Vera Petrović: A novel

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Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve

Unlike most nights, she was late getting home. I sat to watch TV. She came in two hours later, pale and sweating. Her eyes were vacant and there were fear and concern on her face. She looked at me and said, “Do we have any food? I haven’t eaten a bite since 9 am!”

I looked at the clock and it was 9 pm already. I said, “Yes, we have plenty of food in the fridge. My friends dropped by and I cooked for all of us, so there is a lot of food left. I know you enjoy the food I cook.”

She answered, “I will take a hot bath and come back to eat.”

“Would you like me to heat the food for you?” I aske

“I do not want to trouble you!”

“Don’t say that! You have prepared and even cooked food for me many times. Please let me help!” I said.

She replied, “Thank you in advance.”

I went to the kitchen and prepared the food. I have placed it on the table so that she could have her meal when she was ready. She came in a rush, ate quickly, and grabbed her brandy. We went to sit in the living room.

I asked her, “Today, you were late. Is there anything wrong?” She answered sadly, “There was a crime at the bank!”

Without thought, I said, “Did they steal much?”

She answered, “It was not a robbery. It was suicide! The manager of the bank Mr. Ivan Živanović took his own life!” “What! Why would he do such a thing?”

She said, “He put a bullet in his head!”

“But why!!” I said.

She responded, “No one knows why, but it seems that something is not right in the financial accounts at the bank. They mentioned that a huge amount of money went missing on the same morning of the suicide!”

I asked, “But what does that mean?”

“It might be that someone threatened the bank manager Mr. Ivan Živanović and forced him to perform the transfer. Or maybe another story we know nothing about! Nevertheless, no one knows for sure. All of the employees of the bank were held for investigation, but I was questioned the longest given the fact that I am the Deputy-manager.”

“What kinds of questions did they pose?” I asked.

“Many questions such as: did you have a good relationship with the manager? Have you noticed anything different about him lately? Did his daily routine change recently? Did he make any special requests recently? Has he asked you for things he never requested or demanded before? Has he contacted or was he contacted by specific agents and clients? Did he have any family problems? Has his wife visited him at the bank lately? Does he have any problems with any of the employees at the bank? Does he have any opposition at work? Fortunately, I managed to answer all of their questions. The officer was impressed with my courage, and my ability to provide clear cut answers without any sort of hesitation.”

I asked, “Do you know why he took his own life?”

She replied, “At the beginning, I did not know, but I remembered that a few days ago, he was unwell. I entered his office on a number of occasions to find him distracted and deep in thought as if he was in deep trouble. He drank during working hours, but secretly. Sometimes, he even locked the door of the office. But until it actually happened, I never saw him committing suicide!”

I asked again, “But are you aware of the reason that made him do so?”

“I might be, but I am not 100% sure. Therefore, I couldn’t tell the detective due to fear of accountability. I had to be extremely careful and could not tell them mere speculations!” she added.

“Since you are not sure, can you tell me your speculation? It might help you think clearer if you talk about it out loud,” I answered.

“I suppose I can, but again I am not sure. The story started about a month ago when I noticed that he became silent most of the time as if something was occupying his mind. After a while, he started yelling at the employees even for silly mistakes! In the past, mistakes were amendable, and he took things easily. But later, he started harassing me, he tried to grab my breasts and wrap his arms around me. He even managed to touch my body shamelessly and bluntly! I told him off a couple of times, but it never stopped him! I also tried to minimize the number of times I entered his office and warned him that I would file a complaint against him if he kept harassing me. He was very apologetic and said that he was under so much pressure.

“Three days after this incident, he called me to his office. ‘I trust you a lot and I need to ask for your advice about something. You need to promise me, however, that you will not tell a soul about this!’

“I said, ‘If this is related to work, then I apologize. I can only adhere to the rules and regulations of the bank. Nevertheless, if you are referring to the humanitarian side, then I can certainly keep the secrecy of anything you need to tell me.’

“He frankly said, ‘My wife is threatening me with separation. She is pressuring me to give the house to her, otherwise, she will file for divorce! She is certain that the court would side with her.’

