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

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 (1° parte)

È da poco finito il telegiornale. La guerra è l’unica costante della mezz’ora di news. Ora tutta l’attenzione è sulla Bosnia, soprattutto dopo la dichiarazione d’indipendenza. Le cose si stanno mettendo veramente male e le immagini che mostrano alla TV mi mettono paura. Qualcuno dice che è soltanto questione di mesi e la guerra scoppierà anche in Kosovo. Altri invece continuano la propria vita come se nulla stesse accadendo. Mi siedo sulla sedia di fianco alla porta, dopo aver servito il tè a tuo padre, a te, ai tuoi fratelli e alle loro mogli. Tua madre entra in salotto e si dirige verso il camino per cambiare la legna. La guardi e le chiedi di sedersi, che devi dire due parole.
Po du mi fol dy fjalë.”

Vorrai dire qualcosa sulla guerra, penso, mentre resto al mio posto in silenzio e cerco di non incrociare lo sguardo di nessuno. Ti fisso e provo a tirare fuori i tuoi pensieri, prima che tu li trasformi in parole e le dica a tutti. Tua madre si siede, con un gesto che fa trasparire insicurezza. Sembra che il solo fatto che tu voglia dire qualcosa ad alta voce la preoccupi abbastanza da farla muovere in maniera totalmente diversa dal solito. Lenta e affannosa, a differenza della velocità e della rapidità dei suoi movimenti quotidiani. Quando lei si siede, tu attacchi con il discorso. Incroci le mani, appoggi i gomiti sulle cosce, ti muovi in avanti, cerchi gli occhi di tutti e dopo esserti schiarito la voce, lanci la bomba.
Ho deciso di portarli in Italia con me. Partirò con mia moglie e il bambino.

Sento un’esplosione tremenda all’altezza dello sterno. Una vampata di calore si impossessa del mio corpo e si concentra in testa. Mantengo gli occhi su di te, senza più badare se qualcuno se ne accorga. Ti cerco, cerco le tue pupille, ma tu guardi verso i tuoi genitori. Come sarebbe a dire che andiamo in Italia? Mica eri tornato per restare? E perché non l’hai detto a me prima di annunciarlo alla tua famiglia? Cosa diavolo è questa storia?
Sento le gambe tremare, le gocce di sudore scivolare veloci dal collo verso il fondo della schiena e il pensiero va immediatamente ai miei genitori. Alla pessime condizioni fisiche di mamma. Alla fatica di papà nel trovare lavoro dopo essere stato licenziato come autista degli autobus perché albanese e la sua decisione di smettere di fumare, perché non se lo può più permettere. A mio fratello Fadil, al suo lavoro precario e a sua moglie, così giovane e impreparata alla vita di famiglia, che non riesce a essere di alcun aiuto a mamma. Penso a loro e a come diavolo glielo dirò che me ne vado in Italia. No, che tu hai deciso che andremo in Italia. Senza chiedermelo, senza voler sapere cosa ne pensassi, se fossi d’accordo o meno.

Un silenzio strano e fastidioso ricopre la stanza, la tensione è presente nei volti di tutti e io mi sento crollare, impotente, senza alcuna forza di reagire, nel buco che si è aperto sotto i miei piedi. Non me lo aspettavo questo da te. Mi hai ferita. E io che ti pensavo diverso. Io che mi sono innamorata di te perché mi sembravi così distante dagli altri ragazzi kosovari. Eri così timido, premuroso ed educato, che pensavo ti avessero adottato, che venissi da un’altra cultura. Quel tuo rispetto verso qualsiasi donna e quel tuo corteggiamento così sensibile e rispettoso, mi hanno fatto letteralmente perdere la testa per te. E ora? Hai deciso il nostro futuro senza dirmi niente? L’hai fatto per ripicca? Perché mi ritieni colpevole per il fatto che nostro figlio non ti abbia riconosciuto quando sei tornato dall’Italia dopo 14 mesi. Come pensavi che ti avrebbe potuto riconoscere se non ti aveva mai visto? Te ne sei andato che lui aveva pochi giorni e quando sei tornato, l’unica cosa che sapeva di te era la fotografia nella quale tu lo abbracci in giardino, qualche giorno dopo la sua nascita. Cosa potevo fare io? Oltre a dargli quella foto da baciare prima di metterlo a letto e ripetergli che papà sarebbe tornato molto presto. Pensi che mi sia sentita bene quando lui si rifiutava di abbracciarti? Quando continuava a stare in braccio a tuo fratello Muharrem? Quando veniva a sussurrarmi all’orecchio che quell’uomo, riferito a te, avrebbe dovuto dormire sotto il letto e non di fianco a me? Non pensi che mi sentivo morire dentro, in quei momenti?

Finalmente tuo padre decide di distruggere il silenzio. Lo fa dando la benedizione alla tua decisione.
Perhajr i koft.
Resta seduto, ti guarda negli occhi e non aggiunge altro. Manda giù un sorso di tè e quasi lo finisce a goccia. La stanza ritorna nel silenzio e nessuno dei tuo fratelli prende la parola. Allora tu, mente cerchi di trovare una sicurezza che non hai, mentre il sudore delle ascelle trasforma in quella parte del corpo il colore della tua camicia in nero, da viola che era, provi a spiegare il motivo di quella scelta. Anche se nessuno te l’ha chiesto. Un’insicurezza, la tua, che non ha fatto altro che amplificarsi da quando mi hai presa come sposa. Ripenso alla tua paura e alla tua goffaggine durante le nostre prime notti a letto. Mesi senza alcun risultato, che iniziarono a far storcere il naso a qualcuno. Già le sentivo le parole di tua madre e delle mie cognate. Quasi sperassero che non fossi in grado di darti neanche un figlio. E poi, finalmente, dopo un anno e mezzo di angoscia e timore, sono rimasta incinta. Un maschio, grazie a Dio. Solo questo mi ha permesso di essere considerata come un essere umano meritevole di qualche attenzione.

