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In this page you can discover the finalist for the Literature discipline in the Green Area (Western, Central and Eastern Europe).
The winners of the Semi-final event in each discipline will take part in the MArteLive Biennial in October 2022 in Rome, Italy. They will also have the chance to participate in Art residencies and get relevant prizes.

Finalists selected in Western, Central and Eastern Europe

Zoia Coman

Bucharest, Romania

My veritable love of learning has always been a driving force in my life. Because of it, I have been able to expand my horizons, discovering the beauty of the world and the many complexities of human existence, and recognizing the power of language as an escape from any and all constraints.

Text in english version

Panta rhei

I stand before the mirror, hoping to receive the consolation of a semblance of recognition. I approach it tentatively, as one approaches a great revelation. I am convinced that this mirror is the last bastion of truth, for it is only in its reflective surface that I can see myself, divorced from my own projections. It must show me as I am, not as I believe myself to be. My gaze, however, meets only shards and cracks as my desire goes unfulfilled. I do not recognize this fractured figure, although I know all too well that it can only be my reflection.

The mirror is in a state of perpetual degradation. Its integrity is continually perturbed by the daily tragedies and turmoils that otherwise leave their mark on everything that is man-made – man-made and hopelessly fragile. The closer I get to it, the better I am able to discern the fractures that snake across the planar face of the glass. They writhe, expand, and ripple out, and my image follows suit, becoming less and less of what I knew it was and hoped it would still be.

And all I can wonder in response is how much my reflection must truly change before it is no longer mine, before it becomes an other…. How many fractures of the glass would this require? How much environmental trauma ought to take place so as to result in the absolute decomposition of my features, in the irrevocable and irrefutable divagation from the unblemished original?

Running a hand over the shattered surface, over its blooming ridges, and ignoring the blood this draws, I consider my internal discourse and question it further. It may very well be that the mirror has always been broken, to some extent or another, and that the image that I call the original, and against which I judge all other iterations of this sensory experience, features cracks that I could not identify upon first viewing, and that my consciousness thereupon quickly absorbed and accepted as part of my veritable reflection. I suppose that our standards for normality are conditioned by the nature of the universe in which we gain consciousness. Our standards remain rigid, while the surrounding world changes. What hope can there be for recognition and satisfaction, when  I find myself face to face with chaos, with change, and witness the destruction this imposes upon a medium that does not know how to cope with it, and ultimately relents to its pressure?

Everything flows; I notice it in the passage of time, in the movement of the clouds across the sky, in the cries of newborns and the final breaths of elders. Everything flows; the direction of the wind changes, trees are uprooted and saplings grow. Everything flows; my blood flows from my palm and down my forearm, before christening the ground in a succession of drops. Everything flows, but for our manufactured reality, our brittle natura artificialis.

I take note of my earlier tendency to think in discrete terms. Is it not a fallacy to do so? Could it be that the discrete nature of these terms does not arise out of my own volition, but is rather enforced upon me by the rigidity of the mirror, by the sharp vertices of its cracks, by its evident breaking point and inherent lack of ontological continuity? Am I not, for this reason, mistaken in looking at it as a representation of reality? If truth is what I seek, can it be found here at all, reflected in a surface that can offer at best a momentary glimpse before it shatters altogether? I step away from the mirror. It has become clear that I will not find the answers I am looking for within the confines drawn by man. I will not find them reflected in his tools, in his static, polished surfaces.

In the distance, a faint, undulating melody draws me close. I find myself on the bank of a river that stretches from infinity to eternity. The river, engaged in a race against itself, flows forcefully, effortlessly overcoming any obstacles in its path and unperturbed by any intrusions in its domain. I take in the fragments of light that spot its restless surface, that melt and expand along with its motion. And I notice one more thing: my reflection, whole and unfractured, despite the constant motion of the medium that hosts it.

Everything flows.

Semifinalists selected in Western, Central and Eastern Europe

Cristina Chira

Bucharest, Romania

Cristina Chira is a writer and a worker in the field of built heritage. She graduated from “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture in Bucharest, and a MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London. She has lived in Romania, UK, Spain and, for short periods of time, Uganda. She writes prose in Romanian and English.
Text in english version

The Stray Goldfish


            The first time I saw it I was headed to Ankunda’s room: a round bowl with a goldfish inside, like something out of a cartoon, placed on the floor, in the middle of the corridor. The second time was when Ankunda and I were going outside to smoke a spliff: the bowl with the goldfish had moved by a couple of metres. The third time was on our way to the kitchen: the bowl had changed position again. “What’s with the fish in the corridor?” Ankunda asked a guy who happened to be with us in the kitchen, both to satisfy our curiosity and to make conversation. Most of the other students in the hall were British, in their first year of university, living in a quasi-permanent state of drunkenness and high. Every evening, the common room filled with groups of loud people. Every morning, we found them sleeping on couches or babbling at tables. There was something both candid and irritating in the enthusiasm with which they gave themselves to these monotonous pleasures. Ankunda and I, both in our last year of master, lived mostly in our rooms. „Oh, the fish, Tom bought it,” said the guy in the kitchen as if we were supposed to know who Tom was. „But then he didn’t want it anymore, so he gave it to Lauren, who got sick of it too, so she gave it to Matt, who wanted to give it back to Tom, but Tom wouldn’t have it, so Matt left it outside Tom’s door and now everyone keeps moving it and nobody wants it,” said the guy laughing as he took out a pizza from the oven.

            “A’ight, man, see you later,” said Ankunda in his relaxed manner that made him seem cool even though he didn’t drink and smoke with the others. He was wearing his blue pyjama pants with Superman logos, a khaki jacket with a fake fur collar, my black-and-red scarf which covered his beard and his mouth, and a beanie hat pulled all the way to his eyebrows. The only parts of himself still visible were his nose and the white of his eyeballs, with irises as dark as the pupils. He was so far removed from any aesthetic standard and so at peace with his singularity, that you could only admire him. He picked up the plates and held the door with his elbow so I could pass with the mugs. On the corridor, we encountered the bowl again. The water was green and murky, and the fish floated close to the surface, opening and closing its mouth. “Let’s take it,” I said. Ankunda didn’t roll his eyes and didn’t step into the role of the man exasperated by the woman’s sentimentalism, who nevertheless agrees to go along with her because deep down he’s also a sensitive soul, like I had seen men in Romania. Ankunda simply said “ok”. He went into his room, put down the plates and returned into the corridor, while I made room for the bowl among the course notes, dirty dishes, leftover flyers that we had used to make filters, cables and loudspeakers on his desk.

            I didn’t even like fish. You couldn’t pet them, you couldn’t play with them, you couldn’t even hope they would someday welcome you at the door when you got home. “I don’t even like fish,” I said to Ankunda when he came in in with the bowl. “Me neither.” We both laughed.

            We spent that first night in fear the fish might die on us. We had changed its water and discovered on the bottom, among slime-covered pebbles, a razor, a pair of braces and a second dead fish. We threw away everything and filled the bowl with fresh water, but we didn’t have any food for the survivor. I fell asleep in Ankunda’s arms, watching the fish zigzagging through the bowl and rising every now and then to the surface to bite air. The next morning, I woke up to the sound of someone opening the door: Ankunda already coming back from the pet shop.

The goldfish stayed with Ankunda who decided to call it Mowgli. As expected, Mowgli didn’t do much: it swam around in circles, undulating its tail and opening and closing its mouth, but Ankunda sent me pictures of it with messages like: „Mowgli is asking for you”, „Mowgli has returned from his walk and brought you a present”, „Mowgli finished the song and is inviting you to listen to it”. When I went over, we sat and watched the bowl. „Do you think Mowgli is happy?” „I think he’s traumatized,” Ankunda would answer. „Afterall, he’s seen his brother die.” „Maybe they weren’t brothers. Maybe they were just acquaintances,” I tried joking about it. „Still, it can’t be nice to feel like nobody wants you.” To fill the void in which Mowgli spent his days, we bought him a new set of pebbles (we only found pink ones) and decorated the bowl with a toy from a Kinder egg and a shell I had brought with me from Romania.

After a month, we had to relocate Mowgli. The school year was ending, the student hall was closing for the summer, I had found a new room in a shared flat and Ankunda was going back to Uganda. He had finished his master’s degree and his student visa was expiring. Though emails sent to him by his university, the British government had made sure to remind him every week the consequences of breaking the terms of his visa: detainment and deportation. The words had a gravity that was hard for me to grasp when we walked hand in hand through London or met in the evening to talk about classes: we were both equally foreign, children of British culture through films, music and education (Ankunda even more than me, as Uganda had been a British colony), we had the same values, the same dreams, the same problems—but I had the right to stay in the UK and he didn’t.

We had always known this moment would come. At first, we had only been friends: I called him to complain about colleagues, he called me when he was out of inspiration, we took long strolls though Victoria Park talking about our lives before London—how I had worked in bars after graduating from architecture, while applying for masters in creative writing; how he had quit his IT studies and sold juice to corporation workers in Kampala to raise money for his first electric piano. We had taken the habit of ending the days in his room (always heated to tropical temperatures), listening to whatever he had composed, or I written. He was the first person I wanted to talk to in the mornings and the last person I wanted to say good night to. We could spend hours together without doing anything special and without getting bored. Then I started seeing his smile when I closed my eyes, hearing his laughter ringing in my ears, losing my train of thought when he looked at me. I found myself making up reasons to touch him, smelling the hoodie he had forgotten on my bed, wondering what his kisses felt like. But what was the point when he was going back to Uganda? One night, we were perched on a metal bar, smoking a spliff in the halls’ parking lot, when Ankunda put his hand over mine as if by mistake and I didn’t remove it, and neither did he. The rest was simple. We agreed that neither of us knew what was going to be, but we had to live in the moment.

Ankunda brought Mowgli over with the last of his things. He had cleared his room in the halls and had transferred to my place the suitcases he was taking with him to the airport, along with other possessions he had acquired during his stay, which he was now passing down to me: mugs, pots, a kettle, a bedcover. Our common friends were gathered and waiting for him: Molly the Manchester midwife, Fariz the Egyptian guitarist, Luis the Mexican cartoonist and Joseph the South African writer. Ankunda arrived late and with blood on his t-shirt. He had put the fishbowl in a bag that broke, the bowl had hit the pavement, a piece of it had come off, and Ankunda had cut his hand. I bandaged him, the wound was superficial, and Mowgli was safe, in a soup container in his backpack. I put the bowl—now chipped at the mouth—on the desk, with the pebbles, the Kinder toy and the shell, and released Mowgli into his new home. The rest of us, we made ourselves comfortable on the bed, on the sill, on the floor, we smoked and remembered the good times we had as if this was a happy occasion, and we were going to all see each other soon. Ankunda smiled when the moment asked for it, and laughed when everyone else did, but he was quiet and absent and scribbling on the round orange Kinder case in which I kept my weed. The next day, I found it covered in lines that formed a labyrinth, and at the centre of it was written “I ❤ u”.

After the others left, Ankunda and I made love, then ran out of things to say to each other. All our hopes, fears, and assurances had been exhausted in other discussions. We spent the last hour together, between four and five in the morning, reading: me a novel, him about music. Then the taxi arrived. I held it together, but when I was back in my room, I leaned against the door, slid to the floor and started crying, while Mowgli watched me from the bowl with one eye, then the other.

Ankunda had taught me how to care for the fish: I fed him dried fish flakes and changed his water every couple of days. I would chase Mowgli around the bowl with a cup, move him to a plastic container, fill the bowl with water from the tap and pour in a special shampoo meant to remove the chlorine. The first time I did it, I found my arm covered in blood. I had put my hand inside the bowl to wash the slime that set on the glass and touched the chipped edge without feeling it—the edge was thin and sharp as a scalpel. Relieved that I hadn’t cut a vein, I started looking up a new bowl on the Internet. But a superficial search revealed that a fish couldn’t survive for long in such a home: Mowgli needed a proper fish tank and an air pump to ensure his oxygen.

First, I checked my account. After having paid the first rent and the deposit on my room, I was left with about fifty pounds. The scholarship I had enjoyed during my studies was done, and my parents, who had helped me throughout my studies, said it was time I supported myself. It didn’t make any sense to them that I didn’t return to Romania. But if I wanted to stay in the UK, they said, I should do it with my own money. I had postponed looking for a job when Ankunda was still around because I didn’t want to waste any time together and after he left, I had entered a state of lethargy in which I smoked weed, played on my phone, binged watched TV series and took care of Mowgli. But now the thought of losing him too made me get out of bed, put on clean clothes, print fifty copies of my CV and drop them in every café, pub and restaurant on and around Broadway Market.

It was the beginning of summer, the terraces were packed, someone somewhere had to be looking for staff. In Romania I had worked in an artsy café that had filed for bankruptcy after six months; in a rock bar where the owner expected waitresses to party with him after closing time; and in a restaurant that organized corporate events, with wives who sat bored and puckered faced at tables and husbands who asked at the bar if I was single. But the work was easy, the schedule flexible, the tips generous, and the job offered plenty of opportunities for the observation of human nature.

Broadway Market was the most hipster street in Hackney, a neighbourhood that already prided itself (alongside Brooklyn in New York) on being the cradle of hipsters everywhere. There were beards, beanie hats (despite the hot weather), thick frame glasses, vintage dresses, everyone rode bikes, on Saturdays the street was closed to cars to make room for an organic vegetables market, there was a farm for petting animals, and the old canals that used to transport merchandise from the port to all corners of London were now places of promenade and jogging. A few bars told me they weren’t hiring, others said they would call me. At Dolce Vita, an Italian restaurant, the young dark manager looked me up and down and without glancing at my CV, told me to cover the bandage on my arm and come for a trial shift the next day.

The next day was Saturday, the busiest day for any restaurant, and Dolce Vita was no exception. When I arrived, the tables inside were all taken, and a noisy, disorganized queue started at the entrance and continued past the fifteen tables on the terrace, blocking the way for waitresses who passed with hot plates and trays of drinks. Without giving me any training, the Spanish manager entrusted me to an Italian waitress—too busy to even make my acquaintance—who instructed me to bring orders from the kitchen and remove dirty plates from tables. The next twelve hours were a whirlwind of confusion and shouting: the cooks yelled at servers to take the dishes that were ready, the Italian waitress told me off for bringing the dishes before she had had a chance to put cutlery, and the clients got angry with me because I couldn’t tell them which was gamberi e pomodorino and which gamberi e zuchini. But at the end of the shift, when the Spanish manager told me to come on Monday, I could hardly stop myself from hugging him.

With my fist wage, I bought Mowgli an air pump. In the future, I was planning on getting him a fish tank with enough space to fit a life partner, but for now the pump meant I didn’t have to change the water every couple of days, at the risk of cutting myself. The pump was a black rectangular volume, which took up more space than everything else in the bowl and had a more striking presence than Mowgli. “I think I’m going to call it Bagheera,” I texted Ankunda. Since he had gone, we wrote to each mornings, evenings and throughout the day, the same as when he was in London: we talked about what we were doing, we sent each other hugs and good vibes, but sometimes I wondered how well I was able to capture my new reality—the new house, the new job at Dolce Vita—in messages, and I feared that maybe I didn’t have the necessary tools to understand Ankunda’s life either.  

