Migrants (final part)

It’s cold, I feel the wind sneak between my scarf and the collar of my coat and in a thousandth of a second reach my whole body. The icy air sends a shiver down my spine. It’s late, I’ve been waiting for you for at least ten minutes. I decide to call you, even if it means having to take my hand out of my coat pocket to get my phone, which is in my bag. The gesture costs me the exposure of my limb to the cold air. This only adds to my nervousness. I search through the latest calls, your name is the first on the list. I call you. The phone keeps ringing off the hook. On the fifth ring, you finally answer.
On my way” you say quickly and hang up. I realize you were sleeping. So it will take you a couple of minutes to get ready, added to the fifteen minutes to get here. Time I’ll have to spend sitting, in the cold, on a bench in front of the car park of the company I work for. If only I had a driving licence, if only I had been able to become an independent woman all these years in Italy.
Tisha kan e hajrit“, I wouldn’t have had to wait for you in the evening, cold, sweaty, after spending five hours cleaning the offices and bathrooms of the company. But no, in Italy, the only goal I managed to achieve has been to become a cleaning lady. All I did was clean. First the houses of our kids’ friends, then those of even richer people, where I understood the meaning of the verb “to live” and then the leap, the last step. A real contract, no more black money left in an envelope over the kitchen table. Now I’m also paying retirement contributions. A legal work contract, after 25 years in Italy.
They say it’s never too late. They also say that money doesn’t make you happy. They should experience what it’s like to live without it and spend a live breaking the back to earn just enough to survive. I think back to what my dreams were when we arrived here. I even thought I would complete the exams I had left and graduate. How naive of me. But how did I think I could accomplish so much?

I check my phone again and only five minutes have passed. I’m cold, hungry and exhausted. I just want to take a hot shower and go to sleep. My mind takes me back to the first days in Italy, I can’t get away from those memories. I think back to the happiness of being able to have our own intimacy. To the irrepressible joy of knowing that our children would study here and become someone. I wonder why a person builds so many expectations based solely on imagination. I wonder why, after Blerim, we decided to have two more kids. Didn’t we think about how much money we would need to raise them? How many things they would ask of us while they were growing up?
We didn’t think about anything, we were like under the effects of some drug. We were high on hope. We were not considering the reality of things. Being foreigners, not knowing the language and not having any friend. Our daily lives would be affected by all of this, and we would pay dearly for it. Hope had blinded us. Your salary was barely enough, then I started cleaning and with those pennies I could at least pay for the groceries. That way we could save some money to enjoy the summers in Kosovo. The only place we could afford to go. The only place we wanted to go. Where for years we carried on this narrative of the comfortable life and the immense possibilities that a country like Italy gave us. We worked the worst jobs, came home exhausted, and our daily routine was cadenced by counting down the months until summer, when we would return. We should have told the truth. We should have been proud of ourselves, of what we were doing. We had decided to throw our lives away, to break our backs, to clean up the shit of the Italians, to do the jobs they didn’t want to do, solely and exclusively to give our children a better future. But all this we did not tell anyone, we hid it, as a person tries to cover and hide a physical defect in the eyes of others. We were ashamed of ourselves, but we shouldn’t have been. We should have walked around with a sign above our heads that read in big letters, “I’m cleaning shit up to give my kids a better future“.

We had to be proud of it and hold our heads up. Everyone in Kosovo was telling us that we were safe, that we were living the good life.
Jeni pshtu, u knaqt nat Itali.
We had to show that we made money, and so we gave it away to help others. Or rather, you were giving it away to your brothers. You were building them houses, while we, every summer, had to go and sleep over at their place. Twenty-five years in Italy and we managed, with difficulty, to buy a miserable flat in Kosovo. You had to borrow money from your brothers, and then you had to give it back. You, on the other hand, had given it to them for free. Not only that, but you never changed in all these years, and it ended as I imagined. It ended up that after your brothers, even your children stepped on your toes. Albina got married to an Italian. You told her you would never let her in the house again, and she never came back. Her last words to you are a nightmare that haunts me every day.

If your only goal was for us to get married to an Albanian, you could have easily stayed in Kosovo. There was no need to come to Italy. A lifetime telling us that you did it to give us a better future, and then the only thing you really care about is the nationality of our partner. You should have stayed in Kosovo, we all would have been happier.

After Albina, it was Blerim who left home. He went to study in Rome, tried to get as far away from us as possible and succeeded. Valon, on the other hand, still lives here, but we hardly see him. He comes home late from work and always spends the weekend with his friends. At least that’s what he says, but I’m sure he has a girlfriend, most likely Italian.

I hear the sound of a car, it’s you. I struggle to get up. As I get upright, I feel an even stronger tremor in my legs and twinges in my lower back. I’m ruined, my body is useless. I open the door, sit down and fasten my seatbelt. You’re listening to a folk music CD at a medium-high volume, and I’m already annoyed.
A je lodh?” You ask me in a cold, detached, disinterested tone.
Jo, jo,” I reply, looking out the window to my right, trying to increase the distance between us as much as possible. As you travel crudely and at an excessively high speed down the road toward home, a song sung with ciftelijat starts up. The pitch of the singers’ voices is very high, the noise they create is inexplicable, and I have the feeling that my head could explode at any moment. I don’t say anything, I don’t have the strength to argue. I would like you to turn the volume down, I would like you to get there on your own, I would like you to remember how many times I have told you that I don’t like these songs and that the high-volume bothers me. But you don’t get it, you’ve never got anything, on your own. You always have to be reminded, how and when to do things. And I don’t have the will or the strength any more. I close my eyes and try to isolate myself, but the attempt proves impossible.

After an endless ride we finally arrive home. I open the door, we get in the elevator and spend the four floors of the ascent in religious silence. You look at your phone, while I stare at myself in the mirror. I am fifty-two years old, but look at least ten years older. We get to our floor, I anticipate you getting outside the elevator. I open the door and head for the kitchen, checking to see if you’ve eaten. I see everything in order, and it drives me crazy.
You haven’t eaten?” I ask, yelling.
You reach the kitchen with all the calm in the world. As you keep your gaze on your phone, you tell me to make two eggs, that you’ll eat them with some cheese. Then you sit down at the table, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. You don’t even make an effort to grab a tissue or cutlery. You make yourself comfortable and wait for me to serve you, as you have done all these years, as I have agreed to do since the day I agreed to become your wife. I stare at the oven and try to keep my cool, even though the only thing I want to do is turn around and throw something at you. Now I also have to make you dinner, because you are unable to do anything in this blessed house.

I take the pan, open the bottle of oil and pour an excessive amount, with all the nervousness I have on me. Then I immediately break the eggs and throw them into the pan, without waiting for the oil to be hot. I stay in that position, staring at the pan, while you turn on the television and don’t notice anything. I would like to scream at you, that this is the last time, that from my hands you will not eat anything more, but I keep the toad inside. I cannot ruin the plan if I want it to work out. In the meantime, the oil has heated up, and the eggs are starting to cook. I watch them impatiently, hoping to speed up the process. After a few minutes I remove them from the pan, even though they’re not exactly ready, but you won’t notice anyway. I throw salt on them with a disinterested motion, not caring where the salt will end up, and place them on a too-small plate. I hand it to you and move in the opposite direction before you’ve grabbed it properly. For a second I’m afraid it might fall off, but it doesn’t.

I walk down the hallway to the bedroom to get my pyjamas. I encounter photos of what has been our family. One photo, the largest one, catches my eye. Us on the couch, a few months after Valon was born. You’re holding the little one in your arms, Albina sitting on my lap wearing her favourite dress, white with red roses, and Blerim, all proudly wearing the Inter jersey, between us. We laugh, we are happy. It seems like an eternity ago.
When did we stop being happy?
When did we realize that we no longer had any hope of realizing our dreams?
When did we stop fighting?
An aura of disappointment and sadness takes over my mind. I reach the bedroom, grab my pyjamas under my pillow, and take the reverse route to the bathroom. I walk faster, bringing my gaze to the faded white of the walls to avoid running into more photos of our past, full of dreams and hopes. I get into the bathroom and close the door with a hasty gesture. Take off my clothes, catapult myself into the shower and finally experience the first lovely feeling of the day. The warm water on my temple is like heaven. I stay like this for a couple of minutes, before my mind takes me back to tomorrow’s plan. I will leave. I’ll leave the divorce papers for you to sign on the kitchen table. I don’t know how you’ll react, I don’t know how this news will affect you. You’ll probably go looking for me in Kosovo, but you won’t find me. I don’t know what my destination will be either. I have booked a cab for tomorrow morning at 10am, when you will be at work. I will ask him to take me to the airport. There I will buy a ticket for the first available flight. You will never find me again.

I take the shampoo, pour it on my right hand and then start spreading it on my hair. I start at the forehead and work my way to the back of my head. Like this, in repetition, for a lot of times. Then I let the water run again, close my eyes and let it remove the shampoo from my head, without me having to use my hands, which in the meantime I have clasped one to the other. The foam covers my face and mixes with tears. I squeeze my fingers tighter and tighter, and the crying becomes even more powerful. I feel the beats of my heart increase dramatically, on my face I no longer feel the foam, but only the tears. I don’t have the strength to remain standing and so, leaning against the wall – in a slow and passive way – I let myself slide down. I continue to cry and keep my hands clenched. Now the water hits me at shoulder height. I keep my eyes closed and wonder how we made it this far. We wanted to live two lives, one in Italy and one in Kosovo. We ended up not being able to live even one of them. Furthermore, we lost our children, our marriage and even our country. We remained so anchored to the idea we had of it, that even today we keep looking for it, but the country we left behind does not exist any more. Everything has changed, and the people have changed too. Last summer you spent the whole trip complaining because no one had invited you for a proper dinner, because your brothers had only visited once, and your nephews not even once. I stayed silent the whole time, realizing that your mind and heart are still there, when we left, 25 years ago.

