Vera Petrović: A novel

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Chapter Six

Chapter Six

“Next day, I got to the office on time. Dejan showed up after I did, and said with a laugh, ‘What! Are you competing with me or what? When you are done with the forms, let me know, please.’

“Sure I will.’ Then I started working, and before the end of the day, I finalized all the forms and notified Dejan.

“Good job. Tomorrow, we will do something totally different.’

“I went home and found the lady waiting for me. She had prepared food and was waiting for me to have dinner with her. We sat down, chatted, and went to bed.

“Next day, Dejan had placed some files on my desk and said, ‘I would like you to audit these accounts, please. Just double-check the final numbers.’

“The number of files was substantial. Days started to pass quickly, and every day I learned something new. I was eager and could not wait until the end of the month to get my paycheck. When I finally did, I felt like a wealthy person. I felt so confident because the number was much more than I expected.

“Actually, when I received my paycheck Dejan said, ‘Open a bank account and try to save some money!’

“I will, in the months to come.’

“As I was leaving the bank with my salary, I felt strong; I was solid and could stand on my feet again. I was certainly more confident and promised myself to maintain this job and be good at it. I needed to leave a good impression and prove to myself and to the person who hired me that it was not a mistake.

“I went straight to the old lady’s house and asked, ‘Would you like to have dinner at a fancy restaurant tonight or during the weekend?’

“I prefer the weekend.’

“She prepared dinner, and after that, I gave her the money for a month’s rent along with all the other expenses. I even gave her more than the agreed amount, and she objected by saying, ‘Daughter, try to save your money for the future and not to spend it all.’

“I promised her I would start saving next month. I explained to her how my colleague at the bank advised me to open a bank account and not to spend the whole amount.

“Great idea, Daughter!’

I thanked the Lord for putting these people in my way, like the old kind lady, the Mihajlović family as well as the bank Manager Mr. Ivan Živanović, Mr. Dejan Belić and all nice people whom I only wish a happy long life.

“Next day, I went to work as usual. Things started going smoothly, and I became more confident when it came to working. I tried to learn everything, whether it had to do with my work or the work of others. My relationship with everyone at the bank was great. However, I avoided socializing outside the working hours.

“I went out with the old lady to a restaurant on the weekend as we agreed earlier. We had a great dinner at a fancy restaurant. We had grilled fish with wine, and we really enjoyed the meal. Then we sat in a park close to the restaurant. The park was like a lady wearing all sorts of colors. It was full of birds and pigeons, which added to its beauty. Old people added to the friendly atmosphere of the park by feeding the lovely birds. Some old ladies did embroidery. The way the benches were designed, how comfortable and cozy they were, and the colors, all mixed so well to make a beautiful spot. The amazing Serbian Spruce trees were everywhere and added natural beauty. Lovely colorful flowers were scattered along the walkway, in addition to circles of flowers at the edges and a water fountain, which called for relaxation. You could feel drops of water flying towards your face from the fountain, which was refreshing. The lovely ambience was overwhelming, and we chatted and laughed and lost track of time. We then decided it was getting late and we should go home.

One day, as I was in the kitchen at the bank trying to make a cup of coffee, Dejan came in confused and he was trying to hide his face from me, so I knew that something came up.

I instantly asked: “what happened? Are you keeping secrets from me? After all the time we have worked together.”

He answered: “nothing yet!”

I continued: “would you like to talk about what concerns you?”

He answered nervously: “I told you nothing is up!”

Dejan was an honest friend in the bank and my friendship with him was great, I was only trying to help, rather than interfere in his affairs!

Suddenly, out of the blue, he started to cry hysterically! And said: “yesterday, my wife Gotsa, asked me about what I do for a living and where I work.”

I answered: “so what is that something a wife should not ask about?”

He answered with tears falling out of his eyes: “what are you saying? Are you serious? She knows everything about me and knows my coworkers, and the person in charge of me in addition to the type of work I have been doing in the past years…etc.”

I looked at him and said: “I am really sorry, I only thought that a person amidst business and the many occupations might forget. It happens to me sometimes, especially when I am confused or preoccupied! May I ask how old your wife is?”

He answered: “my wife is only two years younger than I am, in June, she will turn thirty-five years old.”

