Ilija Đurović: Excerpt from Sampas

Ilija Đurović was born in 1990 in Podgorica, Montenegro. After finishing high school, he went on to study literature. He has been writing stories since 2005. His first book of prose, They Do It so Beautifully in Those Great Romantic Novels, came out in 2014 with Yellow Turtle Press, a small Montenegrin publishing house he runs. This was followed by Black Fish (2016) and the poetry book Brink (2018), which received an award at a festival in Belgrade. Đurović has been living in Berlin since 2013 and living as a versatile freelance author and publicist. In 2019 he was co-winner of the Montenegrin theater award for the best contemporary drama, Sleepers. His first novel, Sampas, will be published in Belgrade in 2021.

Translation by Will Firth.
This translation was done as part of the "texthelden - Berlin setzt über" project of the association Berliner Literarische Aktion, funded by the German Federal Government's Commissioner for Culture and Media, the German Translators' Fund and the "Neustart Kultur" programme.



A road poem


Ilija Đurović


There, where the air changes the colour of things

— Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo


Ada Bojana is a big sand by a big water, and when I imagine it I don’t see it but the dank swampy air that could be anywhere, therefore the Ada is water and its mosquitos belong to me, it and everyone, we made our way through the vegetation, drawn to the swaying reggae, we’d try to beach-bash over to the teeming on the sand, Rastas, ravers and the rest, come on, join in, don’t be shy, a Rasta offered us beer, we don’t drink beer, we drink rum, is there rum, there was no rum, no problem, we went on with a beer in hand, sober and distrusting, ready to have our noses rubbed in the sand and to believe, we calmly ploughed through the thicket of strangers, a male body walked in front of us and led us to another that looked like the president of the bar, the commander of alcohol, and the first body said I’m handing you over, this is Pisko, I asked Piss-ko and the body behind the bar said Pisco, with a C, I asked like pisco sour? he said yeah and took a two-piece silver grenade of a shaker from a drawer behind the bar, saltless water welled up at the base of my tongue, salt and tepid cool surrounded us, pisco sour for two, and my gaze wandered over the elements that would soon unite inside the capsule, Pisco looked reliable, but no one is reliable enough until they load and fire, so I turned to look at the throng obscured by reeds and dancing to the reggae, the ravers were waiting for their turn, I didn’t want Pisco to feel pressured, but still I sensed him with my ears and nose like a bloodhound, I smelled the lime being squeezed, the crystal sugar cracked beneath the pestle, pisco crept from the bottle, an egg was broken, ice lit up the night and filled the cartridge, then Pisco discharged, shrapnel from the poorly assembled alcohol shell hit me in the neck, Pisco tightened the connection, reloaded and now found the rhythm, a pisco samba, I grabbed her hand and closed my eyes, I waited in peace for the pisco sour, the samba stopped, Pisco poured, and then he said Gabo is dead, Gabo muere, I repeated Gabo is dead, Gabo is gone, Pisco didn’t say another word all night, no one apart from us ordered his drinks, he mixed a few more cocktails without devotion and withdrew to a cane bed, while we stayed at the bar watching the reggae shuffle and making drinks, Sazerac, Gringo, El Camino, Daiquiri, egg white dripped from the bar until we also dropped and were dead to the world until morning, when swarms of headache droned through the air, we were entangled with arms, legs, skin and mostly smells, we put on some basic clothing and went out to what remained of the front, out on the sand, the undergrowth was strewn with the future corpses of ravers, some naked, with a sheet thrown over them, and if we’d had time we would have covered them with stones and damp sand, good as animal and mosquito repellent, but we didn’t have time, we got into the car and took off, a long dry straight line already full of incandescent cars cut the field before us, the consolation called Ulcinj was twelve kilometres away, though we knew there was nothing for us to look forward to, but the increasing distance from the Ada was good enough, we were heading for a hotel terrace with a defective sound system oozing acoustic refuse, a fence of blue glass cutting the horizon as if there wasn’t too much sea around already, a very blue funk, and with soda stripping the pesticide coating from the lemon, which would be the first enjoyment of the day, that’s what we were looking forward to, the slim shade of cypresses, the stench of sulphur