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from the March 2006 issue

from The Scent of Wheat

Monologue for the Stage

A Tragicomedy


Dedicated to a great poet, who understands that despite Sarajevo, life offers something more than death.


Darkness. In the distance the sound of airplanes is heard in ever increasing volume. The scream of sirens, shortly thereafter the sound of bombs pummeling the ground.

Noise, terrible noise. Suddenly silence.

Children's voices from off-stage.

Girl: I'm scared.

Boy: Scaredy-cat. It's already over. You don't need to be afraid any more.

Girl: Don't go away. Stay with me. Please . . . please . . . I'm so scared.

Boy: Alright, I'm not going anywhere.

Girl: Promise you won't ever leave when they come? Will you protect me, when they start shooting again? Promise me. Please promise, please . . .

Boy: OK

Girl: Promise?

Boy: Promise. I am a man, you know.

The theater gradually grows brighter. Izet is sitting at a table in the hotel bar. A book manuscript is on the table in front of him, next to it is a bottle of wine. He pours himself a glass and quickly drinks it down. He pours himself a second glass, the bottle is empty. It's noticeable that Izet has already had several glasses today. He looks around. With a heavy tongue.

Izet: What's with the wine? Can't someone see to it that there's always a full bottle here? Someone . . .

He stands up and gets a bottle of wine from the bar. He pours himself a full glass and drinks the whole thing quickly.

Hunh . . . ? Why is there no music? And a place like this calls itself a luxury hotel. Five thousand stars and no music.

And what's with the others? Already gone to bed? They can't take anything, these kids.

We old people have to hang on to our position. You drink and drink . . . and sacrifice yourself, and no one says thank-you.

Ironically. And they want to be delegates! Representatives of their countries! At the world congress of writers. On an earth-shattering topic: the role of the writer in war. Espirit maudit, the damned spirit. Confrontation with the cold war.

He puts a bottle to his mouth and speaks into it like a microphone.

War as videogame . . . blah . . . blah . . . blah . . .

He drinks from the bottle.

Excuse me, but these lectures give me the shits. I have to puke when an insignificant nobody gets up to the podium and starts carrying on in platitudes about peace and war.

Ironically. My dear esteemed writers....What do they know about war? What do they know about the feeling that you might get shot in the morning? They really have no idea what they are talking about!

What kind of part can a writer play in a war? Exactly the same one as during peace. Writing, carrying on about something, being fresh, pulling the masks of the bigwigs . . . I don't need any world congress to do that . . . And I certainly don't need this swanky hotel . . . with its marble bathrooms . . . the high and mighty . . . who are surprised . . .

Looking around and yelling. Waiter . . . !

. . . who are surprised that beans taste better to me than caviar.

Getting louder and more conspicuous. These hotels are only good for conformists. Remote controlled puppets . . . smiling masks . . . frozen faces.

Ironically. I kiss your hand, madam. Shall I see to your puppy?

We offer a special menu for your little darling . . . Poodle sausage with turkey wings on spinach dumplings . . . Oh my . . . ! It peed on me . . . the little monster . . .

Yup, writers feel good in such noble houses. They are spoiled, they get the feeling they're somebody. They're amiably greeted, they return the greeting amiably, they sing each others' praises on account of their non-sensical texts, they congratulate each other on their literature prizes, although they secretly . . .

Pointing to himself. . . . think that they're the only ones worthy of awards . . .

Performed amiably. Ah . . . good evening . . . nice to see you . . . your last novel was great . . . honestly . . . I really enjoyed it.

Grabbing a bottle cork and speaking to it. Oh, Herr Gospod, Monsieur, Sir! Pointing to the two bottles on the table With his beautiful escort.

Tell me, have you ever seen something of the like? A hotel bar and no music . . .

Laughing . . . . . . no music, no atmosphere and no one at the bar . . .

Grabs one of the bottles and speaks to it. Should we stick with the same thing? It was Riesling . . . I think. Drinks from the bottle. Oh, it's the wrong one . . . Grabs the second bottle and drinks from it. Pours a glassful and sips from it too.

The wine tastes good. Wines from this region are excellent. Did you know that? Especially the white wine . . . but even the red has its qualities . . . but I . . .

