By Gaqo S. Peci
Memorie.al / Gaqo Peci were born in Korça in 1920. He completed his secondary studies at the Lyceum of Korçë, while his higher studies in Tirana, at the Pedagogical Institute. He has been a teacher in his hometown for more than a quarter of a century. He participated in the Albanian Language Spelling Congress in 1972. In 1976, he was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for agitation and propaganda. Holds the title “Merited Teacher”
I was sitting and thinking: “Now the reprisals will begin.” More or less depends on me, if not the life, the future or at least, the way of life of so and so: my wife, the two daughters with their husbands and the sons of the big maid, the mother-in-law and the mother-in-law of the little son-in-law and the mother-in-law of Berat’s daughter, these make ten people; my brother and wife, twelve, my sister, thirteen.
Their fate also depends on my punishment. Am I or am I not responsible for these people? If I don’t appear in court, if I die here in prison from violence, illness or suicide, according to the law I will not be called guilty, as long as the court will not be able to give the decision about my guilt, because I died without being judged”.
“I don’t believe I will die from torture, nor from any serious illness. Then in order to save these people, so that their curse does not follow me even beyond the grave, especially that of my nephews, I have no choice but to commit suicide”.
The idea of suicide kept getting stronger and stronger; it didn’t even leave me until it became a fixed idea. “I must definitely kill myself; I repeated who knows how many times a day.”
When they brought me to Pogradec, they searched my body, my pockets and didn’t let me have anything else to wear except a handkerchief. (I should take off my shoes and leave them in front of the dungeon door).
During the search, fortuitously or surprisingly, neither Bajram, nor the investigators, nor the dungeon manager, noticed that instead of a belt, I had some thin straps. Back then, men almost didn’t wear turbans at all, so they didn’t notice me, neither when they checked my inside jacket pocket, nor the back of my pants.
I don’t remember exactly, it was the night of the twenty-first of October, or the next day when I decided to kill myself, suffocating myself with these tyrants. I got under the blanket, squeezed them by the throat, tied them, covered my head, put my hands between my knees and was waiting for death.
I remember very well that the breath I exhaled from my lungs made a little noise, while the air I breathed in with great difficulty was not felt at all. I realized that I hadn’t tightened the straps enough and that I was going to squirm until I passed out, so I untied them and tried to tighten them as tight as possible. This time I succeeded.
It seems that I must have moved quickly and at the same time I must have breathed hard with my mouth open, because I felt the window of the door open and a voice spoke to me:
– “What are you doing?”?!
It was the policeman asking me. I didn’t answer him.
– “I’m talking to you more, what you doing are covered up like that?” Reveal your face, lift the blanket. I didn’t talk to him again; I felt the way I was”.
I heard the sound of running feet and someone shouting loudly.
The policeman was giving the alarm. After a couple of minutes, the sound of running feet again. That’s when the door opened and three people ran in, threw the blanket away and were trying to free the tyrants from my throat, but they couldn’t.
– “A knife, quickly a knife” – someone spoke.
One of the policemen ran outside, but in the meantime another had managed to untie the knot.
I took a deep breath myself and my lungs filled with air. I don’t know what happened to my face, red or bruised, but I will never forget those three faces (the policeman with the knife had also come) who were looking over me, they were worried, scared and surprised at the same time.
When they saw that I had escaped death, they began to scold me:
– “What did you do like that, you animal”!
– “You’ve lost your brains, old man.”
I was breathing normally. I had come back to life.
– “Go and call the doctor as soon as possible”, said a police sergeant Bajrami.
– It’s not necessary, I spoke in a weak voice, I’m fine now.
– “Are you really good, or are you just saying that?” Bajram asked me.
He seemed to me the most shocked of them all.
– I’m fine. I don’t need a doctor.
After a while, I regretted not letting them call the doctor. Let him look at me. Maybe he knew me. However, I would have some weakness from his visit. Now I had become a thread and I was cursing myself for not being able to escape once and for all from the punches, kicks, insults, humiliations.
While the dungeon manager and the police were standing over my head, I noticed a face among them that I hadn’t seen before. He was a middle-aged officer. The brand uniform, sewn by a master hand, fit him wonderfully.
He had a chiseled olive face, with black eyes and hair. They were looking at each other in silence. As he saw me well, he made a sign to Bajrami, who went out and when he came back he was holding handcuffs and a helmet like those used by motorcyclists.