“I asked, ‘Why is she so certain?’

“He answered, ‘I cannot tell you the reasons!’ as he looked down in humiliation.’

“Here I decided to look him in the eye. ‘I am really sorry. But for someone who has such little faith in me, and cannot trust me, I cannot be of any help!’ I went out of the office.

“Events were accelerating quickly, but none of us expected what would take place next! The next day, his wife came in with another person and walked right into his office. She slammed the door and started yelling, and could be heard from outside his office. I needed his signature on some important documents for some clients who were waiting, so I knocked on his office door. It was really tense in his office! His face was pale and his hands were shaking. His eyes had so much rage in them!

“He looked at me and said, ‘Hand me those documents!’ He signed quickly without even looking at them. As I was closing the door, I heard his wife saying, ‘At this rate, the next time you will try to sell me and our children, just to satisfy your addiction, which will eventually kill you.’

“At this point, I closed the door and could not make sense of what his wife said. After the suicide, I was able to analyze and understand her words more clearly. There were only two possible scenarios. The first was that he was a drug addict and could not stop, and the second was that he was gambling. These two things could explain what his wife said. She said his addiction would eventually get him killed. At that point, I thought it was none of my business and I had better stay away from all these problems. After all, he never shared any with me!

“After about one hour, I needed to see him again. He was signing some papers. The man who arrived with his wife was showing him where to sign. He was obviously the lawyer of his wife. The documents he was signing seem to be a sort of renunciation of a certain property. I quickly had a glance at it but I was not sure. His wife left quickly with her lawyer. After he finished signing the documents, he sat in shock as if he had just experienced an earthquake!”

“He said, ’now what? I have lost everything I own! I have nothing but regret!

I felt sorry for him and sympathized despite the hatred I felt towards him. I advised him, ‘You could lose everything, just make sure you do not lose yourself!’

“He looked at me, touched with my words, and said, ‘You are trying to console me and help me apply a bandage to my deep wound, but it is too late!’

“He laughed cynically and said, ‘I know I have been a pain in the neck for you on multiple occasions. I was rough and reported you several times, but you stayed sincere and honest. You are such a selfless person who supports others in times of need. You are an angel!’

“I responded, ‘Now you admit that I was right! I have warned you again and again about those people who deceive you with their nice words, but you always accused me of being such a hard-headed person. I told you that you would one day know my value, but it would be too late! And here we are, today you apologize to me!’

“He answered, ‘I admit, and I owe you a big apology. However, it is too late!’

I asked him if he would like to hear a story with a message, and he inquired whether I have become so wise all of a sudden. So I said: “not wise, but it is a story I have heard and like, one might learn a few lessons out of it.”

He sadly answered: “there no point if one has not learned his lessons.”

“You are right but still are you interested in hearing it?”

“Sure, it would take my mind off the sorrow!”

“There were two friends who walked in the desert and had a long argument, which called one of them to slap the other on the face. The slapped guy did not say a word, so he wrote on the sands (today, my best friend slapped me on my face) they walked until they found a beautiful oasis, which was tempting for swimming, the friend who got slapped got caught up in the mud and started to drown, but the other friend rushed to help and saved him. After he survived drowning, he wrote on the rock adjacent to the oasis (Today, my best friend saved my life). His friend asked him, when I slapped you, you wrote on the sand but when I saved you, you wrote on the rock! Why is that? His friend said that when someone hurts us, we should write his actions on the sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it, but when one does us a favor or something good, we should carve it in the rocks so that no wind can erase it! Did you understand the wisdom behind the story my friend and manager?”

He answered: “it is too late, just like beating a dead horse!”

“I said, ‘you have been using this expression--it is too late!--a lot lately. Why is that? Are you leaving to go somewhere?’

“He said confidently, ‘Yes, I am! Right to hell!’

“I inquired, ‘What do you mean by hell?’

“He said, ‘It is a one-way ticket!’

“I answered, ‘Do you mean that you will put an end to your life?’

“He answered, ‘What life are you talking about?’

“I replied, ‘You have an excellent position in your career. With a little effort, everything can be fixed!’