Rimango focalizzata sulle tue paure. Il terrore nel confrontarti con i tuoi famigliari. L’incapacità di contrastare le parole di tuo padre, di non chiedere ai tuoi fratelli di seguirti a lavorare mentre ti spacchi in quattro per tutta la famiglia. Per la prima volta mi chiedo che padre sarai. Chissà come ti comporterai con il nostro piccolo. Forse avrai paura anche di lui. Forse ti farai mettere i piedi in testa anche da tuo figlio. Smetto di ascoltarti e penso a te, ai tuoi fratelli, a tuo padre, alla vostra famiglia. Me l’avevi detto che eravate poveri, che non avevate niente, che avevate da poco sistemato la casa e che avevate ancora un sacco di debiti, presi per potervi permettere di organizzare i matrimoni di tutti i fratelli. Ti osservo, mentre impaurito cerchi di dire le parole migliori che i tuoi fratelli e tuo padre si aspettino da te, ma non ti rendi conto che loro hanno smesso di preoccuparsi di te da chissà quanto tempo ormai. L’ho capito subito che in questa casa tu eri l’unico che provava a fare qualcosa. Mi avevi detto che eravate poveri, ma non che foste dei lazzaroni. Non che la terra non avevate voglia di lavorarla e che trovavate le scuse più impensabili per non farlo. Non siete in grado neanche di essere gente di campagna come si deve. Siamo tutti dei “katundar“, ma mio padre e i suoi fratelli, con organizzazione e sacrifici, hanno costruito quattro case. Voi, invece? Eppure siete così tanti maschi e tutti in buona salute che ognuno di voi dovrebbe vivere nella propria di casa. Invece eccoci qui, stipati in questa casa provvisoria, ancora non terminata, con a disposizione una sola stanza per ciascuna coppia.

Me ne sono accorta subito, la prima notte, in che razza di guaio mi ero cacciata. Ma ho accettato di restare. Sono rimasta perché ti amo, indipendentemente dalla vostra povertà e dalla vostra incapacità di darvi da fare. E ora tu mi fai questo? Così, senza il minimo rispetto, davanti a tutti? Perché dovrei seguirti in Italia e non tornare dai miei genitori? Inizio a pensare che quelle tue caratteristiche che tanto mi piacevano, siano soltanto il frutto del tuo carattere debole. E io che pensavo potessi essere un uomo albanese diverso. Uno di quelli che non ha bisogno di rimproverare la propria donna di fronte agli ospiti, come fanno tutti.
Grua fai questo, fai quello. Scusate, ma la mia Grua è lenta. Grua porta la caraffa d’acqua. Grua l’insalata è senza sale.” E noi donne, vostri oggetti, in silenzio a seguire ciò che ci dite di fare. Vi considerate degli uomini, vi definite “burra“, camminate con il petto in fuori, fumate le sigarette come foste degli imprenditori di successo, alzate la voce contro di noi in presenza degli ospiti per sentirvi grandi, per sentirvi qualcosa, ma senza di noi, le vostre mogli, i vostri oggetti, non sareste niente. Io, stupida, che mi aspettavo che tu potessi essere veramente diverso. E invece, guardati ora, prendere una decisione del genere, decidere anche per me e per il nostro piccolo senza neanche consultarmi. Neanche provare a pensare che le cose in un matrimonio si debbano decidere in due.

Finisci di parlare e non so neanche cosa hai detto. Il rumore di un cucchiaino che sbatte sul bordo del bicchiere di tè, riporta la mia mente alla realtà. È tuo padre che ha finito il tè e ci tiene a farmelo notare. Mi guarda fisso negli occhi, rimette il cucchiaio all’interno del bicchierino e il suo viso si veste di insofferenza, perché ha dovuto farmelo notare e io, da brava sposa quale dovrei essere, me ne sarei dovuta accorgere da sola. Il suo comportamento è la ciliegina sulla torta. Il mio corpo brucia di rabbia. Mi alzo il più velocemente possibile e cerco di fornirgli una faccia abbastanza dispiaciuta. Mi affretto a prendere il bicchierino e a dirigermi in cucina per riempirglielo di tè, e mentre mi lascio la sala alle spalle prego di non vedere mai più tuo padre, i tuoi fratelli e questa maledetta casa. Di non dover servire il tè a nessuno. E in quel momento, mentre mi rifugio in cucina, mi accorgo che è proprio quello che accadrà. Ora che tu hai deciso di portarmi in Italia senza dirmelo, saremo solo noi tre. Non ci saranno più né i tuoi genitori, né tanto meno i tuoi fratelli. È come se in un secondo saltassi dall’inferno al paradiso. Il mio corpo torna alla temperatura normale, come se mi fossi lasciata cadere di spalle su un letto soffice coperto di neve. Riesco a sentire il fumo uscire dalla pelle e abbandonare il mio corpo.

