Sotir Athanasi was born in Athens on 26 May 1940 in an Albanian intellectual family. He was only six months old when his father, a mechanic engineer returned with his family to Tirana. When Sotir was only seven years old, he was left an orphan. Due to the notorious « class struggle » under communist rule ( 1945 – 1990) he was denied the right to university studies and publication, although he had a gift for literature. After the ‘ 90, he returned to Athens. For almost two decades he ran a tourist shop with Albanian music, movies, and books. He has published the long stories « “Pusi i virgjëreshës” ( The well of a virgine ») “Midis Dy Dashurive” ( Between two loves) “Polen Gruaje” (Woman polen) and a collection of 30 short stories “Romancë nën Harkun e Triumfit” (Romance under the Arch of Triumph). The last two books were published at AMAZON by the Planetary Publishing House « Globeedit ».
A romance under the Arch of Triumph
By Sotir Athanasi
– It was not simply a glance, but a lightning bolt from the top, above the blueness on these glasses; I felt it to be very sweet, just like a bee sting. But while lowering the head on the small window that looked like a mousetrap, I saw that they were two arrows deeply planted into my chest. I could feel the pain of a read skin, whose race clashes not only with the white but also within its kind.
– All right! And when was such a feminine catastrophe? – I asked my friend to show him that I was there attentive.
– Five years ago!
– Five years and you still remember it in details?!
– Yes! And I shall never forget it in my lifetime.
– Then, I guess you must have been around your fourties?
– You have hit the nail on the head!
– What about her?
– In her 30’s, I believe. But please don’t interrupt me; this is not the same as when my bag was mixed up with another, for which as I have told you, I spent five years in jail.
– Ok, but you may remind me of that since in every five years’ time something worth to be told happens to you – I spoke ironically to push the conversation on.
– Joking apart, this is not a novel.
– Then, a romance!
– Yes, it sounds like a romance….but among the most painful for someone falling in love at first sight. In fact, just due to lack of care, my bag was confounded with that of a mafiosi, when we changed the plane after a serious technical defect. The lives of all passengers were in danger. It was that black leather bag that threw me in prison and ruined my life. Besides, it was a double – fold punishment, for it kept me apart for five good years from my genuine love. Here was a prison mate that repents for making an offense that has hit his brain a little bit; so to restore my humour, he was talking to me as if it was the first time.
– Listen here how a parrot caretaker tumbled into good luck when Bonaparte became Emperor. He heard that a similar bird lover had won a large amount of bucks when his parrot greeted Napoleon: “ Congratulations, Emperor of emperors!” Then, he started the tiring job with his own “ uncapable” parrot, so that he could easily learn this phrase. This is why times and again he was saying in a desperate mood:
– Poor me, poor me, all my hard work was a time waste”!
Nonetheless, he succeeded to teach the parrot and persuade Napoleon aids to receive the bird. When Napoleon heard the standard phrase repeated over and over again “ Congratulations, Emperor of emperors”, his lips went instantly down. It was exactly after this that the parrot, although not at all skilful but yet very ingenious, repeated with full of dramacity the desperate phrase of his own master:
– Ah poor, me poor me, all my hard work was a waste of time”!
Now, enthusiastic NAPOLEON did not hesitate and ordered that he be payed for that.
– Let us put aside my prison mates, dear friend and return to that glance thrown by the 30 year old girl.
He was driven into stars of light and shade, where grave concern, suffering, and contraction could be easily seen. The cause, the reason and the motif were, of course, covered up. Because it seemed to be eternal and not in the least spontaneous. He was trying to hide it with a tense, turbulent, and wholly natural smile. Despite that, his portrait looked much more perplexed and attractive; for her appearance was just striking and dazzling. Well, as a seller, together with the appeal of commodity marketing, she was also forced to smile; but why on earth was that devil snuggling with fear?
