By Bashkim Shehu
The third part
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
Apparently, deep down I’m afraid to ask her, afraid that she’s someone else, not the woman of the cliff, who’s dead. Anyway, I say to myself that I should remove the barrier and ask the woman somehow. I step back and leave it for tomorrow. I sit and listen to the footsteps of those above. And they are already silent. So all I have to do is try to remember my last trip once again.
This time I reach the place where I took them both, the man and the woman. I can’t go any further, as my wagon turns into a wagon that carries death and that is the one that has to take me here, the condemned to death. Meanwhile, in order to get away from there, I grasp at the possible discovery that the two of them, the man and the woman, are not dead and that the woman is in the adjacent cell, only a wall separates us.
And all I have to do is knock on the wall to find out what is this trap set against me, where they want to get out, who condemned me for a murder of peace and who unwittingly are giving me facilities to understand that it is like that, peace.
I approach the woman’s wall, where the alphabet board is drawn, next to the drawing of a naked woman. I knock on the wall, wait for her to give me the sign that she is listening, and tell her that I am sentenced to death. The woman tells me that I must never die and that she is not going to let me die. Good start, I say to myself, it must be the downhill one, but I still don’t dare to ask him directly.
However, I scold him by telling him that I am sentenced to death and that my fate cannot be changed. She starts to answer me, but then the steps of the guard are heard and we give each other the sign that the conversation is over. I feel like telling him, quickly, that we will continue the next day, but I know that that piece of time is not enough for me, the guard has already approached too much.
Lying on my hard bed of stone, gravestone, motionless, sleep lingers longer than any other night. I can’t wait until tomorrow comes; I’m worried that maybe tomorrow the woman will be removed from her cell. Finally, I go back to the wall and knock again, once, twice, three times. She doesn’t answer me, apparently she fell asleep.
And then, all night long, I sit and think about how and when that woman can save me, accepting at least as truth what she told me and the others she couldn’t tell me. And even if there is no way to save me, the worst thing would be a trap against me, and even if that were the case, I, in the end, don’t have to break the head.
Apart from that, the possibility of it being like this, a trap, as if it eases my anxiety, because in such a case, they don’t have to remove the woman and the game will continue. It was some kind of game, as she would tell me the next day. The next day, I can’t wait until night falls. Keeping my ears pricked all the time, to hear if they will take him to remove him from the adjacent cell, sometimes I can’t wait and hurry to go to the wall. I start by asking him how he can save me when I’m already dead.
She tells me once more that she will not let me die, and then, with light knocks, as if in a whisper, says that she has the power to save me, for she is one of those women who know how to cast spells and that for me he will do everything until he saves me. Why me, how do you know how I am, I ask. I don’t understand, she says. This time I want to ask him if he knows who I am, but I dare not. I think a hop.
Trap or no trap, the woman can tell me that she doesn’t know who I am, and then the spell will be broken. I ask him again if he knows how I am. She tells me that she knows and that she will do her best to save me, and we will both run away together, to the end of the world, where no one will find us. Why do you make fun of me, I dare say, you shouldn’t make fun of me, moreover, I am a death sentence. Easter has already entered her game. And I can’t leave. Because I don’t want to.
That’s why I don’t tell him why he’s joking. Meanwhile, I am surprised by the question I asked him, that I didn’t even understand why I asked him. But she, the woman on the other side of the wall, has penetrated my mind, whispering more and more that she knows how I am because she sees me. Have you seen me, or do you see me, I ask. I don’t know if I’ve seen you, he says, because even if I had seen you, I wouldn’t say it, but now I see you and, when I want you, I can touch you, isn’t the wall there at all. I get shivers all over my body. What about me, can I see you, at least, I ask.
Maybe, she says, I’ll teach you a game, but not now, later, when it gets dark. Okay, I say, and we end the conversation. We interrupt, although without any sign of danger from the corridor, I retreat to my tombstone and there I start to dream with my eyes open. I dream and dream of what the game might be like that will make me see it. More likely, I say, it will be a detailed description of you.
Starting from the face and hands, then to the chest and to the most intimate parts that her hands are touching. This does not enter my eyes, in the state I am in, even though, sometimes, as if without understanding, I imagine the woman in a similar way to that drawing on the wall, next to the alphabet. How do you know, I say to myself, maybe out loud, it could be some other trick, so complicated that I can’t think of it?