I let the water continue to fall on my body, not daring to open my eyes. For a moment, I hope that by opening them, everything could go back to when we were happy and taking pictures all together. To when we were made of hope. But I am aware that now I have to think about my own happiness. The kids are independent, and I don’t want to keep being your servant. Maybe I can be happy alone, in another country. Maybe it will be the right time. I will try to do as Pirandello had written. I’ll leave, I’ll escape and I’ll try to live a new life, a life that is only mine, to live for real. If nothing else, I will still have my books from Italy. The books that our kids began to read and bring into the house when they were young. They tried to show us the way, but we were only interested in them becoming like us. That they marry someone like us. So we wouldn’t have to be ashamed in the eyes of our relatives. They tried, to get us to read them. With me, they succeeded, of course. Hungry as I have always been for literature. Discovering Italian literature has been the oxygen that has allowed me to breathe all these years. To you, on the other hand, those books have always bothered you. Albina was probably right, we should have stayed in Kosovo, if our goal was only to create our own copies. But that was not the initial intent. We had decided to come here to be happy, to create a family, something only ours, something different from what we were leaving behind, something that everyone would envy us. Those people from whom we couldn’t wait to get away, for whom we then spent our summers always in the same place, and for whom we forgot what our intentions were. Their possible judgement has conditioned our lives and only now, after 25 years, have we realized that they never gave a damn about us. They were there for us as long as we had money to give away. When we ran out, they forgot about us. We couldn’t get anything done all these years. We destroyed everything we could, we lost everything we could, we failed. Maybe, looking back, in the end we were the best example for our children. The example not to be followed. Look at what we did and do the opposite.

Gezim Qadraku

Ce ne andiamo in Italia (parte finale)

Fa freddo, sento il vento intrufolarsi tra la sciarpa e il colletto del cappotto e in un millesimo di secondo raggiungere tutto il corpo. L’aria gelida mi provoca un brivido alla schiena. È tardi, sono almeno dieci minuti che ti aspetto. Decido di chiamarti, anche se questo implica dover tirare fuori la mano dalla tasca del cappotto per prendere il cellulare, che è in borsa. Il gesto mi costa l’esposizione dell’arto all’aria fredda. Questo non fa altro che aumentare il mio nervoso. Cerco tra le ultime chiamate, il tuo nome è il primo della lista. Ti chiamo. Il telefono continua a squillare a vuoto. Al quinto squillo finalmente rispondi.
Arrivo”, dici subito e metti giù. Capisco che stavi dormendo. Quindi ti ci vorranno un paio di minuti per prepararti, sommati al quarto d’ora per arrivare qui. Tempo che dovrò passare seduta, al freddo, su una panchina di fronte al parcheggio dell’azienda per la quale lavoro. Se solo avessi la patente, se solo fossi stata in grado di diventare una donna indipendente, in tutti questi anni in Italia.
Tisha kan e hajrit”, non avrei dovuto aspettarti la sera, al freddo, sudata, dopo aver passato cinque ore a pulire gli uffici e i bagni dell’azienda. Ma no, in Italia l’unico traguardo che sono riuscita a raggiungere è stato diventare una donna delle pulizie. Non ho fatto altro che pulire. Prima le case degli amici dei nostri figli, poi quelle di persone ancora più benestanti, dove ho compreso il significato del verbo “vivere” e poi il salto di qualità, l’ultimo step. Un contratto vero, niente più soldi in nero lasciati in una busta sopra il tavolo della cucina. Ora pago anche i contributi per la pensione. Un contratto di lavoro legale, dopo 25 anni trascorsi in Italia.
Dicono che non è mai troppo tardi. Dicono anche che i soldi non fanno la felicità. Dovrebbero provare cosa vuol dire vivere senza di essi e trascorrere la vita a spaccarsi la schiena per guadagnarne giusto abbastanza da poter sopravvivere. Ripenso a quali erano i miei sogni quando arrivammo qui. Pensavo addirittura di completare gli esami che mi erano rimasti e di laurearmi. Che ingenua. Ma come pensavo di riuscire a fare tanto?

Ricontrollo il cellulare e sono passati soltanto cinque minuti. Ho freddo, ho fame e sono esausta. Voglio soltanto farmi una doccia bollente e andare a dormire. La mente mi riporta indietro ai primi giorni in Italia, non riesco ad allontanarmi da quei ricordi. Ripenso alla felicità per la possibilità di poter avere una nostra intimità. Alla gioia incontenibile nel sapere che i nostri figli avrebbero studiato qui e sarebbero diventati qualcuno. Mi domando perché una persona si costruisca così tante aspettative basandosi esclusivamente sulla propria immaginazione. Mi chiedo perché, dopo Blerim, abbiamo deciso di avere altri due figli. Non pensavamo a quanti soldi ci sarebbero serviti per crescerli? A quante cose ci avrebbero chiesto durante la loro crescita?
Non pensavamo a niente, eravamo come sotto gli effetti di qualche sostanza stupefacente. Eravamo fatti di speranza. Non consideravamo la realtà delle cose. Essere stranieri, non sapere la lingua e non conoscere nessuno. La nostra quotidianità sarebbe stata condizionata da tutto questo e l’avremmo pagato a caro prezzo. La speranza ci aveva resi ciechi. Il tuo stipendio bastava a malapena, poi io iniziai a pulire e con quegli spiccioli riuscivo a pagare almeno la spesa. Così potevamo mettere da parte qualche soldo per goderci le estati in Kosovo. L’unico posto dove potevamo permetterci di andare. L’unico posto dove volevamo andare. Dove per anni abbiamo portato avanti questa narrativa della vita agiata e delle possibilità immense che un paese come l’Italia ci dava. Facevamo i peggiori lavori, tornavamo a casa distrutti e la nostra quotidianità era cadenzata dal conteggio dei mesi che mancavano all’estate, al momento del ritorno. Avremmo dovuto raccontare la verità. Avremmo dovuto essere fieri di noi stessi, di quello che stavamo facendo. Avevamo deciso di buttare via la nostra vita, di spaccarci la schiena, di pulire la merda degli italiani, di fare i lavori che a loro non andava di fare, solo ed esclusivamente per dare ai nostri figli un futuro migliore. Ma tutto questo non lo raccontavamo a nessuno, lo nascondevamo, come una persona cerca di coprire e nascondere un difetto fisico agli occhi degli altri. Ci vergognavamo di noi stessi, ma non avremmo dovuto. Saremmo dovuti andare in giro con un cartello sopra la testa, con scritto a caratteri cubitali “sto pulendo la merda per dare ai miei figli un futuro migliore”.

C’era da andarne fieri e camminare a testa alta. In Kosovo ci dicevano tutti che eravamo salvi, che stavamo facendo la bella vita.
Jeni pshtu, u knaqt nat Itali.”
Dovevamo far vedere di aver fatto i soldi e così li davamo via per aiutare gli altri. O meglio, tu li davi ai tuoi fratelli. Costruivi a loro case, mentre noi, ogni estate, dovevamo andare a dormire da loro. Venticinque anni in Italia e siamo riusciti, a fatica, a comprarci un misero appartamento in Kosovo. Hai dovuto chiedere i soldi in prestito ai tuoi fratelli e poi hai dovuto darli indietro. Tu, invece, a loro li avevi regalati. Non sei mai cambiato in tutti questi anni ed è finita come immaginavo. È finita che dopo i tuoi fratelli, anche i tuoi figli ti hanno messo i piedi in testa. Albina si è sposata con un italiano. Tu le hai detto che non l’avresti mai più fatta entrare in casa e lei non è più tornata. Le ultime parole che ti ha rivolto sono un incubo che mi perseguita ogni giorno.

Se il vostro unico obiettivo era che ci sposassimo con un albanese, potevate tranquillamente rimanere in Kosovo. Non c’era bisogno di venire in Italia. Una vita a romperci i coglioni che l’avete fatto per darci un futuro migliore e poi l’unica cosa che veramente vi interessa è la nazionalità del nostro partner. Dovevate rimanere in Kosovo, saremmo stati tutti più felici.

Dopo Albina, è stato Blerim a uscire di casa. È andato a studiare a Roma, ha cercato di allontanarsi il più possibile da noi e ce l’ha fatta. Valon, invece, vive ancora qui, ma a fatica lo vediamo. Torna a casa tardi dal lavoro e il weekend lo passa sempre dai suoi amici. Almeno così dice, ma sono sicura che ha una ragazza, molto probabilmente italiana.

Sento il rumore di una macchina, sei tu. Mi alzo con molta fatica. Come mi metto in posizione eretta, sento un tremolio ancora più forte alle gambe e fitte nella zona lombare. Sono da buttare via ormai, il mio fisico non serve più a nulla. Apro la portiera, mi siedo e allaccio la cintura. Stai ascoltando un cd di musica folklore a un volume medio alto e sono già infastidita.
A je lodh?” Mi domandi con un tono freddo, distaccato e disinteressato.
Jo, jo“, ti rispondo, guardando fuori dal finestrino alla mia destra, cercando di aumentare il più possibile la distanza fra noi. Mentre percorri in maniera rozza e a una velocità troppo elevata la strada verso casa, parte una canzone cantata con le ciftelijat. Il tono di voce dei cantanti è altissimo, il baccano che riescono a creare è inspiegabile e ho la sensazione che la testa mi possa esplodere da un momento all’altro. Non ti dico niente, non ho le forze per litigare. Vorrei che abbassassi il volume, vorrei che ci arrivassi da solo, che ti ricordassi quante volte ti ho detto che non mi piacciono queste canzoni e che il volume alto mi dà fastidio. Ma non ci arrivi, non ci sei mai arrivato a niente, da solo. Bisogna sempre ricordartele, ripetertele le cose. E io non ne ho più né la voglia, né la forza. Chiudo gli occhi e cerco di isolarmi, ma il tentativo risulta impossibile.

Dopo un tempo infinito arriviamo finalmente a casa. Apro il portone, saliamo in ascensore e trascorriamo i quattro piani di salita in religioso silenzio. Tu guardi il cellulare, mentre io fisso me stessa allo specchio. Ho cinquantadue anni, ne dimostro almeno dieci in più. Arriviamo al nostro piano, ti anticipo all’uscita dall’ascensore. Apro la porta e mi dirigo verso la cucina, per controllare se hai mangiato. Vedo tutto in ordine e la cosa mi fa impazzire di rabbia.
Non hai mangiato?” Ti chiedo urlando.
Raggiungi la cucina con tutta la calma del mondo. Mentre mantieni il tuo sguardo sul cellulare, mi dici di preparare due uova, che le mangi con un po’ di formaggio. Poi ti siedi a tavola, come se fosse la cosa più normale del mondo. Non ti sforzi neanche di prendere un fazzoletto o le posate. Ti metti comodo e aspetti che io ti serva, come hai fatto in tutti questi anni, come ho accettato di fare io dal giorno in cui ho accettato di diventare tua moglie. Fisso il forno e cerco di mantenere la calma, anche se l’unica cosa che vorrei fare è girarmi e tirarti qualcosa addosso. Ora devo anche prepararti la cena, perché non sei in grado di fare nulla in questa benedetta casa.

