By Reshat Kripa
Memorie.al / “Sometimes, when difficult trials fall on a child’s head from the tenderest age in the secret recesses of his soul, a kind of scale is born, a beautiful scale, with which he weighs the affairs of this world . Feeling himself innocent, he submitted to his fate without making a sound. I didn’t cry at all. He, who has no reason to be scolded, does not scold others”!
(Viktor Hugo, “The Man Who Laughs”)
Dedicated to family and society,
Continues from last issue
In the camp, work was done in three shifts. He also worked on Sundays. We used to take weekly breaks on a schedule throughout the days of the week. That night, our brigade had its third shift. I was resting. I was sitting alone in the shed reading a book. It was the novel “For the defense of the homeland” by Foqion Postoli. After a while I fell asleep. It was past midnight when I hear a sound of footsteps and voices talking. I got up and went to the gate. I saw Dr. Isuf hurrying somewhere.
– “Doctor, what is likely”?!
– “Gallery number two, in area A, has collapsed,” he answered, leaving quickly.
A shiver went through my body. It was the gallery where our brigade worked. My mind went to Sadik. How should I do it?! I couldn’t go outside. It was forbidden. I felt very sorry for anyone who was a victim of this accident. But more, of course, I felt sorry for Sadik. How would I get in front of his family?! What would I say when they asked me?! I spent that whole night without sleep, pacing up and down the narrow corridor that separated the silo beds.
The next day I went outside and waited for them to come home from work. To be honest, I felt a relief when I saw Sadik. I asked him what had happened. He told me that he had narrowly escaped death. A mountain of stones had collapsed and trapped Mark, a thirty-five-year-old man from Lezha, and Vasili, a seventy-year-old man from Saranda. Both were from our brigade.
Work continued for two days and nights to find them. We were still hoping that we wouldn’t find anyone alive. It was a vain hope. We found them both mutilated and lifeless, under the weight of the stones. We buried them that same day, inside the camp fence, under the highway that passed at the end of it.
Accidents in the mine were common. In area D, free laborers worked. Brigadier was a miner from Bulqiza. I don’t remember his name. One night that unfortunate man was taken by the gallery. They buried him with a grand ceremony. Even the area was named after him. As for Mark and Vasili, no one remembered. They were thrown into the bin of oblivion. Now, they don’t even know where their bones are!
Adem Anamali, was from Shkodra. There was a strange passion. During the summer he caught snakes and played with them. They kept telling him not to take it anymore, but he didn’t listen.
– “I am Rufai”, he said, holding the snakes in his hands.
– “They know me well and obey me”!
But the unexpected happened. A viper bit him on the finger. He didn’t care. He took it with a smile, as usual. It didn’t take long and the hand started to thump. Then he remembered to go to the doctor. But it was too late. The poison had penetrated the whole body. Despite Dr. Isufi’s efforts, he could not escape. I closed my eyes after a few hours. They buried him next to Mark and Vasili.
* * *
I was staying in the camp cell. I was punished, because two days ago, on the initiative of Dr. Isufi, we had prepared a commemorative evening, on the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the War of Vlora. That evening we had recited poems by Kudret Kokoshi, an imprisoned poet. I still remember the lines of the poem I recited:
AN AUTUMN DAY
“I saw one autumn day, a flag made of chika chika,
A flag with a black vulture that was cut with a thousand knives
A blood-stained flag that waved without ceasing,
They are escorted by several men, all of whom are singing.
He was escorted by a thousand brave men, with clubs and crabs in hand,
Head tied, breasts broken, I saw them one day in Vlora.
Those legendary warriors, those messengers of freedom,
Who gave flight to the eagle, after five centuries of captivity!
Oh, said the hearts, oh, how beautifully the vulture soars above Vlora!
I saw an autumn day, the epic of our country”!
Reciting that poem, I don’t know how tears started flowing from my eyes. They were tears of pain for freedom. They were tears of pain for my Vlora. For this, lieutenant Ademi sentenced us to a week in the dungeon and three months, not to have a meeting with the family.
As I lay on the cement of the dark dungeon, a canary stood in her little window and began to sing beautifully. I don’t know, but I felt a special pleasure, a pleasure that you rarely feel, under those conditions. After a few days, when I left the cell, I wrote the following poem inspired by the song of the canary:
ME AND THE CANARY
In the window cell, the canary had stayed,
Her melodious song, honeyed sweetness,
I, the young man in awe, listening to the song,
My tender heart, grieved and torn.
Why did this bird, this beautiful chick, escape from the cage?
To soothe our souls, all wounds covered,
All wounds covered, mutilated body and soul,
Separated from the big world, in the cursed prison.
I remembered my life, like that of a newly born bird,
I dreamed of freedom, day by day waiting,
To shine, oh one day, to dawn a morning,
To no longer walk on thorns, to live full of hope.
