Vera Petrović: A novel

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Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

She inhaled her cigarette, took a sip from her glass, and said: “would you like now to hear my stories, or are you in a bad mood today?”

I said: “not at all! I would love that! Anyway, they only claim it!”

She confirmed: “there is no smoke without fire!”

I agreed: “true, but I would love to listen to your story indeed!”

She answered with ecstasy: “it is my pleasure!”

“At first let me tell you my story with the tram driver, who stunned me with his charming eyes and his gentleman’s manners.” She said

“This story happened while I was trying to catch the tram, for I was a bit late. The driver looked in the mirror ahead of him and was kind enough to wait for me. Please note that the tram in this country waits for no one. I finally got there and boarded the tram, and said, ‘Thank you for being so kind.’

“Don’t mention it,’ he answered,

“I sat down next to the window and noticed that the driver was a young man in his thirties, with wide black eyes, straight black hair, and a lovely smile on his thin attractive lips. He looked neat and smart. His way of dealing with everyone was very polite and reflected good manners. He respected everyone equally, men, women, the elderly, youth, and even children, and with the same sweet smile. Everyone liked him. I arrived at my station so he looked at me and said, ‘See you later, ma’am.’

“I got off the tram and headed to the bank, and I have to say that I rode this very tram on the same evening by coincidence. So he smiled and greeted me, ‘Good evening ma’am.’

“I looked around the tram and found that the passengers were few. I sat by the window again and peeped at him every now and then, and so did he!

“I was sitting in the seat behind him, so he asked after a while, ‘Do you work at the bank?’

“Yes, I do.’ I answered.

“And do you travel at the same time every day?’

“Yes I do,’ I answered, then I got ready to get off the tram to go to my next station, and at this moment, he asked me boldly, ‘Are you married?’

“No,’ I answered as I got off the tram. So he smiled and said, ‘See you later,’ so I responded with the same.

Days went by and I saw him every day until he asked me one day, ’Can I buy you lunch or dinner on the weekend, please? I am busy working all week long, otherwise, I could take you out any day you choose.”

“It is alright,’ I answered.

“He asked, ‘Can I have your phone number please?’

“I wrote it on a piece of paper and handed it to him. He was so thrilled as if he had achieved a victory.

“During the weekend, my phone rang, and it was him. He wanted to invite me out, so I agreed. We set a date on Sunday, and the bell rang on time. I asked him to come in, but he said that he preferred to go straight to the restaurant. We went in his car, a Yugoslav Zastava makes, and went to the restaurant of his choice. We sat down and started conversing. It was comfortable and he was an easy-going person. I liked the restaurant, which served Serbian Kebabs, made of minced meat grilled on charcoal. It was served with onions, bread, Greek salad, and local Yugoslav wine. After lunch, we walked to the park, which was close to the restaurant, and we picked a bench to sit on. A young man and a young lady were sitting on the opposite bench, and they were whispering and laughing. One lady on the other side was feeding the doves with seeds and dry bread. On the farthest bench was an old man who was reading the newspaper. At that moment, as I was exploring the park, he turned to me, smiled, and said, ‘You do not know my name yet!’

“True, but I did not ask because names are insignificant for me! I care more about ingenuity, integrity, and purity.’ I said.

“My name is Bamir. Can you tell me yours, please?’

“My name is Vera.’

“Such a beautiful name. Did you know that I am not Serbian? But I came to Belgrade a long time ago.’

“I know. You must be Albanian,’ I answered.

“Don’t you mind going out with someone like me?’

“Why would I? You are a human being like me, and maybe better than I am! I am not that kind of person. I see people for who they are, rather than for their nationality, ethnicity, or faith. People for me are represented by their integrity, morality, and values.’

“He was amazed by what I said. Then he added, ‘Don’t you mind the looks of people because you are with me?’