Our only common reality was Mowgli.

Life at Dolce Vita didn’t live up to the name. In Romania, working in hospitality had had a certain level of glam and the image of the waitress sipping coffee with her friends on the terrace while waiting for clients—vivid in my mind from home—was one of the reasons why I had looked for a job on Broadway Market in the first place. The previous year, Ankunda and I—me in a flowered dress, leather jacket and boots, him with a beard, funny t-shirt and beanie (because he was always cold)—we became one with the crowds on Broadway Market, we rode rented bikes, we pet the sheep and goats at the farm (where the feel of animals had something unexpectedly soothing in contrast to the cold modernity of London); we walked along canals and drank craft beer and organic coffee, but part of me had always wondered what it was like to be on the other side of the counter, to understand the inner workings of Broadway Market.

At Dolce Vita, there was no time for such meditations. I had five, six, sometimes seven shifts per week, between twelve and fourteen hours each. When at work, there was no sitting and no standing around. Even when the place was empty—for example, on Mondays or Tuesday mornings—and every surface had been wiped clean twice, the Spanish manager still shouted at us: “I don’t care, wipe it a third time, you are paid for your time, and as long as you are on the clock, I don’t want to see you idle.” I got to a point where I would ask to go to the bathroom just so I could rest my knees sitting on the toilet.

To deal with the high flow of clients, the restaurant was organized like an army with strict hierarchy and discipline. At the top, the Turkish owner; underneath him, the Spanish and Greek managers who ruled over the front and the back of the house. The back house was the kitchen: it consisted of cooks, sub-cooks and dishwashers. They were mostly Italians and Romanians, more stable and better paid than the front. The front meant waitresses and runners. They were usually women—because, as the Greek manager put it: “everyone prefers to be served by a woman”. They were of all nations, students and fresh graduates who came to London to try their luck; they worked at the restaurant until they learned English, were accepted on courses or found better jobs; they earned less than the kitchen and received a smaller percentage of the tips, but they were in the first line when it came to the whims of the clients and the furies of the managers and owner. In addition, they formed a permanently renewed mass-of-manoeuvre for the unmarried cooks (and even for the married ones) who could try their pick-up lines on them, or just amuse themselves by shouting obscenities, especially in languages the girls didn’t understand.

At night, after we mopped the floors and put out the trash, and the manager left, locking the door behind us, Broadway Market appeared in a different light: all the pubs and bars were closed, all the party goers vanished and the street filled with groups of people who sat on the kerb, drank beer from a can, spoke in hushed, tired voices, and no one used English anymore. I would finish my beer and start along the empty streets with a numb mind and throbbing feet, scaring the foxes rummaging through the garbage. I would enter my house silently not to wake up the flatmates, and go into my room, and although Mowgli didn’t come and welcome me at the door, he watched me from the desk with one eye, then with the other, making me feel less alone. I would fall asleep watching him undulate in the light outside my window, and the piece of missing glass which had once ruined the integrity of the bowl, was now palpable proof that Ankunda existed.

Despite the water pump, Mowgli wasn’t doing too well. His scales had started to turn black. “I think Mowgli is tuning into a zombie,” I texted Ankunda, who was now replying less often than before. He was busy recording the album from London. One evening, I looked up images of Uganda on Google. Although we had told each other our life stories in detail, we had never accompanied them with pictures. The search revealed giraffes silhouetted against sunsets, waterfalls in luxurious forests, dusty crowded streets, armed soldiers, barefooted children. I googled images of Romania and realized that trying to imagine Ankunda’s existence based on pictures on the Internet was as ridiculous as someone wanting to learn what I had been doing in Romania starting from images of pelicans in the Danube Delta, snow-capped mountains, girls in traditional costumes, soldiers at the Revolution and beggars. Ankunda’s Facebook showed him in concert, in the studio, in bars. Everything seemed normal, familiar, but I also had the feeling that I was missing the full picture. Ankunda had never asked me to come to Uganda. “Do you like it?” I once asked him. “It’s not bad,” he said smiling. “Do you think I would like it?” He turned serios. “I don’t know.” “But wouldn’t you like to live in Europe?” I asked. He sighed. “Of course I’d like to live in Europe for a couple of years, to see what it’s like. But you don’t get it. I’m not wanted here.”       

The articles on the internet said that the dark spots on Mowgli’s body were ammonium burns. It seemed having a fish wasn’t as simple as having a bowl, some water, an air pump. There was something called the nitrogen cycle: the fish eliminated ammonium, the ammonium facilitated the appearance of some bacteria that produced nitrites, the nitrites led to the appearance of some other bacteria that transformed nitrites into nitrates. The first substance was lethal to fish, the later, indispensable. All the sites recommended putting the tank through the nitrogen cycle before introducing the fish, even if that meant waiting for a month before getting it. If you didn’t have a choice and you already had a fish in the tank, you had to replace half the water every day to prevent it from becoming too toxic, but this made the process slower, thus longer. It was such a small and complicated thing to explain that I wondered if there was any point wasting on it the cost of a message to Uganda. Every night, when I got home from the restaurant, I would stumble into the kitchen, take a ladle, a bucket and two pots – one empty, one full—I would carry them to my room and perform the ritual of changing half of Mowgli’s water. Then I would get into bed and feel myself dissolving in the impersonal space of my rented room, among bland, worn-out pieces of furniture, whose anonymity couldn’t be tamed with museum postcards, photos of me and Ankunda, even my own personal items. On the contrary, the objects seemed to become anonymous themselves, losing all connection to myself. I would wake up with a start and squeeze the orange Kinder case in which I no longer kept weed, but a dark curly hair of Ankunda’s that I had found between the sheets.

But neither the filter nor the nitrogen cycle solved the issue of residues. Mowgli floated for hours with a thin, dark thread hanging behind him. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a worm or worse, intestines. But it proved to be only poop. I was giving him too much food. I reduced the portions and freed Mowgli from those undignified poses, but thin, dark threads still gathered on the bottom, among pink pebbles, forcing me to periodically clean the bowl. I would fish Mowgli out with a ladle, put half the water in a pot, throw the rest in the toilet, put the pebbles, the Kinder toy and the seashell in a plastic container where I washed them with tap water and anti-chlorine balm, then put all the elements back in reversed order and refill the bowl with clean water. But every time I did it, I would cut myself. I wasn’t doing it on purpose, but I couldn’t say I minded either. On the contrary, it made the pain of missing Ankunda concrete.

During this time, I religiously kept track of the hours spent at Dolce Vita. I was paid minimum wage, 6 pounds per hour, which meant that in order to afford rent, I needed to work a minimum of a hundred hours. What was on top of that was my money. The good part was that dividing my time between home and the restaurant meant I had little other expenses. Lunch was served to us there and at the end of the shift I received take-away dinner that I often ended up eating for breakfast. One Sunday, the Spanish manager brough me the money enclosed, as usual, in a sealed envelope. I went to the bathroom to count it and found I was fifty pounds short. Fifty pounds meant eight hours of work, almost an entire shift of running around, of smiling politely at the clients’ entitlement, the at managers’ arrogance and the kitchen staff’s flirting (lest they delayed or prepared the wrong order). I asked several other waitresses if they had received the correct amounts, but they told me they didn’t keep track, and another girl, a Romanian, told me to keep quiet: why did I want to make trouble for myself? Hadn’t I noticed we didn’t even have contracts? The manager told me to speak to the owner, a cross-eyed guy of whom I had assumed he didn’t know English, because I had never seen him answer staff greetings. I went into his office and explained my situation, showing him my shifts clearly marked on a paper. He listened to me frowning from beginning to end, and when I was done, he took out a waddle of money from his front pocket and handed me a fifty pounds note. I left content, but at the end of the shift the manager came over and said he heard I had an attitude problem. After that, he started assigning me to clean the toilets every night and refusing to let me go to the bathroom when I asked it.

I wondered how much of this petty persecution was worth mentioning to Ankunda. The phone cost a fortune, I had to think well what I wanted to say. He had finished the recording and was now preparing the release of the album. I had lived with that album as much as with Ankunda. I had listened to him plan it; I had heard initial, intermediary and final versions; I had watched him for months wearing his headphones, nodding his head to the rhythm, pressing the keys of the piano or trying a melody with his voice. It was strange that the album was now going to be released without me, in a world where I didn’t exist.

I took three days off from the restaurant to work on a short story I wanted to send to a magazine. I was sitting at my desk, in front of the open window. I had my eyes on the screen, my feet in a plastic wash basin filled with cold water, and I was trying to contort the English language to express the Romanian reality in my story, when out of nowhere something hit me in the face. I screamed and tried to get up, the basin slipped from under my feet splashing water everywhere, I fell back in the chair and only then did I see Mowgli hitting the keys on my laptop with its tail and fins. I grabbed him and threw him back into the bowl, then I stood there with my heart racing. I had never heard of a fish jumping out of water. I bent and took a closer look at Mowgli rapidly zigzagging through the water. His body was dotted with dark scales like missing pieces of a puzzle and the tail and fin were burned at the edges.

“You won’t believe what just happened,” I called Ankunda. I had interrupted him from a meeting. “Mowgli tried to commit suicide”. “It’s going to be okay,” Ankunda said in his usual soothing voice, but he sounded absent-minded and detached and, for a while, he had stopped asking about Mowgli. As if the matter no longer concerned him. As if Mowgli was now only my fish.

The internet said Mowgli had jumped out of the water because the ammonium level was still too high. I started replacing two thirds of the water every day, hoping that this would make the ammonium accumulation less harmful, but when I left for work in the mornings, I placed a thick art album on top of the bowl, in case Mowgli tried anything funny. But the art album didn’t account for the chip in the bowl made by Ankunda. At night, I would leave my beer unfinished and run home chased by macabre visions: Mowgli sliced in two by the sharp edge of the glass, half of him floating in a bath of pink water, the other half of him on the desk, in a pool of red blood (out of masochism, I had googled the colour of goldfish blood; I couldn’t stand uncertainty even in nightmares). I imagined myself calling Ankunda, the initial silence—the disappointment, then the acceptance—he would tell me it was going to be ok, though we both knew it wasn’t true anymore. During the day, when Dolce Vita was empty, I would pace between tables trying to look busy, while with my mind’s eye I watched Mowgli jump out of the bowl, manage to avoid the killer edge, then asphyxiate slowly on the desk, and I became convinced that if I left in that moment, I would be able to save him.

Despite my “attitude” problem, I was a good employee. I had been promoted from runner to waitress, receiving permission to talk to the clients. Moreover, I was one of the two waitresses on the staff who could manage a section without the help of a runner. I could do everything quickly and efficiently: take the order, bring the cutlery, bring the drinks, bring the starters, keep an eye on the table and let the kitchen know when to prepare the next course, remove the dirty plates and replace the cutlery, bring the main course, remove the plates, bring the dessert menu, get the order for dessert, bring cutlery, bring the dessert, remove the plates, bring the bill – and I could do this for eight tables at a time. There were moments when I liked my work. It was like a role and the restaurant was a theatre: when I walked over with the order pad and a smile, the kitchen and all the restaurant’s mechanisms vanished—the cooks’ shouting, the manager’s mistreatment, the tiredness and general irritation—and the only thing that remained was the sunny day, the animated street, the hipsters on bicycles, the organic gourmet food.     

One busy evening, I was alone in a section and things were going smoothly. Two thirds of the tables were occupied by people at various stages of their dinner, so I walked among them indulging in the usual worries about Mowgli’s fate. I had gone over the moment when I found him dead on the desk and I was just about to call Ankunda, when the owner pulled me out of my reverie by calling me into the kitchen. He pointed at some dishes and told me they were for table seven. “But they’ve already ate,” I said. The boss snapped at me. “Why are you talking back? Do as you’re told.” I picked up the plates and brought them to the four men at table seven. Judging by their features, they were Middle Eastern, with neatly trimmed beards, good quality shirts and expensive watches. They seemed like business partners having a casual dinner. They had ordered starters, pasta and had shared two salads—dishes that weren’t too simple, but weren’t too fancy either. They had been nice and polite to me, without paying too much attention, I had removed their plates, they had refused dessert and now I was waiting for them to finish their drinks so I could bring them the bill. Serving them four more dishes out of the blue seemed ridiculous. I put the food on the table and left, while my boss, who had followed behind me, stopped at the head of their table. I had only ever seen him frowning, but now he laughed with his head thrown back, and although I couldn’t hear what he was saying, I could tell from the anxiety in his gestures that he was desperate to be liked. Then his whole demeanour changed. He stormed over to me. There were no forks on the table. I tried to apologize, but he turned and entered his office slamming his door, making a few clients turn their heads. The four men at the table smiled when I brought them the forks and assured me everything was okay. Afterwards, the boss sent them four more courses (that I took back to the kitchen untouched) and a couple of bottles of wine.

It was past midnight. The four men at table seven were still there. On the counter that separated the kitchen from the dining area, where the cooks usually put the dishes ready to be served, lay a large tray with an assortment of cheese that didn’t exist in the menu. “What’s with the tray?” I asked one of the Romanian sous-chefs. “It’s the dessert for table seven.” The Italian Head Chef overheard us. He started shouting at me: “If he tells you it’s for table seven, why do you stand there like a stronza? Can’t you see it’s starting to sweat?” Indeed, because of the heat, small beads of fat had appeared on the cheese slices. “Nobody told me anything about this,” I said. Neither the boss nor the manager were in sight. I didn’t dare enter the office. “They’re going to get mad and it’s going to be your fault,” said the Head Chef pointing at me with a spoon. Learning from past mistakes, I took new cutlery and plates to table seven, then presented the men with the cheese tray. Ten minutes later, when the boss came out of his office, I thought he was having a heart attack. His face was red, his brow was covered in sweat, his eyes were popping out. He grabbed me by the arm, dragged me to a corner and told me to stay there for the rest of the night. It turned out he had planned on serving the cheese platter decorated with strawberries—another ingredient not on the menu—and he had sent the manager to find strawberries in London at one o’clock at night, in October, without telling anyone.

But that night, grounded in the corner of the restaurant, shrugging at clients who asked for the bill, watching my colleagues struggle to deal with my workload and the chefs moving around the kitchen with determination clearly inscribed on their faces to deny any involvement in the cheese business, I got to contemplate my life at length. I spent my days working just to pay the rent, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t meet my friends, couldn’t even look for a new job, I came to an empty room, to a sickly fish a chipped bowl in which I cut myself—how much worse could Uganda be?

That night I called Ankunda. I woke him up. “I want to come to Uganda.” Silence. “I can’t promise you’ll like it,” he said. “I can’t promise I’ll stay,” I replied. “Okay.” There was a mix of joy and anxiety in his voice. “I’ll be waiting for you. Let me know how I can help.”

The next day I went into the boss’s office and quit. I called my landlord and told him I was giving up the room. I bought a one-way ticket to Uganda. There was now only the question of Mowgli. With my last wage, I bought him a real fish tank, but I couldn’t take him with me, just like Ankunda couldn’t. I needed to find him a new home, ideally someone with stable accommodation and the willingness to spend the next month and a half (or however long it took) completing the nitrogen cycle.

