From “Under pressure”, Blesok, 2012
They brought us to the frontline. Mud and fog are everywhere. I can barely see the man in front of me . We almost have to hold each other’s belts in order not to lose our way. We are moving among torched homes. The column is trudging along rickety fences. The mud is sticking to our boots as dough. Nothing matches the first encounter with the front. Everyhting is new and hairy like balls. Especially when you take over the line at night and then, come morning, you realize that you are on the tip of a nail. Schorched beams are falling off a roof and sizzling in the mud. We are stumbling down a big hill. The grass is slimy from the thick fog. Those who fall are slowing down the column and, as a rule, they are swearing at the president and state. My piles ache at the thought that we will sleep in the field tonight. A military police guide leads us to a hilltop. Emir and I take over a shallow trench containing a muddy matress, blanket and several cigarette butts smoked to the hilt and nervously stabbed into the ground.
– Hey boys, cold enough for you? – a voice reaches us from the right.
– Come here and I’ll tell you about it. – Emir replies from the matress.
A figure approaches us from behind,
Jumps into the trench.
– I’m from the 3rd Batallion. – he says as we shake hands.
– Got any fags?
I open my cigarette case full of Gales [Columbian cigarettes made in 1974]
– Aren’t they gonna’ see us smoking? – Emir asks.
– No way. They are far from here and the fog is thick.
Both of us light up as if we were ordered to do so.
– What’s the situation like here? Is it fucked up?
– They plowed the hill with shells today. A soldier from the 2nd Company had his cheek torn off by a piece of shrapnel. They got two big guns on Metla, that’s a hill twice the size of ours, and they can see us as if we were in a coffee cup. – The guy from the 3rd Batallion slowly explains.
– So, whoever survives will eat with a golden spoon. – Emir interjects.
– Its not as bad as it looks. – The guy from the 3rd Batallion consoles him. – You gotta die one day anyhow.
Fear creeps into me as rising damp. Tomorrow they are going to shave us on the house.
Your line of life is broken in two places. You’ll be wounded twice, once seriously, a Gypsy woman tells me. She throws the beans around, looks at them and concludes: you can expect a trip abroad and some good news from afar.
I have figured out the hierarchy of things:
5. War again
My favourite song: No invention beats a bed
I want to use it before I’m dead
The most stupid quote: War is delightful to those who have had no experience of it [Erasmus].
Favourite colour: Blue, all nuances of blue
Favourite book: Plexus by Henry Miller
Favourite drink: Home-made plum brandy
Favourite weapon: Hungarian-made Kalashnikov, rifle No. SV-3059
Favourite meal: A litre of brandy and a pack of fags
Favourite quote: To become immortal, and then die, Jean-Pierre Melville
Unfulfilled wish: My face scarred by shrapnel so I can look mean when I enter a bar
Then I fell asleep, covered with a muddy duvet
– Let’s bet five marks that the Iron Man will make it across the field
– Does it count if he has to run across wounded?
– Whatever, he just has to run across to the white house.
The Iron Man got his nickname because of his leather wristband with metal spikes. He is lying behind a perforated concrete fence. He has covered his head with his hands. Fine concrete dust is eeping onto his hair. He is exactly halfway to the shelter. Machine-gun bullets are hitting the concrete columns, whizzing through the gaps, biting the ground. The Iron Man gets up and accelerates. A machine-gun burst throws him to the ground. The gambling fraternity are huddling under a quince tree, well hiddedn and protected.
– Hey Baldy, you alive?
– Alive my ass, don’t you see he’s not moving or moaning.
– It’s all his fault. Did anyone force him to in daylight. He could’ve waited for the night – the third observer interjects.
The Iron Man gets up again, moves those stocky legs with all his might. It looks as if he is taking off, his hair flying with acceleration. The Iron Man crosses the finish line as Ben Johnson.
– Give me my five marks.
– You can have my dick.
– Did he make it or not?
– Yeah, he did.
– Was it fair and honest?
– I admit it was
– Can I pay in cigarettes?
– Absolutely, definitely
The Iron Man is leaning on a cold wall, fishing for broken fags in his pocket. He is lighting up half a cig with trembling fingers, re-arranging his hair. He is shaking off the the dust and soil from his uniform. Blood is coming back to his face. The night arrives like a lottery win.
Zgembo is using his nail to remove a piece of human brain from his pie. He is breaking off bits of the pie, dipping them into salt and putting them into his mouth. More meze can be found in a white nylon bag sprayed with a mixture of blood and brains. Zgembo is using his other hand to search for pieces of soft cheese in the bag. A 7.62 mm macine-gun is resting on his lap. Five minutes ago, pro-autonomy soldiers were sitting in this trench. A corps, still warm, is lying over the rampart. A burst of machine-gun fore had cut his skull in half. I turn him on his back. I take the wallet from the inside pocket of his camoflage jacket.I look at his photo. He had a wide forehead and a receding hairline. Big, melancholic eyes. I am using the edge of his photo to pick at bits of apple stuck between my teeth.
Fatty had built a fire behind a house, in the middle of the battle, to dry his socks. He left his automatic rifle leaning against the wall at the other end of the house. The pro-auonomy guys launched a counter-attack. They captured Fatty alive. They tied his hands behind his back with a piece of wire and executed him behind a barn.
That evening after a new shift arrived to the frontline, we went drinking to the local joint. We drank on the 5th Corps account, that is for nothing! Zgembo popped blue valium pills into a pitcher of brandy. We drank raki from small glasses. The owner brought meze, cured beef and hard cheese, on the house. He had a good-natured face and looked like an experienced caterer. A Romanian waitress was complaining to him because we were drinking for free. Her teeth were protruding under her lips, spaced out like a rake. She says how she used to be with a gut from our brigade, Baker was his nickname. After several litres of raki we began to mess up the place. We fired above the bar, at the mirrors and rows of bottles. Drowned out by the shooting, a folk singer was screeching from a tape-player speaker. I was trying to shoot down a plastic fly swat hanging from a nail on a wooden wall panel. We knocked over the plastic tables and chairs on the terrace. We used our rifle butts to deal with several villagers who complained about our behaviour. We disarmed three policemen and lined them up outside a hair saloon. The owner of the joint used his Lada to take us to a school 10 kilometres down the road where we were staying. Rain began falling outside.
The wipers were sliding on the front window like the needle of a blood pressure monitor.
There was nothing left to talk about that evening.
(translation by Mladen Bilić)