The Ninth Floor

In my country, you fall asleep in a building with eight floors and wake up in one with nine.

Bum bum bum, tak, tak, tak!

I think someone is hitting me over the head. I open my eyes. Look at the time. 8:30. Once again I did not sleep enough. Workers are clandestinely constructing another floor above mine. Slabs of concrete travel up the elevator. My comfortable bed no longer seems so.

I live on the top floor, or I believed I lived on the top floor. I cannot continue to believe so since soon this building of eight floors will have nine.

Two days earlier, one of the construction workers stood in front of the elevator door. He was around 45 years old, or perhaps seemed that age from sheer exhaustion. He was dressed in a worker’s outfit that looked painted white. His hair looked undecided about the color it wanted to have, neither black nor white. An unknowable color, dusty or sprinkled with dust.

I asked him, What is happening upstairs?

He looked at me, lowering his head, and told me, We are insulating the terrace to protect your apartment.

Ehhh, I told him. I know very well that is not so. But at any rate it is not your fault.

Some seconds passed in silence and he said, Savage capitalism, sister.

Why did I put him in a position where he had to lie?

He spoke of capitalism with that old communist slogan of camaraderie, “sister.”

The workers look haggard and resigned to their fate. Each day, they clean the elevator well, swiping away the concrete specks to remove all traces of work done.

These workers have turned into phantasms in order to make possible the materialization of the 9th floor. One might wonder if we live in a wonderland.

At the crossroads

Albania is covered by a dark curtain of crisscrossed paths. I see a girl sitting in a wheelchair at the crossroads between Sami Frasheri Street and the Boulevard Bajram Curri. It is raining and cold. She has a frozen stare as though fixed somewhere beyond the known world. If I did not know otherwise I would have thought she were an ice statue.

She does not care about ballot boxes or the Copenhagen Summit, the latest promotion of Albania’s investor potential. Perhaps if we looked hard into the vacuous eyes of this girl we would understand that to become part of the European Union does not warrant the begging of diplomats in the corridors of Brussels. Perhaps then we would learn to demand accountability from ourselves. Meanwhile she sits in her wheelchair, looking hopelessly for someone to see her.

Keti’s Story

I get my hair done at a hair salon not far from my place. Finally I thought I’d found a hairdresser that does not try to gossip or pry: Where do you work? Are you going steady or are you single? Are you engaged or married? Do you have brothers and sisters? In Tirana, knowing everyone’s business is part of the hairdresser’s job.

My hairdresser, Keti, is young, maybe twenty-six, dresses sensibly, and keeps her hair neatly trimmed at her shoulders with a few blond highlights. She gives an impression of independence and competence. Despite my desire to shut out the world for a brief time, my ears, like rebels, take in the stories she tells to the others at the salon. She has a ten-year-old son and her husband is elsewhere, not in Albania. Having a husband outside of the country is quite normal given the flood of people who left after communism fell.