Nevidljiva majka – Invisible Mother

Today we call this procedure the “invisible mother”. When at the beginning of the last century photography became popular and every family wanted to leave their trace, even if only with that one portrait, made only once in a lifetime, they would order separate photographs of children. The child, regardless of age, had to be alone in the picture, have its own portrait, its own black and white reflection of the small identity. But photography was still something new, a medium announcing plenty, but not yet giving too much. There was little room for errors and, if the child was too restless, the photograph would turn out too blurry. The product would not have been good, money would have been wasted, and the photographer disappointed, perhaps even more than the family. And this is where the invisible mothers would enter the scene, or rather, behind the scene. The woman would hold the child in her lap, or just hold its hand while being covered by a curtain or a blanket. Thus the child would get its own portrait, although it was never alone. In some photographs, the mother was hidden quite awkwardly, being more than a noticeable part of the set design, as if she were promising that her role in the child’s life would never completely be covered by the curtains of oblivion and adulthood. However, in others the trick was so successful that at first sight you wouldn’t even notice someone else was in the photograph, the mother was just a silent part of the space, an invisible fixed point that the child was holding onto while confusedly looking ahead into the unfamiliar eye of the camera.

* * *

I felt nothing when my mom lost her first stable job since we had moved to Croatia. I was a child and did not understand how serious it was because the word “future” meant only the next day. Later on, the “future” fattened up and inflated to the point of repulsion, filled with layers of worries and covered ungainly by the veils of semi-convincible encouragements. Mom had the ground knocked out from under her, but the same had happened with the war and the escape from Bosnia so she was probably not too thrown by it. It was a shock a bit all too familiar, bearing the promise of its returns. After that she didn’t have a stable job for the next ten years. She, too, must have felt like a child then, as if the future were no more than the next day.

* * *

When I was old enough not to be a child any more, but not enough to be an adult, I decided the future would be grand. Because it had to be. Because I was always the best at everything and it went without saying that I would continue to be the best at everything. And even though the present had quite convincing counter-arguments, I successfully ignored it. It is incredible how tall a wall book covers can be when one has to look into this “reality”.
Mom worked as a cleaning lady at the time. And about as far as I was from reality at the time (with my nose in books that would always somehow in advance complicate and explain life), so far was she with her education from the job she was doing. She would clean for 5 hours straight, and then on her way back home she would read books on the tram. Her soul was getting food only in passing. “Mom, you are probably the only
cleaning lady in Croatia who pulls out The Brothers Karamazov from her purse in the tram”. She would smile, sad and proud. I would picture her coming out of the school she was cleaning, tired, getting into a tram full of people with turbid faces, anchored in worries of some sort (people in trams always look worried), and Domestos and Dostoyevsky merrily bumping into each other in her purse. But that dance wouldn’t last for long. Neither would her job.

* * *

When I was nearing the end of my studies, the thin line between the imagined future and the real present faded away and the latter completely sank the former. I bounced from books to more distant daydreams.
– Why do you think you have to leave Croatia to be happy? People who run away abroad do not get any further than they would have had they stayed home.
– Mom, how do you not see that there is no future here? No future.
– And supposedly there is out there? There is a crisis there, too. Only you’ll be a foreigner on top of everything. Blue collar workers and scientists go abroad. You are neither.
This is when I fell silent. I had recently decided that “future” and “abroad” were synonyms, but when I stopped to think about it, “abroad” had no more of a tangible form. Nevermind. The feeling of complete uncertainty that begins when you put down your suitcase at a foreign train station seemed and still seems much safer than the guaranteed fear I would feel in Croatia.
– You know what I heard recently? – My mom asks me to wake me up from the futile circle of thoughts. – I heard that a person experiences his biggest fears in life between the age of 20 and 29. Interesting, isn’t it? Go figure, ha? That age precisely.
– Well, I guess it’s because at that age you feel you have to make a decisive choice that will determine the rest of your life, and you have no idea what that choice is supposed to be. – I retorted automatically, reciting thoughts I had spun in my head endless times hunting for a more concrete definition of the famous post-adolescent angst.
– Ahem, yes, could be… When I think back on that period, it somehow seems dual…
– Dual? – I suddenly raised my head, happy to have discovered that mom had felt halved, too. As if at the same time you had both too much and too little identity; like a reflection in a broken mirror.
– Well, yeah. I remember some nice things and experiences… Going out as a
student, hanging out with friends. And, in

parallel, somehow simultaneously, that feeling of fear. On the inside you’re like a cold desert.
– Hm…

– Yes, that’s it. A cold desert.

