by Dragica Minjevic-Medakovic
Both critics and readers have acclaimed Dragica Minjevic’s novel Bezimena/The Nameless as her best achievement, singled out
among three best prose writings at the Petkovic’s poetic evenings for the year 2007 in the area of ex-Yugoslavia. Coming from the land
torn apart by the civil war, the author has the first-hand knowledge of the true, real life stories filled with suffering and constant struggle
between good and evil in the times of utmost crises. With unbiased realism she paints the corruption, greed and cruelty often slipping
into the aberration and abnormalities when too much of power and money go hand in hand without care about others. The scene she
paints is wide and multicultural. It is universal. Various races, religions, and political affiliations are painted in action on the basic human
level. The strength of the novel is in the straight-forward psychological analysis of human nature under extreme conditions which war
offers at its worst and its best, an entire diapason from the bottom to the peak of physical and spiritual suffering. The capital character
Branka, struggles through hopelessness and despair toward hope, faith and liberation into the full joy of life thus winning the battle of
endurance in the name of love of life and humanity. This is also the author’s message to the readers.
Branka is a pretty student of foreign languages at the University of Belgrade , also pursuing modeling in the year 1997. She comes from
a good family. During a party in her brother’s friend’s home, she gets kidnapped, drugged, raped and sold as white slave by the young
man she fell in love with and believed she was about to marry (acting as an Italian, Louigi). Suddenly, she wakes up in Prishtina,
Kosovo, together with other women of different nationalities, all chosen as “white slaves” to serve the customers, military, civilian and
“humanitarian”, also of different origin.
Somewhere in Kosovo, Winter 1997/1998
After the Montenegrin woman’s suicide a change took over in Branka. She withdrew into herself. She lost sleep. Her thoughts turned to
death. Where is the Montenegrin woman buried and what was her name? Will anyone ever find her grave? How did she succeed in
breaking the flask with perfume and making such a brutal cut without making a slightest noise? Is it bravery or cowardice? All of this is
racing through her head, but she cannot find courage for anything like that. It is true that she has somewhat accepted her fate and is
doing everything routinely. She is not shocked and not hopeful either. Sometimes she wonders if Sasha is searching for her and what he
has told the parents. Maybe he too believes that this is Luigi’s and her choice to immigrate to Italy and avoid the hard scenes of saying
good bye. And Louigi? Is he still in Belgrade , or has he moved to Nish , Chachak, or Krushevatz? Belgrade is definitely a Mecca for his
business. Maybe Sasha will meet him somewhere. But, that hope is meager. She knows that herself, so she does not fool herself much.
She has been losing energy and weight drastically. She eats just enough to keep alive. One more light point – Zorica is still being
around. She encourages her, taking over Galya’s role. And what about Galya? Will she ever see her Volga ?
The Albanian woman soon disappears from their group. They say she has been sent to Bosnia to satisfy eastern soldiers who
exclusively look for the Moslem women. Perhaps so they can feel at home.
Just before the New Year, the woman acting as “supervisor” calls Branka to her office.
n Girl, you are done here. These guests are difficult to please and are asking for something new. You will go on further. To the
humanitarian camp. To serve the lower class. Now that we are parting, I will give you an advice like a mother to her daughter. I am not as
cruel as you all think. I am also toiling to survive and feed the family. If you want to survive, eat. Strengthen your body and your will to live.
Alah is one, perhaps this all will pass. We all will go to him. Now, go and take care. - The woman turns away and Branka thinks she sees
her deep wrinkle in the corner of her eye wet by a tear.
And so, Branka, with three more women, is packed during the night into a small truck and taken in an unknown direction. She takes
her purse she never parts with, only the most necessary clothes and, of course, the little hidden packet the Montenegrin woman gave
her. Zorica is not in her group. Now again she is alone. She could not have believed it before that she will miss even the “supervisor”.
Thinking about it again, she does not appear that bad anymore. Maybe a bit tough and masculine, but bearable. Her last words got to
her. She is not sure how much those words will give her strength when, in the course of events, she finds herself at the end of her tether.
