Title: Kohë për nuse (Time for a Bride)
Author: Lazër Stani
Place of Publication: Tirana
Year of publication: 2014
Publisher:Gjergj Fishta Genre: Short stories
ISBN : 978-9928-161-65-9
© all rights reserved to the author : firstname.lastname@example.org
“With his short stories of Kohë për Nuse (Time for a Bride) (the short story Daiza Zaharia could be considered as a novel), Lazër Stani testified his ability as a prose writer of the highest rank, raising the Albanian short story to those artistic levels aspired or achieved only by the literature of large nations”. (Anton Nikë Berisha)
“Stani is already well-known as a storyteller of originality who writes neatly about the big truths of literature, those eternal themes such as love and hatred, life and death, good and evil. Through magical artistic language a thrilling narrative strategy, his characters are outlined as fluid characters that live in our ambiance, breathe in it, fall in love, lose their love, gain and lose their fame, bump against life’s waves, thus leaving a trace in the reader’s conscience. Because their halo is the halo of somebody who lives every day with the truths that are uncontested and valid for everyone.” (Ndue Ukaj)
“Two years ago, I read one of Lazër Stani’s first short stories Njeriu i Dosjes (The Man of the File). It was an amazing surprise, one of those that only true art is able to cause. It was the short story of a masterful writer. And, as it often happens in such cases, I tried to find connections between him and his forerunners. It is hard to find something like that in our traditional or contemporary prose. The atmosphere, the density of feeling, his psychology somehow reminds you of Kafka; his elegance and laconism – of Chekhov; the psychological analysis, the deep knowledge of the human soul reminds you of masterly writers who are appreciated for such elements, as Dostoyevski, Buzzati”. (Bardhyl Londo)
Something dramatic must have happened I thought when I saw the postman’s pale face as he entered the clinic hurriedly and he said in a frightened voice: Doctor, do you treat magic? I was taken aback by this silly question. I had never been asked about magic before.
Bad news, doctor, bad news overload, said the distraught postman. As if everything else wasn’t enough, now we’re dealing with magic. The postman turned his eyes to the bookshelf and gave a good look at the books, like he was browsing for one on treating magic, but he didn’t see the dreadful word in any of them. He asked me fearfully if they taught us anything at university on how to treat magic. They did, I replied, half-jokingly. Doctors learn about every evil that afflicts man.
Ah, said the postman, his eyes widened in surprise, knocked on his pate with his fist, and said that we needed to go and treat Lena of Markaj’s daughter, Alina, who had been bewitched. You have to do me this favour, doctor, begged the postman. Word has come out that it was my wife who cast the spell. He blushed, he was embarrassed, his hands and knees were shaking. I swear, doctor, whispered he shyly, my wife can’t even thread a needle, let alone cast a spell.
I told him to relax, as I would go to Lena’s house in the afternoon and visit her. The postman kept staring at me with a scared and incredulous look. He had probably been threatened by the bewitched girl’s relatives, or who knows, the threat had probably come from the mayor. He could not keep a witch in his staff. That would ruin the authority of the commune administration. I’ll go and see her in the afternoon at any cost, I promised. At that, the postman sent a thousand thanks and blessings my way. I saw him out at the health centre’s yard and I shook his hand tightly, like a man who keeps his word.
That same afternoon, when Lena saw me make a turn towards her gate, she warded me off. I have no daughter who needs a doctor, said she in an angry voice, looking at me with her cunning villager’s eyes. It’s pointless that they told you to come. Doctors do not treat magic.
A toneless manly voice was heard from the inside, saying: Bring the doctor in, you brazen woman! Bring him in, I said, you’re bringing disgrace on us. Lena let me in and I made my way towards the house, where her father-in-law, who could barely stand on his feet, appeared at the doorstep, supporting himself with a crooked cornel-wood walking cane. Lena followed me, her head bowed. The old man invited me into the guest chamber and ordered his daughter-in-law to immediately make coffee for us and to bring the raki bottle and two glasses. Welcome, doctor, he said. And pay no attention to that birdbrain; she’s lost what little mind she was left when her daughter got sick. She’s completely out of her head.
