Student or Learner
This is the fifth part of my short story, "The Tumor." Please would you correct my mistakes.
Alf was interested in knowing how I had survived the war. I described for him the attack by the Serbian paramilitary forces on our village, the whistle of the approaching shells and explosions that turned everything upside down, the screaming of the wounded and the panic that broke out as everybody was trying to escape, although all escape routes had been blocked. People were rounded up like animals and shot in cold blood, among them my parents, whose only crime had been their Bosniak names. I told him how my former schoolmate Goran, now a Serbian soldier, saved my life by telling me not to go to the bus parked to the left, but the one to the right. Later, I would discover that the passengers of the first one had all been executed. I ended up in a prison camp, sleeping on a dusty concrete floor for about three months, and watching people being tortured and killed in front of me.
Alf listened with the patience so characteristic of the old and experienced people, and then he asked, “Do you hate the Serbs?” I told him I hated only those who had tortured and killed the innocent and I hated those intellectuals who had manipulated their own people and encouraged them to attack their neighbours and commit ethnic cleansing.
Alf was in good mood, and then, when he talked about his tumour, I saw fear in his eyes. “Do you believe in God,” he asked. I told him I was not a devout believer but I believed there must have been some kind of divine intelligence that had created our world.
“What is going to happen with me if I die? I don’t believe in God. I’ve never pondered about death until now. Since the doctor told me about my chances for recovery, not a single day passes that I don’t think about death.”
“Why do you fear death? You’re not a war criminal or someone with terrible conscience.”
“I fear the unknown. I see an endless, dark void, and I am there completely alone. That sends shivers down my spine.” His face turned white and his voice trailed off.
“But there must be some light in that dark void, your personal faith.”
He pondered a while, the colour returned to his face, and he said, “My son and daughter. I’m so proud of them.”
Although the temperature outside was high and the scorching sun blazed down and glinted on the windows, the air-conditioning functioned well and made my stay pleasant. I passed my time reading newspapers, magazines, books, talking with the nurses and other patients, and walking up and down the long corridor. It was a heartbreaking scene to see young men and women sitting in wheelchairs or walking with walking frames, and their families, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends coming for a visit and sharing with them their hopes and pain. A young beautiful woman with long wavy red hair embraced her boyfriend’s paralysed legs, tears trickled down her face. His eyes were sad, and he was on the verge of tears. He hugged her, combed her hair with his limp fingers and told her not to cry, but her tears fell unchecked from her eyes and stained his blue jeans. Spouses and their children came in droves to support their partners and encourage them before the operation, Children scampered and shouted in the corridor zigzagging the patients with walking frames and wheelchairs until their mothers told them off and shoved them into the rooms. Through the half-opened door of a room, I saw an older woman lying motionless on her bed. Her wrinkled face was coated in a deadly pallor, as if she had already left this world. Beside her on a low chair sat a middle-aged man with spectacles. He watched her in silence, motionless. They were bound with an invisible tie, communicating with telepathy or some other language known only to them. I walked by the door several times a day, and the scene never changed, the man never gave me a glance. I thought about my own death. Nobody was going to sorrow me or keep a vigil by my side. There would be neither tears nor greedy heirs fighting like vultures for the inheritance. There would be no obituaries, speeches or eulogies. A personal number would be deleted to make space for another number, which would hopefully make more success in his or her life and actively contribute in boosting country’s economy and its GDP.
Saturday afternoon Alf and I had spent watching bingo on TV. He had bought a few cards and eagerly awaited the game. He told me that after women bingo was his second favourite pastime. I was bored but did not want to offend the old man and sat patiently through the program. Patients and even two, three nurses who joined us because they had nothing to do, gazed at the screen as if they were enchanted. They sang and clapped their hands in unison, while the camera in the studio showed the overweight and badly dressed audience clapping and singing too, and paying attention to every movement and instructions of the scantily dressed presenter as if she were the high priestess of a cult. If I were married to a Swede, I would probably be sitting every Saturday with my own bingo card and a marker pen poised over it pretending I was the happiest man on earth, only to preserve my marriage. In the evening, my wife and I would go outside, drink ourselves into oblivion, and shout things we would never have dared to say while sober.
When the programme finished, Alf was in a cheerful mood. “Tomorrow you’ll see my children, They’re coming from Stockholm. They’re my medicine.” He was clapping and humming one of the songs from the programme. He was usually quick on his feet, but now he was bouncing on his toes like a boy. Watching him, my mood brightened. My operation was planned for Monday morning, and lately anguish invaded my thoughts. What was going to happen if it failed, if something went wrong and the perspiration became worse? I fought those negative thoughts but they returned nevertheless. Now his optimism infected me, and I reassured myself that I was in the hands of the excellent surgeons who would do their utmost to help me.
We spent the evening talking and laughing. Alf was telling me about his numerous sexual encounters. He experienced special pleasure having sex with married women whose husbands went bird-watching, fishing or hunting. Both the women and he became excited thinking about the poor cuckolds who wandered for hours searching for game or looked through their expensive binoculars at the small exotic birds day after day. Some of these men were Alf’s acquaintances, and occasionally Alf would meet the man on the street, just a few minutes after he had sex with his wife in the man’s marriage bed. They would politely exchange greetings, and the cuckold would beam at Alf, lift the killed animal or the birds in front of him, expecting the praise for his prowess. “Great,” Alf would say, pull his hat down and hurry home, fighting to suppress a laugh.
To be continued
I have felt that that sentence was not correct, but I did not know how to rephrase is. The fact is that in Sweden every person has to have a personal number, which is deleted after his death, and then another person would be born and he gets his own number. So the state has the possibility to control everyone by simply entering the number into a computer. You cannot get even a library card without that number. So, I wanted to say that after a person is dead, his number would be deleted, a new person would be born and get the number and probably contribute in boosting the country's economy.
Don't you have bingo on TV in the US? I have never understood why it so popular here, but every Saturday that program is watched by hundreds of thousands, although there are bingo halls in every little town and city.
Regarding birdwatchers, I did not mean to tell that they capture the birds. I meant, of course, the hunters.
It's hard for me to imagine bingo on TV. (Boring!) They certainly do have it in nursing homes though. They had bingo regularly at the nursing home where my wife used to live. (She's not there anymore, of course. She didn't survive her last stroke.)
I am sorry Tarheel to hear about your wife's death. I have a Swedish neighbour whose wife has died after 40 years of their marriage. He told me he felt terrible. And regarding bingo, I can tell you that in the Nordic countries where people are introverted, they need some kind of activity to be together. Therefore you can see all kind of associations and clubs. People here are simply unable to talk freely like in the south of Europe or some other countries where you can talk on a bus with a stranger without feeling any fear or embarrassment. So bingo is great for such kind of people who can be together for two, three hours and can relax and pretend they are glad and talkative when in reality they are reserved and often need a few bottles of beer to start talking at all.