Leaving

translated by 
Photo: James Abbott
Photo: James Abbott

Some people feel a need to be silent, but I need to look at myself in the mirror, scream, smash things, and tear up my own writing. That’s not so bad, it really isn’t, because all I wish for after a morning begun like that is to make breakfast, sit down with all the calm in the world, chew my food like a British aristocrat, and slowly drift off.

Ah yes, the blue. It’s everywhere—on the screen saver of his mobile phone and on the walls of a long-abandoned house I remember quite by chance. The sky over our city is blue in May, although it is in April as well, but let my choice be May, at least this time. On second thought, blue actually reminds me most of a vein that has been kissed by a syringe in the hands of an inexperienced medical student at the clinic.

It doesn’t matter in the end. The basis of my existence isn’t blue anyway. I drive on.

I look at the men with crutches, a tear-stained eternity, and a painting of a house covered in snow. I don’t like snow and I don’t understand how anyone can ruin a canvas by painting a snow scene on it.

People like me ought not to have a memory. So many things of absolutely no significance have chosen my head as their home, but I still want to leave it.

I don’t know why I remember. People like me ought not to have a memory. So many things of absolutely no significance have chosen my head as their home, but I still want to leave it. I pack my suitcases every day, though I know there’s nowhere for me to go.

Last night I told him I was leaving. He said he understood and that he would also like to go away, but he doesn’t like to hear other languages around him and see strangers all the time. You’re looking at one right now, I thought, but I didn’t say it. I know he listens to people so closely, clings to every one of their words, obsessively bends them out of context, interprets them according to his inverse logic, and is able to argue for hours, trying to tell others what they really think. I didn’t have the nerves to apologize for the umpteenth time for nothing at all, to satisfy his need to ruin everything, even ideas just mentioned in passing.

With some people it’s easy: they either don’t exist or don’t exist entirely. They just nod their heads or think about suicide. Their reflection may well be intense, but even if it is, I’m sure their existence is of no significance. Neither is mine, but I’m very fond of that lack of importance. I was born on a completely insignificant day, and when one’s beginning is so ordinary, no continuation of it can be particularly important. Besides, every day is equally insignificant, every birth unnecessary, and every life a failure.

Time. However it be perceived or disputed, I spend most of it with my fingers propping up my temples like an American bureaucrat or a false philosopher, but I’m really a nobody.

I don’t reflect on anything particularly important, nor are there too many people about, because as soon as I think of all those hypocritical apparitions around me I ask Ivan to make another noose and place a chair beneath it. He never objects; he’s always making nooses anyway.

A few days ago we sat on the shore for hours, staring at the line that separates the sea from the sky, me from him, and talked about that border. I didn’t know how to explain to him how often I’ve imagined a different life and how it could look. I don’t have constant ideas but only fragments, and therefore I don’t have a coherent answer. Ivan is plain—he doesn’t ponder the unknowns of life and threadbare reasonings; he just breathes and looks out to sea. He makes nooses out of boredom in case I finally become serious and bring myself to reason. Once I promised him his labors wouldn’t be in vain, and sometimes I feel very awkward, truly, that I can never convince him of it. I don’t blame him: I’m too much of a waverer. He even said that to me two days ago as he sat on the remains of a broken armchair, pensively smoking a cigarette. I never ask him how he conceives of life, and sometimes I think he’s so absorbed because he’s incapable of drawing a conclusion about anything, but I do know how he thinks about death. When I first met him, he was fascinated by the expiration of his individual time and the incomprehensibility of anyone else’s intentions. Then he told me with his stark take on reality, over a few glasses of vodka, that even as a child he had thought about what it must be like to be dead. I realized that his envisioning of rigor mortis out of guileless curiosity had become his obsession. As he told me then, he’d always imagined death to be a special and solemn event, much more so than life. Unburdened and ultimate. That morning, I realized that he too reflects on death, but he’s afraid others won’t understand his desire to don a black suit one day and be the center of attention at a ceremony—a special festivity outside of him, where he would be cold and stiff. I told him that all such solemnities, including those after death, required too much energy and that someone always turns up and ruins everything with just a few inappropriate phrases. A few months later I promised him I wouldn’t find anything fitting to say at his funeral, not because I wouldn’t want to address him posthumously, but because I didn’t wish to hinder his gaping into emptiness; besides, the presence of others usually fazes me. No, no, it’s better that I not go along at all, I explained, because I fear that the encounter with both death and life will only make me queasy. That was fine by him. He assumes I’ll change my mind in the meantime, but it’s of no particular import if I don’t. It’s not as if I had a lot to prepare, and it all only lasts a short while, he said. With me coming twenty minutes late, I probably wouldn’t even see him. Over a year has passed since we planned his funeral in detail, and he’s still alive—albeit not especially talkative. He probably regrets sharing with me his lifelong contemplation of leaving. It’s all the same to me really, and I don’t think he’s original enough; there’s always something pathos-ridden in his way of thinking, a quirky pattern that makes his words too predictable.

The blue. The man is too staid, and that’s why he can bear the blue. In me, it causes a sinking feeling. I’m afraid of so much color spilled over that inconceivably broad expanse, of my inability to get any closer to him, and of the fact that I have no control over my own life and no access to Ivan’s. He often disappears. I never go and look for him then because I know he never intends to truly go anywhere. That thought always soothes me because he’ll forever be here, even if I go away. I’m strangely gladdened by his presence in this space miles away from mine because I know that, if I ever return, I’ll find him here in the same spot, savagely unchanged.

A lot of ships put out to sea that day as we sat on the shore. I always like to muse about their destinations, the people standing on the deck, and their hopes for a new life or their mourning for the old. And maybe they have neither a future nor a past life but only the present one and don’t think about what will happen when it enters a new present. I’ve always needed to take a step to master my fear, to gather the courage to move on, but I always end up standing in the same place. Sometimes I wish I were him, but he never wants to be me. Being me is actually dreadful, and even those who see me from the outside know it. Despair always finds a way to leak out and make a stain on the outside, like ink.

I look at Ivan and can’t stop thinking about the space between the two of us. We stand there, and the space between our eyes constantly changes. Those are various images created by my fantasy and his reality; moments lost and others never attained; his implacability and my projections; him rejected by everyone and me attached to nothing.

Sometimes I’m afraid of what’s to come. I’m so powerless to influence the flux of events on the stage of this world that I’d just like to sit in the audience and watch my own life from the second-to-last row. It’s a strange inclination to always choose easy extremes, but never the ultimate extreme, because when it comes there really is no more choice. Only a mist, sounds that cease flowing through the space of one’s skull, and then darkness after a sometimes unexpected moment of lucidity. 

Translation from the Montenegrin 
By Will Firth

Slađana Kavarić is a Montenegrin author. She writes poetry and short stories. To date, she has published two books of poetry: Memory (Sjećanje, 2010) and People from Nowhere (Ljudi niotkuda, 2016). She was born in Podgorica in 1991.

Will Firth (www.willfirth.dewas born in 1965 in Newcastle, Australia. He studied German and Slavic languages in Canberra, Zagreb, and Moscow. Since 1991 he has lived in Berlin, where he works as a translator of literature and the humanities (from Russian, Macedonian, and all variants of Serbo-Croat). His best-received translations of recent years have been Robert Perišić‘s Our Man in Iraq, Andrej Nikolaidis’s Till Kingdom Come, and Faruk Šehić’s Quiet Flows the Una