Is there enough time?

Among the first attempts of the awakened human mind to explain the origin and beginning of the world were the teachings that the world has originated from water or air. Ancient Greeks — who as merchants, fishermen or simply adventurers sailed as far north as the Dalmatian islands — believed that the prime source of everything existing, the first principle and primary element, was water or air. And just on our islands one is inclined to believe this more than anywhere else in the world and on Hvar more than on any other island. When the winding asphalt road has reached its highest point, almost at the top of the island which is higher than, for instance, Mount Avala, the eye sees nothing but the transparent blue sky above, the dense blue sea below and a blue mist of the sky and the sea in the distance. And the vague line far away on the horizon seems as if somewhat thickened at one point: a gray blueness, the outlines of the island of Vis. And one realizes that there is no end to the blueness, that its waters splash against the most distant corners of the earth, both here and, for instance, in faraway Argentina or Australia. And when the road, bending, starts to descend, evergreen underbrush and vine, pale purple lavender and the ochre of the Dalmatian karst increasingly offer themselves to the eye. The view of the sea vanishes for a moment, and then the sheltered island landscape of scattered houses, the road and scarce verdure becomes denser — the houses are clustered, and the road branches off and disappears among narrow streets, stone-paved passageways and steep stairs. And there, on a steep slope beside a stone wall of one house or another, an occasional fig-tree or green wooden shutter, one again catches a glimpse of the sea here and there. Very close to the quay, the landing place in the heart of the town even for the biggest ships, stretching parallel with it is a long narrow street, if a street zig-zagging between the stone facades and balconies can be said to run parallel to anything. The street starts almost from the main square, to the side of a renaissance theatre, and, gradually climbing — not uphill but parallel to the sea — it runs all the way to the back of the modern hotel Dalmatian, and on, far behind the walls of a 15th-century Franciscan monastery. And in that street, opposite the central section of the quay, there is a two-floor house facing the sea, squeezed between the other stone houses and facades: shutter above the shutter, as low as possible, and a wooden door with a threshold as a step on the street. Stone faded with sunshine, polished with winds, eroded with moisture and salt, as if it had nothing to say of the times past. But between the windows the facade bears a new, smooth stone plate with an inscription saying that Ivan Vučetić (1865–1925), the inventor of dactyloscopy, was born and lived there in his youth. Groups of tourists occasionally stop outside the house, and their guides tell them a story in German, French or Italian about a young man who left for Argentina and invented a method now used by the police throughout the world: put a finger in ink and then press it on paper; it is easier to demonstrate than to explain it in a foreign language. And what the guides do not say, and what they probably do not know and what would not be interesting to foreign tourists anyway is known only to the very few of those who holiday in Hvar with their children. The house is rented, the entire first floor to children's recreational center from Belgrade. And the children come there for tree weeks at a time.

On 10 July 1981, I spent a restless night, simply because of some quiet pleasure and awakened strength. I was lying in bed and listening. It is very quiet in Hvar just after midnight. A barely audible sound, just a sigh, is heard as if coming from somewhere near you, as if house upon house and the whole town are resting together and a common sleep is hovering above the little patch of land surrounded by sea. Silence, at night even the tiny breath of daily wind dies out. One can only hear the heavy, rattling breathing of an asthmatic suffer coming from somewhere in the neighborhood, but the convulsive struggle for life which seems as if taking place in this very room is strangely out of place in the deep silence. (The streets in Hvar are for pedestrians only, one could measure their length walking). A twitter of a pair of birds, merry and melodious, is also heard. A twitter after twitter, as if they did not care about the death-rattle, as if it was light-years away. And then again silence, complete, such as almost makes you believe that no sound will ever come out of it.

