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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Modern

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Ylljet ALIÇKA, 2003 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Ylljet ALIÇKA, 2003
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Ylljet ALIÇKA

 

THE SLOGANS IN STONE

It was immediately after Andrea finished his studies that he received an appointment as a school teacher in an isolated mountain village in the North.

His father accompanied him in silence to the train station. At the moment they were to part, hardly holding back his tears, he said to him: "Work hard, take good care of yourself, and pay attention, because life's not easy."

He arrived at the mountain village that evening. The school was small, a mere ten teachers, six of whom were from the nearby town. One of them was from the capital.

The next day, the oldest of the school teachers, Pashk, willingly accepted the task of explaining to him "how to work and live so as not to get into conflict with anyone else."

Pashk began by depicting the hierarchy of the village authorities. First of all, there was the Party Secretary, the teacher Sabaf, and then the chairman of the agricultural cooperative. When he finally got around to mentioning the school principal, he characterized him as follows: "He's not a bad guy. He doesn't beat the pupils very often, but when he does, he beats them until he's out of breath. Try to keep on good terms with him because everything is in his hands... everything from your teaching schedule to the slogans."

"What slogans?" interrupted Andrea.

"What do you mean, what slogans?" uttered Pashk, astonished. "Every teacher and his class are assigned a slogan in stone for which he is responsible all the time."

"I see," said Andrea.

"You think it's no great matter at all, do you?" he asked.

"No, no, not in the least," responded Andrea, attentively.

The surprised expression on Andrea's face forced Pashk to explain a few things which he would never have imagined that people did not know.

"Well, since you're new here as a teacher and have your career ahead of you, let me be frank with you. If you want to be respected by the Party and the authorities, roll up your sleeves and take good care of your slogan."

"To take care of your slogan, you have to be systematic," he continued. "and never neglect it. What I mean is, you have to go out and check on it at least once a week. If it rains, the slogan's appearance will suffer. The rain cuts furrows into the soil and can cover the letters over with mud. It dilutes the whitewash and the stones look blotched. You know what happened here recently?"

"No," replied Andrea.

"Well, how could you?" Pashk recalled. "It took a full six months to find out beyond any doubt how Baft's slogan became damaged. To tell you the truth, the teacher Baft had been reputed for his excellent slogans. But a few months ago, all of a sudden, his slogan began to deteriorate. If you were looking for Baft, you knew where to find him. He was always out at his slogan fixing the letters. He spent more and more time there, even in the evenings.

The truth is that when a shepherd from the cooperative, one stemming from one of the most bourgeois déclassé families in the village, took his sheep out to pasture early in the morning, he cast a spell on that teacher's slogan (Pashk's eyes took on the air of an investigator). Poor Baft was exhausted, going out every day to fix his slogan. He was constantly moaning and groaning: 'Why am I having all this bad luck? Why do the sheep keep grazing on my slogan?' He could not imagine that it was the neglect of the words of his slogan THE MOST DANGEROUS FOE IS A FOE FORGOTTEN which attracted the sheep in the first place and caused them to destroy it.

Baft asked the principal several times to change his slogan, 'just because I'm superstitious,' but the principal was in no mood to do so.

In fact, Baft himself was the first person to cast doubts on the 'guilt' of the sheep. After having studied the terrain, he expressed his doubts to the Party Secretary. 'It's odd,' he had explained, 'there are lots of other sheep paths in the whereabouts of my slogan, much easier ones and, after all, sheep are not particularly well known for their bravery, as goats are, for example, who will scamper up any steep hillside, like the one where my slogan is located, despite the danger.'

Then another clue assisted them in their investigation of the case, when it became known that the village shepherd had recently been buying particularly large amounts of salt at the shop.

