By Bashkim Shehu
Memorie.al / Bashkim Shehu were born in Tirana in 1955, while the origin of his family is from the village of Çorush in Mallakastra, in the district of Fier. After graduating from the “Petro Nini Luarasi” high school in Tirana, he attended higher studies at the State University of Tirana, at the Faculty of History and Philology in the Language and Literature department. From a young age he had a passion for literature and after graduation he was appointed as a screenwriter at “Kinostudio Albania e Re” and in 1980, he wrote the script for the movie “Skëterë ’43” which was made by the well-known director Rikard Ljarja . After the event of December 18, 1981, when his father, Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu, was found dead in his bedroom, and Enver Hoxha declared him an enemy of the people and a police agent, in January 1982, he was arrested and is sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment, accused, “for agitation and propaganda against the popular power”. After that, the mother and brother, Skenderi, were first interned in Belsh of Elbasan, from where they were then arrested and ended up in prison, Fiqreti in Zejmen of Lezha (where he died under mysterious circumstances in 1987), while Skenderi, in Burrel prison, from where he was released only in 1991, with the last political convict. Meanwhile, the older brother of Bashkim, Vladimir, died under mysterious circumstances, in his house in the city of Gramsh, (official version, suicide by electrocution), where he was immediately exiled as a family, after the incident with their father in December of 81’s. With the collapse of the communist regime, immediately after the 90s, Bashkim Shehu returned to his passion, literature, and besides being present in the press of the time as a publicist and prose writer, he also published many books, among which we can mention: “Autumn of Anxiety”, “Circle”, “Curse or the absence of the author”, etc. Likewise, his works have been translated into other languages. For years Bashkim Shehu currently lives in Spain with his family, where he continues to create and publish again. The writing we have selected for publication here is a triptych, which we have taken from one of his books, where he artistically describes the period of arrest and going to prison, which we are publishing on Memorie.al
Continues from last issue
In order to get out of there, I must bring to mind an event, so that I can remember it with the greatest clarity, I am living it, so that I can remain frozen and stuck in it like a frozen bird of the moon in the middle of the sky. I will reconstruct, moment by moment, from the beginning that event, as I have done every night, when the footsteps of those above are silent while I am still awake. But I have never been able to take it to the end, sleep catches me in the event, and that’s why there is always something left to rebuild.
And every time I return to it, I start from the beginning; because that’s the only way it can be rebuilt. Or maybe I do this to delay it as much as possible, so that I can’t get to the end, because I have an ominous fear that, after I have lived through it all once more, the door of the cell will rattle and want they come to take me, and I will have to live, this time knowingly, my death. Because it is the last event that happened to me before I was brought here, even the very event for which I was brought here, and beyond that nothing awaits me, except death.
However, it is what, more than anything else, can distract my mind, at this hour, from the death that awaits me, perhaps precisely because it is the last that happened to me outside these walls, and I can remember it, therefore, with the greatest clarity, or, how do you know, because in my visions I believe in her end as if I believe in death itself. To concentrate, I once again go through every detail of the event from the beginning.
I would have written it, if I could, I would have written a novella, which would, be the best written by me. But now, here, locked in this cell of death, chained hands and feet, with his head stuck in a spacesuit so that he doesn’t escape against the wall to kill himself, laid on the hard bed of stone, stone of the tomb, motionless, waiting for sleep and death, my only recourse is to daydream the event, to banish that other wide-eyed, gaping dream, the recurring dream of death.
I focus; I dream with my eyes open, I have in my eyes all the details in every moment of that last event, before I was locked in these walls, where no event happens anymore. I have before my eyes, as if I had it in mind, all that I would write, if I could.
How I set off in my van to escape into the big, free world. Anyway, on the way, I stopped, however, to pick up a couple, a man and a woman, because I felt sorry for them, or even because the driver’s habits seem to be unchanging, since he has started to run away. But they would not be my obstacle. They rode only for their own blackness, for what they did not know, and what I did not know, but which would sometime, somewhere, at a narrow bend in a stream mouth, beyond which the valley takes shape of a coffin.