Apart from that, the woman has told me about an escape, so that we both escape from prison, to the end of the world, where no one can find us. However, from the very first conversation, she told me that she didn’t even want to hear about her husband. I try to put order in my reasoning’s and rebuild that part of the road that I left last night unfinished, from the moment I took them both, the man and the woman, to the turn where we fell into the abyss.
I try so, once again valuing all the details, to notice something however small, some crack however small between them, which could nevertheless expand infinitely some barely visible and impossible crack in the wall that separated from his wife. And likewise something barely visible in the woman’s behavior towards me on our last journey, some small crack, such that, expanding endlessly like an abyss, would make me believe that she bleeds away with me at the end of the world. And this brings me back to the trap.
Probably, for a moment, quite transparent, as these walls are blind, and as she has promised me that she will make them transparent as soon as it gets dark, probably, then, that all this is a dream, a trap against me as if I wanted to kill the man to escape with the woman, in the great and free world to the end of the world, deliberate, premeditated murder, remaining in the stage of the attempt, but, accompanied by the attempt of escape, becomes sufficient to give me the death penalty.
All steps lead there, from the man’s first knock to the woman’s last words. I doubt whether, when darkness falls, I shall go again to speak to the woman, or, better, not to speak, because this may confuse me by opening the circle on me, while, if I do not speak, I may escape the death penalty, despite what my wife tells me, the death woman, that she is the one who will save me.
However, the temptation to join her game was too strong. All the more because I remember that, in any case, I will never present evidence to anyone that would seal my death, not even to the woman-death. But I don’t know where such ravings of mine would have led me, if I hadn’t heard the doorbell of the neighboring cell, that of the woman, and then the voice of someone who ordered him to take what he had to take and to get out of the cell.
It must be late afternoon; the light is slowly coming on. Every time footsteps sound from the corridor, I raise my ears to see if the woman returns, but she doesn’t. Once, after dusk has fallen and the lamp is turned on in the cell with its dim lighting anyway, after all the activities of the evening are done, with sharing the shoulder, washing the bowl in the bathroom and performing the needs for the last time, after it has also been done the last check of this day and night and after that they don’t smoke anything and you never feel any movement anywhere, I crawl up to the wall and knock with three hits.
From the other side now comes only silence, apparently the woman is no longer there, and cannot be, as I have heard that they have taken her away. But the drawings on the wall have also disappeared, the alphabet board and the naked woman. I look for them all over the wall in vain. Father, I am surprised as three knocks come from the wall. I start talking to the wall, because I don’t have the alphabet. I speak rapturously, with a fluency that surprises even myself, reconstructing the event of my last trip, until the moment she appeared to me, together with a man who seemed to me to be me, because she, the death woman interrupted me at this moment and now she is the one who continues the confession, she describes the man who is with her and who seems to me to be me, she sees me, that is, on the other side of the wall, and I continued describing myself, what is across the wall and what is not, but I am drawing it on the wall.
Just where the woman who isn’t was, and I’m drawing her exactly as she could be, finishing the drawing the moment she promises me that we’ll both go away, even then she tells the story of our last trip to the turn where the driver disappears and no one is driving my van and we roll into the precipice as I’m thrown out the open door or into another van, where I find myself stuck in the back, already doomed.
The door of the cell is open and in it has appeared those who will take me out and lead me to my deathbed. I am waiting for them to take me, but they have frozen, the order has frozen in their mouths and in half gestures, time has frozen so much in this cell, but on the other side of the wall, the knocking continues that only I hear, even though I no longer know what do they say, maybe the end of this story, the part that was left unwritten until the end of the last death wagon ride, or whatever.
All following the blows coming from across the wall, my hand continues to draw; only it moves as everything else is frozen in this cell. And I watch how the image of the woman is finished being drawn, then I see myself drawn that has finished drawing, myself inside a quadrangle or box that is this cell, on the wall of which are drawn the image of a woman and I who am having finished drawing it, the cell that is in the interior of a building, which is a prison, with identical cells coming row after row one after the other and one row above the other, just like the table of the missing alphabet that I have drawn again, but with the letters in a constantly changing order, obtaining the number that was written and that ends here.
Closed on all sides by blind walls, I do not know where I am, and I hear nothing, not even the footsteps of those above. As if I have never once heard anything else, from the walls of this tomb where they put me, nor from underground. Indeed, it is not an ordinary grave, and I can’t even say what it is.
Maybe the crypt of some Aztec or Inca or Egyptian pyramid, one of those where pharaohs or high magicians are buried, or maybe an ordinary prison cell, which belongs to every ordinary criminal. I am not able to say, therefore, as long as I do not know what a dream is and what is a dream, an inalienable mindset of my life, which seems to be coming to an end. All this confusion occurs because I see many dreams, all of which have as much clarity as the glands, if not more so.