The shepherd was obviously up to something. With handfuls of salt he got the sheep to lick off the word ENEMY. You know, of course, that sheep go mad for salt. So his suspicions turned out to be true. The local secret police officer was informed immediately. A whole group of volunteers was then called up to guard Baft's slogan day and night. Just imagine, the villagers hid among the bushes and waited for hours for the shepherd's sheep to pass by. In the end, the whole affair was uncovered. It was early in the morning when the guards, or rather the villagers, observed the sheep of the cooperative destroying the very letters which Baft and his pupils had arranged with such great effort. Having ascertained themselves of the facts, the villagers pounced, probably upon a signal given by the secret police officer.

When he was detained, the shepherd of course denied everything. It was only two or three days later that he revealed his true colours and was arrested for hostile activities. He tried to defend himself up to the very last moment, claiming that he was innocent because there were only hoof prints there and because sheep were not responsible before the law or any other such nonsense.

The principal later changed Baft's slogan and gave him another hill. He assigned him one of those slogans with a GLORY TO or a PRAISE BE which require less maintenance and are always in fashion.

In the final analysis, what matters to a teacher is not what the slogan says, but the number of letters. From the moment he gets it, he instinctively starts counting the letters..."

It was with the history of Baft that Pashk terminated his account of Andrea's coming teaching career.

Two days later, Andrea was called to the principal's office to be given his class, his teaching schedule and other matters. When it came to the slogan, the principle pondered: "Because you are new here, I'll give you a site not too far from the school building and for your slogan, well..." The director opened his red notebook, hesitated and then added: "Actually, you can have your choice. There are two left over at the moment. One is THE PARTY IS THE TIP OF THE SWORD OF THE WORKING CLASS and the other one is... is CHROMIUM BREAKS THROUGH THE BLOCKADE. Andrea, who now knew all about the slogans, replied with a note of hesitation in his voice: "I'll take the one about chromium."

"Alright," said the absent-minded principal. "It won't be too difficult for you. Frrok had that site before, so the ground will already have been levelled. But Frrok, who was getting close to retirement, used to tend to his slogan less and less. You know, old age... Anyway, take that one, I hope you won't have any trouble," he added in closing.

The next day, after class, Andrea took his pupils out. They walked for about half an hour up to the site of his slogan. The site had indeed been levelled, but the existing slogan was in a sorry state. There was, at any rate, enough room for the new one.

There was great commotion among the pupils when the time came to hand out the individual letters. Having calculated the number of stones needed for each letter, they all tried to get the letters which caused the least work. There was great shouting at the start to get an "l," of which there happened to be only one, then an "o" and then a "u," etc.

Confused by all the hubbub and wanting to be as exact as possible in his distribution of the letters, Andrea remembered to ask: "How did your teacher Frrok used to divide them?"

"Oh, he changed the system quite often. At the start he did it by alphabetical order, then the girls got to choose first, and then the sick children were only given the dots on the "i" or a comma."

"But Frrok took sides and had his favourite pupils," another pupil was heard to say.

"Alright then, we'll continue this time the way we started out... and I am going to take a letter, too." uttered Andrea enthusiastically.

"No, no, teacher!" shouted the pupils in protest. "You just supervise."

Everything went smoothly after this. For about three hours they rummaged around like squirrels, collecting stones from the bushes. When they were finished, the pupils themselves thought that their slogan had turned out quite well.

All tired by now, they set off, one by one in various directions with their backpacks and tools over their shoulders, and shouted to him: "Have a good lunch, teacher!"

He felt sorry for them as he watched them leave. They had little to eat, were poorly dressed, and but nonetheless they were happy kids. None of them understood or even attempted to understand what the slogan meant.

Slowly he returned to his room. He was weary, but with the knowledge and tranquillity that he had fulfilled his duties well. He lay down and right away fell into a profound sleep.

He met the other teachers when he woke up. None of them talked about the slogans.

He observed them, all of them with their jackets draped over their arms, cigarettes in the corners of their mouths, with their quiet, almost shepherd-like manner, as they set off, saying: "I'm just going out to have a look at my slogan."

It had become a real pastime for them.

"What else is there to do here in the middle of nowhere?" Andrea often thought to himself.