“I am an independent person! I am not a politician or an affiliate for racists, fundamentalists, or nationalists. I do not support their ideologies and my convictions are totally independent. I do not judge people by color, faith, or ethnicity because this would be an ignorant, shallow perception. People are judged according to their capabilities, skin complexion, culture, social status, faith, ethnic origin, or even looks. They have no right to judge others, no matter what. Such practices would tear society apart and would eventually lead to more hatred and create grudges amongst people who live in one country! We do not want a segment of society that aspires to achieve greater nationalism, possession, authority, or one which decides who the best is and the least significant, who has a right to exist and who does not! All such terms and expressions are fueled by some parties which aim to spread them. These parties are represented by politicians, this class which has every interest in creating conflict and igniting it. They seek to achieve one sole objective: their personal interests. Their greed prompts them to separate one person, to instigate wars and unrest which have no winner. They do not care about innocent people from different social segments, the vast majority of whom seek to live in peace and love, away from the grudges of others! The last thing they want is a war that consumes every precious thing or person they have in their simple lives! I assure you that I am a mature person who can select the right person without any worries about the looks of others!’

“We went to his car and I asked, ‘Are you married?’

“No, I am not. I live with my parents in Novi Grad,’ he answered. At this moment, he put his hand on my hair and he started the car. When we arrived at my place, he asked, ‘May I come in for coffee?’

“Sure, please come in,’ I answered.

“It was nearly six in the evening, and the lady who lived on the third floor was examining my guest with her curious eyes. We sat in the living room, and I went to prepare coffee, and when I came back, he asked, ‘You have a beautiful house, and you are a beautiful lady.’

“Thank you. That is kind of you to say,’ I answered.

“Do you have a boyfriend?’

“If you mean regular friends, I do, but it is restricted to the coffee shop next door. We chat, drink, and hang out, but I do not have any physical relationship with any of them. They are only friends.’

“I wish to have a relationship with you as long as possible,” he said.

“A relationship that is based on honesty, loyalty, and commitment will be successful. It is a human connection between two souls or two people, each of whom seeks the satisfaction of the other. It should not have any secrets and should be transparent. For me, you should feel happier, more secure, and safer with your partner, and feel that the world still has some good to offer! As for friendship, and temporary relationships, which are based on temporary indecent interests, they are doomed to failure. A conscious person should be careful not to fall into the latter sort of relationships and avoid being deceived by unreal emotions. I believe that I am capable of figuring out a friend or a relationship through some measures. This person should have no hate nor grudges, or envy. He should always attempt to contact me, not only for certain interests and special occasions. A friend should share happy and sad moments and should be loving and loyal. He should be a person in whose presence I am never bored and is like air to me. He should be my shelter when life confronts me with obstacles and difficulties. He should be another half of you and try to be in the right place and time next to your side. To be more precise, the moment I feel there is any line crossing in our relationship, it will be instantly over.’

“Then I asked, ‘How about you? You are a handsome young man. I doubt you do not have a relationship in your life.’

“Actually, I would like to tell you about my situation in detail. I need to be as clear as you were. I live with my parents, my father works as a bus driver and my mother is a housewife. I have an elder sister who is three years older than I am, and she works as a schoolteacher. We lead a simple beautiful life, and sometimes I hang out with my friends to play football. I am a fan of the Partisan Football Club. Sometimes we go to the discotheque. It is the way I spend my weekends. I really work hard and go home exhausted, then I have dinner with my family and mostly go to bed right after that. This is my life.’

“Are you trying to say that there are no ladies in your life?’

“He looked down rather than meeting my eyes, and said, ‘Not at all. I dated a lady for a while but felt that she was not the one for me. She demanded too much. I happen to have a busy life; therefore, we could not continue our relationship.’

“He tried to change the subject by saying, ‘I hope things are clear for both of us now.’

“I guess they are, in light of what you have just said,’ I answered.

“He excused himself because he felt tired, and he had to work early the next day. He kissed me as a friend and said goodbye.

“Good night,’ he said.

“Good night,’ I answered.”

Vera stopped talking and promised to continue the story tomorrow. It had gotten late. She needed to go to bed, and so that is what we did.

The next morning, she was shouting over the phone. I had no idea whom she was addressing nor to whom she was talking. All of a sudden, I heard the door of the apartment slam very hard. Silence dominated the place.

