PASSAGE FROM THE NOVEL ’IN EXILE’ published in 2011.
Don’t speak on behalf of your nation, for who are you to be anybody else’s representative but yours
Danilo Kiš ’Advice ti the young writer’
The whole idea of going to Amsterdam arose by chance. Or was it intentionally?
Anyway, no trip was planned and I was not in the mood to stay in Novi Sad during the New Year’s euphoria and the traditional Serbian overeating, always accompanied by pork and other reheated home-made specialities, which lasts from Saint Nichola’s Day, December 19th, to Orthodox Christmas. And, though, I didn’t feel like paying for visas, nor did I want to go to Holland again (the only things I remembered since the last time I had been there were the rain, the smell of pot, heavy rye bread and even heavier Dutch cheese to which my sensitive stomach reacted by throwing up), Lizbet ’s open invitations gave a sense of purpose to our journey.
Or did I work out the whole thing beforehand?
’Great. That means that we’ll be together on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve’, she wrote after I had implied that we might spend ten days in Holland.
To my surprise, the whole visa thing went well. The official was young and polite and the false hotel reservations that Ena had sent me didn’t look suspicious to him at all.
However, I wasn’t peaceful.
’Are you insane? Going to a woman you hardly know?’ I tortured myself.
We had met Lizbet in Portugal, the summer before, on an old farm called Herdade de Meer. And, even though, we spent three weeks there, with a group of ten other artists, Lizbet ’d been writing day and night, so the time we spent together consisted of two excursions, a few diners and Lizbet’s soliloquies on her sexuality.
’Tonight you’ll meet Lizbet, the writer. She teaches at the niversity in Amsterdam. She’s here with two girls. One of them is her biological daughter, and the other is her ex-girlfriend’s. Poor children, no wonder they are so wild’, that was what the hostess Maria, from Rotterdam, told me. It never crossed her mind that, of all people, I, from homophobic Serbia, would grow fond of her and understand her better than her ’emancipated’ fellow-sitizens.
A few days later, Lizbet’s latest love joined her. Once a traditional Dutch wife who left her husband after fifteen years of marriage and ran away with his drama student, leaving him their two children. The fifty-five-year old Ana Ravel (a granny, people would say in Serbia) just showed up one morning, in a tight red dress, carrying a huge camera, a femme fatale, with long hair, a broad smile and bursting with energy.
And took our breath away.
’How come Stine and Lise look so much alike?’, I asked her once.
’They have the same the father’, Lizbet said.
’I don’t get it.’
’As I was getting closer to forty, I became obsessed with the desire to become a mother. Since sex with a man was out of the question, I started to think about finding a sperm donor. And the only person who came to mind, and whose genes I could trust, was Lars, a man who had run away from our complete failure of relationship some twenty years before, fell into the arms of a man and stayed there forever. Lars asked me to give him a week to think about donating. Just a few hours later he said yes.’
’Unfortunately, I couldn’t get pregnant for months. And then Lars brought up with: ’Dear, her eggs are ten years younger than yours. Why wouldn’t Maia have your baby?’
And, the miracle happened. Within a few days we both got pregnant. First Stine was born, and then Lise. Soon after, Maia packed up and left, while Lars has remained their biological parent only.
’Don’t you think that Lucia is too tough on Luna?’, I asked Lizbet.
’Lise feels that Maias’s never wanted to have her. Even now, she doesn’t take care of her. That’s why she’s cruel and intolerable. But I can’t sacrifice Lise to protect Stine. I don’t have the right to do that.’
’Why were you with Maia anyway?’
’I have no idea? Maybe because her promiscuity turned me on? Or because she was ten years younger than me? Because, at the time, I myself had a drinking problem?’
’We’re about to land’, I heard Dragan’s voice.
Fifteen minutes later, we saw her. She was wearing faded black trousers, a jacket which was two sizes too big and a cap.
’Oh, just look at the bags under your eyes!’, those were the first words Lizbet said. ’Welcome to your rich friend from the West!’
’Is she serious?’, I asked Dragan, regretting we had even come.
’What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see she’s just joking? These are just words, not emotions’, he said, while I was thinking ’Things only come to pass if we speak of them’. And I didn’t feel any better.
’Welcome to NL’, said Ena’s message, ’See you soon.’ I don’t know if it was because of her words, or the mere fact that they were written in Serbian, but all of a sudden I started to feel a little bit better in this foreign country.
I had met Ena some fifteen years before, in the first class I had ever taught. There were thirty-five students in the class, all of whom were a few years younger than me. I was full of knowledge and full of self, and more concerned about the fact that I was going to be addressed as ’teacher’ when they run into me in the evening, than whether I was going to make a good impression on them. Sasha was sitting at her desk, right in front of me, frowning. She was wearing Lenon style glasses, black trousers and a black T-shirt. As a matter of fact, except for her pale freckled face, everything else about her was black. She was looking at me suspiciously, and it seemed to me that she would be difficult to deal with.
’What’s your favourite book?’ I asked them, trying to establish any kind of connection.
’Wir Kinder von Bahnhof Zoo’, said Ena. The girl I would always remember for her dark stories and her ability to talk so convincingly for hours about books she had never read. Ena, who would one day, fifteen years later, help me with the false hotel reservation so that I could spent ten days out there in the European Union. Ena, currently more interested in getting permanent residence in Holland than her own life.
And just as everybody had expected from her, she began her studies in literature at the University of Novi Sad, and continued them in Amsterdam. However, she has never graduated. Nor did she successfully complete Acting she had enrolled in Amsterdam. As for her obsession with writing and acting, it all came down to a few articles that had been published in the local Serbian newspapers.
And so, thanks to her fictional common law relationship with her former Dutch room-mate, Ena had been working as a hotel receptionist in Amsterdam for years, cleaning flats and, like many people from the former Yugoslavia, she ended up stuck between western administration, getting a residency permit, moving houses and she was slowly forgetting all about her dreams.
I wondered if she loved me, her old highschool, or if she was simply trying to keep one part of her life from falling into oblivion, but she came to Serbia quite often and she always got in touch with me. At first she actually seemed unusually happy. With her friends in Novi Sad, and their idea of her wonderful western way of life, as if her life abroad was beginning o make sense, and her constant efforts to cross the border wern’t futile. She told me: the first time she tried to cross the border the Dutch authorities stamped ’rejected’ in her passport and turn her away at the border, the next time she spent the night in jail, until finally, ten years ago, she went on a package holiday to Paris and, thanks to lack of attention of customs officials, crossed the border into Holland without a problem. And so, she finally reached her brother Mirko who had been granted political asylum because he refused to join the Yugoslav army and go to war in Croatia. He went on welfare, was given a flat, and Mirko had become a Dutch citizen. Though, it seems to me that his love of marijuana was what really connected this former punk-rocker to Amsterdam…
Translated by Bojana Stojanović
Novi Sad, 2011.