I walked along the beach thinking up words, to see if I could divert my tired thoughts into them. I found a little pencil that had washed ashore and put it in my pocket. I dipped my feet in the sea in every cove I came to. The skin on them got puffy, turned white and wrinkled, my feet looked like a dinosaur’s.
I came to a big, shallow sandy beach, where the sea mixed with fresh water. I had seen it once from a distance, from a boat. I decided to go for a swim here. I took my clothes off and carefully put my black sunglasses and watch on top of them. The silvery grainy surface of the liquid crystal numbers sparkled in the sun. The black lines appeared and disappeared in one-second rhythm, forming various angular numbers.
The diffracted light in the tiny chaotic waves created a dancing orange mesh on the sandy bottom. Stepping into the water, I started sending off orange circles whose centers were in my legs. The waves interfered with each other, and then with the reflection from the shore. The influence of my body’s motion on the water was clearly demonstrated, just as it’s possible to visualize a magnetic field with iron filings.
I went into deeper water and dived, but not for long. I felt uneasy, deprived of weight, fuzzy-sighted, with my ears deafened by the deep basses of the sea. Overcoming a sudden irrational fear, I turned towards the surface, thinking that I would see my reflection in it as in a mirror. All I saw, however, was the undefined brilliant sheet of the sun. I got out of the water and walked along the edge of the beach, waiting to dry off, get dressed, and go on.
The path got to be horribly monotonous, an uninterrupted low stone shore broken at identical intervals by identical dilapidated paths marked by low dilapidated walls of piled-up stones which after twenty yards or so of gentle uphill would disintegrate into impassable undergrowth of various greyish-gren prickly bushes. Progress could be followed only in relation to arbitrarily selected, colorful pieces of washed-up garbage.
I came to a huge tractor tire, almost as big as I was, and decided to return it to the sea that had spat it out. Decomposed by the salt and sun, it left black marks on my hands. I stood it up and shoved it down hill, hoping it would pick up enough momentum to bounce over the brown rocks at the sea’s edge. The tire, however, stopped too soon. A conceptual spite awoke inside me, I went down to it and by lengthy maneuvering shoved it as far as the deeper water. Even so, one part still peered out above the surface.
I met a donkey, who was frightened of me, and, after him, people. I hadn’t foreseen this possibility, several lonely hours in the company of the elements, the sea, earth, sun, and somewhat less noticeable air, had made a hermit out of me. I felt that they also regarded me, or rather my inevitable passing, with a certain uneasiness. They were two older men and one older woman from the village, probably in their proper places. They were dressed in excursion clothing evidently left over from more active days, the men had worn, but well-tailored leather vests, the woman was in a light, white silky dress with a red and green flowery and leafy pattern.
I greeted them fairly inarticulately, they were the first words I had said aloud all day, after a long interior monologue which in itself had been fairly incomprehensible. They looked me over for a time, and then I disappeared from view.
The deeper coves got more frequent again, I walked, climbed and jumped along the zig-zag line that divided the sea from the land. For some reason I wanted to reach the little church that I had also seen from the boat, in a cove adorned with a lot of white stone barrel-shaped posts, probably meant for fastening boats. Only then would my incompletely justified vow allow me to set off on the road across the island towards the village.
The empty coves, however, repeated one after the other, more and more like each other, with no end visible. The pleasure was gradually evaporating from my walk, replaced by an urge for stoically accomplishing my wish. The nature of my trip was getting more and more like a pilgrimage, especially if we take the church into consideration. The plants on my right were growing more wildly again, the paths seemed less and less like formalities, and more and more like really feasible escapes from this overlit shore scene into the shadowy, damp, green land heart of the island. They all inevitably led to the village; where else would they? I got thirsty.
I discovered a small shelter among the pine saplings, with a bench and a place for a grill. On the bench was a “Zrinski” bottle full of water. Seek and ye shall find. I drank a few swallows. It was warmish, but not hot. No one could have convinced me that it wasn’t sitting there as a direct answer to my thirst. I knew I would never be hungry and thirsty, if I kept on thinking in that way. I wrote “thanks” on the label with my washed-up pencil. Everything fit. That set the seal on the plan with the church. After one more swallow I went on.
The next cove had two posts, but there was no church. All the same, some hope had been poured into me. I went on as briskly as possible.
The cove with the church had been chosen for its depth, so that larger boats could put to shore in the time when the old village was still there, under the Greeks, and then later in Turkish times. The stone posts on small, neatly built bases were set all over the place, for a boat to tie up to some of them you’d need a heap of rope. But the sight of them surely warmed the hearts of captains returning to the harbor in their sweaty uniforms, coming from who knows where. The white posts, white cod, soft white bread and a cup of white wine served by the white wife beside whom he eventually falls asleep, in fresh sheets. No relief of that kind awaited me. The village had fled to the other side of the island, looked unconcernedly in the direction of the mainland, and its most prominent residents visited it only every other summer, bringing wondrous children who spoke a little of the local dialect, fossilized by life abroad, while among themselves, with relief, they conversed in that most persuasive of languages, American English. Their eyes shone with a pure light, for they truly possessed both worlds.
I got off the post that had to be sat on, and set off across the last rocks towards the pier. The little church was ochre yellow, not much used but well kept-up, it looked untouched. The door was locked, through the opening for donations were visible the bluish-grey insides, the cheap holy pictures hung on the walls, the altar with a nondescript Jesus and the inevitable aged plastic flowers. There was no sort of revelation in the church for me.
On the space in front of it were the large, burnt traces of greasy, meaty barbecues, and to one side a small stone shed, which served, as I established without much examination, for the disposal of the end products of vacation digestion.
I didn’t feel like staying. The vague vision of
spiritual relaxation in the shade of a structure raised in honor of fundamental
human non-empiricalness had evaporated. The consecratedness of this place,
unused, had evaporated. As far as I was concerned, I had formally fulfilled my
plan, I could head for the village in which my temporary summer home stood with
a clear conscience in respect to the state of my will-power. I didn’t feel forsaken
by Him, nor did I have the impression that I had forsaken Him. He had simply
moved away. Or His essence, collected crumb by crumb and concentrated in one
place, had once again pantheistically scattered over the water, the stones and
the leathery leaves of the olive and fig trees.
Davor Slamnig, 1987.
Translated by Sibelan Forrester