It was a winter night. The heating system did not work. Electricity went off very often. The people came in, peeped through the door, and seeing that there were not many people inside, closed it. It was the middle of the week. Wednesday. One of those Skopje winter months. Skopje has many winter months. The bar looked sad, dominated by yellow light. That felt good. Like relief from the fog. Or more precisely, something that only seemed like relief from the fog, as there is no relief from the Skopje fog. The light in the bar was a kind of deception. But sometimes even that is enough. But this evening it was not enough. I drank beer, drifting in and out of the music, making occasional small talk with the people inside, and I smoked like a prisoner on death row. In the middle of the middle of the week.
We were like refugees: no one wanted to leave the bar, though it was more than clear that the night could have been better spent at any other place. Even despite the fog outside. It was clear. Any other place. Home? “More than clear” means clarity coming from the floodlights above the operating table. Like illumination that is everything but. We grew drowsy and some of us tried to liven things up. I think I was the one laughing the most …
– Let’s go to Ohrid, somebody said.
The others started to babble. Actually, no one had any intention of going anywhere. Yes. And, as it happened, once someone mentioned it, the story got started … I stood with a lady friend of mine at the bar, knocking back beers as if they were the last on earth, and I could in no way quench my thirst. Our conversation went on, and I spoke:
– Let’s go.
She smiled and asked,
– Well, I don’t know, I said, whoever wants to. It’s all the same, isn’t it?
– Let’s go, she said.
We clinked our glasses.
– Do you have a car? I asked.
– I do, she said.
– When do we take off? I asked.
– After I finish this, she said.
We stood there and drank some more. We drank as if we weren’t going anywhere.
– You really going? someone asked. The guy was all right, but it didn’t matter now.
– Yeah, and you?
– I’ll go with somebody else.
– Have you room in your car?
– No. We’ll bring some things to Ohrid.
That’s exactly how he put it: “things,” not “stuff.”
– O.K. Where will we meet there?
– At the marina?
– At the marina.
– Have a good trip. See you in two hours.
We drank some more. As if we weren’t going. Then we split.
– Listen, Vampire, she said, for some reason I don’t feel like going in my car …
– I’ve never really taken it on long drives. Never.
– Then screw it …
– Please don’t be pissed off.
– Fuck, it would’ve been good to go. I need a little trip.
– I have an idea …
– Spit it out.
– You want to take a taxi?
– Don’t fuck with me. What do we do for money?
– Don’t worry about money. You want to go or not?
We had a little more tug-of-war about money, and left. The fog was thick and heavy, like a nurse’s milk. Or whatever.
We took some beer, something to eat, found a taxi driver who agreed to take us to Ohrid. He mentioned one sum, I mentioned another, and we split the difference.
After we passed Gostivar, the fog started to lift. The night was very cold, in the car we played a cassette I stole from the bar, the beer was good, I chatted with my friend while the car sped through the cold night toward Ohrid. It was like listening to a song that you long wanted to hear. The song is right here, it fills every corner of the space, and you have a feeling that you hover inside it, and not it around you. Every time the cassette stopped, I listened to the diesel engine. It was also a part of the song I long wanted to hear. Everything was all right. I was on the road and felt how the kilometers under me kissed the wheels of the car.
In Kičevo the police stopped us. A routine check. The taxi driver took our I.D.s and got out. A piece of cold winter air entered the warm inside of the car before he closed the door. He stood outside with the police, Luna and I drank beer. I lit a cigarette. I saw the reflection of the ash in the glass to the right. Then I saw a policeman’s face glued to the window. He smiled. I smiled back.
– Isakovski? he said from the side of the cold night.
– Yes, I said, in the car, and I opened the door.
– Good evening, sir, the policeman said.
Let me be clear about something: I’ve had a number of encounters with police in the past decade, but no Macedonian policeman has ever addressed me in that way. He had a gentle smile in his “Good evening” that puzzled me. I was used to being interrogated, coldly put through the routine, taken to “informative discussions” … But this was something completely new. I expected trouble…
– Good evening, I said.
– God must be sleeping when he allows wars, atom bombs, politicians, cops, and all that shit? the cop said.
“Now I’m fucked,” I thought and smiled. Who could believe that a cop would read one of my stories? And that he would remember it… No, certainly no one. But there he stood in front of me, a head shorter than me, with blond hair under his cap, a pistol and nightstick on his belt. And he quoted me word for word. I’m not a guy with a great memory; and I hardly remember anything I’ve written. Maybe that’s why I get excited when somebody knows my texts better than I do. Nicely excited.
– It seems that He is sleeping, I said.
– How are you, sir?
– Fine, thank you! How are you?
– Well, another hour, and we’ll be off.
– And in Ohrid … Do you have work there?
– No … Skopje has my balls in a wringer.
In the same moment I felt sorry for being such a prick; the cop didn’t deserve it. But what can I do…
– I understand, he said with a smile.
I kept quiet.
– Are you writing anything new? he asked.
– Yes, I’m always writing. But I rarely get published.
– Ah, come on. You already have three books.
– Four, I said. It’ll be out soon. One of these days.
– Excellent, he said. Prose?
– No, poetry. Too many people like my prose.
– I thought that you weighed at least a hundred kilos and that you were a tough guy, he said.
We talked like that for a while, while I remembered that I was standing outside in the middle of the middle of a winter’s night, dressed in nothing but a T-shirt. We bid each other farewell, shook hands, and I got into the car. The driver started the engine. “Hell, Isakovski,” I told myself, “you’ll catch cold for the sake of your fame.” The cop knocked at the glass.
– Excuse me, would you sign this? he said.
That was a bit too much. I had already given a few autographs, but the fact that they were almost all for women speaks for itself. I signed for him.
– You’re a writer? the driver asked.
– So it seems, I said.