The news has just finished. The war is the only constant in the half hour of news. Now all the attention is on Bosnia, especially after the declaration of independence. Things are getting awful and the images on TV are scaring me. Some people say that it is only a matter of months and war will break out in Kosovo, too. Others continue their lives as if nothing is happening. I sit on the chair by the door, after serving tea to your father, you, your brothers and their wives. Your mother walks into the living room and heads to the fireplace to change the wood. You look at her and ask her to sit down, because you have to say two words.
“Po du mi fol dy fjalë.“
You want to say something about the war, I think, as I stay in my seat quietly and try not to make eye contact with anyone. I stare at you and try to get your thoughts out, before you turn them into words. Your mother sits down, with a gesture that gives off insecurity. It seems that the mere fact that you want to say something out loud worries her enough to make her move in a totally different way than usual. Slow and laboured, unlike the speed and quickness of her daily movements. When she sits down, you begin your speech. You cross your hands, rest your elbows on your thighs, move forward, seek everyone’s eyes, and after clearing your throat, drop the bombshell.
“I’ve decided to take them to Italy with me. I will leave with my wife and the baby.“
I feel a tremendous explosion at the level of my sternum. A flush of heat takes over my body and concentrates in my head. I keep my eyes on you, no longer caring if anyone notices. I look for you, I search your pupils, but you look towards your parents. What do you mean we’re going to Italy? You didn’t come back to stay, did you? And why didn’t you tell me before announcing it to your family? What the hell is this all about?
I feel my legs trembling, the drops of sweat sliding quickly from my neck to the bottom of my back, and my thoughts immediately go to my parents. To Mom’s poor physical condition. To Dad’s struggle to find a job after being fired as a bus driver because he is Albanian and his decision to quit smoking because he could no longer afford it. To my brother Fadil, his precarious job and his wife, so young and unprepared for family life, who can’t be of any help to Mom. I think of them and how the hell am I going to tell them that I’m leaving for Italy. No, that you have decided that we are going to Italy. Without asking me, without wanting to know what I thought, if I agreed or not.
A strange and annoying silence covers the room, tension is present in everyone’s faces and I feel myself collapsing, helpless, without any strength to react, in the hole that has opened under my feet. I didn’t expect this from you. You hurt me. I thought you were different. I fell in love with you because you seemed so distant from the other Kosovar boys. You were so shy, caring and polite, I thought you were adopted, that you were from another culture. That respect you had for any woman and that courtship of yours that was so sensitive and respectful, I literally fell head over heels for you. And now? You’ve decided our future without telling me? Did you do it out of spite? Why do you hold me guilty of the fact that our son did not recognize you when you came back from Italy after 14 months. How did you think he would recognize you if he had never seen you? You left when he was a few days old and when you came back, the only thing he knew about you was the picture of you hugging him in the garden a few days after his birth. What could I do? Other than give him that picture to kiss before putting him to bed and tell him again that Daddy would be back very soon. Do you think I felt good when he refused to hug you? When he kept staying in your brother Muharrem’s arms? When he came to whisper in my ear that this man, referring to you, should have slept under the bed and not next to me? Don’t you think I felt myself dying inside at those moments?
Finally, your father decides to destroy the silence. He does so by blessing your decision.
“Perhajr i koft.“
He remains seated, looks you in the eye, and adds nothing else. He sends down a sip of tea and nearly finishes it by the drop. The room returns to silence and none of your brothers say anything. Then you, trying to find a confidence you don’t have, while the sweat from your armpits turns the color of your shirt from purple to black, try to explain the reason for that choice. Even though no one asked you to. An insecurity, yours, that has only amplified since you took me as your bride. I think back to your fear and awkwardness during our first few nights in bed. Months with no results, which began to turn some people’s noses up. I could already hear the words of your mother and my sisters-in-law. Almost as if they hoped I wouldn’t be able to give you even one child. And then, finally, after a year and a half of anguish and fear, I got pregnant. A boy, thank God. That alone allowed me to be seen as a human being worthy of some attention.
I remain focused on your fears. The terror in confronting your family members. The inability to counter your father’s words, to not ask your siblings to follow you to work while you tear yourself apart for the whole family. For the first time, I wonder what kind of father you will be. I wonder how you will deal with our little one. Maybe you’ll be afraid of him, too. Maybe you’ll let your son walk all over you, too. I stop listening to you and think of you, your brothers, your father, your family. You told me that you were poor, that you had nothing, that you had recently fixed the house and that you still had a lot of debts, taken to be able to afford to organize the weddings of all the brothers. I watch you, as you fearfully try to say the best words that your brothers and father would expect from you, but you don’t realize that they have stopped caring about you for who knows how long now. I knew right away that in this house you were the only one trying to do something. You told me you were poor, but not that you were dirtbags. Not that you didn’t want to work the land, and that you found the most unthinkable excuses not to. You are not even capable of being proper country people. We’re all “katundar,” but my father and his brothers, with organization and sacrifice, built four houses. You, on the other hand? Yet there are so many of you males and all in good health that each of you should be living in your own home. Instead, here we are, crammed into this temporary house, still unfinished, with only one room available for each couple.