“He said again, ‘It is too late!’

“I continued, ‘Cowards retreat from the battlefield. The brave fight till the last breath. They are determined to face the moment of survival and confrontation! Such people do not seek glory or fame, they seek self-satisfaction. They seek to confront circumstances no matter what they are, and they do so bravely and in self-confidence!’

“He laughed hysterically and suddenly said, ‘I am so far from all that. Had you asked me twenty years ago, I would have agreed, but today I am done!’

“At this point, I decided to withdraw to avoid making him feel like a no-body and a coward who could not confront his circumstances or deal with them. When he committed suicide, he proved that he was 100 percent coward. He did so because he could not deal with the repercussions of his actions. I am not sure what would make someone end his life without thinking of his loved ones or his children. Children need a father and when this father is absent, no one can fulfill his place! A mother cannot raise the children on her own and solve their continuous problems, let alone provide for them a decent living without a man who supports her.”

Today, she was also late coming home from work. I could not wait until she arrived. I was eager to know the updates of the suicide of the bank manager. She came home earlier than the night before, exhausted and concerned. She rushed to the kitchen to grab her bottle, clearly distracted and preoccupied with something. She poured her drink and lit her cigarette as usual, and then sat in her own world, deep in thought.

I asked her, “What happened today?”

She pretended not to hear me, glanced at me, and said, “What?”

“Haven’t you heard about me? I asked about what happened today!”

“Everything was exposed today. The police found out everything and the reasons that made him take his life!”

“And what are the reasons behind this suicide?” I asked.

She answered, “As I said yesterday, Mr. Živanović was a gambler and he managed to lose a lot of money. He manipulated money at the bank in a very discreet way so nobody was able to find out. Unbeknownst to him, one of his co-players is a board member. This board member called to inquire about the bank manager and to investigate his situation. The former found out that the latter was deeply in debt and would never be able to pay it back.

He warned the bank manager to stop gambling. The manager threatened to kill the board member in front of some witnesses. This board member had significant connections in the governing party because he used to take care of their finances. All of these things affected his relationship at home. His problems started snowballing and thus he decided to end his life. He owed huge amounts of money that he was not able to pay back, and this is why his wife forced him to give his properties and possessions to her with the help of the lawyer. The detective also said that the manager and his wife had an agreement to separate, and this was documented in court, which was a very smart move to avoid losing everything to claims after the death of her husband.”

I asked, “So what is going to happen now?”

She answered, “The case is closed and all the exhaustion and anxiety we experienced in the last couple of days is over!”

I asked again, “How about you? Are you going to become the manager?”

She answered decisively, “Of course not!”

“Why not? You are the deputy manager! Aren’t you?” I asked.

“Things do not work this way! Positions in this country are distributed according to a number of considerations rather than competencies! The right man in the right place principle does not apply! Instead, the party’s interests, personal interests, hypocrisy, and lying are what matter. Nevertheless, you will discover all this with time!” she said.

She was tired and anxious and retreated to her bedroom to have some rest, but in the morning she started talking to herself. When she stopped, I was sure she left for work.

That day, however, she came home smiling, which was very unusual. She brought some brandy and cheese, and it seemed like she had eaten a late lunch. I asked why she was so happy. She answered, “Yes, this might be due to the fact that I feel justice has finally been served.” I replied that I did not understand.

She clarified, “Today, a representative of the board of directors of the bank came and told us the latest updates. He notified us that we will start over and that he was determined for everyone to have a fresh start. He stressed that the new manager would be someone who works in our branch and that they were not considering any external candidates. The appointment of the new manager will be according to competence and experience, and there will be no preference for anyone for any other reason! He was really transparent and honest, and I really felt relieved when he spoke.”

I asked her if she thought she stood a chance, and she answered, “Of course! I am the Deputy Manager and hold a degree in Economics. I am the most competent and experienced person for this position!” I begged her not to be angry as I asked what would happen if they still decided to appoint someone else.

She replied, “I would be very sad and upset if someone from inside the branch got appointed because, honestly, I am the most deserving of the position. If they hired someone competent and worthy of the position, I wouldn’t be mad or sad.”