I first asked my flatmates—a Greek, an English and a Bulgarian—of which I knew nothing, except that they lived at the same address as me. But just as they had never accepted the pizza I brought home from Dolce Vita, they didn’t accept a pet fish either. I went to the restaurant and asked some of the waitresses with whom I had exchanged smiles and encouragements on the pavement, but everyone was in a state of transit, from one place to another, from one job to another, from one life to another.

In the end, I left Mowgli with Molly. She was doing an unpaid internship at a hospital and was living illegally on a friend’s couch in a council house, but at least Molly was someone who appreciated life in all its forms, without discrimination.


Mowgli died two years later. I was in Spain at the time. I was just coming back from a bike ride. I had taken the habit of going out before sunrise, peddling to Patacona beach an hour away, swimming in the sea and coming back to town in time to catch the coffee places pulling their shutters. Some had signs in the windows saying „hiring”. I watched the waiters and waitresses taking out tables and arranging them on terraces, and I wondered if their life was easier than of those in London and if I had the nerve to go through all of it again. I picked a terrace, ordered a coffee and scheduled my viewings for the day. I had been to all the tourist sites, and I had grown weary of wondering around aimlessly, so I had started going for apartment viewings. It allowed me to get to neighbourhoods I would have otherwise never visited, see all sorts of interiors and imagine all the lives I could live there. I thought of it as research for my next project. In truth, it was my way of dealing with the void that had opened after I finished the novel about Uganda. I had sent it to a list of thirty literary agents in the UK and I had received eighteen answers, all encouraging, but ultimately rejections.      

Moreover, since Ankunda’s album from London had gone viral and a subsidiary of Universal in Spain had offered him a four-year contract, he was mostly at the studio. In the evening he went to concerts and afterwards he attended parties. In the beginning I had gone with him, but I had grown tired of pretending I was fine and that I could handle being on my own while he socialized with strangers or allowed himself to be led by the elbow from one corner of the room to another by people who wanted to introduce him to a producer, the next big singer, a very talented lyricist, his number one fan. Once, I had shown up unannounced and had found Ankunda on the esplanade in front of the club, surrounded by young boys and girls. He was talking and gesturing, telling a story. All eyes were on him. When he finished, everyone started to laugh and Ankunda’s face lit up with a content smile. He was still wearing a beard, a black cap pulled over his eyes and sunglasses (despite it being evening), a t-shirt with an image of a cat with dreads, army pants and a pair of small turquoise flip-flops, while another girl in the group, who had on a swimming suit and a sundress and looked like she was coming straight from the beach, wore – obviously too big for her – Ankunda’s scuffed trainers. I left without him seeing me. Later, at home, when I asked him about it, he accused me of spying on him, then said he had just wanted to walk over to the water without getting sand in his shoes, what was wrong in that? I believed him, but I preferred not to be there to witness these moments, so I stopped accompanying him.

It was eight in the morning when my phone rang. I thought it was Ankunda. Maybe he had finally reached home and was wondering where I was. But it was only Molly. She told me Mowgli had passed away. I abandoned the bike in the middle of the pavement and sat down on the kerb. The street was empty. Behind me, the sun bathed the white walls of Santa Maria del Mar in an orange light, palm trees rustled in the wind, from the port came cries of seagulls. A few cars swished past me, then everything was silent again. Mowgli was no more. I put my chin on my knees and started to cry. Maybe I had hoped until that moment that Mowgli would someday come back to me and Ankunda.

That night I stayed awake and waited for him. I waited for him until five in the morning. When he got home, his eyes were red, his lips chapped, he smelled of alcohol and tobacco. I told him that Mowgli was no more and I had found a new place for myself.

Text in original language

Peștișorul nomad

            Prima dată l-am văzut când mă îndreptam spre camera lui Ankunda: un bol rotund, de sticlă, cu un peștișor auriu înăuntru, desprins parcă din desene animate, așezat direct pe mochetă, în mijlocul holului. A doua oară, când am ieșit cu Ankunda să fumăm un cui, peștele, cu tot cu acvariul, se mutase câțiva metri. A treia oară, când ne-am dus la bucătărie să ne luăm ceva de mâncare, bolul își schimbase iar locul. „Ce-i cu peștele de pe hol?” l-a întrebat Ankunda pe un tip care se nimerise cu noi în bucătărie, și ca să ne satisfacem curiozitatea, și ca să facă conversație. Majoritatea celorlalți studenți din cămin erau britanici, anul întâi, scăpați pentru prima dată de acasă, trăind într-o stare cvasi-permanentă de beție, high și mahmureală. În fiecare seară, spațiile comune se umpleau de grupuri gălăgioase. În fiecare dimineață, îi găseam dormind pe canapele sau bălmăjind incoerenți pe la mese. Era ceva candid și iritant în avântul cu care se aruncau în aceste plăceri monotone. Eu și Ankunda, amândoi în ultimul an la master, trăiam mai mult prin camerele noastre. „Peștele l-a cumpărat Tom,” ne-a răspuns tipul din bucătărie ca și cum ar fi trebuit să știm cine e Tom. „Când nu l-a mai vrut, l-a luat Lauren, dar dup-aia nici ea nu l-a mai vrut, așa că i l-a dat lui Matt, care nici el nu l-a vrut, așa că s-a hotărât să i-l dea înapoi lui Tom, dar Tom n-a vrut să-l mai primească înapoi, așa că Matt i l-a lăsat la ușă și de atunci toată lumea îl mută și nimeni nu-l vrea,” a zis tipul râzând și scoțând din microunde o pizza.

„A’ight, man, see you later,” a zis Ankunda cu tonul lui relaxat care-l făcea să pară cool chiar dacă nu bea și nu socializa cu nimeni. Purta pantaloni de pijama albaștri imprimați cu „S” de la Superman, o geacă kaki cu guler de blană, fularul meu în dungi, roșu cu negru, care-i ascundea barba creață și sârmoasă, și o căciula neagră, tricotată, trasă pe frunte, care-i acoperea capul ras, lăsându-i la vedere numai nasul prelung și globii oculari mari și albi, cu irisul la fel de închis ca pupila. Arăta atât de departe de orice model estetic și atât de împăcat cu propria singularitate, că nu puteai să nu-l admiri. A luat farfuriile și mi-a ținut cu cotul ușa să ies cu cănile de ceai. În drum spre camera lui, am dat din nou peste acvariu. Apa era tulbure, verzuie, iar peștele plutea aproape la suprafață, deschizând și închizând gura în gol. „Hai să-l luăm noi,” am zis eu și Ankunda nu și-a dat ochii peste cap și nu a intrat în rolul bărbatului exasperat de sentimentalismul femeii, dar care acceptă să-și pună mintea cu ea pentru că în adâncul sufletului e și el un om bun, așa cum văzusem la cuplurile din România. Ankunda a zis simplu „ok”, apoi s-a dus în cameră, a lăsat farfuriile și s-a întors după bol, în timp ce eu am rămas să fac loc pe biroul lui, printre cărți, cursuri, farfurii nespălate, rămășițe de flyere din care făcuserăm filtre, cabluri, căști, laptop și sintetizator.

Nici măcar nu-mi plăceau peștii. Nu puteai să-i mângâi, nu puteai să te joci cu ei, nici măcar nu puteai să speri c-or să ajungă vreodată să te întâmpine la ușă când ajungi acasă. „Știi că nici măcar nu-mi plac peștii,” i-am zis lui Ankunda când a intrat cu acvariul. „Nici mie,” mi-a răspuns el. Am râs amândoi.

În noaptea aceea am stat cu frică să nu moară peștele fix la noi. Îi schimbasem apa și descoperisem la fund, printre pietricele acoperite cu mâzgă, un aparat dentar și un al doilea peștișor auriu mort. Aruncasem totul, umplusem bolul cu apă curată, dar nu aveam nici unul din noi ce să-i dăm de mâncare peștelui supraviețuitor. Niște șuncă de pui, niște cașcaval, dulceață, o pară. Nici măcar o firmitură de pâine. Am adormit în brațele lui Ankunda, privind peștele care continua să facă zig-zag-uri prin apă, urcând din când la suprafață să muște din aer. A doua zi, m-a trezit sunetul cheii în yala: Ankunda se întorcea de la petshop.

Peștele a rămas în camera lui Ankunda, care a propus să-l botezăm Mowgli. Așa cum era de așteptat, Mowgli nu făcea mare lucru: se învârtea în cerc sau stătea pe loc, mișcând din aripioare și deschizând și închizând gura, dar Ankunda îmi trimitea poze cu el însoțite de mesaje ca: „Mowgli întreabă de tine”, „Mowgli s-a întors de la plimbare și ți-a adus un cadou”, „Mowgli a terminat melodia și te cheamă s-o asculți”. Când mă duceam pe la el, stăteam amândoi și ne uitam la acvariu. „Crezi că e ok?” „Cred că e traumatizat,” zicea Ankunda, „doar si-a văzut fratele murind.” „Poate nu erau frați,” încercam eu, „poate erau doar cunoștințe, poate nici nu se plăceau așa tare.” „Tot trebuie să fie traumatizant să nu te vrea nimeni.” Ca să umplem golul în care-și ducea zilele, i-am cumpărat lui Mowgli un set nou de pietricele (n-am găsit decât roz) și i-am pus în acvariu o jucărie de la un ou Kinder și un melc adus de mine din Vama Veche.

După nici două săptămâni, a trebuit să-l relocăm pe Mowgli. Anul universitar se terminase, căminul urma să se închidă peste vară, eu îmi închiriasem o cameră într-o casă, iar Ankunda urma să se întoarcă în Uganda. Masterul lui se încheiase și viza lui de student expira la finalul lunii. Guvernul britanic, prin intermediul mailurilor trimise de facultate, avusese grijă să-i amintească în fiecare săptămână consecințele încălcării termenilor vizei lui de student:  închisoarea și deportarea. Lucrurile aveau o seriozitate pe care îmi erau greu s-o pricep când ne întâlneam serile să povestim cum a fost la cursuri sau când ne plimbam de mână prin Londra: eram amândoi la fel de străini, copii ai culturii britanice prin muzică, filme și educație (Ankunda poate mai mult ca mine, din moment ce Uganda fusese colonie britanică), aveam aceleași valori, aceleași vise, aceleași probleme, numai că eu aveam voie să rămân în UK și el nu.

Nu știam ce-o să facem așa cum nu știuserăm nici la început. Câteva luni fuseserăm doar prieteni: îl sunam să mă plâng de profesori, mă suna când era în pană de inspirație, făceam lungi plimbări prin parcuri povestind despre viețile noastre dinainte de Londra – cum lucrasem în baruri după terminarea arhitecturii, în timp ce aplicam pe ascuns la mastere în scriere creativă, cum se lăsase de politehnică și vânduse suc de fructe corporatiștilor din Kampala ca să facă rost de bani pentru primul lui pian electric. Luaserăm obiceiul să sfârșim ziua în camera lui (încălzită mereu la temperaturi tropicale), ascultând ce-a mai compus el și ce-am mai scris eu. Era prima persoană cu care voiam să vorbesc dimineața și ultima căreia îmi venea să-i zic noapte bună. Puteam să petrecem ore întregi împreună, fără să facem ceva anume și fără să ne plictisim. Apoi am început să-i văd faţa zâmbitoare când închideam ochii, să-mi răsune în urechi râsul lui cald, liniștitor, să-mi pierd șirul gândurilor când îi întâlneam privirea, să-mi vină să-l ating, să-i caut mirosul, să mă întreb cum sărută. Dar ce sens avea când el urma să plece înapoi în Uganda? Apoi, într-o noapte, fumam așezați unul lângă altul pe un zid, când Ankunda și-a pus, ca din greșeală, mâna peste mâna mea pe marginea zidului, iar eu nu mi-am retras-o și nici el. După asta, restul a fost simplu. Am convenit că nici unul din noi nu știa ce o sa fie, dar că trebuia să trăim în prezent.

Pe Mowgli l-a adus cu ultima tranșă de bagaje. Își eliberase camera de cămin și-și adusese la mine valizele cu care urma să plece la aeroport, împreună cu câteva lucruri pe care le agonisise în timpul anului și pe care mi le lăsa mie moștenire: căni, cratițe, o pătură, niște cărți. Se strânseseră la mine să-și ia la revedere prietenii noștri comuni, Molly, moașa din Manchester, Fariz, chitaristul din Egipt, Luis, desenatorul de benzi desenate din Mexic și Joseph, scriitorul din Africa de Sud, și îl așteptam cu toții pe Ankunda. Ankunda a sosit cu întârziere și cu tricoul alb pătat de sânge. Pusese niște cărți și bolul de sticlă într-o pungă care se rupsese pe drum; acvariul căzuse și se ciobise la gură, iar Ankunda reușise să se taie la mână. L-am bandajat, rana era superficială, iar Mowgli era bine, într-un container de plastic în ghiozdanul lui Ankunda. Am pus acvariul proaspăt ciobit pe birou, cu pietricelele, jucăria Kinder și scoica, și i-am dat drumul lui Mowgli în noua lui casă. Noi, restul, ne-am așezat care pe unde în mica mea cameră, pe pat, pe marginea ferestrei, pe jos, am fumat și ne-am adus aminte fazele amuzante trăite împreună ca și când era o ocazie fericită și știam când aveam să ne mai revedem. Fariz, Luis și Joseph plecau și ei la finalul lunii. Ankunda zâmbea când era de zâmbit și râdea o dată cu ceilalți, dar era tăcut și absent și mâzgălea cu un marker cutiuța rotundă și portocalie de la oul Kinder în care-mi țineam eu iarba. A doua zi, am găsit-o pe birou, acoperită cu liniuțe care formau un labirint, iar în centrul lui era scris „I you”.

După ce au plecat ceilalți, am rămas eu și Ankunda. Am făcut dragoste, apoi n-am mai știut ce să ne spunem. Părerile de rău, temerile, încurajările, le epuizaserăm în alte discuții. Ultima oră, între patru și cinci dimineața, am petrecut-o lipiți unul de altul, citind: eu ficțiune, el despre muzică. Apoi a venit taxiul și am coborât să-l conduc. Cât a fost de față, m-am ținut tare, dar când m-am întors singură în cameră, m-am lipit de ușă, m-am scurs pe podea și am început să plâng cu sughițuri, sub privirile lui Mowgli, care mă urmărea când cu un ochi, când cu celălalt.

Ankunda mă învățase cum să am grijă de el: îi dădeam fulgi de peștișori uscați și, o dată la două-trei zile, îi schimbam apa. Îl vânam prin acvariu cu o ceașcă, îl mutam într-o caserolă de plastic, umpleam bolul cu apă de la chiuvetă și adăugam un căpăcel dintr-un balsam special, menit să înlăture clorul. Prima oară când am făcut asta, m-am trezit cu brațul plin de sânge. Băgasem mâna în acvariu să spăl mâzga care se depunea pe pereți și mă atinsesem, fără să simt, de porțiunea ciobită. Sticla era subțire și ascuțită ca un bisturiu. Am răsuflat ușurată că nu-mi atinsesem vreo venă și m-am apucat să comand pe net un alt bol, dar, la cea mai superficială căutare, am aflat că un pește nu putea supraviețui prea mult într-un astfel de acvariu. Mowgli avea nevoie de un vas mai mare și de o pompă de aer care să-i asigure oxigenul.

