A place I called my own

I was violently mugged a few months ago. Whether it was a mugging or an act of racism is not clear yet. I was beaten with my walking stick, my nose broken, suffered a concussion and right now, my disillusionment with this place is real. My tranquility for this place is now a crashed nothingness. I have developed Post Concussion syndrome, which includes insomnia, tinnitus and a sense that I have trapped myself here, in a corner of Eastern Europe that I could trust. All my months and talk of calling this place “home” are now nothing but bitter reminders of my naivete. How could I, a coloured man, think that this corner of Eastern Europe accept me as anything but an inferior man on a walking stick who warranted an attack by 5 men in masks , and possibly be beaten into a state from where there would be no recovery. It is only by a stroke of luck that I came out of it alive but my injuries will take months to heal.

What will not heal is my disgust.

I have often defended this place, called it a place of peace and beauty but now those very words are nothing but ashes in my mouth. I wish that I knew what would happen 10 months ago, when I landed here and saw before me a quiet town. In every corner now, I see a shadow waiting to pounce and the way my  fellow countrymen are treated shows that my assessment is right. We are not Jews, and I am not Jewish either, but the mugging changed the very idea that I had hoped was real; that regardless of what everyone had advised me about this place, there would be something that was reconcilable but there isn’t.

I can’t leave the country and go back, because my ID card was in the wallet that was mugged. I can’t leave the country because there is nothing for me back there except a change in career. As compared to the very real threat against my personal safety, a career change and a change to my principles would be acceptable. I read my old posts now and feel only a sense of disgust that never goes away. My mugging is not something that I will ever forget or forgive, because in the span of two minutes, I was close to death. I often wonder if I had died that evening, bleeding in the light of the streetlamp, under the shadow of a church. If I had died, would there be justice? No. Is there justice now? No. Will I ever get justice? Will those bastards who surrounded me as I sat exhausted and tired after a long day at university ever be caught and put behind bars? No. Instead, they will probably be praised and their lives will continue, blissful ones that are only interspersed by acts of violence that will glorify them.

I did contact my embassy, the police and my countrymen living here were alerted, but what difference does it make? My nose is still broken, my head hurts for hours on end, and there is no sense of security even as I sit at home. If I had died then, beaten to death for no crime other than being born with the skin and features over which I had no control, who would take my body back home? Would my body reach home in the first place? Who would call my family and tell them that I was beaten to death in a place that I had frequented and never felt ill at ease there? Would my body reach home where I now wish I was rather than this place that I have come to associate with a squalid dump? The indifference of Eastern Europeans would be something that would probably make it worse for my family, but it is something that I couldn’t change, dead as I would be, my last thoughts only those of panic as I tried to defend myself from blows by steel capped boots. I can still hear the roars of those cowards in masks as 4 of them tried to throw me to the ground and succeed after one of them hit me across the head with my walking stick cracking my skull and knocking me to the ground. My nose was broken shortly after that and I can still taste my blood in mouth and its steel like smell in my nose as it bled.

Now, I am only disgusted with this place and with myself. How could I have been so naive to trust this place? How could I have not seen this coming? How could I have walked the streets at night placing my security in the false hope that this place would be alright and that every warning that I was given that racism and crime are commonplace against my people was nothing more than mere words that couldn’t give nuance to what I had experienced?




























A muse walks in

In the evening, at the early sunset, a massive flock of birds flies home. I turn to the sky at twilight every evening, and I am glad to see the sky darken further by the flapping of the wings of a thousand birds. The silence in my life is temporarily pierced by the sounds of birds singing their evensong. I can feel a stab of sentiment as I turn upwards to watch them, my eyes have gotten so used to looking into microscopes or my computer screen, that it is a treat afresh every time I look up. I am so used to listening only to the digital sounds that emanate from my speakers that the flapping of wings in the flight of birds sound like an orchestra of freedom that I will never feel.

When silence returns after this brief glimpse of birds, I find it disturbing. The searing pain in my left leg returns. My reliance on a walking stick makes walking for long a difficult task and yet, I return to the Centre every evening. Watching the birds is my ritual for the evening, as if it is a bell that I wait to toll, to tell me that the day is over. I am more free in my own solitude than in company and the anonymity of the dark brings me solace. In the dim streetlights and the bright neon lights, there are shadows where I know that I cannot be seen or heard and if a colleague or professor were to walk past, they wouldn’t notice that I am there.

I bought a falafel and sat on my favourite bench. I watched the cars and buses pass me, in each window a face that I will only know in its transiency. In a moment, I can look into the eyes of the occupants, and I know that there will be know glimmer of recognition. I am glad that it is dark on my bench and the nearest streetlamp is too far away for it to cast a light on me, a man in a black overcoat, wearing glasses and very long hair.

Unfortunately, most of my emotions now are mere sentiments, platitudes in my mind that make no difference in the physical world. I have always wanted to live a dream, but my solace is in knowing that my life, solitary and without the false colours of company, is as close to a dream as I can get. I am very satisfied.

I walked to a restaurant that I frequent and ordered a cup of coffee and some fried chips. Around me is some electro swing music, and no one else. I sat at the corner and waited, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the day. Why do I feel as if I am always waiting? What am I waiting for? Who am I waiting for? Am I waiting for a pass from some mug like myself, some lonely man who is as silent and sentimental as I am? Am I waiting for a woman to breeze into my life like most of the women I know?

