I had to make sure multiple times that my husband was actually asleep, and clutching my sandals, on tiptoe, my whole body violently shuddering, I turned the key in the lock, quietly, as quietly as I could I opened the door, and just as quietly shut it, and what I felt, the feeling that rushed over me as soon as I was on the other side was: freedom. And for a moment excitement too, the excitement from my beautiful childhood long past.
The last door I unlocked in this manner was an old and heavy door that creaked even under the lightest touch, I was sixteen and for the first time in my life it occurred to me to trick my mother because she would not let me stay out all night at an outdoor festival with Ema and a couple of other friends. In any other case my mother would have let me go, but a couple of days earlier she had found some pot stashed in a matchbox in my drawer. Even though she believed me when I told her that the pot was not mine (and it really wasn’t), she still could not be completely convinced of the validity of my claim that the pot belonged to a friend, nor of the sincerity of my wish to stay out until dawn with Ema and friends whose names I had never mentioned at home. All of this contributed to mom’s attempt to instill more discipline, a new and unknown strategy for both of us. I tricked her by returning around midnight, got under the covers and listened to the sounds of her falling asleep, and then around one a.m., after mom was already snoring, I sneaked out just as quietly through the front door. When I returned in the morning, around five a.m., dawn was breaking outside, my mother was sitting in the armchair wearing a long white nightgown, smoking, and when she realized the lengths I was willing to go so as to enter undetected, she determined that setting strict rules and imposing curfew was neither the best nor the most productive way to protect me from the dangers that were a part of growing up and contrary to all my expectations, she hugged me, and in that hug I felt all the warmth of a mother who has been waiting for her child to return home, she walked me to my bed so I could rest and after I get a goodnight’s sleep, we would talk like adults…I wish I could believe just for a moment, or imagine that now too, when I return, mom, like some kind of an apparition in her white nightgown, would walk me to the safest place in the world and let me sleep, unafraid and undisturbed.
I descended the stairs, the second risky task, still quiet-quiet and still barefoot, I knelt under the window of the ground floor, where my mother-in-law Danica was most probably watching her reality show with eyes wide open and the volume turned down as it would be incredibly embarrassing if the neighbors heard a recently widowed woman watching entertaining shows in all hours of the night, in a time of mourning at that, with the volume turned up and this was all very convenient, both me and my mother-in-law had to be quiet, so we would neither hear each other, nor will the neighbors hear us, and still we would avoid living according to their expectations. Once again I had to open the little gate in the yard very carefully and that was that-I was finally out of the house where I lived and my heart returned to beating in a less disconcerting rhythm.
The street, which was about two-hundred meters long, with identical homes on both sides, housing people who either personally or through others found out everything about one another, was quiet, though not completely dormant, Mara was not there to scatter food left and right for the cats that probably saw her as a moving kitchen the neighborhood gatherings in the backyards were over, the tables laid with plates and bottles were cleared, the people were in their homes slowing turning off, just like the lights in their rooms. I was wearing plain summer pants and a shirt, so that if I ran into someone who knew me, I would look like a person going out at night to the nearest kiosk because, for example, they have run out of cigarettes.