By Reshat Kripa
Memorie.al / The city was buzzing with the movement of citizens and numerous cars, as well as the constant sirens of police vehicles or ambulances that circulated through the streets covered with dust and garbage, or the curled leaves of the decorative trees that lay in it both sides. A smog of smoke and fog had engulfed the city that morning. The sky was half covered by clouds. But the rain had forgotten to fall. The citizens were eager for a drop of rain. They thought he would bring about a change in their mood. In the middle of this crowd I was also circulating. I didn’t even know where I was going. I had left the house and all I knew was that I had to walk and walk.
Different guys passed me around. Someone walked proudly, with his head held high, as if he was some big head who had contributed to the rise of the city. Another was moving from person to person, with outstretched hand, begging for alms. A third passed whistling and laughing, while a fourth, crying. Among these people, I saw an old man well dressed and with a Borsellino on his head.
Suddenly it seemed to me that I had seen his face somewhere. I turned my head to get a better look at him and noticed that his gait also looked familiar. It was much older than me yet, strangely, it looked very familiar. I racked my brains to find where I had known the man, but it was in vain. Age, sclerosis or where do I know what they had done their job. Meanwhile, I hear a voice that spoke to me:
– “Come on Tutku, come on!” You lost the bun like Xhaferi”!
I turned my head and saw Pirro, my childhood friend. We were once classmates, but the storms that engulfed us separated us for many years. Then we met and continued our friendship. I invited him to have a coffee.
– “I know a place where good coffee is made”, – said Pirrua. We left and after a while we arrived at a café in the center of one of the most popular neighborhoods of the city. – “Two coffees and two brandies”, – I ordered. We were drinking coffee and talking about the different issues that each of us had. Suddenly, an elderly man stood in front of our table. I looked away from him. I recognized the man I had seen a little while ago on the street. Again, it seemed like a very familiar face.
– “Professor,” someone spoke to him from a nearby table. – Come sit down, let’s offer you a coffee”. The man turned his head to where the voice came from and smiled. Then he looked away from me and was looking at me, standing. – “Sit down”! – we invited him. Sat., we asked him what he wanted us to rent it for. He didn’t speak but continued to look at us with a look that expressed great longing. It seemed to us that he also recognized us. We formed the belief that we had to meet somewhere.
– “Can we introduce ourselves”? – I told him, showing him my name. Pirrua did the same. His face began to glow. His eyes were shining. He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t. He grabbed our hands and started kissing them. Surely, we were familiar with it somewhere, but surprisingly, our memory was extinguished. The years had done their work.
However, from his gesture, we understood that the guest must have been one of the former political convicts of the totalitarian regime. Intuition led us to believe that we should have been together in one of the forced labor camps we had passed through.
– “Please, – I addressed him, in a low voice, so that he would not hear me, the person at the table next to him, who had invited him for coffee. – Can you tell me, who is the lord? – “I do not know. Someone told me that he was a well-known professor of literature. He finished his studies in the West. He comes to this café constantly. He doesn’t speak. He stands and stares. Then he leaves again. He does not accept from anyone to rent it. It’s the first time he accepted from you. Sometimes the wife also comes, a lady, who takes it”.
Meanwhile, a very well-kept old lady approaches us. – “Excuse me! – addressed to us. – He is my husband. Thank you very much for everything you have done for him! – “Oh, nothing! – I answered. “Sit down.” He did not hesitate. He sat down and we ordered coffee.
– “Excuse me, dear lady! – I said with a sense of respect. I have the impression that I have known your husband somewhere”.
– “Where are you from”? – he asked me curiously. I told him the name of the city
– “What’s your name”? I answered him again.
He hugged me as if I were a small child and with a sweet smile said to me: – “You were my little ‘chapkni’?” Oh, what a pleasure, to meet you again, after so many years”! The lady had mentioned the nickname I was given in my childhood. With this nickname, my teachers called me, and after them all the students of the school. – “Tell me, please, who are you”! – I asked, surprised by her words.
– “I am a teacher Bardha, while my husband is professor Hektor Kelmendi”. I stood up. I took their hands and started kissing them, with great respect. Pirrua did the same. Bardha was our primary school teacher, while Hector was the literature professor at the unique school. They were not from our town. At that time, almost the majority of the students came from other cities. So Bardha, had come from the capital, where he had studied at the “Nana Mbretresha” Normal School, while Hektori, who had completed his higher studies in Paris, had also been appointed to our city.
Two years after arriving in the city, Hektor was arrested for agitation and propaganda. They accused him of propagandizing among the students, about the poets declared enemies, such as; Father Gjergj Fishta, Father Xanonin, Mikel Prendushin, Faik Konica, and others. Such a thing, it was true. He often recited their poems to us, which we listened to with thirst. You couldn’t help but listen to them with pleasure, when in them the call for the freedom of the homeland and the flag was raised in the divine temple.
Perhaps it was the spirit that our professor educated us, that pushed me and two of my friends to follow his path. That’s how we ended up in the abyss. There I met my professor. We wandered from camp to camp. From Ura Vajgurore, in Vlashuk and from Shtyllasi, in Bulqiza. He was my professor there too. He wouldn’t let me make a mistake. He replaced my parents. In the Bulqiza camp, we parted. I was released, while he continued his sentence for a few more years.
– Come some day from home”, said the teacher, showing me the address. – “Let’s go Hector”! – spoke to her husband. He didn’t answer. He stood up smiling, obedient to her word. After greeting us, she put her arm around him and they slowly walked away. He continued not to speak.