I could tell right away, the first night, what kind of trouble I had got myself into. But I agreed to stay. I stayed because I love you, regardless of your poverty. And now you do this to me? Just like that, without the slightest respect, in front of everyone? Why should I follow you to Italy and not go back to my parents? I’m beginning to think that those characteristics of yours that I liked so much are only the result of your weak character. And I thought you could be a different Albanian man. One of those who doesn’t need to scold his woman in front of the guests, as everyone does.
“Grua do this, do that. Sorry, but my Grua is slow. Grua bring me a cup of water. Grua there isn’t enough salt in the salad.”
And we women, your objects, silently following what you tell us to do. You consider yourselves men, you call yourselves “burra“, you walk around with your chests out, you smoke cigarettes as if you were successful businessmen, you raise your voices at us in the presence of guests to feel powerful, to feel like something, but without us, your wives, your objects, you would be nothing. Me, stupid, expecting you to be able to be truly different. But instead, look at you now, making a decision like that, deciding even for me and our little one without even consulting me. Not even trying to think that things in a marriage should be decided by both.
You finish talking, and I don’t even know what you said. The sound of a teaspoon hitting the rim of the tea glass brings my mind back to reality. It’s your father who has finished his tea, and he wants me to notice. He looks me in the eye, puts the spoon back into the glass and his face turns impatient, because he had to point it out to me and I, the good wife I should be, should have noticed it by myself. Her behaviour is the cherry on the cake. My body burns with rage. I get up as fast as I can and try to provide him with a fairly sorry face. I hurry to grab the glass and head to the kitchen to fill it with tea, and as I leave the room behind I pray that I never see your father, your brothers, or this damn house again. That I don’t have to serve tea to anyone. At that moment, as I take refuge in the kitchen, I realize that is exactly what will happen. Now that you have decided to take me to Italy, it will be just the three of us. There will no longer be your parents and your brothers. It’s like jumping from hell to heaven in a second. My body returns to its normal temperature, as if I’ve let myself fall backwards onto a soft bed covered with snow. I can feel the smoke leaving my body.
The way you announced it didn’t allow me to consider the most important fact. Which is that we won’t be living here any more, in this house of dirtbags and people with no respect. Me, with three years spent at the University of Prishtina studying literature, with the highest grade average in the class, me reading Kadare and Frasheri, ended up out of love being told by your mother how to clean a garden and becoming your father’s slave. On my second day of marriage, I was reminded of Dad’s words. He was the only one who told me that I would have to finish my last three exams before I got married, that once I was married I would never get my degree. I didn’t listen to him. I wanted you so bad that I put college on the back burner. And a few days before I became yours, I heard him talking to Mom in the kitchen. He told her that I would not fit in anyone’s house, that I was too independent to be anyone’s woman, that I was different from my sisters. I didn’t understand his words until I moved to you, when I woke up and realized that my future would consist of serving the inhabitants of this house and staying silent. I had decided to study to avoid this, and then I ended up in it anyway.
I return to the living room happy, ready to serve all the teas your father and brothers want to drink. It has a whole different effect now. Now that I am aware that they will be the last. We will go to Italy and be away from all this. We’ll be able to have our own life. To love each other for real, without having to hide. Have our own intimacy. I’ll be able to raise the baby without hearing everyone’s comments every time. Who knows what a beautiful place Italy must be. Maybe women are more respected, maybe people can love each other without having to hide. Surely there are better schools and there will be no war. Our son will be able to study and who knows what he will become. A doctor, maybe a lawyer or maybe a professor, who knows. Maybe I’ll be able to start studying again, maybe I’ll finish the last exams I have left and get my degree in Italy. That would be great.
I serve tea to your father and look him straight in the eye.
“Enjoy these, because they are the last from the hands of the daughter-in-law you don’t deserve,” I want to tell him, but I can’t. I’m an object in here, and I keep acting like one. I go back to sitting in the chair. Now I feel good. I look for your eyes and finally find them. I realize that you’re feeling better now, too. Maybe you didn’t tell me because you knew I would say no. You were right, damn it. You were right not to tell me, you were right to decide for us. How much I love you. And I can’t wait to love you even more when we’ll be there. We’ll go to Italy and be happy. Happy for real.