Since leaving Travnik and Enesa, I was troubled by phantoms, flies my especial tormentors. I felt them settle on me as I tried to sleep; I sensed their movement on the periphery of my vision. When her Uncle Dekek brought out a bottle of plum brandy to offer his hospitality, an abandoned wing floated round and round on the surface of the pale ginger-colored liquid. No one else seemed to notice. I said nothing as the living drank their toast to the dead, but I could taste it.
After our adventures in Novi Sad, after the boxcar journey, the hatchet blows and the death of Tulipan Sava; after the fiascos and Louis’ heroics, Richard and I visited Dekek Marić’s home in Tuzla as we made our way out of his country for good. We stopped to pay our respects, not the smartest move, but I think the family appreciated it. The slightest of gestures, the smallest, just a speck. Dekek Marić loved his brother, adored his niece, and at one point during our conversation, he buried his head in his hands and wept. I turned my head and looked out the window, pulling aimlessly on the brace that still encircled my right forearm; spring was pushing upward, coming back, no matter the judgments passed on the human race. I was suffused with an unspecified guilt, and did not have it in me to comfort him.
The sun set, and we were prevailed upon to stay for dinner and spend the night; it was too dangerous to move around after dark. In the overheated living room, Uncle Dekek insisted as well on playing the piano for us; it was all too much to suffer through. He wanted us to hear Enesa and her father’s favorite pieces. He wanted to give us something of them. The roaring fire, unnecessary in this mild weather, the aftereffects of the suspect Rakia, fatigue, dehydration, combined with the torturing of Chopin, produced at once a lethargy of body and a nervousness of mind, the anxiety escalating with each pump of the piano pedal until I thought I would succumb, give in to the panic, and run out of the room screaming, the notes taking wing and swarming after me. Finally, we were released from his tribute and allowed to retire.
I couldn’t remember putting my head down on the pillow, but woke up in middle of the night to drifts of Chopin ebbing in and out of my consciousness. I sat up and with difficulty pulled the heavy quilt off me. Three o’clock in the morning and the man was still at it? How could such a thing be possible? I got out of bed and opened the door to investigate. I found myself not in the hallway I had stumbled through on my way to bed a few hours ago, but in the smoky, rubbled passageway outside Enesa’s old bedroom, yellow light streaming through her open door and the strains of nocturnes ruffling the air. I stood there as I had done what seemed a thousand years ago, but this time there was no hesitation. Grasping the door jamb with both hands, I closed my eyes, leaned in, then opened them.
There was Uncle Dekek, playing in the corner, but playing not as before, playing beautifully, his back to me, a dark-suited figure hunched over the keys like a crow. Enesa still at her desk. Her dirt farmer stood next to her slumped body. He lifted her out of her chair and took her in his arms. She was roused by his touch and he placed her lightly on her feet; she walked around behind him, running her hand over his shoulders. She faced him, and pressed her hand against his cheek. They danced together, swaying back and forth, Enesa never breaking her gaze into her lover’s eyes, her arms round his sunburned neck. Dancing unconstrained, sweet and free.
She left his embrace and glided out to the hallway and turned to look at me. I reached out a hand for her, but she shook her head and smiled at me, turned and ran into the darkness. The dead are never truly gone until they return, one last time, to tell us that it is all right, to force acceptance. I turned back to look into the room again—it was empty now, the setting sun, glaring through the window brighter and brighter and brighter, as it did the day of her death, until I opened my eyes, the brightness giving way to the whiteness of the ceiling above my head. All was silent except the twittering of birds in the early morning distance. A tear left the corner of my eye and ran down my cheek to fall into my ear, tickling it. I blotted my face on the lace of the pillow, looking toward my bedroom door. Heavy footsteps sounded on the stairs, then knocking on the door. Time to get up. Time to go . . . somehow. To Budapest. Then home.