The phone rang at ten to eight. I was lying on the couch and nibbling my evening toast. I pulled the phone from under the pillows.
It was Marija, my sister. She sounded upset.
‘Are you watching TV?’ she said.
‘Turn on the news.’
‘Turn it on.’
‘What is it?’
One word was enough. I knew what happened.
I turned on the TV, Channel One, and saw the expected scene: an excavator and a compressor on a ravaged field, people arguing, policemen keeping order, onlookers watching from surrounding heights. It was obviously windy out at sea: the bura1
ruffled their hair, tugged at their clothes, forced a policeman to hold on to his hat. As the camera panned across the cove, a reporter talked about unlawful construction and powerless inspectors with a righteous voice. This time at least, he said, the state stood up against a rogue investor
Then the camera showed the investor. A policeman was patiently holding him while he thrashed and shouted. He thrust his face into the camera, said something unintelligible, and shoved it away. He looked mad, raving mad.
I took a good look at him. He wore the same old fake leather jacket. His hair, usually pulled over the scalp, was wildly fluttering. He had grown older. The electronic image somehow made him look unreal, artificial. But it was him.
It was our father.
I was nine the first time I saw the place where I would grow up. It was March or February 1986. It was windy, just like tonight. We stood on a slope above the sea, the entire family: father, mother, Marija, I and Stipe, who was still a toddler. We stood and watched the dry-stone wall terraces that descended to the cove like steps. There was a smell of wild grass, sage and blackberry. Deep down, the sea was a ghostly blue. We were silent for a long time. Then father said: ‘Well, this is it,’ as if he had made the sea and the cliffs. Mother just nodded.
‘What’s this place called?’ she asked.
‘Krvavica,’ came the answer. It was uttered by a man standing one step behind us, his hands deep in his pockets waiting like a patient merchant.
, like blood sausage
‘No, like blood. They say a battle was fought here long ago. With the Turks, I think.’
It was terribly cold. We three children stood in the wind and waited. The man one step behind us also waited. His name was Batinić, and he owned the dry-stone walls and blackberries. He was selling the building site to my father and mother.
Father and mother exchanged a look of agreement and made the decision. We went to the car and drove to the Batinić’s house. The adults drank herb brandy in the cold kitchen. We children watched the clock on the wall, waiting for the hour to strike and the bird to come out. Then the adults drank coffee and Batinić shook hands with my father. I don’t know when and where they later signed the contract, but it didn’t matter. That
was the contract - they shook hands and the blackberry terraces became ours. A new life was beginning for us, the life in my father’s house.
I put aside the glass of milk and the toast, still watching TV and the lifeless electronic image of my father. He is struggling with the policeman, cursing his neighbors, casting helpless glances, calling for help. But there’s no help, either from me or from Marija. I see only father’s lawyer behind him, holding his briefcase and watching impassively, as if he gave up on him long ago. But there’s Stipe, and he isn’t impassive. He stands with his father like a true son, with the same kind of face, the same bushy eyebrows and forehead. He is also struggling with workers, standing in the way of the bulldozer. Father and son, shoulder to shoulder, sharing the fight, the race, the blood.
1 Bura, a cold and dry northeastern wind, typical for Adriatic.