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Rumena Bužarovska: I don't want to eat

Rumena Bužarovska (Skopje, Macedonia, 1981) is one of 10 New Voices from Europe 2016, selected by Literary Europe Live, and one of the most popular translated authors in Croatia. Bužarovska is the author of three short story collections – Čkrtki (Scribbles, Ili-ili, 2007), Osmica (Wisdom Tooth, Blesok, 2010) and Mojot maž (My Husband, Blesok, 2014; Ili-ili, 2015). She is a literary translator from English into Macedonian and her translations include Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass), J.M. Coetzee (The Life and Times of Michael K), Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) and Richard Gwyn (The Colour of a Dog Running Away). She is Assistant Professor of American Literature at the State University of Skopje in the Republic of Macedonia.



 

I DON'T WANT TO EAT

 

 ‘I can’t eat anymore,’ Borče whined, and with the last of his strength tried to force down another bite of the fried sausage in his omelette.

   ‘There’s no “can’t anymore” – you can. You’ll finish eating what’s in your plate and that’s final,’ his father insisted, chewing on a sausage himself.

   ‘I’m going to burst, dad!’ complained Borče, grabbing hold of his bulging little belly.

   ‘Come on, son, just a bit more,’ urged his mother, who had already consumed her own omelette, and was now tucking into some buttered bread with jam, regarding it as a morning dessert.

   Ivo, Borče’s younger brother, whose gaze wandered right and left the whole time, absentmindedly banged a butter knife against his plate. In it lay a half-eaten piece of bread with chocolate spread. He saw his brother’s whining and defiance as an opportunity for himself to defy his parents.

   ‘I want some water!’ he cried out suddenly in a piercing voice, letting his parents know that he was no longer hungry.

   ‘First, you’ll finish eating your bread and drink your milk. You’ve hardly eaten a thing – just half a piece of bread!’ his mother was visibly upset. She swatted at a few wasps that were aiming precisely for the uneaten sausage in Borče’s plate. The fat under her arm wiggled and glistened with sweat in the morning sunlight.

 

   ‘Ivo,’ his father began, pausing to burp, ‘if you don’t finish your bread, you won’t be allowed to go swimming today.’

   ‘You’ll be hungry later on but there won’t be any food until tonight, so eat up now!’ his mother weighed in. In fact, each morning, unbeknownst to the waiters who were busy clearing all the tables, and just like all the other mothers who were there with their own families, she would make a few sandwiches and stash them in her bag to take to the beach. The hotel deal entitled them to a complimentary breakfast and dinner only. They had to organise their own lunch. But the small Adriatic island was expensive, and the restaurants near the hotel – even more so. Sandwiches, together with a few packets of chips or chocolate, would come in handy when they felt peckish later.

 

 

   ‘But I dooon’t want to eeeat,’ Ivo squealed loudly, scraping his knife over the chocolate cream on his bread.

   ‘I’m not interested in whether you do or don’t want to,’ said his father, sinking his teeth into his piece of buttered bread, and smearing his nose with jam at the same time. ‘There’s no getting up from the table before you’ve eaten your bread. And Borče, you finish eating your sausage,’ he ordered his other son.

   All four members of the family resembled one another: dark hair, milky complexion, brown eyes and thick eyebrows. Both parents were plump and soft, with big backsides and bulging stomachs. Borče had slowly started to look like them since he had also developed a small belly, child boobs and a bigger bum. That happened last summer, after he finished second grade, when his grandmother started inviting him over for breakfast to eat crackling with polenta. Before that he was lithe and stringy, like his brother Ivo.

 

   ‘I don’t want to eeeat,’ repeated Ivo, hacking at the chocolate cream on his bread. He didn’t want to give in.

   ‘Come on darling, just a bit more! Eat up your nourishing food,’ his mother said to him, putting on lipstick. ‘Eat so that you can be strong,’ she coaxed him. ‘Look how your friend over there is eating!’ 

   Ivo glanced over at the chubby girl in a pink dress. She was running around the next table where her parents were sitting. She had begun to develop knock knees because of her weight. It appeared as if she even had breasts, although she was no more than eight. She was running around, pretending to be a fairy probably, imagining that she was flitting about, with a knife in her hand like a wand. Each time she ran past her mother, she stood still long enough for her mother to shove another piece of bread with cheese and butter into her mouth.

 

   At the same time, yet another family argument wafted over from the restaurant terrace in which the parents were forcing their children to eat. In this case all four members of the family were skinny/thin/lean. The quarrel reached the ears of Borče and Ivo.

