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Stars don't dress like this

Elvira Dones is one of the newer names in Albanian literature. The fragment below is from the novel Yjet nuk vishen kėshtu, Stars don't dress like this, which describes some of the most painful aspects of modern Albanian society.

     Had I not been so sad, I would have been happy. It's starting to rain? I can't tell what's going on outside. I would have been happy if this treacherous pain had not engulfed my body. But it's better this way, I'm going back to that place where I had sworn never to return again. I have no ties to this place, that's why I'm leaving, but I would not have left if they had let me live. No, what I hear is not rain. It's the noise of the waves that soothes my bones.
     Will my heart be able to withstand your cry when you see me? Mother, I would have done anything to be able to hug you. But all I'll be able to do is hear your cry, without being able to take your head close to my chest: hush ma, now I'm here, the pain is over, now I am here and you must stop crying, remember that you promised me? If only we could be together and everything will be easy to overcome, the poison of our thoughts, the sun's treachery, even the blue coldness of the moon. But I won't be able to open my mouth, and only my soul knows how hard that is going to be.
     I had decided never to return, not in the sorry state that I was, not disfigured like this. I was not going to return. I was going to stay here, although I have no ties to this place. You are stubborn, you'll never go far with this attitude. Yes, I know, I am stubborn, or rather I was. Leila, without cleaning yourself you won't set foot there.
     During the day this decision seemed fine, clear, definite. But the night was tricky.
     During those few nights when I could sleep like everybody else I dreamt of returning to Downthere.
     I would get off the ferry on a sunny day, a sun like that one can only find Downthere. A sun like that can drive mad the madness itself. I would get off the ferry-boat and then hug my mother who ran to me crying, her body so small next to mine, the top of her head under my chin.
     Shshsh mother, you see that I'm back?
     Around us hugging, stray dogs dig up the rubbish that fills the pier. Children with wonderful eyes jump around in an angel dance. Suitcases fly up in the air towards relatives waiting to empty their insides. Police with discolored uniforms that scratch their behinds and watch enviously. The dust settling on peoples' eyebrows. Car horns that mercilessly deafen the skies.
     We continue to hug each other. Without moving. My mother looks into my soul, and I look at the heat.
     Because, in my dreams, it's always summer when I go to Downthere. And when I wake up, jumping, I am happy. I look at the small room, the home of this angst, and I continue to be happy from that encounter with my return. It's still night. I lie down again and I want to continue my dream. I know that I'll change my mind in the morning and will return to the old decision: never again back there. But now it's night, I want to continue dreaming. I close my eyes and everything starts right where it stopped. My mother, I, my limping grandmother, Aurora who is still alive and has not stopped growing, my father that follows us loaded with bags, and the noise of the surprised and lazy city that accompanies us. We walk with arms around each-other's shoulders. My left hand falls on Aurora's heart.
     Leila, I've got so many things I want to tell you, she says with tears in her eyes.
     She takes my hand that is over her heart and looks up in my eyes. But I look straight ahead, afraid that my eyes might betray me.
     Will you tell me how it was over there and how many new things you've learned and how many handsome boys you've seen?
     Yes Aurora, whenever we have time.
     I laugh, trying hard to make my laugh sound happy. This is strange because I am happy, this is a happy dream. My grandmother says something, but only a single tooth is left in her mouth and her tongue folds around that tooth like dough. We can't understand anything that she says. The three of us laugh, Aurora, our mother, and I. The grandmother does the same thing, first unwillingly, and then she starts laughing out loud too. This saves me. We continue to walk towards the home that we never reach. My father behind us curses the heat and changes bags from one hand to the other. We keep moving forward to nowhere. And then the dream stops. For good.