Thus, I inquired again if she was confident that the appointment would come from inside the branch, and she responded that “based on the board representative’s words, the appointment will take place from inside the bank.”

I was thinking about the deep shock she would feel if something else happened, particularly if the person selected was less competent. I thought of her recent behavior and carelessness. I really hoped she would get the position so that she could regain her balance, her career, and her morals.

Later, she came back home really upset. Rage could be seen in her eyes and face. She went into the kitchen, had a quick meal, and came back carrying her bottle and a pack of cigarettes. She lit her cigarette and only then did I comment on what a heavy smoker she had become. She answered that she only smoked when she was in a bad mood or when something was bothering her. When I asked if she had considered quitting, she told me that she had tried before I moved in.

“I promised myself not to smoke when you moved in to avoid annoying you because I remembered you saying that you did not smoke. I told myself this might be a new start and an opportunity to quit smoking, but I really have to smoke!” I asked her why, and she told me that she had heard some rumors about whom they were going to appoint a manager of the bank.

“This rumor shocked and disgusted me. The person whose name was mentioned happens to be the biggest hypocrite among us! She would give away anything to realize her aspirations.”

I answered, “So you know this person well and can judge whether she is more competent than you are or not?”

She answered cynically, “She is incomparable to me, but she can disclaim an important thing as a female that I cannot!”

Surprised, I asked, “Did you say she?”

She answered, “Yes, it is my colleague Gordana Milanković. The rumor is that she will soon be assigned as a manager!”

“How about competence? Who compared you and made such a decision?”

To this, she answered, “In this country, other considerations are more important than competence. One’s ability in bootlicking, adulation, and pleasing officials are crucial for promotion. If one is adherent to a moral standard and maintains his dignity and honor, then he has no future.”

I could not believe that it was really that bad, but she answered, “Yes, it is even worse than that.”

I asked if I could make a request from her, and she said that I could. “Please do not feel upset or under pressure if someone else is assigned as manager. Life is too short to be depressed, anxious or devastated for a ridiculous materialistic goal.”

“True, but injustice can sometimes control us inside and out. We attempt to control the rage in our souls, but we fail at times because the amount of injustice is beyond our capacity to absorb!” With this, she went to her bedroom with great anger on her sad face, even while trying to appear in control! As I saw the changes in her attitude, behavior, and speech, I decided to help her as much as I could. Otherwise, I would have tried to leave the house before she burst out and make me her first victim!

In the evening, she came home in an unusual manner. She was cursing and murmuring with rage. I was watching TV, and she burst in to tell me the updates from the bank.

“They appointed the whore Gordana Milanković as the bank manger because she can adapt to every situation! She can change the color of her skin, but I maintain my dignity and honor. Thus, I am not needed. Time is so unfair! Shame on such rotten minds which only think of their own interests and which work according to their lusts rather than their minds!”

Her words were like bullets, and her rage was growing as she spoke. Her whole demeanor was devastation and frustration. I asked her what happened, and she answered that they had appointed this other woman as the bank manager.

“How good is she at work?” I asked.

“The whore Gordana Milanković is only better than me at sitting in the laps of corrupt people. She barely deserves to be appointed as a typist in the bank! She got a foot in the door at the bank because she is very beautiful and sly. It is better to speak of her degree of idiocy than her intelligence. She is only gifted at presenting her body to her superiors!”

I asked Vera if she had objected to the appointment, and she replied, “Of course I did, and I asked to meet the representative of the board of directors. He said that he could see me one hour before the end of the working hours. He showed up on time and asked to see me in the manager’s office. As I walked in, I was trying to get myself together to avoid behaving recklessly and paying for it later. I asked him by what standards he had appointed Gordana Milanković to such a position? He answered diplomatically that he knew I was a much better candidate than her with respect to experience or specialization. He said I was definitely more competent than her but that some of the board members objected to my selection.

“I asked him again if he would elaborate, and he answered, ’You know such information is classified, but because I respect you and I am aware of the amount of injustice you have experienced at work, I will tell you a little. The deceased manager reported you on a number of occasions and criticized your performance. One of the points he stressed is that you have tended to come to work late recently.

