| Diwan Special issue|

Hadžem Hajdarević

Born in 1956 in Kruševo (B&H), lives in Sarajevo (B&H).

WALKING ON THE CEILING

She stood at the door for a long time, indecisive and in a bad mood. He usually found her like this when she was not sure whether she should say the thing that makes her lips tighten and her nose seem narrow. The boy and girl had already reached the ground floor and they were now going back up to the 7th floor in the elevator. She gave him a sharp, piercing look, sending thousands of steel-blue spikes at him. He was the only one who knew their purpose and how lethal they were. Her gaze always left a messy look of emptiness.

”Aren’t you even going to walk me to the taxi, you beast?”

”Of course I will dear. I’m just a bit confused with what’s between us,” and he ran off to put on his coat.

”Don’t pretend to be confused. You’ve got it all staged up,” she shook her head at him.

”You’ve arranged it so I would burst up if I don’t leave. Even this, what’s going on between us right now, this is theatre for you, all the world is the stage for my death, you always set up your plot, your stage props, train your actors, you direct...”

”What are you talking about?”

”You know darn well what I’m talking about, you know it all.”

”I don’t.”

”Just look at yourself, wearing your pyjamas at this time of day?”

”Of course I will wear my trousers dear. I had to take a nap. Socks, where are my socks. I won’t be a minute. Only a moment, you’ll see. By the time you’ve pressed the elevator button again...”

”You will not see me off!” said the woman angrily. ”The taxi is already downstairs, in front of the door.”

”Come to pick us up. Stage your arrival on Monday. In two - three days. If you want. It’s not that you have to. Anyway, I will talk to you on

the phone. You know where the children and I will be. If the children start

feeling ill tonight we’ll come back first thing tomorrow...”

”Whatever you say dear. Maybe I should still come downstairs...”

”Out of the question. Tell the painters to take good care of our furniture when they start painting the rooms. And don’t let them hang the paintings back as they please. First call the electrician. A plumber could do a few things as well. Everything in this apartment is just ready for an overhaul. Just as you are ripe for an overhaul my theatrical director...Take care of our things!”

She fled into the elevator. The lowering of the elevator felt like the lowering of his blood pressure. She could have taken the memory of his wide open mouth on her journey. In such moments she would call him a hypocrite sucker, pretending to be surprised but in reality gloating because he thinks that every kind word he utters becomes a new feather in her goose’s mind and body. She didn’t look back. The elevator would have started going down even if she hadn’t pressed the button. He stayed at the door with his belt hanging out of his trousers, wearing one sock and the other dangling between his fingers. He tightened his lips the way she had a custom of doing lately, slammed the door, took off the remaining clothes and sprawled on the living-room floor wearing only his underwear: What a fool I’ve been, what a fool I’ve been, his words sounded like the parts of paint on the ceiling ready to fall off. I will cancel the workers tomorrow, they could come on the next day, I want to lie down, sleep, just sleep, without the children’s racket and her chaotic humming through the nose in the kitchen. He jumped to the window. The taxi had already left. She will wait for a long time at the Railway station, it’s almost dark, but she’s the only one to blame - wanting to go an hour before the train leaves, she could’ve waited for the morning one. What could he have possibly said to offend her so much and make her start packing the children as well as herself, nothing, he just told her to leave him and his work at the theatre alone, the apartment will be painted this weekend, everything that’s broken will be fixed, he will summon all the workers of this world to the apartment, it will be a great assembly of workers let them fix, screw, unscrew, paint, move things around for three days and for three nights, let them move the entire apartment to the next building if necessary, if she could only stop nagging about the things that are worn out or broken, and he told her that it was high time she started working, making money because it’s the best for her nerves and her health, only that, then he took his clothes off, put his pyjamas on, as if everything was normal, and went to the bedroom to subdue the coming headache with an afternoon nap.

He laid on his back again and spread his body on the floor. It’s too bad I don’t smoke, he thought, I’d light up two cigarettes at the same time right now...