The truth lies in the fact that I know nobody. I am as distant and strange to them as they are to me. People have often complained that I seem distant. I don’t seem distant, I am. Somewhere, in the ribbons of Space and Time, I will cease to be distant, but there is an equal chance that such an intersection will never come, and I am content in that.

The coffee arrived and I waited for the chips. Ina  few minutes, the chips arrived, the waitress retreated to the back, and I was left alone. I am glad that the waitress isn’t talkative, and I am glad that a muted silence has descended on my ears once again. I can no longer hear the music in the restaurant, I can no longer hear the revelries outside, I can no longer hear the words that people spoke to me throughout the day. One by one, all of them are silenced, and I know that I have created a wall around myself again. Who would know now that the man sitting in the corner hardly speaks anymore? Who would know that the man in black overcoat is as good as deaf?

A sudden crash fills my ears an jolts into a sense of awareness. I turn quickly to my left and I see Victoria, my landlady’s daughter stumble into restaurant. She must have caught her foot on one of the clumsily placed chairs that I have learned to avoid. Victoria looks around, flustered, and as she turns to me, she awkwardly waves a greeting before making her way  to my table. I must have looked shocked because she asked me if I had seen a ghost.

“No, unless you count my own reflection”, my attempts at being witty are feeble.

“You do look pale”.

“You would be too if you heard someone bring down half a restaurant 6 feet away from you”, my feeble attempt at wit is gaining strength.

She laughed. She ordered a cup of coffee and a salad. I asked her how she was and how her school was going on. She asked me if I had ever been bludgeoned on the head and then dragged through a field of barbed wire. I hadn’t. “Then I can’t possibly explain how school is going”. Schoolgirl wit, always wack out of context, and almost always an exaggeration. I sympathized with her. It isn’t easy to both be a student and look after kindergarten kids in the after hours. She wondered if I had disappeared. She hadn’t seen me in months, and if it were not for her mother’s watchful eye, she would have guessed that I had gone back to my own country. She told that she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw me walk into the restaurant. She had followed me from the park bench to the restaurant and she described my movements as if I was a spy. The black overcoat did the trick, she said.

“Should I be worried?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes ever so slightly. I don’t take kindly to being stalked, particularly by schoolgirls. Not that I have ever been stalked by schoolgirls, but still.

“No. Not unless you are a spy. Your cover is non-existent, you certainly look the part.”she continued, “come to think of it, you do look a bit like George Smiley. You do look a bit like Gary Oldman, the spectacles, the gait, the serious air of a man who is tired with the world”. She sipped her coffee and ate a large sliced tomato in a way that did make me worry for her sanity as well as mine. She watched me unblinking, and I swore. There was no way in hell that I looked like George Smiley, the spymaster from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. She disagreed. I had a passing resemblance and she wondered if sub consciously I felt like a septuagenarian. If not for a full head of black hair, she would’ve guessed that I was an old spy, in from the cold.

Idi nakhoi”, I said. It is Russian for fuck you.

“So you do speak Russian then? Another piece of supporting evidence”, she said.

I speak very little Russian, and I did say that to her in Russian.

She was a bit surprised. “No one could’ve guessed that Ativ Schuberg speaks Russian, in addition to what, ten other languages? If that is not a give away, I don’t know what is.” she ate another slice of tomato in an equally sinister manner, “if not for your age, I would have have said that the game was up, my friend“. She cocked her hand up as if it was gun and mocked a shot while whispering “pfft”. I wondered if she was crazy. I wondered aloud. She laughed again. “You are twenty years old and you speak Russian and the local language after being here for less than a year. I would say that, in addition to your squirming incredulity are both dead give-away”.

“Someone’s been reading too many detective novels”, I observed humorously.

“maybe I am, maybe I am not”, her evasiveness wasn’t going to help her.

“Well, in that case Mademoiselle Victoria, I must say that your conversation is biased and your observations therefore inadmissible in court or to any observer who is rational enough”. I replied triumphantly, “Cognitive dissonance my dear, you see what you wish to see”.

“And I see a man interested in theatre, and I have two tickets for Shakespeare next Monday”, she said, much to my surprise “and in case you are not as intelligent as you seem, I am asking you to accompany me”. She looked at me questioningly. I was tempted. I agreed. Shakespeare, I wouldn’t miss for the world, and I told her so.

She could have just asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the theatre. “Why the theatrics?”, I asked.

“Well, I do like some evening amusement, don’t you?”. She bit into another slice of tomato and I could see that I agreed.


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Not everything

I went to a play earlier this evening. It was about two men and two women who get entangled in a kidnapping, and how, in the end, one of the men and women fall in love and choose to stay together. After the play was over, I walked out of the theater and stood on the square in front of the theater. People milled around me, getting into their cars and going their own way. I stood there, and savoured the fresh cold air of the night around me. I walked to the nearest cigarette shop and bought a can of Monster Energy. The streets were empty and a mist slowly descended, and there was a chill in the air. I had enjoyed the play, and although the local language is not very familiar to me, I could understand most of it. I missed the company of Yvette, she could translate what was being said, and I am sure that she would have enjoyed it as well.