After a few minutes, I was preparing for the exams. It was the day on which exams start for senior students, but my start is after two days! There was clear stress in the atmosphere, so I looked for some colleagues to find out what is happening! I found a Yugoslav colleague and went straight to ask him!

“Mladen, what is going on?”

“Professor Željko Matić was arrested by the secret police!”

I asked in surprise: “what! How did that happen?”

“No one knows until the moment but they say a foreign student set him up!” he answered

I was concerned and thought, “This is what we were anticipating! This will make professors act against foreign students!”

Mladen looked at me and said: “excuse me, I need to go, I have some things to finish!”

Mladen left and I stayed on the bench by myself in the hallway of the faculty. After a while, the dean came out with the police official and the student who set the professor up! The surprise was that I knew the student! I spoke to him on a couple of occasions and he is from the Middle East!

Moses came back after seeing the police official and the dean out! He sat next to me and was stressed out but pleased with himself! I asked him: “what is going on?”

He sadly answered: “he made my life a nightmare! This was my final subject and I was supposed to finish it and go home! He made me sit for it four times in a row! My family is waiting for me to return, but he insisted on failing me once and again!”

“So what did you do?” I asked

He raised his eyebrows and said: “You know that I would never pass anyone who is not %100 ready for the exam!”

“I am ready for the exam! I came to check if my dear professor needed anything else before I sit for it!”

He answered in a sly manner: “what would that be!”

“Whatever you ask for!” I said

He answered frankly: “I believe no one envies you for such a situation! You need to bring three hundred German marks with you to the exam and in case anyone knew about them, you will never graduate!”

“Sir, you know that I can never have this much money! My family is not a position that allows it to pay this much!” I answered

He answered bluntly: “this is your problem! Once you sort it out, you can pass this exam!”

“When he uttered those words I felt like I was about to explode! What would anyone do if his opponent is his professor?” Moses commented

“So what did you do?” I asked

He said: “I went home and was in a mess! I sat in my bedroom trying to think of a solution but unfortunately, I barely know someone who can lend me this much money! And even if I find someone to lend me, I will never be able to pay it back!”

I exclaimed: “so what did you do then?”

“Not much, as I was trying to think about it, the home owner’s daughter knocked on my door and asked me to have dinner with the family as usual, so I told her that I couldn’t and asked her to tell the rest of the family that I ate out! After a few minutes, the homeowner showed up and told me nervously that I pay for this food and I should eat with them immediately! I felt he would be pissed off if I did not join the family for dinner. I ate at this table for seven consecutive years and every time we would start dinner with jokes and laughs, but at that moment I was really blue and absent-minded! Therefore the homeowner told me that I am due to leave in a few weeks and return to my family and he was wondering what could make me so upset! I told him it is nothing at all!”

So he answered: “do you believe I have not come to know you! You are like a son to me now! What is going on?”

“I told him what happened and the story with that corrupt professor! So he said: “I have changed my opinion about you! Are you a warrior or what?”

I answered: “indeed I am!”

He said: “you are a coward! You are a disgrace!”

He asked me further: “how much did this corrupt professor ask you for?”

I answered that they are three hundred marks!

And then he asked what I intended to so and I answered: “No idea!”

He then inquired whether my friends could lend me this kind of money and I answered: “even if they could, I would never be able to pay it back! Besides, my family does not have this kind of money and I cannot burden them with it!”

He said: “there is a solution, you know!”

So I inquired about the proposed solution and he answered: “If you are one of those fighters, resist this corrupted professor!”

So I asked him how that would be even possible! And he answered: “you need to go to the police station and tell them everything!”

I asked: “do you think, they would believe me?”

“why wouldn’t they, this person abuses the higher educational system!”

“Do you think this is the only solution?”

“This is the only thing you can do to rid yourself of this situation!” he confidently said

I asked him where I needed to go and he said: “it is the same place I took you when you arrived in Yugoslavia seven years ago, and where we go to renew it every year!”

I knew the place very well, then he surprised me by saying: “let me advise you something first!” I was all ears so he continued: “ask to see the highest official in the department or that who deals with foreign students!”

“Why?” I inquired and he answered: “he will take it seriously, for it abuses the state and its higher education system let alone its reputation!”

