The Body One Should Live In (excerpt)

Excerpt from the novel “The Body One Should Live In” by Petar Andonovski.

1.

“I saw your ‘fern-green eyes’ opening while looking at me in horror and fear” – a text message Brigita received this morning. The sender didn’t say his name. But Brigita knew who the sender was. Only in front of him her eyes open in horror and fear. Only he could frighten her to death. For a moment she glances at a document which states: “According to the Forensics Department, a 29-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment. She is reported to have been raped first and then strangled. She was alone in the apartment while her parents, who were in their family villa for the weekend, found her two days after the horrifying act. The only suspect is her 32-year-old boyfriend XX. XX has never been convicted. Except for several criminal complaints for fights, there are no other lawsuits against him”. Brigita rereads the section that states “According to the Forensics Department, raped first and then strangled,” underlines it with a red marker and then she rereads the content of the text message. Just a thought of him makes her cramp and choke. She starts to panic even more when she realizes he has her phone number. But what confuses her really is why he wrote that her eyes are fern-green? Her eyes may be pine-green or corn-green or…just not fern-green. Actually, she does not have green eyes. Her eyes are brown; she knows that for sure. She takes out a mirror from her purse and puts it close to her eyes, starts staring deep into her eyes and in the reflection she sees what she was afraid to see before. Her eyes, the same eyes she has been seeing in a mirror for 60 years look differently now than usual. For a moment she puts her mirror down to come to herself. Maybe out of horror, she starts to see something else, and in a split of a second she looks again just to see the same thing again. Her eyes are not brown. Million questions bombard her. Are her eyes really green? They might have looked brown because her whole life she looked at her reflection in rooms without sufficient day light? May it be a shadow of an object she couldn’t notice that made the green look like brown? She gets up and walks to the window, puts the mirror on ledge so that the daylight lightens her eyes better. While she looks in the mirror, her eyes, which at one point looked brown, start to turn green. She suddenly sees a woman with green eyes and that is not any unknown woman, but it is her – Brigita. Her eyes have been green since birth, but no one told her that. Once again she raises the mirror to the height of her eyes and her eyes are really green. Yes, true, she has green eyes. She has fern-green eyes.

Her whole world turned upside-down. She has been living in self-denial for 60 years now. Sixty years she has been looking at a different image of herself in the mirror. This revelation has upset her even more. Everything she wanted at that particular moment was to leave as far as possible from the court.               

2.

Brigita lives alone, in an apartment with two rooms and a kitchen, in the suburbs of Skopje, far from any human presence. Whenever someone would ask her why she did not move to the city center or somewhere closer to the court, she would say that her job is too dangerous to live somewhere where she could be found easily by wrathful criminals involved in cases she worked on. People understand her attitude and do not bother her any more even though that attitude is a lie and Brigita herself believes in it. Never would she have any problem with the convicted criminals since she is too lenient for people to feel revengeful.  

Some time ago, Brigita had a cat, but just a week later she gave the cat some poisonous food. She did not know how to get rid of the cat and poisoning it seemed to be the least painful method. Brigita did not want anyone to rub against her legs, or to get attached to her. She could not stand the feeling of attachment; it was not her cup of tea, so she decided to get rid of the cat that constantly rubbed against Brigita’s legs. Brigita even avoided men who wanted to get attached to her. Except for some flings when she was young, she spent her whole life with Thomas. He is one year younger than her. They met in a courtroom. Thomas is a surgeon and there were some charges pressed against him that because of his carelessness a patient died. Another judge led the case, but after he took a sick leave, Brigita got the case. The case was brought almost to the final stage so Brigita ruled in his favor without thinking much. As a sign of gratitude he started sending her flowers, inviting her to dinners. Although no other man did the same thing for her before, she was not attracted by flowers, or romantic dinners but by the fact that he was married with two kids. Brigita immediately recognized a perfect man in Thomas, a man she would not get attached to and one who would not get attached to her. The flowers and romantic dinners were soon replaced with short dates at her place when his wife would be absent from home or when he would quarrel with his wife. Sometimes they travelled together. He would say to his family that he was going on a business trip, while Brigita would pack her cases pleasurably thinking she has the advantage of him because she did not to explain her absence to anyone. Besides him, Brigita has not been dating other man in the past 20 years. She was faithful to Thomas not because she loved him but because she didn’t want to put herself in a situation to justify her actions to other people. She wasn’t apt to have two lovers. From time to time Brigita would have a date with another man, but that usually was an accidental adventure, someone she would not see ever again. She cheated on Thomas for the first time on a trip to Crete. Although that wasn’t real cheating she liked to treat it as cheating. They decided to travel together to mark the 10-year period since their first date. Actually Brigita didn’t care much when they first met, but he thought it is an important date for both of them because at that particular day he was found not guilty and instead of going to jail he continued to live free, instead of being sent to a dirty prison cell, he continued to live in his comfy villa at Vodno together with his family which gave him peace.