The picture in that frame was like a compass. And I kept asking myself: why on earth were those clock hands moving in the opposite direction? What was her concern? Whom was she waiting for and what was she seeking after? When I had already made the proposal to her. True, she did not in an instance throw off as rubbish the words of my shivering oath and pledge (I have to admit that they were as such); yet, she did not approve them, despite their form. (Although I bet that they were coming from my soul)
Meanwhile, she went on smiling bitterly, as if she was certainly not like-minded, which… desperately, but I have to accept that those words turned out to be wholly unaccessible to her, or in other words worthless. I kept on asking myself: why, why my Lord? What was the reason? If not in Rubicon, where was the impasse and the way out for Cesar? Or would it fully remain in her monopoly for the time being?
Nonetheless, I did not believe in any cause that would prevent her from loving an Albanian. Moreover, I spoke French fluently, so she did not put my nationality in question. Besides, we were both in Paris, where these concepts were done away with centuries ago.
The next day the plane took me back to Tirana alive, although the catastrophe had already started. And perhaps not for all passengers in the plane with a technical defect, but only for me. Once I landed in Rinas, they chained me down depriving me of any attempt to see back that comet. Because she looked like that in the Paris sky and then ( with lots of distress) she disappeared all at once. But, I discovered the truth five years later. To be more precise, last week, when as a free man, I was back in Paris. But don’t let me go away even for a second from my first moments with her: “I paid for the necktie “Bordeau” that her assistant packed for me, who as I learned five years after was an Algerian of my age. I felt as if not a bolt, but a terrible misfortune had struck me up! I was even on the point of leaving without taking the change. She stopped me only with a single word: “Monsieur!” nodding with her head to the change. She did in vain spare the words. Maybe she knew that her sweet voice incarnated the magic and she wanted to keep me from losing my balance. And she was fully right. Her voice was radiophonic and with plenty of music. She knew herself. As to me, while facing such brilliance, I was far from seeing through any of her features, which were shining up to the point of blindness with that graceful look, as a divining body and perhaps as a shining saint; I had even forgotten my own name. Besides, a surprising immense joy was keeping me away from common sense.
The Algerian that apparently was used to count the changes when she takes money out of the counter noted that they was too much. When he told her, she recounted them, and together with the purple on the face she gave me a full-fledged smile, which made me descend from the seventh sky. Her beautiful teeth like pearl beads in that lovely mouth were another surprise for me; they had nothing to do with seeing a client off; perhaps the opposite was true – to hold, nail down or catch him alive! After that, her portrait turned, oh, Saint Maria into an aoreore. Although it was noon, the full moon was rising over that kiosk! For me, even this natural confusion was sufficient, as she was to be persuaded that she had also “swallowed” it without realizing what we call not simply desire, but love at first sight!
Hence, my caress had touched her. To say that afterward for me it was like flying, it would still not be enough. I cannot tell you what it was like. For I was there only with my body; mentally speaking I was there, on the top of Tour Eiffel! And this seemed to be so true, that just when such an impression flashed in my head, it was the “ darling without a name” that showed, oh, you my blessed Lady! Now both of us were ready to fly to the cosmos! And I understood that if it was not a hypnotisation, than a divine power from an unknown galactics was acting on me. Does love really has such a force, vigour and virility? Or is it somewhere inside us and it keeps away from the daily, the rudimentary and terrestrial life for something much more precious and why not even more sacred? Otherwise, why does it occur only once in human life, when blood assumes the quality of a volcano on the eve of its eruption?
However, to my surprise, nothing happened afterward. First with kindness and good-behavior the big body Algerian showed me the package of the tie carefully embellished and tied it with a very beautiful ribbon. But when he saw my confusion, with a disturbing mockery to the point of embarrassment he touched me slightly on the chest, so that I would come back to my senses. Then, only through a simple touch of an arab hand, I felt the loss of balance from a smile blended with a reddish colour and absent -mindendess by that portrait which was turned into a genuine falling comet together with my forced landing with both feet on the ground.
– Five years later. How late, you divine sky and paradise! Too late, oh you, Eden!
The whole group of visitors left for Louvre. It is self-understood that its pavillions are the target of each and every one. But for me, Mona Liza was the young lady in that kiosk, whose name I could not learn. Although in my imagination I have named her: “The darling without name” or the anonym.
