By Aldo Renato Terrusi
Memorie.al / Fiumicino Airport. Alitalia’s ‘MD 80’ plane is ready for flight. It’s Saturday, November 6, 1993. 11. 25am. The commander received approval. The flight attendants remind us once again to fasten the seat belt. The two engines are brought to maximum power, while the noise becomes muffled and deafening. Buttons and controls are tested one last time according to flight procedures, the brakes are released, the faster and faster movement begins, the acceleration slams the passengers into the back, the plane takes off. I feel an invisible force lift me up, leaving me suspended in the void. I look around to see if the other passengers have the same feeling as me. Some read, some look out the window, some are indifferent, some barely sit still and some, frozen in their seats, let their fears show. With a wide change of direction, the plane rises in altitude and heads towards the radio beacon of Bari, then straight to Tirana, our destination.
Continues from last issue
Petriti mentions the name of a football player that Xhakomoja knows well, a certain Mezan Sharra, who unfortunately was almost dying. We decided to go see him. His house was located high up in the old quarter and had to be climbed through a winding street. The football player’s relatives welcome us with gratitude and accompany us to the patient’s bed. Mezani remembers Xiacomino and they exchange some Albanian words between them, while Xiacom’s eyes are wet with tears. We greet with all humility and yearning and return to Petri Velaj’s house. Upon arrival, they bring us brandy and we make a toast.
After a while I ask Petrit:
“Velaj, what do you remember about my father”?
“The director was a rare gentleman… my wife Aurelia was the most beautiful and elegant lady in Vlora. A beautiful woman indeed. She always walked with two other friends.”
Meanwhile, I remember seeing photos of my mother walking through the streets of Vlora with two Italian friends, married to their compatriots, employees of my eti bank.
“He was a soothsayer. One day, when we were in prison in Vlora, he took my hand and read to me. He told me – I was 19 at the time – that I would get out of prison and go back in again. He predicted a peaceful old age for me, which I would spend in my home with my family, including grandchildren.
While he wouldn’t be able to make it, he told me. He also predicted that one day I would confess to my son.”
This last sentence, so striking and precise, stunned me causing me confusion, but at the same time a strong confusion. Velaj, according to Toli, was imprisoned once in 1945 and then for the second time in 1983.
“You were with me in both the Vlora prison and the Burrel prison?”
“Yes, first in Vlora, in the prison we just saw and then in Burrel”.
“Do you remember anything else”?
“Yes. For me he was like a father, we both had beds close to each other, in a full cell”.
“How did you postpone the days”?
“We talked a lot, told each other’s stories. He also read us newspapers and explained political events to us. He taught me Italian… even to write it.”
“How did my father die”?
“In Burrel, it breathed into my arms. I remember that two days ago they took him to cell number 9 – this was for those who were tall – because he was suffering a lot and could not breathe. I went to meet him and while I was there, there was a strong contraction in his chest and a trickle of blood came out of his mouth. The next day he died.”
Me and my mother, it was 1952; we were in Arma of Tajija, guests of my aunt Karmen. Her husband, Mario, had built a very beautiful villa on the hill, facing the sea and with a large garden with some tropical plants. We had gone there from Kastelaneta and had with us only the clothes we were wearing and some very modest things that Kiarina, my father’s sister, had given us. The beginning times were difficult, but I easily adapted to the new system, I was a child and it was easier for me. I was given many toys, which I dismantled regularly and, despite the presence of my cousin Alex, Carmen’s son and my age, I often liked to play alone in my room or in the yard, if the weather was good.
I had started school and was in the second grade, but I remember that I was always a little distracted and shy, almost as if those years in Albania had left marks on my character. I remember one beautiful morning in April, when I was in my mother’s room and I was drawing big ships without a connection point, when Aunt Karmeni suddenly came in waving a telegram. He had a big smile on his face and handed his mother the envelope that came from the Foreign Office. A light of joy appeared in his eyes: it could be the father’s release; there was talk of an immediate release or a possible amnesty. The whole family, grandfather, grandmother and Mario, informed by Karmeni, were holding their breath. I was sitting on the floor watching the scene, I had no idea what was going on. The mother opened the telegram and did not even have time to read the entire contents when she gave it to the screaming and crying, giving the tragic news to the whole family. Who picked up the sheet of paper that had fallen near me and read the cold circumstantial words: We inform you that…!