Mai întâi mi-am verificat contul bancar. După ce plătisem garanția și prima chirie la cameră, rămăsesem cu vreo patruzeci de lire. Bursa din timpul facultății se terminase, iar ai mei, care mă mai ajutaseră pe parcursul studiilor, ziseseră că venise vremea să mă întrețin singură. În plus, nu înțelegeau de ce nu mă întorc în țară. Dacă voiam să rămân în Anglia, n-aveam decât s-o fac pe banii mei. Amânasem să-mi caut un job cât Ankunda fusese în Londra pentru că nu voisem să irosesc nicio clipă pe care puteam s-o petrec cu el, iar după plecarea lui căzusem într-o letargie în care fumam, mă jucam pe telefon, mă uitam la serialele care nu mă interesau și aveam grijă de Mowgli.

Dar gândul c-aș fi putut să rămân și fără el m-a făcut, în sfârșit, să mă dau jos din pat, să-mi pun niște haine curate, să-mi printez CV-ul în cincizeci de copii și să merg să le las la toate cafenelele, restaurantele și pub-urile de pe Broadway Market. Venea vara, terasele erau pline, undeva, cineva trebuia să aibă nevoie de personal. În România mai lucrasem într-o cafenea a unor absolvenți de la arte care după cinci luni dăduse faliment, într-un bar de rockeri, unde patronul avea pretenția ca chelnerițele să rămână să bea cu el după închidere și într-un restaurant care organiza evenimente pentru corporatiști, cu soții care stăteau încruntate și plictisite la mese și soți care veneau la bar să mă întrebe dacă am prieten. Dar banii se făceau ușor și repede, programul era flexibil, iar jobul oferea ocazii excelente de observare a naturii umane.

Broadway Market era cea mai hispterească arteră din Hackney, cartier care oricum se lăuda (alături de Brooklyn din New York) ca fiind leagănul hipsterilor de pretutindeni. Bărbi, căciuli tricotate (în ciuda vremii calde), ochelari cu rame groase, haine vintage, toată lumea mergea pe  bicicletă, cafenelele serveau cafea organică, mesele erau ocupate de oameni cu laptopuri, sâmbăta strada se închidea ca să facă loc unui târg de produse bio ce vindea legume, brioșe și quiche-uri, în capăt exista o fermă de mângâiat animale, iar vechile canalele, care pe vremuri transportau marfa din port în toate colțurile Londrei, fuseseră transformate în promenadă și loc fumat iarbă (activitate, de altfel, tolerată). Câteva baruri mi-au spus că nu angajau, altele mi-au spus că o să mă sune dacă se eliberează vreun post, la Bella Vita, un restaurant italian, managerul tânăr și brunet m-a măsurat din cap până în picioare și, fără să se uite la CV, mi-a zis să ascund bandajul de pe braț și a doua zi să vin în probă.

A doua zi era sâmbătă, ziua cea mai aglomerată pentru orice local, iar Bella Vita nu făcea excepție. Când am ajuns, toate cele cincizeci de mese dinăuntru erau ocupate, iar afară, o coadă gălăgioasă și dezlânată pornea de la intrare și continua pe lângă cele cincisprezece mese de pe terasă, îngreunând circulația chelnerilor care treceau cu platouri și tăvi cu băuturi. Fără niciun training, managerul spaniol m-a dat în grija unei ospătărițe italience, prea ocupată cu clienții și ca să facem cunoștință, care mi-a zis doar să duc comenzile la mese și să strâng farfuriile murdare. Următoarele douăsprezece ore au fost un vârtej de țipete și încurcături: bucătarii țipau la picolițe să ducă platourile mai repede la mese, italianca mă certa că dusesem mâncarea înainte ca ea să fi apucat să ducă tacâmurile, iar clienții se enervau că nu știam să le zic care din porții era gamberi e pomodorino și care gamberi e zuchini. Dar când, la finalul programului, managerul spaniol mi-a zis să vin și duminică, am crezut c-o să-i sar în brațe de bucurie.

Cu primii bani încasați, i-am cumpărat lui Mowgli o pompă de aer, urmând ca din următoarele plăți să-i iau și un acvariu ca lumea, în care, eventual, să aibă loc și un tovarăș de viață. Până atunci, pompa  însemna că nu mai trebuia să schimba apa o dată la câteva zile, riscând, de fiecare dată, să mă tai. Pompa era un volum dreptunghiular, negru, care ocupa mai mult spațiu ca toate celelalte obiecte din vas și avea o prezență mai pregnantă ca Mowgli. „Cred c-o să-i zic Bagheera,” i-am dat un mesaj lui Ankunda. De când plecase, ne scriam zilnic, dimineața, seara și în timpul zilei, în același ritm ca atunci când era în Londra, ne povesteam unul altuia ce făceam, ne transmiteam încurajări și urări de bine, dar uneori mă întrebam în ce măsură reușeam să surprind noua mea realitate – casa, noul job de la Bella Vita – în mesaje, și mă temeam că poate nici eu nu aveam reperele necesare ca să înțeleg viața pe care o ducea acum Ankunda.

Singura noastră realitate comună rămânea Mowgli.

Viața la Bella Vita nu se ridica la nivelul numelui. În România, să lucrez în localuri avusese o oarecare doză de glam și imaginea chelnerului care bea o cafea pe terasă cu prietenii în așteptarea clienților, vie în mintea mea din țară, fusese unul din motivele pentru care alesesem să lucrez pe Broadway Market. În timpul anului, împreună cu Ankunda – eu cu ochelari cu ramă groasă, rochie înflorată, bocanci și geacă de piele, el cu barbă și căciula tricotată (pentru că îi era mereu frig) – ne pierdeam în mulțimile de pe Broadway Market, cutreieram cartierul pe biciclete închiriate, mergeam să mângâiem oi și capre la ferma din capătul străzii unde atingerea animalelor avea ceva surprinzător de liniștitor în comparație cu modernitatea rece a Londrei, ne plimbam pe canale bând beri artizanale și cafele din Columbia și Rwanda, dar o parte din mine se întreba de pe atunci cum era să fii de partea cealaltă a tejghelei, să cunoști dedesubturile Broadway Marketului.

La Bella Vita, însă, nu era vreme de meditații. Turele durau între zece și paisprezece ore, cu o singură pauză de masă, de cinci, șase, chiar și șapte ori pe săptămână. Cât timp eram la lucru, nu se stătea jos și nu se stătea în loc. Chiar și  când localul era gol, bunăoară, luni sau marți dimineața, iar batalionul de femei frecase deja de două ori toate suprafețele, managerul spaniol tot țipa la noi: „nu mă interesează! curățați și a treia oară! sunteți plătite pentru timpul vostru și atâta timp cât sunteți plătite, nu vreau să vă văd că stați!” Ajunsesem să merg la veceu numai ca să-mi pot odihni genunchii. Ca să facă față volumului mare de clienți, restaurantul era organizat ca o armată cu disciplină și ierarhii de comandă stricte. La vârf, patronul turc; sub el, cei doi manageri, spaniol și grec, care conduceau simultan bucătăria și sala. Bucătăria consta în bucătari și sub-bucătari, italieni și români, mai stabili și mai bine plătiți ca sala. Sala însemna picolițe și ospătărițe – invariabil femei, pentru că, așa cum mi-a explicat managerul grec, „toată lumea preferă să fie servit de o femeie”. Erau de toate națiile, majoritatea studente sau proaspete absolvente, venite la Londra să-și caute norocul; lucrau la restaurant numai până învățau limba, intrau la vreun curs sau își găseau un alt job; câștigau mai puțin ca bucătăria și primeau mai puțin din tipsuri, dar erau în prima linie când vedea vorba de capriciile clienților și furiile managerilor și patronului. În plus, alcătuiau o masă mereu reînnoită de manevră pentru bucătarii și sub-bucătarii necăsătoriți (și uneori și cei căsătoriți) care puteau să-și exerseze pe ele replicile de agățat sau se amuze strigându-le pur și simplu obscenități, mai ales în limbi pe care ele nu le înțelegeau.

Nopțile, după ce măturam podelele și scoteam gunoiul afară, iar managerul pleca, încuind ușa în urma noastră, Broadway Market își arăta adevărata față: toate puburile erau închise, toți petrecăreții dispăreau și strada se umplea de grupuri care stăteau pe bordură în fața afacerilor zăbrelite, beau bere la doză, fumau în tăcere sau sporovăiau între ei încet, epuizați, și din niciun grup nu se auzea engleză. După ce îmi terminam și eu berea, cu mintea amorțită și picioarele zvâcnind de durere, o luam pe jos pe străzile pustii, speriind vulpile care la ora aceea scurmau prin tomberoane, descuiam cu grijă ușa să nu-mi trezesc colegii de casă și ajungeam în camera mea, la Mowgli, care chiar dacă nu venea să mă întâmpine la ușă, mă privea când cu un ochi, când cu celălalt, făcându-mă să simt mai puțin singură. Adormeam urmărindu-l cum se unduia lucind în lumina stâlpului de afară, iar porțiunea de sticlă lipsă, care altădată strica armonia sferei, acum era dovada palpabilă că Ankunda chiar existase.

În ciuda pompei de aer, Mowgli n-o ducea prea bine. Începuseră să i se înnegrească solzii. „Cred că Mowgli se transformă într-un zombie,” i-am dat mesaj lui Ankunda, care nu-mi mai scria la fel de des ca înainte. Era ocupat să înregistreze albumul din Londra. Într-o seară, am dat un search pe Google căutând imagini cu Uganda. Deși ne spuseserăm poveștile vieților în detaliu, niciodată nu le însoțiserăm de suport vizual. Mi-au apărut siluete de girafe profilate la apus, cascade în păduri luxuriante, străzi prăfuite și aglomerate, soldați înarmați, copii desculți. Am dat un search și cu România ca și mi-am dat seama că să încerc să-mi imaginez existența lui Ankunda pornind de la imagini de pe Google era la fel de ridicol ca cineva care ar fi vrut să afle ce făceam eu în România pornind de la fotografii cu pelicani în Deltă, crestele Carpaților sub zăpadă, fete în costume tradiționale, oameni la Revoluție și cerșetori. Pozele lui Ankunda de pe Facebook îl arătau în concert, în studio, în baruri. Totul arăta firesc, familiar, dar aveam mereu senzația că ceva îmi scăpa, că nu reușeam să văd imaginea de ansamblu. Ankunda nu-mi propusese niciodată se vin în Uganda. „Ție îți place?” îl întrebasem o dată. „Nu-i rău,” îmi răspunsese el zâmbind. „Crezi că mie mi-ar plăcea?” Devenise serios. „Nu știu.” „Dar ție nu ți-ar plăcea să locuiești în Europa?” Oftase. „Ba da, mi-ar plăcea să stau câțiva ani, să văd cum e. Dar nu prea văd cum. Tu nu înțelegi. I am not wanted here.”

Din articole de pe net am aflat că petele întunecate de pe corpul lui Mowgli erau arsuri de amoniac. Părea că nu era atât de simplu să ai un pește pe cât crezusem. Nu era suficient un acvariu, niște apă, o pompă. Exista ceva ce se numea ciclul azotului: peștele elimina amoniac, amoniacul facilita apariția unor bacterii care transformau amoniacul în nitriți, nitriții duceau la apariția unor alte bacterii care transformau nitriții în nitrați. Primii îi erau letali peștelui, ultimii îi erau indispensabili. Toate site-urile recomandau să treci acvariul prin ciclul azotului înainte de introducerea peștelui, chiar dacă asta însemna să aștepți o lună înainte să-l cumperi. Dacă totuși nu aveai încotro și aveai deja un pește în acvariu, trebuia să înlocuiești zilnic jumătate din cantitatea de apă, ca mediul să nu devină prea toxic, dar asta făcea tot procesul mai lent și mai îndelungat. Era un lucru atât de mărunt și de complicat că nici nu avea sens să irosesc cu el costul unui mesaj către Uganda. În fiecare noapte, când ajungeam acasă, mă târam la bucătărie, luam un polonic, o oală plină și o găleată goală, le căram, cât puteam de silențios, în camera mea și împlineam ritualul de a-i schimba lui Mowgli jumătate din apă. Apoi mă băgam în pat și mi se părea că încep să mă dizolv în spațiul gol și impersonal al camerei de închiriat, printre piese de mobilă banale și uzate – un pat, un birou, un scaun, un dulap – toate în nuanțe de gri, maro și bej, a căror anonimitate nu putea fi îmblânzită nici de vederile cu opere de artă, nici de fotografiile cu Molly și Ankunda, nici de obiectele mele de toaletă. Ba din contră, păreau că încep ele însele să devină din ce în ce mai anonime, fără nicio legătură cu mine. Mă trezeam cu un tresărit și strângeam în pumn cutiuța de la oul Kinder în care nu mai țineam iarba, ci un fir de păr, elastic și răsucit ca un arc, pe care-l găsisem în așternuturi, rămas de la Ankunda.

Dar nici filtrul, nici ciclul azotului nu rezolvau problema deșeurilor. Mowgli plutea ore întregi prin acvariu târând după el un mic fir închis la culoare, care, într-o primă instanță, m-am temut c-ar putea fi vreun maț sau vreun vierme. S-a dovedit că era doar propriul rahat: îi dădeam prea mult de mâncare. Dar chiar și după ce i-am redus porția și Mowgli a fost eliberat de aceste ipostaze nedemne, pe fundul bolului, printre pietricelele roz, continuau să se adune firișoare negre. Așa că, după o vreme, tot trebuia să curăț acvariul. Îl pescuiam pe Mowgli cu polonicul, puneam jumătatea de apă pe care voiam s-o păstrez într-o oală, cealaltă jumătate o aruncam în veceu, vărsam pietricelele, jucăria și melcul într-o casoletă de plastic unde le spălam cu apă de la chiuvetă și balsamul special, apoi puneam toate elementele înapoi în acvariu în ordine inversă și completam cu apă curată. Dar tot manevrând acvariul reușeam, inevitabil, să mă tai. Nu puteam să zic c-o făceam cu intenție, dar nici că-mi părea rău. Din contră, dădea concretețe dorului de Ankunda.