I answered: “is this the first time she asks questions which make you concerned?”

He answered reluctantly: “in fact, my daughter told me a couple of days ago a strange situation that occurred with her mother. She asked her mom to help her pick an outfit to hang out with her friends so she told me: “mother came in with me to pick clothes for me, but suddenly she turned around and went out.” My daughter Tania, snapped and said: “seriously mother? She repeated her words a number of times but in vain! Gotsa simply went to watch TV. Tania wanted to punish her mother so she went out without telling her, but Gotsa did not feel it! In the evening Tania told me everything and her mother was sitting with us, therefore, I asked her: “is that what happened?”

She answered: “I do not remember that!” Tania went to her bedroom in rage! I did not take things seriously and I thought Gotsa was simply punishing Tania for some reason!” So I asked again: “Dejan, if I may, you need to take your wife to the doctor and check her out, she might be suffering from a certain condition!”

He answered: “I totally agree! Things are getting worse!”

Then I added: “you know how much I respect you, if you need anything please let me know. I am willing to stand by your side and help you. We are more than coworkers, we are friends or brother and sister if I may say.”

He said with tears in his eyes: “Thank you, Vera! I really appreciate it!”

He sounded puzzled as if he was not aware of what is going on around him or what destiny holds for him!

I went home and had dinner with an old lady. However, as I was sitting with the old lady, I only thought of Dejan and his wife. I really respect this man, because he does not interfere in other people’s business unless someone seeks his help, or if he needs to clarify something at work. He is also one of the most experienced employees and I will never forget his chivalry with me when I started working at the bank! He advised me a lot as he did for everyone else.

Today, Monday, I felt my heart sinking and was quite concerned. I entered my office, placed my bag on the desk, and my coat on the hanger. I headed to Dejan’s office but unfortunately could not find him. I noticed that his paper bag which always accompanies him was not there either, and this told me that he did not come today, so I went to inquire from the secretary.

I asked: “Mira, where is Mr. Dejan Belić? He is not in his office!”

She answered right away: “he took a two-day leave.”

So I asked: “did he mention the reason? He barely takes leaves as far as I know!”

Mira said: “unfortunately, I have no idea because Dejan called Mr. Ivan directly without referring to me.”

I asked Mira: “can you please let me know when Mr. Dejan calls? thank you in advance!”

It was such a gloomy day, and my heart sinking feeling was certainly a bad omen. However, I decided to wait for two days until he comes back to work.

The two days passed but Dejan did not come back to work! I began to worry so I went to see Mira again, and asked: “Mira! What is going on? Did Dejan call?”

She responded: “I do not know! I don’t even know whether he extended his leave or not!”

So I said: “can you please provide me with his phone number?”

She answered: “of course!” then she added: “please Vera tell me if you know anything!”

I said: “of course, I will tell you all! We are coworkers and colleagues and we should stick together in hardships!”

She answered: “thank you, Vera, it seems you are the most worried person for Dejan!”

I said: “never mind, I am sure everyone is too!”

I took the phone number from Mira and went to use the phone in my office. I called Dejan but unfortunately, no one answered!

I finished work and headed home, but I was thinking about him on the way home, and as I was having dinner. After dinner, I called Dejan again and this time he answered: “yes, who is there?”

I answered: “it is Vera, you got us worried! What happened? How is your wife?”

He said in sorrow: “I do not know what to tell you! For the last couple of days, I have been taking her for x-rays, blood analysis, and examinations. We went from one doctor to another, but I did not get a clear cut answer until the moment! The doctor promised me that he will hold a meeting with other specialized doctors and have a consultation on her condition in the next couple of days. I am more worried than before, and the doctors’ confusion makes me anxious! We will wait to hear what the doctors have to say.”

I asked him: “are you coming back to the office or are you going to extend your leave?”

He answered: “I will probably extend my leave for a few more days!”

I offered him: “would you like me to do your work until you come back?”

He answered: “Thank you, Vera, I think Mr. Živanović will take care of everything, and he is aware that I will be on leave for the next couple of days. He will manage the distribution of my tasks on a number of colleagues.”

I asked him: “please take care of your wife and I am ready for help if you need anything!”