My father died in Burrel prison on March 2, 1952, at the age of 52. Three years after this tragic news, Xorxho Ponte, who meanwhile had found us after our return from Albania, handed my mother a wrinkled envelope. Pale as it had fallen into his hands. On it was written:
“That on 29/2/1952 at 16:00 – Giuseppe Zanuto dies”. These were exactly the words for the last hours of Giuseppe, written by hand, probably by a friend of his pain and a direct witness”.
“Where did they bury him”?
“The task of burying fell to me and the other three convicts, perhaps because we were the youngest or because we had been the worst. We wrapped the deceased in a blanket and dug a pit near a cherry tree, between the two enclosures of the prison. It was the first days of March. It was freezing, it was very cold and the ground was hard as stone, so we tried very hard to dig. Our hands were frozen. While we performed this sad task, the guards mocked and insulted us, reminding us that this would soon happen to us. Those guards are gone, but I’m still alive! I will tell you something else, I know for sure that two of the guards at that time were killed during Enver Hoxha’s regime, but the killers were never found”.
We think it’s time to leave, it’s getting late, it’s 14:00 and we have the whole way back. We greet Petrit, thanking him warmly and invite him to Tirana to spend a day with us, but the expression on his face is quite suspicious. Only then does it dawn on him why: perhaps he expected some reward for his cooperation. The driver waits for us and doesn’t look upset at all. We leave for the road. Even the road is bumpy and rough, but we manage to arrive in Tirana safe and sound, around 5:00 p.m. We stop in front of Dajti, pay the driver and greet Toli. We are very tired and very excited: in • few hours many years of our lives passed before our eyes. It’s too late to eat anything at the hotel, so we go to a nearby kiosk and sit down. The events of the day have spoiled our appetite and we only order cakes with tea and milk. We think we should go to the hotel for a little stop. Giacomo thinks to rest a bit, while I go to the living room to watch the Italian channels. Around 18.00, my uncle appears again.
“It seems to me that instead of a nap, it was a deep sleep”!
“Yes, I fell asleep, I was really tired.”
As we order from a bar espresso, Spartak comes in front of us:
“Did you have a good time in Vlora”?
“Yes”, I say. “I can say that it was a really busy day and in some ways, even shocking. It’s just that I was a little confused by Velaj’s attitude”.
“Dear Aldo, I don’t think your hypothesis holds. Here people still look at you with suspicion; Enver’s old regime has left deep wounds that will hardly heal in a short time. Even to this day, the quarrels between the families have not ended yet. The old grudges between the clans have not yet been resolved. Then Petriti also had problems with justice…! In your case, the family was very well-known, and especially in Vlora, and those who meet you ignore your reasonable reasons, not to mention that there are also those who control your movements and keep track of the people you meet. Some behaviors and attitudes may be legitimate, don’t pay too much attention to them.” We thank Spartak and decide to take a leisurely walk towards “Skënderbej” Square.
Enjëll Kokoshi, at Hotel “DAJTI”
We were lucky: today is also a very beautiful day. We are waiting for Kokoshi’s visit and on this occasion, Pierxorxhoja and Toli will also come to “Dajti”. We eat a hearty breakfast. It is still early, it is 09.00. We go to stretch our legs for a short walk in front of the hotel. On the way back, we meet Spartak who greets us in a friendly manner and informs us about our program. We tell him about the meeting with Kokoshi. He knows him and describes him as a very serious man who suffered a lot in Enver’s regime. During this pleasant friendly conversation, we are approached by a gentleman who politely asks to speak to Giacomino aside. He is tall, with white hair, good looks, attention to detail, gentlemanly manners. He is wearing a deep blue suit, white shirt and red and blue tie. We tell him to sit in the nearby lounge. I cross my questioning gaze with Spartak’s. He gives me a frown, shaking his head slightly, to let me know he doesn’t like this. I sit next to my uncle. N.N. sits in the nearby armchair and begins his monologue:
“I was the pilot of Enver Hoxha’s personal plane, he had faith in me, I even took him to Russia. Then I earned a lot and even served as his bodyguard. You know, I was with the secret services and depended directly on Enver. His government was very strong and we were very well… while now nothing is understood anymore… according to the head, even the celebration. Now I live on that little pension and I can barely make it…”! We look into each other’s eyes and we can’t understand where N.N. intends to go?!
