Nenad VELICKOVIC - Green Surduk
Zöld Szurduk

How My Grandfather's Uncle Died

It happened in 1946. One morning my grandfather Jefto came to the village that bore our family name, Surduk. Standing in a jeep with a five-pointed star on the hood, dressed in high leather boots and a long Russian uniform overcoat, he drove a circle around the watering place in the middle of the village and then entered our yard and commanded the driver to park in the shadow of the old walnut-tree.
     Nobody came out to greet him. He had to honk the horn three times to get his father Uros - my grand-grandfather - to come to the threshold. Uros wiped his doughnut-greased beard with the sleeve of his robe and looked at his son with scorn.
     I've come for the pigs, grandfather Jefto said without leaving the jeep.
     I have none, grand-grandfather Uros retorted without leaving the porch.
     You have them. I know you do.
     I don't. I gave my son, but I won't give pigs!
     You won't? You son of a bitch!
     The moment that my grandfather called my grand-grandfather a son of a bitch, my grandfather's sister Jefta emerged from between the robe and the door-post and called his brother a son of a bitch who should burn in hell with his Party and his Stalin. The next moment grand-grandmother Jovanka, my grandfather's mother, came running out of the cellar and landed a pumpkin on Jefta's head, screaming that she was not a bitch and did not want to have anything to do with Stalin.
     Grand-grandmother Jovanka had left the cellar door open when she ran out and pigs now rushed into the yard, with grand- grand- grandfather Jefto following. He swung a club at his daughter-in-law Jovanka and squeaked:

       What have you done with the pumpkin, you fool, what shall we make a pie of now!?
     Grandfather's sister Jefta had in the meantime taken the pumpkin off her head and was screaming to her father that he had married a hag and so they had a priest's wife as a patriarch in their home. Pumpkin seeds flew out of her mouth while she hollered.
     Pigs were squeaking, chickens were fluttering madly around the yard like bats, and the dog was raving and pulling his chain. One pig climbed the porch and headed toward the door. My grand-grand- grandmother used a pot of doughnut dough to block the pig's way.
     My grandfather had fallen silent when he heard the curse with Comrade Stalin's name in it. Eventually he recovered from the shock and fired three shots in the air to calm everyone down, only to see his uncle falling from the walnut-tree above onto the jeep and hitting the five-pointed star. He had not been shot, but the fall was heavy and he broke his neck.
     Later on my grandfather built a memorial watering place on the spot where the jeep had been parked.

How My Uncle Died

Fifty years later, around Christmas, grandfather Jefto drove into the yard again. He was wearing a Russian overcoat again, but this time he was driving a Land rover without a five-winged star on the hood. He parked by the memorial watering place, in the shadow of the old walnut-tree, got out of the car and called Uros, his oldest son. Grandfather had four sons: the youngest was a refugee in Denmark with my mother and me, the next two had died shooting at each other in Sarajevo, and in order to protect his oldest grandfather Jefto had put on his Russian overcoat and leather boots again. Grandfather Jefto became a soldier in order to let his son Uros remain a surveyor.
     Uros the Surveyor came to the porch wiping yoghurt off his moustache with his sleeve. His father was knocking the memorial watering place down with a hammer.
     Get packing, son! We're moving! They sold us in Dayton.
     Grandchildren took the tractor out of the barn and hooked on it three trailers named after grandfather's three sons, forming something like a short train. Meanwhile, grandfather Jefto was showing uncle Uros a map of Bosnia divided by colored markers into a blue and a yellow part. The village of Surduk was on the very line between the two parts and neither blue not yellow. It was actually green.
     A grandchild ran the tractor over the memorial watering place, which was greeted by an aferim (turc. bravo) from the grandfather who then proceeded to oversee the lading of the marble fireplace onto the trailer, the removing of roof tiles, and the chopping down of the old walnut-tree. It was then time to take care of the graveyard. My widowed aunt wanted Lazar exhumed and taken along, so grandfather had to admit the truth: Lazar had been hit by a tank shell on belt decoration, and only the knitted slippers with cockades on them and the woollen cap with holes for the eyes had been buried. They eventually worked out a compromise: A few nice headstones were pulled out as seeds for the new graveyard, in the new Surduk, wherever they would raise it.
     Once the marble was on the trailers, the trailers and the tractor sank into the mud that had formed around the shattered memorial watering place. Afraid that the things on the trailers might catch on fire, grandfather did not want the old house doused with petrol from whiskey barrels. However, the other three houses, together with barns, garages, and workshops, burned for two days and three nights. On the third day grandfather Jefto returned from the town, where he had gone to get a bulldozer that would haul the tractor out of the mud, smash the homes, and rout up the road out of the village after them. Instead on a bulldozer, he came in a white European Community car with twelve stars on its hood. Before the Surveyor he spread a map more minute than the previous one.
     On that map the village of Surduk was no longer green. It was a Serbian village, just as it had been since ancient times. Uncle Uros looked at the map and then at the burned and devastated village around him, sat on the stump of the old walnut-tree, turned green and rolled over into the mud.

Translated by ZILAHY Péter

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