* * *

Mom frowned and pursed her lips.

– How safe is that?

– It’s safe. Believe me. I wouldn’t go there just like that. It’s all part of this programme… See, now that Croatia is entering the Union, they want to enhance those exchanges of young people between Croatia and European countries… – I recited the propaganda of the international exchange programme. – So, a certain number of responsible people will certainly know where I am and what I’m supposed to do. Get it?
– Ok, how does it work?

– If my application is accepted, I’ll have an interview on Skype and then we’ll see.
– On what?

– On the internet. With a camera.

– Aha. OK then.

The application was accepted.
The night before the interview I dreamed I was walking in the desert. It was very cold. I sat down on the ground, scooped up sand with my hands and let it slip through my fingers. When I lifted my head, I thought I saw my mom in the distance doing something similar, but when I blinked, I saw it was only a rock that hadn’t turned to sand yet.
When I woke up, I rubbed my hands under water for a long time. It seemed as if the sand wouldn’t get out of my skin.

* * *

– Hello? Can you hear me? Hello?

– Yes, I’m here. Good morning. I’m Katja.

– Good morning, Katja. I’m glad to finally see you, even if it’s through a camera.
The woman looking at me through the Skype window was cheerful, but in a neutral, practiced way. I was nervous. Not so much because of the interview as for the fact that I had to speak French. I had put improvised prompters around my laptop: pieces of cardboard with long, embellished, grammatically checked sentences in French on why I need, want and must get this internship, penned with a red marker.
The woman quickly started chirping about their association and what my tasks would be if they accepted me. When she finished her obviously worn-out monologue, she asked me to say something about myself. I stopped for a moment and took a breath. During the cinematically long three seconds I found myself facing a choice: Do I tell her the truth or do I read from the prompter? The two Katjas started arguing: Seriously, Katja? Do you really want to play the card of a refugee with a single mother and whine about Bosnia, about Croatia where nobody can find a job, about mom’s unemployment… Seriously? Do you think you have to use that to succeed? Well, no, I don’t think that but, isn’t it more correct to be honest? Oh, is it? Correct, or only very convenient and easy? What if you had grown up in a wealthy family? What would be your trump card then? Don’t be silly; the woman must see optimism and energy, not scrounging. And then it was my turn to give a monologue. Half looking at the prompters, half improvising, I went on about how good I was with people, how I loved to learn new things, how I was good at everything (over the years the two Katjas reached a compromise and decided that I was good, not the best at everything) etc… The woman nodded, smiled, interjected with “D’accord, d’accord” every now and then. She seemed pleased, and I talked more and more and faster and faster. When I finally concluded my speech with a smile, she asked: “And what would you like to do in life for the long term?” As if unable to bear the pressure of the question, Skype froze. For several all too long moments, the woman’s face stood on the screen frozen in a smile. Thus halted in time, it looked even more unnatural and a bit unreal. Then a few left over words were heard and the connection broke. The window no longer held her face, just a dark screen with grey dots.
We did not manage to establish a connection again. She sent me an e-mail saying it wasn’t really necessary to finish the interview; she had already found out enough about me.

* * *

Three weeks later I received an e- mail that said in a very polite, but still perceptibly distant tone that I had been given the internship and they were looking forward to my coming. That was it. The future was waiting for me abroad.

* * *

– Call me as soon as you get there. I don’t care if it’s 3 a.m.
– OK, mom…

– OK. Go. May the dear Lord protect you.
– Yes. Thank you.

I looked over my shoulder towards the gate for my flight and then again at my mom’s face. She looked so excited as if she were travelling, too.
– Mom?

– Yes, dear?

– Thank you.

– For what?

– You know, for everything, in general. – I mumbled, smiled stupidly and looked at the floor. I wanted to say: Thank you for everything, always. For cleaning stupid offices and stupid schools, and babysitting stupid kids while I read books. For making it all work. I’m not doing this just for myself, but to prove to you that we have succeeded. But I didn’t. Somehow is seemed to me that it was all clear. And I didn’t want to risk crying in the middle of the airport, that would have been tacky.
I put the bag over my shoulder and started for the gate, turning around a few times. I got on the plane, fastened my seatbelt and took out Šimić’s Transformations, my favourite collection. As I held it clumsily, it fell on the floor. I bent down to pick it up, and then I noticed something dark on my trouser legs. It looked like dark powder. I remembered that, walking towards the airport, we had crossed a gravel path and I had tripped several times because my suitcase was too heavy. I guess my trouser legs got dirty then. I shook them off with my hand and looked at my palm. The grains of sand were throwing tiny reflections of the sun. I looked at a grain of sand on my palm, this barely
visible sturdy dot. I folded my hand and then looked at the clouds. Zagreb was no longer discernible; the plane had sailed deep into the unknown. After this point there was only hope.


