By Maniza Naqvi
Today, the other, would be Estonia. And outside, not a sound, a moment worth savoring had come to town: as if in anticipation, as though they were all on the same side; same thoughts; same direction. Whatever happened today, it would happen to them together.
Jasna got out of bed—washed her face, changed into that gift from long ago a soft blue woolen dress; then brushed the tangled hair and slipped out the door and made her way down to the gallery on the first floor. Dizzy from the nausea that always came a day after each treatment, she gingerly negotiated the darkened stairwell, as best as she could. She clung to the balustrade, the cold marble of it, welcome, against her burning skin. The bells began to chime again. Six. Outside it was beginning to darken, the fog having settled in. The news on the television this morning had been all about the game. But it had also had the usual pronouncements of Dodik and Sladjzic and the ringing of hands by the International Community. Again. It was all Dodik and Sladjzic all day long every day.
In between all that, they had mentioned that he was in town. No news and now this! She had sat up with a jolt, in a panic, her hand reaching to touch her head as if he was just there at her door. She had reached for the wig and pulled it on as her fingers trembled over her cold skull. And then, after the shock of it, after she had calmed down, she spent the rest of hers imagining his day, she had charted its course sure that it would end with him visiting the gallery. If she knew him at all, she knew he would have to come. Her choice of the apartment just a floor above, the final place had been the right instinct. What else was there to show for having been here, for him and for her, if not that one painting in the gallery, hers of him?
As she made her way down she could hear the neighbors’ television sets—the commentator excitedly following the ball—Dzeko!-Misimovic!-Dzeko!-Ibisevic! Muratovic! Nadarevic!-Dzeko!-Misimovic!….Dzeko! Misimovic!
And when she finally got there, downstairs, at half past the hour, Julian had his back to her. He had stood there contemplating the portrait. A tailored suit hung loosely on his shoulders. A raincoat draped in the crock of his right arm, his left hand leaned his entire weight on the curved handle of the umbrella as though it were a cane. He stood in this fashion, his left foot at twelve his right at two. She knew that the leaning was more to enhance his posture, straighten his spine—lengthen the broadness of his shoulders—more that, than a need to lean. More that, than, even the need, to alleviate the pain in his lower back. The scent of Eucalyptus oil, kneaded in gently, as if still there on her finger tips. Even this she knew about him. His hair, still abundant: gray, his slight turning of his head showed that now there was a goatee at his chin. A man, who had held the positions he had, made the decisions that he had, must find ways to disguise, she supposed. Or perhaps, this fashion was for someone new.
When she had seen him last, then that time too, Julian had had his back to her— when he had walked away and she had watched desperately leaning against a pillar of the gallery. Her blood draining from her it seemed, causing her to swoon. He had always held in disdain these, her elaborate gestures of inconsolability as operatic theatrics. Because, she reasoned, as familiarity, had grown, as is always the case, in these cases, he had stopped seeing in her, herself, and instead gleaned blueprints of centuries. He had read into her emotions and accused her instead of having the pathologies of whole histories and cultures. Now, as she watched him she had the strange feeling that she had for a time played the role of the umbrella.
Julian instinctively felt her watching. He shut his eyes. His shoulders sagged inadvertently. A wave of relief, at her presence, swept through him. Would she call his name, or wait for him to turn or would she come forward to place her hand on his shoulder? The small of his back. And then, yes then he would take her in his arms, breathing in the lavender scent of her and move into the remembered warmth of her embrace.
Fireworks and car horns broke the silence outside.
In the trinity of options, he could not have contemplated a fourth. Had he not waited for her to approach him and instead had he turned first he would have found her there and seen the state she was in. But he had not changed sufficiently to have given her this, to have turned in time and she had not changed enough to have known that between them there would be nothing to find or to judge.
Other writings by Maniza Naqvi