Vera Petrović: A novel

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Chapter Five

Chapter Five

“I went to a park close to the location of the bank and sat to contemplate the green trees and the cute little dog dancing in joy with his owner. Is it meant to be for me? Am I going to be in comfort like the little dog? Will I dance to the news of getting the job? This job will save me and make me independent! Or maybe I will sway like those trees as if they are listening to music. I started daydreaming about eventually having a paycheck every single month.

“Moreover, I daydreamed that I would buy beautiful clothes and go to restaurants at which I only dreamt of eating. I would travel for my summer vacation. Maybe those dreams were a sign that something good would happen when I meet the bank manager. I jumped up and told myself that arriving early would make him feel my enthusiasm and diligence. I got on the bus for one station and got off in front of the bank. The glass façade was shining like a mirror, and it reflected my image and showed the real me. I tried to check my overall looks—was my hair tidy or not? Were my shoes clean or not? I took a good look at myself and entered. There was an aura, but I decided to move forward, so I went to a lady at the opposite desk and said, ‘Good morning ma’am.’

“Good morning. How can I help you?’

“I have an appointment with the bank manager. He asked me to come to see him today.’

“Please have a seat. I will call him right away.’

“After a few minutes, she made the call and told me to go straight to the end of the hallway, and then left. From there, the secretary would take me to see him. I went there and greeted the secretary, who smiled at me and nodded her head to return my greetings then walked ahead of me to take me to see the manager. He asked me to come in, and I could smell alcohol in his office. Once I sat down, he made a call, and in came a young man.

“The manager said, ‘This is the young lady I told you about. I need you to find her a suitable position to work right away.’

“I tried to express my appreciation, but he just said, ‘Save it for later.’ “I went with Mr. Vlada Milanković, who asked, ‘Do you know the manager personally?’

“No!’

“Can you type well?’

“Sure, I can!’

“Tomorrow, bring your diploma. You will need to sign some papers. Then, I will place you in an office with a colleague who will guide you through your tasks.’

I was pleased and confused simultaneously and asked: “is that all?”

He answered: “yes, in case I need any further documents, I will notify you.”

I thanked him and said: “I hope to be up to your expectations.”

He smiled and answered: “I hope you are.”

At this point, he looked at me and said: “you may leave now, and we shall meet tomorrow.”

I thanked him and left.

“Thank you. See you later.’

“I got up and left in joy. I was so happy, and tears were pouring like rain out of my eyes after a long dry season. It was torrential rain indeed, and I had mixed feelings, happy but raging. However, I was thrilled and said to myself that maybe my dreams are coming true. Perhaps I only needed some luck. I would need to exert a lot of effort and persevere. I also needed to be daring to realize my dream. Suddenly, I recalled my father, and could see him blaming me or maybe encouraging me! Laughing or crying, happy or sad? It was such a mixed feeling! I could not tell at this point, things were so confusing. Yet I tried to focus and went right to where I kept my belongings on campus and picked up my suitcase. Then I went to the Landlord’s Fair to fetch a room. I instantly saw a landlady who was offering an apartment for rent. She was an old lady who stood alone, so I approached her. She looked really simple and humble. Wrinkles had found their way onto her pretty face, and her hair was as white as snow.

“I asked her, ‘Do you have a room for rent?’

“Yes.’

“I need a room for a week, but could I pay at the end of the week until I get some cash?’

“Sure, on one condition!’

“Name it.’

“No men in the room at all! And if this does happen, then you will have to leave right away!’

“I agreed. ‘Let’s go!’

“We went on our way. The lady’s home was close to the train station. We entered the room, which was a small, dark space. The walls were painted white, but they had turned yellowish over time. The rug was ancient and seemed like a piece of cloth. The furniture was straightforward and humble. In the corner, there was an unsophisticated bed. On the opposite side, there was a wooden wardrobe which would have best fit in a museum. In the middle of the room, you could see a square wooden table of medium height, which swayed right and moved every time someone went by it. At the table were several mismatched chairs. The curtains were grey and hung in a very random manner. But all of these details did not matter as long as I got the room.

“The old lady came and said, ‘Come here, daughter. I will show you the bathroom and kitchen, which of course you can use whenever you need it. But you will need to pay an extra amount for power and water.’

“No problem.’

“I decided that whatever she said, I would agree to because I had no other place to go to tonight except this little room.