Il modo in cui l’hai annunciato non mi ha permesso di considerare il fatto più importante. Ovvero che non vivremo più qui, in questa casa di lazzaroni e gente senza rispetto. Io, con tre anni passati all’università di Prishtina a studiare letteratura, con la media dei voti più alta della classe, io che leggo Kadare e Frasheri, finita per amore a sentirmi dire da tua madre come si deve pulire un giardino e a diventare la schiava di tuo padre. Al secondo giorno di matrimonio mi sono tornate in mente le parole di papà. Fu l’unico a dirmi che avrei dovuto finire gli ultimi tre esami prima di sposarmi, che una volta sposa non li avrei mai dati e non avrei mai conseguito la laurea. Non li detti ascolto. Ti volevo così tanto che misi l’Università in secondo piano. E pochi giorni prima che diventassi tua, che diventassi vostra, lo sentii parlare con mamma in cucina. Le disse che io non sarei stata bene nella casa di nessuno, che io sono troppo indipendente per essere la donna di qualcuno, che io sono diversa dalle mie sorelle. Le capii soltanto una volta arrivata da voi quelle parole, quando mi svegliai e mi accorsi che il mio futuro sarebbe consistito nel servire gli abitanti di questa casa e stare in silenzio. Avevo deciso di studiare per evitare tutto questo e poi ci sono finita dentro lo stesso.

Ritorno in sala felice, pronta a servire tutti i tè che tuo padre e i tuoi fratelli vorranno bere. Ha tutto un altro effetto ora. Ora che sono cosciente che saranno gli ultimi. Andremo in Italia e saremo lontano da tutto questo. Potremo avere la nostra vita. Amarci per davvero, senza doverci nascondere. Avere la nostra intimità. Potrò crescere il bambino senza sentire ogni volta i commenti di chiunque. Chissà che bel posto dev’essere l’Italia. Forse le donne sono più rispettate, forse le persone si possono amare per davvero. Di sicuro ci sono scuole migliori e non ci sarà la guerra. Nostro figlio potrà studiare e chissà cosa diventerà. Un medico, magari un avvocato o forse un professore, chi lo sa. Magari anch’io potrò ricominciare a studiare, magari terminerò gli ultimi esami che mi sono rimasti e mi laureerò in Italia. Sarebbe fantastico.

Servo il tè a tuo padre e lo guardo fisso negli occhi.
Goditeli questi, perché sono gli ultimi dalle mani della nuora che non ti meriti“, vorrei dirgli, ma non posso. Qui dentro sono un oggetto e continuo a comportarmi come tale. Torno a sedermi sulla sedia vicino alla porta. Ora sì che mi sento bene. Cerco i tuoi occhi e finalmente li trovo. Mi accorgo che anche tu stai meglio, ora. Forse non me l’hai detto perché sapevi che ti avrei risposto di no. Hai fatto bene, dannazione. Hai fatto bene a non dirmelo, hai fatto bene a decidere tu per noi. Quanto ti amo. E non vedo l’ora di amarti ancora di più quando saremo là. Andremo in Italia e saremo felici. Felici per davvero.

Gezim Qadraku

Clicca qui per leggere la seconda parte

Dove ho visto il razzismo

Venerdì sera ho parlato al telefono con mia madre e lei a un certo punto ha iniziato a commentare quello che sta succedendo negli Stati Uniti.
Ha detto che è rimasta scioccata, che non è riuscita a guardare il video, che non pensava che gli USA fossero un paese del genere.
L’ho fermata subito e le ho detto di non commettere l’errore di pensare che solo là, dall’altra parte dell’oceano, il razzismo sia ancora un problema. Per farla arrivare dritta al punto ho voluto spiegarle come il razzismo sia presente anche tra la nostra gente, gli albanesi del Kosovo.

In primis contro noi stessi. Perché noi siamo tutti albanesi quando c’è la guerra, quando gli albanesi del Kosovo sono scappati in Albania e hanno trovato rifugio.
Siamo tutti albanesi quando la nazionale di calcio si qualifica all’Europeo.
Siamo tutti albanesi quando c’è da difendere le minoranze albanesi in Macedonia, Grecia, Montenegro o Serbia.
Siamo tutti albanesi quando un/a cantante di nazionalità albanese diventa famoso/a, c’è da andarne orgogliosi e cerchiamo di farlo notare in tutti i modi possibili che sia albanese. “Perché abbiamo anche cose buone.”

Eppure sin da piccolo ho sentito famigliari e amici distinguere la nostra gente in base a dove abitassero in Kosovo. Questo esercizio trovava il suo apice nei matrimoni.
Il primo commento verso la sposa riguardava la sua provenienza.
È cresciuta in una città? Se sì, quale e dove? Nord, Sud, Ovest o Est.
Oppure arriva da un villagio? Mmm, ancora peggio. Molte volte detto da persone che a loro volta erano cresciute e ancora vivevano in un villaggio. Giusto per fare il primo esempio che mi è venuto in mente.
Un fattore in questo contesto era la distanza che separava la città o il villaggio con quello della sposa. Vicini? Ok. Lontani? No, perché allora lei e la sua famiglia sono “diversi”.
Ma come, mica siamo tutti albanesi?
Ecco, siamo albanesi quando ci fa comodo, poi quando il figlio si sposa è bene che la moglie abiti nelle vicinanze. In tutto questo provate a immaginare cosa può pensare l’albanese medio di tutti coloro che non sono albanesi. Ecco, buona fortuna.
Per non parlare di cosa potranno dire di me che critico la mia gente. Va beh, questa è un’altra storia.

