By on Mar 23, 2017 in ShortFiction | 0 comments

He was born at a time when men still remembered the occupying Nazi Army with fondness. His father and his father’s brothers had collaborated, but no one talked of that now. On his mother’s side, the family kept the memory of the diaspora to Turkey alive. Though they prospered among the ruins of the Turkish Empire – eating Turkish, speaking Turkish, living in sympathy among their fellow Muslims, they never forgot that they were pushed out of their own country because of their race. For Adem, foreigners brought opportunity: Serbs brought persecution and suspicion. To be the Albanian that he was in a Slavic country was to have a yoke fitted round his neck at birth. His people were no better than the oxen that plowed the fields of Kosovo. His chances for dignity were slight. All of this Adem brought with him wherever he went. His eye was always for the main chance, the open door to opportunity in another land, among another people where his light would shine brighter.
I first met Adem through a mutual friend, Donald, a Cornish drinking buddy who’d gotten a contract to study the sewer system of the region. Since he lived at home with a single gold fish and not a hint of human company, I was always welcome to share the Cornishman’s Old Bushmill, and hear about the land he was buying up back in Truro, taking his revenge upon the monied classes of London who’d bought out his birthright after the Second World War. He’d regale me with stories of his grandfather’s walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, of his sainted mother’s struggle to raise seven children between the two great wars, of his father’s prodigious drinking. Donald had been alone in Prishtina for the last seven years. His sewer project hiccupped along. Every other month he’d tell me that the Yugoslavs were terminating his contract. On the next visit, he’d sigh and say that things were back to normal. He was a source of never-ending fascination for me. I couldn’t believe that a single man, bereft of daily conversation, with not the hint of an amateur’s passion for Balkan language or culture, would continue to make a life for himself in our dismal city.
Myself, I was there on a two year contract to install computerized telephones. I lived at the best hotel in town, drank the best beer and cognac, and slept with the most curious and interesting women. I was having a good time. Moreover, I worked at the Yugoslav government’s request, backed by the might of a multinational corporation. I had it made. Donald, I couldn’t see what the hell he was doing there, and I’m quite sure that he couldn’t either. That’s what made our conversations so interesting. I would take out my knife, which I’d sharpened on rumor and gossip for a few weeks, and apply it to Donald’s consciousness.
I knew that progress would be slow, but I also knew it would be inevitable, and that one day I would pierce through his confusion and put him on a plane back to Cornwall or wherever the hell he wanted to go. But I digress. Adem waits.
One evening before the light went down and hid the shapes of Gypsies walking through the fields of winter cabbage toward their shacks in the mountains that surrounded Prishtina, I was sitting in Donald’s living room, sipping his whiskey. On nights we’d agreed to meet, he’d leave the front door key under his welcome mat. He often worked overtime and never knew why or when. So I was accustomed to having that first lovely drink of the day by myself, sitting in Donald’s best chair, leafing through his mail and magazines. I had no scruples. Just before the Gypsy family I’d been watching disappeared into the setting sun of that winter’s day, I heard a fumbling at the door. I got myself up and tiptoed to the front door. In a society such as Yugoslav society, caution in all things is advised, one never knew when the police might pay an unexpected call on a foreign guest. I pressed my ear to the door and listened. I heard someone softly cursing. The first drink of the day had filled me with bravado, and I opened the door quickly so as to make a fool out of the fumbling caller, police or not. I looked down to see the squatting figure of a young man. He had a jack’o’lantern smile on his rough-bearded face. His eyes were heavy-lidded and half-closed. He extended his hand in greeting saying, “Hi, I’m Adem. Do you got any James Taylor tapes?”
“Adem who?” I questioned. “Who are you? You speak English? This is a stranac’s house.” Living half in and half out of Yugoslav culture, I was in the habit of threading Serbian through my sentences.
“Yes, I know. Donald Mason. He work at waste disposal facility outside of Prishtina. He’s driving white Volkswagen Bug. He drink Old Bushmill. He have one pet – one gold fish. He live alone and he don’t have girl friend, but I don’t think he is pooftah. May I come in? I visit Donald from time to time.”