It goes without saying that I would never dare to share this with anyone… I do not know why she reminded me of Madame Butterfly. Not to replace the American’s role, neither to compare the japanese heroine with the french one. But it was like a lightning bolt, as simple as that! And perhaps a parting like that of those nightingales flying over continents to return to their own nests. However, any comparison here would be ambigious. Because I was not the one hunted, but maybe the hunting. Or perhaps both roles simultaneously…?
If I was engaged with music, perhaps I could have found the key to this note warning a tragic end. I was rushing to arrive there before the lunch break because there would be a strike; so the pubs and restaurants were in a haste to close down and avoid a clash with protesters, as the rumors were spreading out.
And this proved to be the case. I was running when from a distance I saw the shutter down which was rolled up again. It was like a sparkling light similar to one drowning in the dark sea. I swear for my mom’s soul!. The “lighthouse” appeared and I could see her clearly. Whom – would you ask my dear friend? The girl, whose name I did not know but I could see her and I was sure she had recognized me. She was “the darling without a name” or the “ “anonym”. All of a sudden, the gates to the sky were opened up for me, with the same outfit as five years ago; the tie “ Bordo” tie was also on the shirt I had bought in that shop; so carefully kept, that it seemed she had given it to me only yesterday with her own hands!
Eh! Now listen to the most painful dialogue between two folks who have come to love one another at the first sight:
– Welcome, Sir!
– Glad to see you, enigmatic miss! – it was my reply.
– You are wrong, Sir. I am not any more neither miss nor enigmatic, I am a lady!
Within a faction of the second, the gates of the sky shut down. I was stunned although her transition into another scale of civil respect came very naturally.
– Mysterious and somewhat unpenetrable gentleman who appears after half a decade, would you like another tie “ bordo”?
The first was followed by the second assault. I was looking like a tentative kidnapper on the point of leaving. She was reminding me of the tie. She was putting me on the same bar with her random clients. Her tone was like when one is disappointed or saddened after failing to meet expectations or after the loss of trust.
I just said “yes” by bowing my head but not nodding, as it normally happens. Thus, I was instinctively accepting to some extent her demand and classification and the emptiness of my belated re-appearance – after five years. I was feeling as if I had broken my promise. While she had the same radiophonic voice, the same musical sounds but with a wholly different look now. Not as half a decade ago!. Not as a lightning bolt! Not as an arrow! No, no, no, let me say it over and over a hundred times! It was a shocking “ No” from her inside! Not only from her lips and heart, but from her body, too, the whole body. Why? Very simple: once upon a time, all the features in that portrait seemed not to match her inner world, where a sort of sadness highlighted her presence. What about now? That glance was full of light. Moreover when a “ Peugeot” stopped on the side of the pavement. It was the Algerian who stepped down with a 3 – 4-year-old girl. The lady of the kiosk told him in arab:
– Ali! Please pack a bordo tie for the gentleman, but let Natali bind the ribbon since she bears luck.
Well, with the hands which I felt were not mine anymore, I loosened my tie which surprisingly did neither seem to be mine. And I let the little girl embellish it for me. Meanwhile, I wore the new one and sat down, so that little Natalie could draw that bordo ribbon with her childish desire. I paid as five years ago with “room” for change. Even the french lady hands were trembling while preparing the change. Although confused, I could see outreach in those hands. She tried to show it as an immense motivation when she told her husband to let that job to her daughter Natali, such a crystally – pure little girl, as a more dignified and farewell melody for this romance of looks and dialogue of souls, this time in silence.
I took the change together with the bill and a small piece of paper which I did not dare to open up and read it. In an instance, the shutters rolled down with a scream, as a warning for the screaming note. Such was the feeling it brought to me. However, thanks to my arduous efforts to protect my man status, neither a sad scream nor any exclamation dared to raise over my chest! If stormy lightning bolts would have broken out from the sky, perhaps they would have a much more peaceful and milder effect. For it was a gesture that spoke for the final disruption of any…. dialogue. After a while, the lady of the kiosk threw a glance at me. It was about regret and maybe repentance or even self-punishment. Mine certainly revealed my burning consciousness; since I was feeling the pain of blame which I was could not yet see, although I had accepted to be abandoned. But combined with the confusion of bags that sent me unjustly for five years in prison, which totally changed the destiny of my life for genuine Love.