Prendo la padella, apro la bottiglia di olio e ne verso una quantità eccessiva, con tutto il nervoso che ho addosso. Poi rompo subito le uova e le butto in padella, senza aspettare che l’olio sia caldo. Resto in quella posizione, a fissare la padella, mentre tu accendi la televisione e non ti accorgi di nulla. Vorrei urlartelo, che questa è l’ultima volta, che dalle mie mani non mangerai più nulla, ma tengo il rospo dentro. Non devo rovinare il piano, se voglio che funzioni. Nel frattempo l’olio si è scaldato e le uova iniziano a cuocersi. Le guardo con impazienza, sperando di accelerare il processo. Dopo pochi minuti le tolgo dalla padella, anche se non sono esattamente pronte, ma tanto non te ne accorgerai. Ci butto sopra del sale con un movimento disinteressato, non curante di dove il sale finirà e le metto su un piatto troppo piccolo. Te lo porgo e mi muovo verso la direzione opposta, prima che tu l’abbia afferrato per bene. Per un secondo ho paura che possa cadere, ma non succede.

Percorro il corridoio per andare in camera da letto a prendere il pigiama. Incontro le foto di quella che è stata la nostra famiglia. Una foto, la più grande, attira la mia attenzione. Noi sul divano, pochi mesi dopo la nascita di Valon. Tu che tieni in braccio il piccolino, Albina seduta sulle mie ginocchia con addosso quello che era il suo vestito preferito, bianco con le rose rosse e Blerim, tutto fiero con la maglia dell’Inter, in mezzo a noi. Ridiamo, siamo felici. Mi sembra passata un’eternità. Quando abbiamo smesso di essere felici? Quando abbiamo capito che non avevamo più alcuna speranza di realizzare i nostri sogni? Quando abbiamo smesso di lottare? Un’aura di delusione e tristezza si impossessa della mia mente. Raggiungo la camera da letto, prendo il pigiama da sotto il cuscino e faccio il percorso inverso per raggiungere il bagno. Cammino più rapidamente, portando il mio sguardo verso il bianco scolorito delle mura per evitare di imbattermi in altre foto del nostro passato pieno di sogni e speranze. Entro in bagno e chiudo la porta con un gesto frettoloso. Mi spoglio, mi catapulto in doccia e finalmente provo la prima sensazione di benessere della giornata. L’acqua calda sulla mia tempia è paradisiaca. Resto così per un paio di minuti, prima che la mente mi riporti al piano di domani. Me ne andrò. Ti lascerò le carte per il divorzio da firmare sul tavolo della cucina. Non so come reagirai, non so che effetto ti farà questa notizia. Probabilmente andrai a cercarmi in Kosovo, ma non mi troverai. Neanche io so quale sarà la mia destinazione. Ho prenotato un taxi per domani mattina alle 10, quando tu sarai al lavoro. Gli chiederò di portarmi in aeroporto. Lì comprerò un biglietto per il primo volo disponibile. Non mi troverai mai più.

Prendo lo shampoo, lo verso sulla mano destra e poi inizio a spalmarlo sui capelli. Parto dalla fronte e vado verso la nuca. Così, in ripetizione, per un sacco di volte. Poi faccio andare di nuovo l’acqua, chiudo gli occhi e lascio che il getto tolga lo shampoo dalla testa, senza che io debba utilizzare le mani, che nel frattempo ho stretto una all’altra. La schiuma mi copre il viso e si mischia alle lacrime. Stringo le dita sempre più forte e il pianto diventa ancora più potente. Sento i battiti del cuore aumentare a dismisura, sul mio volto non percepisco più la schiuma, ma soltanto le lacrime. Non ho la forza per restare in piedi e così, appoggiandomi al muro – in maniera lenta e passiva – mi lascio scivolare giù. Continuo a piangere e a tenere le mani strette. Ora l’acqua mi colpisce all’altezza delle spalle. Mantengo gli occhi chiusi e mi domando come abbiamo fatto ad arrivare fino a questo punto. Volevamo vivere due vite, una in Italia e una in Kosovo. Abbiamo finito per non essere in grado di viverne neanche una. Abbiamo perso i nostri figli, il nostro matrimonio e anche il nostro paese. Siamo rimasti così ancorati all’idea che avevamo di esso, che ancora oggi continuiamo a cercarlo, ma il paese che abbiamo lasciato non esiste più. È cambiato tutto e sono cambiate anche le persone. L’estate scorsa hai passato tutto il viaggio di ritorno a lamentarti perché nessuno ti aveva invitato per una cena come si deve, perché i tuoi fratelli erano venuti a trovarci soltanto una volta, mentre i tuoi nipoti neanche una. Sono rimasta in silenzio tutto il tempo, mi sono resa conto che la tua mente e il tuo cuore sono ancora fermi a 25 anni fa.

Lascio che l’acqua continui a cadere sul mio corpo, non ho il coraggio di aprire gli occhi. Per un momento spero che, aprendoli, ogni cosa possa ritornare a quando eravamo felici e ci scattavamo le foto tutti insieme. A quando eravamo fatti di speranza. Ma sono cosciente che ora devo pensare alla mia, di felicità. I ragazzi sono indipendenti ormai e io non voglio continuare a essere la tua serva. Forse potrò essere felice da sola, in un altro paese. Forse sarà la volta buona. Proverò a fare come aveva scritto Pirandello. Me ne andrò, scapperò e proverò a vivere una vita nuova, una vita soltanto mia, a vivere per davvero. Se non altro, dell’Italia mi rimarranno i libri. Quelli che i nostri figli iniziarono a leggere e a portare in casa sin da piccoli. Provarono a indicarci la via, ma a noi interessava solo che diventassero come noi. Che si sposassero con qualcuno come noi. Così non avremmo dovuto vergognarci agli occhi dei nostri parenti. Ci hanno provato, a farceli leggere. Con me ci sono riusciti, ovviamente. Affamata come sono sempre stata di letteratura. Scoprire quella italiana è stato l’ossigeno che mi ha permesso di respirare in tutti questi anni. A te, invece, quei libri hanno sempre dato fastidio. Probabilmente Albina aveva ragione, saremmo dovuti restare in Kosovo, se il nostro obiettivo era soltanto quello di creare delle nostre fotocopie. Ma quello non era l’intento iniziale. Avevamo deciso di venire qui per essere felici, per creare una famiglia, qualcosa di soltanto nostro, qualcosa di diverso da quello che ci lasciavamo indietro, qualcosa che ci avrebbero invidiato tutti. Quelle persone dalle quali non vedevamo l’ora di allontanarci, per le quali poi abbiamo speso le estati sempre nello stesso posto e per le quali abbiamo dimenticato quali erano le nostre intenzioni. Il loro possibile giudizio ha condizionato la nostra vita e soltanto ora, dopo 25 anni, ci siamo accorti che a loro, di noi, non è mai fregato nulla. Ci sono stati vicini finché avevamo soldi da regalare. Quando li abbiamo finiti, si sono dimenticati di noi. Non siamo riusciti a fare niente in tutti questi anni. Abbiamo distrutto tutto quello che potevamo, abbiamo perso ogni cosa possibile, abbiamo fallito. Forse, ripensandoci, alla fine siamo stati il miglior esempio per i nostri figli. L’esempio da non seguire. Guardate quello che abbiamo fatto noi e fate il contrario.

Gezim Qadraku

Migrants (2° part)

It’s hot. The month of July has brought with it high temperatures and mugginess with the force of a tornado. Blerim and Valon are at home. Blerim, until a week ago, used to spend his days at its school camp. Then, because of the problem with the car’s control unit and how much it costs to repair it, he couldn’t go any more. We don’t have money. And now that they both have to spend an entire summer day at home, they look like two wild animals forced into a cage. They growl at each other, constantly fighting. As I go to break them up, they resume fighting a few minutes later. After a while, I give up and let one of them wear the other down. Although sometimes I feel like they have an endless amount of energy and desire to annoy each other. Valon is always complaining that Blerim won’t let him play with the console. Every time, he comes crying to me and asks me to buy him a joystick. It costs 50 euros, the damn thing.

The only moment of the day they can breathe is after 4pm, when I can finally take them to the park. I have to work during the day. I have to clean wealthy people’s houses every day. From 9 to 11:30 am and then from 2 to 4 pm. Today is Thursday, I have to go to the Brambilla’s. I always take the kids with me, they love that flat. And Mr. Luciano told me that they can use the console. He has two joysticks, so they don’t have to fight, and can play together.

It’s 13:35 already. I finish the dishes in a hurry. While I’m in the kitchen, I yell at the kids to get ready. Blerim replies, shouting, “WE ARE READY”. I quickly dry my hands and with the same frequency of movement I go to my bedroom. I’m behind schedule. We should be on our way by now. The Brambilla’s apartment is about half an hour away from ours. I get dressed as quickly as I can, go back to the kitchen to check if I left any of the burners on, grab my bag and go to call the kids.

They are watching The Simpsons.
“Come on kids!”
“Mom, but the episode isn’t over yet,” Blerim tells me, as he doesn’t take his eyes off the television.
“BLERIM, SHPEJT,” I yell at him. (BLERIM, QUICK)
He realizes that he has to turn off the television immediately. Valon is already in the hallway, he always understands without having to repeat anything to him. We get out, and the heat seems to double. On that stretch of Via Piave there isn’t a thread of shade. We walk for about ten minutes under the scorching sun. I hold Valon’s hand, while Blerim walks in front of us. We proceed in religious silence, as if not to waste the energy that the torrid heat tries to suck out of us at every step we take. The town seems to be in hibernation. Not a soul is heard around. It’s the hottest time of the day, and in fact the smartest thing to do would be to stay indoors. But I have to clean the houses of the Italians, and I don’t have a car licence. But even if I did, even if I could drive, we still couldn’t afford a car. I tell myself that every time I think about it. That it would be useless. That it’s okay.