“Be my guest,” I said. Adem lifted himself to his full height. He was tall and wiry, without hips or ass. Under his winter parka, he wore an open-collared shirt in the European manner, one size too small and open half-way to the navel. He wore faded jeans and cowboy boots, wonderfully clear symbols of hipness and access to the material culture of the West.
Inside the door, Adem pulled off his boots and made for Donald’s best easy chair, the one I’d been sitting in. Just before he sat himself down, his Balkan caniness told him this and without missing a step he flopped down on the loveseat opposite.
“Sure, but not whiskey. Donald keep one bottle Skender Beg in kitchen cupboard. I get it. Albanian among Serbs have to show that his people exist. Otherwise you will think we are like the black slaves of your country.”
“Slavery was abolished a long time ago, and how did you know that I was American?”
“How many foreigners have there in town?”
“I don’t know, a couple.”
“Yes, you’re right. A couple. Two. How can I not know who you are?”
“I see your point. Let me get the brandy.” And so I did.
“To my Albanian comrades,” I said, and as I looked at him, “To my new Albanian friend who speaks English so well and knows so much about me.”
I knew that Adem was Albanian from his name and from his face. He was right. I had not a single Albanian colleague. They were all Serbian, and many of them had come down from Beograd to work with me. But I decided to play the fool a bit longer to see where his passions lay. “Surely in Yugoslavia there is respect for the rights of all nationalities? You look like you’ve done well…the boots, the jeans, and you’re Albanian, aren’t you?”
“Don’t give me shit. I went Trieste last month. Bring back ten pair jeans, wear five pair one on other. I looked like fat man. Give customs man one pair. Train conductor one pair. Border police two pair. Local police one pair. I sell four. Keep one. It pay for trip. You, you can any time you want. Triest, Wien, Roma, U.K. No problem. Shka problem. Nema problema.”
“How were you able to get to Italy and back?” I asked. Most young men I knew were either waiting to go into the army, in the army, working or studying. “Didn’t you have to be any place? You know…attend classes, go to work?”
“I’m second year English Department at fakultet, but soon I have to go army. I have time to, what you say, kill.”
“You speak quite well. Most of the Albanian students I’ve met aren’t quite as fluent as you.”
“Yeah, but I got no grammar- a, the – I forget where put them. I just only speak. All the time speak with foreigner in Prishtina. I speak with Serbian too. I speak good Serbian. They even say. My father he speaks German. My mother Turkish. I know little bit both them.”
“How is it your father speaks German?” I asked, knowing full well.
“It is long story. I tell you some time. Now, how ’bout tapes? What you got? Donald all time listen James Last, Montovanni. I wanna puke.”
So, our conversation kept its mundane course, and for the life of me, these years laters I can’t recall what it is we talked about til midnight the first time we met. As it turned out, Donald didn’t come home that night. It had happened before: an emergency, party in a far off village, a worker borrowing the official car to run an errand, not returning. So we parted without saying hello or thank you to Donald. Adem got me to promise him half a dozen tapes on my next trip out of the country.
I met Adem once a week for the rest of that winter. Our meetings followed a set routine. A Turkish coffee at my hotel, then a walk around town, the curso,
as it was called, an evening promenade when men strolled arm and arm in a loop around the main street and caught up on the day’s gossip, arranged the night’s activity. For Adem and me, the curso was the time to inventory who’d join us that night at the tourist hotel disco. All in all a rather dull routine.
On a March evening that held a hint of spring, Adem steered me through the evening curso crowd. “Big time tonight. Lotsa action at disco. Lotta people.”
“What’s up, Adem?”
“Trade fair. Lotta people from Czech, Bulgaria, Pole, Romania, USSR.”
“How come I didn’t see anyone around town today?”
“Just come tonight. Lotta women. One pretty Czech for sure. I hung around tourist hotel lobby today…had tea with Ibrahim and his uncle.”
