Blesok no. 65, March-April, 2009
Prose


The Eighth Commissioner
(excerpt)

Renato Baretić


A huge shark circled furiously, and his protruding eyes flashed in every direction. He was hungrier and more dangerous than ever. The white sea surface shimmered calmly about ten meters above him as a small black object rather like a necklace with a pendant broke the surface.
    The shark swam around a little, waiting as the unusual object slowly sank down. Then he recognized it as a rosary. Its hunger-contorted mouth stretched into a content smile, and then spread wide open, as if preparing to swallow a tanker rather than a small set of prayer beads.
    On the small cross, the face of Our Saviour was actually Siniša's. His eyes goggled wide with terror.
    Siniša started from sleep; he pushed back the sheets and jerked up so rapidly that it petrified Tonino.
    – Ha! Ha… Aha… The commissioner gasped for breath.
    – Man, what a dream… A fucking crazy dream.
    – Hey, it's ok. It's fine. Everything is fine now. We've just arrived at Trećić Bay.
    Siniša stared drowsily out the round, droplet-covered window. Nothing seemed unusual, except that the sea had calmed.
    – Are we there yet?
    – In a little while, ten minutes or so.
    – Is there a mirror anywhere? Or a toilet?
    – There's a mirror in the bench beneath you, but as far as a toilet goes… Well, let's just say, I use the stern…
    – You don't have a toilet?
    – Not on Adelina. There's no need for it. But I'd advise you not to go out right now. Can't you hold it for another half an hour?
    Siniša folded the blankets carelessly, set them on a small table, and then lifted up the bench seat. There wasn't a mirror in the bench, but he found it on the underside of the seat. He glanced up resignedly at the smiling Tonino, kneeled down, tucked his lower legs under the fixed table and started brushing up the reflection in the crack-brained mirror. Tonino walked out to the stern and throttled the engine down to a pleasant hum.
    Siniša lowered the mirrored lid, walked around the small table, grabbed a fresh can of Foster's from the facing bench and ambled out to the deck.
    – Her e is! The aicht Trećić poveri is brawlike sae faur!
[1] – Tonino shouted, and crossed from stern to prow in three leaps.
    On a rather small waterfront, in front of a short row of rundown single-story houses, stood some twenty people under umbrellas. One man stepped out of the crowd, grabbed the rope that Tonino threw across, and tied it around a crumbling stone column. Not knowing what else to do, Siniša raised the beer can a little, as if proposing a toast. In reply the crowd on the waterfront raised their black umbrellas for a brief moment, as though before a conductor.
    The crowd's sudden gesture was a pleasant surprise to Siniša, and he raised contentedly the beer can once more, slightly higher this time, but no one acknowledged the greeting.
    – Tonino, you can't possibly all live in these few small houses? – Siniša asked quietly.
    – Oh, no. Heavens, no. This is just the harbor. The village is up there, behind that hill.
    – Behind the hill?
    – Hold on, man. What's the rush? You'll see it all.
    Now let's get off Adelina, and make sure you don't slip.
    Siniša walked to the head of the prow, leapt forward with his left foot first and skillfully landed on the wet waterfront, right next to a man who stepped out of the crowd to give him a hand. Siniša patted his shoulder gently with an air of superiority, smiled at him, and then aimed the same patronizing smile at the rest of the crowd:
    – Good day, fellow men!
    – Fair faw, poveri! We walcome yesse tae Trećić! Tae this stane tear! Tae this lachrima makitt o kamik![2] – One man replied readily, and others nodded.
    He didn't understand much of their dialect, but he gathered from their friendly tone that this must have been a polite welcome.
    – Thank you very much – Siniša said, and gave them an impish look. – It seems to me we will understand each other just fine. Of course, I will need some time to get acquainted with your dialect and customs, but I promise to be a fast and diligent learner. You will have to help me, of course, and I believe it is in both your and my interest that we deal with this situation promptly. I would like to start right now, if you don't mind. For example, why do you insist on calling me “poveri”? Tonino called me “poveri” on the boat and now you call me “poveri”. As far as I know, “poveri” in Italian means poor, miserable or something like that. Surely you don't find me miserable?
    The islanders started to exchange serious looks and Tonino, with a bundle of freshly arrived newspapers, jumped off the boat:
    – Hold on, mister commissioner. This is obviously a misunderstanding. “Poveri” doesn't mean poor or miserable man, indeed. The new word “povjerenik” was too hard to pronounce and we shortened it to “poveri”. “Poveri is short for commissioner in the Trećić dialect. We meant no harm.
    Siniša looked deeply into Tonino's eyes. They were lit up with innocence and sincerity. Still, he was surprised with the formal tone with which Tonino addressed him. Obviously, he too wanted to feel a bit authoritative. What the heck, Siniša thought. It seemed Tonino was going to play a far greater role here than that of a mere interpreter. The silence was too long and Siniša felt all eyes on him. He knew he needed to say something and he knew that the future behaviour of these drenched hypocrites would depend on his speech.