“The hotel costs a lot and only a few people like your job can afford it… the place is not very safe… I have a car… if you need me…”! We finally got it! We thank him for his courtesy and tell him that if we need his help, we will ask for it. He leaves us a phone number and humbly leaves. Spartacus returns to:
“Did you realize who it was? Don’t trust them!”
Even Kokoshi, who faces N.N. when he was entering the salon, after he came to say hello, he said to us in confidence: “Did you see that guy, they still have breasts and go out in the square”! If nothing else, we realized that the hatred between those who were in power in the recent past and those who side with the current government is very strong.
“Excuse me, let me introduce myself, I am Engjëll Kokoshi, Secretary of the National Association of Former Political Prisoners in Albania”.
“I’m glad, Aldo Terruzi”.
“I’m glad, Jakomo Pozeli”.
The angel is a tall man, very firm, with a face hollowed out by age and suffering, long straight white hair, deep eyes surrounded by thick glasses. A sad but sincere smile. A noble and confident demeanor. Dressed modestly like a European, with jacket, tie and a long blue overcoat. I didn’t ask him, but I believe he must be in his seventies. Pierxhorxho and Toli also come, who show interest in the statements of Kokoshi, who is considered an important figure in the events that involved Albania in the last conflict. He immediately takes a good look at me, while I really like his behavior and attitude, he tells me that he considers me his son and, putting his hand on my shoulder, asks me: “Can I talk to you?”
Before I can ask him any questions, he begins, in perfect Italian, to talk about the past. Thus, unintentionally, a monologue interview begins:
“I come from a family that fought for the homeland, but the barbaric communist regime massacred it mercilessly. I have always respected him, the director, I say from the bottom of my heart. Our friendship was born in the prison of Vlora, before we did not know each other. In prison, there is no division of nationality, religion or color: suffering extinguishes all these things and strengthens solidarity, so much so that each of us thought how to help the other morally and, if possible, materially. You should know that from March to October, almost all of us left the prison to do forced labor in the forests and mines, the weakest died and those who remained, when they returned, were exhausted, skin and bones and hungry like beasts wild.
Your father did not go to do forced labor, but when we came back, when he saw us in that condition, he helped us as much as he could and shared all his food with us.
You probably knew my father through the stories of your mother and uncle, but his true nature was the one that lived among us, during the terrible years of imprisonment, when we were treated as enemies of the people and war criminals. They did not consider us as human beings, but only as animals that had to be exterminated, as carriers of contagious germs. I am sorry to tell you things that may be painful for you but, dear friend, you should be proud of him, who never bowed down despite the inhuman pains that those cursed, transformed animals of Marxist ideology , they caused us. Suffering is transformed into pride, passion and strength for survival. Hate and hatred are hidden inside you, which grow when you suffer the insults of those executioners again, but solidarity with the one who has the same fate as you is also added.”
The angel boldly continues his venting, not daring to be interrupted by anyone. Those memories are very important to him; finally he has interlocutors interested in listening to him until the end.
“Dear Aldo, for him I laughed as a friend, I say it sincerely and honestly before God and his soul. In those years of prison, both in Vlora and Burrel, we shared not only the morsel and the suffering, but also that piece of happiness, if we can call it that, a few magical moments that happened by chance and that faded very quickly. I was 21 years old when I was sentenced to death. Sitting for 76 days with hands and feet tied, like a dog…! In order to force me to sign the denunciation against the other comrades, they let me open my hole three times, but I never gave up. My father and uncle were also in prison. I knew nothing about my brother in Tirana. When they spared my life and changed the sentence to life imprisonment, I found out about my own death: two days later, my brother was shot. Three days after I came out of isolation, my uncle died in my arms. And from the pain, my mother died a few days later.” The Angel’s confession sends shivers down your spine: it was a single-minded tragedy of his. We see each other and before those events we all feel very small and sink into our armchairs, almost wanting to hide. Memorie.al
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