Later, he, also got used to going out to have a look at his slogan, at least once a week. He would clean it up, remove all the leaves, dirt and mud, adjust one or two of the letters, sit and rest among them, and greet the farmers who were returning from their labours.

But when five months had passed, Andrea's slogan was changed. In fact, most of the slogans were changed.

Pashk had explained to him that changes in the slogans only occurred rarely, and it was at any rate the Central Committee of the Party which authorized such changes on the basis of several exceptionally strict criteria. A number of factors were taken into account for the distribution of new slogans: the political spectrum of the district, zone or countryside in question, the percentage of kulaks, deportees, political prisoners and common prisoners, the number of Communist Party members, the economic development of the zone, harvest yields, the rate of success against adverse weather conditions, local cultural and historical traditions and the specific situation of the zone in question. For example, it was said that once, when a school principal was caught in flagrante delicto with a female teacher of questionable political origins, they immediately changed all the slogans in the zone. LONG LIVE PROLETARIAN INTERNATIONALISM, for instance, was replaced by VIGILANCE, VIGILANCE AND YET MORE VIGILANCE and by LET US RAISE THE STANDARDS OF PROLETARIAN MORALS.

The distribution of slogans was usually the last point on the agenda of the teachers' council meeting, but the teachers normally knew in advance whether or not to expect a new distribution. The day before the meeting, Sabaf, the Party Secretary would be called to the Central Committee and when he got back, he would behave very solemnly, acutely aware of the gravity of the political situation. He seemed to know just how curious the teachers were to find out as quickly as possible what their new slogans would be. He would nod left and right, giving an indifferent greeting. It was during those days that the teachers would often treat Sabaf to food and drinks.

Many of them envied Sabaf on such occasions.

The principal argued that the slogans had to be changed because of the coming visit by a Politburo member to a northern town, noting that the latter might use the road which passed by their village.

Emotion and impatience prevailed at the moment the slogans were to be distributed. Their contents and lengths were interpreted in many ways. They were seen as a sign of sympathy or antipathy by the ruling Party organs.

The principal quietly began reading out the names of the teachers and then the slogans. Discreet moans of anguish or sighs of relief could be heard from time to time in the classroom.

A stir was caused by the slogan given to Diana, a teacher from the capital whom Andrea did not know well. They had talked a couple of times while hitchhiking, but since the drivers always preferred to take girls with them, it often happened that Andrea got left behind and had to wait quite some time to get a lift, or didn't get a lift at all. On such occasions, he would return to his room and would spend all of the following day at his slogan.

For reasons which were not entirely clear, the principal seemed to dislike Diana. This became apparent when he assigned her the mile-long slogan: WE SHALL TAKE TO THE HILLS AND TO THE MOUNTAINS AND MAKE THEM AS FERTILE AS THE PLAINS. This time, he gave her a slogan with no less than forty-seven letters: LET US THINK, LET US WORK, LET US LIVE LIKE REVOLUTIONARIES. The corner of Diana's lower lip began to quiver with anger. She tried to preserve her composure, but was unable to do so, and finally burst into tears with: "I knew it, I knew it from the very start!"

"What did you know from the very start?" asked the principal frigidly.

"Please, Comrade Principal, how long are you going to continue doing this to me? It is not fair of you to take your personal likes and dislikes out on people by means of the slogans."

The anger in her voice was more than apparent. The teachers' council froze on the spot. No one dared to speak.

The principal continued to speak as if nothing had happened. "I don't understand. I really don't understand. What do you mean by dislikes? Or have you perhaps got something against the slogan? This is the slogan which Comrade Enver Hoxha used himself during the 7th Party Congress," he added, with a sly gleam in his eye.

His words dropped like a bomb. Though she was unable to conceal her anger, Diana did not have the courage to say another word. Discreet glances of sympathy were cast in her direction. Gjin, one of the more affable teachers in the group, broke the silence. Though his hands and his voice were trembling, Gjin made the principal a proposal to calm the situation down.

"Comrade Principal," he suggested, "may I swap my slogan FULL SPEED AHEAD with Diana's?"