He said with a tone of gratitude: “ I will never forget this Vera, Thank you!”

I said with an optimistic tone: “see you soon, regards to your dear wife.”

I hang up but my heart was really aching due to Dejan’s suffering. I was also thinking of his daughter Tania but wished that God will heal her and that she will regain her good health. I went to bed and had a strange feeling, a feeling of sympathy, sorrow, pain, and sadness. It was a sleepless night for me.

The next day, I went to the bank, and as soon as I walked in, Mira called me and asked: “How is Mr. Dejan? Have you contacted him?”

I said: “I do not know what to tell you! I spoke to Mr. Dejan and things are not clear with regards to his wife’s sickness. He promised to tell me once he is updated.”

Mira answered: “Thank you, Vera!”

I said: “We all wish him all the best!”

“You are right,” she said

I went to my office and started working quickly in an attempt to keep my mind off thinking. I was occupying myself with work. I worked all day and did not have any food or drink until it was time to go home. I had a very strong headache and stomach ache as well and they could be the reason for the lack of food and drink!

Days passed by and I did not hear anything from Dejan, on the fourth or fifth day, he walked through the door and directly headed to Mr. Živanović’s office. He stayed there for nearly an hour and no one had a clue on what is going on in there. Dejan then came out and was exhausted, confused, and nervous. He wanted to get out of the bank without seeing anyone but I followed him and asked: “Mr. Dejan, can we please have coffee in my office?”

He answered: “it is not possible, I am very busy! But thank you anyway!”

I asked again nicely: “just for a few minutes! I promise I won’t keep you for a long time!”

He said: “please Vera! Not now! Can you call me in the evening?”

I said: “sure, I can!”

Mira came in a hurry and asked me: “how are things?”

“In fact, he was in no state to talk and I begged him for a few minutes in my office but he was in a hurry,” I said

“There must be something serious going on!” Mira said these words as if reading my mind!

I finished work and went straight home, I sat down and was in a mess. Despite my headache and stomach, I could not eat or even think about food. I had a cigarette and a glass of water and tried to calm myself down before calling Dejan. After a while, I called him.

He picked up the phone quickly: “Hello Vera”

“Can you tell me now please?” I asked

He answered: “the doctors have concluded the condition of Gotsa after a long consultation, and they called me and Gotsa’s mother to tell us about her condition.”

I asked: “what did they conclude?”

He answered in detail: “she suffers from a neurological disease, the doctors call it Lewy Bodies dementia. The reason for this disease is unclear but the condition is related to an abnormal protein level in the brain, the symptoms could fluctuate but they usually worsen by time. In the early phases of the disease, a fluctuation between normal behavior, abnormal behavior, cognitive ability, and mood swings could occur. The central characteristic of this disease is gradual dementia which is manifested in deficiency of attention and slight anomalies that could evolve to severe dementia. In such a case, the incapacity of an individual to perform normal daily tasks and failing to identify family members in addition to other cognitive, behavioral, and mood problems can make an individual almost incapacitated. The other characteristics of such disease include fluctuating cognition, optical hallucination, and the impulsive movements of the Parkinson's disease such as Sclerosis of the body, the shaking, the arbitrary walking, and the unemotional facial expression and/or lack of coordination. Her mother and I spent a whole hour trying to understand it. It was a shock like no other! We could not think of how to tell Tania about this!”

He spoke and tried to catch his breath as if he was going upstairs! He tried to recall the words of the doctor, without thinking about them!

I asked him in pain: “Dejan, is there any treatment for this neurological disease?”

He answered in pain: “this was the first question I asked the doctors! And they were straightforward to the extent that I blamed them for putting an end to the last hope! They said that unfortunately, it is a gradual disease (it occurs over years!) despite the fact that the rate of the disease progress varies from one person to another. Patients who are diagnosed with this disease usually live for a range of five to eight years then die because of a number of complications (paralysis, falling, malnutrition, difficulty in swallowing, or pneumonia) and this is a disease which is hard to manage by care takers or family members because of the fast progress and deterioration in the condition of the patient. This disease also shuts down the brains thus making it less functional. Patients require daily care or home care for those who are in the advanced phases of the disease.”

