Balil Gjini is an Albanian writer and translator. He was born in the village of Lazarat, in Gjirokastra on 16 June 1952. He studied Albanian Language and Literature at the University of Tirana and graduated in 1987. Among his publications are the collections of poems Flatra të Fluturta Fjalësh (Fluttering Wings of Words) and Fantazma Ëndrrash (Haunted Dreams). He also writes novels and short stories, among which Melusina (Melusina), E Katërta (The Fourth), Engjëll i Nëmur (Cursed Angel), Magjepsja e zuskave (The Enchantment of Whores), etc. Balil Gjini has translated Kundera, Hrabal, Cioran, Tournier, Joubert, etc., into Albanian.
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The plot: Melusina depicts the fate of the character with the same name, which can be read in three semantic axes.
Axis I: Melusina is the girl of the fairy tale, whose father married a fairy. The Mother told her daughters that they must not see their father washing himself (this motif is also part of the Old Testament, with Noah and his three sons). Melusina breaks her promise and carries from then on her mother’s curse: on Saturdays she will become a snake.
Axis II: Melusina is the contemporary woman, who eats fig jam, talks to her neighbours and gossips about others.
Axis III: Melusina is the woman before Christianity, when temple priestesses were at the same time prostitutes. Her husband starts making love to her but ends up making love to her sister.
All these three axes interact with one another and create the whole text. The story consists of forty chapters and is told by Melusina’s husband, on the fortieth day after her death. Many symbols are connected to this number.
Melusina: Melusina wants to have a child at any cost, in order to be saved from her preordained destiny and she gives birth to a child by masturbating with an oak. The child was a green sapling, whose cradle was a flowerpot made of clay. She hopes that the child will bring out everything closed in it: the waters of chaos, the darkness of basement. Although her gesture shows that she tries to remove the snake scales from her body, in reality she also removes the scales of a 2000-year-old civilization, in order to go back to her genesis.
Melusina’s husband: He is the storyteller, who at the moment of narration appears to us as an old man. As he has no strength left in him, his appetite and his greediness grow. When he was young and was grazing his goats, a falcon raped a slim gazelle. Now he is 51 years old and a bad twist of fate leads him to 15-year-old Anxhela, who is just the reincarnated gazelle. He grew up drinking goat milk, which is a symbol of a primitive and archaic life. Now milk flows through his life, but it is sour and he uses it to poison mice each morning.
Jehona: She is Melusina’s sister. In Albanian, “jehona” means “echo”. Based on her name, we understand that the two sisters communicate deeply with each-other and have a strange but deep spiritual connection.
For Melusina, since it became known that her belly was sterile, there was nothing that could return a smile into her face. She turned inward, did not speak to anyone and started to get sickened from all men. Even I was allowed into her bed. I could not even think about it! Since the first days of our marriage she started to lay the mattress on the floor. She used to say “It feels good like this “. I lay on the side and listen to voices and whispers from far away. I used to look her in the eyes to see if she was joking, if she was acting, or if she was really a witch that was able to enter in a relationship with the underworld, like i was told.
At other times she pretended to have a headache and drank chamomile and sage tea to make her migraine more believable, stayed for hours in front of the window and swallowed jam made of the many fruits, of which her garden was full. She cooked pie and waffles and use to tell me to invite the French people to come over. Beware!, was her instruction, they can´t take their dog with them otherwise we´ll have a couch full of flees.
Actually this was just an excuse, because the dog was the cause why they became alienated with the Frenchmen for some time. They had invited us for a cup of tea, and out of nowhere we started a conversation about the love of Europeans for animals. You love animals because they don´t contradict you, they prefer not to argue. They are submissive and obeying. You despise humans and love animals. That is outrageous. Her tone of voice was so firm, that the others were in disbelief, interrupted that conversation and slowly changed the topic. As we were getting ready to leave, the dog was there, in the small hallway. And Melusina stepped accidentally on the his tail. He started a whining bark, while turning around his tail. The words and apology of Melusina could not exculpate her and all the circumstances were against Melusina.
Even though she tried hard to keep my mind off from such trouble, it was horrifying for me to see the belly of that woman, once graceful, and now enlarged, fattened from pasta and desserts, when it should have been another cause for her belly to get round: the one for which god had created a woman.
-My belly!…. huh, my belly! – she used to murmur sometime- is like before the genesis. Water, ancient turtle eggs and a shark that slams the water with his enormous tail. He is the one, who does not let my belly breed.
Damned be my tongue for not asking her! We all have remorse in the throat like a fishbone of an unsaid word. Then it becomes our lifelong bother: we scratch our throat to get it out, but no, it gets stuck worse, the flesh encloses it, it starts to swallow, and it turns into our everyday cancer. This was the moment when the fishbone of the unspoken word got stuck in my throat.
In beautiful day of May, when the spring was able to bloom by tearing the skin of trees and the earth, before it dawned, she told me I had to get dressed, because we were going to the Maleni mosque. I only murmured a silent ”W….?” . The hook of the question mark could had been used to hang tens of assumption skins.
– Come on! – she said – we have no time.
She went out into the corridor and threw a quick look at herself. I saw her making a wry
face and frowning. “Strike me pink!”, she said with a sort of murmur, addressing more to herself than to me. “I’m a sort of toad, and as such, I don’t like the mirrors with the beautiful jambs of gilded wood, of gold, or of marble; oval mirrors, round mirrors, with elegant forms. No. The model they offer to me is not mine. I’m a toad and the only means that could faithfully reflect me is the marsh’s water; that lazy, dirty, and smelly water.”
-No, for God’s sake! – I said – No! Don’t lose your heart! First of all you are a decent
woman. Secondly, if you are talking about the pregnancy, it’s not the end of the world.
But just in this conversation I noticed her past manias: the stagnant water, she said that she had it in her womb, in fact, she had it in her own head; and I noticed her subsequent manias; the silence, her passion for the leeches, even for death itself. The Tekke was surrounded by exclamation marks of sad cypresses, stuck with a graceful anger in the soil, where the only sound was the absurd language of the scarabs that had hidden their nests with dry grass between the dense forks. There was a good smell of resin and of pine cone, in small chambers; there were not anymore the honeycombs of a bee, but the inverted honeycombs of a wood. All the dignity of the cypress probably came from that gracious, vertical position.
I sat on the grass of the moat of a meadow and I was imagining how Melusine was pushing the door of the room of the Tekke, on the floor of which was lying a carpet with hydras and dragons, upside down over the sheepskins and cushions lying at the foot of the wall, and as how through her sobs, she was talking to Nothing, rather than to the Dervish of the Tekke.
The grass, thanks to the abundant rains, had grown and had become a span long. Flowers of all types were growing luxuriantly everywhere. On them came and went the bees filling their fairy legs with pollen. The space around them was stripped of trees and the natives often complained for their land; they said it was a bare ground, and even those wild pears that were left, were falling when the whores scratched their backs on them, while they were opening wide their legs. But such was not the case in the spring, when everything swarmed and thrived.
In the waste there was a thicket of dogwood and of hornbeams, where two goats stretched their necks to catch the sprouts with new leaves. Ah, me that I had spent my childhood with the country-bred goats, I’m disgusted by these goats that are all polled goats, that do not know what fear and awe are, but they approach you and lick your hand, looking for bran, they have tremendous breasts, that sometimes they drag them along, wrapped up in bags. Those breasts without grace, without beauty, that remind me now of the breasts of Jehona.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Sopot Gjini