I lie in bed in the room whose outer wall bears the stone plate between the windows — and I think. The man who wandered about this very room one hundred years ago, what sounds and voices did he listen to above this very sea and these very waves? What rattling breathing or what distress forced him to go to a foreign land — this is past imagining. Or is it? These floorboards creaked under his feet the way they do under mine. A human step always needs space and support. Space and belief. Hope, despite all narrowness and anxiety. Otherwise, where would he find the courage for the seven-mile step?! Yes, Pavle Valčić at least I know well, I remember well how reluctant Pal was to leave and how, when the decision was made, he kept a stiff upper lip. Indeed, what could he believe in when he was leaving his home and job, his friends and place of boyhood memories? Just a few books in a suitcase, the last memento in the language of the memories — and he set out for where his legs would carry him. And what can he believe in now, with a German wife and children whose mother tongue is neither Serbo-Croatian nor Hungarian, but German? After all, this is probably not so hard to imagine. And didn't I myself, after so many years, finally set out in his footsteps?! In a way I did, when I reached out for a dictionary and, in a haphazard manner, began to translate something that I feel and that lives in me into a language whose words seem to me like codes whose meaning I can only decipher with my eyes and mind. And yet I felt deeply touched. The first and only trace of what I feel and what lives in me was set out in German, the only written trace of my essay. An unimposing Klagenfurt magazine in gray and white covers, whit barely 20 pages, Zeitschrift für Internationale Literatur, and a small note in it: Zur Rezension eingelangte Bücher. But there „Essay über Gott“, Nešić Milan, Belgrad 1977, is announced with equal trust and on the same footing with, for instance, Krleža, or a certain Mikes, whose verses, by necessity, are circulating only in a typewritten form. The announcement was there for all whose eyes might fall on it and who would want to look into it, and for all whose minds can still understand and who want to say so. I was deeply touched, but I was not sorry. Others call themselves patriots. I pulled myself together and suddenly I understood. Man is one and the world is one, the world here and the world there. Only such a world is the right place for man and the expression of a genuine opportunity for him — whether he sits here, there, or anywhere else. Only when he stops sitting and comes to grips with his space, only when, with a new thought and a different measure, he engulfs himself in a whole complex of views and intentions, approaches and attitudes, man will come closer to another man and thus to his full potential. He will then understand the truth about the world and about himself, feel it, start to believe in it and to like it — he will become reconciled with nature and object. And then, with or without a dinar, rouble or dollar in his pocket, many quandaries will dissolve or become less acute, many rigid answers will become unnecessary and many habits and rituals will remain as harmful prop-words only — the attainments will widen and a new strength will awaken. What an experience and what prospects! I lie awake in the room above the sea, again experiencing this strength, calmly and with quiet satisfaction. Infinity — a part of the star-studded sky — was clearly visible through the window besides a lace curtain.

— Water, water I — the man cried out.

— Olga, bring water, quick I — another voice said. And then only a twitter in deep silence. Again. Two invisible little birds and their twitter as if from my palm. But this time followed by a loud sound of a flutter, and then the cooing of a pigeon, the first pigeon that day. Then again silence. The children are sleeping by my side and opposite my wife. Only contours in the dark, with heads and arms thrown back. Another twitter and another rattling sound. The echo of someone's footsteps on the stone-paved street. The sounds of a car climbing up the road from a distance, from the hill. Again a flutter on the roof across the house, and then again cooing. Then a clinking sound of the quay, as of someone unloads wooden crates with bottles, and then the first shouting on the quay. A section of the sky was becoming pale, the sounds were not abating, the noise was growing. Somebody was starting a motor boat. A cock crowed somewhere above, and then a ship's whistle, a shrill and deep sound. The footfalls grew frequent, someone blew his nose, shouting, talking, noise. Hallo, hallo, someone was shouting in a public phone box. The town was awakening, the rattle and the twitter were no longer heard.

And so the question of the outcome and of what prevailed, the twitter or the rattle, remained unanswered. And man, wide awake, suddenly feels that he actually has no need for it. A day is born, life is calling.

I looked at the children: eyes closed, eyelashes don't move, still deep in sleep. I glanced at the watch: is there enough time to get up and go for a walk on tie quay before breakfast?


translated by Danica-Biba Kraljević)

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