All of a sudden everything in the apartment became too quiet. He could only hear himself breathe. The evening was entering the room. rays of light were flickering on the ceiling. The light was coming from the cars in the street. How come he never saw that before? He started toward the TV set. He could not turn it on. As if she had taken the remote control with her in a bag. He then found that he was unable to turn the radio on, too. It doesn’t matter, he thought, it’s probably just a malfunction in the electrical wiring, she is probably more right than he gives her credit for, but that is why the first trace of darkness always and again teaches about a runaway childhood or a foreseen beginning. The only thing that shouldn’t be delayed is the arrival of the workers tomorrow. Fixing the entire apartment was as necessary as the air we breathe.

But, what should he do tomorrow? Maybe call up some friends from the theatre, or the city’s artists’ club, or his jolly neighbours from the third floor, maybe he should throw a wild party with plenty of alcohol, to relax in a manly way, as if it was December 31st, late at night, drinking always connects scattered thoughts in the best possible way, it makes your body turn into a fake transatlantic boat, but no, no, definitely not, they can’t wait, they will soak up the alcohol like kitchen sponges, then they will drool reminiscing incoherently, urinate on his things, turn him into a maid, pour us another one, where’s that food, where’s that fresh bottle of cognac, toast to the host, he won’t have any time to prepare the rooms for the painters, what’s the use of it, he was disgustingly reminded of the hydrography of ducts, bladders, irrationally pathetic words, if they only knew he was all alone in the apartment they’d be running over here right now, and if he invites them he’d have to avoid questions about

Gorana’s departure to Počitelj, to her parent’s place, man, once and for all learn how to be alone... Maybe he should invite Nina the actress. A bottle of wine, some candy, she’ll make some pancakes, run around the kitchen naked, we’d watch an erotic movie, after a bath we’d wrap up in sheets, I deserve it God damn it, he spoke to his reflection in the ceiling, I honestly deserve it. He didn’t dare telephone Nina. He expected her to call him and ask him about tomorrow’s rehearsal for the new play. He’ll say yes, yes of course, Nina you must come... but first drop by my place. He took the telephone and postponed the arrival of electricians for the afternoon. His job is to prepare everything for the workers, by then.

Later on he thought about how far the train with his children and Gorana might have gotten. Hadžići, Pazarić, Tarčin, Bradina, it can’t bloody stop at every station, Konjic, towards Jablanica, old men squatting at every station, bags being thrown into the train, baskets...A boy and a girl, twins, probably fighting in the compartment. Even about which tunnel comes next or who mommy loves best. The woman is nervous, skimming through the pages of Gloria, running across distant horizons, turning back the time to the days when she travelled in the same train to start her studies in the big city. She’s still beautiful, most beautiful when she travels and the window is slightly opened with the wind touching her face and gently moving her hair. There’s probably some punk in the compartment fantasising how he’d lift her skirt up...What on earth am I thinking about, he said to himself and started towards the kitchen. With his mouth full of cheese pie he decided that it would be best to fall asleep straight away. Whatever happens afterwards, happens. He put his pyjamas back on, closed the window, drew the curtains and laid back thinking about organising tomorrow’s play. Everybody had a good reason for criticising him for not making any project in his resident theatre for six months now. Akmadžić’s play was just in time. His friends suggested he should do Hasanaginica. Anything but Hasanaginica, anything but Hasanaginica, he would shout to their great surprise, scattered feathers will be the only thing left after the ballad, everyone aims at Hasanaginica, at the past, the folklore, the national tears and co-suffer-ings, and life passes us by as if we were not its witnesses. Nina is mature and ready for the role in Akmadžić’s new play. She’ll say yes to anything just to get the main role. I’ll talk to her in the morning. Before or after we’ve had sex, same thing.

Gorana left me with her emptiness and her silence and her boredom. He sorrowfully looked towards the book shelf as if expecting some writer to leap into his arms. All these books should be taken to an antique-shop, any money earned on these books is good, around fifty books should do, this a dust heaven, spider webs, an pretext that something was done and that life was successful.