Original version:  

Taj se postupak danas naziva „nevidljiva majka“. Kad je početkom prošlog stoljeća popularizirana fotografija i svaka se obitelj htjela ovjekovječiti, pa makar i samo tim jednim portetom, napravljenim samo jednom u životu, naručivali su i zasebne fotografije djece. Dijete, bez obzira na dob, moralo je biti sâmo na slici, imati vlastiti portret, vlastiti crno-bijeli odraz malog identiteta. Ali fotografija je još uvijek bila nešto sasvim novo, medij koji najavljuje puno, ali još ne daje previše. Bilo je malo prostora za pogreške i, ako bi dijete bilo previše nemirno, fotografija bi ispala previše mutna. Proizvod ne bi bio dobar, novac bi bio potraćen, a fotograf razočaran, možda i više nego obitelj. I tu bi dolazile na scenu, ili radije, iza scene, nevidljive majke. Žena bi držala dijete u krilu, ili ga samo pridržavala za ruku i pritom bi bila prekrivena zastorom ili prekrivačem. Tako bi dijete dobilo vlastiti portret, iako nikad ne bi bilo sâmo. Na nekim je fotografijama majka bila prilično nevješto sakrivena, činila i više no upadljiv dio scenografije, kao da obećaje da se njezina uloga u djetetovom životu nikad neće moći posve prekriti zastorima zaborava i odrastanja. Međutim, na drugima je varka bila toliko uspješna da na prvo gledanje uopće ne biste primijetili da je još netko na fotografiji, majka je bila samo tihi dio prostora, nevidljiva čvrsta točka za koju se dijete drži dok zbunjeno gleda pred sebe u nepoznato oko kamere.

* * *

Nisam osjećala ništa kad je mama izgubila prvi stabilan posao otkad smo se doselili u Hrvatsku. Bila sam dijete i nisam shvaćala koliko je to ozbiljno jer se iza riječi „budućnost“ nije krilo ništa više od sljedećeg dana. Kasnije se tek „budućnost“ udebljala i napuhala do odbojnosti, napunjena naslagama briga i nezgrapno prekrivena zastorima polu-uvjerljivih ohrabrenja. Mami je bilo izbijeno tlo pod nogama, ali isto to se dogodilo i s ratom i s bijegom iz Bosne tako da je vjerojatno nije previše iznenadilo. Bio je to šok koji je bio pomalo previše poznat i koji je nosio obećanje svojih povrataka. Nakon toga nije imala stabilan posao sljedećih deset godina. Jamačno se i ona onda osjećala kao dijete, kad budućnost nije ništa više od sutra.

* * *

Kad sam postala dovoljno stara da ne budem dijete, ali ne i dovoljno da budem odrasla, odlučila sam da će budućnost biti velika. Jer mora biti. Jer sam uvijek bila najbolja u svemu i podrazumijevalo se da ću nastaviti biti najbolja u svemu. I iako je sadašnjost imala dosta uvjerljive protuargumente, uspješno sam je ignorirala. Nevjerojatno kako korice knjiga mogu biti visoki zidovi kada treba pogledati u tu nekakvu „stvarnost“.

Mama je tada radila kao čistačica. I otprilike onoliko koliko sam ja bila udaljena od stvarnosti (s nosom u knjigama koje su uvijek nekako unaprijed i komplicirale i objašnjavale život), toliko je i ona sa svojim obrazovanjem bila udaljena od posla koji je radila. Čistila bi 5 sati u komadu, a onda na povratku kući u tramvaju čitala knjige. Duša se hranila samo u prolazu. „Mama, ti si vjerojatno jedina čistačica u Hrvatskoj koja u tramvaju iz torbe izvlači Braću Karamazove.“ Ona se smijala, tužna i ponosna.  Zamišljala sam je kako izlazi iz škole koju čisti, umorna, ulazi u tramvaj pun ljudi mutnih lica, usidrenih u nekakvim brigama (ljudi u tramvaju uvijek izgledaju zabrinuto), a u torbi se veselo sudaraju Domestos i Dostojevski. No i taj je ples kratko trajao. Kao i taj posao.

* * *

Kad sam bila pri kraju sa studijem, tanka nit između zamišljene budućnosti i stvarne sadašnjosti istopila se i potonja je potpuno potopila onu prvu. Odskočila sam iz knjiga u udaljenija sanjarenja.