The night continues descending into a swirling mist of silence and a cold breeze. I hear the sharp clicking of heels behind me. By now the mist is thick and blanketing everything. From the mist emerges the actress from the play and she halts for a second before walking past me to the cigarette shop and buys a pack of Rothman’s. I turn around and greet her a good evening. I compliment her acting and she seems pleased. She is surprised to see a foreigner here, and much more surprised at my attending the play. She asked me if I understood the dialogue. I humbly replied that I didn’t. I did, however, say that her acting compensated.

“I could understand what was going on”.

She smiles a little forlornly. She is the replacement actress. The locals wouldn’t know the difference. The leading lady was ill for the evening. In a moment of being chivalry I said that she was a good Leading Lady. Reassured, she asked me if I knew of a good restaurant nearby. I told her that I did and took her to Boris’ bistro, a quiet place with good music and very good food. A few minutes later, the two of us were sitting across each other and discussing my country and my life in general. She hadn’t ever seen a man of my heritage in person, and was intrigued. What did we eat back home? What did we do to enjoy ourselves? Most importantly, why was I here?

I decided to spare her the lengthy diatribe of my life’s philosophy and my own dilemma of being a foreigner everywhere I went. I spared her the details of my academic and moral failures back home, and I decided to spare her the details of the disgust I had for people in general and told her the most vanilla thing I could come up with.

“I enjoy travelling”

I don’t. I have a difficult time travelling. Packing up my bags is the most tiresome thing about travelling, and that is not to add the constant waiting at lines and the transits from one airport to another. I told her that I loved this country, and of my poor conversation this was the only saving grace. I do love this country and I do love this city and moreover, my life here has some meaning and consequence, small and insignificant though it may be in the wider context of things.

The food arrived in the hands of Boris himself, who beamed at me as he served me my Pizza. Poor man, he looked at my walking stick and felt a stab of pity. He was glad that I had graced his humble restaurant and brought with me “charming company”. The actress looked up to Boris and smiled widely. She loved this place and would come here more often.  Boris asked her name, and she said Petra.

I had spent the last half an hour with a woman whose name I didn’t know. Courtesy seems to be something I have lost somewhere in the romanticism of “being a gent”. I turned to Petra, just when she turned to me, and she asked me my name. I told her, and she wondered aloud as to why it hadn’t occurred to her to ask my name. The two of us pondered over the paradox of missed conversation at length. Where do we pass the point of being strangers and become so engrossed in conversation that the most basic questions of identity escape us. After dinner, she and I took a walk around the Center. She told me of her childhood in the capital (a city that I have yet to visit) and at the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and I took her leave.

I took a taxi home and I told the driver to drop me off at a street behind my apartment building. It is one of the inside streets of the city, winding through rows of houses and apartments and at night, it is quiet and deserted. I reached the front door of my apartment building and fumbled with my keys. As I stepped through the door, I was greeted by small scream. I screamed as well and stepped back, switching on the landing lights. In front of me were two kids, around thirteen or fourteen. They looked at me as if they saw a ghost.

“Mr Schuberg?”, the boy stammers. He is a small boy, with brown hair and a scar on the left side of his forehead. He has greenish eyes and in his hands is a cigarette. I ask him what is he doing here, at midnight. He looked at his feet sheepishly and fell silent. I turned to the girl and then it dawned on me that the two of them, enthralled in the throes of young love, were spending some time in the basement, where they would be left alone. And they were probably sneaking back home. The two of them were neighbours, they lived two floors above me. I don’t know their names, and you can imagine my surprise when the boy knew mine. I understood that I was intruding, wished them a quiet goodnight and hastily went up to my apartment and shut the door with determination.

Now that I was home, I couldn’t help but laugh. There was something both adorable and heartbreaking about seeing to children in love. To young teenagers, and the whole world was against them. I was mildly amused but I also felt as if I had intruded on something intimate. I walked to the balcony for some fresh air, and I could hear the whispering of two teenagers, young and in love.


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The Scalpel and the President

I woke to the sound of the alarm on my phone and groaned. The past weeks have seen me take injections and muscle relaxants for the spinal injuries that have plagued me for what seems like a lifetime, but have done so for only 5 or so years. I lay awake in bed, thinking about the walking stick that lay just a little out of reach. I would have to lean out of bed to grasp it and use to help me get up from bed. I decided that it was best if I waited. Outside, autumn sunshine glowed brightly. A slanted ray of sunlight fell on my blanket where my chest was and I could see the shape of the shadows cast by the buildings outside mine. I was still groggy from the painkillers and the fitful sleep that seems to describe my nocturnal repast.

Slowly, thoughts begin to form themselves. They swirl into focus and I realize that the US Presidential results had been announced a day ago. Donald Trump had won. Was I surprised? No. Was I angry? No. Was I fearful? No. The mental checklist done, I leaned over and grabbed my stick and propped myself up. My left leg tingled, the ravaged nerves protested, but a few minutes later, I stood up in my bedroom, bathed in sunlight. Hours have passed since my waking up from a medicated slumber, and groggy though I feel, I can form thoughts with increasing clarity. Donald Trump has won, and he did it while being hounded by everyone, the media, the intelligentsia, citizens, and the world in general. It was a surprise to me that he won, and in my processing of this strange phenomenon, I read the various testimonials of those who feared for their lives, those who wished that Donald Trump was assassinated, and by those who rejoiced that they had won, that they had fought against the harassment of those who called them “racists” and “homophobes” and one particular writer particularly stated that Donald Trump’s victory was a victory for those who had been hounded and lynched by mobs of overzealous people who claimed that they fought for their own identity by branding and blaming working class Americans as being “racist, ignorant, stupid, homophobic misogynists”. That the victory of Donald Trump was a push-back against the large scale name-calling by those on the Left.

