Title of book: Këpucët e Katrinës (Kaltrina’s Shoes)
Author: Petrit Palushi
Place of Publication: Tirana (Albania)
Year of publication: 2013
Publisher: Ombra GVG
“Petrit Palushi in “Kaltrina’s Shoes” has described the notion of “the border” in his work, the novel; as how the corks kept coming; from the river, lake; and were turned into shoes. They are part of the whole and cannot communicate without the corks of which come together and are turned into shoes.” (Veton Surroi)
“The innocence and easiness of the characters, at times, are reminiscent of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, so much so, that you wish to return to that time of innocence, as an impossible excursion into our past. (Arben Ahmetaj)
The plot: Set in a city where time is almost frozen, everything is lacking, as in the era of a dictatorial system. Through the lake come thousands of old shoes. High school students run to collect and make new shoes of them. In water they find a Bible wrapped in a plastic bag. They read it, hidden. At one point they find a sheet of paper on which is written: “We pray for you”. There are two active characters: Dardan and Kaltrina. Dardan finds a shoe left for his girlfriend. He searched for three months and could not find another shoe. Proms night party is near. High school students dream about their outfits, but in vain. On the opening day of the embassies, Dardan takes Kaltrina and says: “I will get into the Italian embassy. A foretelling, we will arrive in the Florence of Dante Alighieri. “
What struck me, after that unduly long rain, were thousands of old shoes or semi-old shoes over the water of the lake, perhaps more; that the flow of two rivers brought under the continuous, as well as vibrant, pace of the rain; the flow kept bringing other shoes again and again, which crashed onto the surface of the lake or moved slightly onto its shores.
Shoes that covered the whole surface of the lake as if they were suffocating it, but also it looked as if it was blackening, despite the various colours of the top half of the shoes, they resembled the same as the creatures that never stop moving. More visible were many of them in black, white, brown and with some kind of yellow-greyish colour, sometimes even blackish, but nevertheless the brown stood out again and quickly was becoming dominant.
Some days later, young people, mostly high school students of the city and surrounding villages, came to collect shoes that the current had brought to the lake shore. Quickly they were removing the top half of the shoes and were separating them, only the soles; then, in a frenzy-like rush they were swarming into the shoe-shops through the city, to make new shoes using only the soles they had taken. These shoes were made stronger, but also they cost much less. The customer went to the cobbler with half the material (with the soles removed from the shoes from the lake), and the cobbler had to only add leather to the top half….
Three friends; Dardan, Etnik and Valton, went back to the lake in the afternoon with a faint hope that somehow fate would somehow help them find some shoes.
They searched and gathered as many corks as they could, they looked through the corks twice over; those that had been near their feet, they looked for a pair of their soles with almost visible zeal, but they ended up empty handed.
Etnik, as if released from desperation, came up with the idea to count all the corks found. In the end, having counted twice but also worrying that he could have forgotten some, cried aloud: Sixty-two!
He stared at Dardan and Valton as if to say that the counting of the corks was correct, but also shouted harder than the first time: Sixty-two!
Vaguely, it seemed to Dardan, that he heard a half deafening call: Sixty-two corks! Rashly, his eyes stopped at a cork that shined (with number thirty eight, dark brown colour, but only the left shoe, for a female), with a stamp that read ‘Made in Italy’. He went back ten steps and, vaguely, looked the cap again. Quickly his eyes cleared. The cork preserved its shine as if it were new. I’ll save it for Kaltrina, he whispered and his eyes had become more shiny and sweet. It will be the most beautiful gift for the prom evening!
When he realized that the cork for the right shoe was missing he felt some kind of (Oh please don’t God!) because it would be too difficult to find, even though he would try his hardest, he felt a shudder in his body, while his face corrugated. A moment later, as if he woke up a little, cleared up his mind simultaneously. However, he would try to achieve that dream, which came into his mind; he wanted to believe that this dream with only one target, that was difficult to notice for a long time: only to find the cork for the pair for Kaltrina’s shoes! He indulged again when he realized that this could be only a temporary dream; the missing cork for Kaltrina’s shoe will be found quickly, and, it was obvious that his dream would fall completely and immediately, as a leaf, that the strong wind pushes down to earth.
Dardan stared at the water just off the coast.
His eyes captured a thick cardboard box … He approached the box quickly and opened it: in a plastic bag was a thick book with a dark blue cover. He ripped off the plastic casing immediately and shouted:
– Bible?! – asked Etnik and held his breath.
– Bible?! – asked Valton somehow confused.
– The Bible in Albanian – Dardan said after a while, but he himself did not understand why he didn’t feel the urge to read through the book immediately.
– The Bible is God’s word, – mentioned Valton and a soothing light, as if he had been short of it, unveiled across his face.
– So I’ve read somewhere – Etnik added a little later.
– If they find the Bible they will expel us from school, – said Dardan slurring.
He looked towards his two companions as if asking from them an immediate way out or, at least, for the three of them to think hard for a way out, if only temporarily.
– We will keep it safe carefully, – Etnik tried to calm them down somehow.
Dardan began leafing through the Bible.
In between the pages of the book he found a note and read aloud: “We pray for you!”
– For us? – Etnik asked Dardan.
They both suddenly saw each other in the pupils of their eyes.
Dardan quickly moved his eyes from Etnik. Meanwhile, he turned his eyes to his old trainers which had faded in colour. He then turned his eyes towards his cotton trousers. The trainers would hardly last till the prom night, and there is no way they could – he said as if speaking to himself. Trousers, no way! He added ruefully. Cotton trousers. Maybe the shoes can last somehow. Here, you can find a pair of corks to rectify them beautiful shoes!
– Pray for us! – Dardan had come to his senses.
– Who are they? – asked Etnik.
– Doesn’t matter, – said Dardan.
Etnik was listening to every word.
– The important thing is to pray for us – Dardan added a little after.
He tried however to see the lake in its entirety. Then he looked at the sky; his own confusion resembled the continuing foggy water. He turned his eyes towards the lake that he had much longed for from a sudden desire that had been dried up. He was also longing to see water, so clear and so foggy, that the two rivers were bringing. Still, the fogginess of the water, but also the desire to come back to his senses somehow instantly enticed him profusely, so much that he kept his stare quite long towards the lake, until Etnik spoke to him with an almost commanding voice, as if he got detached from the confusion that was in his head:
– Put the Bible under your jacket, because I only have my shirt on!
Then he turned speaking with the low voice:
– We have to hide the Bible.
– Why? – asked Etnik.
Dardan somehow in doubt, almost added later, that the water did not bring the Bible, but perhaps God himself, not just for the three of them, but for all the high school students who wanted to read it, too!
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Agim Morina.