We arrive at Mr. Luciano’s apartment at 2:05pm. I am late, but less than I thought. In an hour and fifty-five minutes I have to do the kitchen, the living room and the bathroom. At 4 p.m. I have to get the hell out of this place. I can’t stay longer. Either Mr. Luciano or Mrs. Claudia might come home and the last thing they want to find is me cleaning up. The kids immediately go into the living room and start playing. I head to the kitchen, where there are still the leftovers of last night’s dinner. They don’t get tired of doing anything. I imagine them finishing their meal and getting up to go into the living room, enjoying some movies, while they love each other and enjoy this dream life. They are recently married, both over forty years old. He is an insurance agent, she is a university professor. They both work in Milan, spending most of the day there. They bought an apartment outside Milan because they prefer a small, quiet town. They have no children and give me the idea that they never will. All this money, this wealth, who knows who they will leave it to. What a waste of a life without children, I tell myself every time I get into this flat. The most important piece of a family is missing, and yet they seem happy as they are. On the kitchen table there are crumbs of bread, a slice of Bresaola and a bottle of red wine. They don’t even bother to put the wine in the fridge. On the note that they always leave on the table, there is the usual indication: “as usual”.

I look at the clock, it is 2:10 PM. I haven’t started yet, and I’m already tired. It’s too hot this time of year and the more I go on, the more I get the feeling that I won’t be able to keep cleaning so many places. I’ll have to leave some, but we need the money. It’s never enough. I close my eyes, clench my fists, take a deep breath, and try to push through. Ever since I stepped into the kitchen, I’ve had the feeling that the room smells like Bresaola. That slice, left there since last night, has filled the room with its aroma. I stare at it for an infinite amount of time. The amount of seconds my eyes remain on it is directly proportional to the increased desire to eat it. I shouldn’t, I keep telling myself. But nobody will notice it, I convince myself. Finally, I take it and with a quick gesture, caused by the fear that someone might see me, I kick it into my mouth. I chew brazenly. If someone were watching me, they would think that I haven’t eaten in days. I look like a wolf that has just managed to kill its prey, and after the effort of the chase finally manages to take its first bite. It’s damn good. As I chew it, and deep in my heart I hope that for some strange reason the slice can reproduce between my teeth and last forever, I realize the poor quality of food that we can afford every day. I eat the last piece of the slice and feel like I am reborn. I hear the children laughing with delight, I can sense that they are having fun, and this gives me the strength to start cleaning up.

I take the bottle of wine and I put it in the fridge. With the rag, I pull away the crumbs. I pick up the pace and continue like this, for an hour and fifty minutes. Without ever taking a break, not even to go to the bathroom. We need money, I tell myself. And then, in less than a month, we’re going to Kosovo. The children are thrilled. All they do is ask how many days are left. You seem happier this time of year, too. You’re looking forward to seeing your parents, and I’m looking forward to seeing Mom. I miss her. Every time summer comes around, I realize how much of a year it is without seeing a parent. Too long a time, exhausting. This should not be legal. During our last call, Mom said something that made me smile.
“If only there was a little camera in these phones, if only we could see each other when we talk.”

“Turn it off, we have to go, kids.”
“No mom, we have to finish the last game,” Blerim retorted, while Valon had already taken his hands off the joystick.
“BLERIM, TE LUTEM,” he forces me to raise my voice. (BLERIM, PLEASE)
“You’re taking us to the park, though.”
“Of course I’ll do. Come on, let’s go.”
Blerim’s elementary school park is only about ten minutes from the Brambilla’s apartment. The children walk ahead of me, holding hands and continuing to laugh. It moves me to see them so close. At a certain point, they stop and turn in sync towards me. They look at me smiling and signal me with their hand to approach quickly.
“Hajde mam,” Blerim says to me as he continues to hold Valon’s hand. (Come mam)
I walk up to them smiling, dropping to my knees as I feel like it’s Valon who wants to speak for both of them.
“Go ahead, ask him,” Blerim encourages him.
“Mom, when are we going to live in a house like Mr. Luciano’s too?”

It’s like a syringe piercing my heart. It goes in one side and comes out the other. I feel my knees buckle and I rest my hands on their shoulders to keep from falling. It’s not the request that hurts, but the smile and hope I see in their eyes. They really think something like this is possible. In their naivety, they are convinced that one day we could actually afford such an apartment. I tuck my head between theirs, squeeze their shoulders and move them toward me. I do this to hide my face and the tears that wet my eyes. I try to figure out when to open my mouth and speak, without them realizing I’m sobbing. I keep waiting, aware that the time isn’t right yet.
“When Mom?” Valon asks again.
“Soon rrushi i jem, soon,” I manage to tell him, stopping the tears for a couple of seconds and feeling like the worst mother on the face of the earth. We stay in that position for a few more minutes, while I stop crying and keep stroking their backs, and they hold me tight. Then I get up, and the physical pain adds to the emotional one. I feel the twinges in my back, the muscles in my calves hardening, and a weight that rests on my shoulders and tries to crush me into the ground.

We arrive at the park, the kids run to the swings. I see Luana sitting on the bench behind the swings and join her. She has not been doing well lately. She tells me how her fights with her husband have increased, how he comes home late at night. Many times he is drunk. She doesn’t tell me, but I’m convinced he also puts his hands on her.
“Hi Luana,” I greet her and immediately notice a different light in her eyes.
“Hi honey, how are you?” she asks me. I still don’t understand why she calls me that and not by my name, but I don’t feel like asking her, I feel ashamed. It must be a habit of Italian women, calling each other that way.
“Fine, thanks. A little tired. A lot work today. Are you okay?” I answer her mechanically. I still scan the words with some awe. After a day like this, I have the feeling that the Italian words – which I try to learn every day by listening to the television and the children talking to each other – vanish from my memory, dissolve in the air, evaporate. So I have to look for them, chase them, capture them, bring them back to me and try to make sense of them, putting them in the right order.
“I feel better, I have news for you.”
“How nice. Tell me!”
“I’ve decided to divorce my husband. I think it’s the best thing for me. I can’t go on like this any more…”
My attention remains anchored on that sentence. Luana keeps talking, moves her body towards me, and I assume she is telling me everything that happened. I don’t follow her any more though, I can’t. My brain is stuck on that initial sentence, on that verb. To divorce. My vision blurs, my attention vanishes completely, the only thing I can pick up is the relief in Luana’s eyes.

“But how did you get divorced?
How do you think that’s the best decision for you?
Why did you do it?” I want to ask her, but I keep looking at her eyes, at least to show her that I’m listening. She proceeds uninterrupted. I slowly manage to bring my attention back to what she is telling me. I realize that I have been silent for too long. I don’t want to imagine what kind of expression I have. So I abruptly interrupt her, look her straight in the eye and tell her I understand. That it couldn’t have been easy. She continues her story, but out of the corner of my eye I notice that Valon has fallen, and I immediately move towards him. I already know that he’s not hurt, because as I move in his direction, he’s already up, and he’s not even crying. I use this alibi to detach myself from Luana. I don’t want to hear her talk any more today. I reach Valon, check his wound, from which some blood is coming out. I take a wet wash cloth from my pocket and wipe off the dirt that has stuck to the skin.
“Don’t worry mom, it doesn’t hurt,” he tells me as he tries to pull away from me as quickly as possible and go back to playing with his friends. I let him go without saying anything.

“Everything’s fine. Just a bit of blood,” I tell Luana, as soon as I get back to her. She continues to tell me about her decision, repeats all the events that led her to make that choice. I am still lost in my thoughts, in the doubts that her divorce is putting in my marriage. What if one day we get divorced, too? I wonder, as I try to look into her eyes to show her some semblance of my interest. A shiver of fear runs down my spine. No, we don’t do those things. We are not like that, we are not like them. I repeat myself, convinced and proud. We don’t ruin the family in this way. Besides, what reason would we have to get divorced? I look at the kids, they are playing hide-and-seek. Blerim is counting, while Valon is hiding behind a tree with one of his friends.

The time passes faster than expected, and fortunately it’s already time to go home. I say bye to Luana and her children, Luca and Ada. We head home and I hold both Valon and Blerim by the hand. Those doubts haven’t left my head yet, that damned verb – divorce – keeps turning in my skull, exactly like a mosquito. It causes me the same annoyance, as I try to chase it away and after a few seconds I still feel its buzzing. I shake the children’s hands. Valon reciprocates the squeeze, as if he’s just waiting for this. Blerim, on the other hand, disengages and picks up the pace.

We arrive at the home. I tell the children to take a shower, make it quick, because you’ll be there soon, and I’ll start preparing dinner. I make pasta for the children, while for you, I heat up the gullash I made for lunch. I know you prefer it reheated, that’s why I always make it when you’re at work, so it’s perfect for dinner. That’s what I had heard your mom saying the first time I saw you eating it at your parents’ place. You were back from your usual endless day at the pazar. You’d gone out early in the morning to sell some peaches, but the excruciating heat had spoiled half of them, and you’d sold very few of the other half. Not only that, but you came home empty-handed, dry, tired, destroyed. I didn’t understand how your mother could think of reheating a dish she had prepared for lunch. But I could see the happiness in your eyes, when you sat down at the table and your mother came towards you holding the heated Gullash.
“Qe djali i jem, qysh t’pelqen tyje,” she said to you. (Here is my son, as you like it).

I heat the Gullash using the lowest possible flame, excited, hoping to be able to cause the same happiness in you that your mother was able to. I hear the children have finished and a few minutes later the bell rings. I immediately run to open the front door of the building, and then the door of the flat. I hear your heavy footsteps approaching the three floors of stairs. I try to sense your tiredness by calculating how long it takes you to get upstairs. You’re slower than usual, I gasp in awe. What if something happened to you? Maybe you hurt yourself at work? My heartbeats increase in intensity. It takes you forever to get to the front door. You look up from your phone, you look at me for a few seconds, your expression doesn’t change.
“Grua,” you greet me. (Wife)
“A je lodh Afrim?”, I ask, worried that something has happened to you. (Are you tired Afrim?)
“Jo, jo. Nuk pat shum pun sot,” you say to me while moving toward the door. (No, no. There wasn’t that much work today)
“A je mir?”, I ask you to make sure that you are really okay. (Are you okay?)
You look at me crookedly and don’t answer, not understanding why I asked. Then I tell you that I’m going to get your clothes, to take a shower, that dinner is almost ready.

