Translated from Slovenian by Špela Bibič
Who am I? On this night? This day? In general? What am I? A badante. A tool. I’m lying in the hallway, not sure whether I’m awake or asleep, examining myself in the quiet, empty, utter grayness of the night. Is it the sheet that’s bothering me? Is it still night? Is it already the next day? Which day?
I have the penetrating eyes of a hawk. I’m looking at myself from above. It’s five AM. Friday. It tastes like warm, slightly sour coffee. I’m getting into an old rusty twingo. The neighbour always gives me a ride. The road winding from Pero to the Pula bus station is soaked with rain. I’m sleepy. Agitated. I never sleep the night before I leave. The leaving pains me. It bothers me. Or maybe it’s just the sheet. I take my trolley bag out of the boot. Every badante has one. Or a suitcase on wheels. I prefer the trolley. It’s lighter. I’ve adorned it with a silk bow because there is still beauty in the world. I have stuffed it with fourteen-days-worth of things. I buy a ticket. It costs me a day’s work. Bye, says the neighbour, kissing the air next to my cheek, call me, I’ll come and pick you up. I don’t wave at her. I can’t. Looking at her paralyses me. She’s free. She doesn’t have to go. She’ll be back home cooking her potato soup today. Her kitchen will be smelling of thyme today. Her thyme. Her own thyme. From the garden bed under the window.
Good morning, Marija, says Oto who is both the conductor and the driver. My name is still my name. I won’t be hearing it for the next fourteen days. The houses by the path are enveloped by darkness. Drops are falling on the windowpane, rolling down in trickles. The speed or the south wind is smearing them horizontally across the window. The windowpane smells of metal, salt, needle and something else. Why do things that I see have a smell? If I didn’t have the eyes of a hawk, he could stab me. With a knife, a fork, anything fit for stabbing he could get his hands on when my back was turned. When I actually closed my eyes. When I wasn’t looking. With a shard, even?
I’m a badante. I have a lithe, snake-like body. I have no extremities. My arms are sad, dead sags, my legs have been cut off. I can slither around in the darkness, I can sense presence with my forked tongue, his, hers, she’s not dangerous, I feel where and how they undulate without turning on the light. He can be nasty. I don’t look him in the eyes. I don’t let him find anything in there. Anything he could take advantage of. But I need to be able to see into the night. If I turn on the light unexpectedly, he can jump up, knock me to the floor, suffocate me … He’s still big and strong. And crazy. A strong, crazy man.
I use a calendar to help myself get through it. I cross off a day each day. I do the work. I cross off. I move on. I do the work. I cross off. I move. On. First Friday. Last Friday. Last cross. And I wait for my replacement. The time is a never-ending snake. At the end of it is another badante. From the Karst. We don’t talk much. When she comes, I can barely restrain myself from running out. The trolley is quite light. The bow fluttering. And what would we talk about anyway? We both know what it’s like. I’m done here. It’s her turn now. I pass my sadness on to her. It’s all hers now. I have 525 euro in my pocket. Outside, there is the wind and the sun and the smell of the city and the smell of salt. The bus leaves at two. I can go window-shopping in the meantime. I sit on a bench. I breathe. I make an exception and buy myself an ice-cream. I make an even bigger exception and go for a coffee. Oto will call me by my name. Hi, Marija, he’ll say. So, ready to go home?
I have the hearing of a bat. I can distinguish the moaning of the south wind that brought me here from the bora that started blowing yesterday. I hear the tyres of David’s bike, the breathing of the asphalt, laughter, he’s climbing onto the saddle with one foot, does an arabesque … He gives me the strength to overcome my pain, my disgust, my fear, my sadness … The bus drives past the marina, I hear people of a different breed, the sea splashing against the San Carlo Pier, pigeons in the Unita square … If I overheard the rustling of the sheet, the steps in the night, I could overhear the tragedy, the catastrophe, the days that aren’t and the days that are … He could hurt me in any which way and she wouldn’t even make a sound. She is not aware of herself, let alone of me.