The darkness was becoming denser. He could switch on the light, but he didn’t want to. He watched the light flashes on the ceiling. They were dim since he drew the curtains. The last time he was able to observe the ceiling for this long was when he was in the army. Back then he used to call the ceiling a handy sky. Or an obstacle under the sky. He remembered his architect friend saying that the Austrians really knew how to decorate the living area, making the ceilings so high that you’d have to shout to the ceiling in comparison to today’s ceilings which press against your eyes and push a man’s will to the floor. If only some theatre play could be staged on a ceiling? Actors with their heads upside down. At least in a mirror. Like an additional theatrical illusion. He suddenly thought that he could stage Hamlet using the ceiling. Eighty eight, ninety nine or one hundred, one hundred and fifty clamps should be nailed into the ceiling, ropes of different colours and styles would hang from them, a ladder made of ropes, nets, roads, bridges and thrones, and Claudius, Polonius, Hamlet, mother Gertrude, Horatio, Laertes, Ophelia, officers, grave diggers and the rest of the Shakespearean company would hang from those ropes. Life is in the space between, the ceiling and the floor are the slaves of death. The scene itself should be decorated so that the audience sees it as a never-ending abyss, like a threatening bottomless hole. Theatre doesn’t take place on the stage but in the air? Large knots on the ropes would make it possible for actors to move around. Ophelia should have a dress that changes hundreds of colours during the play, and she can, in the end, throw herself into the audience completely naked. They would be the water in which she is drowned. How powerful the words to be or not to be that is a question would sound pronounced from the ropes...? Maybe for the first time they would not appear so tacky, greasy, and warn from their overuse, they would stop being a phrase for just a moment.

The idea of Hamlet in the air made him laugh for a moment. He rolled over onto his belly, spread his arms as if he was going to fly and stuffed his face into the carpet. Darkness is the most desirable beginning of our misconceptions, illusions and madness, he said out loud. He got up to make some coffee. The lights were still off, but he could see everything quite well. Street lights lit his way through the apartment. He wanted to be the ghost of himself.

The stove turned on even before he got close to it. All four burners went on at the same time. The doors of the kitchen cupboard opened. He got hold of the pot which seemed to be nailed to the shelf so he couldn’t move it. The white cups, like white eyeless frogs, started jumping onto the tray and back onto the shelf. The taps would start running and then all of a sudden stop. Something is wrong, he instantly turned everything off, closed the kitchen door and went to the living room to see whether all of this is really happening or is it just his imagination, how is it possible that he can’t start a single appliance when there’s no power shortage, sockets are working, at least that’s what the voltage machine says...Strange sounds were coming from the kitchen, the racket of dishes, suddenly he could smell coffee. He opened the kitchen door again but he could only feel peacefulness, he couldn’t hear or feel anything.

The only thing he could feel was an unbearable itching all over his body. He scratched his groin, his belly, stretched his fingers to reach his shoulder blades, he took a linen towel and rubbed it over his back until his skin became painfully red. Hair started falling out from his chest, thighs, calves. As if I were a wolf, shedding my fur in the evening, he took a vacuum cleaner to tidy up the hall a little bit, but the vacuum cleaner was unusable, he wondered how the hell that could be, when his wife used it that same morning to clean up some spilt flour in the pantry. The awkward vibrations and movements inside of his body were getting stronger. His chest would swell up and then soften, he ran his hands down to his briefs, but he could not feel the most manly part of himself, grabbing himself he felt a female sex organ. The touch seemed familiar to him. He ran to the mirror on the closet door bewildered and confused, the light in the room kept going on and off by itself, it is him, it is not him, he saw before him a woman that used to look like him and she was slowly turning into his wife. He must wake up, this is horrible, he hit himself on the arms, he banged his head against the walls, the closet, I can’t be awake. The phone rang. It rang once more. The third time. He tiptoed to it. He thought, Nina. She couldn’t have arrived with the children in Počitelj yet. Even if she had she wouldn’t have called him. She will pick up the phone and just say: ”I’m here”, and then rush to put it down. Only a moment after he spoke these words the telephone plug in the wall burned out. If I seriously start going mad I’ll have nobody to call, but maybe it’s better like that, maybe it’s for the best...

