The train left at 10 PM. Emily and my sister ran after it. My two sisters, that life would later take away. Long story. Another story, that one about my two sisters. I saw their tears, as they ran after the train. I shook. I’ll return, I wanted to tell them. That was all I could think of. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t yell. Of course I would come back. You crybabies, I haven’t been home for years, and now you cry when I’ll be only gone for twelve months. That was what I should have told them. I remembered one hour later, as I tried to calm myself down from their pain. At a quarter to midnight I went to the lunch car and bought a bottle of rum.
I returned to my compartment and two guys sat there. I introduced myself, and they did the same. Shawn and Samuel. From Ireland, they said.
“Going to some scary place?” asked Sam.
“No, nothing scary. I’m going to the army.”
“We saw how they were seeing you off, with tears.”
“Where have you gotten on the train?”
“Sorry, I didn’t notice you.” I said. “In Skopje.”
“Your eyes were filled with tears.” said Shawn.
“From drinking. You want some rum?”
“There is nothing else, huh mate?”
“No, bros, and I don’t know when there will be some.”
“Let’s toast!” said Sam.
“In ten minutes.” I said.
“Why?” they asked.
“It’s my birthday then.
We drank silently for ten minutes and then we started toasting. Bottoms up. Cooking rum. The cheapest bottle in the lunch car.
I found out everything about them. They went to Greece for women. Not much luck. Barely one per day. Mostly Englishwomen.
“Bro, fuck the quantity, as long there is a good pair of boobs.” said Sam.
“The English ones are cute, you know.” said Shawn.
“I don’t know, I haven’t tried.”
“The English have been fucking us for a century or two, you know. It’s good to fuck their women, for a bit.” said Sam.
“It’s more then a century or two…” I said.
“It’s only an expression, mate, only an expression.” said Shawn.
We celebrated my birthday until Belgrade. The bottle was empty and we fell asleep as real righteous men. The Irish were good drinkers, they could hold it well. We celebrated my twentieth birthday.
Ozana ran to me, the one with the hangover, and she hugged me firmly. She had a scarf on her long blond hair, and a broad tunic and round sun glasses, bell-bottoms and broad shoes. And a bunch of necklaces around her neck. Mostly braided.
“See that I recognized you?”
“There’s nothing strange here. You know the story about the windows of the soul, don’t you?”
“What is my soul like?”
“Composed. Calm. As… golden dust…”
Have you found my key, to open me inside, to save me, I thought.
“What about the dust?”
“It’s swaying… Like cold white wine on a summer afternoon.”
“Come on, I’m taking you for a drink. I scant this money for the two of us, so we’ll fuck it all today.”
First we drank red wine. Then cognac. Then we ate some greasy meat. We walked around Zagreb, here and there, but I somehow kept to Ban Jelačić square. The heart of the city was there, I felt at home. I was terrified from the barracks.
She was hugging me, she was kissing me, she was smiling from inside. My Ozana, how much strength you need to do all of this, I thought and I followed her. She showed me the cheap dumps, the good billiard halls, the plain but good restaurants. If you leave the barracks without me you should know here to go, she said. They will not like you in your uniform as they do now, but you’ll manage.
We sat at one of the plain but good restaurants and we ate again. Then I remembered to tell her about Mirta.
“You want to go to her?” she asked.
“I don’t know…”
“Let’s finish this bottle and we go.” She decided.
“It’s our last anyway. I don’t have a fucking dime.”
“I was told it’s not good to enter the barracks without money. You might need to buy something there.”
We finished the food, we emptied the bottle and we left for Siget.
They were fully stunned when we knocked on their door. They didn’t know what to do: hug me, or meet Ozana. All of this was prescribed by their usual behaviour norms. They were out of their shoes because Ozana and I were not usual. No, Mirta was not at home. Tanja neither. We sat with their parents and we spoke about literature. As if they were interested. They could hardly wait for us to leave.
“Two more hours to midnight.” Said Ozana. “How much more do you have?”
“What do we do now?”
“Next pub, if we had money.”
“Mirta’s mother still thinks that soldiers should be helped…”
“You’re bullshitting me…”
“She gave me three hundred, for you. It was when Mirta’s father poured you the last drink.”
“Maybe they are not such assholes as I thought.”
“They are so nice! You come to their home unannounced, with a girl that is not their younger daughter, you tell them that you are going to the army while grabbing me every chance you get, they keep on pouring you drinks, and in the end they even give you money. So, what shall I say… Quite assholes, aren’t they?”
“OK, they aren’t. I just can’t explain why they love me so much.”
“Because you are who you are. They know that you don’t give a damn about them, but you also know to be decent as much as it’s needed.”
“Great, now I’ve turned up to be the asshole…”
“No, my dear, you’ve been an asshole as long as I know you. And that’s how I love you!”
Two hours before entering the barracks, as it’s a lot. A little time, just to exchange several kisses and gentle embraces.
I stood in front of the big metal gate. I knocked. First slowly, then in what I thought was a military way.
“Yes, young man?” said the soldier from the other side of the gate.
“I have an invitation.” I said.
“Let me see it.”
I gave him the invitation, he smiled.
“You are coming at five to twelve, huh?”
“Come on, get in.”
I turned towards the city. Its lights swam before my eyes, as if the city reflected in a large, dark sea.
Translated from Macedonian by Elizabeta Bakovska