I sat on the sheepskin-covered divan as the master of the house offered me, and I threw a glance at the poverty-stricken but clean room. A calendar of two or three years ago with a seaside scene was hanging on the wall.
Inside some wood frames manufactured in the Commune workshop there were numerous family pictures, photos of dead grandparents, a yellowed wedding picture of a couple wearing a national costume, photos of children and relatives. On the mantelpiece, there was a picture of the state leader in a carved frame, happily smiling at the master of the house and the guests in this guest chamber. My eyes were caught by an empty space on the wall, left by a picture frame that had been removed. For a while, I tried figuring out whose picture that might have been, but I couldn’t come up with anything. In that moment, as if he were reading my mind, the old man said: we have taken off the picture of the sick girl. Her mother gave it to her own sister, so that she can take it to a Good Man who can write an amulet for her. They say it cures magic and evil eye.
I told the old man that I wanted to see the sick girl. He thanked me, and I followed him down a dark corridor; then we went upstairs to the second floor through a wooden staircase that creaked under our feet. He opened the door to a dimly lit room and the smell of stale air stung my nostrils. Five or six women were sitting by the bedside of the sick girl, who tossed and turned, moaned, endlessly uttered meaningless words, spoke names of men and women and continued saying meaningless words again, extended her arms and her fingers contracted, her neck contorted, her eyes rolled back into their sockets. The women were astonished to see me; they stopped their conversations and guesses about the illness, turned their heads my way and stared at me looking disturbed and perplexed. I approached the window without saying a word, I opened it and the fresh air of the afternoon flooded the room. I then asked them to turn on the light.
She can’t stand the light, replied a woman in her forties, who seemed troubled by my visit.
Turn on the light and get out, all of you, I said. Only the mother shall stay.
The women rose, dissatisfied, and got out, one after another. The sick girl strove to get up of her bed, screamed and tried to bite whatever was close to her. She bit on the pillow and she squealed, waggling her feet. It’s strangling me, it’s strangling me, she shouted and yelled.
See, doctor, see what they’ve done to my daughter, said the woman. May cholera kill them all and leave none. They drove her crazy!
Without delay, I pushed her long hair away from her neck and I started massaging her nape, her hairline, I unbuttoned her shirt and rubbed her chest, her thighs. The girl kept moaning and uttering meaningless words, stretched her fingers, lifting them up into the air, stretched her legs, writhed, sprawled, recoiled as if she had been bitten by a serpent. Time and again she tried to lift her head and bite me. I asked the mother to get out, to leave me alone with the girl. She might probably tell me something she could not say in her mother’s presence, I justified my request that the mother thought was strange, so she obediently got out, closing the door behind her. I heard women voices in the corridor and the question that was repeated many times: What is he saying, what is the doctor saying? No answer was heard, and the women kept jabbering on frightening stories of magic that had occurred ages ago but that were still remembered and recounted with such trepidation and dread, that one would think they had only happened the day before.
When I was left alone with the sick, I kept rubbing her chest and I leaned her head against my chest. She tried to grab my hand and squeeze it, she ragingly pressed her body against mine, she screamed and moaned, she twisted as if poked with spears all over her body. As I was massaging her feverish body, I thought about my early readings about her sickness, those written in the ancient papyri of Kahun, Ebers, up to Hippocrates’. As students, we always taunted the girls quoting phrases like “the woman was made delicate and suffering-prone by nature, and only coitus with its invigorating effects can cure the female languish”. A scandal broke then, when one day, I asked the cardiology professor, a good speaker of Latin, what the word coitus meant. The professor was infuriated and he threatened to have me expelled from university if I tried spreading such decadent theses again. And so that you know, he yelled at me, the Americans have removed hysteria syndrome from the list of neurotic illnesses since 1987. I wish the professor was here, in this dim and distant commune, so that he could knock his head against the primitive illnesses that were ruining these people’s lives.
The extract is translated from the Albanian by Manjola Nasi