– Zašto misliš da moraš otići iz Hrvatske da bi bila sretna? Ljudi koji bježe van ne stignu ništa dalje nego da su ostali doma.

– Mama, kako ti nije jasno da ovdje nema budućnosti? Nema.

– A vani kao ima? Pa i tamo je kriza. Samo što ćeš tamo još biti stranac. Vani idu šljakeri i znanstvenici. Ti nisi nijedno.

Tu sam ušutjela. Odnedavno sam odlučila da su „budućnost“ i „vani“ istoznačnice, no kad bih zastala i malo bolje promislila o tome, „vani“ nije imalo ništa opipljiviji oblik. Nebitno. Krajnja neizvjesnost koja počinje spuštanjem kofera na stranom kolodvoru činila se i čini se puno sigurnijom od izvjesnog straha u Hrvatskoj.

– Znaš što sam zanimljivo čula nedavno? – upita me mama da me razbudi iz uzaludnog kruga misli. – Čula sam da čovjek najveće strahove u životu doživi između dvadesete i dvadeset devete godine. Zanimljivo, zar ne? Tko bi rekao, baš te godine.

– Pa valjda zato što u tim godinama osjećaš da moraš napraviti neki presudan izbor koji će odrediti ostatak života, a nemaš pojma koji bi to izbor trebao biti. – otpovrnula sam automatizirano, izrecitirala misli koje sam već bezbroj puta izvrtila u glavi u lovu na konkretniju definiciju famoznog post-adolescentskog angsta.

– Hm, da, može biti… Kad se sjetim tog razdoblja, nekako je dvostruko…

– Dvostruko? – naglo sam dignula glavu, sretna što sam otkrila da se i mama osjećala raspolovljeno. Kao da imaš istovremeno i višak i nedovoljno identiteta; kao odraz u slomljenom zrcalu.

– Pa da. Sjećam se tih nekih lijepih stvari i doživljaja… Studentski izlasci, druženja s prijateljima. I, paralelno, nekako istovremeno, taj jedan te isti osjećaj straha. Iznutra si kao hladna pustinja.

– Hm…

– Da, baš to. Hladna pustinja.

* * *

Mama se namrštila i napućila usne.

– Koliko je to sigurno?

– Sigurno je. Vjeruj mi. Ne bih išla samo tako tamo. To je sve u sklopu tog programa… Kužiš, kako sad Hrvatska ulazi u Uniju, žele da se unaprijede te razmjene mladih ljudi između Hrvatske i europskih zemalja… – recitirala sam propagandu programa za međunarodnu razmjenu. – Znači, stanovit broj odgovornih ljudi će sigurno znati gdje sam ja i što trebam raditi. Kužiš?

– Pa dobro, kako to ide?

– Ako mi prijava prođe, imat ću razgovor preko Skypea pa ćemo vidjeti.

– Preko čega?

– Preko interneta. S kamerom.

– Aha. Ajd dobro.

Prijava je prošla.

Noć prije razgovora sanjala sam kako hodam po pustinji. Bilo je jako hladno. Sjela sam na tlo, grabila pijesak rukama i puštala da mi bježi kroz prste. Kad sam podigla glavu, učinilo mi se da u daljini vidim mamu kako čini nešto slično, no kad sam trepnula, vidjela sam da je to samo stijena koja se još nije pretvorila u pijesak.

Kad sam se probudila, dugo sam trljala ruke pod vodom. Činilo mi se kao da pijesak ne želi van iz moje kože.

* * *

– Halo? Čujemo li se? Halo?

– Da, ovdje sam. Dobar dan. Ja sam Katja.

– Dobar dan, Katja. Drago mi je da se napokon vidimo, pa makar i preko kamere.

Žena koja me gledala kroz Skypeov prozor bila je vesela, ali na neki neutralan, uvježban način. Bila sam nervozna. Ne toliko zbog razgovora, koliko zbog toga što moram govoriti na francuskom. Oko lapotpa sam poredala improvizirane blesimetre: komade kartona na kojima sam crvenim markerom napisala duge, nakićene, gramatički provjerene rečenice na francuskom o tome zašto trebam, želim i moram dobiti ovo stažiranje.

