Aleksander Beciri lives in The Netherlands. He is a civil engineer, project-coordinator, author and translator. He translates from Italian to Dutch and vice versa. For many years, he was involved in Dutch-Italian technical translations (manuals/guides industrial machines). Since 2012 he has been an adviser for Italian-Dutch technical translations. He contributed to the translating/editing of ‘Kruis van Vergetelheid’s (Cross of Oblivion) by Flutura Açka. (2014) and translated from Dutch to Albanian ‘Aan de Rand van de Wereld: Michel Houellebecq ‘ (‘On the Verge of the World: Michel Houellebecq’ a polygraphy on the French writer by the Dutch author and translator Martin de Haan (2015). Aleksander Beciri is also the author of a collection of poetry, ‘Faje Njeriu’ (‘Human fault’), published in 2008.
The Old Shoes
By Aleksander Beciri
Eighteen and still a virgin I was when she laid her eyes on me. I carefully checked the space, first left then right; was her glance really meant for me? Her emerald green eyes, curled maroon hair, the way she walked away barely touching the ground, all this ensemble of body parts that nature had put together, paralyzed my entire notion of time; honestly, even nowadays I don’t know whether all this was just a fake memory God implanted into my brain cells in order to influence my quality of life or a real human truth, carefully built and preserved on my subatomic level.
It doesn’t matter, I was still a virgin and not without a reason; years ago at high school there had been this other girl, who had falsely fallen in love with me. One day I got surprised by her hundred-kilogram, two-metres-long brother. If no marriage was going to take place between his sister and me, his fury was mercilessly going to fall upon me, no more safety to be found even if I was going to find the space beyond the sun as a hiding place. Only fourteen was I at that time, getting traumatized. No marriage please!
Four years passed by. My forced marriage trauma transformed into marriage phobia. All of a sudden I felt healed. I wanted to marry you, Eva. I didn’t know who you were and who brought you across my path. I trusted blindly that you would not force me into marriage like that gorilla brother of that girl I told you about. I didn’t even think you had any brother! – I keep repeating silently to myself even nowadays. Well, Eva was something else, she was the real deal.
The way from the Faculty of Civil Engineering to the one for Medicine where she was studying was a three-point-eight-kilometre walking distance of fifteen minutes forward and three quarters back, which became my daily itinerary, just in order to catch one single glimpse of those astonishing eyes. The miracle had already taken place; I got noticed by her. Often we even exchanged small talk, because under no circumstances was I going to bother her with my own pitiful feelings. Simply terrified that what was happening in my soul was a taboo, a vision, which if I dared to whisper it, would vanish into the black hole, as though it never existed. The days, weeks, months pushed each other away, my unstable state of mind in critical balance. No, she would definitely make fun of me if she would suspect anything at all related to my dirty thoughts. All those guys strolling around her just like butterflies around a lighting lamp in the middle of a dark night offered me enough of an alibi for justifying my shyness. I didn’t have the slightest chance! The competition fierce, the other young men more handsome, better dressed; the expression ‘Better poor and healthy rather than rich and sick’ wasn’t really helpful, she pouring attention on me was just God’s gift, not to be tempered with. Until that black Friday the thirteenth, when my mouth betrayed my scruples, disaster hung in the air, her reaction genuine: ‘Really, is this the way to hit on a girl? Look at your muddy open-mouthed old sneakers, ask yourself whether your proposal is decent, or not, and from that angle of view start drawing your conclusion!’ She was absolutely right, six consecutive months multiplied by three-point-eight, in total six hundred and eighty-four kilometres was the crossed distance on those shoes, including all weekends, excluding the thirty-first of every month; in rain, snow, through freezing temperatures and under burning sun, my shoes had committed a legendary, heavy duty. So, on the one hand, I hated her comment on my shoes. On the other hand, there was the minister’s son, even possessing a car at that time, who won this fierce competition and took off with the prize just like the hyena does with an at-first exhausted gazelle killed by a leopard. A month later, I was told they moved to the USA, where they settled down.
Thirty times had fallen the yellow, shrivelled leaves off the trees, thirty times flew the swallows to warmer climes, thirty times they found their way back. A lot had changed, life had been more than generous to a poor soul like mine; excellent working career, healthy kids and solid family, actually everything a man’s heart desires, was granted to me. Even something called social media was invented where people crying for attention are keen to share when visiting the restroom, or allowing bellyaches to go digitally ballistic; all of a sudden, privacy means nothing but just another old-fashioned word. Anyway, a friend of mine innocently informed me that the girl who broke my heart into millions of pieces three decennia ago had become a famous doctor in Maryland and together with her husband. They owned their practice. They had also a son, who had followed in the footsteps of his parents, working as a young surgeon at a Chicago hospital. As ungrateful as I could be, as the scar of the already healed wound started itching, I asked myself how my life would have looked if I hadn’t felt humiliated at the time, if only I had chosen another pair of decent shoes while declaring my love, and just for once, I would have said different words to her; what if; what if…Just like the lightning in a blue clear sky, an e-mail entering my inbox caused shock and awe throughout all my body cells:
Next week I am going to be at the Rotterdam Erasmus Medical Centre for a research conduct on cardiovascular diseases. I will be staying at Hotel New York.
I have got something very important to share with you, and I would appreciate very much meeting somewhere.
Forgiven but never forgotten,
Jesus Christ, who is forgiven but never forgotten, and what is so important to talk about? All kinds of theories promenaded around my mind; one of them was the most striking. This look-alike young man in America possessing my facial features, born about nine months after the last time I had chatted face-to-face with his mother, kept provoking the shivers. Could this be true? You fucking bastard. How in the world could he possibly be your son, when you never touched his mother? How could you get a girl pregnant by words? Desperately looking for memories, even for false ones in which I might have slept with her just once before she left, were the most confusing; something mathematically impossible. Still, there was this mysterious, inexplicable similarity. I couldn’t kick it off my mind.
Finally, Eva and I decided to meet on neutral terrain, somewhere in the Green Heart of the Dutch Randstad. At the age of almost forty-eight where the body starts counting down; it doesn’t obey exactly anymore to the given commands as it once did twenty or thirty years ago, the flexibility makes gradually place for weak muscle stiffness. Still, the urge of reminding her that the middle-aged man ruins of a six-pack belly once upon the time didn’t entirely disappear, emerged like a slug seconds before the first raindrops touched the green grass. I started running, working out twice per day at the gym, piling all kinds of muscle injuries until the meeting day arrived. The last ten kilometres of the thirty I stepped out of my car and started jogging towards the reunion place. Was she alone? Meanwhile, the anxiety was growing to melting point. We encountered each other face to face. She was as beautiful as thirty years before. Just before fainting, her eyes screened my entire body from my head to my feet, where she kept focusing. It always rained in the bloody Lowlands; my worn old sneakers were covered in mud. ‘Jesus Christ!’ she breathed in and out heavily, ‘Really!? How much you have changed, how more you have remained the same!’