and the smell of naked old women soaking in spa water caressed us through the opened windows, one more bend and we’d park in the shade of the terrace, bow to the trio of blooming agaves, to their future death, climb the stairs to the blue tables and the blue fence facing the blue sea, the waiter now came up with a silver disc on his arm, put our coffees and water down on the table and dropped the H in here you are, we exchanged glances for a moment and I said thank you, the sound equalised once more in his head, the little wheels turned again, he pronounced you’re welcome letter for letter, clearly and fully, the four-stroke engine of the world kept on roaring and rumbling as it had done until the quiet before the unknown language of mutes, the four-four time ditty about the sea kept oozing at us, the mineral water launched small transparent fireworks above the rim of the glass, thirst gradually found meaning and we and it immersed ourselves in the relief of minerals, thinking about breakfast, the ravers buried in the sand we left behind and the cocktail poisons we hadn’t yet expressed from our bodies and expelled to the blue Mediterranean cesspool, but before that we’d eat scorched eggs, fill our blood vessels with fresh cholesterol before going down to the rocks to adorn our skulls and shoulders with the halo of sunstroke, first she needed an espresso, water, food and another espresso for the first words of the day, I have to go to the bog meant she’d slowly get up, adjust her knickers wedged between the two hemispheres of her bottom, amble over to the left of the bar and calmly shit in the cloud of disinfectant, she hates me thinking about her turds but that doesn’t stop me, she wanted me to cut the crap and accept the Mediterranean song as something pure and part of me, I couldn’t convince her that creatures who grew up on parched flats, on three rivers strung up between huge mountains and the sea, could not be anything but what they are, creatures from the hinterland, I couldn’t persuade her that the sea would never accept us because we’re afraid of it, for us it’s a dry land eaten away at by desert summers, a cold fast river, the adaptation of the lungs to breathing tainted air, lungs used to swallowing a mucky melange of dust, smog and singed grass, we’d certainly prove ourselves in a gas van, but we can’t bring up sea urchins, dive in headfirst without fear, that’s against the nature of the hinterland, although she always wants more, wants to find in us what there is not, we search together, sometimes we shit together, and that is a love song par excellence, now she came back from the toilet slowly, I got changed, we can go down, which dispelled my thoughts about our turds and returned us to the terrace of the Albatros Hotel, ready to descend the steep, narrow path to the serrated rocks the sea carved just for us, and there we swam naked, washed ourselves of the past few nights and deaths of others, how the paterfamilias died could be told from the sea while her salt-washed bottom was attacked by little crabs on the shore, and mine submerged two metres under for the fish and medusas to assail, he died with a cigarette in hand, of course, that was all that mattered to him, stories would be told about him as a father who smoked on the motorbike, on the cycle and in hospital, whole fields of tobacco would remain unsmoked and his wife would mourn for him, two sons would remember him but nothing more, he was born a proletarian child and left the world again as naked as the rifle that carved out an urbane, middle-class life for his parents, with a flat, car, regular summer and winter holidays, he missed the opportunity of a free education but used the ones for excursions to the very ends of the country, and sometimes even beyond, returning home with new fashion and better tobacco, enough for a whole life in the backwoods and the razing of what remained of the memory of that life, an infant born into poverty who managed to avoid the infantry when his war came, when the edges of the country he travelled as a youth began to crumple and contract, so that in the end there was scarcely anything left bigger than the grave they lowered him into, among familiar bones, the story about the death of the paterfamilias could end there, and it did because it was phoney, the paterfamilias is alive and happily playing with his first and only grandson, the son of his eldest son – my brother – who lives far from the warm sea and the hinterland, the paterfamilias combs tobacco and tells the boy swearwords he doesn’t yet understand, grabs him by his tiny new cock, and that was the only image left in my head after two afternoons in my parents’ full house, but the fear of death remains like