“Well, if anyone knows what’s up it’s you.” Adem never failed to get information first. In Yugoslavia, information was often better than money. Everybody had money. There was nothing to do with it mostly, unless you had a lot of it to have someone build you a home. A little capitalism was okay here.
“She speak English,” Adem continued.
“How do you know?”
“My cousin bellboy told me.” Adem was related to half the working Albanian population of the city. This I had discovered from our evening walks in town. “Meet you at ten o’clock in disco, okay? Later!” he said over his shoulder as he spotted yet another cousin and went for a chat.
“Okay,” I said. Adem’s company was always intriguing and I had long since gotten used to his tortured, but fluent English. Apart from his famous disregard for articles and verb endings, he had managed a patois of British and American conversation which always kept me guessing where he’d picked it up from. I was curious enough about language to spend time studying Serbocroation, and that led me on to an interest in linguistics. It all helped pass the time in Prishtina along with women, Adem, and bar crawls with co-workers.
I’d left Adem to keep an assignation. Dragina was the wife of the brother of a local Party official. She had developed a taste for perfume, jeans, and silk underwear while on a year’s teaching exchange in Cleveland, Ohio. When we first met, I didn’t want to look at her twice, though she seemed to spend all her time staring at me over her coffee. She was with a friend, and as I got up to pay my bill I couldn’t help hearing that they were conversing in English. Made bold by conversational deprivation and only elementary Serbocroatian, I’d gone up to the two women and introduced myself. Her conversational partner was a visiting British Council lecturer from Skopje. The two women had known each other for some time, and I later found out that the two were notorious among the small foreign community in the southeast of Yugoslavia for their single-minded pursuit of men and good times, husbands be damned. Dragina soon sized me up and had me measured for her bed after that first meeting. Within two weeks we had gone from coffee at the hotel to coffee in her apartment on those evenings when her husband was away in Beograd on Party business. She was a wasp-waisted, full-chested Slav, who plucked her eyebrows and pencilled in thin crescents above her eyes, the same half-red, half-blond peroxide color of her long hair. Among the pleasures she got from me were: conversation in English; various foreign-made objects from English cigarette lighters to American automatic coffee makers, symbols of status in Yugoslav bourgeois-bureaucrat society; and stories about the U.S., which she used to relive her time in Cleveland. Her husband was oblivious to her doings. For all I know, he thought the western appliances and cosmetics were available on the Yugoslav version of the open market. At any rate, the night I left Adem to see Dragina and then go back to see Adem held surprises for me.
The first surprise came in bed. Dragina was nervous and smoked one Kent after another. In the middle of my passion, she told me to be careful. I thought she meant that I was hurting her, but what she meant was that I was to be careful of myself that night. Now when I think of my time with her, I blush. I couldn’t arouse her enough to even pretend for me that night. What must the other times have been?
A goodbye and I swept into a now wet March night, tasting snow on my tongue. I sprinted over to the tourist hotel and tapped my way down the steps to the basement disco. The disco was lit up and decorated in a style that I had taken to calling holiday bordello, for it looked like a brothel at Christmas time, all red and green lights, red strobe wash, plush, high-backed chairs and booths.
