ul. Vasil Glavinov 3, Skopje, Macedonia
Nenad Joldeski was born in 1986 in Struga, Macedonia. In 2010, he graduated at the Faculty of Economics in Skopje. In 2013, he received a master's degree in comparative literature on the subject of 'Intertextual Irony in Modern and Postmodern Short Stories.'
He is a writer and author of two collections of short stories. His debut, The Silence of Enhalon, written in Macedonian dialect and slang, received the Novite Award from the publishing house Templum in 2009.
His second book, Each with Their Own Lake, was published by Templum in 2012.
In 2018 he published his first novella titled „Swiming Upstream“.
He is also an editor of a collection of short stories dedicated to the Russian emigrant Dr Nikolai Nezlobinski titled Nikolaj (Fiction. Water. Truth).
As a part of the art group Wezdensky, he adapted several screenplays for amateur theatrical performances. He is also a co-founder and one of the organisers of a festival for culture called DRIMON.
He was also a member of several teams that published online journals for literature, and for three years he was part of the team that was in charge of organising the prominent international poetry festival, Struga Poetry Evenings.
NIKOLAI AND THE INKY LAKE
Wandering the empty streets, I found myself in front of the museum, once the home of Nikolai and Sophia Nezlobinski the same house that had been exciting my imagination for several days. It occurred to me that I might go in, but the door was locked so I went around the single storey, once wooden, buildings and the hotel rising behind them and found myself on the bank of the River Drim. I sat down on a bench and closed my eyes. My thoughts were on the story I had decided to write. As always, with that childish impatience that makes you read the end of the book before the beginning, I was thinking about its end. Something emotional. With a sharp melody closing in E-minor.
I sat for hours on that bench by the eternal Drim and at one moment wished I was an eel. To travel for thousands of miles unnoticed by anyone, and then, somewhere between the wish and the sound of the waves bouncing off the river bed, I vanished.
It’s morning. I wake up in the single storey wooden building by the inky river. The south wind freezes everything around. Cold air rushes in through the open window of the small room. Nikolai wakes up alone in his iron bed. Sophia is nowhere to be seen and only the imprint of her body impressed on the white crumpled sheets proves that she was there next to him. The old clock on the small table shows 8am. He wondered where she could be. A queasy feeling stirred in the pit of his stomach.
He stares through the window at the crooked low plank fence at the edge of the river bank. He sees her too, on the other side of the fence, staring at the river. The water reaches her feet.
“What’s going on with you,” the doctor wonders. “What are you doing there, poor thing.”
Then he imagines hearing her voice.
“I want to go back, Nikolai. Time hurts more here! More than anything in the world. This country, this very soil painfully resembles our country, the Russian soil.”
“Sophia… Sophia… you know there’s no going back,” he answers her in his mind. “The Tsar fell from power, and Russia has been done away with long ago. It’s good here. Come on, pull yourself together. There’s a long day ahead of us. Only God knows what’s best.”
He flinches and is embarrassed by his flight of fancy.
Then he sees the camera. He sets it, aims it at Sophia and shoots. Once. He knows the photo will be good and, as usual, imagines what it would look like in colour.
The inky river
The moss on the fence
Her green dress
Her silky blond hair
And as a rule:
The South of Russia
The Black Sea
The smell of childhood
The green map without toponyms
He dresses quickly and goes out. She hasn’t moved from the fence. The river washes her feet splashed with mud. Shivers run down his spine and the cold begins to grab his feet. The inky river is rushing in high waves. The water runs over the eel-trapping weirs. Sadness and wind chill his body and he loses the actual names again.
The inky lake
The inky river
The inky town
He joins Sophia.
“What’s the matter with you? What are you doing here?” he asks her.
She turns to him and smiles.
“The river. The river speaks to me… Ah, Nikolai, it’s just as if we were back home,” she says, and as if feeling the tempest approach, she puts her arms around him. She talks to him about childhood, about the horses of Pyatigorsk, and suddenly everything subsides. Nikolai’s sadness is absorbed into Sophia Nezlobinska’s frightened eyes. She laughs, and the south sends the warmth back. The sky is clearing up.
Nikolai kisses her.
“I’ll build a museum,” he tells her. “I’ll exhibit these pelicans to the world,” and then he draws her gently closer to him and takes her back to their quarters.
I watch them approach and suddenly remember the meeting with Cvetkovski. I run to his office. Outside it’s beginning to rain. The old town slowly melts before my eyes.
Cvetkovski’s office was stuffed with books and papers. A portrait of Sophia was hung on the south wall, the same portrait Duracovski mentioned in his story. I wondered if there’s really another portrait behind this one, but just as I was about to ask, absurdly and inquisitively, for a permission to check it, the low and slow voice of my collocutor was heard as if coming from a well:
“What precisely do you want to know?”