I am not a political scientist, my closes friends are, and we are yet to come to a consensus as to why Donald Trump won. He has won, and there is little to be gained from being emotionally upset as some people are. He has won and I have enough faith in the established order of bureaucracy and “the system” that whatever wild ideas he may have, can be pitted against saner heads, and I trust that saner heads will prevail.

But why do we concern ourselves with the goings-on of another country? Why do we sit at our computers typing endless arguments and counter-arguments that go nowhere. President Trump is across the seas and continents, and yet, in my apartment, his name hangs like a shroud. His name is echoed by my colleagues here, in this Eastern European town, and there is a wild exhilaration in the way they say that now, Europe would be saved. There is a wildness in the way bars portrayed the news of the Trump victory alongside news of the elections of the President for this country, and in the midst of the jubilation, the quiet cynicism of Eastern Europe returns. Not so long ago, someone had won an election in Europe’s backyard, and then, in his effort to keep intact his country, millions lost their lives, their homes and their children. An entire generation lost its future, and as they pick up the shreds of all that is left, they can’t help but look at the massive popularity of the leaders who win the hearts of so many and feel the despondency. Ultimately, war, disease, suffering and tragedy come to us all, and there is no president or prime minister, who can stop the inevitable.

I am advised a week’s bed rest, and I use this time to focus on managing the pain in my back. I haven’t spoken to Yvette in almost a month as she is busy in the Capital city, preparing for a concert. She calls me in the evenings to ask me how my day went, and I have the usual response of how well it went. Between us is an undercurrent of pleasantness, as though we keep up the cheer because we understand the coldness of the world around us, she, a woman who didn’t know her father, and me, a solitary foreigner. I understand the contempt for the Right Wing, and I understand the contempt for the Left Wing, and my political inclinations are neither kosher nor are they completely rational, there are flaws everywhere and I feel that we try, in an act of self-preservation, to try to fool ourselves into thinking that we are all above fault.

Chopin’s Spring Waltz plays on my laptop, I can hear the notes and the bars of this beauty, and I am reminded of the move “The Lives of others”, and I know that there is something that can be salvaged from all our losses. I wonder though, if all will ever be the same. I understand too well the corruption that comes with power for I too have lusted for power when I was younger. I lusted for power, and I know even now that I still do. Somewhere, there is a lust, an insatiable thirst for power that I cannot quench, and I understand that power, in itself, is a tool that will drive a wedge between your own values and yourself. Ambition embraces power like a lover, but power poisons ambition through its urge to fight everything for preserving itself. I lusted after power when I was younger and I realized that I could not be trusted with power if I sought it and hoped to conquer it. In all of us, there is an authoritarian, in all of us, is a war criminal and in all of us there is a commander of a death squad, and in ways that I have found inexplicable, I have never allowed these elements of myself to win.

I went to the Centre, leaning on my stick and I stood at the War Memorial, looking for names that I hoped I could recognize. In the corner I can see the name is scratched over. Legend has it that this name was removed after it was revealed that this was the name of an Officer who ordered the slaughter of prisoners of war. What was worse was that this Officer’s bravery on the battlefield saved the town from collapsing to the enemy. And yet, crazed in his power and his love for country, he ordered the execution of all the prisoners under his command. There is a small golden crown that can be made out from under the scratched off name of this Officer. I know nothing of this man, but I know enough of war to see the lust of power, the craze and the madness that comes in the pursuit of victory.

And yet, I stand at the threshold of change, and who is to say what comes tomorrow? Should we give up now, or stand resolutely to face all that comes to us so as to not forget how far we have come? I stand at the Statue of Father and as his arms are wide open, I can see the town stretch out beyond the horizon.


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What I think of when I talk of dreaming

I woke with a start this morning. I climbed out of bed and walked to my study where I saw Yvette sitting on the settee. She was leaning back into the backrest and she was listening to soft music. I surmised that she had slept on the settee. She saw me standing at the door, as I leaned against the door frame, she smiled and wished me a good morning. She asked me if I had slept well. I replied that I had. I walked to her and sat next to her. The blinds on the windows were drawn and i could see a storm raging outside. She changed the track on my laptop and picked up Marija’s letter. She handed it to me and resumed her seat.

“Haven’t opened it, yet I see”, her voice has an inflection of amusement. I often hear this mild amusement in her voice when I am being, in her words “dreamy”. She looked at me questioningly and I found that I had no answer. Why hadn’t I opened this letter? I remembered the desire for preservation that had filled me when I received it and my resolve began to falter. I got my knife from the drawer and cut open the envelope. The letter was neatly folded and in Marija’s delicate handwriting, I could see words that, in my juvenile thrill, raced across my eyes. She asked after my health and if I was happy. She missed this country, she wrote, and she wanted to return. It was her promise, that one day, we would both discuss F Scott Fitzgerald’s This side of paradise, over a cup of coffee which she would make herself. She hoped that I had read it, but she hoped to hear me read it aloud. She missed my silent voice, the muffled way I sometimes spoke. I found that she had included her address at the bottom of the letter. I felt a stab of mixed feelings when I read that it was a rehabilitation centre in Estonia.

