Eqrem Basha


Sarajevske Sveske br. 34

translated from Albanian by Sazana Çapriqi

If what happened made you think that it was all to be expected and that one day my fog obsession would certainly bring about this kind of outcome, you are wrong.
You may say that I have set about to tell you a fantastic event, a story from the dark hemisphere of a distorted consciousness, to bring out of the turbulent depths of sub-consciousness, something like a twilight zone, that lives in obscurity and other similar facades. So, what! My preoccupation, or call it what you wish: my passion and my fog obsession, is neither new nor recent and it can be traced through my coming of age. But in spite of how strong it used to be, with time it faded away and was cleared out. More so, that former vertigo in greyish pillars of smoke and in its pleats of secrecy is not at all similar; it is not even close to what I want to tell you. Anyway, it had been a while now that I had not written any verse, not even a single line with fog and it seemed as if I had overcome the fervour wrapped in mysterious threads and therefore what came about, among other things, showed up at a dry period, at the time of my general indifference and indolence, when I’d spent the day laying flat on my back dawdling, engaging in futile conversation and dialogues about chaff, about straw, the tail of the fox and the legs of the snake, with tedious television shows, with fake news and naive filthy intrigues that made me shiver, aggravating the acidity in my stomach and raising my already high and boiling blood pressure.
And again, it was foggy the day when the police stopped me on the road.
- “Where are you going?” they said.
- “To work,” I answered.
- “What kind of work in the middle of the night?”
- “It is seven o’clock,” I said and through the fog I tried to take out my pocket watch pulling it up along with the loop of my trousers.
- “Don’t move,” shouted one of them and taking a step backward he pointed the barrel of his submachine gun at me, ready to shoot. The other had also taken a step back to the side and just like the first one had pointed the barrel of his submachine gun and put his finger on the trigger, ready to shoot.
For a moment I froze and dropped the watch out of my hand with its lid open, which remained hanging down its long chain up to my knees.
- “Take two steps back,” ordered the policeman that was pointing his gun after he had inserted the bullet into the barrel.
Without having recovered myself fully I tried to bend down in an attempt to catch my watch that was dangling open by my knee, but his second shout paralysed me in an almost bowed position, so hunched like that I first took half a step back and then another one to the edge of the pavement where I slipped and fell flat on my back. The other policeman had sneaked behind me with lightning speed and stepped with his heavy boot on my hand, that even while falling had amazingly managed to catch the watch with its lid open. The heavy heel hurt me a lot and I yelled until I felt his stench close to my face. While he was trying to take my wallet and its content out of the pocket of my jacket he almost strangled me by pressing his knee on my throat and at the same time throwing the heavy smell of alcohol into my larynx. I had a little bit of luck here because the first thing he found was my identity card. The policeman kicked my wallet with his boot and looked closely at my ID.
- “Where do you work,” asked the one who had stepped on my hand.
- “At the newspaper” I answered while still lying on the ground with my hand under the boot of the policeman.
- “What newspaper, there are no newspapers anymore;” he shouted, never taking his eyes off of my ID.
- “At our newspaper,” I barely managed to say, just to try something that might save me from the pain in my hand and from the edge of the pavement that was hurting my back.
After having inspected all my other pockets very carefully, the policeman searched my body by touching my waist, thighs and crotch and finally released my hand and moved away.
- “Get up!” ordered the other who had by now lowered the barrel of his submachine gun and moved out of his ready to shoot position. – “What kind of newspaper starts work at twelve o’clock, midnight!”
- “But it is sev...” I tried to say while getting up with difficulty and giving another glance at the watch still dangling by my knee on the silver chain. – “It is ...” - having noticed they did not react to my movements anymore; I bent down and caught the pocket watch - seven o’clock!
- “The time is what we say it is,” the policeman who had stepped on my hand before shouted into my ear.
I looked at the watch once more hesitantly and shrugged. The policeman opposite made a movement to put his gun back on his shoulder and I took this as a sign that the control was over and that I could bend down to collect my belongings, my wallet, few pieces of paper and a small booklet, that had been taken out of my pockets. After I took my ID from the other, I adjusted my coat and began to wipe my clothes with my hands.
- “All of you are our enemies,” he said, without looking at me or making any attempts to put any light on the fog.
-“I am not an enemy,” I said, but my words were swallowed by darkness and murk.