Žena je brzo počela cvrkutati o njihovoj udruzi i koja bi bila moja zaduženja ako bi me primili. Kada je završila vidno istrošeni monolog, rekla mi je da joj kažem nešto o sebi. Zastala sam na trenutak i udahnula. Tijekom filmski dugih tri sekunde našla sam se pred izborom: reći joj istinu ili čitati s blesimetra. Dvije Katje su se počele prepirati: Ozbiljno, Katja? Zar stvarno želiš igrati na kartu izbjeglice sa samohranom majkom i cendrati o Bosni, o Hrvatskoj u kojoj nitko ne može naći posao, o maminoj nezaposlenosti… Ozbiljno? Zar misliš da moraš posezati za time da bi uspjela? Pa ne, ne mislim, ali, zar nije ispravnije biti iskren? Ma je li? Ispravno, ili samo jako zgodno i lako? Što da si odrasla u imućnoj obitelji? Što bi ti onda bio adut? Ne budi glupa; žena mora vidjeti optimizam i energiju, a ne žicanje. I tada je bio red na meni da održim monolog. Napola pogledavajući blesimetar, a napola improvizirajući, raspričala sam se o tome kako sam dobra s ljudima, kako volim učiti nove stvari, kako sam dobra u svemu (s godinama su Katje postigle kompromis i odlučile da sam dobra, a ne najbolja u svemu). itd. itd. Žena je klimala glavom, smješkala se, tu i tamo ubacila pokoje „D’accord, d’accord.“ Izgledala je zadovoljno, a ja sam govorila sve više i sve brže. Kad sam napokon zaključila govor smiješkom, ona je upitala: „A čime se dugoročno želite baviti u životu?“ Kao da nije mogao podnijeti pritisak pitanja, Skype se smrznuo. Nekoliko predugih trenutaka ženino lice je stajalo na ekranu zamrznuto u smiješku. Ovako zaustavljeno u vremenu, izgledalo je još neprirodnije i pomalo nestvarno. Onda se čulo još nekoliko zaostalih riječi i veza se ugasila. U prozoru više nije bilo njezino lice, nego samo tamni ekran sa sivim zrncima.

Više nismo uspjeli uspostaviti vezu. Poslala mi je e-mail da zapravo i nije bitno da dovršimo razgovor; saznala je dovoljno o meni i ovako.

* * *

Tri tjedna kasnije dobila sam e-mail u kojem je veoma ljubaznim, ali još uvijek osjetno distanciranim tonom pisalo da sam dobila stažiranje i da se raduju mome dolasku. To je bilo to. Budućnost me čekala vani.

* * *

– Javi mi se čim stigneš. Baš me briga ako bude i tri ujutro.

– Ok, mama…

– Ok. Ajd. Nek te dragi Bog čuva.

– Da. Hvala.

Pogledala sam preko ramena prema izlazu za moj let i onda opet u mamino lice. Izgledala je toliko uzbuđeno kao da i ona putuje.

– Mama?

– Molim, dušo?

– Hvala.

– Na čemu?

– Pa onak’, na svemu, općenito. – promrmljala sam, glupo se nasmiješila i pogledala u pod. Htjela sam reći: Hvala ti na svemu, oduvijek. Što si čistila glupe urede, i glupe škole i čuvala glupu djecu dok sam ja čitala knjige. Što si učinila da sve funkcionira. Ovo ne radim samo radi sebe, nego i da ti dokažem da smo uspjele. Ali nisam. Nekako mi se činilo da je to sve jasno. A i nisam htjela riskirati da plačemo usred zračne luke, to bi bilo nekako neukusno.

Stavila sam torbu preko ramena i krenula prema izlazu, osvrnuvši se nekoliko puta. Smjestila sam se u avion, vezala pojas, ugasila mobitel i odslušala stjuardesin entuzijastični monolog. Potom sam otvorila torbu i izvadila Šimićeva Preobraženja, svoju omiljenu zbirku. Kako sam je nespretno primila, ispala mi je na pod. Sagnula sam se da je dignem i tada zamijetila nešto na nogavici. Izgledalo je kao tamni prah. Sjetila sam se da smo, hodajući prema luci, prolazili preko jedno šljunčanog puteljka i da sam se spotaknula nekoliko puta jer mi je kovčeg bio pretežak. Valjda su se tad nogavice zaprljale. Otresla sam ih rukom i pogledala u dlan. Zrnca pijeska bacala su sitne sjajne odraze sunca. Pogledala sam u jedno zrno pijeska na dlanu, tu jedva vidljivu čvrstu točkicu. Sklopila sam šaku i potom pogledala u oblake. Zagreb se više nije ni nazirao, avion je zaplovio duboko u nepoznato. Nakon ove točke ostala je samo nada.

Picture on the top: Serenity by May Atallah



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