prose

Zoran Pilić: No Harm From Them

Zoran Pilić was born in 1966 in Zagreb. He was chosen by the European-wide literary project, Literary Europe Live, as one of their Ten New Voices of Europe in 2016. He has written two novels and several collections of short stories, one of which was turned into a play (Doggiestyle (2007)). The Croatian Ministry of Culture named his novel, Đavli od papira (2012) (Paper Devils), one of the best novels of 2012. His collection of short stories, Nema slonova u Meksiku (2014) (There Are No Elephants in Mexico) was also recognized by the Ministry of Culture as one of the best books in 2014. Pilić won the European Short Story Festival prize in 2015 with his story Kad su Divovi hodali zemljom (When Giants Walked the Earth). He has also published the novel Krimskrams (2009) and a collection of poetry, Dendermonde (2013). His short stories have been translated into English, German, Macedonian and Spanish.

Read Pilić's short story, No Harm From Them, below. Translation by Tomislav Kuzmanović.



 

Written by Zoran Pilić

Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović

***

I need no sorrow getting its grip on me, not now, I think, and it’s already too late. I fall into the trap of my own mind, which recognizes the favorable conditions and materializes on its own into a demon that has no problem finding the shortest path to my heart and then opens the first few wounds with its sharp claws.

I snap out of it and grab my black bag with four poorly sawn white lines, which, even a fool could tell, show that it’s an Adidas knockoff; it too has somehow withdrawn into itself, broken in two as if there’s nothing valuable in it nor could ever be. Yet the bag is not to blame, but the misery, hundreds and hundreds of years of pain and misery that for generations deposited in our blood like oil under dead layers of soil, under skeletons of mammoths, of princes and of paupers, under the skeletons of Gastarbeiter in Germany.

I walk slowly on the black asphalt, between thick, yellow lines, I follow the same path that countless columns of my quiet countrymen followed as if, each and every one of them, going to the scaffolds and not into a completely different, better life. And when somewhere up there, through the ancient domes of Hauptbahnof, my first dawn in the foreign land is slowly breaking, my father comes to my mind. Is it possible, father, could it be, that all this was destined for us a long time ago?

The world has changed, it no longer looks like itself, but we, well, we’re still running away from something: from misery and wars, from small, overcrowded countries, towns and villages, where everyone knows everyone else, we’re running away to a place where a man can hide from others and from himself, we’re running away from injustice and despair, but not only from that, we’re running away from our friends and from our foes, from the dead and from the living, from thievery, we’re running away from hatred as much as from love, from insomnia, debts, revenge, knives and concentration camps, from stinking bars where we spend our every God given day and night drinking coffee by the gallons so our blood too must have gone black, and if you at least run away from all that coffee, you’ll get a feeling that you’ve done something with your life, we’re running away from indifference, from madness that’s so contagious in our midst and it emanates left and right, except that its rays are invisible, we’re also running away, it seems to me sometimes, because it’s in our blood to run.

You, father, grew up in the world without colors. You say it isn’t so, but even I remember that the first colors appeared in the early seventies, maybe back in 1974 when Katalinski, in Frankfurt, scored a goal against the Spaniards, before that people lived in a black-and-white world. I’m sure it was better than it is now, in color. I remember it well, the sun was glisteningly white, the river transparent or, come winter, as murky as a plowed field, and the pearl was black and that was its name – Black Pearl. It stood on that rickety table, and somewhere to the side or perhaps on the bottom shelf of that slim-legged table, which today, well, reminds me of sad creatures from Somewhere I Belong, the video by Linkin Park, we kept a heavy wooden box with a switch. The stabilizer – that was its name. You turn on the stabilizer and in some ten minutes a black-and-white image appears. A miracle, a miracle of television.

At the time of your youth, the sky was closer to the earth, and the wealthier gentlemen wore sable fur hats, heavy, ribbed gabardine coats, and they kissed the ladies’ hands and addressed them with “madam”, or all that belongs to some other time and space?

Germany didn’t sit well with me from the very beginning. I’ll admit that to you. It didn’t, by God it didn’t, and as I walk slowly through this giant station, my own steps terrify me. They echo as if I’m in a cathedral, everything is, you know, ominous, and at the same time clean, polished, oiled. And if you happen to find a crumbled scrap of paper or something, there comes a guy with a waste cart, slinks in from somewhere silently as a snake, picks it up in a blink of an eye and moves on, simply disappears. Spotless, all of it, no question about it, but only on the surface. When I look a bit deeper, when I peer into that darkness yawning at the farthest corner, at the place where, if this were a real cathedral, beautifully carved confessionals would stand, it appears before me, I see someone’s yellow eyes glaring in the dark, I hear a whisper, as if the leaves or Necromancer’s cape is rustling. Ah, no harm from them, I comfort myself, these are all carnivores whose nature is not to heedlessly pounce upon their pray, they wait until it wanders into their cobweb on its own, and this always happens, sooner or later. The strategy of a spider sitting in the dark. Not even the cleaners venture there. That’s a country unto itself, a land of ancient hunters, a waiting room between two worlds – that one that’s vanishing and this one that’s only just showing itself in the distance.

Drunks, swindlers, pickpockets, shoeblacks, hookers and beggars do what they do and they’re easy to recognize, but there are others. Those who talk among themselves, or who appear to be waiting for someone, who stare into passengers’ faces, get up on their toes, crane their thin, pale necks careful not to miss on even the farthest carriages, and who then slink back into their coats and scarfs not hiding their disappointment because that someone hasn’t come and they’ve been waiting for years, but one special day will dawn and at that precise hour – that someone will come and they will be there to meet him. You see, the thought flutters through my mind like a frightened bird, you see that life is unrelentingly passing by these people who are all waiting in vain, you see that they are turning their heads away from the truth; nowhere on this whole earth of ours you can better feel the relentless arrow of time than at places such as this one, so vast and sad.

Come on, drop that foolishness, apparitions and empty words. There, now, after I’ve made this, as people say, the most radical move, perhaps things will really get going for me. So, father, could this be the meaning of life, to start from scratch, here at the heart of Europe, in the land of milk and honey, get a good German car, perhaps a two or three years old Audi, and then, come summer, head down to that seaside of ours, and what fucking sea it is, as if other countries don’t have a sea, they do, all of them do, the Greeks, the French, the Italians, even the Germans have it, except that theirs is cold, good for nothing. I’d love to see the Caribbean once. Visit Jamaica, relax and such. I’m not the worst man in the world, am I?! Maybe the sun will shine on me once too. 

 

Read the rest of the story here 

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