The thick fog had turned everything into smoke. Wherever you turned, all you could see were hanging lights, like yellow fruits of a withered tree, neither in heaven nor on earth, a few dried branches dangling, loaded with needles of frost, and there was no movement at all. Heralded, initially, by a sudden cold for this time of the year, the fog had been spreading cunningly throughout the town since Monday midnight. On Tuesday the dawn was wet and dark. It was as chilly as Monday, as gloomy as Sunday and Saturday but as foggy and grim as Wednesday, Thursday and the whole week to come would be. Everything was sunk and compressed in it and everywhere there was a monotonous, heavy and persistent reverberation of crows, croaking on invisible branches of high poplars along the brook, making people complain for they could not sleep in peace. Their humming and the unusual gurgling of the brook blended with the parasite sounds, similar to the roaring of military vehicles, tanks or armoured vehicles going from one side of the brook to the other and vice versa, manoeuvring or keeping at a constant level the planned decibels of this general situation of fog and chaos.
All perplexed, soiled and muddy, with no clear comprehension of what had really happened, I was heading home although I had gone out to go to work. The policemen followed me with their eyes and every time I turned my head back to look at them they raised the barrels of their submachine guns thus signalling me to keep going.
I rushed into the house. The incident pushed me into a state of a strange delirium that I could not explain to myself. Every time I looked at the watch I shrugged, confused - it never changed, it was few minutes past seven. In the lobby I turned the light on and looked at it once more, it was still the same or nearly the same. I looked at the big wall clock in the kitchen - the same, seven and about thirty minutes past. I went into the living room without taking off my shoes, I leaned against the door which I had slammed and took a deep sigh. For a long time I remained like that looking at my hand which by now had turned black on the spot tread upon by the boot and I touched it like I was making sure my pulse was still there. The beating reminded me of something so I quickly took my shoes off and rushed into the bedroom to watch the alarm clock that had awakened me from my sleep. It was showing half-past seven, too.
“Damn it” I said to myself and went to the window. It was neither day nor night outside. The thick fog had covered everything. Even the lights of the opposite building, that usually helped my orientation when I woke up early in the morning, were not to be seen. Can it be midnight or perhaps the people living opposite are not awake yet? Perhaps they too have been swallowed by the fog. Nonetheless, there was still some liveliness in the streets, it was the motion of a long column of trucks and armoured vehicles, more noticeable from the yellow lights that seemed to be running on their own without any human direction. It was only their moving and dispersing that familiar noise, now muffled, that I had been hearing all night long all these nights, only I had thought it was the croak of the frightened crows, the muffled gurgling of the brook and the echo of the manoeuvres in distance, also muted by the fog. A big colourless flag divided by a cross in the middle was flying at the forefront of this column, but people were nowhere to be seen; it seemed like it moved directed by remote control.
The motion of the column convinced me even more strongly that it was night. It must be that I had awakened confused and got all mixed up. The columns moved only during night. Only during the night did the army changed location and only at night were manoeuvres held, only at night were strategic points conquered, only at night... Damn the foggy day, too – it is darker and more mysterious than the night. I wound up the clock with the bell at half past twelve. Then I wound it up to set off the alarm at seven o’clock. I undressed and got in between the sheets that still kept the warmth of my body. For a long while I tossed and turned trying to find connections between everything that was circling in my head and was unable to understand. I had been losing sleep for some time now and could only sleep in agony so I put a great deal of blame on my nightmares for a lot of unclear, misty affairs. At night I would get up very often and sit by the window till dawn, either counting the vaporized lights in the wide street just below the building or the tanks that came and went from one front line to another, imaginary too. Nevertheless, the change of the watch, or the stopping at one point at the same time of all of them, only to continue after a while spontaneously, remained unclear. Something out of the ordinary must have happened in the night that was extraordinary anyway, ever since the fog had fallen and had covered everything.
Later on I had fallen asleep. In fact it was not a proper sleep it was rather a delirium. My entire house was full of police while I was locked in my bedroom.
“Come out or we will break the door.”
“I will not come out unless you meet my terms.”
“What terms?” they shouted and banged on the door with all their strength.
“To restore the watch to the time it was.”
“We have not changed any watch. They are all at the exact time they should be and at the time they used to be. Get out if you want your life to be spared or else you will be hurt.”
“Why should you spare my life? It is my life. Who are you to spare it? I haven’t done anything.”
“Oh yes you have, we know you, we have you in our notes. You wake up delirious and make the world go round. You bring dreams into reality.”
“What dreams? You want to punish me for dreams?”
“You may lose your life for dreams. Lives are lost for dreams everywhere. Those who do not dream do not get punished. We too punish you for dreams; because you bring them to life and teach them to others. You are not an exception therefore get out and give yourself up, explain everything if you wish to be saved.”
“Why, are you by any chance the dream police? I will not come out unless you return my watch. You got me all mixed up, you have changed the time on my watch, you have installed nightmares in my sleep. These are not dreams they are nightmares. You have implanted them in me. If you do not go away you will kill me in them.”