I agreed, then he said: “have dinner, and go to bed early! You need to be focused, for it will be a long tiring day!”

And so I did, I went to the police station the next morning and asked to see the chief of police responsible for foreign students. The policeman asked about why I needed to see the officer and I told him I will only speak to the Chief! He asked me to sit on the chair and wait until the chief arrives in his office. I waited for around fifteen minutes and they sounded like a lifetime! The policeman came back and asked me to follow him. I went upstairs and walked until the end of the hallway, and in the corner was the room of the police chief. He asked me to come in and I did. I entered the room and it certainly had awe, I saw him, and he was like a lion in his den! Large black mustache, bulging muscles, and eyes like those of a fierce lion indeed! He was extremely elegant for a policeman, sipping coffee, and smoking a cigarette. He looked at me down to top as if I were a criminal and said: “what can I do for you?” I answered: “I am Moses, a student who came to you after being stranded in an unpleasant situation!” so he asked: “what would that problem be?” and I explained the whole dilemma to him. He listened in concern and did not interrupt me at all. He looked carefully into my eyes and at the movements of my hands and this me feel stressed! When I finished talking he shouted at me and said: “are you out of your mind? Are you accusing a professor of bribery? I will put you in jail right away! And deport you on the first plane back to your country!”

At that moment I was really frustrated and sweated badly! So I said: “why would you yell at me and accuse me!” he answered in rage: “do you have any evidence for what you have just said?”

I stuttered in fear and said: “I do not have any physical evidence but all colleagues in the faculty know this professor very well, for he has a very bad reputation! He did this with a lot of foreign students and sometimes with locals!”

He asked as if I was the criminal: “why hasn’t anyone complained but yourself?”

I answered: “because I do not have the required amount of money and I am trying to return home and this is my last course!”

He said moderately: “so the problem is money!”

I answered: “yes sir, I do not have the money but even if I did I wouldn’t pay it!”

“Why would that be!” he said

“Because when I explained my dreary situation to him and how my family is struggling for a decent living, he simply ignored me and was not understanding at all!”

“I will ask you only once and last, are you willing to do what I ask you to do?” he said

This was a surprise for me, for I thought he will kick me out of his office!

I confidently answered: “of course! I will do everything you ask!”

He made a phone call and walked outside then came back after five minutes and told me: “listen very carefully to what I say, tomorrow, you will go to this professor’s office, what is his name?”

I answered “Professor Željko Matić” then he continued: “tomorrow, you go to see him in the morning and tell him you thought about it and that you cannot afford further delays. Ask him to lower the amount of money to which he might refuse! Beg him for that and explain the bad circumstances you are going through and your family’s situation. Try then to show sadness, need, and suffering when you offer him the money. Tell him that some friends lent you the money and that you do not have such amount of money and will not be able to pay them back. Wait until he gives you the answer! When he says the amounts he wants, you go to the restrooms and someone will be waiting for you. He will ask you how much you need and hand it to you. Then you return to the professor’s office who will be waiting for you!”

I answered him: “I understand, this is clear!”

He continued: “ when you return into his office, ask him to record your grade on the index ( the grade book) without sitting for the exam because the exam is due in a week and you need to go home sooner than that. In case he insists that you show up for the exam, agree and tell him that you will do so to avoid embarrassing him academically and will postpone your trip!” he then asked whether I had any inquiries and I confirmed that everything was clear!

“Next morning, I headed to the professor’s office but unfortunately he was not in yet.” So I asked Moses “so what did you do and where was the police?”

Moses answered: “I had no idea, therefore, I sat in front of his office waiting for him! I waited for twenty minutes until he showed up” he smiled and asked me how I was doing. I said that I was fine but a bit worried and he answered: “do not worry, everything will be fine!”

I followed him into his office and was full of hatred, grudges, fear, eagerness, and stress but I tried to appear as calm as I could. He asked me: “have you got what I asked for?” I stood next to him and begged him to speak down, and whispered in his ear: “please can you decrease the required amount?”

