Why We Cry So Much
translated from Bosnian by Jennifer H. Zoble
The three of us ended up on three different continents. We see each other once every two years, when we return home. Always at the same time, on the anniversary of Selmir’s death.
We return to our true homes, to the streets where we grew up. We never became adults. Because when we were supposed to, all these terrible things happened, and they postponed our adulthood forever.
I have a husband who’s a veterinarian. Of exotic animals. A Swiss, who doesn’t make me laugh much, but doesn’t make me sad, either.
Alma has a husband whom she married in spite of the fact that he never proposed.
She got married because it was cool to have a South African passport. Her husband oversees a fleet of diamond runners. He takes care of her in similar fashion.
Sabina says, “I am happily married.” And then she cries. Wretchedly. Endlessly. She cries because she has a husband on the East Coast of the United States who loves her a lot. She has a dream job and a big house with a pool. And every two years she flies home, and from the airport she goes directly to the cemetery and talks for hours and hours about everything in sight, under which lies Selmir, the husband she had for only seven days.
I remember the day when my father came home and told us Selmir was dead. He said he would go tell Sabina, but would wait until her father came home from his shift. That day was the first time I smoked in front of my father. We lit up together. We smoked Drinas made in Niš, ironically enough. And waited, in silence, until Uncle Muzafer came home. I remember that I wanted to go, to be the one to tell her. To wail with her. But my father said it was a man’s job and it wasn’t our fault that men waged war against one another.
Once they’d told her, I went over there. I remember her room, and the unmade bed where she’d slept the night before with him, the one who now lay quiet, cold, and dead in the Koševo hospital morgue. She dug her nails into my shoulder and simply kept repeating that she must be pregnant. That it would be okay and we shouldn’t worry about her, because she must be pregnant. Because she knew it. Because she felt it. So the child at least would be a comfort to her. His and hers. She didn’t cry. She said all would be well. Because at least she’d have his child.
I stayed with her that night. In the same unmade bed. She cried only the next morning. After she woke with bloody thighs and realized there was no hope. She had nothing left of him. And there would never be any children. His and hers.
We always laugh at Alma. Her beloved defected to the other side. We knew he was a sniper. That’s how they usually end up, the ones who spend all their time training fanatically at shooting. My mother comforted her. She told her it was better that way. She said, “Did it never strike you as odd that, instead of playing football in the park, he lived at the shooting range?” Alma stuck to her own opinions. She’d always proceed slowly through the intersection. As if she were on a catwalk. She’d turn and look toward the hill where they’d perch to shoot. And every time she’d stick out her tongue. That’s how it was with him, Dragan, she would loll out her tongue, prompting him to kiss her. And they never shot at her. Never. We told her she’d earned her very own sniper squad the old-fashioned way.
For me it was easy. My boyfriend left for Holland before the war. And waited for me. Waited for me to come and continue where we’d left off. And we’d left off with a passionate kiss at the airport, which was shut down ten days later. We sent messages for months. And I remember the night when Amela’s father managed to establish a connection with a ham radio in Amsterdam. The night when I sat with headphones on and waited to hear Boba’s voice. And I heard it. He said things had changed. He couldn’t get work and the only help he’d found was in a Buddhist community. They’d given him a home and food. Spiritual food. And things had completely changed. I thought he was fucking with me, I expected him at any moment to let out a snort and tell me he was fucking joking, and he could hardly wait to see me. Through the noise of the radio waves he said, “My darling, tomorrow I leave for Italy. I’ve dedicated myself to my faith. Be happy, and take care of yourself…” Then I took off the headphones…and left to die a very spiritual death from alcohol poisoning.
Everything that happened after that conversation, that night, was a crazy alcoholic dream. I know we swore that none of us would ever marry a Balkan man. Never. That each of us would become someone and something, and we’d all have foreign passports and husbands who didn’t wage war, who weren’t Buddhist priests, and who didn’t train at the shooting range.
And now, so many years later, we have all that.
My name is Alisa Baumgartner. My husband is Doctor Baumgartner, a veterinarian specializing in exotic animals.
Occasionally some foolish Swiss, returning from a holiday in some faraway tropical place, will bring back these tiny, friendly lizards. Wasserdrachen. When they land at the airport in Geneva, the Swiss instantly dispense with their adventurous spirit, and evict the lizards from their fancy luggage. The officers catch the frantic little animals, and call Doctor Baumgartner. And he, he always has compassion for the tiny, friendly, cheerful creatures, and instead of killing them, he fills out the adoption papers and brings them home.
He knows they’ll make me happy. I’ll laugh. Which I rarely do otherwise.
I wake up in the morning, and while I drink coffee on the terrace and look at the lake, I talk to our little Wasserdrachen. They love my voice. I press my hands against the artificial glass walls of their home and watch their sad little eyes. I tell them how I’m happy. How my husband loves me. How this vista that we enjoy together is beautiful. How I drink the best Brazilian coffee, and how every day for breakfast they get the highest quality locusts. They are silent. I talk to them. I tell them how I have friends in New York and Johannesburg. How they’re happy. But how sometimes they cry. Then I cry. The tiny, friendly, cheerful creatures watch me. They don’t blink. And I know. We understand each other. Them and me.
Melina Kamerić was born in 1972 in Sarajevo. She writes at night. A Ukrainian translation of her short fiction collection Cipele za dodjelu Oskara was published in 2012 by Folio Publishers Ltd.
Jennifer H. Zoble is a multimedia essayist, translator of Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian literature, and founding co-editor of InTranslation (intranslation.brooklynrail.org), a project ofThe Brooklyn Rail. She earned MFAs in literary translation and nonfiction writing from The University of Iowa and a master’s in teaching from The New School. She recently joined the Liberal Studies faculty of NYU. Her translations from Cipele za dodjelu Oskara (Shoes for Oscar Night) by Melina Kamerić have been published in Anomalous (November 2012) and Washington Square (forthcoming).