Somewhere deep in Kosovo, she does not know where, the “humanitarians” from all over the world are located. They offer “help”
who knows to whom. Supposedly, to the threatened Albanians. They are everything but human or humane. All the respect to the
exceptions. Even among the worst, some are a little bit better. In difficult times a tiny good deed becomes huge. Since they have
traveled during the night and “kombi” truck stayed closed, Branka cannot know where they are. She is sure it is Kosovo since they have
not traveled far from Prishtina , and she hears Albanian language all along. They are situated in a wing of an old, dilapidated huge
building. It looks like storage or the old barracks. All around armed men in fatigues, with a black double headed eagle on their sleeves.
Albanian soldiers. When she steps on a chair, Branka sees them through a small square window with iron bars fixed from within. She
has creeps even glancing at them. From time to time, foreign “humanitarians” enter or leave the building. They carry red cross signs or a
red crescent with the name of their organization: “Caritas”, and some others. She does not try to remember them. They pat Albanian
soldiers on the shoulders. They kiss some of them.
In the room with Branka several girls have been here before. Among them are middle aged women. They look worn out. The hall is
huge, dirty and empty. Iron beds and blankets with some dirty sheets. Screens made of old thick drapes separate the beds used during
the night with the clients. In the corner a few washing bowls and buckets with water. Next to it the door marked WC. Inside two squatters.
The previous place was a royal palace compared to this. How long will they stay here? In this misery the girls get into groups. Four to
five of them. They talk about themselves without restraint. There is nothing more to hide or lose. It is easier if they chatter. The time here
passes slowly if there is no work. A real jail.
Except for Branka there is a girl from Bashkiria which Branka has never heard about. She speaks Russian, Serbian, a little of
Albanian. She says she came as a waitress but she knew that she would, on the side, do the oldest profession. Just for the additional
buck. She never expected to be a white slave. From some Americans or Europeans, she succeeds to get a dollar or a mark as a tip.
She hides the money well because the owners take all. She is not sure who the owners are. There are two Albanians, a Serb and an
Italian. The devil knows who the chief is. She hopes to get to Italy . If she can just get to Europe , then goodbye mafia! She is somehow
sure about that. She is pretty, she will succeed. Branka cannot believe her ears. Is it possible, in these circumstances, to be so frivolous
and almost careless?! The other woman joining Branka’s group is a Serb from the vicinity of Prizren. She is married and has a little
daughter. Three years old. Albanians have forced her into a car when she was returning from the well. Two months ago. Her family does
not know anything about her. The hardest is that she is separated from her child. She does not even think about the shame, just to
survive and return to her child is the only thought in her head. Both her husband and her brother in law are serving in the military
somewhere, and at home are her old mother and father in law with her child and five children of her brother in law. His wife died at
childbirth. Her eyes are filled with sadness. She cries all the time, softly. Sometimes she whines like a puppy, then she goes silent.
There is a student from Sofia , who came to Skopje to sing in a café for good money. She was ready for strip-tease just to earn more.
But it cost her much! The manager sold her to the Albanians for three thousand marks. Now she is working to pay off that money. She
speaks English so she gets better customers; Englishmen, Danes, Amers. They are rough, but they leave the green notes for her,
sometimes. And so, one after another destiny rolls in front of Branka. She does not say much about herself. Just says: deceit. That is
enough. All is said. Whichever way, it ends the same. Slavery is slavery. Who is talking about the third millennium, civilization, united
Europe ? She is disgusted with it all. Is this the other side of the world or a sanitary knot into which all the ugliness is pouring? What is
going on behind these walls? What is going on in her Belgrade ?.Are her friends partying? What is showing at the Zvezdara movie
theater ? How distant it all is from her! Both time and space-wise. Has she only dreamed that other life or has it existed in reality? She is
not sure anymore.
