By Reshat Kripa
Memorie.al / “Sometimes, when difficult trials fall on a child’s head from the earliest 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
RETURN TO THE FAMILY
It was the spring of 1956. Abazi, a close friend of our family, was having his son’s wedding. My father and mother were also invited to the wedding, along with my uncle and his wife. My sister and I were alone at home. She was locked in her room doing her diary and preparing for the next day at school while I was engrossed in reading a book. It wasn’t nine o’clock when my father came home. The look on his face showed that something serious, unusual, had happened. Surprised, I asked him:
– “Dad, why did you come back so early”?
He did not answer, but undressed and lay down on the bed. I went upstairs and told my sister. She immediately came down and asked him if he was sick. He suffered from high blood pressure.
– “No, no, I’m not sick, but leave me alone in my trouble”, – he answered in a voice that seemed to mourn.
– “What is wrong with you that has affected you so much”?! – insisted the sister.
– “For the first time in my life, after sixty-five years, I feel insulted. I will never forgive them for this”!
His face had taken on such a look that even if you killed him at that moment, he would forgive him. So great was the pain he felt. At that moment uncle also arrived. We circled him and asked him what was likely. He sat down on the couch and spoke in a half-whispered voice:
– “Bring me a glass of water”!
The sister hurried to fill the glass. He, after drinking the water and calmed down, began to speak:
– “They followed us, my daughter, they followed us! We were undesirable for that environment. To be honest, they didn’t tell me anything, but when I noticed that Qazim was missing, I asked about him. I noticed his absence. I saw that they avoided answering me. They didn’t know what to say to me. My mind was about to get sick and I stood still. Then Refiku approaches me, he was Abazi’s brother and says:
– “Listen Shyqyri, Qazim has gone home”.
– “Yes, that Elham” asked him to leave, otherwise he would run away himself. We couldn’t help but fulfill his wish. You know that he is a high functionary of the party and we could not oppose him.
– ‘What am I asking for staying here? Am I not his brother too? Thank you for the nobility you showed and shaved him, as he is a high official. But we are not left behind for people who are afraid of their own shadow”.
– “Why don’t the women run away with you?” – asked the sister.
– “They were in the other room and they don’t know anything.”
The sister was extremely outraged. He went to the upper room, quickly changed and returned:
– “Reshat, come with me”, – he told me.
– “Where are you going”?! – asked the father.
– “Keep calm, we’ll be back soon”.
We both left. On the way I asked him:
– “What are we going to do”?!
– “Come and don’t say anything, just look.”
We went to the house where the wedding was taking place. From far away the song was heard loudly humming. When we entered the house, the groom’s sister appeared before us with a tray of meat, which she led into the women’s room.
– “Welcome! Come, how well you did.”
– Thank you, yes, we didn’t come to eat”!
We entered the women’s room. They ate and chatted, laughing and singing. They saw us in silence. The sister, standing by the gate, addressed her mother and aunt:
– “What about you, you’re sorry for the rest of them?! Men kicked you out and you continue to eat?! Get up and let’s go.”
Surprised, as they did not know what had happened, they got up and followed my sister and I who left immediately. On the way she told them everything. When we got home dad said:
– “Live, my daughter, because I have you as a son more than a son”.
My sister was like that. She remained like that even in the years to come. Symbol of sacrifice and selflessness.
As for relations with Abazi’s family, they remained frozen until he died. Later his little son approached us again. To tell the truth, it has happened to us in all difficult moments, especially in the case of mother and father’s illness. So, our friendship rose again to the level it was before.
One afternoon, while we were talking in the family as usual, there was a knock at the outer gate. The Fatushja got up and opened it. In front of her stood a boy no more than twenty years old.
– “I came to meet Reshat”, he said.
– “Order in”!
The boy entered the room. It was an unfamiliar face to us. His eyes were big. Curly, brown hair. The other features were also very regular. It was very energetic. His appearance showed a sincere and honest man.
– “I am Veli Premtaj, brother of Dilaver. You don’t know me. I want to become friends together”.
– “Welcome, I’m very glad to meet you.”
I had heard about Veliu for the first time, from Myrtezai. In 1949, together with him and other friends, they had created a group that distributed tracts. It was then that Myrtezai wrote the poem I mentioned above, dedicated to the two heroes from Lepenica. Dilaveri was sentenced to twenty years in prison. I had not known him during my stay in the camps.