I consoled him by saying: “I do not know what to tell you Dejan, but I really hope the Lord can help her in such a disease and grant you and your daughter all the strength.”

He said: “I do not know what to do! The mother of Gotsa decided to leave her house and come live with us, to help her daughter in her plight. She lives in another far away city after the death of her husband, yet she told me she will be moving in with us when she deals with her house.”

I asked him: “how about Gotsa herself? Was she told of her condition?”

He answered: “ of course not! I explained to her that she is a bit exhausted and will be alright after a while. I also told her that the medications prescribed by the doctors will make her much better!”

I offered him and said: “would you like me to come over to help you until her mother arrives?”

He said: “of course not! You cannot leave your work! Besides, I will stay by her side until her mother comes, I and Tania will take good care of her, especially after knowing about her condition. As for me, the problem is how to tell my daughter!”

I encouraged him saying: “she will understand, and only needs some time to adapt to the new situation.”

He answered: “I really hope so and I pray it won’t affect her psychologically.”

I begged him again: “Dejan please consider me as a family member and call me whenever you need someone to speak to!”

He confirmed: “sure Vera, days have proved you are a very loyal friend and I would not speak or seek advice from anyone else.”

I felt he got exhausted from the phone call so I said: “I will leave you to rest, and I hope we will meet soon!”

“Goodbye for now, and thank you again.” He said

He answered: “don’t mention it! Goodbye”

He hangs up and I felt that this person does not deserve this destiny! Pain needs no words to be felt! His tone and expressions told a lot about his suffering. Tears that fall amidst silence ache a lot! The loss of close people is sometimes less painful than witnessing them helpless and hurt! When loved ones are gone, one feels a lot of sorrow but when they suffer before one’s eyes, they fell pain, and cannot do anything to help them! I really sympathize with Dejan’s sorrow for sadness is a transitional period between loved ones and friends. I feel volcanos of sorrow, love, fear, and pain in Dejan’s heart but I really hope the Lord can grant him patience in such a dilemma!

Today, I tried to tell Mira of Dejan’s wife and I asked her to tell the rest of the colleagues of his circumstances. Mira asked me: “what does that mean eventually?”

I answered: “I have no idea, Mira!”

She added: “it is a hopeless case, isn’t it”

I said: “only God knows!”

I left her and went back to my office and started working like a machine. I even attempted to keep my mind off it, but I failed! I did not know what to do! Deep inside, I told myself that staying away from everyone makes you avoid a lot of suffering and pain but simultaneously. I believe that even animals live in herds and do not alienate itself from each other and stick closer to each other! Plights make you stronger and more tolerant, leaving is painful, and waiting is painful and they are both interrelated to each other and affect it!

Days pass by and each one of us minds his own business, and one day after having dinner and watching TV, the phone rang and it was Dejan on the other end. It has been weeks since we have heard from him.

I instantly replied: “good evening Dejan, how are you and how is everyone?”

He asked timidly: “am I calling in an inconvenient time?”

I confirmed: “no, not at all!”

He said: “I apologize for not calling earlier!”

I answered: “Never mind, just tell me what happened?”

He replied in sorrow: “things are deteriorating and sometimes she fails to remember us or maybe she is not trying to remember us! I am not sure!”

I asked: “how about Tania?”

He answered: “it has been a decisive and difficult time for Tania, but her grandmother is staying with us which contributed to alleviating the situation for Tania! She tells her stories every day and helps her with her studies. She also plays with her and does so too with Gotsa, to remind her of her childhood but there is no reaction!”

“What do you mean by that,” I asked

He said: “she does not respond to her mother! And this made me lose my nerves and try to interfere but Gotsa’s mother told me that she experienced the same situation with her own mother!”

I asked in surprise: “what are you saying? Is her disease due to family genes?”

He answered: “I doubt it, the doctors never indicated this disease could be passed down by family members, but her mother told me that her own mother suffered from a certain type of dementia to the extent that she would leave the house and not know how to get back to it!”

I asked him again: “how about the doctors? What do they think about all of this?”

“The doctors know well how such cases end!” he answered

I said: “I hope she gets well soon, please take care of yourself and Tania’s!”

He answered: “We are alright, I apologize for calling this time and bothering you!”

