I do not write dialogue; I let
the characters talk to each other
It so happened that one May afternoon in the year that had already left, I passed Mladost Park opposite the building of the former Ministry of Defence. The air, after the brief storm followed by torrential rain, was clear; the rain washed away the asphalt and the side-walks and they were shining now, as if they were painted by the scattered sun rays, the few pink reflections of violets, it seemed as if you were stepping on still undried colours.And as I walked thus, silently along the side-walk glued to the very edge of the park, my attention was drawn to the occasional and monotonous calls of two Roma boys. As soon as a passer-by approached, they repeated the same call:
– Come on bro, good stuff, cheap stuff…! Good stuff, cheap stuff…
I stopped and saw that on the side-walk, on a transparent plastic cover, in a row of about 5-6 meters, all sorts of old books were arranged. Even if it hadn’t been for the call of the two Roma boys, I would have stopped for sure. It was an old habit of mine – to stop and rummage through those titles, even though for a long time I was increasingly disappointed with random books on the street.
The Roma boy wanted to help me by occasionally passing some of the thicker books he kept in cardboard boxes.
– Do not take them out one by one – I told him – take them all out and order them on the side-walk, and I will look at them myself.
– Without selling these here – explained the one who was probably older – we do not take out the other stuff because they will spoil.
After picking out a special Flaubert (Mrs. Bovary translated into the Gegi dialect by Zekria Rexha), as well as, due to childhood nostalgia, The Legend and Adventures of Tyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Guzak by Charles De Coster, I nodded and not bargaining at all, I wanted to pay before I left. Then the Roma boy made an unexpected proposal:
– Uncle, if you want I will open all three boxes, look at them… then I will put them back in the boxes. What do you say, shall I open them?
– Open them… But faster! – I told him.
The two boys lined up the books on the side-walk, trying to get my attention on a few volumes of a Russian encyclopedia. But I kept looking at the covers, they were well-known titles from classical literature, dead socialist realism novels, a few bilingual dictionaries! And I kept looking thus until I came across a book with soft, black covers, without a title. I thought I might find the title on the inside pages. After turning two blank pages, I came across an entry written in small handwritten letters. It’s probably a diary, I thought, flipping through a few more pages. I did not come across any date. Maybe a translation…? I started with two or three Albanian names, but this assumption also fell away. I did not understand the nature of that manuscript. So, in order not to attract the attention of the Roma boys, I closed that thick notebook and asked them:
– How much do you want for this book?
– Take it for an old five thousand note – said disparagingly the short-haired one, who appeared to be the boss of the two boys.
I handed him the five-thousand note and asked him where they got the books from… and I added:
– I have known all the antiquarians and book sellers in Tirana for years, but I have never seen you – I said, in the meantime trying to find a place in my handbag for the black notebook. And that was not easy for me at all!
– Aaah. Uncle… so you say… but even those you know, they had their first day, right? Well… we started just like them, the first day… and luckily… – he did not finish the sentence.
With my hand I gave him a sign to approach me and quietly, as secrets are told, I told him:
– I did not ask you in vain where you took the books! But if you look at them, all the books on the third and the seventeenth pages have the stamp of T&L Mertiri Personal Library. Take a look… Take a look! And that means that all the books you sell are part of a family library. Who gave them to you? – I asked persistently.
The boy looked down and, muttering something as he gathered the books taken out of the boxes, said:
– On my honour, a man gave them to us to sell them, and the profit should be divided fifty-fifty… I only know that much.
As I was walking away from them, I heard him begging me:
– Uncle, have mercy, don’t report us! We ear our bread this way… What are we to do?!…
The next few days I was completely obsessed with reading those entries. They conveyed bitter truths, written under the pressure of a great shock, in the form of a confession addressed to an esteemed man who had, apparently, lost his life in a car accident. It was essentially a long dialogue between a woman and the deceased in the accident to whom she was telling the secrets she had buried deep in her soul. At the same time, this confession was an attempt by this woman (in these records she called herself Lirika Mertiri) to explain to the deceased one that it was impossible for her to respond to his love because she thought she was unworthy of it.