Lights a cigarette, inhales and exhales with great satisfaction. . . . prefer the white.

Lifts a bottle cork from the floor and speaks to it while getting up a little bit from the chair.

May I sit down here . . . ? Silence. Forgive me . . . Is that spot open?

Sits down heavily. Thanks, very nice of you.

Coughing. I think we've seen each other before. No? At the lectures. Do they interest you? Well, to be honest, what I like best are the interpreters. Most of all . . .

Laughing. . . . the one in the miniskirt.

Laughing harder. . . . and the legs that just won't stop . . .

Pours a glassful of wine. Music at the bar. Pleasant dance music. Allow me to introduce myself . . . My name is Izet . . . no, not Begovic . . . Not every Bosnian Izet is simply Izet Begovic. And even if that were true, the same name doesn't make a person the same . . . We're all different. You know, the name . . . Ah . . . it's just a name . . . and nothing else. It doesn't mean anything other than . . .

Pause. I am a poet. A folk-poet.

Reaching for the manuscript. This'll be my new book. The sixteenth. The publisher is already waiting impatiently for it. He'll have to wait. I'll give him the manuscript only when I'm ready to. I'm finally past the times when I had to chase after a publisher. Now they chase after me and beg for a few pieces.

He shows it. If I could get it together I'd quit writing. I don't want to have to deal with these windbags who make literature out of trifles.

I don't want to be compared with them.



Don't ask me such non-sense! I write poems . . . I write poems . . . because I write poems. Period and basta! I've been writing poetry my whole life.

I can't do anything else . . . And people read my poems. That's the only thing that counts.

Izet hums the melody from "Stojí vojak na varte." He sways to the rhythm and looks around. He tries with all his might to be in good spiritst. He holds the wine glass in one hand, in the other a burning cigarette. My best friends. Nic-ohol and Alc-otine.

He laughs. Here come the good spirits . . .

My hand is trembling a bit, but the glass, I can still hold the glass and my cigarette too. The doctor can say what he wants, but he can't deny me pleasure altogether.

Speaking to the cigarette in his hand. What Nic?

Singing loudly and wildly gesticulating with his hands.

Stojí vojak na varte, na varte, V roztrhanom kabáte, kabáte, Rosa na nho padala, padala, Od vecera do rána, do rána.

Tralalala, tralalala, tralalalala . . . tralalalala . . . tralalala . . .

Well, does being with an old drunk embarrass you? Fine, I'm going.

He motions to get up, but remains sitting. He puts his right hand on his chest, the left hand he raises up in an oath. I swear . . . Noticing the error. Now now . . . Slowly he shifts his hands-the left over his heart, the right in the air. I swear that I won't annoy you all anymore . . . That I won't humiliate you . . .

That's what Maria always wants from me too. My wife. I have to promise her that I won't humiliate her. But is it humiliating if there's a little singing? What does it matter? I'm in a good mood today . . .

Sings and dances in his seat L' úbi cigán cigánku, cigánku v tom zelenom zupánku, zupánku a cigánka cigána, cigána od vecera do rána, do rána. Tralalala, tralalala, tralalalalalala . . . tralalala, tralalala, tralalalalalalaala . . .

That isn't a Bosnian song . . . I'm singing all mixed up today . . . It's . . . let me think . . . I believe . . . it has to be some Slavic tune.

I learned it somewhere in the war . . . not in ours . . . it was the Hitler war . . . Everybody met up there . . . the Serbs, Croats, Slavs, Bosnians and the Poles. The French were there too. They fought with us and then against us.

He mimics shooting a gun, first from one side, then from the other. It was like that back then. Normal for the time. Crazy, no? At the beginning our soldiers ran in one direction . . . with the Germans against the Russians . . . then they came back with the Russians against the Germans . . . In the end, no one knew who was enemy and who wasn't. I was still a boy, twelve, fourteen years old . . . but I can still remember the chaos.

A young Dutchman was living at my grandmother's at the time. Hans. We played Canasta a lot . . . he taught me how . . .

Considering. To this day I don't know if he was an enemy or a friend . . .

