Yes, I can’t believe I left him there, that I completely forgot about him. But that event latter became a subject we joked about, we never stopped telling about it. Surely everyone who knew us had heard of our adventure. After Roki’s anger subsided, he explained with great joy how he woke up in the morning on the stone fence. It was almost eight, people were going to work and everyone looked at him with contempt as if he were the last bum in the world. He pulled his hood over his head and hurried to the next stop, so ashamed of the working people.
By the way, I rarely see everything red, I’m no junkie. Well, except for the things that are actually red and that everybody sees as red. The soil at the seaside is red. Everyone sees it as red. It’s red in July and August, and probably in winter too, it’s red even when covered in snow. I often think about that red soil.
Anyway, I was about to say something completely different. One of the reasons I got drunk that night at the club was because I was on my own, without Nela. It was after that huge fight with Sine, Brine and Joc when I first ran into her at the fag club. It really surprised me to see her there, I thought she was normal. She told me she’d had several girlfriends and so she came there. At first, I was so jealous at all the lesbians in the club I didn’t know what to do. But after three or four beers, I finally mustered up the courage to ask her if she meant what she’d said that time at Sine’s party about liking me best. She said that she was quite serious. After that, I was a regular at the club, I was there every single Sunday, not giving a damn what people thought or what the Moste crowd would say if they saw me with her. Sometimes, I was even proud to have her by my side. And she was never pain in the ass and, unlike everybody else, didn’t try to brainwash me and maybe that’s why I told her a lot about myself. I even told her my real name and, every now and then, I let her call me by it. She was the first person I went for a coffee with in broad daylight, completely sober and without Roki to lean on. No one was there to watch my back when I met up with her, stone-cold sober. True, at the beginning, I stared down at the table rather than her, and did more listening than talking. But it was nice, I don’t know, completely different than usual. She told me she was no longer just a hairdresser, she was going to college and might become a social worker someday. Not that I get why anyone would want to be a social worker. Still, it’s a job. She told me everything: about her sisters, her parents, the great loves of her life. I, too, told her all about my large extended family and how we didn’t really get along at home. I even told her I saw a shrink, although I’ve not spoken about it, not even Roki knows all the details. And so, on Sundays, I lived only for Nela and completely forgot about everybody else. If she couldn’t make it, I just got drunk with Roki.
But I still think a lot about that red soil.
“Look,” said Nela stooping, when we went to the seaside, during our only trip outside Ljubljana. More and more often, she’d discover and observe things that no one else paid attention to – it must be a result of studying. Her delicate hand sifted through the dirt, picking out the needles. She scooped up a handful of the seaside soil, stood up and held out her hand. She was rarely that playful. But for me, she was sometimes happy. She opened her palm and the red soil went running through her slender fingers. “Terra rossa,” she said. I loved to fantasise that she sometimes glowed in my presence like that red soil in the sun. And when I’ve had enough sleep and no one’s pissing me off, I could be kind of romantic, too.
“What?” I asked for no particular reason, not knowing what to say.
“Terra rossa. When you take your geography exam, think of the sea and terra rossa. Then you’ll know almost everything there is to know about geography. Really!”
“Terra rossa,” I repeated.
It sounded so nice. Red and nice. She laughed and took my hand, as if wanting to kiss it. I immediately looked around nervously – you never know when you might run into an acquaintance or a colleague. After all, the sea is not that far from Ljubljana. I’m already the talk of the town; people are generally too curious. I don’t like stuff going round about me that isn’t true. I have no idea what people think when they look at me or when they hear me talk, but I feel normal. I’m not pretending to be something and I’m not playing dress-up, I’ve been like this practically since birth. I’m not hiding who I am either, but I don’t feel the need to explain to people anything about me. If I say I’m Damjan, everyone’s happy, me the most. And even if they find out later I’m actually a woman, it’s too late for them to have second thoughts or change their minds, so they tend to accept me as I am. I usually don’t have any problems because of my appearance, as I’ve said plenty of times. (Even when Sine, Brine and Joc snapped at me for not being a man, I didn’t take them all that serious. Their insults came as a result of them being high and pissed off. Once they blew off some steam, they went back to accepting me for who I was. Anyway, we’re not close anymore.) When I open my mouth, people soften up. I can be funny, of course, when I’m in a good mood. And I’m in a good mood most of the time. I can’t stand boring people and I can’t stand pouters. Nela used to pout sometimes, though not right at the beginning – you learn way too much about people if you get to know them too well. That’s why I don’t let anyone learn too much about me, so that they don’t get fed up with me too soon.
Excerpt from the novel My Name is Damjan (published by “Blesok”, 2018, translation from Slovenian Lidija Dimkovska)
Translated into English: Zorica Teofilova