But hope was extinguished, thorns surrounded him,
Our boyish dreams, a fog covered them,
Me a tender, romantic, dreamy boy,
He smashed me mercilessly, put me alive in the grave.
I was looking at the canary; it continued its beautiful song,
I don’t know because I also felt happier,
Two, three crumbs in my hand, than I hold out with love,
She flies there, tweeted ciu ci…
I closed my hand, took the bird and kissed its tail and forehead,
Caressing her feathers, surprisingly I felt a longing,
A longing for freedom, for what I lacked,
For the one that made my heart tremble, it brought tears to my eyes
Fly away, beautiful bird, fly in the free sky,
Stay away from this hell; fly to the good world,
Leave me the darkness; leave the shackles and tears,
Stay away from the evil world, which denied even God.
The canary flew, high in the sky singing,
I in my cell, I was standing in thought,
For wonder another feeling, the heart had devoured,
I am free; I said to myself, the shackles have not enslaved me!
* * *
One day, Xelali, a thirty-year-old boy from Dibra, addresses me:
– “Today, my nana came to me with her daughter, for a meeting. They were accompanied by a mother from Vlone. He had not been allowed to meet his son, as he had been sentenced by the command. Nana, from Volonia, had given him a package of food. You are doomed. Check out this package, maybe it’s yours. Maybe it was your nana. I can’t hold it. It’s not up to me.”
I shrugged. There were some of us convicts and most of us were Vlonians. It could have been the mother of one of them. I opened the package and saw that inside was flour, pasta, rice, oil and two wheels of mutton fat, inside of which there were pieces of fried meat. They always sent me such when they came to meet. In the package was also a list of foods. I recognized my own writing.
I realized it had been my mother. However, I didn’t give up. It was hard for me to tell them that they were mine. Mother had given it to her and I could not go against her wish
– “No, no, they are not mine”, I told him
– “Take and eat them healthily.” This is the legacy of the mother from Vlonia”.
Jelal went into the silo. After two weeks I received a letter from Besnik. He sent it with a friend of his, who came with a new contingent. In it, among others, it was written:
Today I met my mother. He had come for a meeting. I felt a great pleasure. From here, he would come to meet you. She was alone. I thought of the great sacrifice she made, for us her sons. So many days of round trip, so as not to leave us alone. I am writing these lines, as I know that you already have a few months left to be released. I would order you to continue to stay as you have always stayed when you leave. Stay close and don’t be separated from them. They are old now and need us. We have caused them a lot of trouble. I have many more years to go. However, I feel a great satisfaction when I know that you will go to them soon.
I hug and kiss you longingly away!
Your dear brother
That was a great message. My brother thought of me, no matter how far he was. Such a thing gave me support. Besnik’s letter proved to me once again that my mother had come to see me and they had not allowed her.
* * *
Finally, the day of release from prison arrived. The last evening I spent in the camp will remain in my memory. It was December 10, 1955. All my friends gathered at my bed. Missing was Myrtezai, who had been transferred to Rinas for several months. Lieutenant Ademi was not there. He had run away with the service. We got permission from the inner guard to sing at dinner. Doctor Isufi gave me the last advice. Sadik wrote a letter which I carefully hid. The friends sang accompanied by some musical instruments, which were in the camp. There was also the labe song. The first was taken from Dervish Koshena, from Dukati:
“Open light, mountains, don’t stay in the clouds,
You Father Tomori, shoot a bolt of lightning.
Gather brothers, come with us,
You Father Tomori, shoot a bolt of lightning.
Let’s take out the weapons we have in the ground,
You Father Tomori, shoot a bolt of lightning.
Let’s go to Vlora, fire and battery,
You Baba Tomori, release a thunderbolt”!
After each song, a toast was raised. The custom wanted toasts to rise with brandy. But there she was missing. It was replaced by cigarettes. For each toast, one, two or three cigarettes were thrown to the orchestra. I had completed four years, six months and sixteen days in prison.
When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming a poet, writer or theater actor. Prison interrupted such a dream. Instead of the art school, I attended the prison school, a terrible school, a real hell, to suffocate you with its rings. You were surrounded by an eternal hunger, by a death that was ready at any moment to snatch you away.
Add to these the tortures, which only those who have experienced them can talk about, and you will have the complete picture of this tragic theater. But prison also had its merits. It was a real school, a school of a special kind. He taught me some truths that would have remained unknown if I hadn’t been there. It taught me the truth of this country. Introduce me to those men, whom I rarely meet.
They taught me how to act, to be human. For this, I am grateful for life. Now I would go out into another world. What would she be like? Wouldn’t I exchange the small prison for the big one called Albania?! Let’s wait and see.
I was not yet twenty years old. I had entered as a fifteen-year-old child and now I was exiting as a mature man. I had entered with other thoughts and now my logic had changed. Those years in prison and the personalities I had met there had shaped my character. From that day on, I didn’t think about anything else, except when the day would come when we would be free. But would he come?! Memorie.al
The next issue follows