* * *


* * *

     I know that He is hiding somewhere around the harbor, looking at all of this. The police have been looking for him, I'm sure they'll never find him. But right now he is here. I can feel that he is around. My senses are well developed now and I can tell exactly where he is and what he's thinking. But now it's too late. I learned to defend myself now that this skill is no longer useful. Our love affair turned out to be a long sunless tunnel. I had gone in unarmed, without a light. I didn't realize that I wouldn't be able to get out. I lost myself in the darkness. Now he is watching my coffin, he suffers, his chest is torn apart, ashamed from the killer instinct that he discovered in himself. He suffers for me, and I'm locked inside this box, he suffers because of me and because of the sad smoke produced by my father's cigarette. Coward.
     Be patient, I only have to stay 'till my body gets home, I want to see my mother for the last time, and Aurora's grave for the first time. Then I'll leave for good. It's Monday. Monday has always been a lucky day for me. Monday, March 5, 1997. I see my body that's been cut to pieces like a pineapple, and the man that did it. He groans and carefully hides himself. It's weird seeing your own self inside a coffin. Knowing that you'll never again touch a living person, or drink a cup of coffee or comb your hair. Strange, seeing the person that stuck knives in your flesh and not be able to stand in front of him, make him cry and yell and run endlessly, like in the tragedies.
     He breathes heavily, with difficulty, but that won't make him surrender himself to the police. He knows that the case will be closed. They'll search the murderer of a prostitute for a while, and then the files will be sent to the archives. It's not worth spending all that money on a prostitute that came from Downthere. Those people are up to no good, but we have to deal with them, carry them on our backs. Why can't we have better neighbors? But you can't choose your neighbors, just like you can't choose your blood. If you've got bad blood in you, that's it, you'll have that for life. If you have a bad neighbor you only have two choices: fix your neighbor or move out of your house. But countries can't move out of their land, they can change other things, their habits, strategies, armies, leaders, allies, they can even change their names, but they can't change where they are located. And as far as fixing this stubborn race, that's impossible...
     The file will gather dust in some corner of some warehouse. Inside that file are my pictures as a prostitute, with the horrible make-up that I hated, and behind are the pictures of my body that was cut into pieces like a lamb.
     That cop from the criminal investigations kept taking pictures and singing slowly one of the hit songs. While he was still taking pictures, his cell phone went off. At that time he was taking pictures of my neck and his feet were at my flanks, he was bent in half, taking pictures and singing. He was doing all that and then his cell phone started ringing.
     Ciao... No, now I can't, why, is it urgent? We'll talk later in the evening, now I'm busy, they've killed a prostitute, what did you say? They've completely slaughtered her, you have no idea, they've turned her into a big hamburger.
     Did I really look like a hamburger? I'm not a prostitute, I never was. Thanks God, I always kept a piece of paper with my data on me, the police found it, and I won't remain unidentified and they will be able to tell my family.
     OK honey, don't get upset now, we'll talk again in the evening, OK, OK, we'll go eat out, nothing expensive, OK? This month is a little tight, a pizza, OK, ciao, I love you too, come on now, bye.
     Uh, the photographer sighed.
Che strazio 'sta donna. He turned off the cell phone and went on taking more pictures until someone told him "enough".
     My father is wiping away his sweat. His groans shake the boat. I'm sorry father. You never expected this calamity. Thank God dead people can't blush, or else how would I be able to look you in the eyes? I really did not want to come back alive, how could I ever lie to you and then look in your eyes? How could I deserve your goodness?
     Leila, daddy's little gem, my star. Leila, my star, you are my joy, you are as good as any son I could have had.
     Yes, I am a star, I said when, as a child, I became able to pronounce the word. My parents laughed out loud. My mother took me in her arms that smelled like soap. And later, when I had grown up: "Leila, daddy's star, please take good care of yourself." I am trying father. I have become a porn star for these male beasts above and behind my body, and I keep telling myself that I am your gem.
     God knows how much you have suffered, my daughter. What have they done to you, my star? Say something. How will I be able to take you to your mother, Leila, my son?
     The ship starts moving, it shakes like an old man getting out of bed, who coughs a couple of times, and then starts moving. The sea is quiet. My father bends and lays his lips on the coffin.
     Are you going to take me with you Upthere, Leila? When you get married to Fatos and buy one of those pretty homes that I've seen in the movies?
     Of course little sister, I've promised.
     And I'll grow up to be good like you.
     You are very good, Aurora.
     You are the best of all the sisters, the prettiest, and the everythingest.
     When I left home, Aurora accompanied me to the shore of the other side, to the place where I and my father will be in a few hours. It was a drizzly day. It was the last time I saw her, but I didn't know that.
     Six months later they showed me a picture of her corpse. Her eyes had remained open in eternal bewilderment. A day after I saw the pictures of Aurora's corpse I accepted becoming a prostitute. And dying incessantly from then on.
     I hope you never smile again, I hope you forget your own name, murderer. I pray that your memory be washed out in the waters of this sea. Because if that doesn't happen, if you think of what you did, how will you live with the horror? I love you enough to die for you, you used to say. But you are alive, and I can't spit in your face.
     The sea makes the voyage easy. For me, for my father, and for this deserted ferry. Nobody will ever be able to build a highway that's more comfortable than the sea.