He also reported that you sometimes behave hysterically and yell at your colleagues. He said that you ignored him when he raised these issues to try to make you adhere to regulations. These are some of the points that were made in the board meeting that led to the appointment of Gordana Milanković as a manager.’

“At this point, I tried to control my reaction, but I simply couldn’t! I told him that such a report was totally fabricated because the deceased manager knew he was in trouble. He had tried on a number of occasions to harass and assault me whether by attempting to touch my body or with his words. When he found me unattainable, he started reporting me as a means of pressuring me! Even if these reports led me to lose my job, I would never give in to such scum. He had no respect for his family or his wife, and he harassed most ladies at the bank. I was aware of that, but I preferred to stay out of it! The other ladies did not mind, and thus it was none of my business! Obviously, such ladies compromised their bodies for a low person as a means to justify an end.”

“Once I said those words, his face started to get pale, and he said with a louder more serious voice, ‘Do you mean that we appointed your colleague Gordana because we slept with her? Whom do you mean? Me? I am the representative of the board and do not know Gordana Milanković. I met her for the first time for an interview upon the request of the board members. As for the board members, they do not know Gordana in person, so why do you point fingers?’

“I started to get impatient and said in rage, ‘You assessed us, and your evaluation was based on specific standards, right? Are the reports of that miserable manager your only reliable resource for appointing a manager? Are you convinced this evaluation was fair?’

“He answered, ‘The outcome of my evaluation was selecting you for the position! Some board members, however, rejected my evaluation and revealed the reports of the deceased manager. They used it as a tool to weaken your case. They claimed that such reports include issues that cannot be overlooked. They voted in consensus to exclude you and select Gordana Milanković, who was nominated by some of the board members.’

“I turned to him and said, ‘Some board members? This is not consensus!’ He answered, ‘True, not in consensus.’

“I asked again if he would name the board members who nominated Gordana to be manager, but he said that this information was classified and could not be disclosed. I resumed saying, ‘You acknowledge that I am a better candidate according to your assessment, and you confess that some board members supported the candidacy of Gordana. Then you claimed that none of these board members knows Gordana personally, didn’t you?’

“He answered, ‘True, and I am positive!’

“I asked, ‘Are you sure because Gordana told you, or because you inquired of the board members and they confirmed?’ He replied that it was both, so I said, ‘I need to reveal the truth. There are two board members, namely Mr. Slobodan Oprodović and Mr. Sinesha Georgović, who would be an example!’ He was surprised and wondered how I knew their names!

“I answered that I did not know them in person. I only knew their names, but I told him to ask me why I knew these two names.

“He said, ‘Ok, why these two?’ and I responded, saying, ‘Because they were in bed with my colleague Gordana Milanković. She went out once a week with at least one of them, but sometimes even twice a week.’

“He interrupted me, ‘How do you know such information? Are you sure it is credible?’

“I answered decisively, ’Yes, I am. I came across such information through a mutual friend, Slavitsa Stanković. She was very close to Gordana, who told her everything. All of this happened after a board member contacted her to introduce himself and to inquire about some issues. He insisted that no one is to know about the meeting, and Gordana agreed. She met Mr. Slobodan Oprodović at a restaurant, and after a couple of days, he asked to meet her again at the same restaurant. He then invited her to an apartment and promised her this position on one condition. He told Gordana that if she really wanted this position, she needed to seduce a different board member to vote in her favor, in addition to himself. Gordana asked who that could be especially since she does not know any board members but him. He suggested another board member who happened to be his friend, Sinesha Georgović, who is corrupt and a womanizer. He suggested she should meet Mr. Georgović, and explain the situation, and that he would certainly vote for her.

“At this point, she asked him, ‘Is the price is exactly the same? Going to bed with Mr. Georgović?’

“He responded, ‘Everything has a price. This is not too expensive. You should be flexible, and provide it.’

“Gordana told him that, this way, she would be a whore. He said that the means justify the end, and she can decide whether to do that or not. She inquired about the best way to contact him and Mr. Georgović, and Mr. Slobodan said he would take care of contacting him and arranging things.

