THIS DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, on a mountain called Jahorina, there was an old hotel called Šator. It was half an hour from Sarajevo, but a stone’s throw away from our family mountain cabin, from what I now refer to as my previous life. The hotel was open only in the winter; when you stood in the snow outside it under a frigid, starry sky it reeked of cafeteria grease, of woodstoves, and of cigarette smoke; you’d hear the thumping from the disco club in the basement. For the rest of the year, the hotel was vacant. One summer, when I was ten, I broke into the hotel bar by cracking its window—it took me an hour—and stole a bottle of blueberry juice. I had no interest in juice, I just wanted to open the window, but once I got in I had to take something to prove that I’d done it. The bartender, who idled in the summer, caught and blackmailed me, asking for money not to tell my parents. There once was a boy who made a man mad. I told him to fuck off. He told my parents. They punished me, but that blueberry juice was the sweetest potion, and I would never have any regrets. The hotel cleaning staff was Baja, a woman of an indeterminate body shape and age who lingered in and around the hotel, always clad in a blue overcoat, a black scarf on her head, one of its corners covering her jaw to warm it up. She was, like a ghost, impervious to pain. She had an eternal toothache she would not treat, the abscess swelling until it devoured and destroyed her eye. Nobody ever saw her clean anything, though a friend of my parents’ who’d stayed at the hotel told us that Baja had once walked into his room without knocking, looked around, and said: “Why don’t you clean this up? It’s disgusting.” Right behind the hotel, there was a peaked boulder where we’d climb when there was nothing else to do, which, in the summer, was most of the time. If we looked from the top toward where we came from, we could see the weekend-house cluster below, hear the buzzing of circular saws, the banging of hammers, the din of aspiration, for everyone was perpetually getting ready for some future in which their active lives would be successfully completed and there’d be nothing but peace, virginal nature, and socialist retirement. The war would cancel the future, but back then, when we were kids, the future was always on its way, its advance currents humming inside everything we knew or cared to know. If we looked in the other direction, wooded vales and ridges, meadows and roads, stretched toward Sarajevo and farther beyond it, onward to the horizon, into which the sun would slot like a coin at the end of the day. We’d stand at the edge of the boulder, pine and fir tips arising from the verdant void beneath our feet, and we’d look, and look, and look—our visual field had no limits, in exactly the same way our life had no end. The garbage from the hotel was dumped right behind it, down the slope at the foot of the boulder. My sister and I didn’t find that strange. By the time we emerged from our unconscious childhood, the world seemed fully established, everything as it was, everything happening as it happened, all the points and objects fixed, all the hierarchies and structures natural and unalterable. We’d descend from the peak to the garbage dump to browse through trash-stuffed plastic bags and rotten food remnants. One day, we found a plethora of plates, saucers, cups, and bowls strewn all over the dump—the hotel had replaced their dishes with new ones. We spent the whole day breaking the old dishes with rocks, against one another. We discussed nothing, devised no plans; it was clear to us what needed to be done, and we just did it. The dishes were nondescript, beige, we shattered them into smithereens, taking a break for lunch, smashing some more in the afternoon. We sustained small cuts, but didn’t care, they were the blisters of toil, the stigmata of devotion. Thus we discovered the pleasure of unbridled, unlimited destruction, the endless joy of converting everything into nothing. Now I realize it was one of the happiest days of my childhood, perhaps of my entire life. And when we went back to the dump some time later and found new garbage, new generations of refuse, we knew that underneath it all were our smithereens, that we could keep forging them for as long as we lived, and that we would always remember the day we broke the limited whole.