He answered that two hundred and fifty marks should do. I thanked him and said: “I will never forget this favor as long as I live!” then I excused to get the money and went to the restrooms. Someone asked me: “how much?” and I answered: “two hundred fifty marks!” he gave me the money and asked me to go back to the Professor’s office who was surprised to see me and said: “This was fast!”

I answered: “I do not want anything to delay me further, I need to get through with this issue, and please can you record my grade now? I need to travel soon!”

He answered: “sure, give me your index!”

Moses added: “I gave him the index and he wrote 6/10 (pass) (no exam), so I thanked him and walked out as agreed. The secret police entered the office the minute I walked out.”

“So what happened next?” I asked

“I was called into the Dean’s office! And the dean explained that after I walked out, the secret police walked in and asked him about what I handed him, and he denied taking anything from me, then they asked him to empty his pockets and the police officer asked him about the foreign currency with him (German marks). He answered that they belonged to him so the officer asked further, where from? The police officer then told the professor that he constitutes a disgrace to the Higher Education in Yugoslavia and that he sold his conscience and honesty for money! He also told the professor that he will be severely punished for such a doing!”

The dean continued: “the police officer continued that the money notes belong to the Yugoslav police force and are in sequence, but the professor’s greed blinded him from noticing that! He also explained how the police agreed with the student to set him up! The police officer expressed his sadness that such acts can be committed by an academic in Yugoslavia and that money is the plight of many people! They took the professor away in silence to avoid creating a scene! The professor stayed quiet and did not say a word!”

“I thanked the dean, but was concerned about his response!” So he looked at me and said: “I do not hate you for what you did! On the contrary, thank you for ridding the faculty of such a professor! We knew what he did but could not act due to a lack of evidence! You were brave enough to stop him and draw an end to his actions. We are through with this ugly nightmare!”

I said to the dean: “Thank you for your educational efforts and for this great country which made us into competent individuals to return to our countries and benefit them!” I left in a hurry and here I am!

“What an amazing scenario! It is well put to be acted in the cinema!”

“We finally got rid of this corrupted bribed professor!” he said

I answered: “there are two more to go down!”

Moses answered: “they are different from professor Matić!” I answered: “I really hope so!”

I invited Moses to lunch at my place but he excused because he was shattered by what he had been through and promised to come some other time!

I went home as fast as I could so happy and satisfied! However, there was some sorrow in my heart for the professor! I prepared lunch and had it then I had some tea. I lied down in my bedroom to rest but I could not, therefore, I went back to the living room to watch TV. I closed the TV after a few minutes, I did not know what to do! Maybe I was anxious about the exams which will begin soon. The door unlocked on the usual time and it was Vera! She arrived on time and was extremely happy! I had no idea why but preferred not to ask for she is a discrete person. I asked: “would you like some food? I have kept some for you.”

She said that she had dinner with some friends at the bank, then she changed her clothes and grabbed her bottle from the kitchen, lit a cigarette, and puffed a cloud out of her mouth! She asked me: “any news?”

I told her about what happened at the University and how the police arrested the corrupt professor. She looked at me and said: “if each person had a free will to resist these hungry pack of wolves which prey victims, then they would put an end to them!”

“Do you like what my friend did?” I asked

She answered: “of course! He has a lot of nerves and freedom! He does not compromise!”

“He might influence other foreign students!” I commented

She responded: “I doubt that! They will be more cautious when dealing with you and the students! However, I am glad this greedy man is gone!” This sort of person exists in each society more or less but they are there! Sometimes people admit they exist and at other times they deny it! Some people try to overlook their practices because they fear for the reputation of the academic and educational systems in the state! Let us change the subject and resume my story, today I intend to drink only and will not have any coffee!”

I figured out that her choice was due to her mood. Whenever she started with alcohol, it meant she was attempting to flee her world and reality, and maybe to relax.

It came to my surprise as she said that she had a bad morning, she commented: “you might have heard my yelling in the morning, but I do not wish to speak about it. However, it became all better in the evening and thus I am in a better mood.”

I asked: “why do you drink then?”

“I drink because my memory becomes better and I can speak continuously. I do not shy off of myself or of the situations I lived in! My speech would be less painful! This magical drink takes you from reality to fantasy and makes you embrace yourself and hold respect for it!”

