By Henerik Spiro Gjoka
Memorie.al / Henrik Gjoka were born in Tirana in 1951. Being a “family with a bad biography”, because his father and two uncles were serving sentences in the prisons of the communist dictatorship, he was denied the right to follow higher studies at the university. This would cause him a great disappointment and would also be his first direct clash with the communist regime in power, which applied the reality of the “class war”, which Henrik would also consider as punishment his first. Due to these problems that appeared in his personal life, he began to speak openly against the communist regime, showing his dissatisfactions and reservations in various conversations with trusted people. Based on this fact, he is monitored by the State Security and in 1981; he is arrested and sentenced for political reasons, being accused of “agitation and propaganda against the popular power”. Immediately after his release from prison thanks to the two amnesties that were made (in 1982 and ’86), in 1986, he tried to escape from Albania, but was caught at the border and sentenced again, this time to 13 years in prison. , being accused of “high treason against the motherland”. Thus, he could finally be released from the prisons of the communist dictatorship only in 1991, the last political prisoner who came out of the communist hell and decided to leave Albania. The writer Henrik Spiro Gjoka, after being released from prison in 1991, lives and writes in France and he is the author of the novels “The Last Symphony on Simon Island” (2000), “The Metamorphosis of a Lost Generation” (2007). “Pigeon Hunting” (2008), “Charlotte” (2010), “Sonata for Someone Else’s Wife” (2017). The novel “Pigeon Hunting” has been evaluated as an emblem of the lost generation after the Second World War in Albania and won the “Petro Marko” literary award. The novel “Sonata for another’s wife” won the national literature award in 2017. Henrik Gjoka is one of those writers who will not be in the center of attention, will not speak, but let his books speak. It’s a mystery that makes for such powerful novels, grabbing you at every line, only to leave you reeling. With a unique vision, style and fantasy, the writer from Tirana is a window to get to know Albania of horror, with scary human hideouts, through the musicality of a troubled soul. The book “Pigeon Hunting” (1997), an autobiographical book with real events from the period of serving the sentence in camps and prisons, part of which we have selected for publication in this article.
Continues from last issue
FRAGMENTS FROM THE NOVEL “PIGEON HUNT”
– Get to work, good boy, because they haven’t given you vacations here!- – said the Security Operative of the area that dealt with the internees. – His mother, to go see her son, because he deserves it, has done a commendable deed. Or you go, but by no means both. And do not suspect that we will give you permission whenever you ask!
That night, mother and brother talked together, sitting by the stove. Winter seemed to be making its final attack and the cold was feeling drier and harsher. When you were working outside in the field, the wind whipped your face and your ears felt as if they were burning from the depths. The radio announced that in the North, there was frost and the temperature had dropped significantly again.
– Please don’t go; his brother told him. Wait for spring to come and travel becomes easier for you. Let me go this time.
– I want to go because I can’t wait any longer. Now that I know where it is, I want to go see it with my own eyes to calm myself down. He will calm down too. Everyone will then submit to their fate, him there and us here.
But now at first it is imperative that we see each other. Don’t worry, the transport car is full; I will sleep one night in Tirana with my daughter, and the next day I will leave for the camp and everything will go well, with God’s help. Don’t be upset.
– Is it the first time you do this route? – As if in a dream, she heard the voice of the driver who thundered.
The mother opened her eyes.
– Yes, the first time I come to these parts.
– Does the boy have the first year or the second?
– He has the first one, now he has started it. Thirteen have been sentenced.
The driver made a movement as if surprised. He maneuvered with the steering wheel because another car was coming towards them and the road was narrow and on one side abyssal. After a while he asked in a voice that sounded harsh:
– Like thirteen?! That is, you were a prisoner! Why did that ‘whore’ at the counter tell me that you have a soldier son in Spaç?!
– I have not spoken to him! – Mother paled. The driver shook his head menacingly, as if someone had deceived him about something important, humiliated him completely.
– The driver who brought me to Reps, he talked to him; maybe she guessed it herself.
What work did this spoil for you?
– Why was the boy punished? – Asked the driver in a bad tone.
– For escape!
– Aha, now I understand! I wasn’t even convicted of theft at least; but for politics, the enemy, that is, the enemy of the people!
Cheekiness was sizzling now.
– My son has not done any harm to the people! Neither does anyone else Nobody. No evil in his life. But these jobs are like that…!
– Because there was no time to do it! Because they cut off his arms, tore him off, the people with the Labor Party…! – The hunger continued for a long time.
