The pandemic has for some been a time of interpersonal tensions – including Dušan in Belgrade, who has an overbearing mother and a wife with a chronic disease. Here, his story is retold by a friend, who tries to establish what exactly has been passing through Dušan’s mind...
̶A̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶a̶ ̶m̶o̶n̶t̶h̶ ̶a̶g̶o̶,̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶o̶c̶k̶d̶o̶w̶n̶ ̶e̶n̶d̶e̶d̶.̶ ̶I̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶r̶e̶m̶e̶m̶b̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶l̶a̶s̶t̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶ ̶I̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶s̶c̶a̶r̶e̶d̶.̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶o̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶k̶n̶o̶w̶ ̶h̶o̶w̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶e̶x̶p̶l̶a̶i̶n̶ ̶i̶t̶.̶ ̶I̶t̶’̶s̶ ̶h̶a̶r̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶r̶t̶ ̶t̶a̶l̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶b̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶.̶ ̶I̶f̶ ̶I̶ ̶d̶i̶d̶n̶’̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶s̶o̶ ̶m̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶,̶ ̶I̶’̶d̶ ̶n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶d̶o̶ ̶i̶t̶.̶ ̶S̶o̶,̶ ̶I̶’̶l̶l̶ ̶t̶r̶y̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶d̶e̶s̶c̶r̶i̶b̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶o̶w̶n̶ ̶s̶e̶l̶f̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶h̶a̶p̶p̶e̶n̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶m̶e̶.̶ ̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶c̶o̶n̶v̶e̶n̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶i̶s̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶I̶’̶l̶l̶ ̶b̶e̶ ̶b̶o̶t̶h̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶a̶u̶d̶i̶e̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶j̶u̶d̶g̶e̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶o̶r̶y̶.̶ ̶M̶a̶r̶i̶a̶,̶ ̶i̶f̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶b̶y̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶c̶h̶a̶n̶c̶e̶ ̶f̶i̶n̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶–̶ ̶g̶o̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶H̶e̶l̶l̶.̶ ̶M̶o̶m̶,̶ ̶w̶h̶e̶n̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶f̶i̶n̶d̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶r̶e̶a̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶s̶,̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶ ̶f̶r̶e̶e̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶g̶o̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶H̶e̶l̶l̶ ̶a̶s̶ ̶w̶e̶l̶l̶,̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶s̶u̶c̶h̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶i̶t̶i̶f̶u̶l̶ ̶m̶a̶n̶ ̶o̶u̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶m̶e̶.̶ [Edited by Dušan: 31.07.2020, 11:23PM]
A month ago, the lockdown ended. Now I can go out whenever I want, but I only do it when I have to. When I do, or when I turn on the TV, something horrifying crawls into my thoughts. I see people on the street acting as if something isn’t constantly floating in the air around them. As if they cannot memorize a phenomenon which happened yesterday or even this morning. I’m not scared for myself, I’m scared for her. Every single time I see someone doing something senseless, an image of her doing the same – or even worse – engraves itself in my mind. Before, I took more care. But now, why should I take care of my own body when not a single part of it can touch her body? Then the next thought overruns the previous one, like in a photo finish – it’s because of her. Not Maria. The other her. My mother.
Although I’m 34, I will – until death do us part – be her little son. Even stranger, my mother is a doctor (retired, thank God) and I’m her only child. I wouldn’t say she had turned me into a hypochondriac. Mostly because I don’t think I’m a hypochondriac. I’d rather define myself as an immunity freak, trying to defend its body from any disease out there. But the scariest thing out there is that Maria has psoriatic arthritis. An autoimmune disease. At the beginning of 2020, I believe that few people living on Planet Earth could have heard more warnings and were more afraid of COVID-19 than me. So, I put a lot of pressure on her. On my wife. On my ex-wife.
