Here around the corner, the cats are eating. They gnaw chicken skins, gathered in a pile. They stretch the white veins. They look me straight in the eyes. They hiss if I approach them. I cross the street. I walk with Lulu. She wags her tail, sniffs the grass, and then switches to the exhaust pipes of the cars. Still life, a garbage industry is on the streets. Marlboro butts, Drina butts, a pink facemask and three or four strawberries. She, a scarf on her head, sells old shoes, seven hundred dinars a pair. Crows chase after food. There is a monument in the main square, in a small street. People light candles. There are flowers around the monument. When she comes to me, my mother crosses herself, because of the monuments and the strawberries in the street. They say the temperature is twenty-eight degrees. It smells of linden outside.
It’s that time of the year.
I put on my pants, up to mid-calf. Violet ones. And a striped T-shirt. I also have shoes, flat, black. And a black-and-white striped raincoat, from California. Backpack with a badge: You are the sun. This are my clothes from five years ago. I’m going for a walk. I pass by an obituary. A picture of an acquaintance. I hear an echo: he waaaaaa 35 years old and haaaaaaas a child. I thought that was impossible. I cry, I weep. The lights pierce right through my pupils. There, in the neighborhood, they say: the train station. I have a train. I don’t have a station. People around me are running, eating two slices of bread. They drink, in the park behind, where there were donuts once. And dumplings. I’m sending you a picture. I have sores from my shoes. And from the city.
They taught us everything. To say good morning, day and evening. Not to turn our backs on the neighbors. Offer everyone ice cream and strawberries. To carry a pencil-case, to fly dragons, to read stories, to wait for each other in front of the kindergarten and to eat hot dogs, with eggs. To flourish, only out of love, to finish schools, colleges, those we love. Not to defy life, to go to parties, respect color, gender, religious holidays and faith. To sometimes add J, and to sometimes omit it. Not to slaughter, not to break hearts, not to write on the walls: kill your brother, let the wire live! To think only left, about equality, justice, slow but unattainable.
The house was big. The one in which respectable citizens would live. That village had mixed languages, heritage, and blood. The large kitchen had decorations. Big and small frying pans. Big ladles, for beans. Maybe even forks. No prongs or tines. Faith was passed down from generation to generation, like some harmful radiation, leaving behind radioactive dust with sound waves. He is an honorary officer. She, the first lady of the village. She used to write a diary. She dedicated page and a half to the future veterinarian, the first son of a reputable local. She dedicated two pages to the future lawyer, the officer and the first lady’s second son.
In the end, she wrote:
“Another female martyr was born.”
The abyss in my stomach awakes me. What is this, what is this pain? Physical pain. I run to the bathroom. I sit on the plastic seat. It pinches me. I have a seat bite, on top of the pain. I strain my body, but nothing. Misha once told me that his friend had died from straining himself. I stop it immediately. It’s as if I’m being stabbed. I’m lying on the tiles.
– Good God, Martina, what are you doing so long in the bathroom, child, it’s two thirty, you have a piano lesson tomorrow?!
– I don’t know mom, my stomach hurts.
– It’s because you eat all sorts of mess from the street.
The next morning I saw red spots on my legs.
– Mom, here’s my very first mess.
– Ah, you’ve become woman. Now you need to put this cotton to stop it from leaking all over.
– Mom, there are pads, I don’t want to put that cotton.
– I know, do what you want. Get ready for class. And yes, we don’t have to tell this whole episode to the boys, these are, you know… still… female things.
No more pain. Physical one. Only this one, sometimes, that splashes me like a summer wave, these: female things.
Grandma and I clean the rice. Grain by grain. She brought a full bag, and poured little on the tarpaulin. The rice spreads all around. Sometimes it flies around, so we hit our heads under the table. Black rice reminds me of a decayed tooth, so I pretend to be a dentist.
Once I refused to clean the spoiled from the healthy rice.
Grandma called mom:
– This little one, this little one will be the end of you.
It‘s winter. Dad takes us sledding. We have a bob sled. The only ones in our neighborhood. In fact, we have both a bob sledge and a wooden one. Dad takes a piece of bacon, and then we grease them. The sled rails look like sculpted ice. We see our reflection in them. Misha rides the bob, I ride the wooden sledge. Dad pulls me. And we do that hundred times, two hundred if necessary. Up and down. We raise our legs, then we shout: “Watch outttttttt!”. We eat snow. We have facialis again. That evening, Misha’s hands froze. He lost his gloves, but said nothing. His hands were red as if burned by fire, not ice. He screamed all the way home. Dad immediately put them under a stream of hot water. Misha screamed even louder.
Mom just shouted:
– What kind of sister are you? Why didn’t you give him your gloves?