“Are you hungry, daughter?’

“Yes, I am starving! I was swamped today, and totally forgot to eat since the morning.’

“She prepared a meal, which I never expected. I only needed to eat a little something, anything! After dinner, I asked her, ‘Can I have a bath, please?’ She nodded her head in consent.

“I went into my room, grabbed my towel, and went to have a hot shower. Then, off to bed. I felt so ecstatic and on top of the world. I started daydreaming about my new job and imagined myself there. So many scenarios came into my head, and I was positive that this job would influence me and make me an independent individual. I knew I would have a bright future, and that this job would influence me positively, and it would definitely affect my self-confidence.

“The future was ahead of me to discover and explore its depths, through which I would uncover my abilities, my skills, and even myself. Work expresses the feasibility of a person’s existence in this life and helps him realize his goals. At the same time, hopes and aspirations are only generated through hard work, and when one comes to peace with his own weaknesses and strengths. He can succeed in different work approaches, such as through refining the self, exercising patience, showing good manners, strengthening social skills, and mastering listening. Self-satisfaction would be the result, and it is indeed the fruit of independence, whether materialistically or morally.

“Next day, I woke up really early to go to work on time. I arrived at the bank and was pretty punctual, and went to see Mr. Vlada Milanković, whom I met yesterday. He smiled and said, ‘You look quite diligent today! When you start in earnest, you will come with a totally different mood.’

“I smiled at him.

“He said, ‘Follow me, please.’ We entered another office, and I followed him.

“He said, ’This is your colleague, Dejan Belić, He will be your supervisor.’

“Mr. Dejan asked, ‘Would you like something to drink?’

“Coffee, if possible.’

“Sure. We can make it together so you can get acquainted with the kitchen and how to use it.’ Then he asked me to fill out some forms in a specific way, so I took the forms and started filling them out.

“Do you smoke?’

“Yes, I do. But I am not a heavy smoker.’

“You are too young to be a smoker. Did you have problems in life?’

“Yes, troubles pushed me to smoke.’

“You are too young for problems, dear.’

“Life’s complications do not differentiate according to age!’

“You got that right, indeed!’

“I continued with the forms and was thrilled. I barely felt tired, and time was flying by so fast. All of a sudden, Dejan said, ‘Have you had breakfast?’

“Yes, I did. Thanks for asking.’

“Do you find these forms exhausting?’

“Not at all. It is fun for me.’

“This is only the beginning. Later you will be introduced to more difficult and exhausting tasks.’

“At the end of the day, I noticed that Dejan carried his newspaper and a brown briefcase, which probably included some paperwork to be finished at home. He said as he was leaving, ‘See you tomorrow.’

“See you tomorrow.’

“I placed the completed forms in one spot and the ones which needed to be completed in another spot on the same desk for the next day. I carried my work and went to see Mr. Vlada, who was preparing to leave. He came back in and said, ‘Yes, Vera, is everything alright?’

“Yes, sir, of course. I came to hand you the diploma you requested yesterday and sign the papers you told me about.’

“Of course, thank you for reminding me. I was swamped today, and that is why I sent you right away to Dejan, but please have a seat. Can you hand me the diploma and sign these papers? If there is anything unclear for you, please do not hesitate to ask.’

“Sure, I will.’

“I started signing the papers in order and was not reading anything. I just wanted to get through with my appointment officially today and not tomorrow! And I surely did.

“Congratulations! You are now officially an employee of this bank. I wish you all success in this job.’

“I stood up, thanked him, and excused myself.

“Do not forget to buy us, sweets! Ha-ha! I am just kidding!’

“I promise I will.’

“I went home in a rush and felt that the distance between home and the bank was extremely short. I thought it took only moments. I did not feel time or the road due to the plethora of ideas racing in my head. I arrived and found the old lady in front of me, so I kissed her in joy. I was dancing and rejoicing, so the old lady asked me, ‘what is it, daughter? You look much happier than yesterday.’

I told her the reason and went to my bedroom.

I started thinking about this day and the incidents that took place were all in my interest. The most person I liked and who was like a father at work, was Mr. Dejan Belić. He resembled my father and was very respectful and kind to me. All his characteristics call anyone to hold respect for him. The way he treated me was very transparent, loving, and honest. He was far from being a fox or a wolf, which waited to prey. He was very genuine and respectful and this way he gained my trust. He used to ask me to do things in a very straightforward manner and was very helpful whenever I face obstacles. He managed to provide me with security at the workplace when trouble arises.