Here, I am complaining about how a Security car has been behind me, the only person to whom I told that I was going to escape, has spied on me. The black car, which is so much like the funeral procession, moves in spite of them at the speed of a hellish storm and I nail my foot to the pedal and make desperate twists, so as not to let it get ahead of me.
A futile effort, because the border is too far away and, moreover, all border posts must have been notified. The man and woman in the cab accuse me of going crazy, beg me to slow down, then yell at me to stop.
Oh my, the woman has lost her voice and, winking, she punches me, we enter the tight turn, the steering wheel is out of my hands and the three of us fall into the abyss, while I immediately open the door of the cabin and I tumble down the steep slope.
This is the end. I arrived, then, tonight, beyond the bend, where the valley comes and takes the form of an open cave under the night sky with an archaeological moon, the image of a hardened bird carved by our ancestors in the dawn of time.
It was dark, and it seemed to me that I had entered the world of nothingness forever, as indeed I had entered, when I saw myself, coming to myself, between the hands that would seal my death. That’s the end, then. And I can only wait for death, as they may come tonight, that I arrived beyond the bend.
At any moment they can tell me, I’m already having that dream of their arrival, I’m living it once more already, when I don’t know where to take my mind, before I fall asleep, that I can’t silence me, as long as it constantly occurs to me that I will be awakened by the roar of the drang, which will be followed by all that I have once lived in this life – my death within these walls, and which throw me beyond the goals of life, in the world of nothing forever.
And the footsteps of those above are not heard at this hour, the silence is complete and overwhelming. Now they will come to take me, the sooner they come, the better they come than this silence, than this waiting, where they come and don’t come. Silence breaking suddenly. Expectations that is suddenly broken. Knock, knock, no knock. It is the blind wall, not the door, even blinder than the wall, except when the guard watches through the magic eye of the counter.
But at this hour the warden is not watching, he must be dozing away from the herd, like some old cat, in his room far away at the far end of the corridor. The wall is the one to the right of the door. I hear the blows, turn around and approach the wall.
There are beats that are persistently repeated three out of three, the signal that calls for the beginning of the conversation. I know this, I fully understand, although I have never spoken to the wall, neither now nor during my first imprisonment, sometime in my early youth, when I was convicted because of some writings they found on me, for which I don’t know who spied on me.
I have never done this, talk to a wall, but now I am going to do it, so that I can bring to my mind what this will bring me. However, although I have not used this wall-talking alphabet, I know from my first imprisonment that each knuckle hit corresponds to a unit of counting, and each number of such units corresponds to the number of a letter according to in alphabetical order, while, to speed up the conversation, each punch on the wall, which sounds quite different from the knuckle, corresponds to ten units of counting.
Thus, in order to obtain the thirty-first letter, there is no need to sit down and strike with the knuckle thirty times, but three times with the fist and once with the knuckle. And for each gap between letters there is a wait, during which the listener responds with a single beat.
This has been the alphabet since then, at the time of my first imprisonment, and this continues to be the case, as if a lot of things in prison can change, it is the same prison, since the time when the world was a world. Those who have used it constantly and frequently know it by heart, but it doesn’t bother me because it’s the first time I talk to the wall, I have the alphabet written on the wall, with scratches from the lime chip of the wall, box by box the entire alphabet, with one letter and one number in each box, in rows of ten and ten, so that the tens are easily found at the top of the rows.
I also answer with three strokes, to say that I am ready. The other one across the wall asks me to say something to someone in the cell across from me. Then he punches. An unrelated letter, this one, moreover, is the only one. However, I can understand that this is not any letter; it is the period at the end of the sentence. I ask him why he trusts me. Because I’m on death row, he says.
I’m about to ask him another question, but he interrupts me, sliding his palm over the wall, and adds that he’s very sorry because I’m sentenced to death. It’s okay, don’t worry, I tell him. Then I ask the next question, I ask why you don’t think that, precisely being sentenced to death, I can be so irresponsible. And he tells me that there is no way, he has seen many people sentenced to death and he is sure that a person sentenced to death is good.
Only then do I ask him what he wants me to say to him on the other side, or, rather, to her on the other side. Because I already know that she is a woman, I have heard her voice every time they take her out to go to the bathroom.