But the principal would have none of it. "No, of course not! We are not going to spend all day here redistributing slogans to make everyone happy. They are our political duty and if anyone is opposed to that, well, that's a different matter," he concluded.

While leaving the meeting, Andrea heard Gjin whisper to Diana: "Don't worry, Diana. Don't get so upset about it. I'll do your slogan for you. What will it cost me after all? Only a couple of days of leave. Or we'll go out one day and do it together. Alright?"

But Diana was in such a state that she could hear nothing.

"She is really quite attractive," Andrea said to himself as he watched her as she frowned.

This time, Andrea received the slogan: THE STRONGER THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT, THE STRONGER OUR SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY. He was not upset by its length, and indeed, when he was finished, the principal later commended him on its orderly layout: "Andrea, I have a very good impression of your slogan. Congratulations!"

"Thank you," replied Andrea in satisfaction.

Two years passed with the same slogan. He would go out to have a look at his slogan as usual. Whenever he was not able to return home for the weekend or when he was lonely, it seemed to be his salvation. AThank God I've got the slogan. What else would I do here in the middle of nowhere if I didn't have it?" he often pondered as he cleaned it, stroking the stones fondly.

One autumn afternoon, while he was smoking a cigarette all by himself, he met Diana in the empty schoolyard.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Nothing special." she replied.

"Nice weather," he noted.

"Yes."

"Shall we go for a walk out to the slogans?"

"Why bother?" she said. "There hasn't been any rain for quite a while."

"What about the leaves...? The autumn leaves might have covered them over. But whatever you want."

"Alright," said Diana, showing no particular interest.

Slowly they set off through the woods.

When they got to the brook where the path divides, Diana filled her hands with water, washed her face and moistened her hair. Then, taking another scoop of water, she sprinkled Andrea with it. He was confused and Diana laughed loudly. He soon recovered though and gave her the same back. She splashed him this time and ran off. There was no sense in Andrea standing there like a wet fool. He took courage, filled his hands with water and ran after her. He overtook her beside a tree and, while catching his breath, threw the water over her shoulder. The water flowed down her dress, making parts of it stick to her body. Andrea could hold back no longer. He threw his arms around her and hugged her like a child.

But Diana withdrew from his embrace, saying: "No!"

"Why not?" asked Andrea, still breathing heavily.

"Because I don't want to," declared Diana and walked slowly towards the hill where her slogan was located.

"But why did you spray me with water if you didn*t want to?" wondered Andrea, setting off for his own slogan. When he got there, he found it in good order. The stones were still covered by the fresh coat of whitewash. Here and there, a few leaves had fallen on them. He cleaned them up and, not knowing what else to do, headed up the hill to see what Diana was doing.

He was surprised to find her sitting on the grass beside her slogan: "LET US THINK, LET US WORK, LET US LIVE LIKE REVOLUTIONARIES," covered in leaves from the surrounding trees.

She looked completely lost. Her dress was still wet.

He sat down beside her and stammered in a somewhat sheepish fashion: "Sorry."

"Sorry for what?" she asked.

"For a while ago."

"No problem. I had almost forgotten."

Silence once again.

"Why don't you clean up the leaves?" Andrea inquired.

"I like it better the way it is, draped in autumn leaves, better than all that white like a hospital. It's more romantic this way, don't you think?" said Diana, who seemed to be talking to herself. "It seems to carry a different message this way somehow, more of a romantic revolutionary slogan."

"Revolutionary romanticism..." added Andrea with a smile.

"You should still clean it up," added Andrea, who stood up and began to brush all the leaves off her long slogan.

Diana studied him. She then got up herself, approached, picked up a leaf and, as she was about to throw it away, gently took hold of his hand. He said nothing and continued working with his head bowed.

She squeezed his hand and looked him in the eyes. She then took his head in her hands and, pulling him towards her, gave him a sudden kiss.

