Student or Learner
This is the sixth part of my short story, "The captain." Please would you correct my mistakes.
My aunt opened the door of her flat and I winced. The person I saw was not Azemina, but a mummy. She had shrunken to a little old woman. Her already wrinkled face was now engraved with hundreds of new deep lines. Her eyes were dark-ringed but still looked at me with hope. I hugged her, and the mask of indifference I wore all the way from Sweden was washed away with my tears. Her body seemed so fragile, as if a stronger grip would break her bones. “Don’t cry. Everything will be all right,” my aunt Fatima told me. All my three aunts were present. I felt like hugging and kissing three mothers.
Azemina’s flat had been newly refurbished, and she had thrown out all the old furniture, burned-out bulbs, the captain’s uniform and his religious paraphernalia. She had bought new furniture and arranged her home exactly as she had always dreamed of doing. There were pot plants in every window and vases with flowers on tables, a chest of drawers and a sideboard. They gave off a sweet aroma and reminded me of my own garden and orchard.
We sat together at the table to eat the food Azemina had cooked for us. I felt like a child, cherished and overwhelmed with love. After almost thirty years, we were united again, all bearing the scars of the war and the loss of my father. Before we started eating Azemina said, “Brother, come to eat with us.” I was so moved by the thought of my deceased father that I was barely able to swallow food. My aunts wished to know how I lived in that distant country. I thought of telling them the truth and describing for them how lonely I felt and how my life lost any meaning. But I didn’t have the heart to burden them with my own frustrations and problems. I lied and told them I was learning the language and preparing to study, although I knew I was never going to study anything. They wondered if I was planning to marry soon. They wished to see me father a child who was going to continue our family line. I lied again and told them I was working on that too. I didn’t dare to tell the truth, which would hurt them enormously. I was going to die childless. My seed would not yield a new life. Nobody was going to call me father, and nobody was going to call me husband.
I planned to stay the whole month, but after only five days, I had had enough. I could not bear to see my aunt dwindling in front of me and refusing any medical help. And I could not go outside and walk the streets of Sarajevo without being reminded of the horror that struck our people. I had apologized profusely to my aunts and returned to Sweden. As soon as the plane touched down at Arlanda airport, I put on the mask of indifference again.
My aunt and I called each other at least two three times a month. She told me she was dreaming about me every night. She had no children of her own; I was her child. “I have to see you again,” was the sentence she repeated over and over again. “I’m going to recover if I see you again. You’re my medicine.” I felt pain whenever I heard her voice. I prayed to God that she would die without suffering. I could not stand her supplications. She promised to pay for the travel costs. She wanted to make me her heir; her flat could be mine after her death. Every time she sounded more desperate. She knew the end was approaching. She could not walk any longer, but sat in a wheelchair while my aunt Fatima took care of the housekeeping and her personal hygiene. Azemina had avoided doctors all her life, believing she was stronger than any illness, but now that she had become weak, the doctors told her that diabetes could be deadly if not taken care of. There were cases where patients had to have their feet amputated.
I went to bed every night fighting with myself. My personality was split in two. One half told me to travel and see my aunt one last time before it was too late, and another advised me to stay where I was. I hated that another half; it was the product of my years spent in Sweden. I was turning into one of those people I saw every day on the street, scowling at the others and thinking only of himself. I felt ashamed. If the situation had been the opposite and I was sitting in a wheelchair, my aunt would not have hesitated one moment. If the regular flights had not been available, she would probably have rented a private jet and arrived here within hours. Yet, I was not afraid of leaving the comfort of my flat and facing my aunt’s agonies. The truth was that I had already my own death to bear, and was too weak to endure another.
The other day I felt an intense stomach pain. I did not remember eating anything harmful that could have caused me such a trouble, but at times, the pain was excruciating. I was writhing and groaning on the carpet in my bedroom, while at the same time a din from the music festival in town penetrated the walls and windows of my flat. What a cruel irony, I thought. While thousands of my fellow citizens were enjoying themselves, I was suffering. After about one hour, the pain disappeared as if by magic.
The next morning I received the call from my aunt Fatima. In a calm voice, she told me Azemina had died. The moment of her death had coincided with my pain, although there were thousands of kilometres between us. I was relieved to hear that my aunt did not suffer. She had died peacefully and instantly. Then Fatima burst into tears and sobbed. “First I buried your father, and now I will bury Azemina. I wish I had died before them.”
I dressed myself quickly and rushed outside. I did not want to give my neighbours an opportunity to complain over the noise. Their sensitive Swedish ears were not used to the strong emotions. They would call the police and I would get myself into trouble. I ran into the nearby woods. I followed the narrow path and then left it and ran through the undergrowth until I came deep in the woods surrounded with large, old oak trees. I sat on a rotten stump and cried and howled and cursed life and my bad fate. I wished a pack of wolf or a hungry bear would attack me and put an end to my misery, but the only trace of the animal word had been birds chirping in the trees.
After about an hour or two, I returned to my block of flats. As I passed my Swedish neighbours -- two middle-aged men with ruddy and fat faces -- one of them said, “This man is so sour. He never greets and never talks to anyone.” They stared at me as if I were an exotic animal.
I could feel their glassy eyes on my back until I turned the corner.
Please do not hesitate to correct a word or a phrase if you feel that they are wrong or not appropriate. Your native language is English and you have it in your blood, while I am still learning to use it correctly.
Regarding the plants, I can tell you that I miss the fruit trees in my orchard. When I started to walk as a toddler, my father planted dozens of plums and told me they were going to grow together with me.
What a terrible fate for your wife. You must have suffered also watching her day after day without being able to help her. But diabetes is incurable and almost imperceptible at the beginning. When my father got diabetes he completely changed as a person. He became irritated and he would quarrel with me without any reason.
I see the meaning in everything what is happening around us. It is a great loss that your wife has passed away after such illness, but you are alive because you have to learn something about yourself, which you has not learnt before. I know that it is easy to say, but you can use your tragedy as a beginning of new existence. I think our lives are like school time, sometimes is easy, sometimes fun and sometimes you suffer, but your personality is growing. But even if you sometime suffer, you are still in your own home, in your own country and you speak with people who understand you and respect you. Imagine how it feels to be a refugee in a foreign country, where refugees are not welcome and seen as a burden.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a country that is homogenous like Sweden is. I remember that one thing Eric (who is Chinese) used to complain about was that in China everybody looks alike. (He also didn't like Communists.) I remember that he talked about moving to Australia, but I don't know if he did. I worked with him quite a bit -- figuring out what he was trying to say and then putting his words into idiomatic English. You could say he helped me get good at it.
(Eric could, of course, say what he wanted to on this forum and not get in trouble for it.)