When they arrived in Athens, there was a seven-hour wait to get on the ship. They were too tired to walk in the city, so they decided to spend the day at the harbor in Piraeus. Brigita was not used to spending so much time with Thomas. She wished she could spend the time alone while waiting for the ship. She did not want to walk far away from the port and get lost. But when she left the harbor, she walked to the Ulysses Square situated near the harbor. She crossed the Square and went down the Alepidu Street. The street was turned into a used goods market. Brigita walked between the improvised stalls where Pakistani and Nigerians were selling clothes and women’s handbags. Brigita pretended to be interested and from time to time she stopped to browse the items at some stalls. While she was moving between all those bodies, every time she touched or bumped into someone she felt uncomfortable. The sheer thought of getting attached to another body was abandoned a priori. A woman that stood next to Brigita started yelling, uttering something in Greek, and at one moment she repeated the same words in English: “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis stink!” A Pakistani, who stood between the yelling woman and Brigita, started to shove a purse in Brigita’s hands offering it for a half price. To get rid of him she said she wanted a red one. The Pakistani looked at her inquisitively telling her to follow him to the warehouse where he has a red one. Brigita followed him one step behind not knowing she was doing that. While he was walking, he kept on turning towards her giving her signs to keep following him. The Pakistani man entered a half-ruined building that was a part of a subway station in Piraeus…or it may have seemed to her it was a part. Brigita entered a space with ruined walls. The temperature inside was several degrees lower than outside, so she felt comfortable to in such a place. The Pakistani stood next to a ruined wall giving her a sign to enter. She made a step forward; he gave her a hand to pass through the wall, and Brigita suddenly found herself in a demolished room with stairs which led to the cellar and a lopsided window on which a Nigerian woman stood crying and threating to an Afro-American man that she would jump. Brigita was glued to the wall, not knowing how she got there and why she did not leave. The Pakistani man kneeled in front of her giving her a sign to lift up her dress. She started lifting it up slowly while looking straight at his eyes. He kept on giving her signs to continue. When the dress was up to her knees, the Pakistani shoved his hands under her dress impatiently and pulled down her panties. Brigita was stiff not knowing what to do. The Pakistani gave her another sign to stretch her legs a bit, and she moved only one leg since her other leg was numb. Unexpectedly, the Pakistani stuck his finger into her vagina. Brigita was numb not showing any feelings; she was confused. The surprised Pakistani took his finger out and tried to stuck two of his fingers into her vagina. “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis are filthy!”, the words echoed in Brigita’s head. Her body became more numb, she started feeling his nails stabbing her vagina while his long, black, filthy fingers penetrate into her. “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis are filthy!” the voice of the yelling woman echoed in her head. As his fingers penetrated into her vagina, she felt her stomach become upset. She had to eject those black, filthy fingers from her body. “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis are filthy!” She could not bear his presence in her body anymore and she started vomiting. The Nigerian woman who stood on the window crying and threatening, started to laugh. “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis are filthy!” words echoed in Brigita’s head more intensely. Every thought of him made her vomit. The Nigerian woman climbed down from the window looking at her and keeling over with laughter. The Pakistani tried to lift her up. Brigita pushed him with her right shoulder which he tried to touch. Suddenly she stood up and started to run in the cellar. The Nigerian woman laughed even louder. The Pakistani was yelling. “Pakistanis are disgusting! Pakistanis are filthy!”