After some hard and unbearable seconds, with their heavyweight pressing over my chest, before turning her back, she saluted me with a hand wave, with the same musical voice; but now it was sounding perhaps like that of an oracle and she was like a maid uttering only a single word:
– Au revoir!
Civilization had won over any suspicion. Did I need her apology, which sounded as such only to me? Or was it the sign of despair, when we want to show something like a bitter memory??
– Au revoir, MADAME, au revoir, Natali! – I repeated with my eyes wet with tears. Luckily enough, she had turned her back and did not see them. The lady judge that sentenced me in court was such a heartless woman. Whereas the other female seemed to me at times like her and at other times as a mountain maid, who could hardly wait to fly in its heights. But, why, why on earth did she turn back her face just for a very little? Oh, my Sky, what did she want to say?
Words mixed with the natural pain of an eternal divine. My voice was failing me. Again Madame Butterfly flashed back to my mind and I felt that something was burning deep into my soul; perhaps someone who forges the horse ears with a red hot iron to matriculate them could resemble her; still, it cannot be compared to the deep pain which that departure wounded my soul. The french rolled down the shutters with a crashing noise as if the slope of a mountain was falling down.
In our youth days we used to make fun at the poet from Arbëria who had traveled a long way to Brasil to find his love. But I was ready at that moment to travel to the end of the WORLD, even to drag on and on with hands and nails to Himalaya, or to dig deep into the earth like the ZULU tribes and even condemn myself, just not to loose… Her – the darling without a name. And perhaps I would even accept five other prison years, provided that when back to Paris I would be able to touch my genuine Love.
An afro- american stopped on my side. His parrot said something in english:
– He is talking to you, Sir!- his owner told me.
– What is he saying?
– He is special, Sir. He has been watching you from far away and he is caught by the fever called psittacosis. He can’t wait to make fun of you….
– Would you speak more plainly, Sir!
– The fevers of a parrot, Sir! They are shown by ridiculing. But to listen to him, Honorable Sir, he needs a …bonus.
I gave him a change and I felt the parrot ridiculing me; he was glad to receive the bonus, and just like the parrot with Bonaparte considering that we paid heed to him, he went on adding:
I turned once again my head to the lady, whose name I did never learn. Her steps were fading away and only then did I realize where does the source of that sadness and untrust lie in my proposal five years ago. I learned this from the small piece of paper she had left for me with the following note:
“I was in the wrong time and in the wrong venue.
Like a fortune-teller, with a nod of the head, the afro- american affirmed what I read on that small sheet of paper. To persuade me they were true, he made me a hint to me to watch the shop owner.
I did what he told me and Thanks Heaven, I did not go mad! Instead, I wrapped my head with both hands as if I was afraid that my brain would jump out and fly out from the skull that seemed to fall apart from pain!
I could see the profile of arab ALI driving her forward on an invalid wheelchair.
She was my darling without a name or the anonym.
She had her little daughter Natali on her lap, enjoying her mother’s sweet company.
The Afro – american explained the following to me:
– Four or five years ago, it so happened and this lady found herself in the time of insanity… in a mined zone. An islamic, suicide bomber blasted on the air and she was paralyzed in both legs.
He smiled a little as if to underline something funny in this world of ours:
Ali, is also an islamic, but he is her exemplary husband.
Then, the parrot kept repeating:
– Aureola, aureola, aureola**)
At that moment, a lightening bolt dashed the sky with terrifying thunders from the Arch of Triumph.. How much I wished that they be discharged on me! Yet, I felt to be alive, with tears choking my throat.
Athens, 9 April, 2016
Paramnesia*) – A blend of reality with artistic fiction. I was inspired from a story by the famous Albanian actor, Alexander Moisiu. He used to go to theatre with the ticket from the . . . “Chief of applaudes”….
Paraselea**) = moon aureola.
© SOTIR ATHANASI
Translated by Jorgji Kote