Mudlark Flash No. 4 (1999)
Kosova: The Ghost Towns
Another Thursday, and my boss has placed yellow flowers on my desk. I was surprised. It felt soothing for a moment, as his words came from his office, "For peace," he said. Then he handed me an envelope from his two boys, nine and three years old. "Here, they send all their savings," he said. "For your children in Kosova. They care." I took the envelope with gratitude and sadness. My children of Kosova, I whispered, who never were beggars. My children of Kosova now need every little helping hand. Oh! How grateful I am for little hands that are reaching out to touch my frightened little children of Kosova.
It's late and my street in New Jersey is empty. The houses have happy faces on my street where comfort smiles through windows of different shapes and sizes. Behind the doors people are resting from the long day of work. I walk slowly looking at these houses, trying to see happy people inside. The sky is filled with stars. I walk slowly trying not to think. Why think? I am numb, I don't feel. My heavy legs drag as if they were of metal. I continue walking toward my home.
Then the voices start pounding from the inside: screaming, crying, weeping. Faces line up one after another. Great grandparents, dead for a long time, are asking me for their graves. Mothers in panic are looking for their children. Everywhere fire, houses are burning. I want the fire to stop. I want the scream to stop. I cry.
Stars are silent. I ask them to stop the pictures, to stop the voices, to stop the cries, but the stars continue to be silent. I walk as if I am dead among the stars of my city. No house smiles back at me. No house comforts me. Am I alive? I ask myself. Is this a dream?
The darkness becomes heavy. I only have two blocks to walk but it seems endless. Nothing moves and spring is in the air. It's warm. The front yards are green. The dogs are barking. I walk and the street keeps stretching ahead of me.
The towns in Kosova come back in my heart. The streets are empty. The dead bodies lie all over the streets facing the ground. Faces with no eyes, some with no hands, no heads, no legs. Chopped to pieces. Stop it, I cry, stop it. But the cry echoes. "I want to live. I want my blood back. I want my life." The dead bodies say. I hear them, I feel them. They are there inside of me, and they ask me for their life back.
The towns have grown quiet, not a living soul anywhere. They are gone, pushed under the gun to leave. Those burned alive are nothing but smoke. I see faces of women whose eyes have turned to stone from the heavy metal rapists. Over their bodies has passed the heavy artillery. Nothing alive is left in them except shame.
"They killed my babies," I hear, "five of them, five of them all at once. Why do I have to live?" They were thirteen and under.
"They cut my friend with a chain saw," G told me. "Piece by piece. And then they raped his eleven-year-old daughter and her mother and burned them alive."
A journalist's voice echoes from a bad connection overseas. "There are two girls, ten and eleven years old. They scratch their faces, pull their hair and cry, endlessly cry. They have been raped but they don't know what that is. 'Big men with guns did something, it hurt,' they say and continue to endlessly cry."
I see the night has fallen in the towns of Kosova. No one moves. It's dark; the windows of the few houses left have sad faces. Behind them perhaps some people are hiding. Frightened eyes are looking toward the door. When will the paramilitary march in, kill, rape, and burn. No one breathes. Again from somewhere children's voices cry in unison. "I want my mother, I want my father, I want my mother."
I walk, and my hands are trembling.
I pass through the towns looking for my people. They are not there. I call them by name, and they are not there. The dead bodies hear me. They ask me to wait, because at midnight they will wake up and walk with me around the towns helping me to find my people. They will call from the graves and from the depths of the heart of the earth. They will call the names of my people and the other men with guns and tanks and masked faces. They will be frightened by the sound of my dead people, and will flee because they cannot carry them in their souls. They always run away after killing, blaming the others. They will flee like wet mice who haven't had enough of eating human flesh, and they will watch my dead people dancing in the middle of the ghost towns. Dancing and singing their songs and calling the names of my people. They will see how strong they are and run away.
Nothing moves in the ghost towns of Kosova; nothing is left there. No pictures of the days when the towns were filled with happy voices of children who knew how to dance and sing. No books left to hear the stories of our grandparents, who taught us how to keep our words of honor and endlessly give to our friends. No clothes with rainbow colors that made our women beautiful like the spring time. No smell of the home made bread that gathered us together to rejoice and celebrate our love. Nothing but smoke, cold and darkness filled with chilling voices of the crying children.
Kosova, my land known for its suffering, a place misused as a cradle of all troubles, was once a place of tradition and my dreams. A place where the mountains reached to the sky and the song of a shepherd echoed all the way down to the towns filled with joy. A place of wild rivers running through the land with the sound of music.
Kosova, once was the most beautiful place on earth, with its fields of red flowers and smiling faces of the people, who used every moment to celebrate life. Children were happy during the summers and winters. Their laughter filled the narrow streets of the cities and people seemed strong. Each house then had a character, a face, and a secret to tell. Each house was filled with people who gathered every evening to tell stories and to dream about the next day, not wondering far beyond their world. The cities were small with brick houses, and each city was known for something special.
Peja, my hometown, was known for strong individuality. For the parties and excitement, and for the bread with grilled sausage at breakfast. Or for the girls singing during the celebration of the spring season.
Gjakova was famous for its weddings and their brides, merchants and intellectuals. Gjakova with ancient cobblestone streets offered a hideaway in another world, so different from other cities, a mysterious world.
Prizren, an antique city, was known for style and afternoon tea, kindness and hospitality, rising like a fortress in the midst of Kosova.
Mitrovica, the city of love, was known for its unity, hospitality and sharing.
Prishtina, was a center for the youth where the university spread its wings to the happy students who learned how to challenge life and build their future. Prishtina was a city filled with theaters, movies and performance places for entertainment. As Kosova grew bigger and bigger, so did my people, so did my people. And many other cities, smaller than those I mentioned above, grew together with their people, holding life for them for decades.
I finally reached my home. It is empty, as if no one alive lives there anymore. I asked the stars tonight as I walked, where are my towns of Kosova. Silence. No answer was heard. I wonder, do stars come out still in Kosova or they have killed them too?
The City of Dreams
The doors, heavy
Suddenly a sound of carriages
A woman in red
The doors made of bones
She walked around the walls
Not a sound was heard
Editor's Note: Some of the ghost towns of Kosova have different Serbian names in the news than they do in Shqipe Malushi's Albanian poem. 'Peja' in Alabanian is called 'Pec' in Serbian. It is Malushi's hometown and has been both 'cleansed' and burned. 'Gjakova' in the poem is 'Djakovica' in the news; the civilian convoys were 'hit' there. The other ghost towns that Malushi mentions have the same names in Albanian and Serbian.