Her first customer is a fat young German with a shaved head. He reeks of beer, and burps. Dead drunk, he mauls her. He has not
bothered to draw the screen all the way at all. All the time he swears something like “Serbische swein”. He sweats and rolls, burps and
in the end vomits over the bed and Branka as well. Then he falls on the floor and snores away. Poor Branka first vomits in the toilette,
then takes a bucket of water and the mop to clean the vomit as much as she can. She prays for the monster to never come back. The
“humanitarian” from the civilized Europe coming to help the Albanians and save them from the uncivilized Serbs! God Almighty, what is
happening to this world? Who is insane and who is sane? Who is right and who is wrong? Who is the victim and who the criminal? All
those questions line up asking for the answer. The answer from God and time, for neither people nor history will ever offer it. And these
women want just one thing: to survive and get out of this misery.
The New 1998 year comes. The groups of Albanians and humanitarians come in sequence. Some are leaving for home, the new
ones arrive. The majority stays longer. It seems they are well paid. Some British men talk about the military training they are giving to the
Albanians. The women are not stopping them from talking freely. For them, they are already dead, and the dead mouth does not speak.
Well, for the New Year they need some entertainment. Like in the rest of the civilized world. The Albanians bring several tables of
cooked beef. There is roast there too, whiskey, beer and everything else they have not tasted until now. Mainly, they ate thin bean soup
or some other watery kinds of soup. Fortunately, they receive dark bread and that keeps them going. Now the beds are brought close to
the tables and men and girls mix together.
A Norwegian man sits next to Branka. Completely white haired, blue-eyed, with little specks on his face. Young, almost beardless.
Branka is lucky this evening. Without any arrangements everyone has a mate and she belongs to this young man. Since the Norwegian
can speak good English, they start a conversation. Quietly, so others do not hear them. In the beginning the atmosphere is like at a
regular party. The young men, it seems, really want to celebrate the New Year like at home. But when the drinking gets the better of
them all and the marijuana cigars start going around, the aggression shows in some.
Branka’s Norwegians quietly whispers to Branka to pretend smoking, without inhaling.
- Where are you from? - he asks her softly.
- - From Beograd . And you?
- - From the vicinity of Oslo . What have you done in Belgrade ?
- - Studied Spanish and English. Also tried modeling on the side.
- - How have you gotten here?
- - It is a long story. A deception. My boyfriend made me fall in love, and then he pushed me into this.
- - I am sorry. I am really sorry. All I see here is very ugly. But I cannot do anything. I am only a small fish. I come here to bring the
sanitary material, as ordered. I see a lot of ugly stuff here and do not understand much. If I told anyone, no one would believe me.
- - Can you do me a favor? Only to tell my family in Belgrade . They may use our military to come and pick me up.
- - I cannot. The ones I work for - work for the Albanians, against the Serbs. I am sorry. I am just an errand boy. I have no freedom of
movement. Everything is dangerous – his look is almost sad while he talks
- A long silence falls between them. The others are out of control. Some snort cocaine. Rolling on the beds starts. The radio is
playing heavy metal. Full blast.
- - What is your name?
- - Branka. And yours?
- - I am Alfred, Freddie.
- With a gesture, he invites her to dance, so they can turn around with several other couples across the large hall and freely talk
without being suspicious.
- - I can help you in one thing. I will come more often. We can hide behind the screen and pretend we are making love. You will get
some rest from those jerks.
- - Why are you doing this? – Branka is touched.
- - I am sorry. I do not hate Serbs. My people do not hate Serbs either. This is all a farce. A game of the powerful ones.
- - Why have you chosen me?
- - By chance. Perhaps it is not a mere coincidence. You looked vulnerable and innocent.
- - If you want, you can sleep with me. One more or less makes no difference.
- - No. I do not like mistreatment of women. I believe in love and this is far from it.
- Branka spontaneously comes closer to him. Not as a woman to a man, but as if to a brother or friend. Her cheeks flush and warmth
spreads all over her heart. There are some good people still in the world. A small ray of hope returns to her soul. Where is Galya now? If
she saw her, she would be happy. She will endure. She will still endure. And survive.
- - Let’s go behind the screen so we don’t look suspicious. – Alfred pulls her.
- For a while they keep talking quietly. He talks about Norway , his medical studies and how he earns his own living. This is just a job
aside, well paid.