In no time at all, they were lying on the soft earth between the words LIKE and REVOLUTIONARIES. Neither of them noticed that the careless movement of their legs had toppled one of the letters in REVOLUTIONARIES.

They returned to the village late that evening.

The next morning, they greeted one another calmly as if nothing had happened at all. From that day on, they went out to the slogans more often.

The monotony of village life was interrupted by something that happened to one of the elder teachers, Llesh. He taught at a little one-room school which served as an annex to the main school, but was a member of the teaching staff like Andrea. Llesh's school was two hours away from the centre of the cooperative. According to regulations, the principal had to inspect it two times a year but, because it was quite a distance to walk, he rarely went.

The misfortune occurred when, on his last inspection, the principal was surprised to discover the slogan "VIETNAM WILL BE VICTORIOUS" discreetly located in a ravine right near Llesh's school.

The principal was flabbergasted. The Vietnam war had been over for fifteen years. In addition, the slogan was in an excellent state, having been daubed with a fresh coat of whitewash. The principal did not know what to do. He liked Llesh, in particular because they played chess together. Llesh was known among the staff members as a devoted teacher and not the sort of person who would indulge in such jokes. But the principal wanted to be on the safe side. He might have been accused subsequently of not having taken action. As such, at the next staff meeting he brought up the issue of Llesh's slogan as the last point on the agenda.

Llesh had arrived two hours before the meeting started. He was as pale as wax, a sorry state indeed, as he put out one cigarette after the other, endeavouring to act as quiet and friendly as possible with the other teachers.

He addressed them out in the schoolyard: "Hey, guys, we haven't played for quite a while. What about a game of chess, a teachers' championship?"

Pashk took pity on him and said "Look, Llesh, this is not the right moment for chess."

"You know what? I'll beat the pants off you, Pashk, if we play against one another," Llesh said, giving a laugh.

None of the other teachers smiled.

During the meeting, before they got to the issue of the Vietnam slogan, one could hear Llesh's knee thumping nervously under the desk where he was sitting. It was a difficult moment for him. He was used to hearing praise for his good work. This time, things were different.

The principal, however, treated the problem very briefly. He seemed to want to skim over it in a formal manner. He stated the facts of the case and turned to Llesh, inquiring: "Tell us, Llesh, how did all this come about?"

Llesh was unnerved and confused by the question.

"How did what come about?"

There was a long silence. Llesh then rose to his feet and, with a few awkward movements, began searching through his pockets. All the others watched him attentively. Finally, he extracted a crumpled piece of paper. It was clear to everyone that he had prepared a written statement.

He looked at the piece of paper but, for a while, did not manage to say a word. Confused as he was, he did not realise that he was holding the paper upside down. Gjin, who was sitting beside him, whispered: "Look, Llesh, you've got it upside down."

"Oh," stammered Llesh with a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Gjin," he continued with evident gratitude and, glancing around at the staff, began:

"Comrades..."

Before he could say another word, the principal interrupted him: "Don't bother, Llesh, there is no need for a long discussion of the matter. Just tell us about the slogan..."

Poor Llesh was really mixed up now. You could see from the dark circles under his eyes that he had spent a lot of time preparing his paper. But his colleagues were of the opinion that the matter should be dealt with as briefly as possible. Mixing up his words from the very start, Llesh thus endeavoured to explain concisely what had "come about."

Some seventeen years earlier, a particularly zealous Party Secretary called Nik had insisted that slogans be built everywhere, even in the most remote villages. "Wherever we are able," he had stated, "on sites which can be well seen and even on sites which cannot be seen at all." Llesh had received the slogan about Vietnam and had completed it according to the technical specifications he had received. Of course, later on, everyone else had forgotten Llesh's slogan. No one ever told him not to keep the slogan in good condition, so he continued to go out every week after class, sometimes with the pupils and sometimes on his own, to see that everything was in order.

"OK, but why Vietnam? Vietnam was liberated fifteen years ago!" asked Sabaf.

"But that's the slogan they gave me," Llesh replied innocently. "And let me say it again, no one told me not to keep it up."

