Excerpt from the novel “Vilino” by Vinka Sazdova.
The next day Vidan did not know what to do with himself. He exchanged a few words with the guests he had met in the garden, took a walk down the streets of the neighborhood, opening and closing Rumi’s book without reading anything, he stared at the sky. As the day was going by, the emptiness that had embedded in him got increasingly amplified. As if Vili had taken with her all vivacious and happy things. It couldn’t be I fell in love? No, he rejected this thought in a second. I’m old for such things, my juices had run dry long ago, it has to be something else. But what!? Some people are like the Sun, they would make you warm, but there are also people like winter rain, they would turn your soul into ice, he started explaining to himself. Into which category fall Ognena and Tony? – he asked himself. I don’t know, he rushed answering himself. He knew, though, but he didn’t want to admit to himself.
He turned his cell phone on. He had two missed calls and one message. Each from Stefan. And that was it. As if whole the world had forgotten him. He didn’t finish reading the message, because he was convinced he knew what it contained, furthermore, in case of reading it, he would have to reply. But he didn’t want to communicate. With anybody. Except for… Vili!? – he sighed. Why do you stay in a dungeon when the door is wide open? – all of a sudden Rumi’s words flashed through his mind, he had read them who knows when. A string buzzed in his chest. I’m going to go Vilino! – he decided in a moment. Vili will understand it as it is. She will not add, nor take from things. For her, things are as they are. But what they are like? And whom I’m reasoning with? I’m a free man who… he stopped. I’m not free, damn it! Free people don’t run away, they lock horns with life, his enthusiasm went down. But I’m going to go anyway! – he wouldn’t let himself change his mind.
He strode toward the reception desk in order to ask the girl to book him a ticket for the first bus for Vilino tomorrow morning. And while she was talking on the phone, what took his attention was the photography hanging on the column behind her. There was a man sitting in front of some Indonesian temple, his hands folded in a praying position. His face was serene, his look mild, his eyebrows black and thick, his hair dense and breezy. It can’t be! The homeless man!?
“I would like to ask you something”, he would not take his eyes off the photo.
“May I help you?”, obliging smile.
“This photo…” He pointed.
“I hung it today”, she rushed to explain to him, thinking he is being astounded for not noticing it before.
“Who is the person in the picture? I apologize, maybe I should not be curious…”
“Not at all! It is Isak. The owner of this boarding house.”
“He is on Bali now. He just sent it to us. It is beautiful, isn’t it? I had to hang it, it has a soothing effect. It’s like he is here, with us.”
“Yes, yes”, he was looking at the picture, confused.
“Do you know him?”
“No”, he shook his head. “Actually, yes! He is the one who recommended to me this boarding house.”
“Maybe the next time when you come here, you will meet up with him”, she stared at the photo as well.
“Maybe”, sadness in his voice, he didn’t know why.
“But this picture will be definitely gone. I will take it down as soon as I hear he is back” jolly laughter.
“You gonna take it down?” He raised his eyebrows.
“He is humble, he doesn’t want to be praised and glorified.”
“I see.” Now he really regretted not having a longer conversation with him in the park.
He didn’t know he will be so happy. His heart was pounding fast, and his smile didn’t go away from his face. So all the way.
After three and a half hours of driving, and stopping by two small towns on the way, they finally arrived. “Vilino!” the driver announced, parking on a small square. Vidan was the last to get out, it took him some time to stretch his legs after the long sitting.
The square was covered with dark granite blocks and surrounded by stone houses as if they had been drawn. Old black locusts curled in front of them, their branches exotically stretched in all directions. In the middle was a fountain in the shape of a bird from whose beak flowed a lush stream of water, and around it were wooden benches. Chirping birds flew playfully across the blue sky. Here and there a passer-by went his own way. Across the street, in front of a store, two men were sitting on stone stairs with beer bottles in their hands. A typical scene for small places, he put a little smile on his face and headed towards them.
“Good afternoon”, he greeted them.
“God bless you”, they greeted him in one voice. They were equally dressed, in cloth trousers, woolen vests, thick plaid shirts, caps on their heads, worn-out shoes on their feet. Even their faces looked the same. Darkened by the Sun and full of deep wrinkles.
