Prose: Ani Gjika
WAR IN IRAN OR, IRAQ, IS IT?
Translated from the Albanian by Ani Gjika
In our house, people beat each other up. How? Whichever way they like. At dinner, for example, when you’re sitting peacefully because no one has started screaming yet, just as dad is watching world news paying no attention to what’s going on in the sitting room, mom starts to wash the dishes. Unfortunately, the dishes start to rattle, the glasses especially, and the scratching, crackling and rattling continues until my father’s ears get so irritated (I can’t blame them) and his fist pounds the table: Enough with those dishes. I am listening. But mom is cold like a stone and doesn’t care that the rest of the family is learning whatever we need to learn so she answers back: And I am washing the dishes. Here it comes. I see it in my father’s eyes, filled with resentment: anger jumps from the orbits and shoots out like a knife straight into mom’s back bent over the sink. She doesn’t stop…rack—crrrack washing those damned dishes. My sister keeps picking at something under the table. She and I freeze, eyes glued to mom’s unconcerned back. How I wish, at that moment, to scratch that back with my nails and tell her to shut her mouth and stop moving those hands so that dad’s eyes could calm down. I told you to stop doing those dishes because I’m listening to the news! Now his voice has a metallic threatening sound like the sharp blade that slices bread: grrrap. Oh, damn the news. She’s gone too far now. I knew she would. But I don’t understand why she has so much courage. Now dad has gotten off the couch. And the TV news screeches and floods the room without a care for us. In fact, I hear it all quite well: I hear about the Irani soldiers and the American ones; I hear them; I hear them very well; I also want to stand up at that moment and say: dad, you can hear the news, you watch and I will tell you what you can’t hear, I’ll tell you everything, I won’t leave out the woman who was hung…or the boy flung out from the tenth floor, just don’t get up…I’ll tell you. But I don’t even dare raise my eyes. I see my sister who has put her doll to sleep, naturally, because the news is on. The doll doesn’t cry when the news is on. She doesn’t sing either. Will you listen to me or do I have to throw this ashtray on your forehead? The voice is firing now, so loudly that it seems the soldiers from the TV have entered the house with their Kalashnikovs. Mom only manages to turn indifferently and adds: Oh, really? Let’s see how you try that. God, the woman has no brains. What should he try? War? The big war? Here? On us!? My sister has gotten out from under the table and is standing between them now. Her eyes gawking and from the tiny underwear, down her legs, what appears to be trickling…oh, this is just perfect…now she’s going to get really mad…war…the war is on…where should I go? Mom, I peed…There, see what you did? You terrified the poor girl like the devil that you are. Who are you calling a devil, you stupid whore? I’ll show you the devil. And he gets up now. With the ashtray in his hand. The ashes fall on us. He’s coming. And where should I go? I should get up…to stop him. Me?! I’m afraid. The kids are here, or I would show you…luckily, they saw us. They saw us, thank god. But, sometimes, they don’t see us. And that’s when mom takes a slap across her face. In fact, she wants it. I don’t like it that she argues back. And I know very well that that makes dad angry. But she doesn’t hold back. She talks. It sounds like she’s talking to no one, but she still talks. Whatever she feels like saying. Like sis. She’s just like mom that one. I tell her not to take my notebooks because she stains them. She just does anyway. And then she gets a beating. Obviously. How else do I deal with it when she doesn’t do what I say? Her nose keeps running and she doesn’t stop crying. This is when I like her even less. She goes crying to mom. And then mom runs after me like an animal. And dad, dad’s voice alone will kill you, like a knife. And the house freezes. But mom is the one who really knows how to beat you. I run around the table, but she’s strong. She has a stout body and a large hand. I’m the unluckiest in the house. Because mom’s hand is very heavy. And it hits you without seeing you at all. As though it’s hitting the dust out of rugs. I’m ready to turn and hit her in the face. That distorted face, those crooked lips when she hits: ugh, ugh, ugh on my back. But I don’t dare. My dad would then hit me with his belt. Because you can’t understand grown ups. When you don’t expect it, they get together and turn on you. You’re always to blame. That’s why I take it and watch her with my wolf eyes. She gets even angrier. Don’t look at me with those eyes. I made you. We’re slaving and dying for the two of you, goddammit. Get lost. That’s what I want, to get lost. But where to? So I cover myself with a blanket in my bed until I can’t breathe anymore. And I cry. I’m going to kill sis tomorrow when there’s nobody home. I swear.
The next day I’m not angry anymore. And anyway, as far as the world knows, we’re a very good family. Mom is a fine woman and dad is smart. When they have coffee together, they gossip about the neighbors who stab each other in the back (says mom). They especially talk about Ms. Keti and Mr. Berti. They kiss on the stairs (adds dad) as if to show us that they love each other. I don’t say anything, but in the evenings, purposely, I go to play with Besi, their son. We’re the same age. In fact, I go there just for a moment, when Mr. Berti returns from work. I go out on the hallway to watch him come in and kiss Ms. Keti’s hair. Besi jumps toward his father and hangs on his neck. I’ve never done that. I steal away into my sinless house and wish to some day marry a whore woman (like mom says) so I can kiss her hair, so she can kiss me. Thank god you can’t read thoughts or mom would have killed me. Then dad would hit her and then sis would cry and my brain would burn and I would punch her in the face… and mom, and dad…an endless chain…
It’s the news hour…and mom…again…why, god, again…is washing the dishes…I enter that damn war that doesn’t end, in Iran, or Iraq and I shoot…bam…bam… bam…before the glasses begin to rattle, before the scratching of the plates and before dad can scream…I grab the Kalashnikov from the soldier in Iran or, Iraq, is it…and I empty a whole magazine on mom…on dad…on myself…and on the whole world.