He was in Burrell prison, while I was in the camps. But those who had been with him had told me that he was a brave and determined man. They were from Vranishti. Their father, Rapo Meton, a prominent personality in the province, had been killed without trial by the communists, during the War. We sat next to each other and started talking. He told me that in the family, he had his mother and his younger brother, Ali.
When he had finished seven years of school, he was forced to start working in construction. He was the big man of the family. He had to feed his sick mother and his younger brother, who was still in school. At the same time, he had to keep Dilaver in prison. He went to school at night. It was in the third year of high school.
“How we talked long and wide”, – turned to my father:
– “Will you let us go for a walk”?
– “Posi, my son, thank you for coming, because this one stayed inside”.
– “Don’t worry, I’ll take it with you when we get back.”
I was overjoyed. I also had a friend I could go out with. The boulevard on which the walk took place at that time, was the road from the Plumbit Mosque to Tabake. It was full of people walking around. During the tour, I met Klito and Burimi, as well as Luan Koka, Aleksandër Bora and Shezai Çela, three classmates, all three of my categories. I saw a few others. Some of them smiled and greeted me from afar. The others pretended not to know me. Maybe they were afraid to meet me. Maybe I was also afraid to meet them. The years in prison had influenced my character. Most of the other friends were studying at the university.
I remember an event in January 1956. At that time the students were on winter vacation. I was at the travel agency, to buy tickets for Rrogozhin. I would go to Korça. Since only two buses traveled a day on that line and there was a lot of demand, applicants were registered first and then the ticket seller read the names according to the list. When he said my name, I approached the counter. At this time, I hear a voice that spoke:
– Salt Rain?! Is this my close classmate?!
I got the tickets and got out of the queue. In front of me stood Ali Zankua, with whom we used to learn and play together. He continued the Faculty of Law. We hugged and he congratulated me that I had come out safe and sound. I felt a great pleasure.
Even the girls in the class saw me and smiled warmly. Donika with Neimena and Aliqi with Ana tried to approach me, but I, I don’t know why, pretended I didn’t notice them. The prison had locked me inside myself. We lived in difficult times and we had to act, as she dictated. While Neri, as soon as he saw me, blushed. It seemed to me, as if he began to tremble. I broke down on my face too. Veli noticed me and asked me;
– “What did you have”?
– “Nothing, I’m fine”, – I answered, gathering myself.
After we made a few rounds, Veliu invited me to visit his house. We said goodbye to the other friends and parted ways. He lived on the boulevard, in a shack that was located opposite the former house of Eqerem Bey Vlora, which had now been turned into a cultural center. Many families lived in this shack. They had two rooms. The two brothers slept in one, while the other was used as a kitchen where the mother also slept.
When we came in, she was working on something with spears.
– “Xho, I brought you Reshat”, Veliu told him.
– “Thank you for coming out healthy, you got a son”! – he said hugging me.
I noticed that tears began to flow from his eyes.
– “Don’t pay attention to me,” he continued, “Your sufferings remind me of my Dilaver.” I don’t know if I will ever see him again”!
Xhoja was a rare mother. I have never seen her face without tears. She remained a widow since she was still young. Her husband had been killed. He was forced to wear the black scarf and raise three sons, the eldest of whom, Dilaveri, was only fourteen years old. Chupat was married. The eldest, Lala, had the same misfortune. like mothers. She also had her husband killed, leaving her with her only son to breastfeed. The biggest misfortune for Xhosa was caused by the arrest of Dilaveri. She was left alone, with two small children, where Veliu was only ten years old, while Ali, eight.
Ali was studying in the bedroom. He was a high school graduate. He got up and met me. That night they treated me to dinner with what happened to them, but which I enjoyed immensely. In that family I felt myself, like at home. When we parted, Veliu walked me home.
* * *
In the afternoon, when he left work, we would go for a walk. Sometimes I was a widow there and sometimes he came to me. Through him I met many other friends. In my contacts with them, I noticed that our mentalities differed. I had been released for a while and still retained the prison mentality. There, everything was separated, like a knife. White was white and black was black. They could not mix with each other. The optics of my eye saw things under this prism. But that of my friends was different. I noticed that even the optics of Klitos or Burimi, who had been released for several years, had changed. This surprised me.