I run to the room to get your clothes and immediately take them to the bathroom. You are standing and still looking at your phone.
“Qe teshat,” I say and hang them behind the door for you. (Here are the clothes)
I hear the children laughing in their room, meanwhile the water in the pot boils and I throw the pasta. The bell rings again, it’s Albina. She climbs the stairs in the blink of an eye. I immediately understand that her first English lesson must have gone well. The only one in the class to have been chosen for this extracurricular course. The teachers told me she has a talent for languages. My flower, my favorite rose. I wait for her with the door open, dressed in all the pride a mother can muster. She runs up to me with an endless smile.
“Hajde qika e jem”, I don’t have time to ask her, that she is already telling me everything. (Come my daughter)
She continues to speak at an inordinate speed and tone. I try to take the backpack off her shoulders, but it’s a challenge, because she keeps telling me to wait and stop for a second, that she has to tell me another detail of her day.

You finish your shower and come into the kitchen.
“Buka osht gati,” I say, even though you didn’t ask, afraid that you might think you have to wait a long time. (Dinner, it’s ready).
You sit down and start changing the channels on the television. I hear you huffing as I get the kids’ pasta sauce warmed up.
“These kids don’t even know how to ask their father if he’s tired,” you spit out of your mouth, as coldly as you can, staring at me as I heat the sauce.
I feel your gaze on me, even though I turn my back on you. I leave the sauce and walk towards the children. Albina is with the kids, and together with Valon are watching Blerim playing PlayStation.
“Daddy has arrived, did you hear him? Come and ask him if he’s tired. HURRY UP.”
Valon and Albina immediately leave the room.
“But you work too mom, he never asks if you’re tired,” Blerim tells me as he continues to stare at the TV. I pretend I didn’t hear him, even though I want to hug him tightly.
“Come Blerim, dinner is ready.”

The children sit down at the table. Albina is still excited about her first English lesson. You watch the news with a disinterested attitude. You have your phone beside your cutlery and seem to be waiting for a text or call. I wait for you to ask Albina how her day went, she too seems to be waiting for just that, but you say nothing. Maybe you forgot, I tell myself, trying to come up with an excuse. I pour the Gullash onto the plate and hand it to you.
“Gullash, qysh t’pelqen tyje,” I tell you, waiting for a reaction. (Gullash, the way you like it).
The only thing you do is raise your arms from the table so that I can put the plate down. You start eating without waiting for me to have served the children, without waiting for me to have sat down, too. The voice of the journalist, along with the clatter of cutlery, are the background to this silent dinner. I see the smiles still on the children’s faces, you’re eating the Gullash, and I have a feeling you’re enjoying it. All this is heartening. I tell myself that it’s just a day like this, that I shouldn’t give too much importance to certain things. That I’m just more tired than usual, and luckily the vacations are approaching. We’ll go to Kosovo, and I’ll see you smile for real. That smile full of life and joy that made me fall in love with you, that smile I haven’t seen for so long. And who knows, maybe the children are right to believe. Maybe we’ll make it, too, to have a house like Mr. Luciano’s, to live a life like that of the Italians. Maybe it’s not too late yet.

Gezim Qadraku

Click here to read the final part

Ce ne andiamo in Italia (2° parte)

Fa caldo. Il mese di luglio ha portato con sé temperature alte e afa con la forza di un tornado. Blerim e Valon sono a casa. Blerim, fino a una settimana fa, passava le giornate in oratorio. Poi, a causa del problema alla centralina della macchina e di quanto ci costa ripararlo, non è più potuto andare. Mancano i soldi. E ora che entrambi devono trascorrere un’intera giornata estiva in casa, sembrano due animali selvaggi costretti in gabbia. Si ringhiano addosso a vicenda, si azzuffano costantemente. Come vado a dividerli, riprendono a litigare qualche minuto dopo. Dopo un po’ ci rinuncio e lascio che uno dei due sfinisca l’altro. Anche se a volte mi sembra abbiano una quantità infinita di energia e di voglia di darsi fastidio a vicenda. Valon si lamenta sempre che Blerim non lo lascia giocare alla PlayStation. Ogni volta viene a piangere da me e mi chiede di comprargli un joystick. Costa 50 euro quel maledetto coso.

L’unico momento della giornata nel quale riescono a respirare è dopo le 16, quando finalmente riesco a portarli al parco. Devo lavorare durante la giornata. Devo pulire le case della gente benestante ogni giorno. Dalle 9 alle 11:30 e poi dalle 14:00 alle 16:00. Oggi è giovedì, devo andare dai Brambilla. Mi porto sempre dietro i bambini, amano quella casa. E poi il signor Luciano mi ha detto che possono tranquillamente giocare alla PlayStation. Lui ha due joystick, così non devono litigare e posso giocare insieme.

L’orologio segna già le 13:35. Finisco di fare le stoviglie in fretta e furia. Mentre sono in cucina urlo ai bambini di prepararsi. Blerim mi risponde a tono, “SIAMO GIA’ PRONTI NOI“. Mi asciugo velocemente le mani e con la stessa frequenza di movimenti vado in camera a cambiarmi. Sono in ritardo sulla tabella di marcia. A quest’ora dovremmo già essere in strada. La casa dei Brambilla dista una mezz’oretta dalla nostra. Mi vesto più veloce che posso, torno in cucina a controllare se ho lasciato qualche fornello acceso, prendo la borsa e vado in camera a chiamare i bambini.

Stanno guardando i Simpson.
Andiamo bambini!
Mamma, ma non è ancora finita la puntata“, mi dice Blerim, mentre non stacca gli occhi dalla televisione.
Capisce che deve spegnere immediatamente la televisione. Valon è già in corridoio, capisce sempre senza bisogno di ripetergli nulla. Scendiamo in strada e il caldo sembra duplicarsi. Su quel tratto di via Piave non c’è un filo d’ombra. Camminiamo per una decina di minuti sotto il sole cocente. Tengo per la mano Valon, mentre Blerim cammina davanti a noi. Procediamo in religioso silenzio, come per non sprecare le forze che il caldo torrido cerca di succhiarci a ogni passo che facciamo. Il paesino sembra in letargo. Non si sente anima viva in giro. Il momento più caldo della giornata e infatti la cosa più sensata è stare in casa e non uscire. Ma io devo pulire le case degli italiani e non ho la patente. Ma anche se ce l’avessi, anche se sapessi guidare, comunque non potremmo permetterci una macchina. Me lo ripeto ogni volta che ci penso. Che tanto sarebbe inutile. Che va bene così.

Arriviamo all’appartamento del signor Luciano alle 14:05. Sono in ritardo, ma meno di quanto pensassi. In un’ora e cinquantacinque minuti devo fare cucina, salotto e bagno. Alle 16 devo levare il culo da questo posto. Non posso restare di più. Uno tra il signor Luciano e la signora Claudia potrebbero tornare a casa e l’ultima cosa che vorrebbero trovare è me che pulisco. I bambini vanno subito in sala e si mettono a giocare. Io mi dirigo in cucina, dove ci sono ancora i resti della cena di ieri sera. Non si stancano di fare nulla quei due. Me li immagino che finiscono di mangiare e si alzano per andare in sala, a godersi qualche film, mentre si amano e si godono questa vita da sogno. Si sono sposati da poco, hanno entrambi più di quarant’anni. Lui fa l’assicuratore, lei è una professoressa universitaria. Lavorano entrambi a Milano, trascorrono la gran parte della giornata lì. Hanno comprato casa fuori da Milano perché preferiscono un piccolo paesino tranquillo. Non hanno figli e mi danno l’idea che mai li avranno. Tutti questi soldi, questa ricchezza, chissà a chi la lasceranno. Che spreco una vita senza figli, mi ripeto ogni volta che entro in questa casa. Manca il pezzo più importante di una famiglia, eppure loro mi sembrano felici così. Sul tavolo della cucina ci sono briciole di pane, una fetta di bresaola e una bottiglia di vino rosso. Manco il vino in frigorifero si preoccupano di mettere. Sul fogliettino che mi lasciano sempre sul tavolo, c’è la solita indicazione: “come al solito“.

Guardo l’orologio, sono le 14:10. Non ho ancora iniziato e sono già stanca. Fa troppo caldo in questo periodo e più vado avanti, più ho la sensazione che non riuscirò a continuare a pulire così tante case. Dovrò lasciarne qualcuna, ma i soldi ci servono. Non sono mai abbastanza. Chiudo gli occhi, stringo i pugni, prendo un bel respiro profondo e cerco di farmi forza. Da quando ho messo piede in cucina, ho la sensazione che la stanza profumi di bresaola. Quella fetta, rimasta lì da ieri sera, ha riempito la stanza del suo aroma. La osservo per un tempo infinito. La quantità di secondi che i miei occhi rimangono su di lei è direttamente proporzionale all’aumento del desiderio di mangiarla. Non dovrei, continuo a ripetermi. Ma figurati se si accorgono di qualcosa, mi dico poi. Alla fine la prendo e con un gesto veloce, causato dal timore che qualcuno mi possa vedere, la caccio in bocca. Mastico bramosamente. Se qualcuno mi osservasse, penserebbe che non mangio da giorni. Sembro un lupo che è appena riuscito a uccidere la sua preda, e dopo la fatica dell’inseguimento riesce finalmente a dargli il primo morso. È maledettamente buona. Mentre la mastico, e in fondo al cuore spero che per qualche strano motivo la fetta possa riprodursi tra i miei denti e durare per sempre, mi rendo conto della scarsa qualità del cibo che noi possiamo permetterci ogni giorno. Mando giù l’ultimo pezzo della fetta e mi sembra di essere rinata. Sento i bambini ridere di gusto, percepisco che si stanno divertendo e questo mi dà la forza per iniziare a pulire.

Prendo la bottiglia di vino e la metto in frigo. Con lo straccio tiro via le briciole. Prendo il ritmo e continuo così, per un’ora e cinquanta minuti. Senza mai prendermi una pausa, neanche per andare in bagno. Abbiamo bisogno di soldi, mi ripeto. E poi tra meno di un mesetto andiamo in Kosovo. I bambini fremono dalla voglia. Non fanno altro che chiedere quanti giorni mancano. Anche tu mi sembri più felice in questo periodo dell’anno. Sei impaziente di vedere i tuoi genitori e io non vedo l’ora di vedere mamma. Mi manca. Ogni volta che arriva l’estate, mi rendo conto di quanto sia un anno senza vedere un genitore. Un tempo troppo lungo, estenuante. Non dovrebbe essere legale una cosa del genere. Durante l’ultima telefonata mamma mi ha detto una cosa che mi ha fatto sorridere.
Se solo ci fosse una telecamerina piccola in questi cellulari, se solo potessimo vederci quando parliamo.