- - Let’s roll over the bed, pretend, so they do not single us out. He says and starts breathing heavily. Branka accepts the game.
They are rolling, screaming, breathing aloud and hardly succeed to suppress laughing They almost forget where they are. Then they stop
and talk some more.
- Freddie goes to the table and on a plate stacks meat, bread and salad. He takes two bottles of beer.
- - Eat, get back your energy, you will need it. Who knows when you will eat properly again.
- She remembers, the “manager’s” advice was the same. There has been something human in her.
- - Thank you a million for this night. I feel like born again.
- - Don’t mention. I would have done this to anyone. I have a girlfriend; her name is Frieda.
- - Is she beautiful?
- - To me, the most beautiful. If I think she could end like you, I am horrified.
- - Lucky girl! What a fine man you are! – exclaims Branka, touched.
- Alfred takes her hand, softly squeezes it and loses himself in thoughts. Probably transferred to his Norway .
- ` Happy New Year! – shout all around them.
- They startle, as if they have forgotten the place and the time.- Happy New Year, Branka – Alfred kisses her cheek. – May God help
you celebrate the next one in your Belgrade !
- … … …
At the Adriatic Coast, summer 1998
During the trip toward the sea, Branka sleeps all the time. The previous wakeful night brings her a strong morning sleep, so the
movement of the car lulls her even deeper. Like a rocking cradle. She wakes up when the car parks inside the walls of a paved parking
lot. Although from here she cannot see the sea, its odor and waves breaking against the rocks she can sense and hear. She stretches,
satisfied by her sleep, while the breeze splashes more pleasing fragrance from the water and the beach. Above, the blue skies with not
a single cloud. The sun has hardly climbed the skies. How beautiful! She remembers her summer vacations. The last two summers she
spent at Ada Ciganlia (popular Belgrade’s beach on the Sava River). The seaside was too expensive for the whole family. And now this
is like arriving for a vacation. She feels a strange elation. Impatient to jump into the thick blue of the Adriatic . Obviously she is not awake
completely. She has forgotten how she came here.
- C’mon, girls, get in! – The young man in a black T-shirt and sunglasses almost pushes them.
- The room they enter is so tiny, almost like a boat cabin. Two bunk beds and a slim, tall closet.
- - Unpack here and wait for further commands – instructs them the young man. Then he turns around locking the door behind him.
… … …
It would be expected for the four of them, in such tiny space and almost dark, to become close, and exchange a few words. Now they
have time, because no one comes in until noon . They must have forgotten to give them any breakfast.
One of the girls is Rumanian. Dark eyed and dark haired with a touch of gypsy blood. The eyes show it. The other is Ukrainian. A
blonde with high cheek bones, tall and athletic. The third is from the south of Serbia , around Vranje. Short, with a bush of kinky hair, a bit
duck-like but nonetheless bursting with almost animalistic sex-appeal.
They start talking about mundane things like how hungry they are, no space to even turn around in this small area, a swim would be
good, and more of such and similar things. They avoid saying anything personal. There is coldness in the air as if they were enemies.
Each has her own life, her own hope not wanting to share with others. Or they may be in the same state of expectance and neurosis. The
inner one, personal.
One by one they wash in the bathroom (with a squatter and a shower, nothing else) then dress. The closets are too small for all things
to unpack. They put only the bare necessities in them and return to their beds.
Branka’s eyes are roaming somewhere in the distance, through the dankness of the wall. As if seeing the deep blue waves of the
sea, she remembers all of her vacations in Petrovac, Budva, and Igalo. When she and Sasha were children, every year they vacationed
in Chanj. Those were her best days at the sea. There is no more beautiful beach than the one in Chanj. The sea clear like a tear drop
and the small pebbles stick to the children’s soles. They enjoy collecting various pebbles. The majority is orange in color; those are the
prettiest. Sometimes they find almost a transparent, white one, or green, made of glass that the sea rounds and polishes so much one
can make beads out of them. During the night the sea scatters seashells. All kids collect them and compete who will have the most. The
winner, with the largest number, looks at others “from above” and with dominance. The others are envious, dejected. The beach is filled
with tiny seashells, homes of the children of the sea.
