By Henerik Gjoka
The first part
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 pursue higher studies at 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, which appeared in his personal life, he began to speak openly against the communist regime, showing his discontents 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 also 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. Currently, he lives in France and has published in Albanian the novel “Pigeon Hunting” (1997), an autobiographical book with real events from the period of serving his sentence in camps and prisons, part of which we have selected for publication in this article.
FRAGMENTS FROM THE NOVEL “PIGEON HUNT”
Lying upside down as he was, he tried to open his eyes, but something sticky wouldn’t let his eyelids move. In that part of the face resting on the ground, although it was numb, he felt a bitter pain…! He tried to move the fingers touching his face. They moved a little. Then, if this head attached to the shoulders was really his, He would move that too. First, he had to open his eyes and see where he was…!
The sight that unfolded before him was completely unfamiliar. His face poured into a pool of blood, the smell and sticky effect of which made him feel a heavy weight in his stomach. He felt that he was going to vomit and it shocked him. In the position He was in, He could only see at a narrow angle. He had to move his head to see more. He gathered all his strength to move it, and when it began to obey him, another stabbing pain like a knife stuck in his neck, made him lose consciousness…!
He never knew how long you had been lying there on the floor, sometimes drowsy, sometimes unconscious. You never learned that, having lived in a strange world of sensations and imaginings. But he remembered, like in a dream, being dragged down some stairs. He remembered his head crashing through them, and the blood that had clogged his nostrils and prevented him from breathing. And then? Nothing.
When it was mentioned, He noticed that it was the only object in that hole. There was also a small plastic can in a corner by the door. That door in the middle of the wall didn’t seem to have been opened since it was put there. It looked like a poorly done drawing by an untalented child. Opposite it, near the ceiling, was a small turret with crossed bars and inside them a wire mesh.
He turned his gaze to the other side and again looked intently at that unknown door, mixed wood and iron. He slowly moved his gaze over her and suddenly shuddered. In the middle of its width, at the height of a man, an eye gazed. Near the eye, a ridge of the nose. The eye had the color of…the color of the earth.
It let out a cold and cruel look inside, a creepy look. Lying on the ground as he was, he froze in fascination.
Close your eyes; maybe it was an optical illusion. In his memory he kept only fragments of events, screams, faces, fragments of faces. Maybe this was one of them. Maybe it was a dream…! He so wished it was a dream…!
He fell into a deep sleep. Because of his nostrils clogged with blood, He breathed deeply through his mouth. His upper lip was swollen and bruised. Even in his sleep he felt as depressed as during his whole life. He was only happy when he saw his mother approaching him, dressed in black, silent, with a black sadness in her eyes, who, as always, was asking her son about something.
He could stay with his mother now. What great luck! He could come very close to her, rest his head on her soft lap, his bleeding head that hurt so much. He complained to his mother that he had been brutally massacred and tortured. To tell her about those who had hit her son, who had insulted him? For that village teacher.
He tried to speak, but no words came out of his mouth. He looked his mother in the eyes and begged her to justify his act, his abandonment…! And that orange he left on the table for her last night, was it sweet or sours…?
The mother rubbed her cold feet and was silent. After a while, she retreated to a corner and began to pray with raised hands, as if asking for help from heaven, and tears began to flow down her withered cheeks. Suddenly the tears turned into white doves and flew across the room, fanning his face. He stretched out his hands and tried to touch them. He was excited when he saw among them his little friend, whom he had not seen since early childhood.
He roared several times, tried to let him know that he used to close his white wings and fall down under the sky to stand on his shoulder. Suddenly a large, black bird sprang up and swooped down on his dove. When he saw the white feathers fall to the ground, he pounced on the killer bird; but it was impossible to pry his innocent little friend from his clutches. His hands were bloodied as he grabbed her by the throat, looked at her fiercely and revolted and…Suddenly he was stunned. The predator’s eyes were familiar! They were the color of the earth!
He was mentioned drowning in sweat. He heard a noise coming from the door, which to his surprise was now opening. That door, which He thought would never open. The mother and the pigeons were gone, and so was that black bird, the killer bird. But his eyes were still there and were now looking at him from the hollow of a human face. From the open door, a big cat jumped in, which, together with the man, was staring in amazement at what was lying on the ground?
He opened his eyes because someone touched him with a hard object, which might have been a shoe tip. He looked carefully at that face; saw in it that part of the nose that appeared at the door and that earth-colored eye. A soft, cynical voice spoke thus:
– It’s been a long time since I’ve been lying down and sleeping alone. This has prevented us from getting to know each other. The introduction here is quite important as we will spend this winter together. It’s very cold here, but I won’t let you feel it. You have to get up and eat to cheer yourself up; we have so much to do together. A soup has arrived in the corridor that you have never seen before.
Eat, and then go to the bathroom. You haven’t been there in a while. I don’t understand your type. Life goes on. I have had people here who were sentenced to be shot, but they gulped down the soup until the last day, as if they were going to the other world to work with a pickaxe. Here in these walls, a new life begins for you, which is no less interesting than the one outside them…!
After feeling the door close, he slowly opened his eyes with a strange caution, with the feeling of one who has passed a danger but still does not feel safe. This feeling made him feel something inside his soul. He refused to take that damned soup they offered him, he didn’t even go to the bathroom, but at night he peed in that little plastic bin, which, damn it, wasn’t enough. He could not hold the rest and it spilled on the ground.
