence, and accordingly, as he opened his mouth, the noise of the engine went back to normal, becoming hardly noticeable, and at the same time the high beams stayed on. Nonetheless it was anger being articulated, a specific anger, even if the man beside him had never before heard such gentle, no, childlike expressions of anger. For one thing, the effect resulted from the curiously high-pitched tones, all of them head tones, in which the angry man spoke, half under his breath, the sound contrasting to the massiveness of his body. And then it was a type of anger in which the angry speaker, and in this case it was no contradiction, made noises with his lips the way small, very small children sometimes do, and the succession of lip sounds accompanied his imprecations, curses, expletives with something like a melody.
The bus driver’s anger was vocalized as follows: “They have always hated us. They got everything they wanted, and still they hate us. More than ever. In more of a blind rage than ever. More blindly than ever. They have their own country now. They are a nation now, like the Lithuanians, like the Catalans, like the Transnistrians, like Cisnilians, like the Valley Kalmuks, like the Mountain Slovenians, like the Danube and Mekong Delta Autonomians. They are a national people and, now that their great dream has been realized, a one-people state, they still hate us, what remains of the second people, which has no state of its own, hate us as if we remnants were the national people instead of them. And they need not even teach this hatred to their children. It simply gets handed down, from generation to generation, from gene to gene, long past blood feuds and wars. Your hatred of us became baseless ages ago and has taken on a life of its own, if indeed there ever was a basis for it, but no, there never was a basis. It has become not your national consciousness but your life force. Ha, life. Your state merely provides a vehicle for living out your hatred, protected by your national boundaries, your flags that signal hostile intent, your anthems that are anthems of hated. Your hatred for everyone who is not of your nationality, for everything that is not the nation. You derive no pride from your nation, only legitimation and perpetuation of your hatred. And in that respect you typify all nations nowadays, you are the quintessential modern nation, the new form of nation. Nation and hatred go together. Ha, these parents and grandparents—who not only did not energetically dissuade their children from hating others, hating us, but on the contrary passed the hatred on to them—should never have been allowed to become a nation, such a nation. Ha, such parents and grandparents, tribal chiefs and clan leaders, politicians and teachers, star athletes and poets—to whom it never occurs to whisper in angelic voices, yes, angelic voices to your little children, just learning to walk and hold on to things, and to drive out of them with utmost concentration of energy the rock-throwing gene, to smoke out the rock-throwing instinct, to whisper away the hate-pounding drum from their little ears, reaching into the deepest recesses of their brains—never do they, never do you have the right to a nation of your own. But nation or no nation: your hatred never ceases.”
Here the driver fell silent. The end of his angry outburst, uttered half under his breath. He did continue, however, after a pause, though in a different tone and louder, almost in song, introduced by a humming in which the opening bars of “Apache” could clearly be heard: “But what of it. Let them declare each of their hay sheds a national hay shed, or, for all I care, every marker of a property boundary a national border marker, every little rock-thrower a national icon. I am stateless, and proud of it. I was always stateless. And hope to be stateless always. Apache, Apache. No proof of nationality and no passport, and my only anthem is Apache, Apache. No travels tempt me, and you can keep your free world. Stateless persons of all lands, stay where you are and what you are. Apache, Apache. Foreign countries: leave me alone. No more getting up early and standing in line for a visa, for no matter what country. Apache, Apache. Staying for all time on my reservation, where the eagle flies, but not on a national crest. Taking pride in my reservation, where the silhouette of a jaybird in a pine tree does not compel me to think: Ah, our national bird. Being content for all time with our reservation, where in school the question never comes up on tests: What is our national flower? Apache, Apache. Bear droppings in the sunset. Love after midnight. Gray-blue on yellow. Dogs’ barking does not interfere with the clouds’ drifting. All paths lead to the mill. Better to be alone than to sit together in discord. Vinegar tolerates only its own eels. You’ll dance for the worst ape when its time comes. He who knows himself knows his master. May you live or die: Hello, my love, adieu, my love.”