   ‘Ognen! Where are you going?’ screeched the mother of a five-year-old boy who stood up suddenly from his chair and proceeded to leisurely stroll towards the closed part of the restaurant. ‘Come back at once and finish eating!’ she shouted after him, but he paid no attention to her. 

   ‘Sandra – you’re to blame for his behaviour!’ said the mother annoyed, turning to Ognen’s older sister. ‘You taught him to roam off around the restaurant without permission.’

   ‘I didn’t teach him anything,’ Sandra said wistfully, attempting to defend herself. But it had no effect on her mother, who at that moment caught sight of Ognen, absentmindedly staring into space and speaking to himself as he returned to their table.

   She grabbed him by the elbow and dragged him to the chair. Through clenched teeth she said: ‘Where are you marching off to without asking? Without finishing your food? You’re to eat everything that’s in front of you! Is that understood?’

   Ognen immediately began to squeal.

   ‘I don’t want to eat! Let me go-o-o!’ he screamed.

   ‘Now, that’s enough,’ Ognen’s father intervened. He grabbed the sobbing boy and took him away from the terrace. Borče and Ivo’s parents followed the pair with their eyes, and when they no longer had them in sight, they just looked at one another and shrugged their shoulders. Ognen’s howls, although somewhat subdued, could still be heard from somewhere behind the terrace.

   Encouraged by Ognen’s bawling, Ivo also broke out into tears over his uneaten bread with chocolate spread.

   ‘I can’t eat anymo-o-ore,’ he wept plaintively.

   ‘Eat first, then you can get up,’ his father said decisively and looked out to sea. ‘We’ll wait for you by the pool. You’re not to leave the table until you’ve eaten your bread,’ he said and gestured to his wife and Borče to get up and follow him.

   Ivo remained seated, whimpering. With his little fingers he took up the piece of bread and brought it close to his lips. He hardly took a bite and began to egg himself on:

   ‘Go on, swallow it! If you can’t, then shove it down with some milk.’

   Ivo’s parents went past Ognen’s father, who was carrying the red-faced boy in his arms. Ognen’s mother was waiting at the table, nervously chewing on something. The sister was staring at her (own) lap.

   ‘Listen here,’ she said to her husband when he approached. ‘Ognen has to listen to me. If I tell him that he has to ask my permission to leave the table, then he’ll ask me. Is that understood? And in future, don’t you dare undermine my authority!’

 

   The father just lit a cigarette and blew the smoke at a wasp, which had spotted a piece of salami on the table cloth. After that he looked over at the family that sat at the same table every day, near the entrance to the restaurant. Mother, father and son: all three of whom were obese. Even though they had dark complexions and dark hair, all three had clear blue eyes. Each day they sat and ate in thoughtful silence, hardly speaking at all. The son, who was certainly no more than ten years old, was so big that when he finally managed to sit down on the seat, the armrests stuck into his thighs. Their tubby cheeks and double chins gave their faces a good-natured expression. That morning, they were all wearing red t-shirts, and from a distance they looked like giant ladybugs. 

   Every day after breakfast, most of the hotel guests gathered around the hotel pool, where they stretched out on sunbeds and baked in the hot sun. They lay on their fronts with their flabby bottoms bulging out of skimpy bathing suits, turning as red as lobsters. Some read magazines, some daydreamed, while others played with their children, who were throwing each other into the pool. Later on in the day, two Italian women/ would come down to the pool and strip off into their white see-through bikinis that revealed their nipples and their private parts. Then, some of the husbands would suddenly put their sunbeds in an upright position, while others would suck in their bellies and start walking around the pool like roosters, showing their children how to swim or how to dive into the pool. After a while, the wives would lead their families off to the hotel terrace, which looked out onto the port. But the children were reluctant to leave, and so the mothers would try to convince them by saying that the water was too cold and that they would catch cold. Or that they might split their head open by diving into the pool the wrong way.

   The children didn’t like the beach – apart from when there were waves. The fact was that they couldn’t jump into the sea from a diving board and that they just didn’t feel safe in that huge expanse. Many times they would peer down into it with diving goggles and would be terrified of the weeds and small creatures crawling along the bottom of the sea. Although he was only young, Ognen had seen a program on television about sharks and was deathly afraid that he would be eaten by one. He even succeeded in scaring all the other kids. Those who weren’t able to understand him, because they didn’t speak his language, just thought that all the kids were afraid of something big and dangerous that was in the water. So they too decided not to go into it alike. Instead, all the kids gathered in the empty parking lot behind the terrace, from where their parents could easily keep an eye on them.

