By Adelina Gina
The ninth part
Memorie.al / Rescue Gina, graduated in Journalism at the University of Tirana, in 1974, playwright, screenwriter and librettist, in the early 70s, thanks to his extraordinary talent, his work, works and creativity , “shocked” the artistic institutions of Tirana, such as; The People’s Theatre, the Opera and Ballet Theatre, the High Institute of Arts and the Albanian Radio-Television. He was one of the most sought-after chiefs and senior leaders of these institutions. In the time period 1971-1974, he left his mark, having collaborated closely with some of the most famous names of that time, such as: Mihallaq Luarasi, Kujtim Spahivogli, Pirro Mani, Mario Ashiku, Zhani Ciko, Nikolla Zoraqi and director Mevlan Shanaj and operator Pali Kuke. But the traces he left in these cultural and artistic institutions were unfortunately lost in the official silence of the communist regime?! In August 1974, Shpëtim Gina, lost his life in unexplained circumstances, drowning in two feet of water, in the river Drojë of Mamurras, (where he was performing the military choir together with other students), two days before, he had put a lightning sheet to the Chief of the General Staff of the Army! Was it really an accidental death, or was Shpëtim Gina eliminated by the State Security?! Why his “friend” who was with him until the last moments, declares that; “The body that was taken in the ambulance, wasn’t it Rescue?! Or the doctor of the students’ military ward, Gjergj N., who says: “We immediately went to the scene, but we did not find the body of Shpëti”?! And his family, why insists that; “They didn’t allow us to open the coffin before the burial when they brought it home and years later, we opened the grave in ‘Stalin City’, to bring it to Tirana, where we had moved as a family, those bones were not of Salvation, as they were missing. ..”?! Many questions, which have not yet received an answer! His sister, Adelina Gina graduated in journalism in the late 60s, in a book of hers entitled; ‘Where did you take Salvation’, published in the USA.
Continues from last issue
-“I cried for you like dead, I waited for you like alive”-
The house where I lived now that I was married is close to the house of the dictator, Enver Hoxha. Around it, there are clean streets, beautiful villas, three-story Italian buildings. This is the Block. Those who call themselves “servants of the people” live here and live well. But we, the masters of these servants, who lack many things, not to mention freedom, should be happy! Why not, we have someone to protect us. All day, around, the civilians of the Block, those of the State Security, who can be seen from far away, what are they?
I remember one with one eye, who wandered all day like a dog. I always looked at him in the missing eye and he got nervous. One day, at the corner of the street, they put a bench and around it, they planted some trees, medemek as a disguise, and there they sat and listened, when they were tired of wandering. The children, to whom this seemed like a game, did not leave them comfortably, took their benches, or played in a circle, behind the trees they owned.
When democracy came, I managed to publish the Salvation drama “Enemies”. Meanwhile, I started trying to stage it. I thought another time came. I was well received in the theater, I was well known, but that was not enough. At that time, a critic wrote: “Will a director be found to stage this innovative drama”?!
Everyone was running after the lemonades of the time, who could insult the previous regime more. It was just like in the village market, where they sell; onion, garlic, leek, cabbage, etc. The drama of Salvation was far from banality. Those who would feel honored that Salvation was given to them only to read it, not to put it on the stage, now did not even consider the drama! So it was not time for this drama yet! What happened in Albania was not a coup, it was just a lifeline. Who would do that? Political persecuted?!
Some of them in prisons and exiles, or in hard work, to survive, had turned into tools of the State Security. Who would harm the dictatorship?! There were also people who remained honest, but they were few. Until yesterday, the “peselekshit”, that’s what the people called the spies, who engaged in wiretapping, received some small money. Now with the advent of democracy, they were given shops, bars, even land, that is, the people’s wealth was distributed to them, as a reward for the work they had done!
I remember those cold days, when we teachers went on strikes and rallies. In the stands where people spoke against the dictatorship, we saw some suspicious people, as if someone had hand-picked them. The ranks of the Democratic Party began to fill up. They, who were the zealots of the Labor Party, now became the zealots of the Democratic Party. I remember S., a teacher. On one of these days Fred, and this teacher, seeing that she was falling apart for the tasks of the new Party, in the eyes of all the teachers, said to her: “I heard that you worked for the State Security, it is really”?!