“The meeting was set. She invited him to a restaurant, explained everything to him, and asked him to vote for her at the board meeting. Mr. Georgović asked at this point about the price she was willing to pay. Gordana was repulsed by his old age and hideous appearance, and thus was trying to avoid a physical relationship. He was very different from Mr. Slobodan, who was handsome, fit, smart, and much closer to her age.

“Therefore, she asked him, ‘What do you mean by price?’

“Mr. Georgović answered, ‘I am seeking the same offer Mr. Slobodan received. I am not very interested in voting for you, whether you deserve the position or not!’

“Gordana responded in rage, ‘You should respect the relationship your friend and I have and not ask for the same thing.’

“He responded, ‘Slobodan did not honor such a relationship, so why should I?’

“Gordana was shocked. She felt that she was a temporary pleasure rather than a permanent relationship and that Slobodan was ridiculing her and offering her for others! Sinesha said that he was not interested in anything but sleeping with her. He also added that if she wished to proceed under these terms, then she should contact him. Otherwise, she should never contact him again.

“A day before the voting took place, Gordana contacted Sinesha Georgović and agreed on paying the price! At this point, the representative of the Board of Directors looked puzzled, and said, ‘How can all of this happen behind the backs of the other directors?’

“I asked, ‘so, tell me, do you still think Gordana is worthy of the manager position?’

“He answered, ’No, she does not deserve to be in such a position at all!”

“I asked further, ‘How do you think I get my rights back now?’

“He answered, ‘I am only one member of the group, and I have no control over them. I do not have any authority over them. However, I can assure you that I will convey to my colleagues what you just told me, and see what they think about it.’

“I asked, ‘When will that happen?’

“He answered, surprised, ‘I do not really know, but as I said, let me see what will happen.’

“So this is the conversation I had with the representative of the Board of Directors and the details of the appointment of Gordana Milanković. I really do not know what to do to regain my right,” Vera said.

At this point, I tried to calm her down and asked, “Do you think he will be able to do something?”

She answered with a depressed look on her face, “I don’t think so, and he tried to make this clear.”

I said, “So what are you going to do?”

She answered, “I will wait to see what the Board decides.”

We stopped talking and sadness filled the atmosphere. She felt that injustice was a constant part of her life. I went to my bedroom and could hear her talking to herself. She felt that she was fighting against everyone and everything. I knew this would affect her greatly, but I was hoping she could come through this crisis stronger and more solid.

The next morning, she was talking to herself as usual. She yelled at times like a crazy woman and I really felt her pain. I was trying to understand her suffering more accurately, but I often reminded myself that I was only a tenant and did not have the right to interfere in her business. However, I did not want her to affect me as a person.

She came back in the evening exhausted, and fatigue was all over her face. Her eyes were lost and she was pale. Her hands were shaking, and she threw herself on the seat in the living room.

She asked, “Do we have any food? I am starving!”

I had prepared some sausage with eggs and had some drinking yogurt, so I offered her some. But she stuttered saying, “Anything! I really need to eat something!”

I said, “I will prepare your food now.”

She nodded and said, “I am sorry to trouble you, but I am really starving!”

After she had her meal, she brought the bottle of brandy and poured a big glass. She started smoking heavily and I tried to talk her into letting things go. I did not want her to drink too much nor smoke too much.

I asked, “What happened today?”

She said, “The representative was honest and direct. He called me before the end of the workday and said that the board members are not willing to withdraw their decision. There is no chance of reconsideration. He also apologized for how things turned out, and said that he understood the injustice I was feeling. However, this is life and we need to live no matter how bad circumstances get.”

I asked her again, “What is the next step for you?”

“Nothing!” she answered. It was the first time I saw her give in like this.

I further asked, “Will you be able to work under this Gordana Milanković?”

She said, “I could, but my days in the bank are numbered and will be marked by suffering and sorrow. As a matter of fact, I do not have a clue about how things will be!”

I told myself that now was the best time to leave. I was positive that the coming days would be much harder and she would not be able to tolerate them. I had no idea what destiny was waiting for this lady.