Brigita was running faster. At one moment she found herself in a dark corridor that led nowhere. She was petrified. She was looking for an exit. Unclear words came from the darkness, something that resembled singing. She walked towards the place where the words were coming from. At the end of the corridor she saw a dim light. When she arrived at the place where the light was coming from, she saw a group of Nigerians sitting in a circle performing some ritual. A middle-aged Nigerian man, who was sitting in the front of the group, dressed in a red cloak with yellow stripes and a cap with the same design, took several small chickens out of a box and let them free. The chickens were running madly in the circle while the people were looking at them absent-mindedly. The man in the red cloak, who judging from his clothes was likely the chief of the tribe, caught one chicken and while holding it for its beak, he rotated it. At one moment, he pulled out the chicken’s head and started sprinkling its blood all over the place. First, he spread some blood on his eyes and then on his forehead. When he approached the people sitting in a circle, he looked in the direction where Brigita was standing and observing them. When he saw her, she screamed and started running in a circle in the dark place until she tripped on the stairs she climbed when she arrived at that place. She climbed the stairs again and arrived at the same place. The Nigerian woman was standing at the window again, crying and threatening the man who seemed to have quitted the idea to change her mind. The Pakistani man was standing with a bowed head leaning towards a wall, and when he saw Brigita, he gave her the same sign with his hand as before calling her to approach him. The Nigerian woman looked like ready to jump, but when she saw Brigita she started laughing loudly. Brigita ran to the exit, pushing the Pakistani who kept on calling her with his hand. The Nigerian woman could not stop laughing until she reached the exit, when all of a sudden a pleading scream which ended with a bang. Brigita ran to the harbor. When she reached the harbor, Thomas was there dozing on a bench. She wanted to leave an impression that everything is alright and started telling him that she was looking for a restaurant near the harbor where they can have lunch, but she could not find a good one. Thomas, who was lying comfortably on the bench, gave the impression that he did not care much about what she was saying. When Brigita realized he did not pay her any attention, she took a sandwich from her backpack and fell on the food. Her stomach was empty.

Her first attempt for adultery ended up ingloriously. It could have ended fatally just like the trials Brigita usually experiences in the courtroom. 

3.