She was silent. He was in vain, because later she became a school director. This was the reward for the old merits. While Kozma G., who did not give me a job in the newspaper, because he did not have political trust in me, at this time, became the director of the Institute of Pedagogical Studies.
Disappointed, he was still the simple, untainted man. State Security tools were everywhere. Apparently, they got some new lists, with names not very well known to the public. A new strategy and guilds were put into action. This Black Hand is very difficult to cut, maybe it takes time. The three of us, I, Mira and Petriti, have children. I have a daughter and a son. Mira and Petriti have two sons each. Mira is a pharmacist, while Petriti is a mechanical engineer. The father is old. As always we are connected to each other and we always talk about Salvation.
When the children were small, I had created a fairy tale, where the brother rises from the dead, that he was very loved by people, and that he loved them very much. Every time I told them, they joked; we know it by heart. My daughter has the eyes of Salvation, writes well. Petrit’s son has his own name, but we call him Timi, while Mira’s son, Elis, is smart like him, uncle Shpetimi. In all these years of waiting and despair, I became a support for them, but the one who drowned our wounds with her love, with her kindness was Mira.
Wonder how some people are created: with such a big heart and are so delicate, so sacrificial for others, when they themselves need support the most. She never gets angry and knows how to forgive. Having many features from Salvation, it seems to make up for its lack. I don’t know what to say, but my father, Petrit and I feel good with him. Our children express all that tenderness, that humanity that comes from her in two words: “How good is the aunt. How is she”?!
In November 1994, my father had an operation; he removed a kidney that had not been working for some time. I spent about two months in the hospital. The three of us were there every moment. From morning until two o’clock, Mira stayed with him, from three o’clock until seven in the evening, I was there, and Petriti stayed all night until morning. But understandably, the heaviest burden, as always, belonged to Mira. She cooked, washed and ironed the clothes. When there was a need and I was there, he said: “Let Mira do it for me, when she comes, she does it with concern.”
One day I came before my schedule, slowly opened the door, the shutters were closed, father was sleeping. I looked at the other bed, Mira was also sleeping. I slowly pulled the door open; their silence was so complete that it would be a shame to break it. What we expected did not come to Albania. Caesar wrote at this time, several articles. They published a couple of them, but others told him that it is too soon, the time has not yet come. And in the press it was them, again them…!
Cesar, meanwhile, had the opportunity to go to Italy, where he completed the translation of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. Later, from there he went to America. For three years, I stayed alone with the children, continuing to work in a secondary school. During the dictatorship, I often had problems. When it came to the need to cut a teacher, or when a principal came, who was also a literature teacher like me, the person who went out too much, who was a candidate to be removed, I was as always me. They took me away three times, but again, with effort and struggle, I came back, because in those times, there were also good people who helped me and my husband. Surely now, the real reason was my husband’s political stance. Then they took me for Salvation, now for Caesar.
The students loved and protected me. One day I met one of them, he was leaving for Spain. “We, teachers, are surprised that now, that democracy has come, we are not listening to the voice. I know, when you often spoke in class, we said: Don’t tell the man! We were guarding you, we were afraid of you, you didn’t speak openly, but you spoke and always acted. We don’t forget how you expelled him, Arbeni, the son of Ramiz Ali. How afraid he was in your subject. We didn’t, he did.” We both laughed. He reminded me of an hour literature.
I had put Arben up on the board, he was learning well. Speaking of a writer whom the dictator had elevated, he said: “But he is nothing”! I interjected. “Who said that? Is it your opinion or your father’s? That I tell you what your father says, and if he has a different opinion, let him tell us too.”
The class fell silent, held its breath. I don’t know what he said at home. We remembered other events and parted ways. Now in democracy, they were not bringing me any worries, but apparently, I was not for these young people either. One day, the director said to me: “Why don’t you do the paperwork to get out with sixty percent? Sit comfortably.” This was at that time, a kind of early retirement, which was given in order to open jobs for others. So I went to pension, in the time of democracy. We had a colleague, who during the strikes and demonstrations, I hardly took.