Gazes melancholically, speaks to the bottles on the table. That's a sharp looking lady escorting you. Really. And so slender.

Laughing. When I was a young as you are I had a girlfriend too. She looked almost just like yours. But her hair-do was a bit different. Stylish for back then.

Demonstrating. Up in front there was more missing and shorter at the neck. And on one side the hair was tucked behind her ear . . . She had such wonderful little ears . . . but your date is really very sharp too. Very sharp. And so slender.

Laughing. Even if I'm old, I can still tell the difference between what is beautiful and what isn't.

Pondering. My Maria was just as beautiful once.

Pulls his wallet from his pants' pocket and takes a few photos in hand. My Maria . . . A vivacious woman full of energy. Good at work, affectionate in bed, just as it should be.

Wildly enthusiastic She was so warm, you can't even imagine, how pleasantly warm she was as a young woman . . . and how she smelled of freshly harvested wheat . . . lying beside her is where I belong. It's like being in a nest with her, my Maria . . . and her scent of wheat . . .

We have a daughter . . . a splendid young woman and I am proud of her.

Second Photo. Whispering. She is a professor at the university. And her husband too. They teach very important things which I know nothing about. But that doesn't matter, there also have to be idiots in this world. Why shouldn't I be one of them?

Proudly and a bit ironically.

Both of them are so clever . . . much too clever for me. Really I don't have anything against the chicks teaching the rooster . . . when they have something to teach. And they do . . . at least they think they do . . .

Third Photo. Lana. My granddaughter.

Smiling. His head droops to the side and in an exceptionally sad voice But life really is beautiful. I do enjoy it. Really. Despite everything I am happy to be alive.

The floor lights change, Izet is back in reality and trying to be happy. Loud and shrill. I am happy by nature. I don't ever complain-not a bit. Sarajevo? Ph. . . ! I can handle all that stuff with no problem!

Singing. Tralalala . . .

He notices the fourth photo in his hand. Terrible thoughts of a siege come over him again. Quiet. Razija. My sister. She wrote poems too. Good ones. The kind that go straight to your heart. I loved reading them. But since then I haven't touched them.

Goes to the position hereafter referred to as "window." He is excited and moved. I was standing at the window . . . They said that the war was important. Important for purity. Ethnic purity. Now they're all pure. The Serbs and the Croats . . . as pure as the blood on their hands.

I was standing at the window . . . Razija had just left our house. She and Maria had spent the afternoon mending clothes . . .

I was standing at the window . . . keeping an eye to escort Razija home, she always wanted it to be like that, even as a little girl she was scared of the dark and I, her big brother . . .

He swallows. . . . am standing at the window . . . Razija leaves the house . . . she's only taken a few steps . . . she hasn't made it to her house . . . Everything happened so fast. I can't even remember hearing the shot. Suddenly she was lying on the street, blood flowing from her head and I stood at the window thinking it's all a movie, a bad movie, and not real. In reality Razija is at home translating a trashy Italian novel so that she can earn a little money.

Don't waste your talent, I told her then, but she wanted it like that . . . a publisher offered her the work, the pay was horrible and not even literature at that . . . trash, really . . . she did it only for the money.

Turning away from the audience and crying quietly. The light brings him back to reality. His crying turns to laughter. He slowly returns to the table. Shrill and loud. Well, am I spoiling your good mood? I didn't mean to. Really. We were trying to have a good time today and I'm the old ass spoiling the conversation.

I've come here to forget. Such meetings can be wonderfully distracting. Did you all know that nothing in the world is more distracting than spending a few days in a luxury hotel? With golden faucets, bedding changed daily and sumptuous buffets?

And wine. A lot of wine. I can handle enough wine to drink all of you under the table. That's something that I can actually do . . . hit the booze hard and still stand straight up . . . Someone should try to do what I do. Handling all that wine, and still standing up straight.

Posing and reciting. What can I do when I grow old and gray . . .

Murmuring the verse again What can I do when I grow old and gray . . . Considers, then flips through the manuscript on the table, finding the sought-out poem. Reading. What can I do when I am (emphasized) old and gray I can only go to the cemetery and find a plot . . .

