( American Voice no 45, 1998 )
She stood on the ledge of the roof on Njegoseva street number 17.
She couldn’t think of a single commonplace. The night was calm, the snow was white and soft, the moonlight silver and the holiday atmosphere happy as usual. Se didn’t have anything to hold on for balance. But she felt more balanced than ever, in any case more than she had felt a few hours ago when she was standing behind the window sill of her flat on Njegoseva street number 17. My God, maybe she had been a bird in previous life!
Her eyes flew-with enthusiasm across the electricity wires from a streetlight to the other side of the city, and she flew, really flew with her eyes, her thoughts and the smallest particles of her body. The screaming sound of a whistle startled her, so she took her own whistle from her pocket and whistled back strongly to the unknown person in an indefinite direction. It was New Year’s Eve, ’97, just after midnight, when people all over the white city were whistling, drumming, walking, as if they had arrived from a spaceship in which they have traveled for ages, coming to a destination where they would stay forever. She finally understood everything, that being a bird, she could whistle even without a whistle. “Women on the roofs, whistle even without your whistles”.
Although she was deafened by the calm within her, she knew he was coming after her. Did he come after her in death or only to see whether death has truly come?
She took her whistle again and blew strongly: from every part of the city, the whistles blew back at her, and the birds too. Their sound was becoming stronger and closer.
Without turning around, she said;”Don’t come near me,” and she realized that in that moment, on the roof of the building on Njegoseva number 17, she had said it for the first time. And that he actually did stop. He obviously didn’t intend to approach her against her wishes. Does that mean that all these years while he secretly came to her bed, he thought she really wanted it? When she was twelve, thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen? Even now when she was sixteen, standing like a bird whistling on the ledge of the roof? Again a heavy sense of doubt and profound guilt overcame her: maybe she couldn’t tell him no because she didn’t want to say no?
Even though she didn’t want to jump off the roof she swung from the heaviness of that thought. Because truly never, absolutely never ever, did she want it to happen, and it hurt her and she was ashamed and she didn’t know what to say or think or whom to tell, nor did other people do it and what they thought, or how to avoid hurting her mother’s feelings, but really…She was entirely certain that she had never said yes to him.
He moved toward her while she swung to and fro like a bird struck by her own guilt, like a rapacious bird that cannot fly due to the heaviness of its prey. And he moved again…
“Don’t push me!” she screamed.
He stopped. After all he was her father and he wished her the best, to live the way she was, even with a grace of a mad woman. Forever mad, forever woman.
Would it be the same if she had been born male? The thought occurred to her but she cast it away as a theory that could be of some help only if the facts didn’t take precedence: as far as she was concerned, male or female, it happened.. In any case she didn’t feel particularly male or female, but of one thing she was certain: She wasn’t a victim. It was her life, and her story, maybe stranger than somebody else’s, in any case more complicated but that is why it was clear and transparent only when she used her own words, her personal memories and feelings.
“Stop the violence, was written on a flier that flew from the roof next to hers. As if the violence were a car and it’s end a traffic light. Or maybe it was so, maybe simple language made the reality more simple. Giving the name to a crime gave it life, too.
As she regained her balance, her doubts returned as well: perhaps she should never have understood that which she didn’t understand at the time; what good is knowledge if one doesn’t feel one s body anymore?
Her father was on the roof, trembling he came out without his coat, unbeknownst to her mother, maybe even unbeknownst to himself. There wasn’t a word with which she could catch him: she could perceive only bits and pieces of him which were falling down onto the happy citizens of a city in which she would never live as everybody else, celebrating the New Year, drinking wine, eating cake, bearing children, taking them to school, to a new world. She would never experience a single commonplace as something special, perhaps she wouldn’t live at all, but she told him severely, to avoid him doubting the seriousness of her intentions.
” If you come closer, I will push you over the ledge. You won t leave a word behind…”
From his body, at minus 8 degrees celsius, onto the merry people below tumbled his frozen nose, his ears, eyelids, his thumbs…
“Couldn’t they have said good-bye to each other in a different way?” her mother would have said if she could only see this scene. Then she would probably cuddled up to her father and with a tender wave of her hand bid farewell to her only daughter, balancing on the edge of the roof. A long time ago, her mother had lost her battle with reality. And as far as other people’s lives were concerned, it was as if they were a movie, in which she sometimes played a role and sometimes did not. Her mother was aware of the emotional abyss of a human being, and she was aware of it twenty-four hours a day.