I don’t know why, but I told him that I was already writing a story about Nezlobinski and that any new information would be useful. That’s all. He heard me out and then started recounting facts already known to me, with a few exceptions: the first – that there were more than 100 documentary photographs in the museum, taken by Nikolai himself; the second – that his effects had been moved to the Water Resources Management, where they got scattered and mostly lost without trace; the third – Nezlobinski died of a heart attack in May 1942, and Sophia outlived him by 15 years and worked as a professor of Russian, French and music in the Struga High School. He also told me that the museum was already working on a new monograph – a special edition dedicated to the memory of the doctor, to be published on the occasion of the anniversary of his death, and that if I wished I could be the editor of a book of stories in which the museum would include my story, along with Duracovski’s and some others. I said it would be an honour and agreed. Then he asked me to tell him something about the angle of the story I was writing. I said, “It’s something about sadness,” and then, fearing that he would find out that I hadn’t even started writing the story, mentioned Danilo Kiš.
Fiction begins where
history becomes hazy…
We left his office and went to the museum. He showed me the photographs, as well as a green map of Macedonia as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes – Nezlobinski’s personal property. The map did not show Struga. We went through the photographs, then put everything back and strolled among the glass exhibit cases with stuffed animals. We stopped in front of a two-headed calf.
“Tell me,” he said,” how do you write the story? What with all the things that you have to make up.”
I looked at him in silence for a while.
“This time I’m not writing. It could rather be said that I’m writing down. I testify,” I finally replied with a kind of beginner’s fervour.
He gave me a perplexed look, then smiled and turned his eyes back to the Janus calf.
Neither of us says anything. The silence rips space and time. Further down, a few metres from us, Nikolai looks at the stuffed animals of the first Natural History Museum in Macedonia. His collaborators are to arrive any moment now. He looks at the pelicans, their glassy eyes, and is suddenly gripped by coldness. “What am I doing to the poor birds,” he thinks to himself, “why do I kill them?” He feels the urge to cancel the exhibition, to put an end to his hunting, but soon calms down. “The science, science deserves such sacrifice,” he says to himself. He looks through the window at the river. It’s inky again.
Sophia enters the building. Sunbeams bore their way from the window.
“Come closer,” he tells her, and she does and sets his hat right. “When we first arrived at this town, I could smell what happiness looks like. And I saw the freedom in the wings of a pelican and it, the happiness, in the big white lake. And now, that same pelican, the freedom, my joy, stands in this glass case.”
“There are many pelicans in this world. This can’t be the same one,” she replies ineptly, knowing that even this will suffice to soothe his sadness.
Nikolai wants to say something, but somebody comes into the building.
and Baron Boris.
At my side Cvetkovski breaks the silence.
“You know, when Hitler razed Yugoslavia to the ground, the citizens of Struga did not allow the museum exhibits to be destroyed, but packed them in wooden boxes and hid them in the neighbouring houses. They saved everything,” he tells me and starts for the exit, saying he’s already late for lunch. We went out and he locked the museum. After he left, I took one last look through the window. And there, there was Rudnyev, looking at the pelican, and then shifting his eyes to the doctor’s shoulder blades. As if to check the doctor had wings too. Nikolai notices it and tells him quietly:
“My friend, Tesla said that a man has to be sentimental to birds because of their wings. He says that man too had wings once, real and visible! Wings are everything in this life! But, that’s exactly what’s been torturing me, my friend. What about Hitler’s black wings flapping over Europe? What with those wings, my friend?”
Rudnyev is rigid with apprehension. He knows what the doctor is aiming at.
“Those are not real wings,” he replies, “and the sun will melt them.” But he doesn’t know if he himself believes this.
And outside darkness falls again. I’m returning to my home. Overwhelmed by emotions, I sit down to write the promised story. My new building.
Three unsuccessful attempts at a good beginning, and I drop off.
In the morning on Sunday, before leaving for Skopje, I visited my childhood friend Goran Ristovski. We went up to his studio, where he wanted to give me one of his paintings as a gift. Somewhere among the canvases we noticed one that seemed markedly exceptional. Goran didn’t remember having painted it, but the style clearly proved it was his work. It was his hand that was giving him away.
We looked at it in disbelief. In it, a man wearing a hat on his head sits by a lake with his back to the spectator. I looked at it and felt that I was slowly and irrevocably sinking into the soft mud of time.
The lake is peaceful and the mountains surrounding it are in clear view. The water is inky, cold and sticky. Looking down, one can see the fish standing still like shadows under the surface.
The inky lake (which seems inky to the untrained eye, even though it’s not) does not have a name. As if no one has named it before. As if no one ever wanted to. As if it was enough for it to be a Lake. He’s convinced of it. His memory even evokes a green map. He sees there (but is wrong again) – that the lake really doesn’t have a name.