Questo discorso sul razzismo della nostra ha avuto un effetto su mia madre. È rimasta in silenzio per un po’. Presumo non avesse mai pensato a questa cosa.

Ora continuo con voi. Ho visto il razzismo in Kosovo, ma l’ho visto anche in Italia, dove ho vissuto per vent’anni.
In Italia è stato a tratti comico, perché ho scoperto come le credenze sulle quali un razzista costruisce i suoi ideali possano essere smontate con una facilità irrisoria e non abbiamo alcuna coerenza.
Vi spiego. Ho avuto amici che col passare degli anni ho scoperto essere razzisti. Nel momento in cui l’ho scoperto ho chiesto a loro perché con me non lo fossero stati, perché non mi avessero mai insultato, perché non mi avessero mai chiesto di tornare al mio paese. Nel loro caso non si trattava di un razzismo soltanto contro persone dal colore della pelle differente, era un razzismo (lo è ancora) contro qualsiasi straniero vivesse in Italia. Insomma, i famosi immigrati che porterebbero via il lavoro ai figli di papà.
Dopo aver fatto notare a questi miei amici che io facevo parte di quel gruppo di persone che loro avevano e tutt’ora insultano, la risposta ricevuta ogni volta è stata la medesima.


“No ma tu sei diverso.”


No, non sono e non ero diverso. Mi è andata bene perché non ho mai avuto l’accento da straniero o da albanese. Non calcavo la elle o la erre. Se mi sentite parlare e non mi conoscete penserete che io sia di Milano.
Mi è andata bene perché giocavo a calcio ed ero bravo, quindi ero utile alla società.
Mi è andata bene perché mi vestito più o meno come i miei amici. Se c’era da avere le Adidas avevo le Adidas, se c’era da avere le Nike avevo le Nike. Insomma, ero parte del gruppo ed era impossibile capire che non fossi italiano. Sembravo uno di loro, ma non lo ero.
Quindi non meritavo gli insulti razzisti solo perché il mio accento e i miei vestiti erano conformi a quelli del gruppo dei miei amici italiani?

A quanto pare è proprio così. Il mio caso trova conferma nella storia di questo ragazzo di colore, che dopo essere stato malmenato da ragazzi bianchi perché nero, fa di tutto per diventare bianco e viene accettato dal gruppo che lo aveva malmenato.
Lui si integra, loro però continuano ad avere un atteggiamento razzista contro i neri, ma non contro di lui, perché lui nel frattempo – secondo loro – è diventato diverso da quelli neri. Per diverso si intende che veste come i suoi amici bianchi, ascolta la loro musica e parla come loro, ma è pur sempre nero. Quindi il fattore che ha fatto sì che loro lo menassero è ancora presente, ma ora loro lo considerano diverso, lo considerano come uno del gruppo. È un cortocircuito e mostra la stupidità di questo fenomeno.

Ecco il link del documentario:


Questo per dire che non dobbiamo commettere l’errore di puntare il dito contro gli Stati Uniti e pensare che sia un problema esclusivamente loro. No, il razzismo c’è ovunque. Leggendo e studiando ho scoperto di odi tra etnie, popoli, Stati, regioni e religioni che non mi sarei mai immaginato. Perché non è solo una questione di bianco e nero. È un fenomeno che si attacca alla minima differenza fisica, culturale o religiosa e finisce per diventare violenza. Perché si inizia ammanettando una persona per aver commesso un reato, poi dato che è nero si finisce per ucciderlo. È un attimo.

Ho visto ebrei razzisti contro i musulmani. Ho letto di europei razzisti contro gli asiatici. Ho letto di neri razzisti contro i bianchi. Ho visto albanesi razzisti contro gli albanesi. Ho visto italiani del nord essere razzisti contro gli italiani del sud.

Quindi pare che siamo tutti razzisti. Scomodo, vero?

Ero razzista anch’io, avevo dei preconcetti pure io da piccolo. Non sono cresciuto in un ambiente dove la cultura, lo studio e la ricerca stavano al primo posto, anzi. Se non avessi avuto il privilegio di studiare sarei ancora razzista. Sì, proprio io che sono cresciuto in un paese straniero.

Ho letto, ho studiato, mi sono interessato a culture e popoli diversi. Questo mi ha permesso di conoscere l’altro, per quanto sia possibile farlo senza visitare un posto, ma è comunque un buon primo passo leggere degli altri, delle usanze, delle credenze di un altro popolo.
Ciò che mi ha aiutato più di tutto è il fatto di conoscere almeno una persona di ogni continente. Questa è stata la scintilla, parlare con persone di ogni parte del mondo e rendermi conto che non ci sia nessuna differenza tra noi, che tutti quei pregiudizi e quelle convinzioni ci sono state inculcate da fattori come l’educazione in famiglia, la preferenza politica di nostro padre, le amicizie, il periodo storico nel quale stiamo vivendo, ecc…

Quindi, il razzismo c’è ovunque.
Si risolverà? Io non credo. Purtroppo sono realista e non mi piace sognare troppo, soprattutto se si parla di un problema come questo radicato nell’essere umano da tanto, troppo tempo.

