Manana – english version

17 April 2024|Roberta Nikšić


It means thank you in Pashto. It is among the first words I learned among friends and passengers at the train station in Rijeka. They call themselves travelers. I know how to dress them in their language: butuna, jurab, patlun, banin, sweater, jacket, I know when the water is jah, cold, or warm, gerem. That is quite enough for us to understand. Likewise, it is clear to us that we cannot tell our life stories to each other in English, because it is foreign, foreign and poor, poor, not sufficient for all our experiences. That’s why we stick to the basics of the native language and viewing. The fewer words were spoken, the better the eyes would understand. Boots are rare and precious, there are never enough of them, comfortable walking shoes. I will tell them saba, tomorrow. They laugh at these attempts because yesterday was also tomorrow. Every day is tomorrow here. Nothing at all. No shoes. Djurab nothing. No socks. They come to terms with it. Tea what? There is tea.

What I am writing, as if it is fiction, are some remote islands from Blaise Cendrar’s poem: “islands on which I will never land… islands unforgettable and nameless.” I’m throwing my shoes off the deck because I’d like to come to you.“

The reality outside these lines is so bizarre, when I turn my nose outside the station, I am greeted by passing city buses, swaying leaves, colors in the treetops, and a clear cloudless sky, and the days pass like that. The rains become more frequent, the roads are waterlogged, buses continue to pass, and leaves stick to the streets. Invisible people sleep on the platforms, trains pass, buses fill up, media arrive, passengers leave, and three buses a day. It is repeated every day, patlun nothing, jurab what, depending on the donations. The dilapidated station building overlooks the street, and behind it, an open-air musafirkhana, the home of Pashtuns, every day a leaf flies somewhere, people carry umbrellas, Syrians with children call them shams, the traffic lights are red, yellow, and green, people hurry to work. Buses, three daily lines are filling up, stores are filling up, and people are bringing donations. Passengers still sleep on the musafirhani platform. Snow has turned the mountains white, the sea is getting darker. The wind drives the rain, or vice versa, it doesn’t matter, the platforms are busy. Nothing terrible happened, the world did not stop, because people were hurrying to work. A beautiful youth sleeps on the platform. In front of the container, the warehouse, something always happens to them, they don’t want to miss anything, and they are always looking for additional Kampala. Blanket.

If there is no sweater or jacket, it is clothes, home, and bed. Someone inclined to the imagination, someone strong enough not to be broken by homelessness, remembered carpets, mattress covers, and quilts, and brought them all. The platform of the musafirhan becomes more comfortable. Living room with a view of the rails. Empty wagons. Seagulls blowing up plastic food scraps. Bare feet, high-heeled sneakers. They invite us to their homes. Bujrum mom. We laugh out loud. Louder than usual. Deeper. Laughter warms the cold. Here you can howl very loudly at the moon. Freedom is freer here. No one will hear you, because the nice world at home is getting ready for bed. For well-established lives. To replays of pleasant gatherings and weekend shopping. It’s raining steadily. It flows down the gutters. He descends the stairs. They patch the gutters with bags so that it doesn’t squeeze down their necks. They sterilize old razors with the fire of a lighter. I don’t ask them much. Sometimes for years. Everyone looks older. Hardened. I put this mimicry on myself. It’s a shame otherwise.

When in Rome, act like a Roman. Every day an elderly person greets me in the mirror. I look more and more like a dilapidated station building. Outside the platform, the world is just like that, orderly. In the shops, everything shines, and people are worried in the queues, in front of the cash registers. Sugar shortage in the country. Imagine. Tomorrow an old woman will meet me in the mirror. By this, I know that death is benevolent. I will ask her for the gift of discernment. Life is a triage, you have to quickly and steadily decide which wounds to deal with. Sometimes I ask them about mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. Not more than that. I’m watching. It is sufficient. Their movements while drinking tea. Gentle and elegant. Tea is not just tea. Tea is a ceremony. A warm house with your fingers. The way they wrap themselves in a warm colorful scarf. Gracefully. They like colors. They don’t forget the slightest attention. They beam when they see a familiar face on the deserted street. They wave from the bus. Like happy children. Because they are children. When you’re in Rome, you act like a Roman. And that’s why every day I move between the first container, the warehouse, which contains clothes and shoes, and the second container, the hammam, or our more sterile description: the container with shower cabins. Sterility has been banished from here. Hammam is actually a warm and fragrant steam of oblivion, from which even more beautiful people come out, or they say, I was bad, and I am strong again. A donation drops into the store every now and then, and that’s why we’re always there, so we don’t miss something.

And each one drains away quickly, like warm water in a bath. Afterward, it’s lunchtime, and like them, I’m so hungry that I’d rather say in the language of the traveler: aj em tu person. And asked for two portions. I am two people. One is that she lives at the station with them. At ten, two, and seven, he counts the seats on the bus to Lupoglav. As there are fewer of them, the queue is getting longer and more restless, and one word is forced loudly: Lajn, Lajn! It is full of exclamation points, violent, if they could cover their backs they would break. A dangerous word, Lajn! Fear and order instill. I remove it from my dictionary and let it rest from shouting until it takes on another meaning.