Night had long since fallen when the bus finally crossed the river (had we heard right? Ibar? Abar? Sabar? Samar?), the river that after the war had become the border. It was a border without checkpoints and without barriers, and if it was guarded, then unobtrusively, downright secretively, on both sides. Nevertheless it was a border in the fullest sense, and like none before it. What had appeared earlier along an interminable stretch to be a far-flung no-man’s-land became for the few moments on the bridge an intensely concentrated one. The same passengers who had not reacted in the slightest to all the rock-throwing now involuntarily ducked. In the water, fast-moving but not deep, under the bridge, neither especially long nor especially high, which one good spurt of gas was almost enough to speed the bus across, pipes stuck up out of the darkness that were not necessarily to be mistaken for stove pipes or the exhaust pipes of threshing machines. And both on this side and the far side of the river, in the dim light of the few intact streetlights in this border town, stone buildings could be glimpsed whose only distinct feature was their ruined and vandalized state—with the exception of one house or another on either side that was not simply unscathed but actually glowing inside and out, festively, and also peacefully, illuminated, surrounded by a tended garden like something out of an Oriental fairy tale: despite the time of year, roses in bloom, artificial waterfalls cascading over miniature artificial cliffs, torches lining winding paths of white sand, and through the rattling of the bus one almost thought one could hear, from inside the villas, the sound of shepherd’s pipes and lutes.
As if in a countermovement to their ducking, some of the emigrants rose from their seats once the bridge and the no-man’s-lands on either side were left behind. It looked as though they were getting ready to disembark, once and for all. Yet they still had a long journey ahead of them, through the night, with a different driver, across several borders of various sorts, as far as Belgrade and then perhaps on another bus or by train to Budapest or Vienna by way of Novi Sad, and some of them on to Copenhagen, Lyon, Seville, Porto, one of them perhaps by plane to Canada, but primarily they would be traveling by bus, for there were bus lines connecting even the smallest town in the Balkans with the rest of Europe. Only the bus from the enclave of Porodin had Belgrade as its last stop.
But then at a hotel, in the city that had been split in two by the war, everyone got off, if only for the supper scheduled to be served there. The only ones leaving the bus for good were the driver, who would wait here for the bus to return the following afternoon, and the solitary traveler. He decided then and there to spend the night in the hotel, the only one in this part of the two-people town, a border town far from every other border marked on maps. There were plenty of rooms available; in fact he was the only guest; the driver would find lodgings elsewhere—perhaps because he really had no passport, or did not want to show one? The hotel room, under the eaves, looked out on the bridge, distinguishable almost only as an even darker darkness down below in that dark town. On the far distant horizon the outlines of the slag heap belonging to the local magnesium mines, out of operation for many decades now. No more profit could be made here, ever again? A chunk of slag began to roll and struck another with a sharp retort audible far and near, that was how deserted the border town seemed.
He ate the evening meal at the table with the passengers who would be resuming their journey. He had been invited to join them. They seemed disappointed that he would not be coming along. Listening to him that night on the boat, we nodded, for we knew how they felt. How could he leave them to their fate that way, not even witness it? Surely they had realized with time who he was, at least not a complete stranger or a reporter in disguise, and at any rate certainly not their enemy. If they felt disappointment, they did not voice it, however. One after another, they simply showed him hospitality, nothing more. The hotel restaurant might have been the emigrants’ very own dining room (so expressions like “very own” still existed?), and they wanted him to feel at home there, as their guest. Although there were no actual festive touches, such hospitality had something festive about it, and not merely because they had passed that long day together. A festive mood emanated from and around the table at which they ate and drank quite quietly, the food and beverages served by the emigrants themselves, who brought them from kitchen and cellar as if they had been cooked or pressed by them personally, as the hosts. And as the boatmaster described the individual dishes in that border-town evening meal, ah, how long ago that was, we who had been invited for his Moravian night, although we had just been served delicacies by the unknown beauty and had eaten our fill, all of us at our tables found our mouths watering, and we experienced a kind of longing to drink the same wine as the company gathered in the hotel had drunk that night, notwithstanding that it would soon be named not for a sparrow but for an eagle.
After the meal he saw them back to their bus. It stood there, yellow, in the deceptively silent border-town night, under a tree (here, too, no provision had been made for a parking place). The tree was a linden, recognizable now in winter by its straight trunk and the unique, regular perpendicular lesions in its light-colored bark, and at the same time by its foliage, which in disregard of the season almost all remained on the branches, though withered, as if this linden, lipa, were too old and/or too weak to shed its leaves, or/and there were no wind where it stood. Up to this moment the emigrants had asked him as little as he had asked them. But now, as the first of them was getting back on the bus, he paused on the running board, making the others hold up, too, and said, looking back over his shoulder, which made his leather jacket creak, something that could just as well have been an observation as a question: “You’re an attorney(?).” And already the next one was saying, likewise: “You used to be a farmer(?).” And likewise a third: “You come from an island(?).” And yet another: “You’re a widower(?).” And another still: “You have no father(?).” And then one more: “You are homeless(?).” And then one more: “You were once a soccer player(?).” And one more: “You have money(?).” And: “You’re not a man of the times(?).” And: “You’re a sharpshooter(?).” And: “You’re a misanthrope, brother(?).” And: “You’re not a foreigner(?).” And at the very end: “You’re one of us(?).”