– O.K. I'm feeling better now – He finally said, trying to keep a smile on his face. – Well then, are we done with the protocol? Where did you say the village was?
    He addressed Tonino in an informal manner, so as to prevent that bit of authoritative air from turning into something bigger.
    – Here, above… Hmmm, how do I say it?… behind this hillside.
    – Great. Let's reach the village before night.
    – Dae ye efter tae cairy this cuddie?
[3] – One man asked him, pulling a donkey with his left hand and pointing at him with his right hand. Siniša understood his pantomime.
    – I can walk, thank you. It can't be that far.
    No one said a single word.
    The winding path led by the sea. It was paved with stone for a short while, and afterwards it turned into a dirt road, wide enough to accommodate two people side by side. Siniša walked behind the donkey burdened with his luggage. He turned around to look at the reception committee. They lined up in columns of two, resembling school children on an excursion. One thing wasn't clear, though. Who was the class-master? Him or the donkey? Or Siniša – the ass? Or this peasant walking next to the donkey and holding an umbrella above the pack-saddle and bags?
    – Pay attention to the underbrush to our right. – Tonino whispered to him. – Notice how logically arranged and carefully groomed it is. It hides this path from curious eyes.
    Siniša stopped and took a good look around. Tonino was right, the underbrush grew all along the path, with the exception of a puny tree here and there. This path was well hidden from the sea. But what intrigued him even more was the bay itself. He failed to notice it on the boat, but here, almost ten meters above sea level, he saw that Trećić Bay was completely surrounded by land and it looked like a lake. At the lowest point in the northwest, (actually, he wasn't sure if it was the northwest) under the low clouds, he could make out uniform pale red lights from a distant lighthouse.
    – My oh my! This is a hell of a hideout you have here, ha? – Siniša asked Tonino, who only shrugged his shoulders and put on a stupid smile. – Is that light coming from a lighthouse? – Siniša pointed his finger.
    Tonino stared at the flickers on the low horizon and jerked his head backwards a little. His face had the expression of a child watching some fascinating scene for the first time in its life.
    – Do you see it? That reddish light behind the hill? – Siniša asked him. – Hello! Tonino, Earth calling! Hey! Are you here?
    – Isi, poveri, this is Tonino’s kyndly. He will cheenge in a wee. [4] Said the man who greeted Siniša on the waterfront.
    Siniša sighed slowly, and then said:
    – Sir, I don't understand a word you're saying. My interpreter is, as far as I can see, stiff as a log. I have to remind you that I have been traveling for more than ten hours and I'm not in the mood for your local jokes. What the hell is going on?
    The peasant's face twisted in an effort to pronounce something this poveri could understand:
    – Toninoto haes a wee crabbit laik dees… each day. It will awa in faiv minit. Nating![5]
    – He shuts down for five minutes?! You mean, he just becomes stiff and shuts down?!
    – Ši.
    – And then what, he comes back around to his old self?
    – Pazitiv.
    The rest of the peasants nodded in affirmation of their spokesperson's every sentence.
    Siniša then remembered something he had not thought about for twenty years. He remembered this kid who moved into his neighborhood in fifth grade and moved out the next summer. Something similar had happened to this kid. The first time was horrible. They were playing soccer in front of the school with two small goal-posts. They placed the newcomer in the goal. Just about when he was getting ready to run a little, he became stiff. The whole team shouted at him because of the received goal, but he was unmoved. Crazy Fish from the opponent team figured out what was going on and started to dribble around the brick-made goal-post.
    “Goal… goal… goal… Another one…” All the other kids were terrified, but Crazy Fish kept spinning the ball. By the time the new kid woke up from his trance, the score read 32:1. He stood there all confused, looking at everyone and repeating, “What happened? What happened?” Poor guy, at first he started falling into his autistic canyons once or twice a week, and then shortly afterwards on a daily basis. Just when he and the whole school got used to it, the summer came and the kid moved with his parents, supposedly to Slovenia. Better climate, they said. Siniša thought of him once or twice later on in life. Now it seemed that the kid's clone became his only connection to a rather logically arranged universe.
    – What do we do now? Will he really regain consciousness in five minutes, or do we wait for him to catch pneumonia?
    – We ken koan, he will kam bihain us.[6]
    – And if he starts sleepwalking and falls down into the sea?
    – Daen’t be feart. He waen’t flit.[7]
    – Hmmmm…If I understood you right, you suggest that we move on, and he will come after us once this passes?
    – Pazitiv!
    Siniša tried to take the newspaper bundle from Tonino's shoulder. He figured he'd at least keep this treasure out of the rain, but the poor guy's fingers turned blue from the force of his grasp on the rope.
    – Never mind, let's go. – Siniša said.
  


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1. Here he is! The eighth Trećić commissioner is the best one so far!
2. Welcome, mister commissioner! We welcome you to Trećić. To this stone tear, to this tear made of stone!

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3. Do you want to ride this donkey?
4. Easy, commissioner, this is Tonino’s usual behaviour…He will snap out of it, as always.
5. Toninoto…shuts down like this….every day. It will pass in five minutes. It’s nothing!
6. We can go, he will come after us.
7. Don’t be afraid. He won’t move at all.



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