Blesok no. 29, November-December, 2002

Business Trip

Aleksandra Ilievska

    – Macedonia?! Where is Macedonia? In Asia perhaps?
    I’m an honest man at heart. Always… all right, not always, but most of the time I try to tell the truth, which is not a virtue on second thoughts. The naked truth can hurt, but if it’s dressed, and even spruced up a bit, the world turns a happier place to live in. But to spruce up a girl to do the chores is improper. To send her to a wedding in her home dress is just the same. Decoration works to the advantage of beauty to some extent. Should you miss the moment to stop, you can kiss beauty goodbye, as my grandpa used to put it. So let’s conclude, it’s the moment that matters.
    – No, Macedonia is in South America. Didn’t you know?
    – It’s impossible?!
    – Yes.
    – No?!
    – Yeah, yeah!
    When a man is fed up with everything, lies as a way out of the hopelessness come up somewhat naturally and as a size and model perfectly fit the new owner. But after the third and last No?! I realized how futile my attempts to be convincing were.
    – Very well, no. It’s in Europe.
    My interlocutor grew silent and puzzled gazing at me without a blink as if trying to find the answer reading my mind. As a kid I frequently tried to do the same. But the instant I thought I was close, I would run out of air. I had to take a deep breath returning to the interstice of the average human achievements. God, I’m so ordinary, I thought. Reading other people’s mind was the first area where I sought to find my own estrangement. Ridiculous from the present point of view. But let’s get back to my interlocutor. He was quiet and suddenly… Ok, now I believe you. But where exactly in South America?
    That was the moment when after the short and harmless turn I should have got back to the main road, which although offered no adventures and escapades was perfectly familiar and I could see its end even when being far from it. In fact, I’m an honest coward preferring the dull safety of the trodden path rather than the unpredictable tangle of the bypass routes. I didn’t turn though. Why? I don’t know. I walked on in the unknown land, pacing as though spell-bound, bereft of strength to return to my car parked on the verge of the world in which everything was so normal.
    In fact, I was in Paris. I was on a business trip. What exactly was my job there? It doesn’t matter. I was working on a project. Back home, from the most prominent figures in the state to the paupers in the street, everybody was letting their talents loose working on projects. It probably sounded appealing to be “part of a project”. Anyway, In Paris I met many people, old and young, educated and ignorant, smart and not so smart, close and distant, all of them kind, but not more than necessary. Among them was this friend of mine, a geography ignoramus that I met in the drunk lethargic atmosphere of the Paris bar. It was about midnight. After a few beers, I lost all tracks of time, and I was about to lose all tracks of space too. I was sitting bent over the counter, trying to drink up the contents of Paris and store them in some of the barrels of my brain cellar. The following morning I was flying to Skopje. When Francois sat beside me, I was so encouraged by the booze that I thought my French was more fluent than ever. Good evening, he said. Hope you don’t mind.
    – No, no. Not at all. In fact, a chat will do me good.
    – Where are you from? My fluency was not fluent enough, the bastard betrayed me the moment I opened my mouth.
    – From Macedonia.
    – Macedonia?! Where is Macedonia? In Asia perhaps?
    I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I plunged headlong into the world of lies. That’s how I started the story of Macedonia that was a tiny island off the coast of Argentina. The interest I fired in my listener only encouraged me to carry on through the maze I was building alone putting up walls on my left and right leaving above an elongated screen of sky. The sun rushed into my frame from time to time to remind me that yet I did move, but only in the dead end of my illusions. Who was this Francois who made me turn off when I had finally put my chaotic life to order. With his every astonished Really? Rally? I was sinking deeper and deeper in the airless space so that everything could be a little different when I return.
    – And what language do you speak down there in your little Macedonia? In his voice I perceived evilness and grief, in his eyes I saw two answers to each question.
    – Well, you know that’s a Spanish dialect that our people proud of their distinction tend to call it Macedonian.
    – Oh, I see. And how many inhabitants do you have?
    – Only two million. This miserable and stark fact could have saved me, threw me hard onto the shore that I used to call home once. The left wall of the maze shook, strange force lifted me up, as the sound of cars in the night reminded me the highway was nearby after all. I did not get the message though, dropped the straw and before I knew it, it was six in the morning. I turned around me, and I only saw an empty and half-dead bar, which gave off signs of life thanks to me, the dark-skinned barman and Francois, who was sleeping on the counter. I flew off at eight.
    With all due respect to Paris, there is no place like home. Still, as early as the plane circled above the Skopje airport, which took too long for reasons I don’t know, my delight shrunk to the level of a small pleasure, which, as we all know, together with all the rest makes life. How happy was I? Well imagine you dip your hand into the pocket of the coat you haven’t worn for long and you find a small amount of cash you had forgotten about. That’s about how much. My business trip came to an end and as of the following Monday I was supposed to pull out in the lane for slow vehicles accustomed to being rudely overtaken by all.
    – I’d like to see your passport, please. That was the voice of the clerk that pulled me back to reality.
    – Well, that’s the one. Is there a problem? I was used to these minor problems that embellished my monotonous life.
    – Are you M.S.?
    – Yes.
    – But this is not your photo.
    – What do you mean? Let me see. I practically wrenched the passport from her hand only to confront eyes that were definitely not mine. My eyes, as it turned out later, were glued in the passport of B.K., who, as it turned out later still, was a notorious crook on the run. As you can imagine, my next destination was not the comfortable chair in front of my TV. I ended up in jail. And everything would have been “okay”, if the explanation for what happened was: an innocent victim of criminal games, or in other words, he was nicely set up.
    Macedonia was truly a tiny island off the coast of Argentina. I saw it for my self on the map in the police station, in the office of the fat superintendent. What was even stranger, South America was no longer south. It covered the space of the northern hemisphere and, believe me, it was not a police oversight.
    I spent the past two years, having five more to go, in my new home in Skopje trying from a scratch to find the benchmark in space for what’s up and what’s down. But first I’ll try to find a reference point to build order out of the chaos with a longer guarantee. The useful life of the previous one has probably expired.

Translated by the author

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