Spegnete che dobbiamo andare, bambini.
No mamma, dobbiamo finire l’ultima partita“, ribatte Blerim, mentre Valon ha già staccato le mani dal joystick.
BLERIM, TE LUTEM“, mi costringe ad alzare la voce. (BLERIM, TI PREGO)
Però ci porti al parco.
Certo che vi porto. Dai, andiamo.
Il parco della scuola elementare di Blerim dista soltanto una decina di minuti dalla casa dei Brambilla. I bambini camminano davanti a me, si tengono per mano e continuano a ridere. Mi commuove vederli così vicini. A un certo punto si fermano e si voltano in sincrono verso di me. Mi guardano sorridendo e mi fanno segno con la mano di avvicinarmi veloce.
Hajde mam“, mi dice Blerim, mentre continua a tenere per mano Valon. (Vieni mamma)
Mi avvicino a loro sorridendo, mi abbasso sulle ginocchia perché mi sembra che sia Valon a voler parlare per entrambi.
Dai, chiediglielo“, lo incoraggia Blerim.
Mamma, quando andremo a vivere anche noi in una casa come quella del signor Luciano?

È come se una siringa mi trafiggesse il cuore. Entrasse da una parte e uscisse dall’altra. Sento le ginocchia cedermi e appoggio le mani sulle loro spalle per non cadere. Non è la richiesta a farmi male, ma il sorriso e la speranza che vedo nei loro occhi. Pensano davvero che una cosa del genere sia possibile. Nella loro ingenuità sono convinti che un giorno potremmo davvero permetterci un appartamento del genere. Infilo la mia testa in mezzo alle loro, stringo le loro spalle e li muovo verso di me. Lo faccio per nascondere il volto e le lacrime che mi bagnano il viso. Cerco di capire quando aprire la bocca e parlare, senza che si accorgano che sto singhiozzando. Continuo ad aspettare, cosciente che non è ancora il momento giusto.
Quando mamma?” Domanda ancora Valon.
Presto rrushi i jem, presto“, riesco a dirgli, stoppando per un paio di secondi le lacrime e sentendomi la madre peggiore sulla faccia della terra. Restiamo in quella posizione ancora per qualche minuto, mentre smetto di piangere e continuo ad accarezzare le loro schiene e loro mi stringono forte. Poi mi alzo e il dolore fisico si aggiunge a quello emotivo. Sento le fitte alla schiena, i muscoli dei polpacci che si induriscono e un peso che si appoggia sulle spalle e prova a schiacciarmi sotto terra.

Arriviamo al parco, i bambini corrono verso le altalene. Io vedo Luana seduta sulla panchina dietro alle altalene e la raggiungo. Non se la sta passando bene ultimamente. Mi racconta di come i litigi con il marito sono aumentati, di come lui torna a casa tardi la sera. Molte volte è ubriaco. Non me lo ha detto, ma sono convinta che le metta anche le mani addosso.
Ciao Luana“, la saluto e mi accorgo subito di una luce diversa nei suoi occhi.
Ciao tesoro, come stai?” Mi domanda. Non ho ancora capito perché mi chiama così e non per nome, ma non mi va di chiederglielo, mi vergogno. Sarà un’abitudine delle donne italiane, chiamarsi così tra donne.
Bene, grazie. Un pochino stanca. Oggi tanto lavoro. Tu stai bene?” Le rispondo in maniera meccanica. Scandisco ancora le parole con un certo timore. Dopo una giornata così, ho la sensazione che i vocaboli italiani – i quali cerco di imparare quotidianamente ascoltando la televisione e i bambini mentre parlano tra di loro – svaniscano dalla memoria, si dissolvano in aria, evaporino. Allora mi tocca cercarli, rincorrerli, catturarli, riportarli a me e provare a dar loro un senso, mettendoli nell’ordine giusto.
Io meglio guarda. Devo darti una notizia.
Che bello. Dimmi!
Ho deciso di divorziare da mio marito. Penso sia la cosa migliore per me. Non ce la faccio più ad andare avanti così…
La mia attenzione rimane ancorata a quella frase. Luana continua a parlare, muove il suo corpo verso di me e presumo mi racconti tutto quello che è successo. Io però non la seguo più, non ci riesco. Il mio cervello è rimasto a quella frase iniziale, a quel verbo. Divorziare. La vista mi si annebbia, l’attenzione svanisce del tutto, l’unica cosa che riesco a captare è il sollievo degli occhi di Luana.

“Ma come hai divorziato?
Come fai a pensare che sia la decisione migliore per te?
Perché l’hai fatto?” vorrei chiederle, ma continuo a cercare i suoi occhi, quantomeno per dimostrarle che la sto ascoltando. Lei procede ininterrottamente. In maniera molto lenta riesco a riportare l’attenzione su quello che mi dice. Mi rendo conto di essere rimasta in silenzio per troppo tempo. Non voglio immaginare che razza di espressione ho. Così la interrompo bruscamente, la guardo dritto negli occhi e le dico che la capisco. Che non dev’essere stato facile. Lei continua il suo racconto, ma con la coda dell’occhio mi accorgo che Valon è caduto e mi avvio immediatamente verso di lui. So già che non si è fatto niente, perché mentre mi muovo nella sua direzione, lui si è già alzato e non sta neanche piangendo. Utilizzo questo alibi per staccarmi da Luana. Non ho più voglia di sentirla parlare oggi. Raggiungo Valon, gli controllo la ferita al ginocchio, dalla quale gli esce un po’ di sangue. Prendo una salvietta bagnata dalla tasca e pulisco la terra che si è attaccata alla pelle.
Tranquilla mamma, non mi fa male“, mi dice, mentre cerca di staccarsi il più velocemente da me e tornare a giocare con i suoi amichetti. Lo lascio andare senza dirgli niente.

Tutto bene. Un pochino sangue“, dico a Luana, non appena torno da lei. Continua a raccontarmi della sua decisione, mi ripete tutti gli avvenimenti che l’hanno portata a prendere quella scelta. Io sono ancora persa nei miei pensieri, nei dubbi che il suo divorzio sta mettendo nel mio matrimonio. E se un giorno divorziassimo anche noi? Mi domando, mentre cerco di guardarla negli occhi per mostrarle una parvenza del mio interesse. Un brivido di paura mi scuote la schiena. No, noi non le facciamo queste cose. Noi non siamo così, non siamo come loro. Mi ripeto convinta e orgogliosa. Noi mica roviniamo la famiglia in questo modo. E poi che motivo avremmo per divorziare, noi? Cerco con lo sguardo i bambini, stanno giocando a nascondino. Blerim sta contando, mentre Valon è nascosto sotto lo scivolo con un suo amichetto.

Il tempo trascorre più veloce del previsto e fortunatamente è già ora di andare a casa. Saluto Luana e i suoi figli, Luca e Ada. Ci avviamo verso casa e tengo sia Valon che Blerim per mano. Quei dubbi non hanno ancora abbandonato la testa, quel maledetto verbo – divorziare – continua a girare nel mio cranio, esattamente come una zanzara. Mi provoca il medesimo fastidio, mentre cerco di cacciarlo via e dopo qualche secondo ne sento ancora il ronzio. Stringo le mani dei bambini. Valon ricambia la stretta, come se stesse aspettando solo questo. Blerim, invece, si sgancia e aumenta il passo.

Arriviamo a casa. Dico ai bambini di lavarsi, di fare veloce che tra poco arrivi tu e inizio a preparare la cena. Per i bambini faccio la pasta, mentre a te riscaldo il gullash che ho fatto per pranzo. So che lo preferisci riscaldato, per questo lo faccio sempre quando sei al lavoro, così è perfetto per cena. Così avevo sentito dire a tua mamma, la prima volta che ti avevo visto mangiarlo a casa dei tuoi. Eri tornato dalla solita giornata infinita al pazar. Eri uscito la mattina presto per vendere delle pesche, ma il caldo atroce ne aveva mandate a male la metà e dell’altra metà ne avevi vendute pochissime. Eri tornato a casa a mani vuote, asciutto, stanco, distrutto. Non capivo come tua madre potesse pensare di riscaldarti un piatto che aveva preparato per pranzo. Ma mi accorsi della felicità nei tuoi occhi, quando ti sedetti a tavola e tua madre ti venne incontro con in mano il piatto di Gullash riscaldato.
Qe djali i jem, qysh t’pelqen tyje“, ti disse. (Ecco figlio mio, come piace a te)

Scaldo il Gullash utilizzando la fiamma più bassa possibile, eccitata, nella speranza di riuscire a provocare in te la stessa felicità che riusciva tua madre. Sento che i bambini hanno finito e pochi minuti dopo suona il citofono. Corro subito ad aprire il portone del palazzo. Subito dopo apro la porta di casa e ascolto i tuoi passi pesanti approcciarsi ai tre piani di scale. Cerco di percepire la tua stanchezza calcolando quanto ci metti a salire. Sei più lento del solito, ho un sussulto di timore. E se ti è successo qualcosa? Magari ti sei fatto male al lavoro? I battiti del cuore aumentano di intensità. Ci metti un’eternità ad arrivare alla porta di casa. Alzi lo sguardo dal cellulare, mi guardi per qualche secondo, la tua espressione non cambia.
Grua“, mi saluti. (Moglie)
A je lodh Afrim?“, ti chiedo, preoccupata che ti sia successo qualcosa. (Sei stanco Afrim?)
Jo, jo. Nuk pat shum pun sot”, mi dici mentre entri in casa. (No, no. Non c’era tanto lavoro oggi) “A je mir?“, ti domando per avere la certezza che tu stia veramente bene. (Stai bene?)
Mi guardi storto e non mi rispondi, non capendo perché io te l’abbia chiesto. Allora ti dico che vado a prenderti i vestiti e di farti la doccia che la cena è quasi pronta.