I was glad for her, she would get assistance when she needed it most. I must admit that professional help would be most effective. I understood my own problems with alcohol and it took me effort to overcome them. I didn’t have a broken heart to add to its heavy burden. I didn’t need a crutch, but she did and I was glad that she had found it. Sometimes, all of us need a light in the tunnel to help us to emerge from it.

Yvette looked glorious in the grey morning light and I could see that she was, in her own way, intrigued about Marija. I told her all I knew of her, but it was surprisingly little. The two of us went to the kitchen and we made breakfast together. Yvette was in her element. She put on “The twist” by Chubby Checker, (a song I remembered from Spiderman 3) and the two of us cooked eggs and bacon, without the mess. As the two of us sat for breakfast at the only table that could be called a dining table, she poured me some coffee. We raised a glass to each other’s good health and I saw her framed in the diffused light of lightbulb, the soft light fell across her lips and her eyes. I couldn’t help but stop and stare at her because everything about her was so existential and surreal that I was reminded of a Van Gogh painting.

We went out in the evening. She and I spent the day at my apartment, with her arranging my books and photographs. She laughed when she saw me as an adolescent. I was standing with my friends for a group photograph of the Audio-Visual department. I was dressed in my school blazer and she found my likeness to Harry Potter very amusing. She thought that I still had the eyes of a dreamy romantic. I am an older man now, and years have passed since that photograph. I remember my friends and I played hockey in our formals on the Top Field ( a strict no-no then) and we had the look of youthful boys attempting a somber look and failing.

Yvette bought me a tape recorder. She disappeared into a electronics store and I stood outside in the cold, wondering if I could find a taxi back home. Around us, the lights of the evening began to turn on. Neon lights from storefronts turned on in a burst of color. Couples walk hand in hand, even the night itself has turned into a twilight with a sky that is a pleasantly subdued vermillion. I hail a taxi as Yvette emerges. She and I step into the taxi and she directs the driver to her apartment. She wants me to have dinner with her at her place. She digs into her coat and takes out the tape recorder.

“Promise her that you will read This side of Paradise with her”, in Yvette’s eyes is a spark that I often saw in Marija. I promise both of them as I pocket the tape recorder. I think of the letter on my desk again as the taxi winds through the streets of the city that I now call home.














































It is cold most days

It is cold most days now. Sometimes, there is a pleasant breeze and mild sunshine, but those days of summer which I loathed and enjoyed in equal measure seem to be farther and farther away. Often, in autumn, time seems to fly and yet, there is a stagnation in the air. I walked back home from the University in the rain, my shoes making small splashes in the puddles that had collected on the footpath. I walked back home and opened the door to a warm apartment. I am sitting at my desk now, watching the rain fall on the streetlights enjoying the silence.


I have found that I am far too irritated when I come back from the University. Something about company seems to repel me. I feel a sense of disgust with the way my colleagues carry on, with their pathetic bickering over some drama that they breed in their own lives. It is often who went out with whom, and who said what to whom. I had hoped that there was a certain maturity in medical students, but I was wrong. As of now, I am glad that my day at the University is over. I planned for a solitary dinner but Yvette wishes to pay me a visit. Yvette promised that her visit would “cheer” me up. I have to admit that her company certainly does cheer me up. She is a person who believes in the optimistic view that even on cold days like today, one can find warmth if only they looked for it. I don’t look for warmth, I get enough of it from my electric heaters and somehow, this arrangement suits the rationalist in me as much as it strangles the romantic that creeps up on me when I least expect it.

I have reduced my smoking and I am glad with my progress so far. Self development is usually a continuous process. As I am sitting, watching the rain, I think of Marija, and her Estonian apartment. She sent me a letter a few days ago, and old fashioned though the method of communication is, I find that it is fitting. There was no return address, and the envelope read my name and address and on the back, all it said was “Marija”. I recognized her handwriting immediately but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it. It lies unopened on my desk and I can’t even bring myself to stash it away in my drawer.It sits on my desk like a paperweight that ties me to my desk. I watch it meditatively, and I am drawn to its pristine condition. It doesn’t bear the mark of a letter passing through letterboxes and delivery vans. I am enamored with her handwriting, I can picture her hands placing the letter in the envelope and I am feel the warmth of her hand writing across it. What went through her mind as she wrote my address? Did her lips say my name under her breath as she wrote the address. Was there a thrill in her as she wrote her name at the back of the envelope?

There is a knock on my door, it must be Yvette. The letter still sits on my desk.




The romantic at the Dissection Table

The smell of formalin is so strong that I gag. There is an urge to vomit, but keeping my stoicism seems to be more important. I put on my mask and feel a sense of relief wash over me. I put on my gloves and get to work. My region of work today is the wrist and hand. I pick up my scalpel and begin cutting away at the tissue, carefully and soon, the motion is so mechanical and rhythmic that I can safely dream of the windy morning outside the dissection hall. I can see the trees in the strong wind, washed over by a bright sun. Autumn is indeed beautiful here.