Such beautiful pictures transmit her outside of the walls filling her thoughts and this summer day spent in this dump, on a narrow bed,
almost immobile. The rest of the girls are too far away in their own thoughts. She does not know where she is, since she spent the time
asleep. She has not asked others because it is not important. Wherever she is, she is in jail. When the time comes, probably she will be
taken to a place where she will give her body to someone who wants want to satisfy his sexual needs with all his deviations included. Do
the wives of those men, their clients, know their husbands at all? Do they practice their brutalities and oddities on them too? Sometimes
those questions go through her mind but she does not entertain them for long. She has enough reason to feel sorry for herself, no need
to care about the problems of other women. But is she can pull out of this mess with her mind sane and her body saved, it will serve as
good education for the choice of her life mate.
Her thoughts thus meander outside of this room, back and forth, and then they return again to the tiny space around her. In her
idleness in bed, her eyes search each corner of the room. In one, where the ceiling meets the wall, the mustiness left a stain. Exactly
there she spots a completely white lizard. She cannot remember the name of this sort, but she has heard it is a common guest of the
rooms in the littoral areas. The lizard is quietly looking down on the girls with his small eyes. Branka smiles at him, thinking how they both
feel the same fear of each other. Who is this lizard reminding her of? She cannot remember, so she searches all associations. He
strikes her as gentle and helpless, almost transparent, like a baby. Ah, she knows now. It reminds her of Alfred who is also white like an
albino. She giggles unconstrained, so all the girls turn to look at her with surprise. They probably think she is crazy. Poor, beautiful
Alfred, how offended she would be if he knew that only this little reptile reminds her of him. She is not repulsed by this little lizard. On the
contrary, she sees him as a co-sufferer so much alike her, who is punished by nature with his transparence and must stay away from the
sun and light to hide in the dark and musty corners.
In the quiet which has moved into this miniature gloomy room, somewhere from the vicinity, comes a pleasant noise of crickets who
call each other, then quiet down, to sing in a chorus again. It must be around noon when in the heat all stops and crickets and cicadas
start their love song, happy with the environment giving them an idyll that even the humans rarely get. Branka has always admired these
voices coming from the bushes, stopping each time she throws a little rock into the shrub. As a child she often stopped to listen to the
song “zri, zri, zri”, but she could not see who or what it was. That mystery she felt as personal, sent to her only, as if she and that bush
world had some secret in common. Now for her it is a sign that the heat reigns outside and those creatures are free while she is
` Quite late in the afternoon, a young man, almost a boy, probably a waiter, brings some food, accompanied by the same
unfriendly guard who locked them here.
- Eat, and then get ready for a visit. Tonight you will perform for the guest of the highest rank. In one or two hours someone will
come for you. Wash well. Don’t you dare to have someone stinking. Here hygiene is essential. The chief will try the best meat. Do
not fool yourself that it is you. We have more of such in our storage – he says all that without taking off the dark glasses even in that
already dim room.
- Leaving, he locks the door again. Nothing can be heard from the outside, no clamor or noise of any kind. Just the beating of the
waves against the walls and rocks and a lonely scream of a sea gull. Seagulls cry while flying as if announcing how free they are,
so superior in their freedom. It seems to Branka that one particular cry stands out. It sounds more like sob than a cry. Does that
bird sense the noiseless weep of the captive souls behind the walls? Is it only her imagination that the solitary cry of a seagull is
similar to the outcry of a human soul? Is it only in her mind’s eye as a message of encouragement and empathy, filling her with a
trace of strength in her weakness? Could this bird tell her story to someone who would recognize and identify with her troubles and
sorrow? The cries come closer and go away and the special one is weaker until it dies away.
- The only meal makes several pieces of torn fish mixed with cabbage salad and several pieces of bread. All of this jumbled in a
large bowl, looking like the remnants of food from the plate collected before the dish washing. Four spoons represent the entire
cutlery. How stingy are these people at the sea. Nothing like the affluence they had at the north Montenegro . Hungry girls eat it all
without a word. They almost struggle over the scraps. The woman from Vranje is the fastest. Her spoon jingles fast over the bowl.
