The Book of Una

The Book of Una

– an excerpt from the novel –

Night Voyage

Our mother used to say, if it rains on Friday that means it will rain for the next seven days. And the heavy rain covered our sky with the power of the ayet of the sura Al-Qari’a / End of the World.

When the water surrounded us from all sides, Mother’s house embarked on its first voyage. Just before we became Una-farers we had heard a loud bang when the house pulled away from its earthly roots. Now liberated from its foundations into which armor and stabilizers from the World War II bomb shells had been built, now without the stones from the old house that was burned down by Allied bombing and the river tufa in the foundations, the house was to withstand the worst yet: a voyage into the unknown.

Those fleet-footed who were not as surprised by the water as we were had climbed to Ravnik, to the very top of Hum, where they hoped that the sun would break though the clouds and stop the flood. Those of us who didn’t have much choice, and who didn’t want to let the vagaries of the weather to decide things for them, took matters into our own hands.

By some miracle the basement had crept into the house becoming our engineering deck, with its red pressure gauges and little round steering wheels for navigating uncertain and engorged waters. Whenever the engines unexpectedly overheated, their lids lifted up blowing off angry steam. The vines unwrapped itself around Mother’s house and turned into a leafy sail, just in case, as a spare drive. I went down to the basement, after we stripped the floor with the crowbar and our bare hands, and I grabbed the metal steering wheels. Mother stood in the kitchen by the window with Uncle Šeta who served in the Yugoslav Navy. She steered the house, which had become a vessel, holding prayer beads that hang from her hand. Those little amber beads circled through their inaudible universe. Šeta had the spear ready if he happened to see the fins of a large pike. The water sprayed all over our faces wanting leap into mother’s kitchen, but that didn’t diminish our sailors’ determination.

We were going down the Unadžik straight toward Pilanica all the way to the confluence whose sand banks were always full of barbells and sneeps. At the confluence the Unadžik flows into the Krušnica. There, the two waters mix. The Krušnica is to the right side of the river bank—where the water is cooler—while the Una is on the left side of the brotherly watercourse. In the summer, hairy sedges, with flowers like the eyes of frightened hydro-pygmy beings, float in the mid-stream. From the basement, I tried to cast a brass blinker—because it is designed for murky water—while closely observing the manometer’s red arrows and heeding Mother’s instructions. We skillfully avoided the tufa over which water coursed in thick opaque layers.

“To port, with all your might, to port!” shouted mother. I would grab the helm and spin it until the house responded to the desired maneuver.

Nothing threatened us, not even the gigantic waves that crashed into each other, making terrifying water giants. Our sailing was safe. I remembered Nostradamus’s verses about the end of the world:

At forty degrees latitude the sea roils
and the fish cook.

We have already lost sight of the coastal houses in Pazardžik and we went down the Pilanica cascades straight into the newly formed lake that stretched all the way to Đuro Pucar Stari School, threatening to reach the first houses built on grassy slopes of Zahum. Surely, this was the time of floods, ones like this had not been seen, at least not during Mother’s lifetime. We began gliding along a stretch of the Una and the main course of the Krušnica, both of which, with their joint forces, flooded mile-long islands and everything that was on them. Crossbars, from the soccer stadiums of Meteor and their lesser brother, Željezničar, were sticking out of the lake, leaning on the tops of the goalposts. Silent and murky water sat on the west grandstand of the bigger stadium. The bloated carcass of someone’s cow was caught in the goal’s net. Three hours away from us the water moved to diminish Točile by climbing over helpless treetops. Bird’s nests drowned everywhere. From the depths of the water emerged fish—never before seen in daylight—with their awkward bodies and heads so human-like that some could almost talk.

One fish—the one with tin scales—spoke while looking in awe over Mother’s house at the clouds passing above Točila: “And the first angel sounded, et facta est grando et ignis….” I quickly interrupted her, answering from my deck cabin: “…mista in sanguine, et missum est in terram, et tertia pars terrae combusta est, and the third of the trees had burnt, and all of the green grass had burnt.” The fish immediately dived back into to the muddy water slapping the water surface with its heavy tail. The fish’s look was terrifying, older than time. It seemed that I had caught in the corner of my eye the Monster from Sokiona as it sails in Una’s giant shell carefully noting down everything that had happened. The fatigue took hold of me and it was impossible to dispel the gloomy thoughts.

On forty-eight degrees latitude the sea roils
And the fish cooks.

At this place the dream vision is interrupted, as if sliced by a Solingen knife, and I wake up breathless in my mother’s living room, covered by a massive duvet. Somewhere on the wall above me the beat of the clock gives a gothic note to the slumbering darkness. The house is still on dry land, and Unadžik remains in its well-fitted suit. The river is pleased and it flows tirelessly toward the confluence mixing with Krušnica’s fluids. When I get up I will go down to the basement to check the red arrows on the two metal water meters, their position, and the number, which indicates the use of water in my mother’s house.

At daybreak I left my bed and entered the hallway. On the left side, toward the entrance door, fresh water drops poured down the mirror hanger and the hallway carpet was soaked in water. Thick layers of white paint on the wall cracked in places as if there had been an earthquake. It is all clear now. Powered by water, Mother’s house moves secretly at night. It walks secretly with the help of water cilia, and the house’s night movement is, for now, expressed in inches. Cilia are small water whips, a substitute for legs with certain kind of water organisms and microbes. The house wants to move, wants to go to another, more permanent place, far away from the two dream rivers, out of reach of floods and disasters, where it could live into old age. To some other town with better inhabitants: Peter Pan, Hansel & Gretel. The house is naïve much like the hands that built it. In the Spring of 1992 the house thought that it would be spared, because it did not do anybody any harm. Around it all other houses were yellow flares from children’s drawings. The house pretended that such bright lights were everywhere because the stars came out in the sky very early. And that the other houses were not fiery suns that collapse into the center of their own hell. Her consciousness withdrew under its own rooftop, it huddled, trembling, like a frozen owl.

The night is peaceful, one of many. The only thing it has at its disposal are water cilia and the river that covers its escape with its murmur. Time is running out relentlessly and it isn’t on her side. The house is getting ready to betray its destiny, which repeats with horrifying precision every fifty years. To turn to dust and ashes. Need it be written that its escape never succeeds?

Translated from Bosnian by Nataša Milas

2018-08-21T17:22:39+00:00 March 2nd, 2014|Categories: Prose, Literature, Blesok no. 94|0 Comments