Corro in camera a prenderti i vestiti e te li porto immediatamente in bagno. Sei in piedi e continui a guardare il cellulare.
Qe teshat“, ti dico e te li appendo dietro alla porta. (Ecco i vestiti)
Sento i bambini ridere in camera, nel frattempo l’acqua in pentola bolle e butto la pasta. Suona di nuovo il citofono, è Albina. Sale le scale in un batter d’occhio. Capisco subito che la sua prima lezione d’inglese dev’essere andata bene. L’unica della classe a essere stata scelta per questo corso extrascolastico. Le maestre mi hanno detto che ha un talento per le lingue. Il mio fiore, la mia rosa preferita. L’aspetto con la porta aperta, vestita di tutto l’orgoglio che una madre può avere. Mi corre in contro con un sorriso infinito.
Hajde qika e jem“, non faccio in tempo a dirle che mi sta già raccontando tutto. (Vieni figlia mia) Continua a parlare a una velocità e a un tono spropositati. Io cerco di toglierle lo zaino dalle spalle, ma è un’impresa, perché continua a dirmi di aspettare e fermarmi un secondo, che deve raccontarmi un altro dettaglio della sua giornata.

Finisci la doccia e vieni in cucina.
Buka osht gati“, ti dico, anche se non me l’hai chiesto, timorosa che tu possa pensare che devi aspettare a lungo. (La cena, è pronta)
Ti siedi e inizi a cambiare i canali della televisione. Ti sento sbuffare mentre faccio scaldare il sugo per la pasta dei bambini.
Questi bambini non sanno neanche chiedere al proprio padre se è stanco“, sputi fuori dalla bocca, con tutta la freddezza di cui sei capace, fissandomi mentre lavoro il sugo.
Sento il tuo sguardo addosso, anche se ti volto le spalle. Lascio il sugo e mi avvio verso i bambini. Albina è con i ragazzi, e insieme a Valon guardano Blerim che gioca alla PlayStation.
“Papà è arrivato, l’avete sentito? Venite veloci a chiedergli se è stanco. VELOCI”.
Valon e Albina escono immediatamente dalla camera.
“Ma anche tu lavori mamma, lui non ti chiede mai se sei stanca”, mi dice Blerim, mentre continua a fissare il televisore. Faccio finta di non averlo sentito, anche sei vorrei abbracciarlo forte.
“Vieni Blerim, che la cena è pronta”.

I bambini si siedono a tavola. Albina è ancora elettrizzata per la sua prima lezione d’inglese. Tu guardi il telegiornale con un atteggiamento disinteressato. Hai il telefono di fianco alle posate e sembra che stai aspettando un messaggio o una chiamata. Aspetto che chiedi ad Albina com’è andata la sua giornata, anche lei sembra aspettare soltanto quello, ma tu non dici niente. Forse ti sei dimenticato, mi dico, cercando di trovarti una scusa. Verso il Gullash nel piatto e te lo porgo. “Gullash, qysh t’pelqen tyje“, ti dico, aspettando una reazione. (Gullash, come piace a te)
L’unica cosa che fai è alzare le braccia dal tavolo, così che io possa appoggiare il piatto. Inizi a mangiare senza aspettare che io abbia servito i bambini, senza aspettare che mi sia seduta anch’io. La voce del conduttore del telegiornale, insieme al rumore delle posate, fanno da sottofondo a questa cena silenziosa. Vedo nei volti dei bambini ancora il sorriso, tu mangi il Gullash e ho la sensazione che ti stia piacendo. Tutto questo mi rincuora. Mi dico che è soltanto una giornata un po’ così, che non devo dare troppa importanza a certe cose. Che sono soltanto più stanca del solito e per fortuna si avvicinano le vacanze. Torneremo in Kosovo e ti vedrò sorridere per davvero. Quel sorriso pieno di vita e gioia che mi ha fatto innamorare di te, quel sorriso che non vedo da tanto tempo. E chissà, forse i bambini hanno ragione a crederci. Forse ce la faremo anche noi ad avere una casa come quella del signor Luciano, a vivere una vita come quella degli italiani. Forse non è ancora troppo tardi.

Gezim Qadraku

Clicca qui per leggere la parte finale

Migrants (1° part)

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.

Gezim Qadraku

Click here to read the second part

Do not ask for help

I’m six years old, and I’m in first grade.
It’s spring, almost summer now.
After school, Mom takes me to the park to play with my classmates.
I’m happy, it’s sunny and the days all seem good to me. The school will be over in a while, too, finally.
At the park we have fun on the swings, we run after the ball, and then we finish playing hide and seek. At a certain hour, however, we all have to go home, mothers are inflexible.

Daddy’s home, he just got home from work. He’s had a shower, he smells good. He’s tired, but I don’t notice it. I’m a child, I can’t see it. Mom always tells me to ask him if he’s tired. He always says no, that he’s not tired and caresses my forehead with smiling. I don’t understand why I have to ask him if he says no. I will understand it later when I’ll grow up, when I’ll try to work too, and I’ll feel tired as soon as I walk through the door. I will realize how much having someone who cares if you are tired or not, that that simple question, can drive away all the tiredness.

I took a shower, and then I sit on the couch next to Daddy. He’s got a book in his hand and his face looks confused. He’s studying for his driver’s license. I like the book. It has a lot of colourful pictures that catch my attention. Daddy’s asking me for help. He asks me what the word “roadway” means. It’s the first time I’ve heard that word. I’m six years old, I’m in the first grade, my vocabulary’s restricted. I find that word very difficult. I can’t help Dad, and I’m sorry. Then he goes and asks our neighbour. She tells him that a roadway is a road, but he doesn’t seem happy with the explanation.

I try to understand what that word means, and in the meantime, I wonder why Dad doesn’t know why he asked me for help? Why did he have to go and ask the neighbour? What about mom? Why doesn’t mom know what the roadway means either?
I’m six years old, I’m in first grade, and that word shows me that mom and dad don’t really know the language of the country we are living. I should have figured that out sooner, I guess. We speak a different language at home than people use on TV. Mom and Dad only use Italian when we’re out. Why can I speak both of them? Maybe I have superpowers.

I will spend that period of my childhood thinking that I am a superhero. That I can speak both the language of my parents and the language of my teachers, my classmates and people on television.
Dad will get his license the first time.
Growing up, I’m going to realize that for some things I can’t ask my mom and dad for help with. There are things about life in Italy they can’t help me with. I should ask my classmates or my teachers for help, but I’d be ashamed to do it because I don’t want to show myself to be different or inferior. Then I’ll end up never asking for help, for any obstacle I have to overcome. Linguistic, physical or psychological.

It will be the others who will ask me for help, who will trust my support, my knowledge. Not me, never.
I like to say that I am a guy who prefers to listen, that makes me uncomfortable asking someone for help.
To be honest, I really have no idea how it works, what needs to be done and whether it’s really worth it.
I haven’t learned how to do it yet, to ask for help.

Gezim Qadraku

23 years old

I’m 23 years old.
Some of my peers have already married and had a child. Most of the others share their lives with another person and are just waiting for the right moment to take the vital step. I, on the other hand, am alone. I who at family dinners always have to be asked the same question by relatives, “so are you seeing someone?”

I’m not even afflicted by a strange disease that prevents me from having relationships.
I am twenty-three years old, and I spend my life reading, preparing exams and trying to understand what I want to do when I grow up. Yes, I know I should already know what to do once I’ve finished my studies, in reality, I do nothing but change my mind every day that passes. So I use the line from the movie The Big Kahuna as an excuse:
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life, the most interesting people I know at 22 didn’t know what to do with their life, the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

I’m one of those who, once finished the studies, would leave with a backpack to travel the world. This could be a great job, going around the world at random. Without a goal. Go explain it to parents and relatives that your dream is not to have a house, get married, have children, have a quiet life. If you just try to bring it up, you’re labelled as the strange, crazy one, the one who doesn’t know what to do with his life, the unripe one, the one who doesn’t want to work, the one who studies so much that he becomes a fool.

I’m twenty-three years old, and for now, I’ve only done a few casual jobs, to try to have some kind of independence and not become a burden for my parents. Comfortable with money, it doesn’t bring happiness but makes everyday life less burdensome. Despite this, the idea of doing the same thing five days a week for years makes me nauseous and afraid.

I am twenty-three years old, and certainties frighten me, although perhaps I would also like to have some assurance.
I am twenty-three years old, and I take refuge in novels, with the hope of finding, between the lines of Dostoevsky or Bukowski, an idea of what I can become when I grow up.
I’m twenty-three years old, and in the evening I willingly stay home and watch an episode of the television series of the moment. My idols are Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston in breaking bad) and Rustin Spencer (Matthew McConaughey in True Detective). By dint of watching TV series, my prototype woman has become Meredith Grey (starring in Grey’s Anatomy). My only interest right now is the start of the second season of Better Call Saul.

I’m twenty-three years old, and I’ve discovered that alcohol, taken in acceptable doses, can become a great life companion.
I’m twenty-three years old, I’ve known love, and I carry my wounds on my heart. We meet different people every day. Some mornings we wake up in a bed that is not our own wondering where the hell we are. Then we turn our heads and connect that this was yet another late evening ended in a bed of a stranger until a few hours before. We all had one true love, and although we do everything we can, we will find it hard to forget it.
I’m twenty-three years old, and I screwed up diets and the mirror, I realized that if there is someone who wants me, he will have to be content with who I am.

I’m twenty-three years old, and I was lucky enough to grow up with very little technology, I realize how sad the adolescence of future generations is.
Ten-year-old children wander around me with their heads already fixed on the screen and their brains wholly lost.
I’m twenty-three years old, and I’m part of the middle generation, the ones who used technology first and now try to use it sparingly. I laugh in the face of my parents’ inability to use apps, and I cry when I watch children fiddling around on the computer better than I do.

I’m twenty-three years old, a lot has changed since high school; with some old friends we don’t say greet anymore, some friends stayed, some decided to move, to go to another country. So I stop and think, my parents’ words come back to my mind…
“enjoy life, because every moment is unique and never comes back.”
I think back to all the moments I spent with my friend, who now lives thousands of miles away from me. I wonder if I enjoyed them enough if I could have seen him more often when he lived across the road if it was worth keeping his face for some nonsense he had done.
I get lost in these thoughts. Then I come to the conclusion that if I can’t wait to hear or see him, then despite those miles, friendship is still there and maybe it will be there forever. Despite the distance, despite the daily problems, despite all the friendship remains and this allows me to sleep quite calmly.

I am twenty-three years old. I don’t follow any model, I don’t want to look like anyone. I would like to leave home as soon as possible, to become independent, to do something with my life, but I don’t know what.
I’m twenty-three years old, I don’t have bright ideas, but I’m one of those with whom a simple beer at the bar on a mid-week evening can be much more interesting than you can imagine.

I’m 23 years old, and I have no desire to grow up.

Gezim Qadraku

This article was written in 2016.

