prose

Enver Krivac: The Waiting Room

It’s hard to pigeon-hole Enver Krivac, the multidisciplinary artist whose unique artistic vision and expression have garnered him critical acclaim across several disciplines. Born in Rijeka in 1979, Krivac splits his time between writing fiction, composing and producing music for both theater productions as well as for the musical collective he belongs to, Japanski Premijeri (The Japanese Prime Ministers), and drawing comic strips. His collection of short stories, Ništa za pisati kući o (2013) (Nothing to Write Home About), won the national Prozak award, which honors talented young authors. His writing style has been described by critics as playful and imaginative. (Krmpotić, Marinko, “Ništa za pisati kući o: Vedrija i tamnija strana života”, novilist.hr, 28.8.2016). His short story, Čekaonica (The Waiting Room), is a surreal meditation on the experience of the doctor’s waiting room, a world one involuntarily enters and dedicates ample time to when participating in the public health system. The story is part poetry, part keen and often humorous observation, all seen through the eyes of a seasoned artist whose original perspective jolts the reader from the banality of everyday experiences into the realm of the extraordinary.

Read Krivac’s short story, The Waiting Room, below.
Translation by Martin Mayhew.



 

This is the waiting room.

When it stops ringing for someone, it starts ringing for someone else. It rings for everyone.

The ringtone of a lady across the hall, her prettiness hidden somewhere beneath the irresponsible weight, is a Dalmatian chanson. The melody pretends to be Mediterranean, but it is, in fact, Turkish. But Turkey is also the Mediterranean. Yes, yes, it is, says the man sitting next to me, and the following half an hour of an altogether four and a half hours of waiting is spent on discussions about the sultanate. Fuck Turkey, diachronically and otherwise. I cheer on the inside because I share these Turkey-thoughts with him. It rings again and there’s one less.

I’m only going to see the nurse. I’m the last one in the queue. No, we’re here to visit the other doctor. I’m only here for my test results.

An old gentleman in a light blue Polo shirt and a cheap pair of trainers has a ringtone of the William Tell overture in an 8-bit version. It takes him a long time to find his phone in a tiny man-purse, so the overture plays the whole intro and reaches the equestrian theme celebrated by animated shorts about a cat and a mouse. Sleazy dance hits, songs right out of amusement parks. The phones are playing. Around the corner – more phones are playing, the sounds of messages incoming. You can hear the sighs, phased passive-aggressive exhalations, demands for recognition. I am here, I exist, I’m waiting. I wait, therefore I am.

The waiting room is dominated by perms. The smell of chewing gum stuck to someone’s rubber sole. A combo strike of two different gums odouring together. People cover their faces with palms and huff. Cheerio, matey, and get well soon, son! Who’s last in the queue? Kindness has become so rare it is easily mistaken for flirting.

A lady in a flowery sleeveless shirt which is also a dress cools herself off with a ring binder filled with test results, her recent medical history. She cools herself with her own diseases. Medical history is written by medical winners. People here wear spots, stars, baby swastikas, smileys and frownies, they are stamped and resigned, upset, impatient, they shake their heads, stare at each other, silent, fat-chewing, shit-eating, champing and slurping for they eat their shit with a spoon.

I understand you completely, ma’am, I’m almost a doctor, practically. I mean, I was in a first aid team.

A nun is being allowed to jump the queue and she stays inside for 45 minutes. The initially delighted cross bearers are now nervous and lip-smacking. The nun finally comes out. She has prescriptions for vaginal suppositories for herself and all of her lady colleagues. Tonight she will sleep in peace, just like God during the Holocaust. Expectation is resentment waiting to happen.

Guys who walk around during the summer in exceptionally multi-coloured shirts, their junk dangling in khakis. Flip-flop abominations on their feet. Is your life a constant beach party? That’s the kind of music your phones are blaring out, appropriate only for beach parties. On the waiting room table there are seven-year-old magazines, brochures about Adriatic islands and autoimmune lung diseases.

An elderly woman in a crocheted dress too thick for summer, emphasizing her body. I scrutinize her, she’s maybe a couple of years older than me. I keep forgetting I’m not so young anymore. Behind every good-looking prominent woman from a marketing agency there are at least three fat ones with thyroid problems who are doing her job. I’m only here for my thyroid. I’m only here for new bandages. I’m only here for dying. Oh, alright then, go, go.

