by Branislav Gjorgjevski
Translated from the Macedonian by Christina E. Kramer
Every city is only as big as the expanse of its lights. The city in this story was really big. Its lights could be seen from far off. Every day under these very lights, in various settings, various stories played out. Just, incidentally, like in every other city. Somewhere at the exit from the city, in the full moon light stood two completely normal city residents. He and She, or They; they could have been anyone. On that pleasant summer night he was carrying a tachycardia inside him brought on by too much nicotine. She…she wasn’t carrying anything. At least that’s how it appeared. However, the awkward tapping of her fingers exposed a nervousness, not visible in her expression.
“Just one more day,” he said to break the silence.
“Yes,” she answered curtly.
“I still can’t believe it.”
“How do you feel?”
“I don’t know. I’m afraid I’m still happy I’m leaving.”
“Aha. Even though you don’t have to. You don’t have to go.”
“I have to. I outgrew this city a long time ago. You know just as well as I do that this is my last chance.”
“And me? What about me?”
“You? We both know you’re going to go, too. The two of us don’t belong here any more. You know full well that you’re going to leave, too.”
“But, what if I can’t? What if you don’t wait for me? What if we’re completely different in some other city than we are here?”
“Don’t be stupid. If someone offered to send me to the ends of the earth with only one person, who do you think I’d choose?”
“I don’t think anything. I’m afraid to think any more. I’m even afraid to dream.”
“I don’t dream either. This city even takes our dreams away.”
“Sometimes I catch myself thinking that we’ve wasted three lives here. I don’t know, maybe we grew up too fast. And maybe having to grow up so fast didn’t let us learn to dream. And even though there’s so much life in those several seconds of a dream, it’s really easy some nights to decide not to dream at all. We’ve lost our dreams. I think we’ve lost our lives as well. I don’t think there are any bigger losers than we are. Than all of us who are wasting the poisonous air in this city.”
“No. We were born winners. Every day we survive in this sad city is a victory for us, and every new morning is a battle we have to win. But we’ve had enough. That’s why we’re going to leave. Tomorrow.
“You’re leaving tomorrow! Maybe I will later on, maybe never; the question is whether we’ll be happy anywhere. Maybe I don’t even need to go, I don’t know.
“You’re afraid to leave. OK, fine. Stop complaining that we’re all living empty lives. It’s perfectly clear to me. We can keep talking until tomorrow about the fact that none of us can accomplish anything here, and that none of us will be remembered for anything, and that nothing can grow in this soil, but we have to ask ourselves one thing. Are we truly doing everything we can? And if our whole relationship, everything that had been between us were gathered up and taken away, would there be anything left that we could look at and say with assurance: ‘Yes, that was us.’ There is nothing, nothing that has matured, and nothing that is developing. Everything comes down to that spiteful human gene which says that nothing is enough. And never will be. We can freely end this conversation and resume it again in a year or two. Then, we will both still be complaining that we still lack one thing to close the circle of fulfillment. And then, like now, fear will hold us to the bottom like an anchor. And we’ll still be afraid to break our chains and fly. Out of fear, afraid that at some point we’ll need to cast anchor again but there won’t be anywhere to cast it. Well, I’ve stopped being afraid to take flight. I don’t know whether I’ll be happier where I’m going, but at least I’ll have a chance to try to be happy. With you or without you.”
“Even without me?”
“Yes, even without you,” he answered, lighting another cigarette.
“Now it’s clear to me. I should’ve known I had no future with you.”
“I can’t create the future for you. I can only be a small part of it. But it’s up to you whether you’ll let me.”
“It’s is not up to me, excuse me. You’re running from me.”
“I don’t want to continue this conversation. I’m going to sleep.”
“The best thing about you is the ease with which you adopt people. But, at the same time, it’s terrible, the ease with which you disappoint them. So long.”
That thought rested with absolute calm in the quiet between them and in their empty looks. He knew such looks, the ones you give someone to make them understand that no one around you exists, even if they were to touch you. And somehow through such a look he finally understood something that should have been clear to him a long time ago. Yes, some chapters end naturally by themselves. They last a short time and are especially beautiful. And each of the storywriter’s attempts to extend them reduce them to an unpleasant, incomprehensible, and boring text that no one would read. Not even the author. Many things changed after that evening. From then on, he began to doubt his actions, his opinions, and assumptions. But there was one thing never in doubt. Namely, the extent of his insanity. And here is where their story ends. A story that will, perhaps, continue on through some other scenes. Or won’t continue. No one knows. Not even the two of them. Whatever the outcome, just about the time their story was ending, somewhere on the other side of town, at the entrance to the city, a new story was beginning. With a new He and She.
“I can’t believe we’ve finally gotten here,” he said excitedly.
“We’re finally here. I can’t begin to describe how happy I am.”
“Just think. Starting tomorrow we’ll be living here. And there are a million places to learn about, thousands of people to meet.”
“I’m thinking,” she said, smiling, “I’m thinking about our new chapter. You know, I feel somehow brighter and rejuvenated. Our city aged us somehow.”
“Our former city. This is our city now. And yes, I think I’ll already be able to dream tonight. Something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.”
“I feel like we have a future in this city.”
“I feel a sense of fulfillment. I feel like we’ll finally create something. We’ll be truly alive. The city is beautiful in the full moon.”
“The light of the full moon is beautiful.”
“Should we go in?”
“Yes! Let’s go in to what will be our new home from now on.”
They went in. In a small apartment at the entrance to the city, a city that needed to provide them happiness, calm, and all those things they had not had in their earlier city. And so, this ends their introduction into the story. Ahead of them lay many chapters spread across the city. The city was big. Its lights spread very far; its streets offered every kind of story. The city was big, though that is simply how it appeared. In fact, it was not big. It wasn’t big at all. No city is large enough to gather all the dreams dreamt within it.
Branislav Gjorgjeski (born in 1986), is a Macedonian writer and journalist who lives and works in Skopje, Macedonia. He has published two short-story collections, including North of the Sun, from which this story comes. He is currently completing his first novel Clouds of Gunpowder.
Christina Kramer is a professor of Slavic and Balkan languages and linguistics at the University of Toronto. She has published numerous linguistic articles and is the author of the language textbook Macedonian: A course for Beginning and Intermediate Students. She was also a co-translator of the novel Bai Ganyo: Incredible Tales of a Modern Bulgarian, and her Macedonian translations include Freud’s Sister by Goce Smilevski (Penguin), A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (Two Lines Press), and the first two novels in Luan Starova’s Balkan Saga, My Father’s Books and The Time of the Goats (University of Wisconsin). The third book in that series, The Path of the Eels, will be published by Autumn Hill Books in July.