This was the first night he spent in that cell. The first one he entered into his account, because the rest of the time, night or day, he could not clarify how and where he had spent it. He tried to clarify his opinion about this point, which seemed to him the most important, but in vain. He needed to know what the date was. Then, it would be enough for him to remember the day he left the house, because exactly at midnight of that day, he was caught. How could he know what the date was that night?!
All this analysis tired him and he decided not to think about it anymore. What importance did dates, time, and years have now! Didn’t this hole under the ground resemble a real grave?! Which dead man had you told about the grave where he had been shot?! Nobody! He was surprised by this thought that crossed his mind and again got confused in the analysis of recent events. Perhaps, all that was happening around him now, had nothing to do with the lives of the living. Maybe He was dead! They could have killed him that night when he was climbing the mountain…! It had been a September night…!
… He was arrested on just such a night, in pouring rain. Lately, the misery in everyday life seemed blacker than ever. Dirty politics, hypocrisy, masks with which a large part made the environment ugly, wherever they were, at work, school, in food queues, television and cinema, congresses and conferences; they no longer revolted him as before, but stopped him croup.
Even the fights that took place on beaches and stadiums, fights in workplaces, hostilities between neighbors, now no longer seemed to be the case. The good people became better every day; the bad ones became more dangerous, like the metastases of cancer. Those who had hidden their vices under their skin for years, tired of this strain, had brought them to the surface and had become fatally ugly.
He had fought with the inquisitors all his life, but no one had ever supported him. The bravest expressed their sympathy secretly. While well-wishers who had known him for years, shook their heads with bitterness.
The strangest thing was that he had never thought of prison as a concern. Perhaps from the fact that his father and his brothers had spent years in prisons and concentration camps. Maybe because he always saw the country as a big prison, and inside it, full of smaller, more special ones. Hell holes filled with darkness.
On his way to the camp, it seemed to him that he was going to infinity, a slow roll on a barbed-wired orb, where every earthly being was destined to bleed, to suffer, but never to die. Only my white dove, he thought, could fly over that “Hell”.
On that journey, sometimes it seemed as if you had started with his birth, sometimes as if only a few moments before you had jumped on that van and were surprised by his presence there. Maybe because of the darkness of that metal box, maybe because he himself sometimes thought that he was not there, but only worried and grieved for his skeleton…!
…The bus arrived in front of the camp gate and stopped. A few formalities and occasional jokes were made, as befitted the place, then the officer of the guard opened the gate.
– Without seeing what goods you have brought us today! The officer took a seat in front of the van door and two policemen sat next to him.
– What they gave me, – shrugged the merchandise attendant.
Meanwhile, the door opened and the light came in like a white cat that caught the eyes of those who were still huddled together. They moved slowly, as if awakened from a lethargic sleep and jumped down one by one. There were only fourteen.
– Who is with you? – Asked the non-commissioned officer of the minority guard, in a very familiar tone, addressing him by name.
– Only one, this one here. – answered the other in the same tone.
– Okay, take it and put it aside!
Then, together with a prisoner who was holding some papers in his hands, lined up the ordinaries in column for one. Another prisoner came and wore a blouse like those worn by doctors or nurses. It couldn’t be a doctor because; the shirt was quite dirty and unraveled due to the belly like a beer keg. In fact, this was our camp doctor; accountant before abusing his duties and stealing from the fund of the company where he worked. He had learned the craft of medicine in the army and practiced it in the choir as well.
– Unbutton those jackets and sweaters and reveal your belly! — He ordered in a “Barrel” tone. Then he began to check the ordinaries one by one, and, twisting his face, turned to the non-commissioned officer of the guard:
– Everyone must be disinfected! They are full of lice!
The other side once and then gave the order:
– Open the rafters and drop everything you have on the ground. Empty your pockets too. Suddenly he turned to the two who were sitting on the sidelines with their legs between their legs and said:
– You go. Take it and go! – He addressed the minority, all with that familiar tone.
There was snow on the side of the yard. It looked like they had shoveled it that day, because they were still stuck in the pile that formed a small, frozen ridge. At the bottom of it was a pile of coal and a shovel thrown on top of it. He walked behind the minority and looked around curiously.
– We have known each other for 25 years, – said the minority, turning to him. – With whom?
– With the non-commissioned officer. When I came to Spaç for the first time, he had just been dressed as a policeman here, he had no experience at all, and he was sitting like a chicken. He had been released from the army a month ago, and apparently he still had the feeling of inferiority that a soldier has to his superior. Later it started to hatch little by little, the work teaches you. But it was not bad…!
Where the yard ended, some steep stairs made of iron rods began. To their right were the dungeons of punishment. It was at that moment when they set foot at the top of the stairs that he saw the “camp of the enemies”. The sight that appeared to him made him stop, stunned and somewhat fascinated. “Here, a real concentration camp, a real, real ‘Gulag’, so close to me. I’m even in it…”!
Two weeks after his arrival at the camp, he received a telegram which transformed him from a sad and murdered being into the happiest of those mountains!
“I will come to the meeting on February 23 Mother”. He kissed the telegram like a fool and tears flowed down his cheeks. So, in four days his mother would come. It would come between the mountains; it would pass between forests and valleys, on the melting snow. Poor mother.
– Mother and brother decided to go to the concentration camp as soon as they learned that he had arrived there. They requested permission from the Directorate of Internal Affairs of the district and waited for an answer. Meanwhile, they were making the necessary preparations, food, clothes, and books.
But the answer was negative; only one person was allowed to go. The brother insisted and said that, as it was the first time, they both had to go, then…! Then in that crazy winter, in the North, it’s cold. Memorie.al
The next issue follows