I stand up to relieve my back and gaze out of the window, and I am reminded of a day very far into my past. It seems like a lifetime away. I remember the time I was in the ninth grade and I sat at a table in the biology lab, gazing out of the window. I could see the town below in the valley. Far away, there was a red car winding its way through the streets of the town I now call home in my sentimentality. I must have been gazing for too long, because I heard a voice from far away.

“Schuberg, get out of the class”. My biology master was angry. he was an old man, and one who took discipline very seriously. He was also the master of my House, named after some colonialist or other, and dazed, I walked out the door, cursing myself. I went to this balcony from where I resigned myself to the view. There would be punishment to follow, extra time in the lab, or a thousand lines which stated  ” I will never look out of the window during class ever again”. I dreaded this possibility, but back then, I was as much a resigned man as I am now.

I was still watching the hypnotic trees waving in the wind when I felt a voice from very far away. Instinctively I replied “yes sir” and turned, expecting to see my old Biology professor, instead seeing a familiar face that I couldn’t place because I was so lost in my dreaming.

Adara stood in hospital scrubs and gloves. I apologized and greeted her. I hadn’t seen her all summer and she had receded, much like everyone else I know, into some dark corner of my mind that I forget about. She greeted me and looked a little concerned. She asked me if I was okay. My intolerance for formalin is too well known. I stuttered a little before shaking myself internally to focus on her. It took a minute. She put on a mask and moved to the window and opened it. I was welcomed by a gust of fresh air. I looked at my watch and saw that I had been dreaming for almost half an hour. Adara stood across the dissecting table and looked at me curiously.

“The Professor sent me to assist you,” she said. “Are you sure you are okay?”

“I’m fine, Adara”, I stutter. Ativ Schuberg screws up his conversation again.

“I think we should go outside, for a minute”, Adara leads me outside, I follow her. I remember that I haven’t eaten anything all morning. My head feels a little light-headed from hunger. I take off my mask and step out into the corridor. “You haven’t eaten anything,” says Adara, her eyes narrowed. I don’t answer. I look at her confused. She says that she is too used to seeing men who forget to eat. Her father, a geneticist, also forgets to eat unless someone reminds him at least a hundred times.

Fifteen minutes later, I am tucking myself into some Borscht and bread. Adara watches me eat. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have behaved in this sheepish way, being led around by shrewd women into restaurants. I think my hunger placed me in a vulnerable position. I am thankful however, for the Borscht and thank her for reminding me to eat. In what I don’t say is a gratefulness that she bothered so much to take me across the street in this windy weather into a restaurant while I stood around dazed. The formalin is like a drug to me, I often find that I dream too much when I am in the dissection hall. I tell her that, apologizing again for being a liability.

“I’ve seen you dazed in the Anatomy Hall many times”, she says. The walls are made of glass in the various halls, and one can look into each hall if they so wish. “I knew you would be here alone, and I had this strange feeling that you wouldn’t have had breakfast”, she says, and I raise  an eyebrow questioningly. My focus is returning. Ativ Schuberg is well filled now, and his mental faculties are returning. “I know when you don’t eat,” she admitted looking shiftily at my plate. I am taken aback.

“I have seen you lose focus and go glassy eyed in the Cytology Exam last semester”, she reveals, much to my horror,” I stood next to you and you tried to help me. When you confused the trachea with the esophagus, I knew that you were going dreamy again and you were hungry”. It was true. I confused the wind-pipe with the food-pipe and stood there gibbering like a fool to my Professor, who too looked at me as if she saw the typical bachelor, unfed and careless with his eating habits and one who makes a greater effort in  making himself presentable than he does with nutrition. The Professor spoke to Adara later, after the exam to tell her off about her trying to help me and me trying to help her, saying that if the two of us had eaten well that morning, we wouldn’t be gibbering and idiotically looking to each other for help.

Adara, I asked, were you sent by the Professor of Anatomy?


She replied in the negative.




























The Lecturer returns

I’m bent over a dissecting table, a cadaveric hand stretches out in front of me. My scalpel cuts away at the tissue over the biceps muscle. My face is covered in a surgeon’s mask and my hands are gloved. I am alone in the anatomy hall because there I am a Demonstrator Apprentice, a sort of tutor, who usually prepares the prosections for the medical students to see. My  marks in Anatomy were very high and this lead to my selection in this unenviable post. I now have to spend Saturdays preparing prosections. My back hurts and as I stand upright to relieve my spine for a few minutes, I watch a reflection on the window across the hall. In it, is a familiar face. The face is smiling.

I turn around to see the Lecturer, Helena Stanchieva, looking absolutely ravishing in a black dress and a pearl necklace with an emerald stone in its centre. She is  unsure at first, but as I step forward and take off my mask, she smiles widely and hugs me gingerly. I take off my gloves and my lab coat and step outside the hall with her.

‘You’re the new Demonstrator Apprentice!”