   The girls immediately thought up games to play with their mothers’ scarves. They wrapped themselves up in them, draped them over their shoulders, imagining themselves to be princesses and fairies. Besides the chubby fairy in pink and Sandra, there were two other girls. They were dark, bony sisters from Croatia with long plaits. There were a total of six boys: the brothers Borče and Ivo; five-year-old Ognen; Gogo, the boy from the obese family; a fair-haired German boy, whose parents would mysteriously disappear around noon and not reappear until mid-afternoon; and a spotty English boy with an angry expression on his face, whose parents mostly sat on the terrace drinking gin and tonic, or else they lay on the beach near the port. The boys would splash each other with water, and kick a ball around, otherwise they would lie on the beach and play games on their parents’ mobile phones. When they grew bored of all that, they’d get together with the girls. That day they decided to play hide and seek, but when they realised that there weren’t enough places where they could hide, they started playing tag. 

 

   After drawing lots, the first one to be ‘it’ was the fair-haired German boy. It took him less than ten seconds to catch Gogo, the slowest and chubbiest boy among them. Gogo’s red t-shirt and swimming trunks in the same colour just made him even more conspicuous. No more than a minute after Gogo started chasing the others, two dark stains appeared under his arms. Beads of sweat soon began to run down his neck and across his back. He was drenched in sweat and his t-shirt stuck to his back. Gogo ran with big, clumsy steps. Thump . . . thump . . . thump. His feet pounded the ground with each step. Beads of sweat rolled down his face, off the tip of his nose and across the line of bum-fluff on his upper lip. The children ran around him in circles laughing. He wasn’t able to run more than a few steps without getting tired and slowing down.

 

 

   The first one to make fun of him was Ivo. He went up to Gogo from behind, while he was resting on his knees, trying to catch his breath. Ivo pinched his forearm and ran off. Gogo made a dash for him, but he couldn’t catch him and nearly fell over. The next one was the small English boy, who pinched Gogo’s right leg. Just as Gogo set off after him, behind him the German boy yanked at Gogo’s swimming trunks, which had climbed up his bum as he’d been running. Gogo turned even redder and tried to catch the German boy. All the other kids snorted mirthfully. Even though they themselves were now just stumbling around from laughing so much, Gogo could still not catch a single one of them. He couldn’t even catch Borče or the chubby fairy, even though they were the slowest and most ponderous. When even these two burst out laughing, Gogo made it very clear that he would not be chasing anyone any more. He was so puffed out that he sat down in the middle of the parking lot, completely exhausted, and started to wipe the sweat off his face, breathing loudly through his open mouth.

   One of the kids egged him on to get up, but he just silently waved them off with his hand, trying to catch his breath. It was obvious that he was feeling nauseous. The kids immediately went quiet because they were no longer interested in making Gogo chase after them. After a while, he got up awkwardly, and without a word, took off towards the beach. There, under an umbrella that barely cast any shade over their feet, his mother and father were stretched out on the sand, like two beached whales, nibbling on something. As he passed by the other kids, Gogo gave off a hot musty smell. His swimming trunks were still caught in his bum. Ivo ran up to him, pulled them down and ran off again. The kids exploded into fits of loud laughter. But Gogo didn’t even turn around: he continued to steadily shuffle off in his thongs, making his way towards the calm sea.

 

   ‘Who’s going to be “it” next!’ shouted Ivo in his piercing voice after Gogo had walked off further.

   ‘I’m “it”, I’m “it”!’ cried Borče, who felt very sure of himself as Gogo hadn’t managed to catch him.

   ‘How about the fattest one is “it”!’ suggested one of the sisters.

   ‘Borče, Borče!’ said Sandra and they all laughed, except for the German boy and the English boy, who weren’t able to understand what was being said.

   This was the first time that Borče had ever heard himself being referred to as fat, and this made him very confused. He wanted to say, ‘I’m not fat,’ in his own defence, but in the next moment he realised that the others would laugh at him even more. He was aware that he’d put on some weight ever since he’d started eating crackling at his grandmother’s place, but he didn’t think of himself as being overweight. Whenever he saw himself in a mirror, he didn’t see himself like that. ‘I’m not fat,’ he said to himself and began to feel his self-confidence return.

   ‘I’m not going to be “it”. Let’s toss for it instead!’ he frowned, turning down the offer with a hint of fear in his voice. Everyone laughed but took up his suggestion. It was the fair-haired German boy once again. 

   As soon as he started running around, the German boy homed in on Borče, as if he had understood all of the previous conversation. Borče managed to escape from him several times, but suddenly he began to feel a pain in his chest and a weight in his feet, and just after that he felt the German boy tugging at his shorts. ‘Borče, Borče! You’re “it”!’ someone yelled out gleefully. The other kids all laughed, even though it wasn’t clear to Borče what it was that was so funny.