a pole of darkness, he’s no paterfamilias at all but a classical male in the sinewy system of latent matriarchy, brought into the world to sow his seed while trying not to work up too much of a sweat on his bald head, and he would almost have succeeded if the first decade of the new millennium hadn’t caught him unprepared halfway along the journey to life’s end, at the height of his powers, it was determined to rob him of everything he thought he had a right to until the end of the only life he believed in, a decade that painted his bald head the colours of hypertension, a flag under which we sing yellow will mellow, red will be dead, he with his hand on constricted arteries, a flag always at half-mast in the spirit of grandmother’s revolution and contempt for death, the hand of hypertension blazoned a red question-mark on his forehead, to which no one has an answer, but a question mark to which the red father, by now a red grandfather, pays no attention, at least outwardly, two days at my parents’, two days with the smells of strawberries and lamb in honey sauce were enough for me to snatch the keys after the third breakfast and head from the hinterland for the water, the warm sea that the sun pisses in longer and longer every summer, but she goes and sits on the jagged rock and fries like an albino lizard, already wounded all over by freckles, she waits for new Cyclades of liver spots to calmly emerge, the lace of remaining healthy skin is offered up to the tooth of the sky to masticate and spit out into the scrub among the snake sloughs, she wants the complexion of a girl from the coast, so she offers the sun her unresistant continental skin served on a platter of rocks, with a salad of crabs and sea tomatoes, dressed with salt and oil, meat ready to fall apart young and tender, there were no swimmers near us, sometimes a body trudged along the path above, a man who always stared, hyenas peeled their pricks in the pinewood around us and waited for her to get up and show the relief of the rock on her flesh, I slowly hopped over snails into a patch of shade, yellow will mellow, red will be dead, the story of mother could only be told from the shore, the yellow materfamilias, the secret wish of us all that she mellow longer because the life of the red father brought into the world for his semen is not equipped for imminent death, mother mathematics, mother priestess of Sine, Cos and Tan, the August deity, before whom sweaty victims lay their young brains, the mother of all the months of the year and all the years in the life of one family, the transition generation of the socialist middle class, a family that only manages to be a dignified wreck with the aid of the mathematics mother, the never-proven theorem of poverty, the mother of all our birthdays and the bursting of linden flowers in May, small and yellow like the faces of Lilliputians, mother as the seen face of god, pain is the god of the mother-gyne, I said with the pain of a snail shell crushed underfoot do you see them when they go up as slimy as a peeled mango, and she said may an eared serpent bite off their dicks and spit them in their eyes so they go blind forever and so the eternal sun of the god Prostatitis burns through the hole they piss out of and down their legs, her teeth kept chewing the wrinkled skin pared from her fingers, her love of the world is a magnet, the only reason I still want to be here, to open the pink bud of pussy-love, do you love the sun, she said the Sun is all I love, the Sun the Sun the Sun, it warms us and gives life to the snails and slender fishes, to the grapes, apricots and peaches, gives melanomas to the pickers, colour to the grass and beetles, strokes to the thrombophiliacs, it fills the lungs of the desert, crushes us like a millstone, the sharp beak of a griffon vulture, it warms the island of Cres while the vulture flies over the world, while it feeds and fucks before returning and isling itself forever, old vultures make love over Cres until they die, until a wave too strong sweeps them away and the Sun never dries them again and other vultures eat them, I love that big drier in the sky and give it my thin skin, the row of her teeth flashed so bright as to blind the jellyfish under water, make the octopuses squirt ink and the fish lose their schools, her smile is the only happiness easy to look at, her face is beautiful without a smile, but only with that smile is it alive, briefly and just when she gets what she wants, she spoke the sunny words we’ll dry off and sail on and lay down on the roasting spit of the rocks, I lay down too, and we listened to the crickets absorbing the Sun with their green chirps (...) 


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