Se c’è qualcosa che mi sento di consigliarvi è di dare un peso minore alle foto che postate su Instagram e a concentrarvi di più sulla vita reale. Pubblicare una foto con lo sfondo nero non vi dà nulla. È un esercizio troppo facile che non cambia la vostra mentalità. Dopo i primi like che ricevete vi sentite appagati e non colpevoli, vi siete già dimenticati della storia. Trascorrere una serata a parlare con una persona di un altro continente può cambiarvi la vita. Ok, magari la vita no, ma di sicuro modificherà radicalmente l’idea che avete delle persone che ritenete diverse da voi.

Vi auguro di poter avere, come me, almeno un amico per ogni continente.

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.

Those summers in Kosovo

Returning to Kosovo every summer meant being able to finally breathe the air of freedom. After nine months of inflexible hours, school, homework, tests and questions, I always had at least a month of pure fun. I spent most of my time in the village where my father was born and raised. There, togethere with my cousin and other boys, I am sure I reached the peak of happiness.

We were a group of six or seven children. I was the youngest. We spent our afternoons playing in the endless meadows of the countryside. They’d take the cows out to pasture, and one always had the ball with him. We’d go and challenge the other children in the village. I used to play football in Italy, I trained twice a week and did everything according to the rules. But there, among them, I looked like a fish out of water. I thought I was playing another game. They were better, faster, stronger. Growing up, I always wondered where they’d get to if somebody gave them a chance.

Those afternoons were beautiful. We didn’t just play football, we stole the cobs and ate them together. We’d divide up our duties. Three went to take the cobs. Two were the field workers, while one was outside to check if the owner arrived. The other three or four stood at the base, which was nothing but the shadow of an oak tree. Down there we prepared the wood and the fire. We grilled the cobs. By looking at our faces, it was like someone had opened us the doors of a starred restaurant. Those weren’t just cobs. It was the organization of a theft, the anxiety of waiting, the adrenaline of those who had to carry out the plan and then the happiness of being able to enjoy them together.

I felt good in their midst, even though I was totally different. I had everything: original shoes, beautiful, clean and ironed clothes. A simple life in Italy and the possibility to think of a rosy future. They had nothing, but I didn’t know that.
How I cried every time I had to go back to Italy. I wanted to stay with them, and I would have given everything just to stay in Kosovo.
They never told me anything, but who knows how they envied me. And I was so stupid to barter my wealthy life for their nothing.

I liked everything about them. Even when they got dirty playing, I had the feeling that their dirt was more beautiful than mine, more original. Even the mud or dust looked good on them. How many times I think back to those moments listening to the beautiful notes of “Il ragazzo della via Gluck“. I get emotionally touched every time.

The memory of the best food I’ve ever eaten is also linked to those moments. No, I’m not talking about grilled cobs.
When we went out to play, our mothers knew we’d be late, and at some point, we’d be hungry. So Mom would always make me a sandwich with sliced tomatoes and a generous amount of salt. A simple sandwich, actually, quite a thin one if I think about it.
It was the end of the world, believe me. When the tomato juice wet the bread, and there was salt in that piece, a mixture came to life that made me literally fly.
God, what happiness.

Mom used to yell at me when I went out too often to play with my friends. She used an expression that can’t be translated into English, Sokak. The word refers to the narrow streets that separate houses in a village or town. But it is the way it is used and all the meaning it is given to create a world of its own. Mom always told me not to stay in Sokak all day. It was like, to try to say it in English, a sort of reminder not to spend the whole day walking around the village wasting time.

She wanted me to study to do my homework, but all I cared about was playing football with my friends. They protected me from that world of unwritten rules, pride and courage. Something far away from the concept of fun that there was in Italy when I played after school in the park with my classmates.

They were all wearing old, ugly, dirty clothes and I wanted them. I dreamed of being like them, but instead, I had much more beautiful stuff. I was ashamed of myself.
One day I realized where they were buying those bad things I liked so much. I also saw that they were really cheap, and I began to understand something of their reality. I was at the market with my parents, which in Albanian we call pazar, from bazaar. You should spend a day in this place, you would understand so much about our people. The manners of the salesmen, the kindness and willingness to give you credit for one, two or three weeks. The atmosphere, the smells and the sounds. Try to ask to buy a single pepper and receive all the crate that will contain at least thirty.

“Oh no, they’re too many. I only need one.”
“But ma’am, you don’t want to buy a single pepper, do you? Come on, one euro and take it all.”

And you can’t say no. And it’s nice that way.

Now it happens, when I come back, less and less, unfortunately, to meet those boys again. They’ve grown, they’ve become men. They’ve started a family, a home and their lives have taken an acceptable path. But it’s as if nothing has changed when they see me. We meet in the most unthinkable places, even if for me every time it is as if someone catapults us on the meadows of our beloved countryside. We talk, discuss the present and how things have changed. They are even kinder than before, and I feel uncomfortable every time. I wonder why I deserved such a blessed life, and they didn’t.

I meet Amir, and I’m reminded of what his reality was like as a child. He lived about 50 yards away from my cousin. We were separated by a hill that people used to take out the garbage. Behind the trash was Amir and his family. One afternoon we went to his place. I don’t remember why. They didn’t have a house, they lived in a shack. The roof was open, and the place was tiny. I don’t remember how many members there were in total, also because every day I discovered a new brother or sister. You should see it now Amir and his two-floor house built with who knows how many sacrifices. He takes me in there proudly and introduces me to his wife Jetmira, who is pregnant.