The days passed and along with them, my mentality changed. I began to understand that I had entered a world different from that of the prison. While in prison society was divided into hostile camps, incompatible with each other, here even though there was such a division, you had to be very reserved, not to express your thoughts, except in a low voice, with your friend that you had by your side. While in prison, the spy or the impostor, you threw everything in his face, because after all, you could only end up in the cell for a few days, here you had to smile and pretend you didn’t hear. You had to try not to make enemies. Here the risk was much greater. You could go back to where you came from.
However, even here there were plenty of good people with good character. With their silence, they showed that they knew how to live with honor, in that world ruled by fear and terror. Such was Veliu. So were my other friends. I also followed this path.
Our walks continued every afternoon. It was the same route, from mosque to mosque. Almost every evening, I looked at Neri and my heart skipped a beat. I noticed that she was also looking at me. But no one dared to speak. Time had separated us.
In mid-January, I left for Korça. I wanted to meet Neta and Vjollca. I had entrusted it to Sadik, to deliver the letter. I notified them a day in advance by telegram, so that they could come out to meet me. I arrived there in the evening. Vjollca was waiting for me. We hugged and headed home.
They welcomed me as if I were their son or brother. I had never experienced such warmth. I talked about prison life and about Sadik. To my parents and family. They listened to me with great attention. I also handed over his letter. Once Vjollca spoke:
– “Mom, we’re going out a little bit. I want to show Reshat, Korça”.
– “Come out my daughter”.
We left. Vjollca told me about the streets and characteristic buildings of the city. Finally, we sat down at a quiet bar. There were very few people, just like we wanted. Violet ordered two cocoas. Drinking and talking in low voices. We told each other, each other’s secrets.
– “Did you meet Neri”? she asked.
– “No, it’s just a dream, a dream that lasted too long and kept me hopeful in those painful years. I believed he loved me. I don’t know, maybe it’s true. We had never told each other that we need each other. Only that we saw each other and did not speak. Now I’m awake and I see that I’m in another world, different from the one I dreamed of”!
– “I told you. We see each other almost every evening. But we don’t dare to talk to each other. I am more to blame here…”!
– “Do you still love him”?
– “I do not know. Every time I look at it, I feel my heart pounding. But let’s leave this conversation. Does brilliance continue with studies”?!
– “This year is the last year. We will get married in the fall.”
I listened to Vjollca talking and wished to myself that what she said was true. But the heart thought otherwise. I had a great fear. This fear was increased by the thought that Sadik had expressed to me. I wanted to tell her these doubts as well. I thought it was my duty, such a thing.
– “Are you sure”?
– “For what”?
– “For marriage”.
– “He was here for the New Year holidays and we decided on September.”
– “Listen Violet, I want to be honest with you. I’m scared. You two have a mountain between you and I don’t believe that this mountain can be overcome so easily. This is my dilemma”.
My words worried him. He stood for a period without speaking. I didn’t speak either. I was waiting for her reaction. Finally said:
– “Mom also tells me these words, but we need to.” Do you understand how much we need you?! You have made no promises to each other and have no obligation to keep. Our relationship is different. Then…”! – He was silent as if he was thinking whether he should say that word to me or not.
– “What then”?!
– “Everything has already ended. I have no other way. You know what I mean…”?!
I understood. I couldn’t find words to say. What could I say to him? There was nothing left but to wait and see how things would unfold.
– “God help you”!
We got up and were walking the streets of the city.
She looked at the clock and spoke:
– “We go to the cinema. It is the movie ‘Zekthi’. It is very beautiful.”
“Let’s go” – I said, without thinking.
We bought the tickets and sat in the assigned seats. After a while the movie started. A grand beginning and a tragic end. A brilliant interpretation of Oleg Strizhenov. Before my eyes, I was left with the magnificent scene of Arthur’s execution and the letter to Jimmy:
“I kissed you twice and both times without your permission. Now all I have to do is kiss the letters where your name is written.”
We came out quite moved and did not speak.
– “Why do not you talk”? – she spoke.
– “It seemed to me as if I saw my life”, – I answered.
When we arrived home, we found the neighbors in front of us.
– “I present to you our friends; Robert and Eglantina Mandi”, said Neta.
We met and sat until late, talking. The next day I left for Vlora. Memorie.al
The next issue follows