 

   Before he started running after the others, Borče came up with a strategy: he would concentrate on just one of the others, chasing them until they became exhausted. Borče fixed on the chubby fairy because he saw her as much slower than all the others because of her weight. Several times he might have almost succeeded in grabbing her pink dress, if it wasn’t for someone tripping him up from behind, or if one of the two sisters hadn’t pinched his elbow.

   ‘Look, everyone! His pants have gone up his bum as well!’ called out someone and they all erupted into laughter, almost falling over each other from all the running around. Borče’s belly and his chest shook lightly each time his foot hit the ground. His forehead beaded up with sweat and his throat became parched. He began to pant loudly.

   ‘Run, fatty, run,’ he heard someone say from behind him.

   ‘Hey, piggy, over here – here I am! Run, catch me!’ he heard on all sides, unable to tell who was speaking.

   ‘Come and get me, fatty!’ yelled the English boy and pulled Borče’s shorts down.

   The chubby fairy was standing away from the others and grinning loudly, with her head held high. Borče could see the rotten teeth in her upper jaw. He stood still and a drop of sweat rolled down his nose and fell on the big toe of his left foot. A huge rage welled up within him. He felt his hands and his feet prickling and his blood boiling. In front of him, he could only see and hear the chubby fairy. He was so enraged that all he wanted to do was grab her and give her a thrashing. He had only ever experienced that kind of rage when he fought with his brother, Ivo, when he would just slip through his fingers and run off from him. He took a deep breath and ran straight towards the fairy. She wasn’t expecting Borče to attack with such fury, and her eyes widened in surprise. She was barely able to move out of his path, almost stumbling, when Borče’s fingers brushed the edge of her pink dress. But because his hands were so sweaty, the thin material just slipped out of his fingers. Just at that moment he tripped, fell on the ground and scraped his knee.

 

 

   ‘I caught her!’ Borče shouted out defensively, trying to get up. ‘You’re “it”!’ he yelled at the chubby fairy.

   ‘You didn’t catch me,’ she said in a calm voice that also feigned surprise.

   ‘What do you mean I didn’t catch you, I caught you by your dress! Don’t play dumb!’ shouted Borče, who was out of breath and angry. His cheeks were shaking from rage.

   ‘I caught her! Why are you all playing dumb!’ Borče repeated angrily and looked over at his brother, Ivo.

   Ivo didn’t say anything. He stared at the ground, then at the fair-haired German boy, who gave Borče a sign to get up and continue chasing.

 

  Borče’s chin started quivering. He could barely hold back from sobbing out loud. When he realised that his eyes were teary, he looked down at his scraped knee. There was a bit of blood on it, and so he hoped that if anyone noticed that he was crying, they would think it was because of his knee. He wanted to tell them all that it just wasn’t fair, and that he would no longer play. But he knew that if he said anything he’d burst out crying straight away. So he just walked off . . .

   The others watched as Borče slowly headed off with his shorts stuck up his bum. His buttocks rubbed against each other and swallowed his shorts. On his back there was a big round sweat stain.

 

   ‘Borče!’ someone called out.

   ‘Borče, go on, come back,’ his brother called out in an uncertain voice.

   But Borče didn’t want to go back because a tear was already rolling down his cheek. He hurried his step, hoping that no one would run after him. The gleaming sea and the setting sun were hazy before his eyes, along with a big red blob that was sitting on the beach. Borče recognised Gogo. He wiped away the tears from his eyes, swallowed a few times and went off to join him.

 

   Gogo had sat down on the wet sand, allowing the waves to lick at his feet. Borče felt quite hot, so he plonked himself down on the sand beside Gogo as well. When the small waves rolled in, they tickled and cooled the sweaty boys’ bums.

 

   Gogo was calmly eating chips, scrunching the bag. He turned to Borče and his blue eyes soaked up the rays of the orange sun.

 

   ‘Wanna chip?’ Gogo said holding out the open bag.

   ‘Yep,’ said Borče, nodding in gratitude. He took a chip and began nibbling on it slowly to make it last longer. ‘Do you have MSN?’ he asked Gogo.

   ‘Uh-huh,’ said Gogo, licking his lips and swallowing. ‘Gogospunk99. You?’

   ‘BoroSuperman001,’ said Borče, and smiled at Gogo.

   Gogo nodded and offered him the bag of chips again. This time Borče took two chips and ate the first one quickly. It was dinner time and the food being cooked wafted over to him and his stomach started rumbling loudly.

 

 

                                                                               

                                                                                       Translated by Paul Filev

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