Let me continue: “One night, I was watching TV when the doorbell rang. I looked at my watch and saw that it was half-past eight. Who would knock on my door at this time? And without an appointment? I opened the door to look through. It was Bamir. I was not expecting him to show up. I opened the door and he was drunk! He looked at me and said, ‘I love you and I want to marry you!’

“I instantly knew he was drunk enough to get the boldness to ask me to marry him. Yet I smiled at him and said, ‘Would you like some coffee?’

“No need. I am over the moon! I do not need a cup of coffee to ruin my mood.’

“However, I insisted and made him some coffee. I placed the cup in front of him and asked him to drink it.

“After a moment of silence, I gave him an accusatory look and continued, ‘You know that I am a respectful lady and live in an area where all the neighbors look at me differently because I live on my own. Today, you came to my house, drunk and unannounced, and now I look even worse in their eyes. May I know what is bothering you? We are friends after all!’

“You are the closest to me. I will tell you what happened. I had a misunderstanding with my father, who insisted a couple of weeks ago on taking me to visit my uncle and to meet his pretty daughter who studies at the School of Law. I tried to stall and did not go, but he kept nagging me about going there. Today I had a day off and went out with friends. We drank more than we should have, and when I got home, my father snapped. He started cursing and yelling madly and kicked me out of the house. As I was leaving my father said, ‘I do not wish to see you again in this house!’

“Bamir continued, ‘I was infuriated because I did not do anything to deserve such treatment.’

“Why don’t you have a hot bath? Are you hungry?’ I asked.

“I cannot eat at all,’ he answered.

“Alright, go have a hot bath then.’

“I prepared the sofa bed for him to sleep on, and said, ‘You will sleep in the living room.’

“You expect me to sleep here?’ he said in surprise.

“Well, yes, unless you have another suggestion.’

“Not at all. Thank you. Sorry for annoying you.’

“I went to my room and thought of what the neighbors might think of me, how I let him sleep on the sofa bed rather than next to me. I was struggling deep inside and did not know whether what I did was right or not. However, something was pushing me away every time I tried to approach him. My instinct is not bad when dealing with others, and I have learned to hardly trust anybody. Life is complicated, and one should know whom to avoid and whom to trust. If you trust the wrong person, you will pay for it before you know it! They always show their true colors. There is a famous saying in Yugoslavia which states, ‘The trust of emotions has a short life span and the trust generated by the mind is a long-living one.’ As for the fake trust, it is like migrating birds which leave when the weather gets bad. Second chances are always possible except with regards to trust. In Serbia, we say, ‘A donkey learns how to swim only when water gets up to his ears.’

She added, “The next day, I prepared myself to go to the bank and went to check on him but he had already left! So I had breakfast and went to work as usual. In the evening, the doorbell rang and I was wondering if it was him again. Well, it was. He came in as I opened the door, and threw himself on the sofa. He had a small bag in his hand and said boldly, ‘I need to stay at your house for a couple of days. The misunderstanding with my father has developed to the point that he threatened to call the police if I go home again! My mother advised me to go somewhere else until things calm down, and she will try to deal with the situation.’

“As he was speaking, I felt that he was trying to invent a scene that you would find in a movie. I had a strange feeling. Should I believe him or not? The story did not appeal to me. It did not seem genuine at all! Nevertheless, I welcomed him. But his words were the final straw, and I started to question his integrity.’

“Would you like to go to the coffee shop next door?’ he asked’

“No, I cannot. It is too late and today is not my day off. I need to wake up early tomorrow morning to go to work,’ I answered.

“Never mind. Maybe some other time!’ he said.

“We watched TV and started talking about different things. I offered him a drink, and his answer was, ‘Anything with alcohol.’

“Sure,’ I said, and instantly knew where this was heading. But despite that, I got him some brandy and we started drinking together.

“The next morning, I found myself in bed, late for work. I had no idea what happened or what he put in that drink. I got up quickly and took a shower. I started thinking about what took place the night before, but I just could not recall a thing. He had already left for work earlier. That evening, I was sitting in the living room when the door opened without a knock. He came in with bags of food and alcoholic drinks. I instantly asked, ‘What happened yesterday?’