He was always extremely generous to me through his courteous words and respectful manner. On the first day at work for me, he taught me how to make coffee and said that I could use anything in the kitchen to make me feel at ease and break the ice. He never speaks badly of anyone nor invades the privacy of any colleague. All of these characteristics resembled my father in addition to compassion and being considerate. In terms of looks, he looks like my father with that smiley face, which hides a lot of sorrow and suffering and no one is aware of that! His height is more or less like my father’s, even his hair color, which is light brown is similar to that of dad’s. They are both well built, their eyes and faces are very expressive and tell a lot. As for their hands, they both have big hands that are always open to give, helping, and loving. The first time I saw Mr. Dejan Belić I instantly liked him because he looked like my father and for the second time, I like him more because he behaves like my father! In the middle of these thoughts, the old lady called me to have dinner.

When I entered the kitchen, food was modest and in small portions, yet I found it the best in the world. The old lady has gone through the trouble of preparing it herself and she sought no interest or purpose. Despite her poor situation, she has a proud soul and a lot of kindness. I thanked God for all these kind people he places in my path, such as this old lady, the Mihajlović family, the bank manager as well as Mr. Dejan Belić. I only wish them all long and happy lives.

After dinner, the old lady asked me “What is your story daughter? You are too young to live on your own and you happen to be very beautiful, and men would be eager to have you. They always prey vulnerable ladies.”

I laughed at her expressions and said, “You are absolutely right, and I have met some of those wolves and foxes but I preyed on them and did not let them devour me. I was tough enough to teach them a lesson. As for my story dear mother, my mom, brother, and sister kicked me out of the house! My dad’s house, not theirs! And when I was encountered with so much grudge and hate by my own folks, I left them and never looked back and I promised myself never to go back there again! This is my story in short!”

“How about you, mother? What is your story?

She answered; “My story started in the village, where my husband Dokić used to work as a truck driver in Belgrade. He was a loving religious man and I used t love and respect him a lot. One day, my spouse came home with a friend, a bus driver, his name was Nebojša Milanović. I prepared food for all, Sarma (A traditional meal), and I cooked it professionally. It is cooked in different ways but I prepared it with vine leaves, rice, and lamb meat. Some people use cabbage and some use Beet leaves or even Rawand (a kind of green leaves). I added some Serbian spices, which added an aroma and a lovely color to it. It was quite appetizing and in Serbia, there is a famous saying, “a woman who cooks Sarma well, is a real woman indeed”. I served it with Serbian pickles and Serbian Chilli paste, so the friend ate a lot and started drinking alcohol with my husband, they drank nearly two bottles of Rakia, after which my husband fell deep asleep, but Mr. Nebojša was sober and started approaching me and tried to kiss me. I totally refused but he was out of control, he took my clothes off and raped me.

During this, my son Zalatko who was about to graduate from the police academy, and my daughter Anga, a senior student at the School of Law, came in. Zlatko pulled Nebojša off me and threw him on the floor and he looked at me in despise and so did my daughter. I tried to explain but they wouldn’t listen. My son threw Nebojša out and warned him not to come to our house again!

My husband knew nothing about it and my children told him. Days went by and I felt a deep wound in my heart due to the bad treatment I received from my own children. My husband noticed how they treated me and warned them but Zlatko went to the city to work after graduation and Anga started a job at a Court in the city as well.

My husband and I lived together and the children never visited which left their father in pain so he started drinking and died in a car accident, as he was drunk. After he died, my children rented this house for me and when things got better Zalatko and Anga bought it for me after selling the house in the village. I have had a very dry relationship and never paid me a visit unless they hear from the neighbours that I am sick. I try to save some money by renting out this room to be a source of income for me. Zlatko got married and had Goran, my grandson, whom I have never met so far, and Anga got married to a drunk man and lives nearby. I advised her not to marry him, and she simply said, “Is it because he is a drunk? Yours was a drunk himself! And your lover was drunk! I could not take the cruel words and left. Her words were too rough and they hurt me. However, I wish them both happiness. This is my story.

She was breathless as she was telling her story and she was tearing apart from the inside but she tried not to show it. Therefore, I tried to encourage her by saying:

“Do not worry, you and I make the loveliest family ever!”