There was no point in going on any further. The only thing Llesh could be accused of was an eminent lack of knowledge of current events.

"After all, what else can you expect from the place he lives in?" Pashk whispered in Andrea's ear.

But when the principal, concluding the matter, referred in passing to Llesh's failings, in particular for not having taken "appropriate measures to keep up with the international situation," Llesh reacted immediately, saying:

"As far as I am aware, Vietnam was and still is subject to the aggressive designs of the capitalist countries."

"Yes, of course," replied the principal, obviously regretting that he had broached the subject in the first place. "Llesh, go and dismantle the slogan and let's put an end to the matter."

The teachers all nodded in approval and were beginning to collect their briefcases to depart. But Llesh, certain now that the initial danger had passed, would not give up that easily. "If you would allow me to continue, Comrade Principal?" Without waiting for a reply, he rose to his feet, full of self-confidence, and continued, "Comrades, I have endeavoured to carry out my duties to the best of my abilities, to construct a proper slogan and..."

"Yes, of course, Llesh," noted with principal, showing signs of losing his patience. "No one here has questioned your sense of responsibility and no one will condemn you for dismantling the slogan. The only problem was that it is fifteen years old and is now out of date."

"Alright," noted Llesh, not to be outdone, "then give me one of the modern slogans."

"What do you want me to give you?" asked the principal nervously. "What do you want out there in the middle of nowhere?"

Llesh, believing that the principal had asked him seriously about what slogan he wanted, stated in a faint voice: "I'd like the one about: "YANKEES, HANDS OFF VIETNAM."

There was a long "ooo" of amazement and impatience among the other teachers.

Sensing that the official character of the meeting was being lost, the principal concluded sharply with the words: "Comrades, having dealt with all the issues at hand, we shall now adjourn the meeting. I wish you all a pleasant evening."

The teachers all rose to make a speedy exit. Llesh was the last to leave. In silence, he lit a cigarette and, taking a deep puff, said to himself: "I lost out."

The news that Llesh had been deprived of his slogan spread quickly in the village.

His wife, Maria, kept to herself in the brigade. When a number of days had passed, one of her colleagues inquired sympathetically: "Maria, is it true what people are saying in the village?"

"What do you mean?" replied Maria coolly.

Well, we heard that your husband, Llesh... I mean... I hope you don't mind... that they took away his slogan. What I mean is, he doesn't have a slogan anymore."

Maria bowed her head in shame and gave a nod. "Yes, it's true," she replied. "To tell you the truth, I'm not worried about the slogan but about Llesh. We are going through a difficult phase. My husband has lost his appetite and can't sleep well anymore. You know, he really cared more for that slogan than he did for his own children."

The other women in the brigade tried to comfort her.

"Don't worry. It's no great disaster. Let him dismantle the slogan about that country. What was the name again? He'll be alright for a while without a slogan until the people in the village have forgotten the matter. Then he can always make an application for a new one."

"Thanks for your kind words," said Maria, "but the problem is that Llesh is lost without it. He is really on edge. He's not used to criticism at work. The affair with the slogan about Vietnam has really affected him deeply."

The woman then gave Maria an idea which surprised not only her, but the whole brigade. "If the situation is really that bad, why don't you get him to build a slogan on your fence at home? You don't need permission. You could even use the one about Vietnam, or something else, and then everything would be alright. Your children are already old enough and could help you keep it in order."

Maria was speechless at the thought.

"My Llesh doesn't need anyone's help. He can do it himself, but I don''t really know if he will agree to do it without permission."

"Why shouldn't he?" insisted the others.

No one ever found out whether he had accepted the suggestion of his wife's brigade, but one thing was for sure: he never again applied for another slogan.

Less than two weeks had passed since the meeting, when the principal and Sabaf summoned Andrea to the office. Placing his arm over Andrea's shoulder, he said: "Andrea, I would like to give you something special this time. When you drive up to the top of the hill, you know the ugly wall of the warehouse you can see from there? It looks so empty. That's why Sabaf and I thought it would be a good idea to cover it with a long slogan in red paint. Sabaf nodded in approval. The school children can't manage, so you'll have to do it yourself. We'll get you a ladder, a brush and some paint. The slogan is: LONG LIVE THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT.