The scene went on for a moment too long. Without turning back, she shouted: ‘ And remember this; it wasn’t you who pushed me!”
She jumped, without fear that he might try to steal this last feeling from her. She even had a blissful thought that it wasn’t correct after all, her premonition that she would never have children.
When her image disappeared from the roof, the story was over, at least from his point of view. He didn’t run to the edge, he didn’t even stiffen. he walked with his usual careful step over the slippery roof back to his flat where his faithful wife was waiting for him. She knew nothing, but in a way it was all clear to her. He would tell her anything whatever, to pass those few minutes until somebody from the outside knocked on their door and demolished those walls of intimacy on this holiday eve. His feeling prior to or at that moment no one could tell.
They say that when you die, there is no more life. they say that in the last few seconds before death your whole life unfolds with lightening speed in front of your still-alive conscience.. This is how it happened to Maja.
She flew and flew. And the moment she lost the roof beneath her feet, she was sorry. She didn’t want to disappear, even though a long time ago she had lost her body and could no longer eat, drink, smoke, touch herself or feel anyone else’s touch. Now a wind smothered the entire surface of her skin: she waved her hands and her legs, to resist that one way streaming and to catch a better direction. And imagine; that is just what happened but it all was so difficult. She hadn’t dreamed of how unspiritual life of birds was, it was pure physical heavy strife. They look so high, but the poor things are only struggling for direction, like miners in the dark or sailors in a storm.
Flying above the trees toward Slavija square, she looked like an airborne hen. She decided to improve her style and a thought crossed her mind; it was a good thing she wasn’t wearing a skirt and that she had put on her grandma’s hat. And the broom? Now that all myths have been proven true, maybe she could use a good broom.
She organized her arms and legs, slowed down her crazy flight and tried to think of some other myths, because she realized one thing : out of her body only her though was left, and she was becoming body in every moment that she thought of herself. She remembered the flying women called sirens. She remembered her grandma. his mother, killed herself before Maja was even born, by hanging herself. She remembered quickly the pretty face of her mother as it cried at night, because Maja was crying as a baby, and she being a baby could not help her, could not tell her not to cry because she could not speak, could not tell her that she was crying out of love for her, wanting that pretty face closer to her, to feel her breath, her odor, her tears, not to be afraid of her…But since she knew only how to cry, her mother only cried too, and that crying now was the rhythm of her flight.
At the republic Square, people were crowding and screeching: the ground was firm under their feet. Some smaller ones seemed in danger of suffocating because of bigger ones who streamed through the crowd at random. No one had any direction, but they all had an instinct to stay close together and whistle, to skip, anything…The sound they made was as if they were blowing together into a single whistle, and it was a huge, destructive NO at the end of a long period of silence. The same no was throbbing inside the conscience of the flying girl as if inside and empty mug.
Maja flew above the square with her grandma s hat over her nose presuming that she had one still. She didn’t dare touch her body. What if she does exist and if she started once again to fly downwards? She had fallen to her death already once tonight, it was quite enough for one life. This thing happening now was new and Other life. Before or after death, she could not tell from her own experience, in any case obviously some people, especially some women, have a second chance at life in which flying invisibly becomes their body and mind.
She flew, flew now in circles over the exuberant mass of different colors and sounds. She waved with her hands and legs as if dancing a cosmic ballet and she laughed with no sound, without thoughts. She floated far and deep into the night, until, at dawn, one cloud took her away, tired and happy, into an unknown destiny.
Neither that evening or ever after did anyone knock at the door of her father Lazar and her mother Marija, to announce that their daughter, Maja, had jumped off the roof and… Neither then or ever after did anyone demolish the walls of intimacy of a middle-class family from Belgrade that for years had broken one of civilization taboos. Who knows how many other of these walls exist, who knows how many roofs, who knows how many Christmas and new Year’s euphoria? Who knows what else is going on of which those outside walls of intimacy don’t even dream? Does something we don’t see exist, does something we don’t experience exist, does something which cannot be told exist, is there anything but the story?
Yes, it exists, I am telling the story because I heard it, I invented it, i imagined it. yes, it exists, says Maja, who is still flying who knows where. Yes, it exists, says Lazar, who is still incapable of crawling from the shadow of his forbidden passion and staying alive as a man. Yes, it exists, says Marija, who will someday fly just like Maja but is now waiting for an army of women avengers to end this men’s world as it is. And, yes, there is, above all, the story, which ahead of life gives life a form, the roof its height, the snow its specific weight.