It’s a boy,” he tells me excited. There are a lot of photos in the living room. The biggest one is of his father, who left too soon. I’m in one also. That’s us in the group, all together in front of my cousin’s house. I get touched, can barely keep my tears inside. I didn’t expect that picture. It’s an avalanche of emotion that’s hard to handle.

We drink coffee, eat some dessert, and they’re all trying to hold me back for dinner. I tell Amir that I’m already invited for dinner elsewhere. That’s the only reason that convinces him to give up. I greet Jetmira with a handshake and give Amir a big hug. I leave their nest and head towards my cousin, who is waiting for me for dinner.

While walking, I think about the life I have led in Italy and that of my Italian friends. Sometimes I wonder what happened to our childhood if we did nothing but complain about what we missed. The Play-Station game, the branded shoe, the moped, etc…

I grew up among people who were economically well, who could afford everything a human being needs to live well. Still, I realize that they gave me nothing. They taught me how to choose restaurants, how to eat certain dishes and how to dress on certain occasions.
Poor people have given me so much. I always feel comfortable with them, even if I’ve never been poor. They have suffered, they have something to tell you, you can find life in their eyes. And if fate was not too cruel and they still have the strength to laugh; well, in those smiles, you will understand why life is the best thing that could have happened to you. The poor have taught me and shown me the meaning of the word happiness.

I arrive at the gate, and before entering, I take a look around. A lot of things have changed. The houses are all more beautiful now. The colours of the walls are bright, the road has been paved, an acceptable amount of water flows in the river, and there is no longer any sign of war. Despite all these differences, my mind recreates the images of those summer days. I see myself as a child running out of the courtyard to meet the boys in the group. I savour the taste of those sandwiches and hear our happy voices as we chase the ball. I’m reminded of the words at the end of the movie Stand by Me.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?”

I walk into the courtyard and see my cousin on the balcony smiling at me. He tells me dinner’s ready. In my heart, I hope there are bread, tomatoes and salt.

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.

Il tempo di un caffè

Ricordo che in quel periodo mi ero preso questa abitudine di scrivermi la lista delle cose che desideravo fare durante la giornata.
Avevo letto un po’ di libri motivazionali e tutti suggerivano di mettere per iscritto il proprio programma quotidiano appena svegli e poi, prima di andare a dormire, segnare tutte le attività che si era stati in grado di svolgere.

Da’ una motivazione in più, spiegavano. Quando torni a casa e controlli quante cose sei riuscito a fare, in caso positivo, provi un senso di fierezza nei tuoi confronti. In caso contrario rimane comunque uno strumento utile per capire come organizzare la propria giornata.
Era un periodo nel quale mi svegliavo veramente presto ogni mattina, praticavo lo Yoga, mi allenavo prima di andare al lavoro e avevo totalmente cambiato la mia alimentazione. Abitudini lontane anni luce dalla mia passata quotidianità.

Dopo averla incontrata iniziai a lasciare sempre uno spazio vuoto tra le attività per lei. Ci conoscemmo tra i corridoi degli uffici. Lavorava due piani sopra al mio, ma molto spesso era costretta a scendere. Un giorno necessitava di parlare proprio con me e fu un’ottima scusa per fare una pausa e prenderci un caffè. Giusto il tempo di una breve chiacchierata e quella diventò una routine.

Caffè?” e ci si incontrava da qualche parte, con queste pause che iniziarono ad allungarsi sempre di più. E tutto diventava sempre più interessante. Lei, i suoi modi di fare, le sue abitudini e la sua timidezza che non ne sapeva di voler sparire. Le accennai che a breve me ne sarei dovuto andare dal quell’ufficio. Dall’alto mi avevano fatto sapere che le mie capacità servivano a dei nostri collaboratori in un’altra città.

Trasferirsi per lavoro, una cosa che avevo sempre amato. Un punto che probabilmente aveva giocato a mio favore durante il colloquio. Avevo dato la mia piena disponibilità nel muovermi e spostarmi periodicamente.

In quei giorni però, l’unica cosa che volevo fare era tornare indietro e non dare più quella disponibilità.
Capii perché avevo sempre avuto così tanta voglia di muovermi.
Non avevo mai avuto un motivo per fermarmi in un posto.
Mi accorsi che non mi era mai successo di pensare che una persona mi sarebbe potuta mancare.
Non l’avevo mai detto a nessuno, salutandolo: “mi mancherai“.
Era arrivato il momento e non sapevo proprio come gestirlo.
Avrei sentito la sua mancanza. Questo era poco ma sicuro.
Mi mancava ancora prima andarmene, mi mancava nonostante la vedessi ogni giorno e speravo che ogni secondo con lei potesse durare per sempre.
Nonostante fossimo coscienti che non ne sarebbe scaturito nulla di più, era comunque qualcosa. Un sentimento nuovo che mi aveva scombussolato la quotidianità.

Si stava bene in quegli attimi.
Non eravamo quel tipo di persone che hanno bisogno di parlare per capirsi e questo ci aveva avvicinati sin da subito, come lo possono ben comprendere tutte quelle persone che almeno una volta nella vita sono stati in silenzio con qualcuno per una serie di minuti senza sentirsi a disagio.
Senza provare quella terribile sensazione di dover per forza dire qualcosa.
Capita raramente, con poche persone, ed è giusto così.

