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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Anton PASHKU

Anton PASHKU

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Anton PASHKU

 

THE YELLOW PEEL OF THE LEMON

    1.

    She stopped thinking about the sun and how its rays were streaming in through the window. The sun and its rays always turned her thoughts to their beauty and majesty. Now they seemed insignificant. And, as she had so often resolved, she did not intend to waste her thoughts on things insignificant.
     She had often, very often, chided herself when her thoughts were focussed on superfluous details.
     She longed to experience grandeur. And she was aware that, although she was herself very small, tears were the stock of grand deeds. Tears as large as the pips of cornel cherries.
     She was envious of her elder sister who knew how to weep. She did not.
     She was perplexed at herself. Why didn't her tiny eyes know how to flood with tears?
     She recalled the words of her elder sister who, whenever she raised a handkerchief to wipe her eyes and cheeks, would sob:
     "I squeezed it, I squeezed the lemon!"

    2.

    On the table was a plate of three lemons. The girl took one. She stared at it in wonder, tossing it back and forth between her hands. She was curious to know what kind of juice was welling behind the yellow peel. But she was unable, simply unable to coax the juice out of it. She reflected again, but was could not comprehend why the juice would not come out of hiding. She became angry, frustrated at herself and at the yellow peel of the lemon. So she seized a knife and cut it in half.
     "What are you doing?" inquired her elder sister, unable to conceal her irritation.
     "Look, I sliced the lemon, but I'm not crying!" she exclaimed in despair. "Why am I not crying?"
     Silence.
     "Why am I not crying?" she repeated. "How do you do it? You burst into tears the moment you squeeze a lemon."
     "Yes, but I squeeze it, I don't slice it," replied her sister.
     "So what? Isn't that the same thing?" she asked.
     "No, it's not."

    3.

    Sorrow veiled her eyes. Tears clouded her vision. But her tears were no oars dipping into the sea. She then understood that her tears were a handful of pebbles in the pocket of a sailor whose ship was about to founder in a savage wave...

(March 1957)

[Lëkura e verdhë e limonit, from the volume Tregime fantastike (Prishtina: Rilindja 1986), p. 315-317. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

IN THE STORM

    At that moment he felt paralysed, numb. The sensation penetrated the whole of his body. Everything felt strange, even himself.
     Never had his strength abandoned him like this. He was exhausted, from his limp, drooping limbs to the tips of his twitching fingers.
     He wanted to leap up and run away, but was stopped by the thought of looking ridiculous.
     Then the beam over the doorway... groaned. Petrified by the noise, he went in and cowered, hiding in the deepest recesses of his own skin.
     There he crouched, listening to the howling of the wind. And the heaving of the beams.

(April 1957)

[Në stuhi, from the volume Tregime fantastike (Prishtina: Rilindja 1986), p. 303. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

THE SCREECH

    As darkness flooded in, a golden shower of moonbeams rinsed the mountain ridges and washed the valley below, turning to ice on the slippery surface of the river that wreathed the meandering banks. Everything was laced and tied with the strings of quiet, with the threads of heavy silence, hovering. Even the cuckoo made no sound. Not a chirp from the cricket. Everything had withdrawn into itself, barred and bolted into the thicket of sleep.
     And up there, high in the vaults of heaven floated a star, with a long-arched tail glimmering behind it.
     A screech is heard.
     The raven croaks.
     And the strings of silence are sundered, as if by a sword.
     The lofty trees rustle like sad souls. Thrice cries the cuckoo. Even the cricket raises its voice.
     The moon severs its golden beams, cowers behind the frayed edges of a cloud, does not wish to witness the crime, does not deign to be tainted by the red drops welling from the raven's spoil.
     A shadow, like the shroud of death, spreads over the scene.

(September 1957)

[Klithma, from the volume Tregime fantastike (Prishtina: Rilindja 1986), p. 304-305. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

EVENING PRAYER

    She did not lie down on the bed as usual that day. It seemed boring, infinitely dull and pointless. She preferred to sit at the window. And there she stayed, with her nape snuggled into the back of the armchair, sluggishly fingering the curtains. She pulled them back a little.
     Her girlfriend had gone home all of a sudden.
     For some strange reason, she wanted to call out to her. She got up, but made no sound. Hesitating a moment, she sat down again. The silence, interrupted by her abrupt movement, was restored, and became deadlier than ever. Yet she took no notice of it. She was accustomed to sitting in silence.
     "You are experienced in matters of suffering," she thought to herself, "You are always mute. You retain something curious that is always present in your expression. I have seen it in the mirror. Yes, yes, I have seen it. Something is gnawing at you, something that only you know. You are hiding it. At least you are trying to. How silly you are! Do you really believe that the others don't see the pain in your soul? Yes, of course, they all know about it. Even Tina who is heading down the lane. Why didn't she come back? Poor thing, she would perhaps have been embarrassed, unable to be jovial as she is with her other girlfriends. She loves joking and laughing. That is why she doesn't come over to go for a walk with you. You'll hear no more from her, not a single word to comfort you."
     A man with a yellow tie went by, strolling down the lane.
     "I am ugly. I am nothing but an ugly hunchback. That is the way I look to me, and to everyone else, too. Yes, the boys can hardly keep themselves from laughing when I pass by... Who knows... Maybe they're not looking at me, but I strongly suspect they are. They are staring at my breast, that cradle that no one has ever rocked, that wooden board."
     At the end of the lane, a boy appeared with a carnation in his hand.
     An old woman made her way home.
     A bicycle passed.
     "I walk with my eyes fixed on the ground and yet the boys can see the expression on my face. Yes, they can," she thought, taking a mirror out of the little pocket of her sweater and staring at it. "My eyes are not very attractive. They seem cruel. And look at my chin. It starts at the lips and ends at the lips. I am more or less chinless... and I have no cheeks. Look how sunken they are. It's only my straight nose that saves me. But it is too big for my tiny face. If it were a bit shorter... If it were only... My face would look completely different. Maybe it would not look as pale as wax. I don't imagine the boys are attracted by the colour of wax. I don't like the colour of wax either. That is why I walk with my head bowed, hastening past everyone, and without even glancing at the boys.
     Tears welled in her eyes. She wiped them away with the edge of her handkerchief. Then she looked around the room. Everything in it caused her pain, so much suffering. Huddled in the silence, the objects seemed abandoned, like forgotten toys that no one plays with anymore, except to move them from place to place now and again. By now the thin veil of evening had fallen over the room, giving it an even more desolate aspect. She gazed listlessly out the window.
     Three flowers on the lane's pavement.
     The clock tower tolled seven times.
     The weeping of a child.
     "I am all alone. No one looks at me. I am in the arms of solitude. Its prisoner. Where can I go? There is nowhere I can flee. No one will let me hide in the crannies of their fortune... Crannies of fortune?... What a strange expression!"
     She wanted to laugh, but could only manage a small grin. She did not even notice she was grinning. It was a laugh for her.
     In the lane outside, darkness.
     In the lane, the shuffling of passersby.
     In the lane, emptiness.
     Silence.
     Nothing could be heard but a cat's miaow.
     She lowered the blinds, but remained where she was. She sat down in the big armchair. She did not want to get up, even to turn the light on.
     The cat's mewling, troubling the quiet pond of her room, increased the din of her silence to a deafening roar.

(January1958)

[Lutjet e mbrëmjes, from the volume Tregime fantastike (Prishtina: Rilindja 1986), p. 311-314. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]