Which withdrew only after flooding the houses by the shore, and with its wet tongue, like I did, so many times, on the cheek of Grandpa Sharka’s calf, licked the house in which we lived, ready, with what we could carry in our hands, to run to the hills. First to the hill where the church and the school were. And, if necessary, further. I see the huge flame that, waking up in the middle of the night, I saw right in front of our window. Which, cracking and threatening, with waves of unbearable heat swayed the curtain ghostly, and dark shadows of the running fire extinguishers stretched on the walls, was extinguished after it had already crossed the wooden fence of our garden and fried mum’s blossoming Chinese asters, impatients, hellebores… I see mum bathing the dead old woman next door. In a small tin metal bath. Like she bathed me, on Saturdays. And that wrinkled wax-coloured body, with relaxed breasts, with skin full of ageing spots, with sparse white hairs under the belly, was, after my aunt’s and a cousin’s, the first completely naked body of a woman I had seen. And it remained so until my peer, the neighbour’s daughter Silva, and I, in the bushes and the tall grass overgrown in the corner of Meho’s garden, stripped off our clothes piece by piece, stripped naked, and finally showed each other our privates. Not touching, but just watching and looking carefully. And we did it then and never again, because we both got such a cold that we had to stay in bed and for a long time we weren’t allowed in Meho’s garden, full of hidden places, shaded corners, where the stench of moisture and rot mixed with the intoxicating scents of various flowers. Not long after that we stopped playing together. The girls played with the girls and the boys with the boys. I see, at this very hour, how someone, with his back turned and bent over, through a snow storm, is pulling me on a sled. I have a grey cat and two colourful kittens in my lap. The moment a kitten falls from the sledge into the snow, she jumps, grabs him by the neck with her teeth, catches us up and, together with it, jumps on the sledge. At the same time, I watch how with the boys from the neighbourhood, on a scooter, I run through the Zavidovići streets and throw colourful confetti in the air and they snow on those sitting at the tables in front of the only hotel and listen to Hawaiian guitars from the hotel orchestra, sea music, which, together with two movies a week was the only entertainment for the locals. I see many more things. And those images are multiplying, as they multiplied before me while, at that time, I was lying sick and exhausted from a high temperature. And on top of all that now, like cotton snow-covered poplar kittens then, colourful confetti are snowing.
The first face that always appears to me from that picture book is my dad’s friend, the master uncle Loize, who was considered a great expert, constructor, inventor and innovator, but also an even bigger drunkard. The winner of numerous international awards for various patents, most of which, due to poverty, were never applied in the Zavidovići factory, was said by some to be very smart, educated and well-read, while others, not denying that, that when he was sober, let alone when he was drunk, he was also a nutter, weird, knocked, has bets in the belfry… said by those who have a screw missing.
And while my father, born in Bosnia, as far as I can remember, never uttered a single Slovene word, Uncle Loize’s every second word was Slovene or its not always accurate translation, so that only he, despite the large number of Slovenes employed in “Krivaja”, was called by many not by name but simply as ‘Slovene’. They smiled at him, but didn’t make fun of him. And they would burst into laughter when, pointing to the drink, instead of: “Let’s drink one at a time”, he would say: “Let’s drink one at a dime”, or, whenever he wanted to say: “He who laughs last laughs best”, he said: “He who laughs past laughs best.” Although he had a serious, even sad face, he spread contagious laughter around him. The laughter was caused not only by his words, but also by his appearance, and his clothes, and his behaviour, as well as his many skills, innovations and inventions. Especially when he was well drunk. Or, as they said, in his own element.
Master Uncle Loize always walked with his head held high. He didn’t look ahead of him, into the ground, as they taught us, so that we wouldn’t step on something, stumble and fall, but into the heaven. As if constantly counting the white lambs on the clouds. Or, when there was pure blue above him or complete grey, he looked like a careful shepherd, searching for the lost flock. Tall and thin, with shaggy curly hair, round glasses, large diopters, which brought closer and magnified what he saw, and pulled away and reduced his watery eyes which, to the one who was looking at him, became two distant black shimmering dots, he walked like that on the streets and the surrounding, field and forest paths. Both when he had an interlocutor, and when he walked alone, he forgot himself as if he was quarrelling with someone.
He was bareheaded, in the middle of summer and in the middle of winter, in the rain and the snow. Always in the same, old and worn dark suit, which threatened to open at his sleeves and knees at any moment, but also in the always clean, snow-white shirt. And with a bow-tie. In that village, as Zavidovići was called by those, like my own parents, who have come there from a bigger town, he was the only one wearing a bow-tie. It was the thing that gave him the most gentlemanly look that set him apart and differentiated him from the others. That impression was not diminished even by his always wrongly buttoned-up coat, often unbuttoned slit and socks often of different colours. Everything on him and about him was unusual.
According to the story of my father, who knew him well, because they were, as my mother used to say, like a bar and a drum and they resembled, the one tall and thin like a bean stake, the other short and fat like a ball, to those who watched movies, Pat and Patachon, and to those who read books – Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa, Master Uncle Loize was from a very poor Slovenian family from Carinthia. They sent him, in order to get a piece of bread as soon as possible, in a seminary. But he never became a priest. He fell in love with Lily, who wore a number six bra, as Dad emphasized, at first sight and up to his ears. As did she with him. They met during his first visit to a Viennese brothel, from which they came out embraced, and she would never return there again, as he wouldn’t return to the seminary. And his love for inventing, to which, from a young age, he devoted all his time and all his thoughts, was stronger than the love for Lily, with whom, in the first post-war year, he arrived in Zavidovići, and not long after, without anyone hearing them each other a single ugly word, he sent her off from the train station. They kissed as if meeting, not parting. He helped her step on the high stair of the wagon, and when the train took off, as can be witnessed by all who then found themselves at the station, to send away or greet someone, with tears in their eyes they waved to each other for a long time. Loize stood with his hand raised on the deserted station platform even when the train carrying Lily disappeared from sight. Since then he has lived alone in a house on the side, on a hill, around which there is a large orchard. And from then on, in the words of some, he began drinking or, in the words of others, he didn’t sober up.