Andammo avanti per un periodo che ora mi sembra infinito – ripensandoci – ma all’epoca mi parve un battito di ciglia. Finché non glielo dissi, perché alla fine poi le cose bisogna dirle. E bisogna farlo guardando negli occhi le persone. Cosa che con lei mi riusciva più semplice. Mi trovavo a mio agio guardandola, mi sentivo al sicuro dentro alle sue pupille.

Non è mai abbastanza” le confessai, accarezzandole un sopracciglio e perdendomi per l’ennesima volta nei suoi occhioni.
Cosa?” mi domandò lei, con un tono sorpreso e curioso.
Il tempo con te!“replicai io, sorridendo.
Cercando in qualche modo di mostrarle quanto stare con lei mi rendeva felice.

Gezim Qadraku.

I’ll be back soon

I’m at the airport, waiting for a friend who’s coming back from London after two months of work. The speaker announces that the plane is half an hour late. Not having many options I decide to take a walk aimlessly. I wonder for a while until I reach the departure gates.
My attention is immediately captured by a child and what should be his father. I am kidnapped by the way the little one is glued to the parent. I sit on a bench and keep watching them. I can already imagine how this story will end.

After a couple of minutes, the father hugs his woman with a touching and deep gesture. They remain attached to each other for an indefinite time. When they come off, both have shiny eyes.  He is a little less, while she just can’t hold back her tears. It’s a blow to the heart to look at her, it hurts me. She tries to hide the emotion by looking up and putting on her sunglasses. She doesn’t want the child to see her like that.
The father is holding back because now comes the impossible part. He lowers himself towards his little one, caresses his hair and pulls out a forced, hard-fought smile, while he succeeds in the very complicated exercise of keeping tears inside his body. I can get a very clear idea of the power of the knot in the throat she’s trying.

He hugs him hard and the son literally clings to his body. It’s a snapshot, a flash. There should be someone – for each one of us – who takes pictures or films certain moments of our existence. That gesture should be shown in schools to explain the meaning of parent, child, family.
It is impossible to think that those two bodies could come off. It would be like asking or expecting, that a natural event stops following its course. Ask the flowers not to bloom in spring or the water of the rivers not to feed the seas. You can’t do that.
The mother is forced to do what she does not want. She pulls the baby to herself with a quick gesture, somehow trying to reduce the pain. As if that was possible.
I read the father’s lips: “I’ll be back soon”.
The child knows that he is lying to him and bursts into a roaring cry. He turns around and hugs the legs of the mother. She looks at her man, gently caresses his face and tells him to go. In my heart, selfishly, I wish myself the good fortune to find such a woman.
He looks at the little one and then turns his back on his family.

The emptiness that is created is deafening. For a moment I think the whole airport has stopped and is watching them. I don’t feel anything. I can only feel the pain of those three people that increases dramatically every second that passes.
I know this kind of stories. I’ve already heard those words. I know how that child feels. He doesn’t understand why her father is doing something as terrible as going to work somewhere far away. He feels betrayed and is not wrong. But what he doesn’t know is that his father is doing such a bad thing just for him. So that he doesn’t miss anything now that he’s small and above all, so that, in a certain way, he can secure a future when he’ll be big.
That child will understand it, he will understand all this when he is grown up. But now he doesn’t care. Now he just wants to have his father there with him to play and go and eat ice cream together.

What the father doesn’t know is that he will lose pieces of his son’s life forever. He’ll let days, months and maybe years slip by. This will last until he can take it with him or decides to return. It may happen if the period of distance is prolonged for too many years, that that son will not be able to recognize him and will go into the arms of someone else when he will be back.
He will ask his mother, “Who is this man?”.
And then that father will take all the blame in the world. He will wonder if it was worth it to make his creature suffer. To live far from his family and then to return so as not to be recognized.
What all those who left their land asked themselves at least once in their lives: “but was it really worth it?”
Yes, as if a simple human being were able to answer such a question.

I take one last look at that child and remind of the story my mother used to talk to me. The photo of the three of us, with my father holding me in his arms a few days after birth next to my mother, who I asked her to kiss before falling asleep while he was away. When he came back and I told her to make him sleep under the bed, that man.
I didn’t call him Daddy anymore. He had become “that man”. It had been a long time since he left and I was just a child. I was not to blame, neither was my father. It’s nobody’s fault actually, it’s life.
I always wondered how he felt, but I never had the courage to ask him directly.
I go outside to smoke a cigarette and I pray that no father should be forced to make such decisions.

Gezim Qadraku.

Una vita che non esiste

Il mal di testa era fortissimo. Innumerevoli e fastidiosissime fitte continuavano a premere incessantemente sul mio cervello.
La sensazione era che quel dolore stesse per spaccarmi il cranio.
Non avevo mai provato una sofferenza tale.
Non potei fare altro che chiudere gli occhi e lasciarmi cadere sul letto. Nonostante fossi caduto quasi a peso morto e mi sembrava di non essere in grado di controllare i muscoli, continuavo a tenere con la mano destra il mio smartphone.

Erano le 9 del mattino di una domenica qualunque. Ero sveglio dalle 8 e da quell’istante non avevo fatto altro che controllare i miei profili social.
Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, poi di nuovo Facebook, una controllata alla mail e ancora Instagram.
Non potevo farne a meno.
Mi era impossibile immaginare di perdermi anche il minimo avvenimento che stava accadendo online.
Avevo trascorso la prima ora di quella giornata senza bere, mangiare o andare in bagno. Sessanta minuti con lo sguardo concentrato su quello schermo.
Prima da sdraiato sotto le coperte e successivamente seduto sul letto.
La mia testa era riuscita a resistere un’ora.
Poi il buio.
Mi lasciai cadere sul letto e la sensazione fu di perdere i sensi.

