Zoran K, however, was frank: "It doesn't pay to be a serious engineer. You're much better off being rough-and-ready."

"How come?"

"That's the directive."


Take him, for example. The manager had instructed him to examine the possibilities of some project — a crane, or it might have been a limekiln. He studied it and reported that it could not be done like that. The manager, however, told him to take a better look at it, the comrades had said so. Zoran took a look — to this day he is a responsible man and worker, only apathetic in an interesting sort of way — and stuck to his guns: it could not be done. But the manager was dogged too, the plans were important, Zoran was not the only one in the factory, such things could not be decided without a board of experts anyway, or the workers' assembly if necessary. Very well. Zoran made a report and submitted it. It was a serious report and the manager listened seriously, of course, he was a kind of engineer too.

"Hmm," he said afterwards. "But have you taken into account the power factor of φ, colleague?" he said sternly. And there it was, colleague Zoran had not taken it into account. He said frankly: "No, I haven't," and for the moment could not see, in calculations that were complex and thorough, what that factor had to do with it. But others could see that he could not see, that he was bewildered. No matter that Zoran sat down that very evening and quietly, with pen in hand, saw that the power factor of φ had absolutely nothing to do with it, nor sin φ, nor cos φ, and that any factor that might have occurred to the manager would have served the same purpose. Zoran was, so to speak, politically defeated, outvoted. The plan was adopted just as the comrades had said. There would be no problem finding some engineer who would patch the project together, such as it was, for a better salary and the promise of an apartment. The worse the engineer, the better he would cooperate.

Although at that time we lived more or less in the centre of town, next to Klan" market, in the vicinity of many schools including the Faculty of Technology, it was hard to earn a living by giving lessons, even in mathematics, difficult and uncertain. But it was interesting and clear. I met all kinds of people...

One day, however, not a father on his own nor a mother on her own came to see me, but, or so I believed, a father and a mother, who began with the greatest interest to enquire about lessons. Both of them carried brief-cases. I told them the fee for primary school-children, high-school and university students.

"And what grade is your child in?"

"My son is in fourth grade of primary school/' the man said, with such a show of attention to all this that it seemed he was about to take notes. The woman, however, nodded and smiled at me. "You do it," she said to the man and nodded again. "Have you a lot of students?" she asked me then.

"Well, it depends. In any case, I have experience. You will be satisfied."

"So you make a good living out of it?" she asked again.

I looked at her. She stood there in her winter coat, even a muffler round her neck, a long, wide one. She fumbled with it and flung it back over her shoulder.

"Please sit down and make yourselves comfortable," I turned to both of them. People come in all sizes — some like a little chat while they're about it. "Well, I manage somehow," I said, "I do earn some money."

"How much?"

The man put a form on the table and made ready to write something down.

"I don't understand".

They looked at each other.

"We're from the commune. Inspectors. Have you declared your income tax?"

(Fragment, translated by Mary Popović)

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