The other me is the one who goes to sleep in her room every night. And she can’t fall asleep without first. And when she opens her mouth, she dreams that it’s donation distribution time, and someone asks her for water in the middle of the desert. There is not enough, she knows that there is not enough, she only knows how to say nothing. Saba. Some travelers come from somewhere and bring her milk in a sack.

Every day, lunch is at one o’clock. They are obedient as an army. One at a time okay. One plastic bowl. One fork. Two thin slices of bread. The sky is reflected through them. Outdoor military canteen. I don’t like the word line. It is often used here. Not all of them understand her either. Especially when it’s too loud. They have their own. Catarrh. It reminds me of my father, who used to say, for me hator. And to me, a little woman for hator, they listen to me, and the catarrh is established, without much shouting. I will also mention saf. Anyway, it seems to me that along with our order and food, there is also violence. We used to be like policemen because we are afraid of unrest. Even if they are not always calm, they say sabur to each other, so when they quarrel, the group makes them hug and make up.

They hold hands, like children, like my friends and I used to. This closeness is completely natural to them, as is the kajal on the lower eyelids. I get asked what I think about men wearing makeup. I tell them they are like kings. It’s nice then, the conversation moves to some other spheres. Only speak Pashto, it’s poetry, I don’t understand it, but I feel it. And they say, there is little difference between Pashto and Farsi, let’s say nothing is nothing in Farsi.  And so as our days pass, I learn to watch. “We have to step into the fog, run over the bruise to find the beauty,” Mario de Sa tells me. I don’t have time to read here, so I recall some old written quotes while looking at that youth and their faces. I question less and less and speak less and less. Kilometers traveled and property status is visible on blisters and festering wounds, muddy clothes. The longer they are there, the less money they have. They have no agent, no intermediary. Some of the Pashtuns have curly hair, some wavy, and some thin or sharp. The bodies are smaller, boyish, tough, and stable. Some have long hair, some have extremely bright eyes, and some have dark, almond-shaped eyes. And when they come out of the hammam, they are even more beautiful. Now no one will yell at them for getting on the bus dirty. They may not even recognize them. The time of my departure is approaching, and a friend brings me one of the symbols of Trsat, a good-hearted dragon, which got too attached to people, so in the end, it had to leave. Every story is there to be rewritten, so mine is rewritten by itself. It’s raining, I open the storeroom, I open the hammam, and in front of it is one umbrella and two passengers. They can’t wait. Six sparrows enter the storehouse, rain trickles down their wings. One sheet lands on the shelf. I stand like that, we look at each other. Feet worn from the road, toes made of barbed wire. The pain is visible and palpable. I wonder why I didn’t become a nurse. There is something so peaceful in the knowledge that the sinkholes and depressions on their fingers, backs of hands, and feet will be filled with new tissue. That it will heal. First, they are afraid of what they will see, the removal of immobilized bandages from paper tissues, pus, blood, and sinkholes are filled with new pain, protected with new bandages, and then comes gratitude. It will heal stronger than antibiotics. I watch them endure the pain. The future belongs to them. We are just a dilapidated station building, doomed to disrepair and decay, almost demolition.I can see that the pain is very palpable, the sparrow is no longer yellow, and now it has turned pale. And that’s why I tell him the story, I don’t know how much he understands me, but my fingers tell him anyway. All this my father taught me, good-hearted dragon, and now my fingers are quick and light, they will not hurt you. You have nothing to fear. He was a paramedic in the army, he borrowed the First Aid booklet, and we keep it in the house to this day. My brother and I got it as the first and most important reading we have to read. He himself read a little, but he knew her by heart. In the booklet it was solemnly written in bold: “Every cultured man should learn how to provide first aid.” And I tell him how my father had large palms and skillful fingers, and he expertly bandaged every wound and cut. There was always bivacyn in the orange bottles, its powder poured like snow over our playful wounds. My father didn’t have the peace to sit at the school desks, so he didn’t even finish school, but he was a cultured man and knew how to provide first aid. I asked him how to say father in Pashto. Pashtun. My Pashtun father swaddled you. He maintained the weaving flats in the sanitary equipment factory. With his strong hands, he knew how to untangle the tangled threads of sterile gauze. While others were tearing, he was patiently winding. Sterile gauze, tufers, and calico bandages are still his legacy in our house. And I say to him, that’s why my friend, don’t be afraid, I’m here at your home. And while slowly his pout was filled with pain, and then with gratitude, one of the sparrows came home and began to prepare tea. We will drink tea in peace. Manana. One of them will clean the hammam for me. It doesn’t occur to me to establish any order anymore, but sabur, we will drink tea in peace. They put tea in my hands. Manana.