“Dear customers, the shopping center will close in 5 minutes.”
I smile at my last customer as I disconnect her device. “There you go, enjoy your listening!”. She thanks me and as she turns around, the smile on my face fades away. I watch her leave.
She joins the group of people waiting in front of the elevator.
My eyelids drop heavily on my eyes, erasing their existence and replacing it with nothingness, but it’s the same. I open them. Now, she’s on the other side of the glass. They descend slowly as if going to hell.
Suddenly, I find myself in empty silence. It is so comforting I close my eyes again. Five minutes ago these walls were vibrating and now I am completely alone, I’m resting.
A sound makes me startle and open my eyes. I see an old humpbacked man standing right in front of me.
“I am sorry, sir, we are closed.”
“I know, son”, the old man replies, “but I’m in an urgent need of something. Look…”
His hand reaches into his pocket. He reveals a small bottle and puts it on the table. He takes off the cap and motions me to lean closer.
I look inside with curiosity. My eyes sink into the depths of a black viscous liquid.
“It is ink”, says the old man.
“Where did you get it?” I ask with bare surprise.
“It doesn’t matter, you see, the problem is I cannot use it. I need a pen, that is why I came to you.”
I am stupefied. Not only do I not sell pens, but I also can’t remember seeing one in the last fifteen years.
“Sorry, sir, I’m afraid I can’t help you. We sell only e-books and audiobooks in this store.”
All at once, the man’s face looks bitter. Now he seems even older, almost dead. I look at the little black ocean again and feel a hot stream rushing through my veins. I run to the other corner of the room and start searching through the drawers. After I find what I was looking for, I run back to the man.
“Try this”, I say in quick breath as I give him a digital stylus.
He looks doubtfully at the heavy metal stick. He then reaches for a piece of paper and deepens the stylus’ tip in the black liquid. When he starts drawing letters on the white surface, I feel hypnotized by the movement of his hand.
In a flash, the man’s face brightens up and he laughs:
“If only she knew what I have used to write this letter…”
I raise my eyebrows.
“So, you want to send a letter to a friend? I could have helped you write them an e-mail!”
“We can’t”, the old man says with a note of sorrow. “I heard they read e-mails. They will have some questions if they see I have written it in Swedish…”
My heart stops for an instance and I feel my knees weaken. I look to both sides with alarm, hoping there is no one around. Or maybe I just misheard?
“Excuse me, sir, I think I heard you wrong, I…”
“You heard me right, son”, he says with a grave tone now. “I want to send a letter to my country.”
“What do you mean?” I ask with despair wondering if he is a mad man. “We are all born in the same country!”
“Countries always existed and always will exist”, he says firmly.
“No!”, I cry while feeling deeply offended. “If countries exist, then war and hatred exists. We have a better world now!”
“Who lied to you, son?” the man says harshly. “Open your eyes! You think this is a better world we are living in? They have opened all borders saying this would bring people closer, but that was their bloodiest mistake. Back in the time, people were speaking different languages and could still be kind to each other. Now, they have established one universal language and no one understands a thing they say!”
“We are all friends now”, I scream to his face, “because we are all equal!”
“Who is your friend?” he asks me in a mocking tone. “You are as lonely as a sparrow in the rain! We all became strangers to each other. In the company of others, every man is alone.”
I look him right in the eye, full of anger. Who is this man and why did he come to me?
“The emptiness of not having a land, a nation, a culture, we try to fill with material things. We buy them at any cost, because someone promised us these things would make us happy, but belonging to no country is unhappiness itself.
You are also from the North, I can see it in your blue eyes. I bet you grew up there as well, so you must know what I am talking about…”
“Shut up!”, I cry. “Shut your mouth!”
With both hands I cover my eyes full of tears. The hoarse voice is replaced with the sound of my heartbeat. Open your eyes, open your eyes, I keep hearing in the back of my head. Open your eyes.
I open them.
The old man is not there anymore. He is not in the hall nor in the elevator. He is gone.
I look at my hands and see they are soaked in coal-black ink. I look at the piece of paper on my desk and read out loud:
“Kära mamma, jag saknar dig. De kan inte förbjuda oss att älska vårt hemland.”
by Amanda Bujac
all illustrations by Bogdan Chetrari, All Rights Reserved