The mother understood who she was dealing with. He prayed to God to calm the animal down and to arrive at the camp as soon as possible. Where did he have the bad luck to travel there with just such a guy on that icy winter afternoon?! The car drove slowly on the potholed road and after a while it stopped. There was a faucet nearby, a pipe coming out of a small concrete wall and the place there was widened to change cars. The driver got off and the mother remembered that she was going to throw water on the car; but he came to her side and opened the door.
– Get down, sit down!
– Here is the camp? – The poor woman asked, looking around.
The driver took both her bags and put them on the ground. The mother came down after them.
– The camp is over there, – he gestured with his head from a mountain pass, – but this car is the people’s car, and it cannot accept its enemies inside!
After saying these dirty words, the animal jumped into the cabin; it started with a thunder like curses and curses falling from the sky…!
How cold it was and what a scary place it was! Mother sat down by the faucet on that little concrete wall, but only got up because it was ice cold. With the woolen scarf he had wrapped around his head, he felt a little better.
He remembered the words of the driver who had taken him to the Reps and began to worry. He still couldn’t believe what had happened to the other, the ugly, ignorant brat. Maybe he was a party member – thought the mother. With that patched fur and Party member. The dead that don’t eat it!
His legs became ice and he started walking, trying to warm up a little. The wind didn’t blow that corner, thankfully, but the air was as if it was frozen and it blew your nose when you inhaled it. In the twilight, the surrounding mountains looked like giant, terrifying zombies.
…The camp was cleared in the darkness of the night and he was leaning against the concrete railing under the plum tree. You had stuck both elbows on the curb, as if to better guarantee your head placed between your hands; and he kept his tired eyes across the stream, up, at the top of the stairs. To that corner over there, already illuminated by the perimeter lights. He had hoped all day to hear his name called for a meeting.
He was shaken by the visions. The courier passed by him and told him that the meetings for that day were over; but he heard not a word. Three prisoners were looking down on him from the poplar terrace and talking about him.
– There was a meeting today, but they didn’t come, – said one.
– He walked all day down there; he didn’t even come to the canteen to eat.
– He was hoping to eat a piece of pie instead of that stinking kettle soup. – The first continued and did not take his eyes off of Him down there.
– Not for the pie, – jumped the other one who was a teacher, – but on the day of the meeting, let your emotions choke you, not push your feet from the canteen; you don’t even have an appetite, nothing. Especially on the first date…!
– Then why, after the meeting, I put the sack in front of me and eat it like a horse? – The one who started the conversation first jumped.
– Who eats like a horse? – The teacher turned to him.
– You me. All!
– You maybe, but not me!
– You do the same, we all do the same! – He was not the first to withdraw.
– I told you that I don’t do that; I’m not an ignorant bastard like you! I was a professor, while you have been working in the cooperative since you were five years old!
– What a teacher you were in the village primary school!
– They took me there because of my biography; you know my story well, don’t you?!
– I don’t need your story, I’m not a historian! We are all the same here! We sleep in a shack, eat in a canteen, and sweat in a hole!
– Don’t talk to me in this language, I told you! I am not your friend, nor have I ever been!
The teacher became like a red pepper and was shaking with anger. The third, who was whitening his teeth, seeing how his two friends were getting angry, intervened in a gentle tone, to put out the fire:
– What the hell are you arguing about useless things! We were talking about the one down there waiting to meet the family in the middle of the night!
The guard slowly approached them.
– Why are you talking, are you dividing the posts in the Government that you will create? Come on, go to the TV room or to bed! Don’t see them here again!
* * *
The mother’s body, frozen, was taken to the nearest hospital in the province. According to the doctor, her heart had stopped two or three hours after midnight. It was about 7 in the morning, when a driver found him there near the tap. He had suspected that she was sleeping when he saw her in the distance; although it was not a temperature to sleep outside. But since she didn’t move or wake up from the sound of the car, he stopped it next to her.
She was sitting between two bags, her fists clenched, her head resting on her knees and a woolen scarf thrown over her head and shoulders. The driver approached him and touched him with a finger; she was frozen as if touching a stone. Then he jumped into the car to report to the village center.
Among the documents found in her bag was the permission of the Directorate of Internal Affairs that allowed her to leave the internment camp for a period of 72 hours. This was worth notifying the relevant body immediately.
…“How well you calmed down, my wretch! You have no more sighs in your bosom. I have felt them for as long as I can remember my existence on this accursed earth. And they never rain. I don’t know when you breathed your last. Too bad I wasn’t around!
They separated us; these gravediggers separated us, these dirty gravediggers. You know, Hell will burn and scorch these. As for you, my niece, the angels are waiting for you in their arms. They are wrapping you in white silk, the silk of peace, and taking you to their abode. Goodbye, Mother…”! Memorie.al