I amused myself in the disco watching the cigarette smoke rise up through the lighting. Like snow flakes, cigarette smoke was cast in unique patterns. I was waiting for Adem. He was always reliable, but often late, so at eleven thirty I still wasn’t too worried. Nevertheless I was starting to grow tired and impatient. The disco was crowded, but strangely lifeless. It must have been all those traveling trade fair representatives; there were a lot of new faces in the place and very few of them belonged to attractive women. I went outside to get a breath of clean air. On the way past the bathroom in the hallway, I was struck by a low thrum of sound sliding under the door out into the hotel hallway. I moved closer to its source and wound up against the bathroom door. But I couldn’t budge it. It wasn’t locked, and something was going on inside. I pushed hard a second time and nearly ran right through to the tile wall opposite the bathroom entrance when the Gypsy dwarf attendant suddenly opened it. I smacked my forearms hard against the tiled wall, rebounded and stuck my head around the corner. I felt a coarse farmer’s hand grab the back of my collar, then heard someone speaking rapidly in an Albanian voice whose timbre I thought I knew. It was Adem. He smiled at me in a half-mocking, half-conspiratorial way. I got a good look at a men’s room packed wall to wall with Albanian men, and not being terribly dull, I decided to get the hell out quickly. Adem helped me by saying, “Better you go now and we will talk later at your hotel.” Though he said it in his normal friendly voice, it was clearly a command, and I obeyed it willingly. As I turned my back, I could have sworn I felt a knife brush the back of my head. When I returned to my hotel room, I felt a warmness on my scalp where I thought the knife had passed. My hand showed red, and for the first time since I’d come to Yugoslavia, I no longer felt in control. It was then I thought of what Dragina had told me, and I knew that I knew nothing.
There was a hill on the outskirts of the city that I visited many times when I was living in Prishtina. In summer it afforded a cool relief from the settled heat of the plateau on which the city lay. In winter it gave me a picture postcard view of chuffling smokestacks jutting from snow-covered buildings – the peculiar Eastern bloc serenity found in industrial production.
I can remember one April afternoon, an afternoon of new lambs and grass smells, Dragina and I packed a lunch and found a secluded arbor on the hillside. I had taken my tape player along, and a couple of my favorite Beatle and Dylan tapes. I played Memphis Blues Again and got Dragina to sing along, “Oh, mama! Can this really be the end? To be stuck inside of Kosovo with the Slavic blues again.” She giggled and nearly peed herself laughing when I taught her my lyrics. I popped in Magical Mystery Tour and just as the sun was slipping behind us, Paul McCartney began Fool on the Hill. I sat there swaying back and forth to the insistence of the song’s rhythm, mimicking its recorder solo, and smiling hugely. Dragina looked at me from a few yards downhill, and a light of recognition came into her eyes as she married the song’s lyrics to the person sitting above her. Just as surely as I know my ignorance now, I understand how well everything must have fit together at that moment for her. It’s funny how some things stay with you. But I’ve jumped ahead of my story. Back to that night in March.
Adem walked into my hotel room unannounced, which was strange because he usually knocked. He was quite a courteous fellow as a rule, yet that night he had the breath of conspiracy about him, and it made him bold. That was surely what he must have been doing in the men’s room earlier that night, some strange Albanian cabal.
I asked, “Adem, who are you involved with? Who the hell were all those Albanians in the men’s room?”
“Clan meeting,” he replied. “Shaqiris and Ademis have to settle argument over insult at wedding.”
I’d heard a lot about the blood feuds of Albanians, about men folk staying indoors for fear of getting shot while out in the village fields, of family patriarchs making peace offerings by turning a newborn face down so it would smother itself to death if not turned over by the patriarch of the antagonized clan. All this I knew. It was usually my contribution to the rattle and hum of expat parties, and often got me a drink in an airport bar. But I couldn’t believe that two clans had occupied a men’s room in a tourist hotel to settle something as personal to themselves as a blood feud. “Adem, that’s horse shit, and you know it. No peasant is going to travel all the way to Prishtina to do something better done in his village.”
“So what you want me to tell you, Albanian farmers ready to overthrow government?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“Well, this is not what I can say.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“What mean?”
“This is not what I can say.”
“It mean it what you say, not me.”
“But is it true?”
“Do you think Albanian peasant with donkey and pitch fork have chance to fight Serbian Army?”
“So there.”
“But what were all those men doing there?”
“I told you.”
“Aw shit, Adem. Look at what happened to me.” And I turned the back of my head to show him what I thought was the knife cut.
“Only I see your head.”
“Can’t you see here?” I said, touching the spot where I’d felt blood.
“Sorry, I see nothing. Maybe you scratch head on wall or something you think you feel it cut. Nothing there.”