Grimacing. Is that a poem?

Crumples the sheet of paper and looks around for a wastebasket. Finding none, he casually throws the poem under the table. He pulls a handkerchief from his pants' pocket. Poems are written all over it. Izet selects an appropriate passage and reads.

In surviving, I am helped by the poems, and ten to fifteen people, average, holy people from Sarajevo whom I barely knew before the war.

The state has also shown a certain understanding

for my needs, but whenever I knocked on its door, it was absent -

He spreads open the handkerchief on the table and continues writing, murmuring to himself. either in Geneva, or in New York.

He murmurs through the entire poem, loudly at the end.

either in Geneva or in New York.

Yes! Even a piece of fabric is entitled to a bit of poetry . . . Nothing is safe around me. I write everywhere and on anything that I manage to get . . . cloth napkins, table-cloths, shirts . . . humans have to write on something when there's no paper.

Once I wrote a poem on the belly of a beautiful woman . . . it was at a lake . . . and her bikini was very tight.

He giggles.

It was a very long poem, stretching from the bikini-top to the bottom . . . if it were up to me, the poem would have stretched down to the ankles, but her friend just about knocked me out.

He folds up the handkerchief and puts it away again. How I used to flirt with woman. As a young man of twenty, twenty-five . . . My God . . . A wink here, a wink there . . . sometimes when I felt cocky I pinched their asses . . . and they behaved as though they had something against it . . . but they didn't. You can tell. Quite the contrary. They liked it. They winked and then they slapped me one for the sake of decency.

High-handed. I was king of the dance floor numero uno in Sarajevo! The girls literally tore their hair out when I couldn't dance with them . . . or didn't want to. But it didn't happen for everybody . . .

He laughs. Whispering. And I was selective too. Of course I couldn't tell them that. Or would one of them understand if I said 'I won't dance with you 'cause you've got a big ass . . . or . . . your breath reeks'?

But really I loved women all too much. Really. I respected them and I still do. Because I believe that a woman is the better human being. It's the truth. A woman is more valuable than a man. Solely because of her ability to give birth, a man can't hold a candle to her. And then love . . . Women love differently than men, more intensely, more genuinely. Their love comes from the depths of the soul, not like ours, from the depths of the pants.

Pondering. Should I ever return to the world . . . I would like to be a woman . . .

Laughing. Me . . . a woman. Izet . . . a woman! Just imagine that . . . Speaking to the bottles again. Cute, your girl-friend. Very cute. And so slender. She fits you well. You continually caress her hand and under the table you're rubbing her knee . . . I can see it . . . something like that doesn't escape me. I see what I want to see . . .

How old do you think I am? You can just tell me the truth. I don't care. Time can't be halted. You can't say to the moment: linger a while, you are so beautiful . . . the moment would be quite generous . . . if it only lasted a few seconds longer, I could almost be happy. Sadly that doesn't happen.

Sometimes I believe that I've already gone mad. There are many indications which speak in favor of this. Some people make the "cuckoo" sign when they see me (i.e. the index finger is rotated near the temple). But I don't make too much out of this. They are to have their fun. They have their life and I mine.

Pointing to his chest. But . . . so much is piled up inside. One memory chases the other in my head. Like on a roller-coaster.

Goes to the "window." It frightens me how much I remember. And at other times I think to myself that I haven't even lived . . . that everything that's happened until now was only a preparation for life. A waiting room.

Screaming I'm waiting and waiting . . . But when will life finally begin? Today, tomorrow . . . or in a hundred years . . . ?

Folk-poet! It's also a kind of anesthesia, my dear friend, mingling with others in order to outwit your own loneliness. But you can only fool others, never yourself. Did you know that? Our subconscious is not as dumb as we believe. It doesn't let itself be fooled . . .

The memory returns. Once when we were children we found a cave. A black, mysterious cave. Ice cold and creepy. Wandering through the long, narrow tunnels with a flashlight looking for secret treasures gave us chills

Razija thought we had gotten lost and started to cry.

She was so scared . . . and then I took her by the hand and lead her to the way out. I promised her then, that . . .

