(excerpt from the novel)
Maja was staying in a room of an old bed and breakfast downtown, with a dozen snug rooms that from the window stretched inside the building, toward the bathroom doors and the exit on the opposite side. In the middle, lengthwise as well, was her bed, with the pillow placed closer to the window. Maja moved it the other way round since she believed she’d rather look out the window while in bed than toward the bathroom. The room was on the first floor and was facing the alley with a skimpy tree row, or rather the crown of one thinning tree. The first morning that arrived in her long and narrow room woke her up playing with the morning shadows over her face. Maja looked through the window and noticed that above the crowns with the first yellowing leaves most of the sky was taken over by the silhouettes of the two grandiose buildings of the World Trade Centre. It occurred to her that here she wouldn’t be able to see the sun through the window, which brought her down, but she quickly shrugged it off thinking she’d accumulated plenty of sun for the whole upcoming year in New York.
The bed and breakfast had a payphone hanging downstairs, by the entrance door. Maja put a quarter in the device for the second time and dialled the number in Skopje.
– Hello? – said the female voice in the distance.
– Hello, auntie Stanka – said Maja, somewhat confused – may I speak to Gordan, please?
– Maja, is that you? How have you been, child?
She recognized his mother’s voice, even though moved for the first time.
– I’m calling from America. I’m doing fine. Please, is Gordan there? I’ll lose connection anytime now, I’m calling from a payphone… and I’m out of quarters.
– Gordan’s just l… – the reply from Skopje didn’t reach her.
– Has he left?
– Yes, dear. He’s gone too. He should be on a train to Vienna by now…
– Has he said anything about calling me when he arrives? – Maja screamed in the phone.
– He said that… – was all Maja managed to hear before the line broke.
Only the empty signal was coming through the receiver.
– We’re fighting, man! – the man with the railway hat screamed – We’ve been fighting all our lives. It’s not our fault we’ve got so many enemies. Everyone outside’s got something against this little country of ours.
– And the ones inside are all in favour, right? – replied Gordan with no tinge of ill will, but determined to end the silly conversation on that note and finally go to the platform from which the July puffs of heat came.
The impassive response left the angry little fella speechless. His taunting behaviour had assumed a violent reaction, but that never happened. For these reason, or out of sheer spite, he added some more oil to his own fire.
– That doesn’t matter now – the guy boomed, threw his hat on the bench and started waving his arms – Now’s the time to defend the country, for the future generations – Then he looked at him and smugly added – But, not everyone does. My son defends it and some are just running away, skipping to Europe and to Maribor. They’d rather be bootlickers than soldiers – he leaned back on the bench and drew his railway hat over the eyes, as if wanting to quit the conversation and doze off.
– Excuse me, young man – the woman spoke again and indicated that he shouldn’t pay attention to the spiteful man – I was wondering why you were going to… that place… what was it?
– Paramaribo – Gordan coolly replied.
– That’s it… Par… Is there really such a place or is it some Utopia of your own making?
Kiril took off the hat, sat up in the bench and took out a flask from his bag, opened it, took a sip from the gin, lapping noisily, with holes forming in his hollow cheeks. Pretending not to notice, the woman in the floral dress continued talking to Gordan, calmly and with great interest.
– Paramaribo? It’s real. It’s in the Caribbean. It’s on a different continuant, but it might as well be on another planet…
– You’d sooner become fucking spacemen than stay here – the gritty old man was mumbling, running his fingers through his short, grey, sharp and dishevelled hair. Holding the flask of gin in the other hand, he called out again – Anyone want some?
Gordan was staring at the neurotic pap not knowing what to do.
– Pay no attention – the woman said – I was wondering what you’d want to go there. The youth nowadays usually go to developed countries…
The railwayman guzzled from the flask again.
– First I wanted to go to America… – Gordan said.
The geezer spat out the gin the second he took a sip from the flask.
– That’s it, that’s it! – Kiril said with a muffled voice – That’s perfect for you.
The woman brushed off the annoying railwayman and directed her attention to Gordan.
– … But then I changed my mind. I still feel drawn to America, though – added Gordan and pretended once again not to hear the capricious old man.
– Why doesn’t anyone think of going to Russia, damn it? – the pap smacked the flask on the bench by the hat and turned to them – The land of science and technology. What’s with the whole America things? It’s been like that for generations. Instead of knowledge, we’re chasing money. That’s why we’ve come to this. One Miladinov went to Russia and that was it.
– Two – Gordan interjected.
– What? – hissed the old man.
– Dimitar and Konstantin Miladinov – the young man explained.
The woman made a surprised face.
– I was referring to Konstantin. He wrote that poem… ‘Longing Southly’.
– Jesus Christ! – the woman shouted crossly, shocked not so much by the old man’s ignorance as by his stubbornness.