The Key

The last night I slept at home was the night of December 29th, 1991. After that night I've been going to bed and been waking up in many different places of which I could at least one of those places, with embedded life lasting caution, even call my home, but no, never again after that night I have slept at home, I was never at home at all, nor I will ever be at home again, even if I would go back to that place, the place where the home was.

The place, actually, still exists: it was not blown up by a grenade, bomb, dynamite or any kind of explosives, God forbid, we are civilized people, that house, building actually, still lastingly exists in the world, there it is exactly where it has always been, today on the non-existing address: Viktor Bubanj alley 3, floor XIII, apartment number 136, 41000 Zagreb, the first of three entrances to the big building. Two regular elevators, one cargo, and one of those constantly out of order. Inside, one big and two smaller rooms, kitchen, balcony where the pigeons nest all the time, cubical loge ideal for urban barbarians to enclose it with windows. Mine was not enclosed, a good wind always blew through it, and it had a wonderful view of the entire blue-green and grey Zagreb, often darkened during that autumn and winter, immerged in darkness that was a fact and a metaphor at the same time and in that Sava river fog, palpable and more opaque than any peaceful fog that could descend anywhere anytime. Doorbell is in working order, intercom as well, and it is an old-timer, made by some-three-letter-abbreviation from Ljubljana, you know, the machine that has two big cubic buttons, one reads »door«, and the other »speech«. Telephone number, there's a telephone as well, 677-477, like some rhymed, gentle, sometimes maybe bitter time traveling code, a kind of a secret number that could, when everything goes wrong, save the world, my world, from bursting, actually, from dissolving in a doubt of my own existence. Because, when there is nothing left out of something, sooner or later you'll start wondering was there anything at all in the first place? And the devil awaits for that moment, you know and he knows that there was something, but your oblivion, your defeat, would mean that this world is closer by step, no matter how small and unimportant for the era, to His final reign, Kingdom of Darkness that maybe begins exactly at the point where a person forgets what made him the way he is.

So, the house is still in its place, I've passed by, quite recently, very close to it, it's just that it is not my home anymore, and if it's somebody else’s home I don't know, and I guess I don't want to know. To someone it is a flat, that is for sure, I even know whose flat, or at least I knew, but that doesn't mean anything, I have something that is a flat to me, flats are replaceable, but there is only one home, so either it is there or not, just like you are there in it or you're not.

And so the morning of December 30th in the year of our Lord 1991 came, father and I got up early, the long and strange road awaited us, we had coffee, listened to the radio, sat there quietly while the winter sun was arising somewhere above us. When the clock hit eight, I took the last look from the loge to that arsenic »green and blue Zagreb water«, took a deep breath, put my shoes on. We crawled out of the apartment carrying suitcases, I took a key out of the small pocket that some smart person conceived just for the purpose of holding a key in it, because it is too small or too big for everything else, I put the right key from the bundle in the lock and turned it twice, just like I did always before that time, like it is of any importance now, just as if the person that's been taken to be executed on a winter day would be worried sick not to catch a cold on the way there. Well ok, I can say in my defense that I didn't exactly know that this key of mine is in that exact lock for the last time, even though I had a feeling that it is going to be that way. But during that long autumn those fortunately unsuccessful »last times« have already happened, so this one could be the same, but it just happened that it wasn't, it was really the last time, forever and Amen, and nevermore will the key from my hand be there in that lock, not even if the dead wake up, and the Kingdom of Heaven is proclaimed, because even if you believe that people resurrect, still it doesn't apply to keys, and especially not to all the things that those keys could unlock, which are not there, thus a key as such, a key that outlasted its lock, is just one self-sufficient object, one watchword without challenge, an answer without a riddle.