Branka is the slowest. She is somewhat repulsed and they notice it, casting reproachful glances at her. They feel she is above
them, sticking out, and they immediately feel intolerance for her. Even in this stuffy air one can feel the separation in two factions.
Branka in one and the other three in another. In a common trouble they are opposed as rivals.
- And, really, After thorough “inspection” under strong light and photography, all the most intimate parts in humiliating postures, of all
women, the choice is made and Branka is singled out as the most beautiful and sophisticated “for the use of the most special and
highest clientele”. Turns out also the most abnormal in their taste. The filming of a bestial porno movie takes place, resulting in Branka’s
utmost damage, physical and mental. While in coma, her left kidney is taken out and sold, the heart also considered but not used, and
she –useless for the previous or any other purpose -- thrown in a desolate place to die. Fortunately, she is spotted and saved from sure
death, by a Serb living in Italy and his driver. A long hospitalization and treatment ensues. Love and goodness conquer.
Italian Border, November 1988,
Her wrinkled face moves under just as wrinkled pillow. She hardly moves the lid on her left eye. Where is she? Through a small slit in the
louvers a beam of light falls with corpuscles of dust fluttering and creating uneven fog. She moves her right hand to remove the tangled
hair from her mouth. The movement causes strong, horrible ache in her entire body, raising another wave of dust and cigarette ashes. It
almost kills the tiny fragment of sunshine reaching this strange room. She lifts her head and tries to put under it this object resembling a
pillow under which her head has been. A sharp pain cuts across her forehead and her head collapses back. She does not know how
long she has been lying senseless. Then she hears the noise of a motor. Harsh men’s voices. Swearing. Where is she and who is she
anyway? She does not remember anything. Only aware of foul smells, dullness and an overall pain. The rest is deleted.
She stays like that, without moving or thinking, a long time. Her eyes travel across the dark room. A spider on a thick thread of its
web hanging from the ceiling is strangling a fly. The fat fly is wriggling, but the spider is strong, with creepy hairy legs. She stares dully at
the two creatures for a long time. Then a smile flutters on her face. It almost lights it mitigating all the crumple and desolation mirrored on
it. On whose side is she: the fly’s or the spider’s? Makes no difference. She is watching them until the fly crumples and stays still. The
game is over, and the fly has ended her short existence. Then her glance travels around across the walls. The dust is hanging on the
spider webs thickly so the webs look as if made of ropes. She feels some wetness between her thighs. Touches it. Blood. Thick and
sticky. She tries to left herself but a sharp pain immobilizes her lower body. Then it shoots towards the back, on the left side. She
touches it and the entire room sways. She loses consciousness.
The door opens with a screech and two men enter. They close the door behind themselves and pull the bar to lock it.
The first is huge, almost fat, dressed in a leather jacket. Typical look of a truck driver. The other is a sophisticated gentleman, elegantly
dressed, in his forties with a few grey strands in an otherwise thick dark hair.
- Come state, signorina? – the fat one is asking.
- She startles a bit, and when she sees the men, curls into a fetus roll, whimpering faintly:
- Mama, I will be good! Mama!
- But she is one of ours, for Christ’s sake! – The chubby one exclaims astonished.
- We must take her to a doctor, she is in a horrid state – the gentleman adds
- obviously concerned.
- Poor woman resists, murmuring something senseless, whining like a wounded
- Sasha, don’t. Not you. – she cries, if this hardly audible snivel could be called that.
- Then she loses consciousness entirely while the two men lift her. The chubby one places her across his shoulder and takes her into
the parked Jaguar.
- Fortunately, it is not quite late. With a dedicated professional care, saved from sure death, she is in safe hands. A long
hospitalization and treatment, physical and especially mental and emotional, ensue. Love and goodness conquer.
GOOD AND EVIL: LOVE AND WAR
Restless Souls (Lament for Kosovo)
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