For me, it’s hard to live between the two worlds. In one, I should be a careful son; in the other, a real man. Hell, this makes me understand why she left me. Maria had been waiting for almost three months for the end of lockdown ̶,̶ ̶f̶e̶e̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶c̶a̶g̶e̶d̶ . She was screaming at every decision of our government, stating that there would be more crowds because of the new working hours. On weekdays, shops were open until 5pm; on weekends, everything was closed and no-one could leave their four walls. I was trying to convince Maria that the government was right, using phrases such as “protecting our and our closest ones’ health”. Then the government suddenly proclaimed a ‘victory’ over corona, because of the elections scheduled for the end of June. Everything simply opened, as if nothing had ever happened. I realized she was right all along. And I was like a puppy accepting whatever its master – the mother or the TV – said. Nevertheless, I suggested we should stay locked in our dungeon until we were sure we were safe. She told me I sounded like my mother. She was probably right. So, I accepted it with a silent sigh. That sigh somehow got stuck on my face. Every time she went out, she felt my restlessness. I know this because she stopped going out soon enough. But when one human being does not feel free and the other one is afraid of freedom, I suppose nothing reasonable can be done.
It was summer. The weather was not too warm, nor humid; almost perfect. The nightlife of Belgrade was coming out of the shadows, where it had been hiding from the terrifying virus. Maria and I were invited for a big splav (a river club on a raft) birthday party of Maria’s best friend. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For her it was a drop of freedom, for me it was just a teardrop. Not only did I immediately refuse the invitation, but I also remember screaming: “ ̶Y̶o̶u̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶n̶o̶t̶ I forbid you to go there!” In a cold tone, Maria simply answered that she would be there for sure. I cannot understand why I was acting like a madman. But I think I understand why she was so calm. She had already made her choice decision and I was still lost at the crossroads, trying to go both ways.
̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶ ̶I̶ ̶s̶a̶w̶ ̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶a̶f̶t̶e̶r̶ ̶t̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ The next day, she came with her father to pick up her stuff. They were both looking at me as if I were a piece of furniture. For a few days after, I was walking around the apartment, calling her. No reply until I was blocked; which is, I believe, a concrete answer. Then I was just walking, from wall to wall, from door to door. As well as not answering my mother’s calls. At one moment, I noticed the balcony, as if seeing it for the first time. I sat down and gazed at it for quite some time. Suddenly, a thought appeared: Why not take my own life myself, rather than being afraid that it will be taken by an invisible, unknown organism?
A while later, I was gathering the pink bedding, pillows with hearts, posters and fridge magnets from our journeys – and, most of all, photos of Maria and of the two of us. It turned out that the apartment was a ̶f̶u̶c̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ goddamn museum of our relationship, with the special exhibition of marriage. Just as I was about to leave our the bedroom, I realized I hadn’t checked her ex-wardrobe. But I also had an eerie feeling. As if a wasp had landed on the back of my neck and if I moved my hand to it, it would sting me. Nevertheless, I opened the wardrobe. Inside, lonesome hangers were quivering. The only thing still hanging was the dress. Images started floating around. I was climbing a mountain full of green. I walked to the village where my father is from. I begged my grandma to make a dress which was created in and had symbolized our region ever since we could remember. I watched my grandma both struggling and enjoying, as the silk I held was sliding through her fingers. Then, after the wedding, Maria said: “This is the most beautiful dress of them all.” I reached out for the dress. But then something made of metal clinked against the wardrobe’s wall. I moved the dress aside and saw it: my old trumpet.
I couldn’t believe I had forgotten it. It used to be a part of me. As a kid, I had played it in the city’s folk orchestra and later in “The Loonies”, a band made of my best friends from high school. When the band broke up, I was still playing the trumpet until she and I started to live together. Now, as if enchanted, I slowly walked out onto the balcony. I still don’t know how it happened, but I leaned the mouthpiece against my lips. Without cleaning, polishing or anything at, when I breathed in and blew out, I felt the dust filling my throat. But I just played it. I was finally hearing my own voice. Struggling to cry silently a few moments ago, I was now playing as loud as my voice felt it should, in its own world, lively and joyful. After a while – I cannot guess how long – I noticed a half moon in the sky. I had no idea what time or date it was. All the previous days just blended in together. I checked the clock; it was almost midnight. “Well, neighbours, sorry ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶j̶e̶b̶i̶g̶a̶ ,” I thought as I left the balcony. Then I heard two hands clapping from a distance. Then another two. Before I realized what was happening – half of the city block was applauding.
I went out for a drink. By ‘out’, I mean ‘outside’. Now I’m sitting at the bar, listening to music not chosen by me and recalling what ‘enjoyment’ actually means. For the first time after corona came to our neighbourhood, I feel like I want to go somewhere. [Last edited by Dušan: 01.08.2020, 04:16AM]
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