Faltering. Now she lied on the street with blood flowing from her head. My wife screamed and someone on the street was screaming for help and I was still standing at the window trying not to comprehend what had happened. Maria pulled on my sleeve and dragged me out of the house. A few neighbors had gathered around my sisterand were praying.

Breathing difficultly. Even outside, I still didn't understand what had happened. I took Razija's head in my hands and lifted it a bit. It was heavy and warm from blood.

Crying. She gazed at me with wide-open eyes, as though she wanted to say don't leave me alone, come with me a little ways, my big brother, be my guardian, like back when we were still children . . .

Resigned. The war outwitted me. The old fox . . . It made a fool of me . . .

Returning to the table. Resolute. And so I have to drown it.

Confused, with heavy tongue. My problem is just that the scoundrel has learned how to swim. And even if I drink too much, it swims to the surface and grins at me. I then I have to drink even more . . . and even more . . .

Energetically. . . . until it doesn't stir anymore.


Wine is the best thing that could've happened to me in life. Because there's truth in wine. If you want to find it, you have to drink a lot. At least as much, as I do.

Standing up. Look, I'm not even swaying at all. I'm as stable as a keg. The more I drink, the more stable I become.

Singing groggily-almost roaring the melody.

Kad ja podoh na Bendbasu, na Bendbasu na vodu ja povedoh, bijelo jagne bijelo jagnje sa sobom...

That's a very tragic song, but you have to sing it pleasantly, only then does it calm the heart . . . I love tragic songs. Tragic songs have something affirmative to them . . . Something that lets you say-in spite of everything, I'm going to do it . . . even if everyone gets all bent out of shape

Yelling. Humor is the best antidote to tragedy. You have to use it to fight tragedy. It's paradox that affects the soul most deeply. The hand of fate strikes, and you don't bow to it. Instead you bare your teeth. There's nothing in the world that an enemy hates more than a laughing mouth. Even if it has to be toothless . . . but laughing . . . with head held high.

Bellowing. Haha . . . Haha . . . Haha.

Pause-Izet sits. Motionless and quiet. I'm a clown . . . and it's because of that that no one knows who I am. I'm always laughing and they don't know if I'm enjoying myself or suffering.

Pondering. The politicians signed their papers, everybody shook each other's hand.

With disgust. He spits. . . . pfui . . . some of them even kissed . . .

Yelling. . . . but the peace is only on paper. Only on paper. But they shouldn't try to pull anything on us. Here . . . Pointing to his head. Strenuously. . . . the rage goes on. Every day and every night. Without exception. The bombers and sirens are still there. Every day and every night.

Pulling the hair away from his forehead Do you see the scar here? Fourteen centimeters long. From one temple to the other.

Whispering They wanted to amputate my brain. I know they were planning something like that. They wanted to amputate all our everything. They turn us into brainless dummies who are happy with anything

He stands and goes to the middle of the stage. Louder. This scar is my secret war decoration.Others wear medals on their chests and I wear a piece of torn up skin on my forehead. So that everyone can see it. So now someone'll always be asking himself-where did he get that? No one chooses to get his head marked like that voluntarily. He must've deserved it. A scar like that had to involve violence.

Seen in this way, my forehead is a object on exhibit, and many foreheads like mine are a gallery of cruelty.

Yelling. Everybody show us your foreheads, show us where they hurt you! People, uncover your mutilated body parts and display them now. Like red exclamation marks on the declaration of peace that isn't real.

He massages his forehead. Less movement. It was a splinter from a mortar, just that . . . without any special reason. Not that I'm bad . . . not that at all . . . I'm Bosnian and that's reason enough to shoot mortars at me.

He goes to the table and sits down. Louder again. The war still remains deep inside. Like a parasite it gnaws its way into my brain

Its teeth are sharp . . . you can't escape its claws. If you ever have a parasite like that in your head, it's not easy on you. It's like a schizophrenic twin who forces you to its will. I probably won't get rid of it until I die it'll follow me to my grave and there it'll keep whispering things to me . . .

You can't ever have a more personal commemoration of the war. Whenever I look into the mirror I'm reminded of that. And do you know what I do to counter it?

Laughing bitterly. I shave . . .