As the bus pulled out, a woman suddenly began to sing. This was no highway music like “Apache,” and also no song of the Magistrale. It was singing from the depths of the Balkans. Was there really such a thing? Yes, for instance in this voice now. Notes held so long that after a while the voice sounded like an instrument, and yet remained, note after note, a voice, voice and instrument in one. And what was perhaps more remarkable: it was not this particular woman who seemed to be singing—she briefly showed her face at the bus window, completely impassive as the singing became loud and grew louder, her mouth hardly open even a crack—but rather someone else, a third person, more invisible, above her? below her? next to her? behind her? Yes, behind her, far, far behind her. The woman had had a rather old face. And how youthful the voice was.
He did not wish he were on the bus with them; for the time being he had had enough of buses, even that one marked with the postal horn familiar from his early years. And nonetheless, as he stood there alone under the nocturnal tree, with the diesel fumes still in his nostrils, an unfamiliar loneliness overcame him, a sensation new for him after all these years of his earthly sojourn (the expression he used). It was painful. No, it was a momentary ache, although he knew he was still in the emigrants’ company. The ache of desolation? No, of abandonment. Momentary? No, for a second. It was that quivering second which, ache or no ache, along with the other quivering seconds produced the sense of existence, or indeed of the earthly sojourn, for the first time on his journey.
He wished to be not on the emigrants’ bus but away from these Balkans, the Balkans with these border towns without specific borders, the Balkans of the thousand invisible borders, each and every one malevolent and bitterly hostile, from valley to valley, from village to village, from brook to brook, from manure pile to manure pile, the Balkans where little children threw rocks, where people blew kisses full of scorn, where garlic made vampires even more bloodthirsty. He wished he could get away from these gloomy Balkans to metropolises festooned with lights, bustling with sonorously honking taxis in skyscraper canyons, with bridges on which every pair of lovers was something like a peace symbol, located on rivers where weddings, baptisms, and business deals were celebrated on boats, where people just celebrated, for no particular reason, maybe on a boat with imitation paddle wheels like a Mississippi steamer called the Louisiana Queen. And simultaneously he wished he could get away from these Balkans to those other Balkans he had experienced so often in earlier years, as profoundly as no other region on earth, for instance on his houseboat on the Morava, wished he could be back on his Moravian Night, the journey be damned.
For now, however, he just wished to be in bed. It had been a day full of adventures. Of course (an expression he seldom used), he needed such days. But the adventures he had had on this first day of his tour were not the kind he wanted. He had also found it difficult to describe them to us. Earlier, too, during his time as a writer, it was an entirely different kind of adventure that had excited and inspired him. What kind of adventure? A different kind. Only such adventures suited him. Only for those did he feel driven to find the right language. Thus it did not trouble him that after all the day’s fairly unwelcome adventures the sheets on his bed were ripped, holes had been burned in the one towel, and the radiator remained cold. He even found it appropriate. After the day he had just had, these things signified peace. For bedtime, he opened the skylight as wide as it would go and looked out toward the invisible bridge. He thought he could hear the river rushing, and from the half-buried tank muzzles came a drumming and a ringing, as if from a brook shooting over a cliff. O, language! How it bloomed in the gardens of the absent and the dead, how it bloomed and bloomed. If, God willing, he were to make his way back from his tour, he would cross this deserted bridge to gradually close the circle. The bridge would be his point of return. (That, too, was not to happen…) The Incas are not extinct. Sursum corda!
The last sentences our host had spoken he had addressed more and more to himself, murmured to himself. It seemed as though the rest of us were ceasing to exist for him. Did he need a premonition of danger for storytelling? But this, too, was a danger, one entirely different from the one he urgently needed. He was at risk, now as always before, of losing consciousness of others, and the result, instead of speech leaping across the gap to us, was his solitary murmuring and finally falling silent, including toward himself. Whether as a writer or anything else, he represented his own greatest threat to himself. Which of us would get him to stop, like a high-wire artist who begins to wobble and must stop before taking the next step? And how to get him to stop? By inventing a threat, an external one? Painting in imaginary colors one of those dangers that would jolt him, or perhaps merely tickle him, out of himself?
Copyright © 2008 by Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main
Translation copyright © 2016 by Krishna Winston