© Vladimir Markovic 2000

Episode One:

Numb Drums

Woe, my tiptoes!… Hate these uptight boots. I take a seat at the stair of the guardian’s house, leave aside the gun and try to fix a boot.
 Everything is dead calm – there is absolutely no job for any of my senses. Nothing moves. Nothing shines. Nothing sounds. Nothing smells save the smell of the melting snow. Still I hear them.
 Being brought here in an overloaded bus with the crowd of 20 of age boys who didn’t know where they will land, first thing I met when I hit the ground was the numb sound of drums, that lasts unceasingly since then. My inner ears hear the beat. 
 Dawn descends slowly. The city of Prishtina can be seen quit well from my hill, although it is several miles far. Sounds reach me, weak, but recognizable mix of several muyezins who sing from their mosque towers; as they go into the slow fade out, church bells begin to toll. I take off my helmet, cross myself and answer with a numb, wordless prayer.


Afternoon. I asked my commander a leave, to go to the city library and borrow some books. He looked at me as if he was X-raying my mind searching for the signs of disease, but let me out. 
 War doesn’t start with declaration of war, I discovered. No words are necessary. It doesn’t start with bullets. No blood is necessary. It can start with eyesights. They can kill too.
 Entered the Prishtina suburb Vranjevats after the several miles mud walk, and got ambushed rightaway. First pair of eyes I meet shoot me straight to the head, with no mercy. Another ones aim to my gut. Thirty meters far, a teenage boy’s smile cuts my throat. The final blast comes from the glance of a beautiful black-haired girl; as I turn around to see her once again, she stops in the spot and spits after me, which in Albanian means: “Drop dead, dirty dog”. 
As I continue among the gigantic awful private 5 story bunkers mushroomed by satellite TV dishes they call houses down the river of mud some call street, a brand new “Mercedes” honors me with a free mudbath. Crap.
I purchase some oranges in a shop.  As I peel one, I meet a small boy, maybe five years old, muddy by his knee. He’s scared.
 - Qish ye! - I say in Albanian, and he suddenly turns into 20 kilograms of the most beautiful smile. – Podu portokal?
 He grabs the orange and runs away. Couple of minutes later, bunch of kids reach me down the road, shouting:
- Army! Army! Give portokal!
I give them the sack of oranges.
- Qifsha Miloshevic!
Sure, kid. Me too. And his wife as well.
- Qifsha Shkavi!
Why kid? This dirty Serb dog is not your enemy.

Evening. Going back to my ammo storage accompanied by Dostoyevskiy, Thomas Man and James Joyce. It is kind a late for such a crew to pass thru the stinger-hive of Vranjevats by foot. So I take a cab. 1973 “Lada” driven by Safet, my first Prishtinian acquaintance since I was brought here.
 I ask Safet how old he is. Twenty-six, he says. He said he worked in a state owned company as a night guard. So, we are colleagues. But he was fired by Miloshevich. Wow, how I’d like to be in that position too. I ask him how many children he has. He’s got eight, tells me their names. Why such an early marriage, I ask, but instantly I realize what a stupid question is that. His father purchased him a wife yet as he was a kid. I ask him to play the tape I bought today in the city. He smiled out of surprise when he heard it’s Albanian “Sisters Mustapha” tape. As we’re closing to my barrack, I ask him to stop in front of an open-till-late grocery, to buy something.
 Got to the barrack door, I take my tape back, pay the ride, and give him the box of chocolate cakes for his children.
 Safet’s handshake and his smiling eyesight silence down the numb sound of drums for several long seconds until I enter behind the barbed wire. Then, they continue. 

Two months later. I walk in my civilian clothes through the same main river of mud in Vranjevats; still my leather jacket tells I’m from Belgrade, and I am still disposed to the killing eyes. The paper in my pocket says I am a schizoidly interrupted personality, unable to serve the Yugoslav Army anymore. 
I look for the Safet’s Lada at the same place I found it before, to give me a ride to the train station. But instead I meet several thousand of raged demonstrators who demolish a car with Serbian registration plates. Drums are as loud as can be. I enter quickly the first shop I find opened and buy things I don’t need at all, aware that if someone asks me something in Albanian, that’s the end of the line for me. When I see the crowd has passed, I go to the counter, pay and say: “Faljiminer!” trying to make it sound as much Albanian as possible.
Later, on the way to Belgrade, I meet numerous police armed vehicles. But I know something: I was spitted out. Although I carried a loaded gun, my mind was not in a state of war, so the War spit me out of its mouth right before it began to swallow people. I send the last peaceful eyesight to the unhappy land of Kosovo, and go home.

Vladimir Markovic

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