“Here, have a seat”, one of them showed him the stone stairs next to him.
“No, thank you, I’m not here for having a seat”, he shook his head.
“So, what are you here for?”, the other one gave him a shifty look.
“Do you know where I can find Vili?”
“Vili? Well, even birds know that! ” he burst out laughing. The man next to him joined him.
Waiting for the answer, Vidan shifted his body weight from one leg to the other, his gaze wandering downward. “Just go straight down this street”, one of the men pointed to one of the two alleys branching off the square, “And there you are at Vili’s!”
“Thank you”, he shifted the backpack from one shoulder to another.
“Just go straight up”, the man repeated.
He walked slowly, indulging in the excitement that overwhelmed him. He listened to the chirping of the birds, he looked at the oriels of the houses, at the gates, at the windows with wicker curtains, at the pots with all kinds of flowers. He was delighted by the stone houses, the alleys that shone from the many walks on them, the roar of the water that was heard from all sides. He also liked the people he met along the way. They were all with plump faces, rosy cheeks, and clear-eyed. Here and there he would see someone who was not from here, like him, they would recognize each other by their clothes and gait.
He saw her from a distance. Short, plump, almost round-shaped, like a ball. She moved between the tables, laughing at the guests. When she saw him, her smile reached her ears.
“Hey, Vidan!” she waved at him and hurried to meet him. Her gait was easy, like a child’s. Curls on her hair were bouncing, her face shining.
“You came anyway, huh?” She held out her hands to him.
“I came!” he shook her hands warmly.
“Hey, you really made me happy!” Countless little suns sprang from her eyes.
“Oh!” He sighed a little embarrassed.
“Come on”, she pulled his arm. “Look!” She proudly showed him a pink stone house with large windows, a wooden hovering oriel, and a tall carved door that read: At Vili’s. In front of her, on the alley, were a dozen round wooden tables and chairs with armrests with yellow seat cushions. There was a small vase on each table with tiny blue flowers. The same lush flowers overflowed from the pots that surrounded the cafeteria. He stared at the house again. The attic on the oriel was full of swallow’s nests. The view was like a postcard. That touched him. It reminded him of a life he had only dreamed of and never lived.
“A very nice house”, his voice and gaze were full of longing. “I have never seen a pink stone like this. It’s weird what nature gives. “
“It’s nearby, in the mountains. My father took it out of there and shaped it. The bricklayers built it. The cafeteria is on the ground floor, I live upstairs. Do you want to see what it looks like inside? ” – she took one step towards the door and stopped. “Actually not, take your time, you need to rest first. You must be tired. ”
“Not really”, he shook his head, but the expression on his face said otherwise.
He was tired, a lot. He got up early, traveled a long way, and was consumed by excitement.
Vili took him by the arm and led him to the table that was right at the end, to the entrance of the house.
“That’s for the best. It has a view, you have everything before you, and besides, no one will sit behind your back, ”she laughed mischievously.
Vidan lowered his backpack to the ground and sat by the wall. She remained standing, watching him with childish curiosity. At one point, a shadow flew over her face.
“I’ll bring you a juice that will invigorate you immediately”, she rushed to the front door.
While waiting for her, Vidan looked to the perfectly fit stones used for building the house. Just like a mosaic, he was being impressed by the bricklayers’ mastery.
“Here you go”, Vili laid the platter on the table. There was a glass filled to the top with red-orange juice, a little porcelain cup of steaming coffee, and a round waffle with overflowing fillings.
“The juice first”, she put the glass in front of him.
The juice had a flavor of pineapple, mango, papaya, cinnamon… who would know? Not only it was incredibly delicious, but it refreshed him instantly, he regained his strength.
“This is some magic potion, isn’t it!?”, blueness in his eyes intensified.
“Life itself is magic”, Vili pulled a box of cigarettes from the apron, which was belted over her long dark skirt. “Try the waffle now,” she lit a cigarette, turning her head to the other side so he wouldn’t be bothered by the smoke. “It simple, for the beginning. You enter the world of waffles slowly, you need to get used to it.