“This is why we tell you to come out so that we can save you. This is what we fight for, it is our intention to save you but you do not understand. We live for you we exist for you, for your well being, for your sleep. We guard your sleep and hunt your dreams.”
“What good, what good, what good? I know too well your goodness.”
The banging on the door became stronger and it seemed like it was going to fall down altogether. After that there was a bit of quiet and then the bell. It was not the door of the bedroom it was the front doorbell. There was someone banging at the door and ringing the bell. But no it was the watch and the alarm bell set at seven o’clock and it was ringing. Then there was a knock at the door and the sound of the bell. The watch bell, knock at the door, the front door bell.
When I went by the window the fog was still there. It was a little thinner, more transparent but still remained thick enough so that the windows of the opposite building could not be seen. “It is seven a clock” I said and stopped the alarm. But it wouldn’t stop and the knock at the door continued. In fact the alarm clock had stopped long ago ever since I’d gotten out of bed but it was the front door bell that was ringing followed by a strong banging at the door. I hurried and opened it. Again there were two policemen.
- “Sir, you were supposed to be at the court room today at twelve o’clock to give your statement in regard to the charges pressed against you.”
- “I will absolutely go,” I answered bewildered.
- “You will go tomorrow,” said one of them, “for today it is too late. It is well past twelve o’clock now. Tomorrow you will be escorted by the police. Sir, you do not honour our courts and therefore we will come to take you. Tomorrow at twelve you must be home.”
They turned their backs and went away as if by command leaving a written message in my hand with no stamp or signature on it.
- “But there is still enough time,” I wanted to say but I didn’t for I could neither understand the state I was in nor who I was talking to. Was it a dream or was I awake, was I talking to those of midnight, those of seven or those of twelve o’clock, were they coming from my dream or from my nightmare, was it the devil or his son that had come with other business from another dream or from another nightmare, had he come with another tune, now at seven o’clock, to remind me about the trial at twelve a clock, which I certainly did not forget, for I will go and present myself as ordered the same way I did almost every week on a given day at twelve o’clock as ordered on the messages they stuck on my door every day, with no stamp or signature on them. I went close by to the kitchen window and looked down, at the entrance of my building, trying to see the policemen while going out as if to convince myself that their coming was real, but there was the fog and I could barely see the stairs, the entrance, the narrow yard and the branches of the two pine trees broken by the storm a few days ago. Even the midnight lights could not been seen any longer. They were either invisible or rather switched off. It meant the day had come.
I got dressed and very quickly I was ready to go to work, convinced I was late but not too late to start a new day, a foggy day indeed but a day of leisure too, at least so as to get out of my dreams and nightmares of the cold night. The city resembled a vampire and my walking along the wet pavement resembled an apparition passing through the graveyard returning to its coffin after a long night of a vampire orgy. Nobody else was out there or at least there was nobody on my side of the pavement for I could not see anything on the other side. All there was to be heard were the croaks of crows, the muffled gurgling of the brook coming from far away and the crazy out-of-tune roaring of vehicles.
At the entrance to the newspaper building I met colleagues from my office.
- “I am a bit late” I said while touching their shoulders lightly , signalling thus they could go in first, a sign of respect for them.
- “Eight hours only, not any longer,” - they answered derisively. – “We are going out for we are done for today and for an indefinite time too. You must have known this and that is why you did not come. You are fired anyway. The newspaper is banned due to the fog.“
- “It is seven o’clo...” I wanted to say and I started to get my pocket watch out but got baffled. I opened the lid and looked at it: it was few minutes passed three, say half past three.
- “It has stopped because of the fog,” I said like I was telling this to myself, meaning my pocket watch, while putting it to my ear to listen to its tick-tick, still alive and beating but all mixed up with the croak of crows the gurgling of the brook and the distant roaring of vehicles.
- “Yes, of course,” they answered, thinking I was referring to something else, “it will not be published for some time. Everything is disturbed. The radio and TV are suspended. Today, several police regiments have been send to convince the workers of radio and television stations to stop their work because they did not follow the rules of the fog. The activity of the symphony orchestra has been suspended too, as well as the professional choir and the Mozart’s Requiem. The members of the orchestra and the choir were beaten because they could not find their orientation in the fog, and they refused to stop their rehearsal.”
-“ I do not understand, the policeman told me it was midnight while my watch was showing seven o’clock. I do not understand” I said and I tried to explain what had happened in the morning or at midnight holding my pocket watch up all the time with its lid open on its silver chain as if I held up the alibi that was going to confirm my testimony.