Thus, sometimes I am sentenced to death for attempted escape and murder; sometimes I am another, who was almost killed by him, while I am asked to testify to my peaceful death so that he can be sentenced to death. Sometimes I am a janissary or sworn member of a Royal Palace, who intended to poison the pharaoh or the sultan or where else I know, and then I suddenly went mad from remorse or from the malaise of the impossibility of succeeding and because the oath was discovered.
Sometimes I am a bride waiting to be sacrificed, somewhere in an ancient temple in the middle of a forest where no one has set foot since time immemorial, but who must be sacrificed anyway, because otherwise the sun will never rise again, so according to a the holy faith, which cannot be questioned as long as it has never happened that a bride was not sacrificed to the dawn, for fear that the sun will never rise again, and the sky will remain forever dark, with a moon gnawed between, the likeness of a bird that foretells the storms of hell.
And other times, I am a butterfly that has escaped the beak of this bird, but not a carnivorous flower of the jungle, lured by this flower, in whose mouth I have been trapped. Other times, sometimes like this, alternately, the old Athenian sage, sentenced to death, somewhere in a cave, waiting for the poison cup, or I am the student of this Athenian sage, from whom I stole a story about another cave, where you can see nothing but shadows on the rock wall, shadows of things or living things or moving letters that appear at the entrance of the cave, but which you cannot see yourself, because you are eternally condemned to sit there with your eyes on the rock, as everything happens behind you and beyond your sight.
Apparently, such is the state in which I find myself, shut up here and surrounded only by innumerable dream illusions, even such that my own self is transformed into illusions, into a series of moving shadows or letters, while their meaning single-minded cannot hold. I can be one of those shadows made of shadows and letters, or I am all at once, because they all end with a trial, with an imprisonment, with a living burial, so that I live death and nothingness forever. Or I may not be any of these semblances of a dream or rather of nothingness. However, I am the author of what I am writing, which is a partial dream of mine, a dream within a dream from which I am not escaping.
As from this prison, I am waiting for death. I don’t know what I’ve been condemned for, because I can’t distinguish what is a dream and what is a dream, so clear and almost tangible are all the dreams that haunt me. My invisible guards have brought me a piece of paper, on which is written the decision sentencing me to death. I read it without any shock, because I already knew what awaits me.
Also, in order to delay the time, I count the number of times each particular letter appears, and then connect each letter with a number, with the number of times the letter appears, or two or more letters with a number, if they appear equally. I don’t read the verdict that condemns me to death again, and yet, just now as I read the letters separately, detached from the words, an inexplicable fear seizes me.
I leave the written sheet last. After a while, maybe because I fell asleep or maybe because I fell asleep, or maybe because I wake up, I enter another dream. I am lying on my hard stone bed, a tombstone. Except I’m not in the void, like other times, as I’ve been stuck in since the dawn of time. There is something above me and below me. I see outside a two-storied, or rather three-storied, and inside it myself, and I hear inwardly, from within me, a voice that tells me that in some dreams the two- or three-storied shack answers to the world that is inside me. Above me, on the upper floor, are invisible beings, divine beings, about whom I know nothing, only their steps have sounded in my ears above, when and when, and this there is lighter, there it filled me with horror, but even in such cases it is better to listen to the footsteps of those above. But now they are silent. As the ground below me, the stone ground, is cracking, slowly escalating.
Small, creeping monsters roar from underground, or from the basement of the dream den. My limbs are twisted, I begin to distinguish and recognize them, to read them better to say, these letters of the decision that condemns me to death, which I have counted several times, putting a number on each one, other than the alphabetical order number, marked as it is on the alphabet boards drawn all over the walls. Therefore, this change of numbers makes the letters to be arranged differently in my limbs and stop at my fingers, forcing me to shake them and throw them on the paper. Sometimes, two letters are assigned the same number, so this also causes the letters to change order, even quite messy and unpredictable.
The little monsters of the letters are meant to be arranged so that the verdict that sentences me to death is stripped away and turned into something else, which is my testimony against someone who once helped me, in a dream, to escape to the world of great and free and until the end of the world, testimony that would bring him the death penalty, that is, to someone else, but everything is turned upside down, I am the one who has to write the testimony for me, and the letters are again mixed up and deleted by being placed in a variable order, which is this of what I wrote and of the dreams I have of writing unfulfilled. Memorie.al
Barcelona, July 2000