Two policemen took me by the arms and lifted me to my feet. Bajrami tied my hands from behind, put the helmet on my head and tied its strap around my throat. – They wish me well, – I said to myself. – They want me not to die. I’m afraid of banging my head against the wall and ending it all. If they die from the heart, they will open the word, but who will believe them?
– Now even if you want to, you can’t do something stupid, – Bajrami told me.
– Collect your mind and stop being stupid.
Before they left me alone, the officer approached me and, always silent, tried to see if the helmet was properly fastened. As he made sure it was all right, he went out with the others.
The door was closed, but her window remained open. I was under constant surveillance.
Loneliness again. I was eating myself with my teeth. How had I not tightened those blessed ties a little tighter, how the policeman happened to pass by, exactly those moments when I was writhing between life and death?
Now the helmet on my head ruled out any suicide attempts and I was so helpless that I felt as if I could not move from the place. Meanwhile, my hands were tied behind my back.
I lay down, but I couldn’t find a comfortable way to sit. The helmet sometimes fell over my eyes, sometimes behind my neck. Only their stomachs could stay, but in that state of mind it was impossible to stay more than a few minutes. I turned from one side to not find peace Impossible. I was coming back from the other side.
Always impossible to stay long. I struggled back and lay back on the boat, but no matter how I lay, the damned helmet bothered me. I didn’t even think of lying on my back. I had so many wounds from the ones I removed in the car when they were bringing me here.
I squirmed like a fish on a shingle. I don’t know how long it would have been, when; turning from one arm to the other, my eyes went to the window of the door.
Someone was watching me. It was a broad, sun-baked face. The unknown face did not separate my eyes. We looked at each other without speaking. He stayed there for a while, always phlegmatic, and finally left. What was this stranger who was looking at me with such interest?
I didn’t see him again; I didn’t even know who it was.
Intentionally, unintentionally, I remained alive again; I would again be a prey to savagery, to animality. I sat and thought about what happened to my friend who was waiting for me to pick her up from Berat and bring her back to Korça, as I had promised her in the letter I sent her. Sensitive, painful nature, where it would not occur to him that this man was not taking him back, he was not even coming alive.
How disgusting it is to find mice in the cupboard where you keep food. And those of the needy of the dungeons were some big rats, black, chubby, fat, with red eyes and a tail maybe more than twenty centimeters long.
As soon as you opened the closet to get your purse or bag, you heard a sudden noise and then immediately saw two or three mice jumping out of the closet and running into the hole of the toilet. That this “blessed” needy actually had a hole, yes, a pit, and apart from the others, there was no door either.
Flake away if you want that piece of cheese, that piece of sausage, that cake or those cookies no matter how much you hate it. Your wife, son, father or mother brought you to keep yourself alive. Throw it away, but don’t forget how much money and effort that piece of cheese or that piece of sausage cost!
This is how our food came to be: part of it was eaten by the rats, part by the policemen (even these rats were, if not worse) and what was left was ours. Was half what was left? Hardly, it seems to me.
Kristina’s trial did not last long. All in all, about ten minutes. She was so weak that she could barely move her lips and it was not possible to hear her answer to the judge’s questions, who repeatedly raised her voice. He had fallen so far physically that he looked like a corpse placed on a chair. The policemen were holding him by the arms so he wouldn’t collapse.
Christina had undergone a strange spiritual metamorphosis. She was no longer the Kristina who at the beginning of the process had declared her innocence through tears.
They showed her the notebook with her poems. He admitted that he himself had written to him, “as much as I expected that I don’t have a great school”, he tried to defend himself with a voice. With a movement of his head, he accepted everything: that he had insulted the government and the party, that he had committed a serious crime by writing those “shitholes”, that those poems were a stain of shame for him, that he deserved a severe punishment since he brought into play the leader of the party.
She accepted, she accepted, what that living corpse did not accept, just to be taken out of that hall where hundreds of curious people were eating her with their eyes, following her every muttering, every gesture, and every facial expression.
This Lazarus, raised from the grave and placed in the dock, agreed to everything, except to be dragged into his dungeon as soon as possible, to lie on the floor, close his eyes, close his ears, think nothing, forget everything, and herself, and she fell into a deep, heavy sleep, because she slept, oh how hard she slept for this poor woman who did not know what a man’s embrace was. They sentenced him to seven years of imprisonment. I don’t know how long he breathed…! Memorie.al