Drops of sweat roll down her face. Shaped like green peas grains, big and round, the drops drip on her eyes. Her vision is blurry. Her steps are heavy. She feels a horrible burden as if she was carrying a heavy load on her back. She can barely breathe. The street is empty. And how can there be anyone in this hot weather. Her whole body is sticky. She had never felt that hot. The air is thin and humid so she chokes at times. Her clothes become uncomfortable, and she feels like taking them off and jumping into water. All kiosks are closed, so she cannot even buy water to drink. She cannot remember what day it is; where is everybody? She suddenly enters the zoo, but it becomes unbearable. A new hotter wave coming from the approaching crowd strikes her. All of a sudden she realizes that the crowd walks toward the exit – it is only her walking in the opposite direction. A stagnant water smell itches her nostrils. The sultriness comes most likely from there. A million flies stick to her sweaty face. She tries to chase them with her hand, but they stick on her hands, too. She hears ducks quacking somewhere. They must be in the pond. Mothers with children push into her. It becomes even more unbearable. While she is trying to press through the crowd, she sees a ruined building with a sign: “No entry. Under construction.” She sees the building as her only point of salvation. She enters. It is cold inside. Except for the wet paint smell, the air is clean. A cold wave runs through her body and she shivers. It is quiet. There is nobody, not even the workmen who, judging from the fresh wet paint smell, have just left the place. In one corner she spots a cage with a lying tiger. When the tiger saw her it began to roar loudly. Smell of raw meat is coming from the cage. It smells like blood. The unpleasant feeling returns. It is too cold, the smell becomes sharper. The tiger roars without stopping, and it seems like at any moment it can break the cage and tear her to pieces. She starts running through a long corridor. As she is running, pieces of plaster are falling on her head. At the end of the corridor she bumps into another cage with a lion inside. The moment it spots her, it starts roaring accompanied by the tiger that turned silent when Brigita moved away from its cage. The corridor is a dead-end. It ends with glass instead of a wall from where one can see a cage with birds of prey. Brigita goes back and when she passes the tiger she enters another corridor on the other side of the building. While she walks through the corridor she sees a new cage. Without looking inside she continues to its end which is made of glass and offers a view to the birds of prey. The building is a real labyrinth, she thinks. She goes back to the exit and just before she gets out she looks carefully at the cage she walked by just a moment ago. It is dark inside the cage. It looks empty at first, but then she notices that at one corner there is something curled up. As she approaches the cage, the thing looks like it grows bigger. She comes so close to the bars of the cage that the sheer thought of what may happen to her gives her the creeps. The thing starts raising and she recognizes it. Her body cramps from fear. She starts panicking and paralyzes fully. It is him. The man in front of whom her eyes open in horror and disgust. The man who makes her body cramp so much that she can never free herself. She is not in the zoo, she is in prison. He lies in his prison cell. She comes closer to him although her heart sinks into her boots. He looks straight into her eyes. Their eyes meet for the first time. Their bodies are that close for the first time. Only the metal bars are separating them. He looks at her bloodthirstily. She senses the same smell of blood that she has experienced before, except that this time that is not animal blood, but her own blood. She knows that smell. He will not roar, she thinks. No, he will not, but at any moment he could tear her to pieces. He looks at her like a wounded animal that can attack at any moment in defense. She shivers from his look. He is naked down to his waist. He has a tattoo on his right arm. His body with muscles resembles the body of St. Sebastian stabbed with arrows, curled in pain, but the body radiates dignity; it is the only male body that leaves Brigita without breath. No, he is not St. Sebastian. She tries to get rid of this thought. While she struggles with herself to push those thoughts away, he runs and hits the cage. The bars shake. He moves back and repeats the same move. The cage does not open again. He remains encaged. The moment she realizes he cannot get out, she approaches him. Freed from the thought that he cannot harm her, tiredly she leans on the bars. While she tries to gain some time to think better what to do, he grabs her neck and starts strangling her. As he is strangling her, he camps his face and Brigita notices a scar above his right eye. Whenever he presses her neck, his face cramps more. The veins on his arms become clearly visible. The scar on his cramped face looks like a jelly-fish. As he strangles her, his lower lip presses the upper lip, his eyes are half-shut like he is trying hard to see something at a distance, and the scar even more resembles a jelly-fish. Brigita cannot breathe properly. She tries to push his hands away from her neck, but she cannot. She is not that strong. After several unsuccessful trials, her body surrenders. She fully surrenders. All she can see through her eyes filmed in tears is the jelly-fish which grows rapidly. The jelly-fish comes closer to her face in threat like it will swallow it at any moment. The jelly-fish is no more a jelly-fish. It is a big mouth in which she collapses. She loses more air. The moment she starts to surrender herself to death, when she cannot feel the air any longer, he loosens his fingers and reduces the pressure so she can take a breath, and then he puts her hand down and shoves his penis into her mouth. She cannot breathe again. She even does not have the strength to bite him. This time she can feel the death. She feels the friction in her throat. Her mouth is dry. She tries to open her mouth slightly to get some air, but unsuccessfully. He penetrates deeper and deeper into her. What she can see in front of her is a black cloud. That must be death, she thinks, and surrenders herself to the darkness. He is inside her.                                                                                                                            

Brigita opens her eyes and with her mouth wide open she starts to inhale. It is still dark, death still hangs above her. She starts to inhale again with her mouth wide open. The air bites her chest. She feels how her body feels with air, a bit stale, but it is air. The dark cloud that enveloped her is clearing away and Brigita begins to recognize the objects surrounding her. The double bed she sleeps on, the blue cover she and Thomas bought together at IKEA, the nightstand with the lamp on; the same lamp she got as a birthday gift from a colleague…She is in her room. In her apartment. It was just a dream. With her hand she starts to touch her bed, her pillow, the bed cover,…just to make sure that is only a dream. Then she starts to touch her body to make sure that her whole body is there, that not a single part is missing. She starts from her neck where she stays the longest. Caressing it, she is convincing herself in her own presence. Then she moves her hands towards her breasts which are hanging on two separate sides, down to her naval, being afraid to put her hand lower, towards the void from where she has felt fear since her childhood, and in the end she gains courage to touch her vagina. Touching herself she feels that her panties are wet. She rubs her fingers and feels the stickiness that she has not felt for a long time. Her body trembles as she realizes this. She feels pleasure in her dream.

Translation: Mira Bekar and Marija Angelovska

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