“Yes Ma’am I am”

“Congratulations! It has been far too long since I last saw you. Your hair looks,” she hesitates. She shouldn’t come off as inappropriate, she is, after all, a Lecturer and I am a bottom-of-the-food-chain medical student. “It looks nice”, she concludes abruptly. The two of decide to go down outside for a breath of fresh air. I can smell the formalin everywhere I go and I just hope to the high heavens that she can’t smell it off me. The smell of formalin is revoltingly sweet and sour at the same time. The smell of the cadaver, overpowering enough, also contains with it a certain stench of death that doesn’t go away. Maybe it is the formalin itself, or maybe it is just a figment of my own vivid imagination, but I hope that she can’t smell it.

She and I walk into a cool dusk. A refreshingly cool breeze flows, rustling the leaves on the trees. We sit on a bench and I ask her what she is doing here. “I am going to teach”, she replied,” I will teach the 1st Year students of the MD program”. My imagination does a stupid somersault and there is a juvenile thrill somewhere in my spine. I struggle for a second to bring my attention back to where I physically am. I dream of hazy afternoons and in my mind there is a wild thrill knowing that I could just see her everyday. I feel its juvenile awkwardness now that I sit confessing my shame to a screen. There is something so juvenile in falling for so many  women that I feel like rebuking myself. There is something undeniably so adolescent in having crushes on women. I have only a contemptuous disgust for such things. These are not feelings that I respect, this is not a life I respect in any way, this constant wandering around with women on my mind, as if I have nothing more important.

As we sat in the silence, I wished that I could overcome my soft-kneed fascination for Helena, but I wished to revel in it. I wished to revel in the possibility that there was something here, some form of innuendo that could make my sordidly boring life as a foreigner more palatable. It is a distraction I wish I had, something to measure time with.

We went out for a cup of coffee later. She returned to her laboratory to continue her work, and I climbed up the steps to the Anatomy Hall, silently putting on my lab coat and my gloves and a mask. I feel a despondency that ate away at my sense of inner peace as i stood over a cadaver, cutting away at the sub-cutaneous tissue, hoping that those eyes that had seen me for over a quarter of an hour, would return to see the turmoil in my mind, the tempestuous sea of emotion that I felt as I tried to make up my mind about the women in my life.


Tag: Together Tag 2


The Paper soldier series (ongoing): Semester Sunshine (or Paper Soldiers 3) , The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2) , Paper soldiers



Semester Sunshine (or Paper Soldiers 3)

“Don’t forget to pray to the Lord of Knowledge before going to the University”, my mother’s voice is distant and crackling ,”Also don’t forget to keep a saffron cloth with you at all times”.

“I won’t”, I reply.

I’m not much for ritual and I’m not one for religion and spirituality. Yvette laughs when she hears of my atheism, and what she describes as a “radical ideologist’s dream”. I listen to her laugh and I can’t help but find it funny. She and I spent two  days romping through the streets of this city. The weather is pleasant, there is a breeze with the promise of autumn and it courses through the buildings and trees, winding its way along the streets to announce the coming autumn to all of us. The University is opening to the next semester tomorrow. I wanted to spend my last days of my holidays holed up in my flat, curled on my bed reading, but Yvette was having none of it. She woke me at 3 in the morning by calling me on the phone.

“Sleeping?”, her voice sounds almost giddy with excitement.

“I’m not now” my voice is hoarse.

“Freshen up and come downstairs. Im waiting outside your apartment on the sidewalk. Bring a coat”.

Grumbling, I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. The razor makes its way smoothly along the contours of my face, the lather gathers up all my beard hair and in a cloudy solution (a precipitate) goes down the sink. I take a quick bath and put on my clothes. I put on my overcoat and as I step outside into a windy night, I can understand why Yvette asked me to get a coat. I spot Yvette leaning against a streetlamp and she greets me with open arms and an open smile.

“Come on, hurry”, she says. I follow her and she grabs my arm. We walk fast at her insistence. She hails a taxi and tells him to take us to the Statue of the Father. The Taxi driver looks at us in the rear view mirror and laughs. In the native language he says “Taking him to the show are you?”, and Yvette laughs. I understand the language almost perfectly and I look at Yvette questioningly.

“You’ll see.”


We drive to the base of the hill atop which the Statue is located. Yvette leads me up them and after a couple of minutes of running uphill we reach the base of the Statue. Beyond it is a forest and we head into it. Yvette is sure footed and I follow her lead till we reach a balcony of sorts. Under us stretches a meadow and the river beside it. There are many people gathered there. A man on a megaphone begins an announcement.

“This is Sgt Mannov, here to welcome to you to the Annual Arrival of Autumn display”, he asks us to turn to the river, where lights come on little boats each of which has a soldier.

Then it begins.


The Army disposes of some of its explosives which they do by converting them into powerful fireworks. To add to its bizarre nature, soldiers use mortar tubes and rocket launchers. The  sky is aflame with fireworks all of us a sudden. Cheers and shouts of greeting fill the air. Yvette and I move to a patch of grass where she makes me sit. From within her coat she pulls out a bottle of warm tea. It is freezing up here. Since the fireworks are fashioned from explosive material that is military grade, these fireworks pack a punch and reach a height higher than other fireworks. They explode into lights of all colours and sparks fly everywhere in the sky. It is like witnessing the death of a Neutron Star.