“He confidently answered, ‘Nothing much. We drank too much. I carried you to bed and you asked me to make love to you, so I did.’

“I did not believe what he said, but what if I did ask him to make love to me? He started making himself at home and prepared dinner for both of us. We drank alcohol again, but I started to think about how I couldn’t be late for work tomorrow. The manager had called me upset that day since I had the vault key. This could not happen again.

“After dinner, we drank for a couple of hours, but I asked him to stop because we needed to go to work the next morning. This kept happening for two weeks. One day, he failed to return home for three consecutive days and did not even call. One day, as I was finishing off some paperwork for the bank, the doorbell rang. I was sure it was him, but instead, a beautiful lady stood at the door. She was about to cry and looked so absent-minded and tired. She was breathless and her face showed rage and sorrow at the same time. I asked, ‘Can I help you?’

“May I come in?’ she asked.

“Do I know you?’ I asked back.

“I will explain everything in a minute,’ she said.

“Come in please,’ I said.

“She sat and was forcing words out of her mouth as if she was avoiding a confrontation or something. I could hear her heartbeat and her breathing was so loud. She concealed her tears and tried to maintain her dignity and pride and said, ‘In short, I am Bamir’s wife!’

“Then she stopped talking.

“What?! Bamir is married?’ I asked.

“Yes, married with three children. Two boys, and a girl. He has been away for two weeks now. We got worried and started looking for him everywhere, and after some difficulty, we found out he was living with you. His brother and I went to his workplace and asked them to tell him that his wife wanted him to come home. Eventually, he did, but he was a totally different person. He cursed at me and called me every name in the book. He was so upset that I went to his workplace and asked about his whereabouts. After that, he despised me, treated me badly in front of our children, and threatened to leave me and marry another woman. I really need to ask if you would agree to have an affair and damage a family with three children. Would you be okay with these kids and their mother becoming homeless?’

“I felt like heaven itself was addressing me, and an angel was pleading with me to be wise. I looked at her as the tears poured down her face. Her tears were mixed with bitterness. Her heart was crying rather than her eyes. I had had a rough experience myself and had tasted betrayal. I am a female and I know what the lack of gratitude by a soul mate would feel like. Poor thing. She was stabbed in the back, with no regard for her pride or dignity. I am sure she was loyal to him and was betrayed for no particular reason. I wiped her tears and hugged her until I felt like my heart touched hers. Her heart was blaming me. Her tears fell on my face. I looked at her in sorrow, but was I feeling sorry for her or for me? I instantly got out of this state and tried to act as a strong woman. I really sympathized with her, and maybe sympathized with myself as the victim as well. My dignity and pride were stabbed, too.

“I said, ‘Please rest assured that I would never do anything that would harm you or your children. I honestly did not know that Bamir was married. He told me that he lived with his parents, that he was single, and had no relationship with any female. That is why I agreed to a relationship with him. I need to ask you something. Are his parents living with you?’

“His parents live in Albania, not Yugoslavia. I had been living in Belgrade for a long time with my family. He married me because we are related by blood, and he wanted to secure a job and housing. My father helped him land the job he has now,’ she answered.

“Thank you most sincerely. I broke up with him the moment you entered my house!’ I said. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’

“No, thank you. I need to go because I left the children with one of my friends,’ she said.

“She left in a hurry. This lady was very polite and touched my heart. I thought if it was another kind of woman, she would have attacked me, cursed at me, and yelled in rage. As they say, everything can be washed with water except for a bad mouth.”

It was almost past midnight and Vera stopped telling her story. The pain was obviously the reason. Recalling all these events hurt her pride. However, she tried to pull herself together and get up in a rush, as if she was trying to stop a running tape of memories. As she usually did, she forced herself to smile and said, “Can we continue tomorrow? I really need to get up early and cannot afford to be late again.”

` So we each went to our rooms. In the morning, I heard a conversation. It was Vera, talking through the window to somebody outside. I could barely hear what they were talking about. After a while, the conversation came to an end and the door slammed. I knew she had left, so as usual, I went out of my room, had breakfast, and left to the university.

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