The volume is down. I can’t hear their yells or the reporter. If I heard them, it would be worse, and it’s bad enough as it is. I want to turn off the phone, draw all curtains, lock the front door. Because everybody
is watching. The million citizens of Zagreb, the entire country, are watching the news and my father fighting the police and prostrating himself in front of the bulldozers. I am seized by shame. It’s the old, long forgotten shame. It’s woken up again, come back from my past life, as if there were no happy decade in between, a time of peace when I was free from his shitty presence.
The news report has ended. My father is not on TV any more. I’m watching women in white coats sorting fish cans. The shame is over. But then the phone rings. I look at it in horror, as if seeing a bug. Finally, I pick it up.
I’m relieved. I was afraid someone else was calling, someone from my present
‘Did you see it?’ she asks.
‘I did. Did you call them?’
‘Yes, I spoke with mum.’
‘It’s awful for them. For dad.’
‘Do you think I should call them?’
She is silent, thinking. Then she says the predictable thing. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘Maybe better not, after all that.’
The next morning I called anyway.
I was restless under the covers for a long time, not being able to sleep. Eventually, at dawn, I fell into a dull and dreamless sleep. I woke up at quarter to nine, more tired than in the evening. I checked my organizer. I scheduled the presentation of the master plan for ten. I showered, put on makeup, hid the traces of insomnia. I poured milk on my cornflakes and made the call.
Mother answered. Good, I was hoping for that.
‘I saw the news yesterday…’
‘I know. Everybody saw it.’
‘Can I help in any way?’
‘No. Not any more.’
Not any more
. That’s what she said, and the sentence had a sting of reproach, like a claw in a soft paw. You can’t help now, but you could have
, then. You could have been here with us, on the barricade, like Stipe. We could have hung together as a family. We could have. This wouldn’t have happened.
I put the receiver down. I stood at the window, gazing emptily at the ashen Zagreb sky. I snapped out of it, finished my breakfast and grabbed the receiver again. I called Renata.
I told her to cancel the presentation, reschedule all tomorrow’s meetings and book the first flight to the south. She called me five minutes later and told me she had booked a noon flight. I opened my laptop and tried to work, without success. Then I got dressed—soberly, as if for a meeting—and called a taxi.
In the winter of 1987 my father built a bungalow on the Batinić lot. He roofed it with a concrete slab spiked with steel reinforcing, onto which he piled a load of cement blocks, the raw material for future storeys. Using a dozen blocks, he made a turret at one corner and connected it to the electricity cable. He hung a TV antenna on it, so it looked like a fishbone. We received Italian television perfectly, Zagreb so-so.
I don’t know how to describe my childhood—heaven or hell? It was different for Marija, she was a big girl, I remember how she used to descend the stony slope to the road in her shoes with too high heels, how she dressed too well in the evenings and went to the bar in the cove, the only surrogate for entertainment. I guess those years must have been a drab period for Marija: sleeping with only a curtain separating her from mother and father, watching electronic poker in the seedy inn, suffering the advances of trawlers and fishermen’s apprentices.