“You should come, I told her, we, literature teachers, have always been at the forefront of progressive movements.” I took early retirement, he went to the presidency. Strange time! I had prepared my father, that if I got the visa at the American embassy, I would run away with the children. “You will do well, – he told me. At the end of January, I got a visa to America. Mira went to pieces, to complete the preparations for departure. “Don’t delay the departure”, – he told me. She didn’t could stand this situation and for February 5th, we bought the tickets. We didn’t tell my father.
On Saturday, together with the children, we went to his house. We met him outside. “As if God brought it out,” said Mira. Together we went to a bar nearby. “Take what you want”!, I said.
Mira started to cry. I kept to myself. I looked hard into her eyes, but she didn’t hold back. “What’s wrong with this, – asked the father, – why are you crying”?! “He had a word with a friend at work”?! “They’re fighting,” I added. We waited for a long time, when we parted, I kissed him hard. “Why are you kissing me like that,” he said, “as if I’m a woman.” The children kissed his hand. I didn’t know that this meeting was last.
On Monday I left for America. It was early in the morning. The car was rushing towards the airport. It was getting light, the darkness was slowly disappearing. The dawn was coming along with the awakening of the plain, the soft hills and the colors, which were becoming more pronounced. I wanted to take all this air with me. Until I die, I will not forget this escape. Mira’s eyes were full of tears, the children were exhausted, and they hadn’t slept all night.
At the airport, Mita had also come to escort me. “Take care of me Mira,” I whispered. Thanas, Mira’s husband, escorted me to the steps of the plane, where he burst into tears. “We will get together one day, – Mira gave me heart. – I take care of my father myself”! “When the plane took off, it was as if my heart broke,” Mira told me later. Thanas took her to some bars and when they arrived home, she fell asleep immediately, she was drunk. The next day, Mira, together with her aunt’s daughter, went to her father. “Good luck to Adelina, she said. Adelina arrived in America.” The father trembled.
“Gone”?! It took a while to gather her. “That’s why she was crying. Oh, she’s gone,” he said. “O Petrit, Adelina is gone,” he said to his brother who just entered the door. “She did well,” he said. “Yes, she is sick,” added the father. – its better that he didn’t tell me, I would have had a harder time”. He never stopped us on our way, on the contrary, he hoped that we would become something, I know how his soul must have trembled, but I know that he thought that this way is better for me and my children.
Without putting a stone in the heart, no one leaves his country. And there isn’t a single person who escaped without something as a hostage. Nine months after I left, my father died, leaving Mira and Petrit behind. I have been living in America for six years. On the dresser, I keep the drama and a piece of mouth music, played by Shpëtimi. I also have some of his photographs. The rest of the creativity has remained in Albania, Mira has it. Petriti is also in America.
One morning, as usual on Saturdays, Cesar had gone to drink an espresso. I was preparing something. It came faster than usual. “I know,” he told me, “a young clown has come to the Albanian cafe.” This is a bar whose owner is Italian, but since smoking is allowed there, many Albanians go there. In American cafes, no smoking. “Buffist’s name is Gjergj and he was a doctor of the Republic Guard in Albania,” he continued.
I could not order it, because in this matter I have been careful all my life. He came out. The bar is located near the road where we live. I became very nervous. I pretended to fix something. I left it, grabbed something else. When Cesari returned, I had drunk three coffees to gather my heart. When he opened the door, he said: “That was Gjergj Ndrenika, the doctor of the choir.” In short, he told me their conversation.
The high and round chairs in the bar are placed around the counter, the bartender makes you coffee and you have the opportunity to exchange a few words with him. When Gjergji was preparing the espresso coffee, Cesar had asked him. “Have you ever known a Spetim Gina? I am his brother-in-law; I have his sister as his wife. At first, George pretended he didn’t know him. But then as if he remembered: “Posi, posi, he was a very good boy”. “How did it happen, because you were also a doctor there”? Caesar asked.