“But there was blood,” I insisted, totally frustrated by his unwillingness to grant me anything.
“Yes, and then maybe more, but not yours.” And with these enigmatic words he turned on his heel and left me to my growing sense of helplessness.
Time went by for me as fast as late spring snow melted in midday sun. I stuck to my job. It was coming along nicely. Soon all the citizens of Prishtina would be able to dial long distance direct instead of going through the unreliable and onerous system of operators. I was the bringer of progress. Let all the clipboard economists and cost-benefit analysts swarm down to Prishtina from the World Bank and the European Economic Community. They weren’t the agents of change. They did nothing. It was I. I changed how people lived in Prishtina and nobody even knew it.
So I worked through April and May; got away with Dragina for a May Day weekend at Sveti Stefan, but outside of that I hardly saw her, though she called every other day, regular as clockwork. Adem went off God knows where. His time for the army was coming near, and so I surmised that he’d gone off to his family village somewhere near Prizren to say his goodbyes before his military hitch. The Yugoslavs liked to push their nationalities around the country for military service. It was the government’s last chance to build the sort of fraternity among the national groups that eluded its education system and other public institutions. That’s why I figured Adem had gone to say his goodbyes: he wouldn’t be seeing his relatives any time soon after he put on a uniform.
But I was wrong. Wrong about everything. On a perfect night of early summer, Adem came rushing into my hotel room. I was in the middle of a long distance argument with the home office about my expenses and per diem, and I was about to tell them to pack me up and send me back to New Jersey. Adem made a cut sign across his throat. I held up my open palm toward him. “Wait! I’m in the middle of something important. You’re being unreasonable,” I told him, my hand over the receiver.
Adem took out a bone-handled Albanian peasant knife and neatly cut the line that connected the receiver to the phone cradle. “What the fuck…” I began.
“Look, no time. I need you help me. Now. We go. Out of Prishtina.”
“Get serious, Adem. What is this, a spy movie?”
“Not movie. Let’s go. Bring passport and money.”
“I won’t. Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
“No time. We pass tourist hotel, you will understand.”
The evening of the trade fair, when I came across Adem in the disco, marked the beginning of my feeling of floating through life in the Balkans. I had thought I was on solid ground, well-paid, at the top of the social heap, had my nose everywhere because I myself belonged nowhere. I could have lunch with the local Party bosses, josh around with security police assigned to watch me, sleep with whichever woman had an inclination, debate socialism and capitalism with students at the mensa, play the pioneer guest from the provinces at Belgrade embassy parties, whatever I wanted to do. But since that time at the tourist hotel, I just kept one foot in front of the other and tried to build a workaday routine which would push away feelings of alienation and incomprehension. Now they were back again with Adem. I gave in to the moment and Adem’s will for me to do as he asked. I grabbed my passport and my wallet. We left the hotel and walked rapidly to where my Fiat was parked, which was a block past the tourist hotel. As we reached the street across from the hotel, I noticed a police car parked in front. I looked past it and saw nearly a dozen police and soldiers with guns drawn. Just starting to emerge from the hotel entrance was a handcuffed line of Albanians. Off to the side, I saw a stretcher. On it lay someone – a small man or woman, perhaps a child, I couldn’t tell. The figure was covered by a sheet. I looked toward Adem, but he had sprinted on ahead of me with his face turned away. I ran after him, catching up by the car. As I bent across the front seat to open the passenger side door for Adem, I accidentally glanced at my rear view mirror, and I could swear that I saw Dragina talking to a police captain across the street from the hotel.
In the car, Adem said, “Drive to Prizren.” So I did. We arrived without a word passing between us beside his order for me to drive. The night was at its blackest and deepest when we arrived. Adem knocked on the door of a Turkish bakery on an unpaved side street. A light went on inside. I waited in darkness and silence inside my car. After five minutes, Adem came out and said, “We go Lake Ohrid.”