I was consoling her and myself at the same time;

“You will see how I will take good care of you and help you out as if I am your own!”

She laughed as if she was forcing herself to, and said: “I know that and I am sure of it, you are such a kind, honest lady.”

She got exhausted due to the painful memories, so I excused her to go to bed so that I will wake up energetic.

“I thanked for the food and said, ‘When I receive my first paycheck, I will take you to a nice restaurant for a real sumptuous meal.’

“The old lady laughed and said, ‘Is that a promise?’

“Sure, it is!’

“I promised to pay by the end of the week if the bank agrees on giving me part of my paycheck in advance. Otherwise, I told her I would pay at the end of the month.

“I was appointed at the bank today, and I am so excited about it!’

“Congratulations, daughter!’

“The old lady nodded her head and said, ‘I have never done this before, but I really like you. I can feel your innocence and spontaneity, besides. Your face shows a lot of kindness.’

“I said, ‘I have no one but you now, so please be a mother and let me be your daughter.’

“She started crying and said, ‘My own children, who were a part of me, have left me and went on their own in this cruel world. However, I will be happy to call you my daughter from now on!’

“I know, and I am sure of it! You are a kind honest person, but let me tell you a story, my mother told me a couple of times, and this made me know it by heart for a long time without realizing its objectives. When I grew older, I understood it and knew what it aimed at. The story was about a king with two boys, one was sneaky and unjust, but the other was just and kind. After the death of their father, the sneaky unjust son said to his fair and kind brother: “stay away from me, we cannot live together anymore!” he gave him three hundred golden coins and a horse and said: “This is your share of our father’s inheritance.”

The kind fair brother took his share and was about to leave and said: “thank God for this small portion of the kingdom!”

After a while, the two brothers met again on the road, each on his horseback, so the fair brother said to the unjust one: “May God help you and guide your way brother.”

The sneaky brother said: “God only gives you evil! So why do you keep mentioning his name!” he added: “wrong is better than right!”

The fair kind brother answered: “I can bet you that right is better than wrong!”

They bet on one hundred golden coins, and agreed that the first man they meet should set the bet and judge whether right or wrong is better! As they were walking, they met a devil riding a horse. This devil changed his looks to be that of a monk. They asked him: “Which is better right or wrong?”

The devil answered: “Wrong!”

The fair kind brother lost the bet and paid one hundred golden coins then they bet again on another hundred and for the third time on another hundred until the fair brother lost all his money in addition to his horse, then he said:

“Thank God! I do not have any golden coins, but I still have my eyes and I will bet you again that right is better than wrong!”

His brother took his brother’s eyes out without waiting for any judge and yelled: “you are without eyes now! Let us see how right will help you!”

The fair brother who was in a mess still thanked the Lord and said: “I lost my eyes for the sake of God! And now I pray for you brother! Can you give me some water in a bowl so that I can wash my wound and wet my lips? Can you hold my hand and place me under the spruce tree.”

The unjust brother agreed, so he gave him some water in a bowl and left him under the spruce tree.

As the desperate fair brother was standing next to the spring, he heard at night some fairies which were bathing in the spring saying to each other: “did you know that the king’s daughter has leprosy? The king called for all doctors to treat her but none could. Had someone taken this spring water, in which we bathe and gave it to her for a night, she would heal. It would heal her whether deaf, limp, or blind. Anyone who bathes in this water shall heal!” at this point, the rooster cried and the fairies disappeared.

The fair brother heard their talk so he dragged himself despite the pain and crawled on four from under the spruce tree to the spring, washed his eyes, and regained his sight instantly. Then he filled a bowl of water and went to the king whose daughter suffers from leprosy. He said: “I came to heal your daughter! Can you bring her to me and she shall become better within one night.”

When the king heard those words, he rushed to his daughter’s room and admitted the fair brother to it. The fair brother gave his orders of washing the princess with the water he brought. After a day and a night, the princess was completely healed from this bloody disease.

The king rejoiced and gave his orders of giving half his kingdom and possessions to the fair brother, and made him his son in law! Thus the fair brother married the princess and became the first man in the kingdom after the king.

This news spread quickly around the kingdom and got to the person who said: “wrong is better than right!”

He said to himself: “my brother found his wealth under the spruce tree so he went some water in a bowl, and sat under the spruce tree, then he took his own eyes out with a knife!

