Translated from Bosnian: Elizabeta Bakovska
My first summer at the seaside after the war. I and my seven-year-old relative Haris, who goes to the sea for the first time. The school holiday at Mali Drvenik was organised by his school. The other first graders are accompanied by their moms, Haris is accompanied by me. Fuck it, that was the only possible way. His mom Melida works in a supermarket, no days off, no weekends. We all live on her labour and my grandpa’s pension. We’ll pay for the summer holiday in instalments. What matters is that he’s here, with his friends and his teacher.
I am in my first college year. Philosophy, literature… I got a big room smelling of lavender. In my suitcase I have more books than underwear. Everything that I read piles up in my head like a rain cloud ready to pour down and melt into the heat of the day.
At the beach, the moms rest in a pack. They sip coffee, lick ice-creams, yell at the kids. They talk and talk… When they see me with my book in my hands they smile mildly, nostalgically. I don’t understand their smiles. I smile at them shyly, and I quickly dive my eyes into the paper and letters. I think of a mother who’s lost her son.
It was in the movie “All about My Mother”. She, Manuela, had her Esteban, who was killed by a car on his birthday. Esteban wanted to write a novel about his mother, and Almodovar made a movie in which the mother mourns her son. I saw the movie at the Meeting Point cinema. That evening, I went straight home. I climbed up the steep street of the old neighbourhood, to my motherless house. Esteban’s face was in front of my eyes. I saw him wet, in his jacket and jeans, with a wet notebook in his hands. The street that I walked on is called the Wide Street and it is quite steep. At the end of the street I paused to catch my breath. During this break I turned to the valley. The city was sinking into darkness, and I thought: what if my mother was alive now, and I was the one to die that night, seventeen years ago?
The son burns on the beach. In the shadow of the pine trees, the moms fan themselves. Sweat runs down their necks, their thighs are wet, their voices grow silent. The children go wild on the hot rocks. They hit each other, they chase each other, their teacher screams after them. Every now and then a child walks into the shallow water without permission, gets his feet wet, then his arms, turns to the shore and shows his tongue to the others. The teacher runs after him, the moms yell.
Dreams turn into salt on your skin. I read Márquez. Short stories. One of them is called “The Most Beautiful Drowned Man in the World”. The skin on my forehead wrinkles when I realise his name is Esteban too. The sun leaves the defence zone of the umbrellas. The spongy mat soaks in the sweat of my skin. I take out the pen from my backpack. I circle every time the name is mentioned in the story. “Esteban, Esteban, Esteban…” The blue colour dries quickly, it isolates the seven letter word as a protective tape does the crime scene.
Gabriel’s Esteban is dressed in seaweed and shells, covered with the smell of the sea. Who knows how long he was carried by the water. Dead, he was washed ashore of the village that would become his holy tomb. I touch my hot neck with my palm. Burnt. It hurts. I want to take shelter. By mistake, I look directly at the sun. Shiny, hot and white, as it is only in the south, it flips my image of the world upside down. It flips it as Almodovar’s camera would do it immediately after the sound of the blunt hit of the boy’s body on the windshield of the expensive car. Manuela’s run, the rhythm of her high heels hitting the asphalt pulsates in my mind.
When my blindness passed, I saw my dead body on the surface of the sea. Small waves pulled it, just like a noble horse dash pulls a funeral carriage. When they washed me to the shore, the kids saw me. They forgot their mutual quarrels and mockery. Their pebbles fell out of their hands. They ran to me. They looked at me, pulled my nose, pulled my hair, pushed their little fingers in my ears. They removed the algae from my hands, poured sand in my open mouth, pounded my chest.
Playful, euphoric, they attracted the attention of their mothers. When the women recognised the dead toy among their children’s little bodies, they ran as if for their lives. They all rushed, cutting their bare feet on the sharp stones. Thin long dresses rolled up in the water. They floated around their hips as multi-coloured seaweed. The mothers pulled out the leeches from my arms, they took out the entangled hair from my face. They ordered their children with scared voices: “Quickly, call her!”
She wore a white dress, which made her hair and eyebrows even blacker. Everybody grew silent before her steps. The children and women ran away. Slowly but decisively she approached my body. Her wrinkled face came close to my blue cheeks. The sun shone. She took my head and carefully placed it in her palms, as an egg in a nest. It was my mother. At the threshold of her old age. She pressed her lips to my eyes and then she licked a drop of salty water from my eyelash with her tongue. “This is Esteban!”, she said. The other women looked at her. “Esteban and nobody else!” she sobbed. When they heard this, the other women gathered around me. They moaned aloud. They punched their chest, they pulled their hair, tore their dresses…
“This is Esteban”, said my mother once again and kissed my cheeks. All the other women started to nod their heads. As a flock of upset birds they pressed close to my mother. I felt her lips wet and warm from crying kissing mine. The others also started to caress me, kissing every part of my body. The time passed, the sun was setting.
And that was it. A perfect death, fitting me great.