“Not at all! As a matter of fact, I wanted to call and check on you!”

He responded: “thank you, Vera, for your concern.”

I answered: “a friend in need! We are more of a family than friends!”

“Indeed we are!” I said

“Promise to call me and talk to me about updates,” I said

He answered: “I do. Goodbye for now”

“Goodbye,” I said

I thought and wished no one could get such a disease and told myself what of I have such a disease? Gotsa has her husband, mother, daughter, and friends, but whom would I have! No one! Life is really difficult without friends and loved ones! I do not have a family to take care of me, I only have a few friends. A long time ago, I heard that friendship means one spirit lives in two different bodies, but even this kind of friendship is in disguise for it hides other motives!

I am aware, life goes through many curves and is full of ups and downs and whether we like it or not, will pass! Sweet or sour, it will go on! Nothing is fixed, and nothing stays the same! The train stops in a number of stations but it eventually goes on its way! Sometimes, I contemplate my situation and ask myself can I be more resilient? Can I hold on? Am I brave enough to survive until the end? I need to reassure myself that I can and I will! I am healthy, in a good financial situation, leading a life that is only a dream for some people. However, if one expects too much of life the consequences would not be great, for life is fluctuating and has a lot of variables. One can barely control it, you may control some situations but not all. It is really important for an individual to realize his strength, capacity, and energy and try to learn out his bitter experience, and how to avoid them in the future. Life is a test bank and we need to withdraw from this bank whether we like it or not! In some instances, we enjoy the illusions for they enable us to tolerate life, unlike facts that confront us and rid us of all illusions! We are demanded to live the sweet and bitter of this life and thus we need to learn how to enjoy it and get used to that. We need to live and be hopeful and be happy with what we have until we have more!

I thought about so many things that I experienced as I was watching TV. There was a program on Slobodan Milošević who was delivering a speech on Kosovo and Montenegro to rally of around 15000 Serbs telling them “you will not be beaten up anymore”. This was one of the times I felt bitter because I knew where these words would lead us and how the outcomes would be. The comments of the Serbian leader Ivan Stambolić confirmed my concerns when he said, later that same evening, that the words of Slobodan Milošević mean “the end of Yugoslavia”. There is always someone to confirm our insights about the close end!

I went to work in the morning and was surprised to see Dejan there, he had not called me for a while and did not come to the bank either! I went to talk to him and asked: “Hello, how are things? You promised to call me, didn’t you?”

He answered: “indeed, but I did not want to bother you with bad news.”

“So what do you intend to do?” I asked

“Things are really deteriorating, I came to hand in my resignation and finalize my legal paperwork.” He said

I asked in surprise: “what! Why would you do such a thing?”

He answered: “I am really sorry for not telling you earlier Vera but I was really busy. Gotsa passed away!”

I answered: “what!”

He sadly answered: “she passed away quickly as if trying to rid us of pain and concern!”

I consoled him by saying: “how did that happen?”

He answered: “her situation got worse and her mental condition declined as if something became active all of a sudden and sped things up. I felt that she was aware of the torture we were going through! She was incapable of eating her food nor use the toilet! Sometimes, she would look at us with tears on her face, she did not say a word as if she was trying to apologize for all the trouble and torture she had caused us! On the day and hour she passed away, she cuddled us all one at a time, and when she hugged Tania and it really hurt me. It was like she was trying to tell me this is what is left of Gotsa! Please take good care of her! Tania’s tears poured down as if they were held in for a long time. Gotsa placed her lips on Tania’s tears and licked them, she could not stand the plenty of tears and simply passed away! Destiny was trying to make things easier for all of us indeed!”

He spoke as my tears started to fall! So I asked: “why are you resigning then! It is over!”

He justified by saying: “Tania is going through some difficult time, so I called my brother in Australia and he suggested I should join him there to work at his store.”

“Do you think you are doing the right thing? By running away?” I said

He answered: “it is not about running away, but a sort of change for Tania to put what we have been through behind.”

I felt that he already made up his mind, therefore I told him: “I wish you all the best, you know how much we love you and appreciate you as a friend Dejan. You are a great friend and the favorite for most of the employees at the bank. Everyone was worried about you while you were absent!”