She looked at me and asked, “When are you leaving?”

I could not believe what I just heard. “How did you know I was planning to leave?!”

She answered with certainty, “I know you decided to stay in order to help me and to make sure I am doing well. But now that you have witnessed the deterioration of my current situation, you are trying to withdraw.”

I asked her, “Do you need me to stay?”

She answered: “I am not ungrateful and cannot deny your help. But I have to say that, frankly, if it weren’t for you, I would have been lost on the street or in a mental asylum”.

I answered, “You are a tough woman and you do not give up easily!”

She said, “As they say, a tree leans on another tree, and man depends on his brother.”

I responded, “This saying is absolutely right, but why do you say it now?”

She answered, “Because it applies to you!”

I said, “How so?”

She answered, “During this time, I have been the tree that leaned on you, and you have been the man I depend on!”

I contemplated what she said, and thought, this lady is a combination of emotions, understanding, and morals. Unfortunately, she is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She resumed, “Listen, I will not ask you to do something you do not want to do. If you want to leave, you are totally free to do so. I will not pressure you into staying. You know what is best for you!”

I told her, “The truth is, I am thinking of leaving, but I am not exactly sure when I will move out. Rest assured, however, that I will tell you when I decide to leave.”

She thanked me and said, “You are an honest friend and I trust you.”

The next day, I stayed home all day and thought only about moving out of Vera’s. But I was always burdened morally with what might happen to her. I noticed that she was repeatedly late for work, and most nights she would go straight into her bedroom and not leave until the next day. Sometimes I would notice brandy glasses scattered around the house. She began to lose her memory and became forgetful. At first, I thought it must be a temporary problem, but unfortunately, I was wrong. Her fits of rage increased, and she repeatedly shouted hysterically and became more aggressive. She also used obscene curses while watching TV and commenting on the news.

One day, as I was entering the house, Mr. Goran Bigović, a neighbor, asked me, “What is happening to Ms. Vera every morning and evening?”

I answered frankly, “She is going through a crisis due to a difficult situation she experienced. It affected her greatly.”

The neighbor said, “She has become a source of frustration to all the neighbors, and we cannot tolerate it anymore. We are seriously thinking of reporting her to the police!”

I said, “You are absolutely right, but Ms. Vera is your neighbor. She needs a chance to overcome her problems.”

He replied, “Alright, but next time, we will report her to the police. Please tell her we cannot tolerate her annoying behaviors any longer.”

I said, “Thank you. I will talk to her about that and tell her what you said.”

As the neighbor left, I could hear him murmuring, “We cannot tolerate such crazy people anymore! Otherwise, we will lose our minds like them!”

I entered the house and noticed the electricity was cut off. I had no idea how to restore it, or even how to seek help. When Vera came back home that evening, it was very dark and cold.

She asked me, “What is going on?”

I answered: “I got home and the electricity was cut off!”

She said, “Do not worry. I will pay the bills at the end of the month, and then the electricity will be restored.”

I asked angrily, “Does that mean that you did not pay the bills and that is why they disconnected the electricity?!”

She answered, “Yes. That is what happened.”

I said, “I cannot stay in the house if there is no electricity or heat!”

She answered, “It is entirely up to you!”

I answered, “Alright, but it is my duty to tell you that your neighbor Mr. Goran Bigović complained of the noise and said that if it happens again, he will report you to the police!”

She laughed hysterically and said, “He can go to hell!”

I then added, “Even the telephone is disconnected! Did you pay the bill?”

She answered, “I think not!”

I responded, “But I pay for the dormitory. You should have paid the bills so that the electricity and phone wouldn’t be disconnected!”

She answered without a hint of remorse. “Well, you have to deal with it.”

I was so agitated that I said, “I will move out soon!”

She knew this was coming, so she said, “It is up to you!”

The house was very creepy because of the lack of electricity. All the appliances were operated by electricity, such as the fridge, the TV, the oven, the water heater, as well as the washing machine. On top of that was the disconnection of the telephone, which was the sole means of contact with my family back home.