Pause. . . . with no mirror. Just like that. It's my private revenge. Sometimes I cut myself and bleed, but it's only a little cut . . . completely harmless . . .

Rubbing his forehead. . . . not at all comparable with the one up here. Such a little cut with the raiser-blade . . . sometimes inspires me to sinful thoughts . . .

Slowly. A small cut . . . at the right place . . .

Pointing to his neck. . . . deep down into the flesh. With a lot of blood and drama. A going-away present for this world.

Burst of laughter. But I won't give them the pleasure. Not I. Or my name isn't Izet . . .

Loud. I survived Sarajevo and I'll survive my scar and the bombs in my head. Because I will it.

Stressed. He who survived Sarajevo is immortal. I'm not just saying that . . . It's right. He who has gone through hell has nothing more to fear in this life. Nothing can happen to him. For death can't be as cruel as hell.

Silence. Then quietly. I would never wish such a battle on you like we had then, really I wouldn't, but a bit of poverty wouldn't do any harm. I'm convinced of it. Poverty makes you noble, hunger-creative . . . When you can feel it for days, you hate it, but afterwards you value the first bite of bread more than you realize . . . Bread is worth more than gold, more than all the jewels in the world . . . Bread is life . . .

Children, Children, Children . . . You don't know what huger means. I've seen it in the dining room. You just pick around and send half the order back to the kitchen. At dinner today I ate as much by myself as I did during the entire battle. And it was a long one.

I was so hungry then . . . that I couldn't stand on my legs. Just skin and bones.

If we had only had the leftovers back then . . . just what the hotel cooks throw into the Dumpster behind the kitchen . . . But we didn't have anything at all.

Pause. Wait! The stuffing from the mattresses! Horsehair softened and cooked, chopped finely and salted or sugared according to taste . . . It always expanded in your mouth, you could only choke it down with a lot of water.

Actually we weren't anything but concentration camp prisoners. Shut up in our own city.

We didn't dare drive into the country . . . where the Tschetniks were . . . the rapists. The violators of Bosnian women.

Hatefully. They put bastards into the women as a reminder of their power. Serbian bastards inside the guts of Bosnian women . . . the womb as a storage place for the sons of those low-breeds. That's masculinity . . . producing a child by violence and hate. Only a monster can do that!

Goes to the window. Yelling. They had their chance. They made a decision. The Serbs. And the Croatians too. They had their chance and what did they do with it? They annihilated a homeland for everybody. I'll no longer sit at the table with enemies. Those time are over. For good.

Yelling; his voice cracking. I lost my sister in a senseless war that I never understood!

Pause. Then quietly but excited. We carried Razija into the house and laid her on the bed. Her body slowly lost heat, rigor mortis distorted her face.

She lay on the bed in the bedroom. Maria and I spent the night on a cot in the kitchen, so that Razija could be comfortable. As long as she was with us, as long as we hadn't buried her, she was to feel comfortable in our house. As always.

We needed a doctor. A doctor for someone dead. A doctor fill out the death certificate so that we could bury Razija. We needed a doctor for a dead person in the bombed out city of Sarajevo, in a city where there weren't enough doctors for the living . . . for the injured, the crippled.

Pause. The doctor came three days later and officially confirmed that Razija was dead. Her corpse reeked sweetly of decay, I'll never forget the smell. In the war, in the Hitler-war, I had also smelled it a few times, but within your own four walls its really something else.

Moaning. My little sister . . . I was supposed to look out for . . .

Falling silent. Then quietly. Do you believe in God? Or in Allah? Do you believe that he really exists . . . the great Lord with the white beard who watches over us? Do you believe that if he really exists . . . I wouldn't want to blaspheme, but it really is peculiar . . . Have you sometimes had such thoughts? About justice, meaning and nonsense about what God does all day long . . . If he protects everybody or just some, chosen ones . . . his darling children . . .

They say that he loves us all. And that he's watching us all. Always and everywhere. Do you believe that?

Getting louder. But where was he when we needed him damn it? Where was he, as thousands of us were dying . . . ? Starving . . . Where was he when we needed him . . . begging him to help us?