He looked at her questioningly, wanting to know if she was joking with him, so when her face told him nothing, he took the fork and the knife and cut a small piece of warm waffle. Between the two pastes was a vanilla and chocolate filling, strawberry noodles, raspberries, some white, crunchy balls, and a few other things he couldn’t puzzle out.
“I’m not a big fan of sweet, but this is really tasty”, he emptied his plate with pleasure. Those tastes were completely unknown to him but beautiful anyway. Vili was silent, not moving her eyes from him. She looked at him contentedly, as a mother watches her child while it eats with appetite.
“Where can I stay?” he asked her as he switched to the coffee.
“You don’t have much choice here. There are only rooms in private houses. But there is one woman who deals with real eco-tourism. With local cuisine, pies, mountain river fish, sachi, and many other things. ”
“I don’t care”, he shrugged.
“Oh, you will, you’ll see! Vili pulled the phone out of her apron pocket and gave someone a call. As she spoke, his eyes wandered in all directions.
You are very lucky, Nata has one free room “, she happily put the phone on the table, and he thanked her, nodding his head.
This place is very interesting, I have never seen houses like this. Vidan nodded toward the stone houses across the street. I want you to tell me everything, but not today. I need a rest, I’m exhausted “, he rubbed his forehead.
“I also get tired when I come from the city. It’s a miracle how it heals one. You will get stronger here “, she got up. “Come on!”
“Let me pay first,” he took the wallet from his pocket.
“You are my guest today” she untied her apron. “Wait for me here for a bit”, she headed inside.
“Thank, you!” He shouted.
She returned quickly. “Over here”, she led him down a small alley.
They passed several houses, all of stone as if outlined. And all with floating oriels. Cheerful children’s laughter and someone’s song spread around. But he felt bitterness in the chest. Where did I spend my life? Where I have been hurrying? – he was saddened by the idyllic scenes and the serene joy in which Vilino was wrapped.
“Hey, where did you fly with your thoughts?” Vili felt that he became sad.
“As if there is nowhere to fly”, he replied discouragingly.
“There will be time to think. Now breathe. Just breathe. And nothing else.”
I don’t do anything but breathe, but if you breathe it doesn’t mean you live, she wanted to say, but kept quiet. To him, that statement seemed too painful, he didn’t want to be destroyed by the moment.
“Here we are!”
The wooden gate that Vili had opened, tinkled. The large yard they stepped in caused him to sigh. Branched walnut tree and under it a table with wooden benches on both sides, a stone well in the middle, on the side a hammock tied to two black locusts, at the end a small garden with a variety of vegetables. A woman with gray hair gathered in a braid and with a face full of wrinkles came towards them. Her hands were full of large, ripe tomatoes.
“This is your landlady, Nata.” Vili introduced her.
She left the tomato on the table and held out her hand. Her grip was strong, masculine, her gaze clear.
“Should I show you the room, or we will take a seat briefly?”
“As you wish…” he didn’t want to sit, but he didn’t want to be impolite either.
“He should settle in first”, Vili read his thoughts.
“Come along then”, the landlady strolled to the stairs.
“I’m leaving you with good thoughts”, Vili patted him on the shoulder. “You know where I am, and you know you’re welcome,” everything on her was smiling. To him, even her hair seemed to smile.
He muttered a few words of gratitude and went up the stairs. Nata stood in front of an open door. Everything in the room smelled clean, just washed. Bed cover, bed linen, curtains. The room was simply furnished, with nothing superfluous inside. Bed, coffee table, and a small armchair next to it, a small desk by the window, a wooden closet. The window was large, there were wicker curtains. There was a hand-woven rug on the wooden floor. All in warm, sandy tones. Only the pillows on the bed were in the color of cyclamen.
He had laid on the bed with the intention to take a little rest, but he fell asleep. He woke up the next day when the first roosters started crying. Their cry has taken him back to some long-gone times, in which he didn’t even remember he had lived. And fell asleep again.
Translated by Simeon Jankov