The dark was the only thing that felt good for him right now. He didn’t even consider getting up and switching on the light. He had gotten used to this invisible hand taking care of that.

The door bell rang. He couldn’t see who it was through the spy-hole. In case it is Nina he won’t switch the light on, and perhaps this dangerous creature will disappear when she shows up. But what’s going to happen if she sees him like this? His hand moved to the door handle, turned the key, in front of him was the angular silhouette of his neighbour Balaban.

”So, you’re alone?” he could hear his voice.

He was quiet.

”I knew that you were alone, that you were here,” instantly he felt big, wrought iron hands on his shoulders.

”I know you like to do it here in the hallway, right away...” but he couldn’t say anything nor did he have the will to resist him, he only felt the neighbours’ devouring erection deep inside him, it even felt good a little bit, even though he’d rather scream at the top of his lungs until the glass in windows breaks.

The neighbour Balaban said nothing. He just moaned. His wife’s slippers were too small for him so he wiggled out on his back. I’ll pretend that I’m unconscious and this carrion will have to come off me and leave at some point. He was right. As soon as Balaban saw that the body of his neighbour was not moving, he quickly put his trousers back on, you could hear the buckle of his belt, he was about to say something to justify himself, touched the face, the hair, kissed the neck, pulled the panties up the women’s thighs and then quietly closed the door, you could hear him cowardly running down the stairs in panic.

He got up. Shook his body full of sickness and humiliation. Wrapped himself in a blanket and curled up on the sofa.

He didn’t know how long he slept or if he was able to shut his eyes at all. The door-bell woke him up. I hope it’s not Nina, he thought. He brought a knife to the telephone table in case it was the neighbour Balaban again.

Through the spy-hole he saw himself. Dressed in a white suit. With a silvery-grey bow tie. His heart started to pound.

”Open the door,” he could barely hear his own voice coming from the other side of the door.

”Just a minute,” he shivered, throwing on the robe.

It was really him at the door. No one else but him. He never looked better to himself.

”Is there something the matter, dear?” asked his genuine reflection at the other side of the door step.

”Everything’s fine,” replied the raspy voice of his wife from his mouth.

”You’re tired and you look messy dear. Let me in...”

”It’s nothing, really, everything is going to be fine, everything is OK,” again his wife spoke from his own mouth.

”And where are the children?” he asked. ”Where are the children?”

”What children?”

”Our children. Did they leave with you?”

”What’s the matter with you woman. You don’t think that I took them with me to my business trip.”

The children stayed here. With you. You didn’t let them wander off somewhere and...

”Mommy we’re here, mommy,” behind his back he could hear first the boy then the girl.

The children were in their room and they both ran to his arms, but then they threw themselves into the arms of the man who stood at the door whom they both recognised as their father.

”Is anyone going to turn the light on?” said the man at the door.

”I’ll do it,” said the dim, low voice of his wife through his mouth and he turned the light on, glanced at the walls, paintings hanging on them, windows and curtains being moved by the air coming from the outside. He looked at the door and then at him, untying the silvery-grey bow tie, unbuttoning the white jacket, unpacking his things and taking out the presents for all of them, and he started crying. The boy was starting his battery operated toy car. The girl was unpacking a large Barbie doll in a carriage. He was already on his way to the arm-chair in the living room:

”I’d like some coffee dear. You are right when you say that this apartment needs decorating as soon as today.”

”One thing at a time. But everything must come into place. Today is Saturday, the workers are coming today, by Monday all of this will be as good as new, you’ll see...And surely you don’t want them to find you in pyjamas, my pyjamas on top of that?!”

He started towards the kitchen. Turned the stove on, put the kettle on. Nobody noticed him crying.

From then on the only thing he could feel for an entire eternity were the fingers of the boy and the girl and his spouse in his worn out greasy hair.

Translated by Edin Balalić

 

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