We drove through Macedonia to the beautiful fresh water lake, Ohrid, which serves as a natural barrier between Albania and Yugoslavia. Half of the Lake is patrolled by Albanian speed boats with mounted guns; the other, the Yugoslav half, is left to the enjoyment of local fishermen, campers, and the Dutch tourists who swarm there each spring and summer. On the trip Adem told me that he had sworn to his family that he would work for the freedom of his people, and that no Albanian would truly be free until Prishtina and the area around it were in the hands of Albanians and independent of the central government in Belgrade. He said that he told me this as a brother in democracy, one who came from a free people. I felt a sense of dignity bestowed upon me that I’d never granted myself or my country. I resolved to help him as much as I could. After all, there was little that could happen to me. I had the American government, the Yugoslav government, and a multinational corporation on my side.
Adem said that he was part of the Kosovo Albanian Revolutionary Party, an organization under orders from no government, most particularly the government in Tirana. The meeting at the tourist hotel that I had blindly stumbled upon had been a necessary risk for the party, Adem explained. Each member’s presence was required to decide a crucial issue and nothing but direct argument and direct vote would do. They were practicing party democracy. “Why not meet somewhere where Serbs won’t go, like out in the countryside in an Albanian village?” I had asked.
Adem said that the villages were unsafe, that each village had informants, Albanians who turned against their fellows to avenge some long ago insult to family honor. For the typical peasant, Adem said, his family and his land were far more important than any government or cause, and it was the rare peasant who was comfortable dealing in abstractions like democracy and freedom when he did not practice those things himself. “No,” Adem said, “Best place to plot against serpent in his house where he feel safe, and best time to do it when he sleeping, drinking and fucking. That why we meet in tourist hotel bathroom. Little gypsy our man. He help us. Now he dead.”
I was surprised beyond my imagination. All my shrewd observations about people and what made them tick were wrong, shallow, naive. I must have been manipulated in a hundred subtle ways and I never knew about it. The feelings these thoughts roused within me made me incapable of acting. I needed to hear someone else tell me what to do. Adem was quite ready to step into that role. He understood what was happening to me. He said, “Here things are not what you think. What you see is different from our real life. Not like for you. You Americans are all life on surface. We see you. We know you. You don’t know us. So for me you are friend, but you are American. I see you, but you don’t see me. I know you, but you don’t know me. Now, you beginning to know.”
“All of it is a lie? You’ve just used me?” I sounded like a jilted lover.
“Not all. I like you. You are my friend, but your big favor for me is now. You must once more now.”
“What do you want?”
“You stay here in hotel with my cousin, Abdullah. You stay room until he say okay. I need passport. Have my picture for your passport. If you can give me for only just two days, I swear by my father I will give it back you. It mean my life.”
Instead of speaking, I handed Adem my passport. We didn’t look much alike, but not so very different either. Perhaps his dodge would work at some lazy border point. Perhaps it wouldn’t. I offered him my passport as matter of factly as if he’d been an airport customs official. I found it hard to sympathize with Adem, yet much harder still to turn him down.
After he left in my car, I withdrew into a cocoon of a room at the tourist hotel on the lake. It was at the top of the four story building and gave me a wonderful view of the sun setting on the lake. That was the only time I got out of my bed. I spent two days sleeping, not thinking. There were few guests at the hotel from what I could hear, and the only person I saw, besides the figures of tourists walking along the lakeside, was Adem’s “cousin”, Abdullah. On the evening of the second day, Abdullah came into my room and told me to follow him. Without toothbrush or suitcase, I had no reason to hesitate. I just did as he asked. We walked out of a side entrance of the hotel and started off for the main road out of Ohrid. Abdullah was fair, with milky white skin and orange-red hair. He dressed Serbian student style: black leather jacket and jeans. He said hardly a word to me, but on our way out of the hotel, had opened his leather jacket to reveal a small Albanian flag, a black eagle on a red field, sewn on his inside breast pocket. As he’d done so, he’d smiled at me. Now we were walking rapidly into a dark night along the two lane blacktop out of town. He kept a few meters ahead of me, never looking back to see if I were there. His nonchalance began to disturb me. I felt it showed his utter disregard for my ability to act for myself. It made me bolder and led me to thinking about my situation. I didn’t know where my passport was. I ran up to him and pulled his jacket sleeve. I’d practiced what I was going to tell him in Serbian, assuming he spoke that language. As I started to ask about Adem, Abdullah gestured for me to remain quiet and came to a stop. He listened intently for a few seconds, then looked at his watch. Something made him spring into action. He grabbed my arm and pulled me along with him. After a few hundred yards I was about to collapse when Abdullah again came to a complete halt. There was an object in the distance, perhaps a car. Abdullah motioned for me to stay while he raced ahead. He came sprinting back and waved me on toward him. Together we raced to the car he’d spotted. There was a person in the driver’s seat whose silhouette I thought I recognized. The care was a white Volkswagen Bug.