În tot timpul acesta, la Bella Vita, îmi țineam cu religiozitate socoteala orelor lucrate. O oră se plătea cu tariful minim pe economie, adică șase lire, ceea ce însemna că pentru a-mi permite chiria, îmi trebuiau o sută de ore pe lună. Ce era peste, erau banii mei. Partea bună era că trăindu-mi viața între restaurant și casă, nu prea mai aveam alte cheltuieli. Masa de prânz era asigurată, iar masa de seară (în realitate, de noapte) o primeam la pachet și o mâncam la micul dejun. În fiecare duminică mi se dădeau banii pentru săptămâna încheiată. Într-unul din weekenduri, managerul spaniol mi-a adus, ca de obicei, banii într-un plic sigilat. M-am dus la baie, i-am numărat și mi-au ieșit cu cincizeci de lire mai puțin decât calculasem. Cincizeci de lire în minus însemna opt ore lucrate pe gratis, aproape o tură întreagă de alergătură, de zâmbit amabil la ifosele clienților, la replicile arogante ale managerului, la avansurile băieților de la bucătărie (care altfel îmi greșeau sau întârziau comanda), de răbdat de foame, de cerut voie la baie, de durere de picioare. Am întrebat o colegă, apoi alta, dacă ele își primiseră toți banii. Mi-au zis că nu-și țineau socoteala, mergeau pe încredere, iar o altă tipă, româncă, mi-a zis să tac din gură, că-mi fac singură probleme: n-am văzut că nici n-aveam contracte de muncă? Managerul mi-a zis să mă adresez patronului, un turc sașiu care îmi închipuisem că nu știa engleză pentru că nu-l văzusem niciodată răspunzând măcar la saluturile angajaților. M-am dus în biroul lui, i-am explicat situația, i-am arătat orele de lucru însemnate pe o hârtie, iar el, la fel de încruntat de la început până la final, a scos din buzunarul cămășii de la piept un teanc de bani și mi-a întins o bancnotă de cincizeci de lire. Am plecat mulțumită, dar la finalul turei, managerul a venit la mine și mi-a zis că a auzit că am o problemă de atitudine. După asta a început să mă pună numai pe mine să spăl toaletele seara, să îmi dea pauza de masă ultima, să refuze când îi ceream voie la baie.

Mă întrebam câte din aceste meschinării meritau povestite lui Ankunda. Telefonul costa o avere, trebuia să mă gândesc bine ce-i spuneam. Ankunda terminase înregistrările și se pregătea acum de lansare. Trăisem cu albumul acela în aceeași măsură în care trăisem cu prezența lui fizică; îl ascultasem pe Ankunda plănuindu-l; auzisem versiuni inițiale, intermediare, finale; îl urmărisem luni întregi, cu căștile pe urechi, izolat în universul lui sonic, dând din cap pe ritm, concentrat asupra clapelor sintetizatorului sau încercând din voce o melodie. Mi se părea ciudat că albumul urma să se lanseze acum fără mine, într-o lume în care eu nu existam.

Mi-am luat și eu trei zile libere să lucrez la o nuvelă pe care voiam s-o trimit la un concurs. Era o zi însorită, stăteam la birou, în fața ferestrei deschise, deasupra traficului de pe Hackney Road. Aveam ochii în laptop, picioarele într-un lighean cu apă rece și bâzâitul pompei din acvariu în urechi și mă chinuiam să forțez limba engleză să exprime realitatea românească din poveste, când de nicăieri m-a izbit ceva în obraz. Am țipat și am dat să mă ridic în picioare, ligheanul a alunecat, împroșcând apă sub birou, iar eu am căzut la loc pe scaun și abia atunci mi-au căzut ochii pe Mowgli care bătea cu coada, aripioarele și tot corpul tastatura de la laptop. M-am repezit și l-am aruncat înapoi în apă, apoi am rămas buimăcită lângă bol. Nu auzisem niciodată de un pește care să sară din acvariu. M-am aplecat și m-am uitat îndeaproape la Mowgli. Cu corpul punctat de solzi întunecați ca niște bucăți de puzzle lipsă, cu coada și aripioarele arse pe margini, cu ochii lui negri și triști, făcea zig-zaguri fulgerătoare prin apă.

„N-o să crezi ce tocmai s-a întâmplat,” l-am sunat imediat pe Ankunda. Îl întrerupsesem dintr-o întâlnire. „Mowgli a încercat să se sinucidă.” „O să fie bine,” mi-a zis Ankunda, cu vocea lui calmă dintotdeauna, dar suna absent și detașat și de la o vreme nu mai întreba de Mowgli, ca și cum chestiunea nu-l mai privea. Ca și cum Mowgli era acum doar peștele meu, iar eu nu reușeam să-l țin în viață.

Internetul zicea că Mowgli încercase să sară din acvariu pentru că nivelul de amoniac din apă era în continuare prea mare. Am început să înlocuiesc zilnic două treimi din apă, sperând că în felul aceasta acumularea de amoniac va fi mai puțin nocivă, dar când plecam diminețile la lucru, așezam deasupra bolului un album gros de artă, în caz că Mowgli încerca iar ceva. Dar albumul nu rezolva și spărtura cauzată de Ankunda. Nopțile, îmi lăsam berea neterminată și mă grăbeam spre casă, bântuită de viziuni macabre: Mowgli secționat în două de marginea sticlei, jumătate din el plutind în apa roz din acvariu, cealaltă jumătate pe birou, într-o baltă de sânge nu mai mare ca o monedă de cincizeci de bani (masochistă, căutasem pe Google culoarea sângelui peștișorilor aurii, nu mai suportam incertitudinea nici măcar în coșmaruri); mă închipuiam apoi sunându-l pe Ankunda, auzeam tăcerea inițială, răsunând de dezamăgire și resemnare, apoi mi-ar fi zis c-o să fie bine, deși știam amândoi că nu mai avea cum. În timp zilei, când la Bella Vita era liber, mă plimbam printre mese (ca să nu fiu văzută stând), mă prefăceam atentă la clienți, dar cu ochii minții îl urmăream pe Mowgli cum sărea din acvariu, reușea să fenteze lama ucigașă, dar rămânea să se zbată pe birou, murind lent, asfixiat, și deveneam convinsă că dacă aș fi plecat în clipa aceea de la Bella Vita, l-aș fi putut salva. O dată chiar mă prefăcusem bolnavă, cerusem voise să plec și alergasem acasă într-un suflet, numai ca să-l găsesc pe Mowgli bine-mersi, în bol. Dar asta fusese atunci, nu puteam ști ce ar fi fost altă dată.

În ciuda problemelor mele „de atitudine”, eram o ospătăriță bună. De când lucram la Bella Vita, fusesem avansată, primind dreptul de a interacționa cu clienții, ba chiar devenisem una din cele două chelnerițe din restaurant care se puteau descurcau singure într-un sector, fără asistența unei picolițe. Puteam să fac, repede și eficient, tot: de la luat comanda, la pus tacâmuri, dus băuturi, adus aperitive, supravegheat masa și anunțat la bucătărie când trebuiau să înceapă pregătirea felului următor, strâns farfurii, înlocuit tacâmuri, adus felul principal, strâns farfurii, oferit meniul de deserturi, luat comanda de desert, adus lingurițe, adus desert, strâns masa, adus nota, încasat banii, curățat masa – și pentru șaisprezece mese deodată. Erau momente când îmi plăcea munca. Era ca un rol și masa o piesă de teatru: când mă duceam spre clienți cu zâmbetul pe buze și carnețelul în mână, bucătăria și toate mecanismele restaurantului dispăreau – țipetele bucătarilor, șicanele managerului, atmosfera de oboseală cronică și iritare generală – și singura realitate rămânea ficțiunea zilei însorite, a străzii animate, a hipsterilor pe biciclete, a mâncării organice gourmet.

Într-o seară nu foarte aglomerată, eram singură în sectorul care-mi fusese repartizată și lucrurile decurgeau fără incidente. Trei sferturi din mese era ocupate de oamenii în diverse stadii ale cinei, așa că mă plimbam discret printre ei, lăsându-mă pradă îngrijorărilor obișnuite privind soarta lui Mowgli. Trecusem, în imaginație, de momentul în care-l găseam mort pe birou și tocmai îl sunam, cu inima strânsă, pe Ankunda, când patronul cel sașiu m-a scos abrupt din visare, chemându-mă la bucătărie. Mi-a indicat niște farfurii pline și mi-a zis că sunt pentru masa șapte. „Dar masa șapte a mâncat deja,” am zis eu surprinsă.  „Du-le odată!” s-a răstit șeful, „Ce stai la discuții? Când îți zic să le duci, le duci.” Am luat cela patru farfurii și le-am dus celor patru bărbați de la masa șapte. După trăsături, erau din Orientul Mijlociu, bruneți, cu bărbi îngrijite, îmbrăcați în blugi, dar cu ceasuri scumpe și cămăși de bună calitate, păreau parteneri de afaceri ieșiți la o masă informală. Comandaseră aperitive, paste și împărțiseră două salate, feluri nici prea simple, nici prea sofisticate, fuseseră politicoși și amabili fără să-mi acorde vreo atenție specială, adunasem farfuriile goale, nu voiseră desert și acum așteptam să-și termine băuturile ca să le duc nota de plată. Să apar, din senin, cu încă patru porții de paste părea complet lipsit de sens. Am lăsat mâncarea pe masă și m-am retras, în timp ce șeful, care venise în urma mea, a rămas să le vorbească din picioare. De unde până atunci îl văzusem mereu încruntat, acum râdea cu capul dat pe spate și, deși nu auzeam ce le spunea, în agitația din gesturi și în sclipirea din ochi i se citea o dorință disperată de fi plăcut. Apoi s-a schimbat la față și a venit furios spre mine. Dusesem mâncarea la masă fără să fi pus furculițe. Am încercat să mă scuz, dar mi-a tăiat-o, apoi a intrat la el în birou, trântind ușa cu zgomot, făcând câțiva clienți să întoarcă capul. Cei patru bărbați de la masă mi-au zâmbit la fel de amabil și m-au asigurat că nu face nimic când am mers la ei cu tacâmurile. În continuare, șeful le-a mai trimis șase feluri (pe care le-am luat înapoi neatinse) și câteva sticle de vin roșu.

Era trecut de miezul nopții. Cei patru bărbați erau încă în restaurant. Pe blatul dintre bucătărie și sală, unde se puneau comenzile care erau gata, stătea de ceva vreme o tavă cu brânzeturi care nu exista în meniu. „Ce-i cu asta?” am întrebat într-o doară. „Desert pentru masa șapte,” mi-a răspuns unul din bucătari, iar bucătarul-șef, un italian care tuna și fulgera tot timpul, s-a răstit la mine: „Dacă ai auzit că e pentru masa șapte, du-o odată! Ce stai și te uiți ca proasta? Nu vezi că se sleiește?” Într-adevăr, din cauza căldurii, pe cubulețele de brânză apăruseră stropi de grăsime. „Nu mi-a zis nimeni nimic despre asta,” am zis eu. M-am uitat prin restaurant, în căutarea șefului sau managerului, dar nu se vedea niciunul. „N-or să mai fie bune și or să se supere și o să fie vina ta,” a zis bucătarul-șef. Pățită, am dus la masa șapte tacâmuri noi și farfurii curate și abia apoi le-am prezentat tava cu brânzeturi. Când, ceva mai târziu, șeful a ieșit pe sală și a dat cu ochii de masa șapte, am crezut că face un atac de cord. Roșu la față, cu broboane pe frunte, cu ochii ieșiți din orbite, nemaiputând să-și găsească cuvintele, a venit, m-a apucat strâns de braț, m-a împins într-un colt și mi-a zis să rămân acolo. S-a dovedit că avusese în plan să servească platoul de brânzeturi decorat cu căpșuni, alt ingredient pe care nu-l aveam în meniu, și-l trimisese pe manager să caute căpșuni la unu noaptea, prin Londra, în octombrie, fără să anunțe pe nimeni.

În noaptea aceea, pusă la colț în restaurant, ridicând neputincioasă din umeri când clienții pe care îi servisem până atunci îmi cereau nota, urmărindu-le pe colegele mele care, acum că eram pedepsită, alergau disperate să facă și treaba mea și-mi aruncau priviri temătoare, ca și cum dizgrația mea s-ar fi putut lua, iar bucătarii se mișcau prin bucătărie cu hotărârea clar întipărită pe fețe de a nega orice amestec în povestea brânzei, am putut, pentru prima oară, să contemplu pe îndelete mizeria ridicolă a situației în care mă aflam: muncind zi-lumină într-un job de mizerie, pentru un salariu de nimic și un șef prost și arogant, fără timp pentru mine, pentru scris, pentru prieteni sau măcar să-mi caut altceva, întorcându-mă acasă la o camera goală, cu un acvariu ciobit în care mă tăiam și un pește bolnav a cărui moarte mă îngrozea – cât de rău, prin contrast, putea să fie Uganda?

Când am ajuns acasă, l-am sunat pe Ankunda. L-am trezit din somn. „Vreau să vin în Uganda.” Tăcere. „Nu pot să-ți promit c-o să-ți placă,” a zis în cele din urmă. „Nu pot să-ți promit c-o să rămân,” am zis eu. „Bine,” a zis el, și în voce i se citea un amestec de bucurie și teamă, „Sunt aici, te aștept. Să-mi zici cum pot să te ajut.”

A doua zi m-am dus în biroul șefului și mi-am dat demisia de la Bella Vita, mi-am anunțat proprietarul că renunțam la chirie și mi-am luat un bilet dus spre Uganda. Rămânea doar chestiunea lui Mowgli. Din ultimii bani încasați, i-am cumpărat un acvariu, dar nu-l puteam lua cu mine, așa cum nu putuse nici Ankunda. Aveam nevoie să-i găsesc un nou stăpân, ideal cineva cu o locuință stabilă și disponibilitatea de a-și bate capul, în următoarea lună și jumate (sau cât mai dura), cu ciclul azotului. 

Am întrebat colegii de casă: o grecoaică, un englez și un bulgar despre care nu știam mare lucru decât că locuiau la aceeași adresă cu mine. Dar, cum nu acceptaseră niciodată din pizza u care veneam nopțile de la Bella Vita, n-au acceptat nici când le-am oferit un pește. M-am dus apoi la restaurant să le întreb pe cele câteva ospătărițe cu care mai schimbasem impresii pe bordură și zâmbete încurajatoare prin sală dacă nu cumva voiau un pet fish. Dar toată lumea era într-o stare de provizorat, de tranzit dintr-o casă în alta, dintr-un job în altul, dintr-o viață în alta. Nimeni nu voia un astfel de angajament. În cele din urmă i l-am lăsat pe Mowgli lui Molly. Deși făcea un internship neplătit la spitalul din Hackney și locuia, din lipsă de bani, într-un bloc de locuințe sociale, pe canapeaua unei prietene care n-avea drept să subînchirieze sau să aibă oaspeți mai mult de două săptămâni, măcar Molly era cineva care aprecia viața în toate formele ei, fără discriminare.