The other one tells me that she is his wife that I should tell her that he has kept his mouth shut throughout the investigations, and that he begs her forgiveness for all the suffering that he willfully and unwittingly caused during their life together. Okay, I tell him, and I also ask him why he hasn’t tried to talk to the woman until now.
Because today they put me here, in this cell, he tells me. Today, that the investigations were closed, he says, adding that he did not know what could have been told to the woman; maybe he had already confirmed everything. I didn’t tease him any further, well, I tell him again. And he, with alternate blows with the wrist and knuckles, gives me the sign that he had that much.
I return the same token. Then I crawl up to the opposite wall, to the left of the cell door. I look for an alphabet board on the wall, I find it somewhere and stop there. I tap the wall three times with the knuckle of my middle finger. No answer, the woman is probably sleeping. However, I persist with three knocks. Then again, for the third time, three times. Finally I hear her three knocks.
But almost at the same time footsteps sounded from the corridor, the old man apparently woke up. I slide my palm on the wall, as she immediately across it, who also probably heard the guard’s footsteps, and I hurry, crawling to my bed.
That’s when I hear counters opening and closing with noise, the noise comes closer, my counter opens, it stays open for a moment, and I hold my breath, then it closes, then the woman’s counter and I hold my breath again pause, then the sound of counters opening and closing as it comes and goes.
The next day the same things are repeated, with the silence of the footsteps of those above, while I have not yet fallen asleep, I try to banish and delay death by reconstructing my journey towards the havoc and arriving at the bend, where the three fall into the precipice, husband, wife and I, as I plunge headfirst out into the abyss of nothingness.
So, I have gone to the end, but sleep has not yet overtaken me and death has not come to me either. And again I go to the farthest wall of the door and insist on knocking, three by three, until the woman answers me. But the guard’s footsteps echo before the conversation, which must continue the next day anyway.
I am not able to say how many times this was repeated, or perhaps it is always the same night, and the repetition, without succeeding in conveying to the wife what the husband was saying, is but a troublesome dream. However, in the meantime, I come to believe that the two of them are the man and woman that I had agreed to take, because of their blackness, on my last trip.
Yes, indeed, I have one more trip to make, but with that other one, everything ended, ended irretrievably, at that turn. Yes, indeed. I hear the woman’s voice in the corridor at different hours of the day, as they open the door and she exchanges some words with the guards, who scold her for not speaking in a low voice, and especially remembering the sound of that voice afterwards, it seems to be that woman from the last trip, no one else.
Which means they’re both not dead, while I’ve been charged with involuntary manslaughter, which was added to the attempted escape charge, sealing the death sentence? Because the murder was called intentional and premeditated, because the three of us were escaping, and I, seeing that this was failing, wanted to eliminate the two accomplices and possible witnesses.
And if they are alive, then even the charge of murder and peace is invalidated. And maybe now a trap is being set for me, as I acted against every rule by putting three arrested, for the same criminal case, in cells next to each other. All this has a hidden purpose, who knows where they want to go. It does the same to me, worse than death has nothing to find me anymore, I’m dead than dead, if not even this can change.
Let’s see what’s in between, without seeing. Yes, during the day that man was taken and never returned, not even now that night is falling and the narrow square of the window resembles the mouth of a dark tunnel that leads nowhere. I slowly approach the wall that separates me from the woman and tap my knuckles three times, just as lightly.
She doesn’t answer and I knock harder. I knock for the third time, fearing not to wake the guard, but she interrupts me by answering me with three quick and light knocks, asking me to be as careful as possible. I obey.
And first I recite my husband’s words, consulting each letter with the alphabet chart drawn on the wall, next to another drawing, which represents a naked woman. The other answers me that she knows that her husband really didn’t open his mouth during the investigations, but she continues by adding that she doesn’t want to hear a word about him, because he ruined her life.
Nevertheless, thanks for the trouble I took. And, tapping alternately with his wrist and knuckles, he tells me that the conversation is over.
I didn’t have time, then, to ask her if it’s the one from the cliff. And yet, having arrived at my solid bed of stone, gravestone, having found the way, thus sent, to be as little bothered by the chains and the space suit as may well give me a pain in the neck, if not I lean my head at the right angle, I think about what I would ask the woman and I realize that something prevents me from asking her. Memorie.al
The next issue follows