Way before nine we were at the bus station that was filled with soldiers and grannies, grannies and more soldiers, and finally got on board a bus that went to Sarajevo, even though we did not travel to Sarajevo but to the nearest available village in, at the time, still peaceful Bosnia, and that was Bosanski Šamac, where we had to switch to another bus that went here, straight to the city under the Fortress, that looked like somebody's big loge from which you could see the whole town, with its green and blue Danube waters. And the trip lasted long and even longer, you cannot believe how long a trip in the war can last, because the war is a spoiled and needy child, he desires a lot of free space and won't stand the competition, thus we couldn't travel directly, using a highway, instead we endlessly drove around through Podravina crowded with villages and small towns, then tiptoed through western and eastern Slavonia, carefully taking care not to disturb the war, or make him feel uncomfortable. And he would make a throbbing noise here and there, left and right from where we were, from Slatina and Pakrac, from Osijek and Vinkovci. And many hours later we reached the border that it wasn't a border until just recently, they set up a container with Croatian coat of arms clearly stating that we have entered a limbo, less between Croatia and Bosnia and more between war and peace, and now we have to listen to the verdict, are we going to be granted a grace of a free crossing into maybe not anymore, but perhaps lighter phase of humanity, the one that awaits you in the place where there are no shootings, which is – and you'll irrevocably realize this immediately, if you didn't get it before – criterion above all criterions for a good human living. But the Devil is never asleep, especially not in the time of war, and my freshly issued Belgrade ID wasn't actually a recommendation within the geography of war, nor it was my father's recent military carrier, and so it took us off the bus, waived to the driver to drive on without us, and the ones that stayed in the bus probably were relieved that they are not among the Taken-off, and the two of us were left there standing on the December turf, surrounded with kindly reserved and only implicitly ice-cold threatening camouflaged uniform lads, who for a long and longer time performed a game of identifying and recognizing, and then called their superiors, then Slavonski Brod, then Zagreb, to see what kind of fish got caught up in their net, are they dangerous, edible, are they maybe suitable for some kind of exchange of two-legged war goods, or whatever. Several meters away there was a bit ugly, metal construction of a bridge over Sava river, between one Šamac and another Šamac, between the two sorry countries, between the war on the left bank that was slowly dying and the peace on the right bank that was dying as well, but perhaps it didn't know that about itself, yet. That bridge was actually some kind of a key between the two worlds, and I was staring at it, as if it was an entrance to the cave with hidden treasure, with a growing fear that I will forever stay on this side, that I will be separated from my dad, that they might torture him, who knows why, like the war and its people need a real reason to torture someone? And this lasted you'll never know for how long, my overcoat – I remembered it too late – was far on its way to Sarajevo, and we were standing in the middle of some Panonian Absurdistan like two naked, helpless idiots, waiting for the Destiny to do what pleases her. In the end, she was compassionate, someone somewhere told somebody that we're kosher, that all this can be continued without the two of us, and we’ve crossed to the other side, to the lights of the dark vilayet, and sat down to ate the sweetest chevapchichi that anyone has ever grilled, like the ones that eat people who were reborn, people light as air that they lustfully breathe, and even lighter, they could almost fly.

And after that we stood in the dark by the road and waited, and waited, until a vehicle with Novi Sad license plates rolled in on a road covered with rubble, swallowed us and almost without stopping drove us for a long and even longer time through Orašje, Brčko, Bijeljina, Mitrovica, Ruma, then descended from Iriški Venac until we saw the lights of Novi Sad from the panorama of Kamenica, then down the boulevard that splits it in half reached the station, and on the station soldiers and grannies, and grannies and more soldiers, but who cares, father and I rang the door of my aunt's place, his sister, here, on a boulevard, that back then was bearing a name after October 23rd, the day when someone freed somebody from war, on one of important boulevards in my life, and then we talked for a long time, and then went to sleep, and I was for a long time laying in the dark diluted by the street lights and headlights, starring at the ceiling, feeling that this was my first real night out of home, first in seemingly endless stream that will follow soon. Although the apartment we stayed in, like everything and everyone in it, was very familiar and dear, just like the city above which this apartment floats, this was something else, yes, that town is mine, but home is not, home remained somewhere on the That side, and it will never come back from there, not even when the Sides again become just ordinary sides of the world.

And „what happened later“? Nothing happened. Later happened the rest of my life, in the beginning spent very modestly breathing. The key I used to lock the door of my Home, which I had turned twice out of caution was still in my pocket, that metal thing made in such way that it can unlock only one door in the world, the Right one, even though that lock for me and for him did not exist, like it had gone to Heaven, or somewhere where there is no key or its owner. And I cannot remember, shame on me, what exactly had happened with it, for how long it stayed in that pocket until I degraded it by moving it to some less prominent pocket, which made him the Key in Retirement, but always ready to get back to work again, if needed. But it didn't because it was not possible, and so that moment came – a year later? two? maybe three? – when I, changing trousers and its inventory, left the key on some table, who knows which and where, and so the key irreversibly ended his sole purpose on Earth. It was, of course, my surrendering, admitting a defeat, like if I had raised both hands and said: ok, I will never sleep at home again, I know that, and why pretending it is different? The key belongs to the winner, and the winner of these kind of fights is not the man, not a single one and never, but it is The One that mocks the man because of his vulnerability and weakness, the only human capital. And this is where this story ends, with the moral, at least pro forma: it is not terrifying to lose a key; it is terrifying to lose a lock for it.