Mowgli a murit doi ani mai târziu. Eram în Spania, tocmai mă întorceam de la o plimbare pe bicicletă. Luasem obiceiul să ies înainte de răsăritul soarelui, să pedalez o oră până la Patacona, să fac o baie în mare și să mă întorc în oraș la ora la care majoritatea oamenilor plecau la serviciu. Pe drum, mă uitam înăuntrul cafenelelor care abia deschideau – unele cu semne în geam „căutăm personal” –, la ospătarii și ospătărițele care scoteau mesele teraselor afară și mă întrebam dacă viața lor era mai ușoară decât a celor din Londra și dacă aș mai fi avut nervi să trec o dată prin asta. Îmi alegeam o terasă, îmi comandam o cafea și începeam să-mi programez vizionările din ziua aceea. Văzusem deja toate obiectivele turistice și mă săturasem de rătăcit aiurea pe străzi, așa că trecusem la următorul nivel. Mergeam să văd apartamente de închiriat, ceea ce-mi permitea să ajung în zone în care poate n-aș fi ajuns altfel, să iau contact cu interioare și să-mi închipui viețile pe care le-aș fi putut trăi acolo. Îi ziceam documentare pentru următorul proiect. De fapt, era modul meu de a face față golului care se căscase după terminarea romanului început în Uganda. Îl trimisesem unei liste de treizeci de agenți literari britanici și nu-mi rămânea acum decât să aștept. Primisem deja optsprezece răspunsuri, toate încurajatoare, dar negative.

În plus, de când albumul lui Ankunda devenise viral și compania subsidiară Universal din Spania îi oferise un contract pe trei ani, Ankunda era mereu la studio, serile se ducea la concerte, iar nopțile la after-party-uri. La început mersesem și eu cu el, dar obosisem să mă prefac că sunt bine, că mă descurc și singură, apoi să mă uit pe pereți sau să socializez cu necunoscuți în timp ce el se lăsa purtat de braț de colo-colo, de unul și altul care voiau să-i prezinte un sunetist, un producător, următoarea mare cântăreață, o foarte talentată liricistă, pe fana lui numărul unu. O dată, când venisem neanunțată la un eveniment, îl găsisem în fața clubului, pe faleză, în mijlocul unui grup de fete și băieți. Vorbea animat, probabil spunea o poveste. Toți ochii erau ațintiți asupra lui. Apoi, ca la un semn, toți au început să râdă, iar fața lui Ankunda s-a destins într-un zâmbet larg, triumfător. Purta în continuare barbă, o șapca neagră, trasă pe frunte, ochelari de soare (deși era noapte), un tricou cu o pisică cu dreaduri, pantaloni army, iar în picioare avea o pereche de șlapi mici, turcoaz, în timp ce o altă fată din grup, care avea costumul de baie sub rochie și părea că vine direct de la plajă, purta, prea mari pentru ea, converșii uzați ai lui Ankunda. Am plecat fără să mă vadă. Când l-am întrebat despre asta acasă, m-a acuzat că-l spionez, apoi mi-a zis că voise doar să meargă până la malul apei fără să-și umple de nisip încălțările, ce era greșit în asta? L-am crezut, dar preferam să nu fiu de față la astfel de faze, așa că încetasem să-l mai însoțesc.

Era opt dimineața când mi-a sunat telefonul. M-am gândit că era Ankunda, poate ajunsese, în sfârșit, acasă și voia să știe și el pe unde umblu eu. M-am oprit și m-am căutat în ghiozdan. Dar era doar Molly. Mi-a spus că Mowgli nu mai era. Am lăsat bicicleta să cadă și m-am tras pe bordura care delimita insula de palmieri din fața bisericii Santa Maria del Mar. Soarele scălda fațada de cărămidă a bisericii într-o lumină portocaliu-roșcată, palmierii foșneau în bătaia vântului, țipetele unor pescăruși răsunau în văzduh. Câteva mașini trecură vâjâind, apoi liniște. Mowgli nu mai era. Mi-am sprijinit fruntea pe genunchi și am început să plâng. Poate crezusem că Mowgli va fi din nou, vreodată, peștele meu și al lui Ankunda.

În noaptea aceea am stat trează și l-am așteptat pe Ankunda să ajungă acasă. L-am așteptat până la cinci dimineața. A venit cu ochii roșii și buzele crăpate. Mirosea a tutun și a alcool. I-am zis că Mowgli nu mai era și că eu îmi găsisem o altă casă.

Baraba z mostu

Liviv, Ukarine

A 24-year-old architect who writes poetry with mythological and cultural connotations.

read more

He got Mihiz award for achievement in playwriting in 2020.
Sterija award for his play “not before 4:30, nor after 5:00”, as well as Slobodan Selenić award for the same play. “not before 4:30, nor after 5:00” is included in Maison Antoan Vitez translation programme in France.
The premiere of the play took place in October 2020 in theatre Atelje 212, Belgrade.

His second play “eben byers’s jaw” had its premiere in Serbian National Theatre in Novi Sad, Serbia in December 2020 and was translated to English for Mercurian magazine in Washington.

He works as a radio host on Radio Belgrade.

Text in original language

Не любиш електричні тіні –

Їх контури чіпкі й повні ліні,

Скривають правду, ніжність й уклін

Твоїх думок у світ чужих колін.


Кохаєш біло-сірі тіні,

Що пливуть у грозах й хмарній піні,

Де можна чесним без довіри

Не ховати сонячної шкіри.


Серед затінку підпірних стін

Їх чуєш дужий, але хриплий дзвін.

Допоки ти чека на нього

Вони трима натуг могутнього.


Спогад наче оберемок снів

Опісля танцю жмут посеред днів,

Де ти уся закохана, й він

Не зводив жадний погляд, пестив, хтів.

Text in english version

You don’t like electric shadows –

Their contours are tenacious and full of laziness.

They hide the truth, tenderness, and

Your thoughts’ bow into the world of others’ knees.

You love white and gray shadows,

That float in thunderstorms and cloud foam,

Where you can be honest without trust

And do not hide sunburned skin.

Among the shades of retaining walls,

You can hear their strong but hoarse moan.

While you wait for him,

They hold the tension of the mighty steppe.

Memories are like a bundle of dreams

That comes after the dance of days

Where you were all in love, and He

Caressed, wanted, didn’t take his eyes off you.

Felicia Cucuta

Oltenita, Romania

Originally from a small village close to the Danube, I lived abroad for about ten years and eventually have relocated to Romania. No matter where I live, this place keeps inspiring me, especially with everything that it is currently going through. I write mostly in English and French, but I like to mix in Romanian too. I have had the chance of studying creative writing at Harvard University under the guidance of brilliant artists to whom I will always be grateful.
Text in english version


You can’t see


It stings

And burns

You feel like

You want everything to stop









Strike 1

Where did that come from?

Stop it

Strike 2

Stop it


Strike 3

Stop it

It hurts

Strike I can’t remember the number

If a razor blade were to cut your eyeballs

It wouldn’t hurt as bad



You can’t hear


Blood pumping

Ringing in my ears




dial tones

You feel like

You want everything to stop

ocean waves





In slow motion


Strike 1

Where did that come from?

Can you hear me? Stop it

Strike 2

Strike 3

Stop it

It hurts

Strike I can’t remember the number


If a bomb were to explode in your head

It wouldn’t hurt as bad



You can’t taste


Yes, you do

It’s metallic

Iron-like taste

Blood in your mouth

You want everything to stop


You have to spit it out

It keeps dripping on your chin

And then on the pavement

Strike 1

It hurts

Stop it

Strike 2

Strike 3

Strike I can’t remember the number


If your blood were to be aqua blue

You’d now be swimming in an ocean and

It wouldn’t hurt as bad



You can’t feel


Not even pain

Just loneliness

You want this chaos to stop


your head resting on the pavement

it feels too hot

summertime hot

Strike 1

Was that really necessary?

I’m not even moving

Stop it

Strike 2

Stop it


Strike 3

Stop it

It hurts

Strike I can’t remember the number

Black out

If you were to be dead, you’d die again and

It wouldn’t hurt as bad


Safia Taboudrart

Bruxelles, Belgium

A young slammer who turns her pain into words. She scribbles on paper or types on her phone or computer… and it’s packed and weighed!
Text in english version

Letter to Women

by Safia Bihmedn

I want to talk to you about the one who says she is proud despite the complexes

Despite threats of blacklisting

That society imposes on him

The one who dares

She’s the one who if she was a man it would be normal

What she does would be seen as trite

But since she’s a woman, we can’t do this, we can’t do that

She’s the one who challenges her tribe to change the debate

I’m Manal Al-Sharif driving in Saudi Arabia

I continue despite being cursed

I am also a young 23-year-old journalist

Fired from an editorial staff who were told I would never freelance again

And more than 60 brooms

Still called Oprah Winfrey

I am also the single mother who raises her 4 kids alone

When the father wanted to leave for a smaller one

I live my life juggling work and girlfriends

And don’t tell me about my dripping kitchen

I am also those black skinned girls

Who instead of enjoying their Saturday night

Prefer to campaign on the glory and beauty of ebony skin

Who for too long years has stirred up hatred

I’m that curly woman or that veiled woman

Who will not buckle it on your prejudices

I’m Marilyn Monroe we took a dumb blonde

Who took advantage of being an icon

To be of service to Ella

Ella, she had no right

To perform on stage but Ella, she has

This je ne sais quoi

That others don’t have

Who could have become Ella Fitzgerald madame jazz and blues

Who made history and the jealous will say that it was only for flouze

I’m that woman challenge the misogynists

And those who give him the reputation of unworthy

But I can also be that woman who is afraid of being alone

And who accepts that we hit her, demean her, yell at her

She who has one eye on the black edge and tries to justify herself

Saying she fell down the stairs

And lying to himself even more, telling himself that he is not going to do it again

She who confuses love with emotional dependence

It would have been nice to teach us that at school

It’s hard to be a woman.

And denounce the infamous acts

Or the daily injustices

The mentalities that we find banal but of the order of vice

But we try everything for everything

Kind of like a mee too

We told ourselves at the beginning that it would be just a simple hashtag

But it called into question all the dirty jokes

Whether it’s the salacious jokes about women we hear from childhood on television

Who later will unconsciously play on our discriminations

Whether it’s a bad and sexualized representation

From the woman who will play on our promotions

Or the bad jokes of blondes who turn from running gag to harassment

Today is the moment and a moment

Among many others to say that we have the right to be respected

Not to be walked on

I’m by my sisters’ side even though I’m an only child

I am alongside my sisters who do not have the same color

Neither the same convictions but in any case the same values

Those from whatever our backgrounds, our social class differences

Those who promise to fight

Not against but with men for our beautiful society

I fight with my black sisters who have told them that their hair and their skin

Are not beautiful

To whom it destroys the esteem

I fight with all these women who are damaged

And who close it in the face of job security

And who swallow their pride in a male colleague

I’m struggling on my ladder, maybe telling myself

That I wouldn’t come close to the courage of a suffragist

I tell myself that in their time they must have suffered from the shame

While their fight was noble

So we, don’t be ashamed to fight

Against mentalities

From now that will later be seen as displaced

Like the simple right of yesteryear to vote

Because I, before I die,

I don’t want to tell myself that all I did was eat, drink, sleep and mate.

And that I will make children of consumers

Who will do the same because of fear

Dear brothers and sisters

From my modest poem

I say: I love you

Hey, as long as we do, we are in Schaerbeek on this square

I will tell you about Mahinur Ozdemir

When I was a young girl who dreamed of her future

For me she embodied the girl who wants to succeed

Serve your country by being proud of your origins

But she was told that despite her many voices, in Schaerbeek with her headscarf she would never become alderman

So she remained municipal councilor

And everyone finds it normal

As normal, that on the other side of the world the Saudi misanthrope thinks that a woman is not allowed to drive

That an Iranian man finds that his wife is not allowed to go out without her head dressed.

For me, I don’t see where the difference is in these various cases

I see a law of the fittest mentality that wants to shut us up

Is it lost in advance, impossible or is it incredible how we could miraculously reverse the trend with the Weinstein affair?

Finally, I prefer to quote Einstein

To conclude these few lines:

“The world is dangerous to live in! Not so much because of those who do evil, but because of those who watch and let it happen.”

Text in original language

Lettre aux femmes 

par Safia Bihmedn

Je veux vous parler de celle qui se dit fière malgré les complexes

Malgré les menaces de mise à l’index

Que la société lui impose

Celle qui ose

C’est celle qui si elle était un homme ce serait normal

Ce qu’elle fait serait vu comme banal

Mais comme c’est une femme, on ne peut pas faire ci, on ne peut faire ça

C’est celle qui défie sa tribu pour faire évoluer le débat

Je suis Manal Al-Sharif qui conduit en Arabie Saoudite

Je continue malgré qu’on m’ait maudite

Je suis aussi une jeune journaliste de 23 piges

Qu’on a viré d’une rédaction à qui on a dit que je ne ferais plus jamais de piges

Et à plus de 60 balais

S’appelle encore Oprah Winfrey

Je suis aussi la mère célibataire qui élève seule ses 4 gosses

Quand le père a eu l’envie de partir pour une moins grosse

Je vis ma vie en jonglant avec le taf et les copines

Et ne me dites rien de ma cuisine qui dégouline

Je suis aussi ces filles à la peau noire

Qui au lieu de profiter de leur samedi soir

Préfèrent militer sur la gloire et la beauté de la peau ébène

Qui pendant de trop longues années a suscité la haine

Je suis cette femme bouclée ou cette femme voilée

Qui ne la boucleront pas sur vos préjugés

Je suis Marilyn Monroe qu’on a prise une blonde conne

Qui en a profité d’être une icône

Pour rendre service à Ella

Ella, elle n’avait pas le droit

De se produire sur scène mais Ella, elle a

Ce je ne sais quoi

Que d’autres n’ont pas

Qui a pu devenir Ella Fitzgerald madame jazz and blues

Qui a marqué l’histoire et les jaloux diront que c’était que pour du flouze

Je suis cette femme défie les misogynes

Et ceux qui lui collent la réputation d’indigne

Mais je peux être aussi cette femme qui a peur de se retrouver seule

Et qui accepte qu’on la cogne, la rabaisse, l’engueule

Elle qui a un oeil au bord noir et essaie de s’en justifier

En disant qu’elle est tombée dans les escaliers

Et en se mentant encore plus en se disant qu’il ne va plus recommencer

Elle qui confond l’amour avec la dépendance affective

Ca aurait été bien de nous apprendre ça à l’école

Dur dur d’être une femme.

Et dénoncer les actes infâmes

Ou les quotidiennes injustices

Les mentalités qu’on trouve banales mais de l’ordre du vice

Mais on tente le tout pour le tout

Un peu comme un coup de mee too

On se disait au début que ce ne serait qu’un simple hashtag

Mais ça a remis en question toutes les sales blagues

Que ce soit les plaisanteries salaces sur les femmes qu’on entend depuis toutes petites à la télévision

Qui plus tard inconsciemment joueront sur nos discriminations

Que ce soit une mauvaise et sexualisées représentation

De la femme qui jouera sur nos promotions

Ou les mauvaises blagues de blondes qui virent du running gag au harcèlement

Aujourd’hui, c’est le moment et un moment

Parmi tant d’autres pour se dire qu’on a le droit d’être respectées

À ne pas dessus se faire marcher

Je suis aux côtés de mes sœurs même si je suis fille unique

Je suis aux côtés de mes sœurs qui n’ont pas la même couleur

Ni les même convictions mais en tout cas les mêmes valeurs

Celles de peu importe nos horizons, nos différences de classes sociales

Celles qui se font la promesse de lutter

Non pas contre mais avec les hommes pour notre belle société

Je lutte avec mes sœurs noires à qui ont leur a dit que leurs cheveux et leurs peaux

Ne sont pas beaux

À qui ça détruit l’estime

Je lutte avec toutes ces femmes qu’on abîme

Et qui la ferment face à la sécurité de l’emploi

Et qui ravalent leur fierté face à un collègue mâle

Je lutte à mon échelle, en me disant peut-être

Que je n’arriverais pas à la cheville du courage d’une suffragette

Je me dis qu’elles ont dû à leur époque en essuyer de l’opprobre

Alors que leur combat était noble

Alors nous, n’ayons pas honte de lutter

Contre des mentalités

De maintenant qui seront vues plus tard comme déplacées

Comme le simple droit d’antan de voter

Car moi, avant de crever,

Je ne veux pas me dire que je n’ai fait que manger, boire, dormir et m’accoupler.