An alarm buzzes above the doors to various consultation rooms. No, it didn’t buzz over here, it buzzed over there, at another doctor’s. And I thought it buzzed over here. Good day, here for the nurse. Who’s last in the queue? I only need a confirmation for a driver’s license. I only need my stitches removed. I only need a second head removal, it grows on my foot, it keeps talking me into killing my husband, I can’t listen to it anymore, I need an operation. I just need my life back. I just I just. This lady here and I only need to see the nurse, the rest of the gang needs to see the doctor. We only need test results. We only need new bandages. We only need cold fusion. We’re only in it for the money. I’m the first one in the queue, I came at eleven. They are not slow by default, they’re only restrained by the government. They’re not slow by default, it’s the computer that has broken down. And those computers… We never had any computers before and it all worked perfectly. Who’s last in the queue? We’re only here for prescriptions.

We’re only here to certify the inscription on a tombstone. Please, if mine could just read: Excuse me. Just that. Excuse me. With a beautiful fluted font and serifs made of moss, please and thank you, just write: Excuse me.

My body doesn’t recognize the difference between me just thinking of something or me actually experiencing something, says the twenty-fifth lady in the queue. I’m causing myself physical reactions by imagining scenarios in my head. The nails on her feet look like something that is sent in an envelope together with a ransom note.

People cool themselves with their health cards, even though they are too small to produce any significant flow of air. They talk mostly about politics. Uninformed buffoons on a perennial autofellatic shindig. A lady addresses me: There will be no progress until you youngsters are included in politics. I answer her: Between me and the active inclusion in politics stands a barrier made of 33 vertebrae. I merely tolerate the state, just like you do with a bully on a public bus, you don’t stand up to him, you just wait for his stop or yours, you sit and weather out his tantrums and idiocy. The catch is – this bully never leaves the bus. He is the driver.

And you are a writer? Yep, I’m currently writing the biography of an ex-junkie who became a hay baler and then went back on heroin again because he found a needle in a haystack. Nervous strolls, the sound of flip-flops dragging over tiles.

They’re having their lunch break right now, when it’s my turn to go in – proclaims the man sitting next to me. It’s all fight or flight, fight or flight, he explains. Then he talks about coffee and how you have to let it settle, let it rest a bit after it boils. You can drink it only after cracks appear on the surface. Just like an icebreaker – a coffeebreaker has crossed the surface of the pot and left an even darker trail in the dark foam. In another time and another place, this man would be called a prophet.

He speaks of his worldwide travels and adventures and how he, once in Tibet, smoked a pipe made from a human femur. Wild, dude, wild. On his face the fatigue of a yachtsman, a combination of exhaustion and consecration.

People over 40 mostly share data about their chronic illnesses. I’m only here to see the nurse. I’m only here for some wet chocolate. I’m only here for my mixed anxiety-depressive disorder. I’m only here for my level three precancerous condition. I’m only here for juvenoia, a fear of young people and their culture. I’m only here for this axe in my head, an after effect of a minor family quarrel. I’m only here for new bandages.

A child runs through the waiting room with pixels on his face, just like those who hide themselves digitally in TV interviews. His mother informs us: it’s a witness protection disease.

When will it stop hurting like this, one asks another. Another answers: It hurts until it stops. I have to make an appointment, but you know how it is around here, it’s better to go to a private doctor. They also give false diagnoses that will consume the next few months of your life, but they at least treat you like a human.

After a whole day of life in a waiting room, the doctor asks me: And what’s wrong with you? Nothing, I reply. There’s nothing wrong with me and I don’t feel a thing. I don’t feel a goddamned single thing. All of my idols are dead and my enemies have formed a government.

Go to sleep earlier, look at yourself, she tells me. I answer: Those of us who go to sleep so very very late, we welcome the new day before everyone else. The first days of seasons, birthdays, anniversaries, new freakin’ years. We are before everyone. The night’s watch, the avant-garde, the silent reconnaissance of the near future.

She stares at me and keeps quiet. This day is lost for the both of us, anyway. A noisy scooter passes outside her office.

By Enver Krivac

Translated by Martin Mayhew

 

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