Photo by VANJA ČERIMAGIĆ
A Red Crayon
THEY SAID IT WOULD rain for seven days in Sarajevo, but it still hadn’t; and it was day three since they’d announced it. I couldn’t tear myself away from the fresh air on the balcony and the noise from the next-door apartment, where a turbulent couple lived. I’d got used to the noise because if it weren’t for it, I would hear the noise in my apartment.
I skipped breakfast to enjoy coffee for a bit longer, and I managed to avoid the jam on the road to the centre. My husband had left me the car because the doctor said I should avoid public transport and crowded places for a while. The building where I work has a glass roof, but the windows are tinted. The owner of our news agency explained this was to protect us from harmful UVA rays. If I hadn’t removed my glasses upon entering, I would have probably fallen down the stairs in the hallway. I haven’t got to know the building; we moved into it only recently. It still smells of welding and dust.
That morning, I noticed many of my colleagues hadn’t arrived at work yet, so I was among the early comers. A few corny hellos slipped off my lips as I approached my office. Some of my colleagues asked how I was and put very polished, fake smiles onto their faces.
And so I sat at my desk and turned on my computer. I was about to make another cup of coffee for a second wake-up when my officemate asked me, “Do you feel any better? Is the pain subsiding? I told you that you should have asked for a leave.” – For the past week, I’d got so annoyed with these questions and comments that I’d figured out an answer template.
“Do not worry, I am okay. The pain is almost gone. It is like nothing ever happened.”
“I hope you aren’t watching those films that you usually do. They would only make things worse.” – This was an original comment for which I hadn’t developed a template.
“I have to take my coffee now. And don’t worry. I am not watching any Kubrick. I’ve had enough blood these days.”
At that moment, another colleague walked in. She held the door open for a few seconds, as if she was waiting for company. A creature with short, curly hair appeared at the door. Her eyes were angled like her mother’s and equidistant from the bridge of her nose. She stared at all eight of us in the office and stood as if frozen for a short while. Then she stretched her lips into a giant, banana-shaped line. Her nostrils contracted periodically.
“Come in, sweetie. Don’t be afraid. Look, over there is Ena. You know how much she likes you. And in the right corner is Emira, and who’s over there? Can you make a guess?” – Arijana was probably disappointed in her daughter’s poor memory. She had probably instructed her beforehand to hug Mommy’s every colleague. The child was terrified and, of course, didn’t touch anyone. At least not in the first five minutes.
As they walked into the office and started saying hello to the other women, I hurriedly ran out of the room. Then I realized I couldn’t stay away from it the whole day. After all, the child wasn’t going anywhere. Not until four p.m.
I returned and slowly, unnoticeably, sat down in my chair. With a few deep sighs, I wanted to show that I had received a heavy load of editing. Arijana put her daughter at her desk, and she walked around like crazy, phoning reporters. Arijana’s job was to direct the reporters from one scene to another. This was very stressful because the editor-in-chief would ask only her if something went wrong with the reports. She talked to these journalists in a very determined, assertive way. She never let anything get out of her control. One could tell that she was, as Bosnians say, “the man in the house.”
The child sat quietly with a grin on her miniature face. She gazed at the computer screen as if about to swallow every character in the cartoon she was watching. She had headphones on. Good. It should distract her for a while. I reached for my cup at the end of the desk, but I almost dropped it. I noticed my palms, and especially the spaces between the fingers, were awfully sweaty. When I tried to write something, the pen would slip away as if on an icy slide. I remembered the igloos and slides that children would make each January in front of our building and how I too would desire to try the slides out at least once. Just once.
Every time I tried to work on something, I noticed the girl’s gaze. When I turned to her, she would look away. When I looked back at my monitor, I felt her glower. I thought the cartoon would keep her attention, but I suppose children can sense fear even if you don’t communicate with them. Some children, like this one, actually enjoy playing with adults who cannot mask their nervousness. They mock us, and I admire their boldness.
Arijana brought a sandwich to the child. She grabbed it, instantaneously sinking her nails into the bread. The bacon almost fell onto the floor. The food was in her stomach in a matter of seconds. Licking her mouth, she gazed at me again, and I drank the last drop of my coffee. My cup smelled of green-apple Fairy, and the scent overcame the taste of coffee in my mouth. I’d bought that Fairy in a supermarket on my way back from the doctor’s. I remembered buying all kinds of detergent that day.
I was busy working out an excuse for why I was not talking to our colleague’s child. That question was about to arise any moment. When I realized that two hours had passed and that I still hadn’t turned in my draft, my forehead became completely wet. I looked at the window and saw clouds—the prospect of a thunderstorm. It was high time, I figured. Seconds away. Drops were already on the glass.
Suddenly, the child stood up. “She has to go to the restroom,” I assumed. That sandwich had been quite substantial, after all. No, the restroom was not in that direction. Me. She started walking towards me. Unease was the mildest word I could come up with. Unease, unpleasantness, discomfort—all negative prefixes accumulated in my mind. This was the moment when I deeply regretted my decision not to request a mobile chair. I tried to stand, but cables got tangled up with my feet. I couldn’t find a way to remove myself. The child was getting closer and closer. I didn’t want her to touch me. It would have been the second worst pain in my life. I struggled to disentangle the cables. Her proximity sucked all the energy from me until I became rooted in my chair. I raised my head, and finally our gazes met.
“Miss Hewena, could I pwease bowow a wed cwayon?”