Et que je ferai des enfants de consommateurs 

Qui feront pareil à cause de la peur

Chers frères et chères soeurs

De mon modeste poème

Je dis : je vous aime

Hey, tant qu’à faire, on est à Schaerbeek sur cette place

Je vais vous parler de Mahinur Ozdemir

Quand j’étais une petite jeune qui rêvait de son avenir

Pour moi elle incarnait la fille qui veut réussir 

Servir son pays en étant fière de ses origines

Mais on lui a dit que malgré ses nombreuses voix, à Schaerbeek avec son foulard elle ne deviendrait jamais échevine

Donc elle est restée conseillère communale

Et tout le monde trouve ça normal

Aussi normale, qu’à l’autre bout du monde le misanthrope Saoudien pense qu’une femme n’a pas le droit de conduire

Qu’un homme iranien trouve que sa femme n’a pas le droit de sortir sans la tête se vêtir.

Pour moi, je ne vois pas où est la différence dans ces cas divers

Je vois une mentalité de la loi du plus fort qui veut nous faire taire

Est-ce perdu d’avance, impossible ou alors incroyable comme on a pu renverser miraculeusement la tendance avec l’affaire Weinstein ?

Pour finir je préfère citer Einstein

Pour conclure ces quelques vers :

“Le monde est dangereux à vivre ! Non pas tant à cause de ceux qui font le mal, mais à cause de ceux qui regardent et laissent faire.”

Kate DiVorra

Bucharest, Romania

Hi!I’m a writer and an actress. I like to write poetry as a manifest of my inner feelings. Expressing through poetry as an actor is one of my passions.

Text in original language

Do you want to come?

I’m waiting you in the station,

When do you want to come?

If you want to come.

I’m not a child,

Are we still children?

I pay hours on the earth

And buy stars on the sky,

I open the green eyes from the dream

And I close doors from the apartment.

Do you see the sun from my soul?

Do you hear the stories from the past?

It’s winter and it’s cold,

It’s today or it’s tomorrow,

It’s now, here or maybe never.

I want you to come here

And smile with me.

It’s warm, it’s fire and it’s good,

You know that it’s true,

So let’s eat love on bread

From the shop from the corner of the world.

And if you don’t want, I’m getting dressed again

With the blue coat with regrets

And I’m taking my shoes on with the travels

To go in other places

Where I don’t see you in the mind.

I’m asking you again:

Do you want to come with me on Mars?

I’m waiting for your answer, even in wispers.

Krzysztof Popiolek

Krakow, Poland

Krzysztof Popiolek – theatre director, a graduate of the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow, Poland; art curator of the 'New Forms of Theatre' project in the Mazovia Institute of Culture in Warsaw; lecturer at the Department of New Media Art at the Polish-Japanese Academy in Warsaw. In 2014-2016 he was a research assistant at the National Academy of Theatre Arts in Krakow. Author of essays and stage adaptations.
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He collaborated with theatres in Poland and abroad (United Kingdom, Latvia, Japan). He was a Grand Prix winner of the international festival Premio Internazionale “Il Teatro Nudo” at Spazio Teatro No'hma in Milan. He was also awarded with the Audience Award for Best Director at TopOffFestival 2019 in Poland. He gave a lecture entitled 'Literature as a shelter for the times of crisis' at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, concerning work on a text in the theatre. As a curator, he made study visits to theatres in Austria, Georgia and Italy. Since 2020, he has been conducting his own teaching process, examining the narratives of the future in literature, theater and cinema.
Text in english version


/freaky show/


Krzysztof Popiołek



  1. Young doctor:


Don’t regret, never regret.

So you would never wish you were here and not there

that you could have done something and you did not.

You didn’t because you couldn’t.

Papa kept telling me that

You can forget everything as you wish.

Don’t listen to advice – that is also wisdom.

“Not being brave, being good, but fixing the toilet!

God! so that I could sow, plow…

A tree would be just a tree.

No idiotic wondering what the hell it grows for

what does it mean that you are alive,

what are the plants for,

why are you yourself and not someone else,

is the soul a community of atoms?”

he kept saying it

My father was an inventor.

He didn’t really invent anything.

But that was what he called himself

and how he made others call himself.


He once said to me, “Did you want to come into the world?

Isn’t it true? Well, you couldn’t have wanted to when you didn’t exist.

You see, I didn’t want you to come into the world either.

I mean, I wanted a son, but not you, because

I didn’t know you, so I couldn’t want you…”.

“Are you okay? I am not asking you if you are happy.

You don’t know how happy you are until later, when was it gone.”

Then he lowered his eyelids, making it as hard

as if he were giving up on the world.

“Just work, work, work!”

He was terribly important to me, my father.

I never told him about it. We knew so little of each other.

What has been and has gone is gone,

as if it had never happened at all.

It’s like a cookie eaten yesterday, you got nothing of it.

Therefore, one could make up the past,

which you didn’t have if you just believe in it,

it will be as if you really experienced it.

Why do I want to be a doctor?

what for

I didn’t like myself:

the shapes of my arms, legs, facial features

it irritated me when seen in the mirror.

embarrassing, like a monkey.

maybe one could do something about it

I only remember the excruciating grief, anger, disappointment

that followed me for years later.

At first we were a cell, then an amoeba

and finally a fish,

and after a long and frustrating period

we have transformed into a lizard.

We left the seas and oceans to land,

we climbed a tree and we watched how dinosaurs die.

It was frighteningly icy.

Then we went down from the tree and –

a gesture of helplessness, laughter

Why do I want to be a doctor? Why…

You can’t say it like this.

If you were to ask a dying man if he wanted to live again,

he will certainly agree and will not ask what he is supposed to live for.

That’s why I started working in a sanatorium.

to break out of this numbness

Balzak – a hypomanic psychopath,

Baudelaire – hysterical,

Chopin – neurasthenic…

Dante – schizoid,

Goethe – alcoholic…

Hoelderlin – schizophrenic…



  1. Old doctor:


the reason why I became a doctor?

smile. laughter. expiring. a lot of laughter

my mother spoke “always look for difficulties”

mom, what difficulties? laughter

it started in childhood.

I was nine years old maybe ten

strongest memory – the one related to my mother’s long agony

I loved her and recorded the process of her destruction in illness

She is cheerful, strong, lies in chronic agony that is stretched by doctors,

I am still with my hand next to her bed,

which is full of the stench and medicines

I leave my mother’s bedroom,

I know I’m alone

I jump up, smile maliciously at the door

and stick my tongue out

I understood well that my mother was dying

but I was clenching my fists and making faces and giggling.

Oh yes.

Her body, swollen, turned into its own monstrous caricature,

mocked and writhing in this mockery.

I had no choice but to die with her or to laugh at her,

so as a coward,

I chose the laugh of betrayal.

So the first laugh grabbed me at the sight of destruction,

maybe this experience would have missed me

if the mother were to be destroyed in a more aesthetic way

I don’t know…

as if she was just asleep and…

The funeral director – and I overheard this – suggested to my father

the variety of facial expressions with which she can transform her

posthumously shrunken grimace.

My father then left the room,

and I felt it for a short while a flicker of solidarity,

I understood him.

I have thought of this agony countless times after that.

What makes destruction attract us?

What black hope dawns on man from it?

This inclination, the drive for destruction,

has been trampled by numerous cultures.

I heard the doctors telling my father terrible things

 and ran away to myself.

I’ve never bullied animals or even grass

while I chopped stones and sand,

I mistreated the equipment,

I tormented the water and smashed the stars

to pieces with my thoughts,

to punish them for not giving a damn about anything.

From a darkened room, from ‘then’

with decay full of smell,

the trail goes all the way here.

he turns, we see his face


The vision of creation as a slight macabre joke.

This marginality and the complete invalidity of man,

placed in front of the cosmos,

this marginality and the complete invalidity of man

about which science informs us.

I will say it differently:

if the creation were to take place

– which, moreover, I do not allow with my thoughts –

this is the level of knowledge that it necessarily requires,

it is already in the order that there is no room for silly jokes there.

To death, disease, suffering.

I wanted to understand – just understand, nothing more.

I was nine years old.

And now: deviations, suicide bombings, fraud and psychoanalytical complexes.

I collect descriptions of people’s life stumbles, I research and select their failures, tragedies, misfortunes, life professions.


  1. Choir of patients:


I don’t remember the exact numbers

(memory has been failing me lately)

but I’ve read how unbelievable it is

the formation of a living cell from a community of atoms …

something like one chance for a trillion.

Later, that these trillions of cells would gather together

to constitute the body of a living person!

Each of us is a fate for which the main prize was won:

several dozen years of life, great fun.

In the world of hot gases, whirling nebulae,

hard cosmic frost, there appeared a spike of protein,

jelly-like slime, trying to immediately dissolve

into bacterial fumes and rot…

A hundred thousand rivets keep that bizarre leap of energy

that how lightning tears matter apart for duration and order:

a knot of space crawling in an empty landscape,

and for what?

So that heaven can be confirmed in someone’s eye.

In the eye, do you understand?

Have you ever wondered why clouds and trees,

golden in autumn, dark in winter,

this landscape declined by the seasons,

why everything hits us with beauty as a hammer,

by what law is this happening?

We should be black interstellar dust,

scraps of the Whirlpool Nebula in the Hunting Hounds,

after all the roaring of stars,

a flood of meteors is the norm,

void, emptiness, darkness, death…

Even when you are lying down and doing nothing, you are still moving

at a speed of 107 218 km/h.

Even when you lie down and do nothing, you turn around

1674 km/h.

The great Earth carousel

which the children have forgotten already

that they are sitting on it and that

it was just supposed to be fun

we go we go we go

and turn around

and nothing solid under the feet

boiling soup of atoms

Eternal Change

the last day all the people were present

on Earth

was the second of November 2000

since then

for over twenty years

always a minimum of two people are constantly in space

on Earth orbit

on International Space Station

when you are flying there

the eyes are pressed against the skull

jerk, weightless

you feel like vomiting

it is better not to think about the effects of radiation at all

you are growing a few centimeters

something strange is happening to the skin on the feet

but that’s nothing

you can handle it

you notice that you have a different posture

head tilted legs bent

arms extended forward

microblash even with eyes closed

tissues fired from all sides

microdamage collection

but that’s nothing

it’s nothing

we will get used to it

more than 250 frozen human bodies are waiting

to be resurrected through medicine

in the future

fertilization and healthy offspring in space

it is impossible so far

we know, however, that humanity will keep trying

and we will be there again someday –

to multiply

if strangers ever found us

if the Earth would receive a signal from the stars

for example a message

“Grandma died. funeral on Wednesday”

– it can be translated into any language –

conceptual convergence of the languages of all terrestrial cultures,

however diverse, it is striking

from Latin and Hindu to Apache and Inuit dialects

whether the Dobu tribe

it could probably be done even with the language of the old epoch

Musters era, if we only knew it

This is because every person must have

the mother of the mother

That everyone dies,

That the rituals to dispose of the corpse are cultural invariant,

and so is the rule timing

however, same-sex creatures cannot know

distinctions between mother and father,

and those that would divide like amoebas would not have to

create the concept of even same-sex parent

so the meaning of “grandma” would not come up

beings that would not die (amoebas divide, do not die)

would not know the concept of death

no funeral

they would therefore have to know anatomy, physiology, evolution,

human history and customs

sooner than they were able to translate this telegram

clear for us

the difference is a separate matter.

civilization levels from Amenhotep’s golden posthumous mask:

the art historian will read the epoch

and its cultural style with its ornamentation

the religiologist will derive the beliefs of that time

the chemist will present what was used then gold treatment method

the anthropologist will indicate whether a copy

of the species is 6000 years old different from modern man

and the doctor will diagnose that Amenhotep suffered from

hormonal disorders that are acromegalic

his jaws deformed thus an object from 60 centuries ago provides us

contemporary far more information than its creators had

for what did they know about the chemistry of gold?

acromegaly and cultural styles

if we reverse it in time and send it to the Egyptian

letter written today will not be read not only because

they wouldn’t have no words or concepts which they could assign to ours

either let’s say they – the aliens – send us a hexagon

It can be considered a blueprint of a chemical molecule

Or a honeycomb

or the building

this geometric information can match infinite number of items

has been exceeded – no one knows exactly when – the threshold beyond

which the stock of accumulated knowledge it will never be grasped again

by any single mind

our knowledge has become enormous,

but only towards man, not towards the world

our old animal body cannot bear this pace,

moving from hemisphere to hemisphere too fast

they disturb the rhythm of his sleep and wakefulness

city to city,

continent to continent,

planet to planet

if someone told Marie Curie that in fifty years from her discovery of radioactivity

there will be created gigatoms and overkill, maybe she wouldn’t dare to work 

discoveries made once cannot be covered, impossible

we got used to it and people who count kilometres of corpses and megatons of dead bodies,

no one considers them crazy.

don’t worry. without us, everything would have gone also wrong

How can we live properly without wondering why?

or what is a dream?

a scandal that, after all these millions of years, we don’t even know it

and insanity – what is its cause?

The scripture of Bible does not need to be printed on paper

and bound in canvas with golden embossing

can also be plasma

cosmic noise – preaching the good news – bio genesis

our bodies are made of interstellar dust remnants of the Big Bang

and we are like snails stuck to their leaf

it seems about our body we know little more

than about the farthest of the stars

So what if we don’t know anything neither where we came from

nor where we are going

we feel good here together

on the great merry-go-round of the Earth

Eva Gerson

Le Pré-Saint-Gervais, France

My artistic approach is part of a double composition between poetic writing and the design of installations, both of which are essentially linked to the narrative. It is developed without limit in writing spaces and three-dimensional spaces, to upset our perceptions of narration and speech. The story is protean.
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In January 2019, I launched the project Les mises en bouche d’Eva.G. A label that identi es and encompasses a part of my work composed of gastronomic poetic narratives. The narratives are characterized by seasonal poetry that unfolds in di erent forms: visual, sound and gustatory. All are marked by strong collaborations that push the taster/reader into imagined corners of the Table. During my nine-month residency at the Cité des arts de Paris, Les mises en bouche d’Eva. G, developed on a three-step menu, three facilities ( Dégustation de Philippe E., #Eaten alive, Printemps/été) that all have a common point; a fantasy and utopian relationship to gastronomic recipes and the pleasures of the table. The Taillée Arc-en-ciélisé “in progress” installation brought together the entire Spring/Summer postcard collection. For the presentation at the “Traversées du marais” in Paris, the Taillée Arc-en-ciélisé black mono- chrome mouthpiece, was cooked and prepared minute by the chef Félix Long. Visitors could read the poetic recipe and discover those of the other postcards while tasting the fourth starter.