Residence permit

I remember every detail of that moment. Feelings, smells, clothes I wore, music I was listening to and what was going on in my head. Just like my approach to elementary school. When at the age of five, I had to face the shock of being the only child in class who didn’t have the pencil case.

I’m sitting on the floor of Milan’s police headquarters at via Fatebenefratelli waiting for my turn. No, I haven’t committed any crime. I will leave this country in a few years with an immaculate record. I’m not here because the police brought me here. I came of my own free will. My residence permit expires soon, and I have to renew it. I have to renew it so that I can reside in Italy so that I can study so that I can continue to play football so that I can live and do the same things that my friends do.

I am sitting, tired, and mentally exhausted. I woke up at five this morning, and at six I was out here. The queue was already long, and after an hour, I was only one or two metres ahead. Knowing what was waiting for me, I decided to commit something unacceptable, something I should be ashamed of now. Still, I feel no remorse. I crossed the queue; I made a shield of my appearance as a white-skinned boy, of my blue pants to which I matched a blue shirt and an innocent face to look like an Italian. To look at me, anyone would have thought I was just any Italian student. I grabbed the card with the number 181 and sneaked in. It was 7:00, and a few minutes later, I thought I’d get out of here after lunch. I was too optimistic.

It’s 16:30, and I just texted the girl I’m dating that our date has to be postponed for tomorrow. I’m still waiting for my turn, and from the moment I walked in, I’ve been doing nothing but looking at the people around me. The air stinks. It smells like sweat, like bad food, like exhaustion.

Some children cry, others play to deceive time.
Some mothers breastfeed, others try to put their babies to sleep.
Some fathers lose their patience and others who don’t give any hint of nervousness. There’s the whole world in this immigration office. Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. We’re all here. Nobody’s missing.

The number 150 has appeared on the screen; my turn is coming up. Thirty or so numbers and this hellhole will be over. There’s nothing left for me to do but think about all the time I’ve spent here since I’ve been in Italy. It’s the first time I’ve been here on my own; it’s the first time since I came of age. Before it was a hell I used to share with my parents. Going to police headquarters meant missing a day of school. It meant going to Milan and then taking the train and the subway. These were all things that I liked, and I feel like an idiot when I think about how much coming to the police headquarters to renew my residence permit was a good day for me.

I always liked Milan. The trains, the subway, the crowds of people, the shops, the kind of life you breathe here. I’ve always wanted to live here. I don’t know yet, but after a few years I will have the chance to study in Milan, and I will finally take away all that desire to enjoy this city in every corner.

There’s a family that attracts my attention. They must be Indian or Pakistani. The family consists of five members: father, mother and three little girls. The father figure has just received what I think is the renewal of the residence permit for himself and everyone else. He does a liberating run towards his women. Their faces, smiles, and the hugs they give themselves are the best representation of the happiness I could give right now if anyone asked me.

I look at them, and instead of empathizing their joy and being happy, I feel strong compassion. I pity them, as I do myself. I would like to get up, join them and tell them to leave. To leave this country and go back to live in theirs. I’m so tired of all this that I’d go back to mine, even now. On foot, if I had to. It was a life spent like that: renewing the residence permit. According to the laws that governments enjoy changing every time, the merry-go-round changes. Sometimes the renewals last longer, sometimes less. They say that after certain years you are entitled to citizenship. Some people have been waiting for it for so long that they forgot the date’s application.

No one forced you to come, some might rightly say. I’d be inclined to agree with a fierce statement like that right now. I’d go back and do anything to stop my father. I’d tell him to stay, not to convince my mother to go after him. I’d try to persuade them to stay in a place where even if you want to work there’s no job. A place where the war will come and who knows if you’ll be lucky to survive or not. Because after hearing the war stories, I think it’s all about luck. But this waiting, this bureaucracy, this constant spotlight reminding you that you’re not like the locals has tired me out. And now, as I stretch my legs and try to relax my muscles, I almost give a shit about all the things a developed country puts at your disposal. I’d like to close my eyes and catapult myself back to where I was born.

As if that wasn’t enough, you grow up in an environment where you always hear locals saying that we are all the same, that we are all in the same boat. Bullshit. I needed a residence permit to go to school, to play with my friends and to register for the football team. No, we’re not all the same. We never will be. That’s the sad, raw truth. But it’s okay.

As I follow that family out of the police station with my eyes, I tell myself I don’t even want to be the same as the locals. I don’t care anymore. Because you get to a certain point where it takes away your strength and you accept it passively. You come in here, you get in line, and you wait for your number. You get your permit renewed, and you go home.

It’s been an hour, and finally, it’s my turn. The guy at the counter is a few years older than me. I give him everything he asks for, and after about ten minutes, he makes me sign a paper with an orange card on it. My new residence permit. It is valid from 2009 until 2014. It’s 2010; a year has already passed. Five years, I’ve never had a residence permit this long. Before I leave, the guy reminds me that the next one will be indeterminate. He expects me to be pleased, to smile and react in who knows what way. I thank him and leave.

I don’t give a shit“, I’d like to say. But it’s not his fault; he had nothing to do with it. It’s nobody’s fault. I wish I could find someone to blame for all this. Who makes some people have to leave their places and spend their lives in places like police headquarters to renew residence permits.

All I can do is get out of this place. I went in there ten hours ago. It was dark; it’s dark again. I’m texting to mom that I’m out, that I’m stopping for something to eat because I’m exhausted. There’s a McDonald’s down the road. I get thrown in. I order a big menu and try to enjoy it with all the calm in the world. After a couple of fries and the first sip of Coke, I can hear my cell phone vibrating. He’s my best friend.

“Football in an hour or so?”
“I can’t, I’m in Milan.”
“What are you doing in Milan at this hour?”
“I was at police headquarters. I just finished.”
“At police headquarters? What the fuck did you do?”
“Nothing, calm down. I had to renew my residence permit.”

I take the first bite of the burger, and I smile. My Italian friends know the police headquarters as the place where you are taken if you have committed a crime. They don’t know that there is an immigration office, a room where foreigners spend their lives renewing their residence permits. The burger’s good, I’ll take another bigger bite. I think in four years I’ll still be here, another time.
It will be the last one, but I don’t know yet.

Gezim Qadraku

The highlighted image was taken by Claudio Furlan.

Ero felice

Mentre osservavo il miscuglio di colori che dipingevano il cielo, mi tornò alla mente il passaggio di un libro che avevo letto tempo addietro. Non ricordavo esattamente le parole che l’autore aveva utilizzato, ma descriveva la magia di essere felici ed essere in grado di accorgersene.
Non succede quasi mai, se ci si pensa.
Fa sempre più clamore l’infelicità o un periodo negativo che un bel momento.
In quegli istanti mi resi conto che mai mi sarei potuto dimenticare quel periodo.

Quella era stata una di quelle giornate che preghi affinché possano durare per l’eternità. Mancavano ancora una manciata di minuti prima che le persone terminassero la propria giornata lavorativa e intasassero le strade.
Pareva che la poca natura ancora presente in città si stesse godendo l’ultimo respiro prima di assistere alla solita corsa degli esseri umani.

Era ancora inverno secondo il calendario, ma il calore che i raggi di sole sprigionavano davano la sensazione che la primavera volesse iniziare il suo corso in anticipo.
Tutto pareva essersi vestito dell’indescrivibile colore del cielo, un arancione roseo che lasciava senza fiato.
Non vi erano dubbi, sarebbe stato un tramonto coi fiocchi. Ero uscito a fare due passi dopo una calda e infinita doccia rigenerante. Ero solito provare dei brividi di freddo quando uscivo a quell’ora, soprattutto dopo essermi lavato. Quel giorno però si stava divinamente.

Il leggero giubbottino primaverile si era rivelata la scelta giusta. Camminavo senza una vera e propria destinazione, lasciandomi colpire dai raggi di sole e cercando di godermi i suoni di ciò che mi circondava. Le grida dei bambini al parco giochi, i freni delle automobili al semaforo rosso, il cinguettio degli uccelli e il leggero venticello che mi accarezzava i capelli. Decisi che la cosa migliore da fare era trovare un posto che mi permettesse di avere una visuale dall’alto della città. Volevo trovarmi nel posto più alto possibile per godermi l’arrivederci del sole e l’arrivo del buio.

Ero proprio felice in quel periodo e la cosa buffa è che non vi era un motivo ben preciso. Per anni, come penso tutti, avevo erroneamente collegato la felicità a un traguardo, a una persona o comunque sempre a un qualcosa. Quello è sicuramente stato il periodo più felice della mia vita, nonostante fossi lontano da tutto ciò che di più caro avevo. Eppure di niente e di nessuno più mi importava e per la prima volta la persona che guardavo allo specchio mi piaceva.

Era una felicità inspiegabile e che nessuno avrebbe potuto comprendere. Non persi tempo per provare a condividerla. Mi ricordai delle parole di Oscar Wilde, scrisse che quando una persona gli piaceva non ne rivelava il nome per gelosia.
Lo stessi feci io con quella parte della mia vita, non la manifestai a nessuno e provai a godermela fino all’ultima goccia. Ricordo un particolare di quei momenti, guardavo sempre in alto.
Fissavo il cielo e provavo ad accarezzare le stelle.
Ero felice e tutto mi sembrava possibile.

Gezim Qadraku

Goccie di malinconia

Non rideva mai, lui.
Sorrideva, a tratti, come per fare un favore a chi gli stava intorno.
O forse a se stesso, semplicemente per evitare che la gente gli chiedesse come stava.

Era un tipo taciturno.
Odiava l’esercizio del parlare.
La considerava l’azione più inutile che l’uomo fosse in grado di fare.

Era un adulatore del silenzio.
La solitudine gli aveva permesso di apprezzarlo, il silenzio.
Quella meravigliosa assenza di inutili rumori.

Così aveva etichettato le chiacchiere delle persone: inutili rumori.
In silenzio, da solo, aveva letto i libri che gli avevano salvato la vita.
Era un tipo taciturno, incapace di essere felice, sempre vestito di un velo di tristezza.

Eppure su di lui aveva un buon odore quel profumo di malinconia.
A modo suo stava bene e non gli interessava che gli altri capissero la sua situazione.
Aveva lottato e perso pezzi di se stesso per conquistarla, e ora se la godeva.

Sorridendo, ogni tanto, senza mai lasciarsi andare del tutto.

Gezim Qadraku.