He answered in gratitude: “I know that and appreciate it for each one of you all!”

“Goodbye Dejan, I wish the coming days will only hold goodness and happiness for you and your daughter!” I said

“Thank you for being a great friend Vera!” he replied

I went home relieved that the suffering of a dear friend is over, but thought about Dejan’s decision to leave for Australia! Why would he do such a thing? He was searching for the proper words as he spoke as if he was suffocated by certain issues deep inside! How can a friend we respect and love leave so suddenly! I did not go through the suffering of Dejan and I hope I will never do, but can sweet memories be erased so easily, can friendship and love for others be disregarded? Leaving means putting all memories behind you, regardless of whether leaving means death or leaving for another place! Why would one pluck out a perennial tree with beautiful fruit and leaves? To pluck it out means removing it from its environment to another that may not be convenient for it! The leaving of friends makes us more distant! It is similar to us leaving ourselves, it causes scars of memories, and affection which are hard to heal! it also leaves a negative impact on us! Silent leaving is the most difficult where one forces himself to stay silent where you should speak! You feel bitter, sorrow, and pain. We feel sorry to lose friends but are they sorry to leave us!

“Years passed by, and they were full of complications and trouble. Although it was my youth, I felt old and homeless and in the body of a victim. I learned throughout these years to control my temper and to be more aggressive because wolves were stalking me, seizing opportunities to attack. I was targeted by people with envious souls, haters, and stalkers. However, I was resilient and stood against all such complications. Those years taught me to be tough and even fiercer. They simply taught me how to be me!

“The most significant milestone was getting a house. I bought a house to live in freedom, in an area close to my heart, in the spirit of Belgrade and on the most beautiful street, Milana Rakića Street. I studied in this area, I worked in it, and it was such a peaceful neighborhood. God had helped me get this house because I suffered a lot, at such a young age! I had no idea what the old days would carry for me.

“Today is like yesterday, but who would have believed I became the deputy manager! I am now the second most senior person at the bank after the manager. Some faces changed, and others came, but my relationship with my colleagues is strong. I do my job perfectly and never allow anyone to cross the line. I also became more mature and more experienced in dealing with everybody at the bank. The relationships were always based on respect. Here the first chapter of my life has ended, where I secured a shelter, which will keep me until the day I die.

“Father used to remind me of a famous saying, “If you sleep on a bed of roses in your youth, you shall sleep on thorns in your old days.” I never thought about it, and I used to laugh at the way father said it! We all repeated it at home until we memorized it. I always asked myself, ‘do we really sleep on a bed of roses in our youth? Will Father’s prophecy become true?’ We never slept on roses so that we would see thorns in our old days! However, I started planning how I would preserve my early days. I decided to do my best to avoid desperate days, particularly after what I had suffered from my family members. If my family did this to me, what would foreigners do? No one would have mercy! Would I succeed in what I sought? I will leave it for days!

“These were my beginnings.”

Vera looked at me with pain in her eyes and went on to say, “I tried to make you aware of the main events in my first chapter of life! And I will continue with more in the coming days if you wish to hear my story until the end!”

“Of course. I am much honored to have gained your trust enough for you to tell me all these things, and I am all ears to hear more about your story!”

It was a bit after four am, and she looked shattered, utterly exhausted because she hadn’t stopped talking all night. It was like listening to a high-quality tape, full of honesty. She never stuttered or hesitated; she was very natural and spontaneous, like an open book. She struggled to stand up as if all the burdens she had spoken of were pulling her back. She went straight to bed.

I went back to my bedroom asking myself; can isolation and loneliness lead to such conditions? The lady communicates well with me so how can loneliness be the reason! She tells me her story perfectly and in a consistent manner, but why would she spend long hours telling me all these details? Can’t someone simply lead a normal life! Has she got depressed to the extent that she gave in to her reality! Or has loneliness led her to depression and isolation! I am positive that she suffers from a mental condition due to stress and this is obvious in her yelling every morning, or even speaking to herself as if she s conversing with someone! She is obviously blaming herself for what is happening to her! She is a bright intelligent lady rather than a socially retarded individual! She could be socially progressive and her isolation reflects that others leave no positive impression on her! In other words, they simply waste her time.

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