It’s the same with the name of the river escaping from the big inkwell of a lake a little bit further to the east from the place where it is now. A river. Different than any other he’s known. Namelessly and silently it saves its own story and arrogantly refuses to mix it with that of the Lake. It takes its source from the southern mountain and descends through the Lake into the town in light green hues. Only at times, when the sky darkens, the river seems to take pity on the Lake’s sorrow and darkens, turning blue to deep blue and begins to rise in big waves, flowing out from its bed and drowning the town. And when it’s like that people fear it and respect it even more. Taken by surprise by the raging river, they wait locked in their homes and refuse to see it when it’s inky and mixed. They let it flow through, tell its sorrows and then, when its colour and peace return, they return too.
But he is not like those people.
On the other hand, the town, with its south end taken over by the inky lake, is not alien to him, nor is it unknown. He’s been wandering it for almost 18 years. He knows every single centimetre of the city and of the mountains surrounding it. In Nikolai’s memory the town still has a name, but there is something in that name, he ponders, something that flows out and disappears as if blown by the wind the moment he says it aloud. As if the entire gist of it eludes him through some invisible passage. He wants to shout out the name of the town, open his mouth, strain his thoughts and press his tongue against the lower teeth. But as soon as he pronounces the first letter he’s benumbed and the name escapes his memory. As if to find comfort for the oblivion and for the sadness spreading throughout his body, he says aloud: “All evoking is in vain.” The green map tells him the same. A Town is enough.
But I’d better hurry before everything vanishes.
He also thinks that he himself doesn’t exist either. That he has neither a name nor a family name.
The lake is peaceful. The warm May day slowly fades and fills itself with the silence of the springtime night. A deadened, unmoving atmosphere spreads to all sides of the world. Over his head pelicans levitate, but they only seemingly break the torpor. He follows them. They look like stuffed exhibits stitched to the sky where they sway soundlessly, uncoordinated and absolutely artificially.
Suddenly he’s struck by the thought that everything will stop
The thought strikes him, but nothing stops. Instead, a shot is heard that to him seems to turn off the eternal lambada of time. Scared pelicans fly to all sides. The place empties. But he is not frightened. He doesn’t think anyone would shoot him. And he’s quite right. The shot comes from a photo camera, not a firearm. That’s what he thought. A photo camera. He turns his gaze to the lake. In the east, dust rises. He inhales in the swirl of small dust particles and imagines what the photograph would look like.
Washed out reeds
Entangled memories in infinite chaos
The sky, white
The light, poor, but sufficient
He and his straw hat
In his mind he now packs the small green map, and on top of it puts the imagined photograph bearing the inscription:
[everything I’ve buried over the years]
He picks up his suitcase and his straw hat and leaves.
He wakes up
The wind grows stronger. The memories that were mingling with the dust whirlwind, which is now dissipating into the huge inky pool, begin to dart about in the – until then – motionless world. In the distance a tempest has started.
The strangest thing about this is that now his tempest is our tempest too.
Heavy rain begins to fall. He hears footsteps. Somebody is coming his way. The wind grows stronger and plays with the straw hat on his head. Someone touches him on the shoulder. In the broken inky mirror of the lake he sees his wife.
He turns around. She puts her arms around him and kisses him on the cheek. A single tear drops and joins the first raindrops. It’s unclear whose tear it is.
On the green map which reappears in his mind’s eye, the toponyms are re-emerging.
We looked long at the painting, then took it with us and left the studio. I told Goran I was writing a story about Nezlobinski and that the painting reminded me of him.
“You believe the man in the painting to be Nezlobinski?” he asked.
“I’m sure it is,” I said. “You don’t think so?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t remember, but I know I'm not giving it away to you. I will have to take a closer look at it.”
I complied and said I would accept another painting, but some other time.
We went out for a walk. The lake was glistening at the sunset light. A flock of ravens flew above our heads. It felt as if I could hear the lost time in their croaks. Resounding from the water. As we trod on the dead reeds on the beach, I was imagining myself flying low above the surface of the lake. Free as a bird. I was flying over every centimetre of the water, and after the few hours it had taken me to regain awareness of myself, I realized I was in my brother’s car at the entrance of Skopje. A flight in darkness.
On Monday I was seated in front of the computer, staring pensively for long minutes at the white surface of the virtual paper. A slip with the doctor’s name was stuck to the monitor. The cursor in the text editor was disappearing and reappearing at brief intervals. I wanted to begin the story and I was yet again thinking of its end. The date in the right corner of the monitor read 14 May 1942.
A sad piano melody flows in from outside. It’s morning. Nikolai Antonovich Nezlobinski is looking at the inky river and Russia comes to his mind. The ice of sadness gathers on the rim of his heart. Slowly, snow fills its ventricles. His feet are drenched in the ink of sadness. Above his head two pelicans rise towards the sky in endless pirouettes. “Freedom,” he thinks, “freedom,” and his heart freezes. The last notes of the sharp melody slowly follow each other in some kind of infinite anticipation. Nikolai falls dead into the raging river. The melody finishes in D-minor. The note resounds for 15 years.