- “The policemen are everywhere,” said my colleague from the office, “and it is a special fog police which is why it cannot be seen. It is invisible, it acts quickly and unexpectedly. The local police have either been discharged or sent to do other jobs, because it speaks the language while regiments of police trained to deal with turbulent and extraordinary affairs were brought in. Purges have been carried out and some ministries shut down for an indefinite period of time. Yesterday, surgeons and gynaecologists were expelled from the hospital while new surgeons and gynaecologists were brought in. They are trained to perform operations and to help women give birth under fog conditions. The post office has been occupied too and new people have been brought in, by the centre for training persons, to establish special communications under the conditions of the fog and in an atmosphere of total confusion, with the main purpose of spying on violators of the order of communication. This is going to be our new way of life for an indefinite period of time. This is the fog regime and meteorologists predict it is going to last. Institutions will be changed and emergency measures of fog introduced everywhere. The management of big factories and enterprises will be substituted by a forced regime of fog management or their work will be stopped altogether and they will be preserved to reopen again on a clear day without fog. It has been declared an extraordinary situation not a state of emergency but a special state, because only those who are used to the fog or who agree with the fog will know how to walk through it. Others will be shut inside their homes, in a kind of mandatory isolation. Anyone who shall violently refuse this regime may be executed on the spot in street manifestations, where nothing is visible enough and where a network of wandering bullets has been established; or they may be put in prison. However, you seem to have escaped quite easily. You could have been hurt. Have you got any idea how many people are lost or have disappeared in the fog?”

Even though it was the time of the fog reign, we had almost been so to speak used to similar compact floods. Only this time it lasted very long so people were closed and had changed because of it. The vast majority stayed at home, and those who did go out complained all the time about many troubles and obstacles of strange and unusual types they encountered. The fog had thickened and it weighed heavily upon everybody. It had a stinking smell and pressed like the tread of brass hooves. It spread sickness and mental epidemics, depression, and a heavy psychosis, it increased aggressiveness and raised blood pressure, while distorting people who experienced cerebral haemorrhages almost at every step. The streets were filled with people drooping one hand or dragging one leg, their mouths contorted to the left or to the right all the way to the ear. What sort of an apocalypse was this? I burdened myself by wandering around with the weight of an iron cannonball in my chest which I could not take off either by coughing or hitting my chest with fists and not even by crashing into the walls of the house. “Shall this fog ever clear out?" I wondered languishing, taking pills with strong coffee one after the other, Valium, Lexilium or any other sedatives that people have discovered. The burden of the fog and all the pills I had taken put me into a deep dreamless sleep and I did not wake up until a week later. I had slept a sea of sleep sunken into a kind of deepest darkness, lost in a cave where neither birds sing, nor do bats make any noise. Who had expelled my nightmares and had me knocked out like this?
I woke up feeling a terrible hunger and strangely enough I found my table set with all the goodies of the world. I ate like never before in my life. I was satiated and satisfied thinking about all the worldly magic of the type of ‘table set’ that had prepared this wonderful feast for me. It must be that my mother had come; she had the key to the house, or is it possible it came out of heaven, by magic? Soon enough I discovered a part of the mystery, when I saw the door opened forcefully, but not damaged. For a moment I turned around perplexed after all the magic that had happened to me that morning and I realised that not only was nothing missing in my home but everything was cleaned up shining bright and put in order like never before. My hole had been turned into a crystal clear palace. “You must have gotten married in the dream,” I teased my alter ego, “you have slept over for an entire season and now you wake up married. Being fired from work as you are allows you to sleep in peace you also have had your table set in riches by angels and fairies of benevolent organizations. You have no need to face the fog – “ inadvertently I had gone by the window. What a miracle o God! Not only had the fog cleared out, not only was the sun shining, not only was the scenery washed clean, but the gardens of heaven had been opened and all the city had come to life like never before.
I dressed in haste and immediately went into the street. O God. There were no more police, no men with distorted watch hands on their forehead, no disfigured or distorted faces, no more legs dragged along, no traces of tanks, no flags divided by a cross in the middle. Going out of the building I was pushed away by a crowd of happy children who were running and jumping with their backpacks on their shoulders. I looked at the little kiosk opposite and I saw its window full of newspapers and magazines illustrated in all possible colours. There was also my newspaper that had been swallowed by the fog. There were magazines for fun and entertainment. People were getting off and on overloaded buses going someplace and coming back from someplace else. They were carrying bags and sacks full of things and they carried books and papers under their arms. They had unbuttoned their jackets for they were not afraid of autumn, because there was a shining sun they had never seen before, filling them with hope that it was there to stay and reign all the time.
- “Oh, God” I trembled inwardly, “who has pushed me into this dream and which is the way out of it?”

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