At night, the fairies came to bathe in the spring and said of how to heal the king’s daughter. They said: “someone heard us talking about the king’s daughter and perhaps someone is listening now! Let us find out! When they looked under the spruce tree, they saw the man who came seeking wealth and has always said “wrong is better than right!” they stacked him and tore him apart into four pieces! This way justice was served.

I told you this story because I was always trying to do the right thing just like the fair brother. I have always been trying to abstain from doing wrong but my son and daughter did not listen well when I tried to defend myself, and they treated me as if I had Leprosy! Instead of helping me, they stayed away from me as if I was dangerous, although I am really innocent. So do you think this changed me, and that I started to say wrong is better than right? On the contrary! Since the death of my husband, I have maintained my vows and never approached a man ever since!

She spoke with a rattle in her voice. She was breathless as if she was ascending a mountain, and was defending herself even in the last days of her life! I looked at her: “listen, mother, I did not say the full truth when you asked me about my family, I only told you part of it. I do not like to talk about the past because it stinks and it only leads to headaches and pain. The last part which I never told anyone so far is the following: I was almost sixteen years old and was aware of everything around me. One day I was at school, and my father was at work. My brother and sister were at the university, I had my period and bled, so I rushed to the headteacher and told her. She instantly asked me to go home and tell my mother, who should help me deal with it. Therefore, I went home early. I arrived and opened the door, and headed to my mother’s bedroom to find her in bed with our neighbor, Mr. Rajko Golić in a very embarrassing situation! This man was one of my father’s closest friends and my father saw him as a brother. She looked at me in surprise and could not say anything. His back was in front of me and he did not feel me coming in. after a few minutes uncle Rajko rushed out. I sat in my bedroom and my mother knocked at my door. She said: “What brought you home so early?”

I answered: “the headteacher allowed me to come home because I had my period at school.”

She asked again: “Do you need help?”

I answered: “no, but I need an explanation for what I have just witnessed.”

She said snobbishly: “this is the real situation!”

I said in surprise: “what do you mean?”

She answered with a lot of boldness: “your father is why I do this!”

“How is it so?” I asked

She said: “he has a mistress across the street, and I know her very well! Your father always goes to her place.”

I knew my father, and I am sure of his sound conduct! So I said: “do you think this story can justify your shameful doing?”

She answered without hesitation: “I am not in an investigation session! This is absolutely none of your business, in case you tell your father what you saw, a lot of problems will arise in this house!”

I started crying and asked in a lot of innocence: “my father loves you and he is loyal to you. He goes to work and comes home on time every day so how could you do such a thing?”

She answered: “you are too young to understand!”

I said furiously: “ I do understand and see such things every day!”

She continued: “forget what you saw and we can resume our life, just like before!”

I wanted to inquire about something so I asked: “do you mean this will happen again in the future?”

She answered in a victim’s tone: “if your father decides to continue in his adventures, then I will do so too!”

I said: “I am your real daughter and you should set an example for me!”

She answered: “when you grow up, you will experience getting hurt by men and how you only seek revenge in such situations!”

I said: “wouldn’t it be better for everybody if you could confront my father?”

She answered: “doing the right thing is not always the best thing to do! Confronting him would only make him more aggressive, and thus the consequences would be unpredictable!”

In fact, I could not believe the justifications of my mother! I was categorically sure than my father would never do what she claims! Nevertheless, I decided to keep this secret to prevent my family from getting apart! You would understand because you told me the story of right and wrong! I justified that the mother was always jealous of me and of how dad treated me, but this was not the real reason! She knew I knew her secret and that no one knew of her ill-doing but myself!

We can overlook right and wrong sometimes! Right becomes wrong in a certain situation and the other way round! However, a human being and his principles govern such circumstances.”

“Oh, daughter! Your mother’s doing was certainly wrong, regardless of her justifications. Wrongdoing should never be addressed with wrongdoings! For me, my children believe they were doing the right thing in their viewpoint. No matter how many times I attempted to clarify what took place, they simply refused to listen.

However, the difference between me your children is that they were not sure of what they witnessed, but in my case, my mother did not try to deny what she committed. She even said that she will resume in that relationship, and I witnessed everything in my own eyes!”

She sounded really exhausted from such painful memories, so I excused by saying: “I need to go to bed because I have to wake up early tomorrow.”

I replied: “good night daughter.”

“She was exhausted due to the painful memories, so I excused her to go to bed so that I would wake up energetic.

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