One evening we decided to pay a visit to our teachers. We found them in the living room. The professor sitting on an armchair, watching the television, which was broadcasting a program with historical events, while the teacher, reading something.
She got up and closed the TV, saying in a soft voice: “Now our sons have arrived.” We will have a little chat.” He turned to us and smiled. His face began to light up. – “How do you drink coffee”? – asked the teacher. – “Worry”.
In a few minutes the coffee was ready. We drink them without talking. Finally, the teacher spoke: – “When I told him about you, he didn’t react at first. It seems as if it had been erased from his memory. But it wasn’t like that. He took the notebook where, unable to speak, he wrote what he meant and with his trembling hand, he wrote the names of Ura Vajgurore, Bulqiza, Spaçi and Qafa e Bari.
– “When we were in the Spaçi camp, he suffered a cerebral ischemia, which caused him to be released from prison after a few years”, said Pirrua. – “It is exactly the cerebral ischemia that brought him to the state he is in today”, – answered the teacher.
– “Ura Vajgurore, was the first camp where we met again, while with Bulqiza, we are connected by an event that I can never forget”, – I intervened. I began to tell him the incident, as it had happened. It was September. With the initiative of professor and doctor Isuf Hysenbegas, we had organized a commemorative evening on the occasion of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Vlora war.
While I was reciting the poem; “An autumn day”, by the imprisoned Volhon poet Kudret Kokoshi, dedicated to this event, Lieutenant Ademi, a real executioner, comes and when he sees me reciting, he orders my hands to be handcuffed and put in a cell. The professor began to protest violently. – “Isn’t it a crime to sing about the motherland and its wars for freedom? – he shouted loudly. – You are criminals”!
The professor was locked in the cell together with me. That night we woke up without sleep. The irons that were inserted into our flesh from the excessive tightening and coldness of Bulqiza, that autumn night, when we were in the thread of our shirts, caused that after the middle of the night, I got a pair of strong fevers. The professor was calling for medical help, but no one was listening. Then he took off his shirt and wrapped it around me. He rubbed me hard with his hands and talked to me so that I wouldn’t lose consciousness.
The next day the high temperature still continued. The executioners wanted to put me to work. But it was the determined intervention of the professor and doctor Isufi that saved me. They put me in what we called the infirmary. Their genius saved me. The teacher listened to me attentively and two drops of tears flowed from her eyes.
– “His whole life was self-denial,” he told me recently. – You are located wherever you feel they are suffering. Do you want me to tell you, our story?” We eagerly awaited her proposal. We had a great desire to learn everything about the life of this perfect couple. We gladly accepted. – “We fell in love since we were at school, in your town,” he began. – We were getting ready to get married, when he was arrested. I waited twelve years. When he was released, we got married. Although in difficult conditions, we felt happy.
He worked as a laborer in the agricultural enterprise. I also joined him, who fired me from my job as a teacher. We stayed apart. We didn’t talk to anyone. Hector, started giving French language lessons to some young people. They were the sons of some of our acquaintances. Often times, he also read them poems by our banned poets.
Such a thing caught the eye of the State Security, which monitored it step by step. No more than two years passed, when he was arrested again. They sentenced him to fifteen years. We had no children. We thought we’d take a break and then think about heirs. So, I was left alone again”!
The teacher was silent. He took a deep breath and a painful sigh came from his chest. We remained silent and waited for her to continue. – “Then they took him to Spaçi camp,” continued the teacher. – Despite the difficult situation, I did what I did and went to the meeting with a bag of food. One day they told me that they had admitted him to the prison hospital in Tirana. I almost went crazy. I went to the capital. I met him. It was in a very serious condition. I got interested with some family friends.
I was recommended some medicines that came from abroad. I did what I did and found them too. I sent him to the hospital. He began to recover.
After this event, he was taken to the Qafa i Bari camp. Same condition. They kept him until the day he was released. When he came out, it seemed to me that there was a shadow, a ghost standing in front of me. I had to do something. With the help of some friends, I admitted him to a clinic in Milan. When he got out of there, he had a different look. However, it remained in the state you see.”
We left heartbroken. – “Do you know why the ischemia happened?” – asked Pirrua. – “Why”?! – We were in Spaçi camp. Security operative, we had a real cannibal. He wanted at all costs to make the professor his tool. Ditëziu forgot that there was a titan in front of him. At that time in the camp, they had arrested three prisoners. One of them, Xhemili, was a true nationalist. He had been convicted four times before. The other two, Vasili and Faslliu, are well-known journalists. They had written a letter of protest to the dictator.
The operative sought at all costs to fabricate witnesses for their punishment. The professor became the victim. But can the mountain be humbled? They arrested him, brutally tortured him, but he continued to stand as a hero. It was precisely in the dungeons of the Security, when he was struck by ischemia. They were forced to admit him to the prison hospital in Tirana. For this reason, they did not punish him.
His friends shot him. The disease has transformed so much that we could not even recognize it. However, thirty years have passed since then.” – “But I am fifty-five years old”, – I added. After a few days, the phone rang. It was the teacher. – “Come on! – he told us with a trembling voice. – Hector is finished”!
We left immediately. We found him lying in bed with his eyes closed, covered with an atlas quilt. We kissed him on the forehead and two drops of tears flowed from our eyes. – “Leave the tears! – the teacher told us. – Real people don’t cry and he was like that”.
We got up and shook hands with the teacher, without saying a word.
We informed all the friends who knew him. The next day we took him to the last apartment. A very large group of people accompanied the procession. A number of crowns received money. Someone gave a eulogy in front of the grave. A man had died! I don’t know why, but the words kept coming to my mind: “Why did this happen? Why”?!/Memorie.al