gypsies, roma, kosovo

Fleeing in the Night


I take a slip of paper out of my pocket with a phone number an Italian feminist gave me.  

We call. A voice full of distrust answers. Reska gets nervous, I give her some suggestions on what to say, and the woman at the other end of the line becomes even more suspicious: who is that man who is telling you what to say? However, they give us an appointment at three o'clock.  

We lose our way in the traffic, and get there over half an hour late. We go into the a small office, and meet the first person who is actually ready to help: a Croatian lady we shall call Mila.   

In a few minutes, Mila understands the whole situation. She makes a few calls. The police - the same district office which had liquidated us so quickly before - now says they are willing to go with us to ask Remzija whether she is willing to come away with us or not. However, we are almost certain of two things: Kadri will probably stay at home tonight, since he can hardly believe we are no longer in Croatia. And Kadri will certainly have hidden his wife somewhere. What can we do when he smiles and tells an already uninterested police force that his wife is free to go where she wants, and that she has gone out, probably to visit a friend of hers?  

We leave for the police station. Discovering that Mila does not know how to drive or read the map of the town, nor does she know the streets; Reska has driven all day. So I use the map, Resky drives and Mila, with her Croatian accent, asks information.  

The police seem to have changed their mind. It takes all Mila's considerable diplomatic skills to persuade them again. Curious about Reska, a young plainclothes detective - the only one with a human face - offers her a cigarette and asks to come in the same car with us.  

Finally, we leave. It is nine o'clock in the evening. We are at the beginning of the end of the world, and we go into Misheveçka. I am the only one who remembers the street. Our car is ahead, followed by the police van. 

We stumble through an endless series of holes. At a certain point, we think we have lost our way, going beyond the point where should turn to the left. No, we are not lost... Reska races the car up and across the tracks... in the deep fog, I see the shape of two trains, luckily not moving... once again, we have won the Russian roulette. 

We reach the open area in front of the ogre's den. As we are about to go in, a fox suddenly appears in front of our headlamps. Both houses are lit, this means the generator must be running.  

We jump out of the car, while a crowd of people comes running up from the house of Kadri's brother. Reska knocks on Kadri's door, shouting "it's me".  

The police line up between us and the approaching crowd, while we wait anxiously, hearing no noise come from Kadri's house. 

Suddenly, the door opens. It is not Kadri who, incredibly, is not at home. It is Remzija who heard the noise, but thought it was her husband come home drunk to beat her. She puts her hand across her mouth in surprise. In front of the police, her sister asks her whether she wants to come away with us forever. Yes, and without a second's hesitation, Remzija picks up her shoes, I shove her into the car and jump inside to hold her down between Mila and myself. The policeman is no longer with us, and the seat next to the driver's is empty.  

Kadri's brother rushes indoors and grabs the newborn child in a final attempt at blackmail. Reska is driving, we have to pass right through the crowd, once in order to drive back, once again to get out. I see the blue-eyed witch in front of me with her stick, a German shepherd and the baby; but out of fear of the police, they make way.  

Now it's a race against time: the police will keep the crowd back for a few minutes, but somebody has no doubt called Kadri on his portable phone; and he will certainly come rushing along the only road leading out of the swamp. 

Reska bends over on the wheel, screams, and we jump from hole to hole, with water and mud spraying high and every step a blow against the chassis... we manage to go through the whole  Misheveçka, then we enter the town.  We light a cigarette for Remzija, who for years had only smoked secretly. I rip off the overly visible sign saying that we are in an invalid's car. We drive fast until we reach a street full of prostitutes, where Kadri's woman could be too. Mila orders Remzija to stay down so she cannot be seen. The we stop in front of a doorway, and Mila disappears inside with  Remzija. 

It is hard to imagine what Remzija is feeling. She had spoken to a relative of her gaoler,  without knowing what the consequences could be. Several weeks later, without any advance notice, her sister had appeared with a  mysterious man who was neither a Rom nor even her boyfriend. Then both had gone away, although they had promised to look for help, something almost impossible considering that Remzija had no papers. Hearing a knock on the door, she had opened thinking it was the man who kept her a prisoner. A second later, she had to make a decision involving fatal risks and in any case leaving her children in her husband's hands.  

The next day, Reska and I go back to Italy. On our way, we stop by with Maurizio Antonello, a courageous cult critic who shrugs off insults, lawsuits and threats from totalist organizations and religious fanatics with a good glass of strong Veneto "grappa." He has to go out to visit other friends of his and mine, but Reska is too tired to come. I suggest she stay at home while I go out, but a glance from her is sufficient to tell me that it is not a good idea. She explains that she is afraid, so afraid that at times she wakes up at night screaming. At the camp, she tells me, a friend went out on a walk with his wife. At the cross-roads leading to the left towards a large discount shop and to the right towards a cement plant, in the bleak nothingness that are the outskirts of Brescia, high flames suddenly rose up in front of his feet, and he fell ill.  

"I am not afraid of people, just of this kind of thing." 

The next day, we are back in the car. She says, "I like helping people... I know how to do it... but at least they should pay me the expenses. And give me a driver and a bodyguard. " 

I light her cigarette using a lighter I had bought in Zagreb. Red, with an Albanian eagle, and the words UÇK SHTYLLË KOSOVE. I aks her: 

"What does it mean?" 

"I don't know, I swear I don't... it isn't that I'm pretending I don't know because you are a  plainclothes detective ..." 

"I don't believe you... you are a Gypsy and Gypsies tell lies!" 


  The family together again - in front,  Bajram; behind, from left to right, 
Remzija, Altna, Xhevrija, Emir, Lulzim and Reska.

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