The coloured lights from the fireworks cast a psychedelic glow on everyone. I turn to Yvette and I can see her face, a mosaic of changing lights that morph into each other with particular beauty. I tell her that she looks beautiful and she laughs as she pours me a cup of tea. I can smell the brandy in the tea but thankfully it is not enough to get me drunk. Spectacles like these are best witnessed sober and I thanked Yvette for bringing me here.

Two soldiers on either side of the meadow fire rockets which make a blazing arch and another one launches a barrage of fireworks from an automatic artillery gun. These pierce the arch and make a tower of light of different colours. The soldiers laugh as they launch more rockets which, bizarrely, form autumn leaves on the night sky.

The night devolves into a night of songs and cheery people. Drinks are passed around, but Yvette and I sit atop the hill and watch them. Cheery voices sing the national anthem and other songs of joy and victory, Yvette and I join in the chorus. I feel an elation that sets my body free, as if there is a warmth that courses through my veins and arteries, pumping my heart with an energy that seems almost impossible.

Later, we were walking down the hill to the park below, Yvette singing “les Champs Elysees” loudly and I saw that she was happy. I joined her in the chorus:


oh Champs Elysees, Au Champs Elysees,

Also Lei, zoo lah plea, a meedee ouh a meen nu-eeh ee yee ya douche ke foofooleih au Champ zeh lee sei.

There is a restaurant that is open all night. People who attended the show swarmed in here still singing and being raucous and happy. One of them recognized yvette and waved, she waved back at him and he came over. “Did you take him to show?” he asked, and Yvette replied that she did. “Did you like it?”, he asked me and I replied that i did. I enjoyed it very much. As we waited for soup, sandwiches and tea, the soldiers from the display came in. They were greeted with cheers from all present and they took a bow. Rounds of drinks were bought on the house for them and all of us celebrated. Autumn was here, and with it, the season of poets and romantics. Yvette leaned in and told me that I could dream all I wanted in Autumn, and she would be here, to dream with me.


The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)

Paper soldiers
































A solitary man

There is a restlessness, a certain melange that I feel as I sit, almost at midnight, alone in an apartment far away from my country. I am careful to refer to the country of my birth what it is. I don’t call it home because there is no home, not yet. There is a very slight breeze that is caressing the leaves on the trees across the street. A lone streetlight shines like a beacon, reminding me of the darkness that surrounds it. I stand at the balcony more often than I used to. I am trying to reduce my smoking, because there is a perceptible difficulty in my breathing.

My apartment is not silent, of course. Charles Aznavour’s “Hier Encore” plays softly, permeating through my mostly dark apartment. I cannot stand brightness, I find a certain soothing balm in the poorly lit apartment that I live in.

Why am I here?

I am a continent away from my own country. I am thousands of kilometers from the only people I can call friends, there is an old lover back there.


I am running.

All my life seems to be summarized in that one sentence. I am running, always have. There is so much confusion in this world, so much chaos in life that there is no reconciliation. As I looked at the smoke rising from my cigarette, I wondered what was the point to trying to quit smoking? What was the benefit? I am a cripple anyways. My spinal injuries make pain a hum to every moment of my life. I am running from my country, I am running from my family, I am running from everything and everyone. I stand at the balcony of my apartment, watching people walk by, I find that I know nothing about them.

I turned to the topmost floor of  a building opposite mine, I sometimes see  the silhouette of a girl, her slender frame is nothing more than a vague shadow from where I stand. I stand at my balcony, wondering if she can see me, and if she can, what does she see? I know nothing of her, and she knows nothing of me. That is no epiphany, there is no divine truth to be found in knowing that the somnolent figure, leaning against the wall in his apartment, is a foreigner who is running, and running away from everything.

People often speak of their old lovers with a certain fondness. There is only one old lover that I have and I don’t miss her, even if I think of her everyday. Unwitting thoughts of her come to me when I least expect them, I remember her voice, some thing she said, some thing she felt, some where I met her, and yet there is no bitterness, no hatred, no fondness, no love. I had only one lover in the past, but  I did have muses, and now, they are nothing more than bitter words on paper that no eyes but mine have read.

I don’t miss Marija, because she is like a spark that lasted less than a second, and there is nothing that I can remember her by, except for a book I can’t bring myself to read, even if I resolve every night to. A whisper in my mind says “Adara”, and yet, every time I hear that whisper, from a forgotten corner, I find it even more difficult to recall her features. Her face in my mind, looks as if it is being viewed through a mist. I can’t remember her eyes, but with some effort I can see her as a shadow on the periphery in my vision. I am not a hopeless romantic, and I never will be. I can see my cane laid on my sofa, and I find that I am relying on it far too often. There is a heaviness in my left leg, the ravaged nerves scream in protest sometimes and there is nothing to dull them. There is nothing to stop the angry orchestra off inflamed nerves and tired muscles, as they  scream in staccatos that find no ear to listen.

I am often told that there is so much beauty in the world. I am told that I am lucky, to sit here, in a city in Eastern Europe, studying something that I enjoy.  The truth is often more bitter than that. The truth is that I am running. I am running from everything that could be called mine, my country, my family, my friends, my school, my memories, and reluctantly, my life. I find that my life is here, secluded in an apartment that I chose as my sanctuary.

Paper soldiers

The brokenhearted optimist (paper Soldier 2)

She left


Tags: LearningFiftyJeopardizeYouthGhostCarry