He said that that day he was in the ambulance and two people unknown to him told him that Shpëtim Gina had drowned. “I got into their car, it was a big military car, and I went to the scene. At that time they pulled him out of the water, I heard his heart, it was over”!
The next day I went to see him myself. Neither he nor I were young anymore, twenty years had passed. He welcomed me cordially, and made me a coffee. I sat on the benches. It was morning. There were few people. Two men drinking coffee by the window and an Old Italian woman reading the newspaper. “I came with my father twenty years ago,” I told him.
“Yes,” he said, “how is father?” “He’s been dead for five years,” and tears stuck in my throat. I shouldn’t have been heartbroken. I quickly passed this moment. “I wanted to know how the event happened, because then you didn’t have time to stay with us, you had work”, I lied. And he told the same story that you had told Cesar. “But who were those two people who took you to the scene?”. I didn’t know them, their hats were tight,” he said and gestured to his head, as if they were helmets, or rather masks. “Are you lying now, or twenty years ago?”, I thought to myself. I let him talk. “You admitted him to the hospital, – I interrupted, – why”?! “Ah, yes, I had arranged for a singer as well, they were Petrit’s friends, brother-in-law, that’s why I arranged for Shpeti.” “He made the connection well,” I thought to myself.
“We’ve been looking for you, but you weren’t in the choir at that time.” “No, I was, they took me out of the ambulance, I was working in the kitchen, deep”. He said it like she was underground, a mine. “So you finished the choir?” “Yes, yes,” he said. We parted cordially. “He’s lying,” I told my husband. As luck would have it, when I met his wife, he invited me home happened and I helped him get hospitalized.
Here’s how the story repeats itself. He didn’t want me to be friends with him. But it wasn’t too late for me; I had been looking for him for twenty-six years. Every time I went to them I asked him how much one day she rightfully told me: “You come to investigate with us” and defended her husband, because he allegedly knew nothing.
What did I get out of talking to them? That month, when the event happened, they were married, he was dismissed from the choir and he started working in Spaçi prison. One day, during the conversation, I told him: You are not telling the truth, because twenty years ago, you told us: “I wasn’t there that day and that they took me to work, without finishing the choir, in Spac”. Now you say that you also listened to his heart. Why these changes? You should also know this, that Shpëtimi, when I came to the choir to meet him, told me: “The doctor has been called to Tirana to give me medicine.” “Yeah, that’s right; I was going to get some medicine for him.” “And he told me that he was not sick and that you had laid him in vain”?!
“Yes, that’s what I said, that I was supposed to take medicine, but I went to my fiancee.” He was saying one thing and he was knocking it down himself! Finally he said: “I don’t remember, did I go or not to see Salvation.” This was the climax. We parted in anger. We no longer spoke to each other. One day, he had told Cesari as if it was harmless, that he had not been at the scene and that he had not seen the Salvation. In the ongoing conversation with him, he also said these words. “In these matters, everyone knows a little, only the master, who has played the strings, knows the whole thing”!
The lights have just started to come on, red, blue, and yellow. A group of musicians are playing something on the sidewalk, some listeners are clapping. Roadside restaurants surrounded by seasonal flowers. It’s autumn, there are still tables outside. Shows are advertised everywhere on facades, advertisements, near theaters. A woman walks with a beautiful dog, with some hair like a ruddy sheep. There are others, but I like this one. When I was in Albania, I imagined New York only with skyscrapers, concrete, glass. I was wrong. How many flowers there are and how many trees, and all healthy. Not a crooked tree, not a tree half in bloom.
Here the boom and bust are complete. I love these Broadway streets, theater and show streets. Salvation would now be fifty years old, a lifetime to create. I cried like a dead man, I waited for him like a living man! All these people go somewhere. Those two girls are waiting for someone near the theater. In that restaurant, they have put candles on the tables; they have created an intimate, romantic environment. I have let him meet the children. Evening fully came. The brightness of the lights is full. Everyone goes somewhere. Where did you take Salvation?! Memorie.al
New York, December 2001