I was not able to tolerate it anymore, so I moved to another house nearby, around ten minutes away. I left my new address and contact number with Vera to keep in touch with her. About two weeks after I moved out, I was sitting at my new home one evening when the door knocked. To my surprise, it was Vera!

I let her in and she immediately asked, “Can I have a bath? I am going through some difficult circumstances and I do not have water or electricity at home!”

I answered, “Of course you can.”

After a hot bath, she asked, “Do you have any food? I have not eaten anything in two days.”

I prepared a meal for her and asked her to come into the kitchen. She ate as if she had not eaten in ages. She was really hungry and ate with great appetite.

She asked, “Do you have any money to lend me? I promise to pay it back as soon as I can!”

I asked her, “Are you still employed?”

She answered, “I asked you if you can lend me some money!”

I replied, “Sure. How much do you need?”

She said, “As much as you can give me!”

I took out some money and put it in her handbag to avoid embarrassing her.

She thanked me and said, “This is the last time you will see me. I am not a beggar, a crazy woman, or a prostitute! I am only a human being in crisis!”

I replied, “I am well aware of that. You are a great woman. Your dignity is maintained. You do not need to justify or clarify. Anyone can go through such circumstances!”

She said, “Thank you for understanding.”

She grabbed her bag and left.

I expected everything except for what just happened. After that incident, I did not see her or hear from her. After a long period of time, I decided to check on her. I went to her house, but there was nobody there. I knocked on the door repeatedly, but there was no answer. I thought maybe she had traveled somewhere or something. The curtains were closed, but they moved as I was leaving. I thought I saw the shadow of a woman, but I was not sure.

I left to go to the bus station. When I arrived, I saw the same neighbor that complained about Vera, Mr. Goran Bigović. I asked him, “How are you Mr. Bigović?”

He answered, “I am well, thank you! How about you?”

“I am fine, thank you.” I replied. “I came by to see Ms. Vera, but there was no one home.”

He said, “She is there, but she won’t open the door for anyone!”

I asked, “Are you sure?”

He replied, “I am positive. She has been in a crisis for around a month, and her situation is constantly getting worse. I have no idea how long she can hold on. She has been living without electricity, water, or money for quite a while.”

I asked, “How do you know that?”

He answered, “My wife went to check on her a couple of times. She only let her in once or twice, then she stopped opening the door. My wife told me about her miserable situation.”

I thanked him and went home quickly. I had a lot of remorse for leaving her in such miserable circumstances, but I could not help it. She refused to open the door for me.

A year later, I was having dinner at a restaurant. A woman who was outside was staring at me through the window. At first, I did not recognize her. Then I realized it was Vera! Oh my God! Is this possible? I rushed out of the restaurant and asked her, “Ms. Vera! How are you?”

She answered, “I could not be better! Thank you!”

I said, “Can I buy you dinner?”

“Sure, but who are you?” she asked.

“You do not remember me?” I said in surprise.

She answered, “I am a well-known lady. There are so many people who recognize me but, excuse me, I cannot remember everyone!”

My tears started to fall, and I felt dizzy. Only then did I realize how cruel life can be.

“Are you still at your old house?” I asked her.

“I have many houses, so which one do you mean?” she replied.

“The one in Milana Rakića,” I answered.

“I am not sure if it still belongs to me, but I live close to the Parliament, close to the Central Mail Building in Belgrade.”

She forgot her own home address! Life is so ridiculous. I asked her, “Would you like to come into the restaurant and have a hot meal?”

She answered, “Well, if you insist on inviting me, you can just give me the money, and I can manage!”

I took out my wallet and said, “Take this, and if you need anything else, please let me know. May I give you my phone number?”

She answered, “I cannot call you or take your number! This will make my husband jealous! He gets really jealous when men talk to me!”

I was shocked. “Did you get married? When was that?”

She smiled and said, “Yes, I got married a while ago and I am currently pregnant. I also have a four-year-old child.”

I could not stop my tears. My heart was aching due to her situation. “I wish you nothing but happiness and success,” I said as I quickly left.

I could not go home. I wandered the streets and the market. I felt lost!

The End

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