Le prix à payer ?
3 heures du matin – 10/04/2022
Quelque part dans Rotterdam Sud
Je suis partie dans le mauvais sens et je me suis perdue.
Je n’avais plus de batterie sur mon téléphone.
Je me souviens d’une forêt, de rues immenses, du port puis du périph?
J’ai marché pendant au moins 3 heures.
Je ne savais plus quoi faire, alors oui je suis montée VOLONTAIREMENT dans sa voiture.
Il m’a acheté de l’eau. Je n’avais plus les idées claires.
J’étais très, trop alcoolisée.
Il me parlait en anglais.
Il m’a dit que lui aussi il avait un bébé.
Je savais qu’il ne me laisserait pas partir comme ça, et je pensais “est ce qu’il va vraiment
me ramener chez moi?” J’avais du mal à réfléchir, je me demandais combien ça allait me
coûter de m’être trompée de chemin…
Il s’est arrêté à quelques mètres de ma maison.
Il a commencé à me toucher les seins.
Il a sorti sa bite
“Tu vas me finir derrière hein?”
Maintenant il a mon adresse.
Normalement j’écris de la poésie mais là j’ai pas réussi
3 AM – 10/04/2022

Text in original language


3 HEURES DU MATIN – 10/04/2022





















3 AM – 10/04/2022


















Oana Andreea Duran

Bucharest, Romania

My name is Oana, I was born in 1994, in Mangalia, a city on the shore of the Black Sea. I have discovered my passion for words and stories since I was 16. Since then, I have turned writing into my profession, as now I work as a Copywriter. I also have a travel blog, where I share my experiences from around the world, which help me come up with new ideas for my stories. Last year I won the first prize in a thriller story competition and one of my short stories was published in an Antology.
Text in english version

The butterfly effect

by Oana-Andreea Duran

Andrea almost cried herself to sleep that night. Wondering why some people’s actions affect us so much. And why we just don’t care about the rest. Wondering if there’s any logical reason for what was happening to her and overthinking the turmoil of that late Friday evening.

No matter how much she tried to forget, knowing she was only 17 and she had a whole life ahead of her, those unstoppable thoughts just kept popping up in her head. And also the eyes. The hazel eyes, which used to be so full of light, almost like dripping honey. His eyes.

“I can forget them”, she continuously said to herself. She blinked again and the red digital numbers appeared violently in front of her eyes: 04:05. It was a good thing she wasn’t going to school the next day.

It was amazing how only 12 hours ago everything suddenly turned into disaster.

First, Alex’s text:

“I don’t think I can hang out with you tonight, as promised. I made other plans. Sorry. Love you.”

It wasn’t the first time he was doing this to her in the last 2-3 months. Yeah, she just knew that something has changed. But she didn’t want to admit it. Was he seeing someone else?

Andrea just couldn’t find out.

After all, he admitted he was going to some cheap club “with the boys”.

“They just couldn’t take no for answer”, he said. “And you know that since I’m first year in this college, I want to make a good impression!”

Andrea didn’t believe a word: it was the last days of March. He had 6 months to “fit in”. In the meantime, she tried to keep her cool for a few hours. But she couldn’t. It was eating her inside.

Luckily, her best friend didn’t let her drown in sorrow. They found out where Alex was and they just showed up there, around 23:30.

“Maybe he just lied. Maybe he isn’t even there”, Andrea said with pain in her voice. “Also, do you remember that I saw him talking with a person called The Mailman? He had a lot of calls from him… Who do you think that might be? For sure he is no mailman and I’m also pretty sure he’s not even a man…”

“We’ll just have to see for ourselves…”, her friend said.

But Alex wasn’t cheating on her. At least not with another person. He was sitting at a table, laying on a black couch, all messy, in a VIP room with two friends. His eyes were red. Andrea could soon see that he wasn’t himself.

The relief on Andrea’s face turned into shock. And soon, into worry and disappointment.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he screamed and jumped from the couch.

Suddenly, Andrea had no words: “I just came to… make you a surprise”, she said slowly.

“No, you came to check up on me. You think you have control over me. But you don’t.”

Suddenly, she started connecting the dots. His lack of focus. His secret rendez-vous with his new friends. His sudden loss of temper. Losing touch with his family. Paying less attention to classes. And, actually, not even going to college that much…

It was hard for Andrea to admit it. But her boyfriend was just on his way to becoming an addict.

So that night, Andrea desperately needed her parents’ advice. But she couldn’t tell them anything. In the end, she fell asleep knowing one thing: she was still in love with a boy who proved to be too weak to say no to temptations.


Jack didn’t know what was keeping him up that night. Was it the screaming of his newborn girl and her tired girlfriend shaking the bed constantly? Or was it the worries that he had been having for a few months now?

He was still thinking about what happened the entire day. About not being able to keep his promise towards his new family.

He saw himself standing there, at 7:00 o’clock, in front of his boss’s door. Preparing his speech. Telling him that he couldn’t do this anymore. That he was already thirty-five. That he had a daughter, so everything changed. He would become a respectable man, find a normal and, most importantly, legal job, and earn some honest money.

He would tell him how worried he had been since his close friend had gone to jail. Jack was sure that The Craftsman would understand.

When he finally entered his office – which was a huge business office – he thought again that no one would suspect that other kind of business was going on in that construction company.

But the worst part of that meeting was this: Jack’s speech never got to be heard by The Craftsman.

“I am going to promote you, he said. I will give you a new job. I can see you’re worried about your friend who got caught. You’ll have less goods to sell. You’ll stop being in contact with the providers and clients. I’ll give you more important things to do – which would mean more money.”

“I mean, we could use the money, I guess…”, Jack said to himself.

He tried a few times telling his boss that he wanted to stop. But it was like he knew what he was going to say and always interrupted him.

The man standing in front of Jack started saying something about going big and finding new ways to justify the money they had been earning in the last months. Huge amounts of money. Then, he started saying something about how no one is truly pure. About how we all have a past. And that no man would compromise his social status and family just to stop their thriving business.

Apparently, some idea of his turned out as planned. Jack didn’t know much, but he was sure that blackmailing was the only way they could go on with their business.

At the end of the meeting, there he was. Standing in the middle of a street, with a white envelope in his hands, not sure of what to do next. He couldn’t understand how none of his plans worked out that morning…

Later that night, Jack arrived home at 01:00, after meeting some groups of college students and giving them some pills.

It was even harder quitting this job after seeing the money he has earned in one day only. He knew The Craftsman was a terrible man, but that he would always keep his promises.

And he didn’t fail this time either.


Tony couldn’t close one eye that night. He was tormented inside. Everytime he blinked, he saw himself laying in bed with a stranger. The shame and guilt he was feeling would drive him to madness.

It was a good thing he wasn’t going to the job the next day.

Suddenly, his eyes turned to his wife. She was so tired, so she easily fell asleep. Oh, if she knew… but that would destroy her. That would destroy their daughter, their family… their life!

Tony also feared that somebody else had seen the little video before he did.

“Oh, how I wish I had the peace that I had 24 hours ago. Before discovering that package…”.

The first thing he did was ask his secretary who left it there. Usually, he knew she could trust her – but one can never know for sure…

“I don’t know, sir. I received it from a man – he was calling himself The Mailman. Actually, I almost called the security when I first saw him. I asked him his name, but he said he didn’t want to mention it. He only said that the package was from a friend of yours and that you had been waiting for it.”

If he was being honest to himself, Tony would have admitted that he had a hunch. But he tried to keep Joseph out of his head.

He entered the office and opened the envelope. There was a note and the stick. The note was written on the computer:

Hi, Mr. President! I hope you’ll like my little gift. It’s always nice to remember the pleasurable moments of life. As you know, I like to keep it short and to the point. So, after you see this sweet video, you’ll have 2 options:

  1. You will let us transfer the money as we please
  2. You will interfere with our business and your wife will receive a copy of it

Have a great day!

Tony’s hands were shaking. He went straight to the door of his office and locked it, telling his secretary not to be disturbed in the following 30 minutes. He couldn’t remember how he had connected the stick to the computer and how the video started. But there he was: one month ago, pretty drunk, seduced by a young lady he encountered after a business conference, at a hotel away from his town.

Everything was there. The entire night, even him waking up at 2 a.m. and leaving her there, full of remorse. In the beginning, he had only one hope: that his face wouldn’t be so visible. That he could hide. But that didn’t happen.

And now, when the time was already 03:59, while laying in bed, he couldn’t help but think how he had always been faithful to his wife and kept himself away from temptations. How he was never a corrupt bank president, no matter how many opportunities he had.

And now, because of one simple mistake, everything would be ruined. Either his family – and he couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing his own daughter. Or his own conscience and, eventually, his job – because allowing that group to use the bank he was working at for money laundering meant his free consent of being involved in this business.

And he couldn’t bear the thought he was supporting a crime. A crime that would affect thousands of people from his country. That would become addicts, that would have a distorted notion of having fun.

It was 7:00 when he decided to go downstairs and make a sandwich for himself. Well, not only for himself, but also for his wife. He felt like he should make up for his mistakes. Not that a breakfast in bed would be equivalent to his infidelity.

But the door was already open. And the light turned on. Tony was surprised to find her in the kitchen:

  • Andrea, what are you doing awake so early? On a Saturday?

His daughter turned to him. Her eyes were red and tired, full of tears. She was relieved to see him and she just ran into her father’s arms.


Maria Caetano Vilalobos

Lisbon, Portugal

Born in Lisboa in 1994. Actress and director with a degree in Theater from the University of Évora and the ESAD of Murcia. Completed her Masters in Interpretation and Artistic Direction at the ESMAE, in PORTO. Participated in some international projects Exchange – Breathe (Turkey, 2015); Say it Loud (Germany, 2017); Sometimes Je Ne Sais Pas Cómo Hablarte (Spain, 2017), Corps Intime, Corps Politique (France, 2018), Mr&Mrs Lover (Netherlands, 2018), Migr’art (Poland, 2019). Declaims recurrently in the Poemacto initiative and, in this same context, is part of the poetic anthology “Bicho Mudo Viro Bicho” as a poet and illustrator; Winner of Poetry Slam Amadora 21′ and 22′ and Slam Trafaria 21′.
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She currently works as an actress in the show “O Público” staged by Karas from the company Ninho de Víboras, she is a director and actress of the projects “!REGA GERAL” and “Nu Geral”, teacher of Theater and Dramatic Expression, curator of the collective exhibition A Arte de Nos Virmos about the female orgasm and sexuality and poet in the Mbuki-Mvuki musical project.
Text in original language



É mês de parada

Mês de orgulho

De corpo manifesto.


É mês de ficar parada

Choro em soluço

De grande retrocesso.


Beijei uma mulher

Virei pornografia ao vivo

Com aplausos, piropos e assobios

Beijei uma mulher

Num meio segundo esquivo

Para fugir ao assédio disfarçado de elogio

Beijei uma mulher

Disseram que era pecado

Que podia ser curado

Beijei uma mulher

Perguntaram o porquê

“Se também gostas de homens

Para quê complicar?”

Beijei uma mulher

Tentei só ser eu

Mas as palavras consomem

E doem

Mesmo que tente ignorar









Quis ser quem sou








A Luta é





Propícia a



Pois ainda há muita gente que não sai do armário

Porque o contrário é depressão

Sociedade vira Exclusão

Família é agora Expulsão

Escola passa a rejeição

Trabalho passa a demissão

Contrato só em Rescisão

Casamento diz-se proibição

E adoção traduz se em negação à sua legalização


E para muitos ainda há prisão

E Condenação

À Execução

Homicídios e mil tipos de agressão

Suicídios por falta de compreensão

Com o motivo: Orientação

Por isso não

Não é mês de arraial, parada e celebração.

Eu sou uma privilegiada

Porque há sempre metade de mim que não é renegada nem julgada.


Namoro com um homem com quem posso vir a ser casada

Não importa se por uma mulher estive apaixonada.

“Cala-te e está calada!”

Até o Goucha chora.

E quem veio embora

dos seus países

À procura de liberdade,

Procuram agora ser felizes

Numa outra cidade

Porque mais tarde

Quem sabe

Que será de nós aqui

Se isto der para o torto.

Se ainda há tanta gente que pensa

Que mais valia morto

Do que gay.

E eu sei. Causa desconforto.

A violência por desporto.


Mas desligas a televisão

Porque faz-te confusão

E no dia da eleição

A fila é longa e faz um calorão.


Não assistas

Nem desistas

Não aceites

Nem nos rejeites

Não é uma discussão sobre orientação sexual

É a luta por uma legislação menos desigual

Para salvar a nossa saúde física e mental

Porque eu existo. E insisto.


É mês de orgulho

E eu luto


E resisto!



Maria Caetano Vilalobos

Text in english version


It’s month of pride,



It’s month of staying still,

Crying and sobbing,

Regression and setback.

I kissed a woman

And I felt I was doing live pornography

With applauses, hoots, and whistles

I kissed a woman

In an elusive half second

To escape harassment disguised as a compliment

 I kissed a woman

They said it was a sin

That could be cured

I kissed a woman

They asked why

“If you like men too

Why to complicate? “

I kissed a woman

I just tried to be me

But words consume

And they hurt

Even if you try to ignore it







What a waste.

I wanted to be who I am

But then there is






The fight is




But propitious to


Because there are still a lot of people who don’t come out of the closet

Because the opposite is depression

Society turns to Exclusion

Family is now Expulsion

School equals to rejection

Work is now dismissal

Contracslts become termination

Marriage is prohibition

And adoption is translated into denial of its legalization.

And for many there is still prison

And Conviction


Homicides and a thousand types of aggression

Suicides due to lack of understanding

With the reason: Orientation

That’s why

It’s not a month of parade and celebration

I’m a privileged

Cause there’s always half of me that’s neither condemned nor judged.

I’m dating a man whom I can be married to

It doesn’t matter if I was in love with a woman

“Shut up and be quiet! “

Even Goucha** cries

And who came

From their countries

Searching for freedom

Now seek to be happy

In another city

Because who knows


What will become of us here

If this goes wrong.

If there are still so many people who think it’s better to be dead

Then gay.

Yeah, I know. It causes discomfort

Violence by sport.

But you turn off the television

Because you prefer not to look

And on the election day

The queue is long, and it gets so hot outside…

Don’t just watch

Don’t give up

Don’t accept it

Don’t reject us

It’s not a discussion about Sexual orientation

It’s a fight for less unequal legislation

For saving our physical and mental health

Because I exist.

And I insist:

It’s pride month

So I fight

I love

And resist!



(* Fufa is a Portuguese slang word as butch to describe lesbian, **Goucha is a very popular LGBTQI+ TV Show host in Portugal.)



Maria Caetano Vilalobos

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