When we got to the car, I immediately looked to see who the driver was. It was Donald, my Cornish drinking buddy. Before I could speak, Donald said in a whisper, “I’ve got your passport. Everything’s fine. Get in and I’ll drive you up to Belgrade. I’ll explain on the way. Get in.”
Donald did have my passport and an explanation of the events of that time that satisifed my need to make sense out of what was happening in my life. He’d been working as an agent of both U.S. and British intelligence in the Kosovo region, in addition to his job as a sanitary engineer. He said he was compelled by reason of simple patriotism: in the end it was either us or them, and he didn’t much care for the Soviet system. He felt that he had had to reveal himself to me then to stop me from asking questions in the wrong places later. He said that my company was about to transfer me back home, and that the people at the telephone exchange in Prishtina had heard that I was suddenly taken sick and had been medically evacuated through the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. I asked him about the Albanians who’d met that March night in the men’s room of the tourist hotel, the sudden reason for Adem’s flight, the arrests at the hotel later on a June night. Adem, he’d said, had managed to infiltrate an anti-government Albanian extremist group, tipped off their next meeting to the security police, and then had to run away to develop a cover for his not being arrested with the rest of them. “Why’d he need my passport then? Why didn’t he just go to a safe house or something like that? You have them here, don’t you? And why did an Albanian patriot like him, surely he was one, turn in his own people?”
Donald answered all my questions. Adem sometimes went on little unauthorized escapades. He also liked to have a backup plan when he worked, and I had been a crucial part of his plan on several occasions, including the night of the meeting at the tourist hotel. Adem was a patriot, but also a pragmatic nationalist, who saw Albanians as having their best chance in a Yugoslav state. So everything fit together well. I guessed then, that Dragina had been assigned to keep tabs on me, and told Donald as much. He was noncommital.
Listening to his calm, reasoned answers, fatigued and weary with myself and the world, I dropped off to sleep somewhere before Nis. In Belgrade, Donald bid me goodbye in front of the U.S. Embassy and drove off. I slept in an empty Embassy Marine apartment on the compound in Belgrade. The next morning I woke up, went to the Embassy cafeteria, ordered as American a breakfast as I could think of and finished it off with an ice cream cone. I had a conversation with an intelligence officer, maybe he was CIA, maybe military, I didn’t know or care. His story was the same as Donald’s. He already knew mine, but had me tell it just for the record. That afternoon I had an interview with the Ambassador, who tried to make me feel that I had a place in the history of the defense of the Free World. He treated me as if I were a member of his club back home in Virginia. The truth is back home he’d never’ve looked at me twice, unless I was a tradesman come to his estate to fix the phones. By that evening I was on a plane to Frankfurt.
Years later I received a postcard from Prishtina. It was one of those where four scenes are split, one in each quadrant of the postcard. The scenes were of Lake Ohird, Prishtina, Prizren, and the Shar Mountains. In the middle, holding them together was a blood red Albanian flag. The words on the back of the card were simply, “Thanks, Adem.”
I don’t believe Donald now. I think something else happened, but I don’t know what it was.

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