Andrea accepted willingly. Before he left the office, he turned to the principal and asked: "Excuse me, but what colour did you want for the slogan?"

The principal gave a chuckle and, looking at Sabaf, replied: "But that's obvious, isn't it, Andrea? It has to be red."

The warehouse was an old building in a terrible state of disrepair. It was grey, dusty, and had been built of large, heavy and irregular blocks of stone in uneven rows. Andrea did not go back home that weekend. Instead, he began Saturday afternoon by taking measurements for the slogan, and worked all day Sunday on it. He couldn't find any paint in the warehouse itself, so he began with an anti-corrosive agent. The work was exhausting. He had not anticipated the difficulties involved. The paint seeped into the cracks in the wall, the letters ruptured all over the stone facade, and the remaining plaster crumbled into bits every time the paint brush passed over it. It took two whole days of work.

"How are you getting along, teacher?" asked the villagers from time to time. "It looks really nice!"

"Thanks," he replied politely from the top of the ladder, and continued putting great effort into the work, covered as he was in the anti-corrosive paint and dust.

Marta, the head of the corn harvest brigade, who was quite a ripe beauty of her own, teased him: "Careful with your hands, Andrea. The paint will eat at your skin and stain them. What are all the girls in the big city going to think about that?"

Andrea gave a hearty laugh.

When he finally finished the job late in the evening, he wasn't happy with the slogan at all. He knew how to build one on the hillside, knew how to even out the terrain, but he was no good at a wall slogan.

He returned home late that night, completely dissatisfied with his work. And rightly so.

Two days later, the principal and Sabaf summoned him urgently to the office. He sensed that something unpleasant was about to happen.

"What the hell have you been doing up there, Andrea? You have no idea how many people are upset!" exclaimed the director, who was known to be extremely vicious when he was in trouble.

"Why? What's wrong?" Andrea managed to stammer in a faint voice.

"What do you mean, why?" The principal, being studied by Sabaf, did not know what to do to appear really upset. "What did you write the slogan with? Your hands or your feet?" The principal glanced at Sabaf from the corner of his eye, as if to say: "Should we keep our mouths shut this time, too?"

But the expression on Sabaf's face betrayed nothing. The matter was obviously to be taken seriously.

Andrea endeavoured to find out what was going on. They informed him later. The District Party Secretary for Propaganda had arrived for an inspection. After having briefly checked all the slogans in stone, his glance fell upon the slogan on the warehouse. He approached it and spent a full five minutes staring at it in silence. He then turned to Sabaf, asking "Who wrote that?"

"Andrea. He teaches science and comes from the capital, Comrade Secretary," Sabaf replied promptly.

The Secretary then set off for the offices of the cooperative without saying another word. Everyone in his retinue thought he had forgotten the matter, but the moment he was about to enter the Party office, he turned to the group and, after a ponderous moment of silence, stated briefly: "The slogan has been written without requisite devotion to duty."

The message of the Party Secretary was eminently clear.

Two days later, Andrea was summoned to a meeting of the Party.

It had been two days of great solitude for him. The other teachers were reserved and Sabaf had not spoken to him at all.

The main accusation made of him at the meeting was that of Sabaf who, endeavouring to find an expression which was both one of principle and one which would hit hard, opened the session as follows:

"Comrade Andrea, The Party organization would like to know the reasons, or rather, the real motives which caused you, or should I say, instigated you to write, or more precisely, to botch up the slogan with LONG LIVE THE DICTATORSHIP OF DE PLORETARIAT? To put it more bluntly, I would like you to explain frankly to the meeting exactly who put you up to this."

The atmosphere was tense indeed.

Among the arguments which Andrea presented in his explanation were: the bad quality of the stone, the filthiness of the warehouse wall, the old plaster...