Pause. Quiet. Have you ever seen the victim of a landmine? I mean in reality, not on television. On television everything looks like a game. Someone dies and in the next movie he's back again. Maybe in a comedy. And you folks think that's so normal. Everyone shot down gets up again. Again and again and again.

None of that is genuine. It's only a game, an amusing game with actors that can be put into different rolls at will.

Loud. But that's not how it is, my dear friend. Reality, the really real is totally different. Can you imagine how the stump of an upper thigh bleeds? What a shattered bone looks like? With all the splinters and shredded tendons? Or a squashed brain on the pavement . . . ?

It looks like puke. I'm telling you. Like puke. Nothing more and nothing less. A brain on the pavement, everything comes to an end. The human being is degraded to puke. That's as far as we've come at the door slab of the third millennium. A human being is no more and no less than puke on the pavement.

Where were God, Allah and the others, when we were being annihilated? Where were all these respected Lords when they finally had the option to prove that they really exist? That belief is not only the invention of fear, but of spirit instead. Where were these spirits hiding while we were looking death in the face?

He yells, his voice cracking. Were they just on vacation . . . in Miami perhaps . . . or maybe they couldn't have cared less about us . . . we don't matter in the slightest . . . He makes a half-turn and falls to the floor. He stands with great difficulty and goes to the chair on wobbly legs. He supports himself on the back-rest. He inhales in deep breaths and tries to collect himself. Pause. So . . . I had the death certificate. I had to bury Razija. The cemetery lay far behind the city.

Since the war began my car had been without gas . . . Just a scrap heap and nothing else . . . Normal for the times . . . .Practically every car in Sarajevo was just a scrap heap . . . The gas stations were empty, and gas was only distributed to military vehicles . . . But with no gas the trip wasn't possible. So what to do? Walk? Carrying someone who is dead on my back . . . ? I was desperate.

Loudly. Goddamn it all, someone has to turn up who can give one or two liters of gasoline so that I can bury my dead sister. Doesn't it mean anything that I'm a famous poet?

That would be funny! I haven't written odes to my homeland for nothing. God damn it all! The countless boozed up evenings I've gone through with politicians must be good for something!

Come on already! On the fourth day the treasury secretary brought me a plastic cola bottle full of gasoline. It contained two liters. Two priceless liters of gasoline. We emptied it together into the tank of my ancient Lada, and for a while-it was more like an eternity-we tried to get the crank to turn over and then a miracle happened. The rusty cylinders and spark-plugs came to life. The carburetor rattled, the fan belt ran like it was oiled, the motor purred reliably.

I laid Razija wrapped up in a blanket on the back seat.


No . . . ! I didn't have a coffin. No one in Sarajevo had one . . . . That's just the way it was.

Quietly. I dug the grave . . . Razija laid in the grass awaiting her final bed. We were alone. Maria stayed at home, lit all the candle stumps that we had, shaded all the windows and prayed. She prayed to a god that she didn't believe in anymore.

She prayed . . . I dug.

The shovel was dull. Hours passed until the grab was deep enough. Blood was flowing from the calluses on my hands, mixing in with the yellow-brown of the earth. A peculiar mix of color-blood and earth-life and death.

Pause. When the grave was deep enough I lifted Razija from the grass. I took care going down with her into the pit. I placed a pillow beneath her head. Dobro spávaj-sleep well-was embroidered on it with light blue thread in cross-stitching.

My younger sister lay in the grave and I climbed out of the hole with my last drop of energy and tried to figure out what sort of ceremony I could arrange in honor of my sister. A mass of my own design.

I drank a whole bottle of wine on her grave, the appropriate thing for a proven drinker to do. I kept the bottle special purposes . . . This was a special purpose . . . It couldn't have been more special.

He goes to the table, lights a candle and brings it to the place referred to as "window." He places the candle on the floor-the spot now symbolizes the grave. Singing beautifully and full of feeling.

Kad ja podoh na Bendbasu na Bendbasu na vodu, ja povedoh, bijelo jagne, bijelo jagne sa sobom . . .

Sve devojke Bendbasanke na kapiji stajahu samo moja, mila, draga na demizli pendzeru . . . hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm . . .

Razija loved this song . . . I owed it to her . . . we knew it from our parents. Our mother sang it so beautifully . . . He is silent for a while, then he goes to the chair and supports himself on the back-rest. Bravely. I didn't cry. I didn't cry out of spite. A Bosnian doesn't cry. He's proud unto death . . . unto his own . . .

On the way home the Lada was coughing like a dog with rickets . . . it coughed, spit up . . . and quit.

He pushes the chair into the middle of the stage. I had to push it into the parking spot. But I was home.

I went into Razija's house. The translation of the Italian novel that she had been working on in was laying on her desk . . . two hundred and seventy pages long.

Taking the manuscript from the desk. I hated this novel and I hated that she wasn't allowed to finish it . . .

Climbing onto the chair and throwing the unbound pages into the air. I took the two hundred and seventy pages in my hand . . . and threw them out the window.

Look how they fly so nicely. Like leaves in the fall . . . Just paper . . . worthless paper! Who cares what's written on it? My poems, your poems . . . it's all just hot air. Words, words, words . . . nothing but words!

The thoughts of a deranged poet. Of a poet who isn't all together. Somehow everyone says so, that I don't have all my cups in the cupboard . . . But, so what? Does everyone have to have all their cups in the cupboard? I don't . . . and maybe you don't either . . . and you? My cups are somewhere . . . Who cares where they are? I don't care the least of all.

Silence. Then quietly. My wife saw what I had done and ran after the lose pages which the wind was carrying away. It looked perversely funny . . . Like a parody in ballet. An old woman chasing after flying sheets of paper . . . bent over . . . jumping . . . .all the while her skirt fluttered like a flag . . .

He climbs down from the chair and turns his back to the audience while playing the woman. Loudly. Have you gone mad . . . ? Someone will translate the missing chapter and we'll get money for it . . . Money for bread and milk . . . You don't know what you're doing . . .

He slowly collects the pages. She collected the white pieces of paper while continuously bending down to the floor and scolding me. She doesn't do that a lot, I really hit the jackpot with her, but on that day she really let me have it. She was very angry with me.

But it didn't matter to me at the moment. I took the pages from her hand and went into the house. Before she could even say anything, I through the pile into the fire.

All that remains is ashes.

He pulls the handkerchief with the poems on it from his pants pocket, uses it to wipe the sweat off his brow, sits down and lays the the handkerchief over his face like a shroud. Except for death I've experienced everything. I could pass through any land, I could still make a friend, I could (why not?) receive some medal,

He takes the handkerchief from his face and reads the text on it. (that would be the first medal in my life), but all in all I've already experienced everything except death.

The one thing that holds me to this life is that I don't harm those whom I love and who love me by leaving. He throws the handkerchief at the bottles on the table- his companions in loneliness. There, a gift. It's my poems. From my head . . . Laying his left hand on his heart and . . . and from my heart. his right hand on his forehead. Thoughts from a chaotic poet.

Maybe you all will think of me. About the old fool who spoiled your fine evening.

He stands up. I'll go.

Smiling to himself. An old man has to get sufficient rest. But I would like to say one thing more to you . . . think of it when you're loving your girlfriend tonight . . .

He kisses the cork while re-corking the bottle with it. I was once young too . . . and . . . I loved women as well . . . I still love them. My Maria . . . 1What would I be without her? Tomorrow I'll come home . . . after this meeting of poets . . . and get into bed with her . . . in our nest . . . and when I smell the scent of wheat, when I can really smell it . . . then I know . . . I am at home . . .

Izet exits in slow steps. Dark. From off-stage the mother's voice singing the song.

Kad ja podoh na Bendbasu, na Bendabsu na vodu, ja povedoh, bijelo jagne, bijelo jagnje sa sobom.

Sve devojke, Bendbasanke na kapiji stajahu, samo moja, mila, draga na demizli pendzeru.

hmmmm... hmmm... hmmmm

The End

Poems: Izet Sarajlic (Bosnia)

Songs: Stojí vojak na varte (a Slovakian folksong)

Kad ja podoh na Bendbasu (a Bosnian folksong)

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