Mi ripresi più tardi, circa un’ora e mezza dopo.
Non mi fu difficile comprendere che quel dolore era stato causato dall’eccessivo utilizzo del cellulare.
Il risveglio fu traumatico. Mi parve di essere scampato alla morte e la paura, il terrore di aver visto la fine di fronte agli occhi, mi fece dimenticare tutto il resto.
Per la prima volta dopo parecchio tempo mi fermai a pensare.

Da un paio di anni il mio unico interesse era la vita online.
Il mio profilo.
Le mie attività.
Le mie foto.
I miei “amici”.
I messaggi delle ragazze.
Le richieste di amicizia.
I “mi piace”.
I commenti.
Le condivisioni.
Gli apprezzamenti.
I nuovi follower.
Le nuove follower.
Le stories.
Chi le aveva visualizzate.
Chi non ancora.
Chi mi aveva taggato.

Trascorrevo le mie giornate connesso. Ogni secondo libero era buono per prendere in mano lo smartphone e osservare le vite degli altri.
Controllare cosa stava succedendo: chi aveva pubblicato una foto, chi era in viaggio, chi aveva ottenuto un nuovo lavoro, chi si era fidanzato, chi si era sposato, chi era nato, chi era morto, a chi piacevano le mie foto, come stava andando un mio post, chi voleva diventare mio amico, chi iniziava a seguirmi, quali ragazze rispondevano ai miei messaggi.

Qualsiasi cosa facessi: dal mangiare agli allenamenti, dal viaggiare alle uscite con gli amici era fatto esclusivamente con l’intento e la speranza che pubblicandolo avesse potuto fare di me un personaggio migliore secondo la prospettiva del web.
Sognavo di diventare un influencer. Impazzivo di felicità e mi sentivo importante, completo, arrivato quando qualcuno mi chiedeva consigli su qualsiasi argomento.

Uscivo con i miei amici e votavo sempre per andare nei locali più costosi per dare un’idea di ricchezza.
Andavo a mangiare due o tre volte alla settimana al ristorante, sempre per lo stesso motivo.
Successivamente iniziai anche a viaggiare, prima nei posti più vicini a casa e man mano mi allontanavo sempre di più, fino a varcare i confini.
Odiavo viaggiare e soprattutto prendere l’aereo.
Però le foto in aeroporto e dei monumenti delle città famose avevano un enorme seguito.
Non esitavo a condividere con i miei “amici” del web tutto ciò che mi succedeva.
Avevo un bisogno vitale della loro opinione. Ogni giorno era una lotta per farmi accettare e stare al passo con le mode del momento.
Fotografavo appunti e libri mentre studiavo oppure le scarpe sportive e i pesi prima di iniziare ad allenarmi.
Postavo le foto dei programmi televisivi che guardavo.
Arrivai a pubblicare una foto di me e Jessica sotto le lenzuola, nudi, dopo aver fatto l’amore.
Addirittura la bara di mio nonno mentre lo portavamo al cimitero.
Ebbe un enorme successo.

Dopo il risveglio compresi di aver un problema e quel trauma mi convinse che la cosa giusta da fare era rivolgermi a un dottore. Scoprii che soffrivo di nomofobia: la paura di restare disconnessi dalla rete.
Iniziai un percorso di guarigione. La base era cercare di ridurre al minimo, e ai soli momenti indispensabili, l’utilizzo dello smartphone.
I primi giorni furono un disastro assoluto. Semplicemente non ce la facevo.
Poi con il passare del tempo migliorai sempre di più, fino a sentirmi in grado di poter prendermi una pausa dai social.
Non cancellai i profili, disinstallai le app dallo smartphone e provai a vedere se era possibile vivere senza.
Era fattibile eccome, anzi, era una meraviglia.

Le riflessioni di quel periodo mi fecero capire che avevo buttato via gli ultimi anni della mia vita.
Svolgere un’attività, fare una foto, modificarla, trovare la frase giusta da scrivere, pubblicarla e aspettare. Sperare che la foto piaccia e dopo i primi apprezzamenti sentirsi appagati.

Mi sentivo felice e completo, ma per cosa?
In realtà tutto quello era un bel niente.
Solo pura immaginazione. Così forte da farmi perdere il contatto con la realtà.

Contavo i mi piace, giudicavo gli apprezzamenti a seconda di chi li aveva dati. L’apprezzamento di uno sconosciuto valeva molto di meno della ragazza che mi interessava. Eppure per l’algoritmo del social network sempre uno era.

Mi ero costruito una vita che non esisteva, fatta di foto ritoccate, false amicizie, apprezzamenti di circostanza.
Una vita immaginaria che per tutti ormai vale molto di più di quella reale.

A distanza di diversi mesi dall’inizio del percorso di guarigione mi sentii così bene e sicuro di me stesso, da provare la sensazione di poter essere in grado di controllare i social network.
Decisi di installare di nuovo le app sul mio smartphone.

Così ritornai sui social, i miei profili erano lì dove li avevo lasciati.
Era trascorso un sacco di tempo eppure nessuno sembrava essersi accorto della mia assenza.

Gezim Qadraku.