"Come on, come on now," interrupted Sabaf abruptly, "if you keep on talking about the stones and the plaster, we will get nowhere."

"But what else could it be, Comrade Sabaf?" asked Andrea confusedly.

"I can tell you," he replied, Abut it would be in your best interests to tell us yourself. Listen, my good man, the Party has no time to deal with matters of such insignificance. I was hoping you would open your heart to the organization and justify your actions, presenting due self-criticism, but as far as I can see here, this does not seem to be the case. As such, comrades," continued Sabaf, clearing his throat and enunciating more distinctly, "it would be insufficient to state simply that Andrea wrote the slogan without requisite devotion to duty, making it evident that he is not a great proponent of the dictatorship of the proletariat. No, comrades, the problem goes deeper than that." After a lengthy analysis of the principle of class struggle, he noted, "the principal reason is to be found in his family background, his relations. His paternal uncle committed suicide during the war, and his maternal uncle was sent into internal exile, so now he... Can't you see, my communist comrades, what sly means the enemy has been using here? Yes, yes, the enemy of the working class. Can't you see how he has distanced himself from the Party which made every attempt to extend a helping hand and get him out to the mire he has been wallowing in? But he refused to take it."

Andrea could not make any sense of what was going on. He did, however, realize that his life and his fate were at stake.

"Wait a moment, Comrade Sabaf," interrupted one of the elder communists at the meeting, who was respected for his balanced opinions. "Let us not let things get out of hand here. I am not denying that this teacher has made a mistake, but not to the extent that one could call him an enemy of the working class. I would therefore ask you to reconsider the matter more calmly."

Andrea had lost the thread of their conversation. He was then asked to leave the meeting room so that they could consider the matter and come to a decision. About an hour later, Sabaf came out and announced to him coolly and definitively: "The Party has decided this time to extend its hand to you. You will only be given six months of disciplinary work with the brigade."

"Thank you," replied Andrea blankly.

He was assigned to Marta's brigade. The villagers were reserved in their welcome. He worked hard and, when he returned home to his room late at night, he slept like a log.

From time to time, the villagers would ask him to read the newspaper to them.

Marta treated him well. She would often tease him about his delicate hands, "like those of a little baby."

One day, she approached while he was having lunch all alone during the break, and said, "You'll be working this afternoon on the other plot, the one down at the bottom of the hill, and will be harvesting corn. If you want, I can help you."

"Thanks," said Andrea, touched by the gesture, "but there's no need. I can manage by myself."

"Oh...," replied Marta with a laugh, "you don't want to work with me?"

Her imposing breasts heaved as she laughed. He watched her with a twinkle in his eyes.

Later that afternoon, she found him harvesting among the tall sheaves of corn. She, too, began to strip the cobs of their foliage. Suddenly, without speaking a single word, they united, and were rolling on the ground. It started to rain and they found themselves covered in mud.

Night was quickly falling when they parted, each of them stealing home along different paths through the cornfield. The hounds could be heard barking in the distance.

Drenche, he returned to his room.

When the six months with the brigade were over, Andrea resumed his activities at the school where he had been teaching. The principal welcomed him back as if nothing had happened. He gave him a new slogan and, upon leaving the room, noted: "Oh, I almost forgot. Listen, Andrea, some of the overzealous teachers have recently begun using white silicate blocks for their slogans instead of natural stone. They are obviously more attractive, but the practice has been condemned by the District Party Committee. It has also had a negative effect on the pupils. They have been caught stealing bricks from construction sites and coming to school with their backpacks over one shoulder and a bag of bricks over the other. And actually, when you compare them to those made of natural materials, these slogans do lose something of the spontaneous character with which the masses express their own free views."

They looked one another in the eyes for a brief moment.

"I agree, Comrade Principal," replied Andrea politely, "I'll bear it in mind." As he left the office, he began counting the number of letters in his new slogan.

 

[Parullat me gurë, from the volume Tregime, Tirana: Onufri 1997, p. 11-29, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]