23 years old

I’m 23 years old.
Some of my peers have already married and had a child. Most of the others share their lives with another person and are just waiting for the right moment to take the vital step. I, on the other hand, am alone. I who at family dinners always have to be asked the same question by relatives, “so are you seeing someone?”

I’m not even afflicted by a strange disease that prevents me from having relationships.
I am twenty-three years old, and I spend my life reading, preparing exams and trying to understand what I want to do when I grow up. Yes, I know I should already know what to do once I’ve finished my studies, in reality, I do nothing but change my mind every day that passes. So I use the line from the movie The Big Kahuna as an excuse:
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what to do with your life, the most interesting people I know at 22 didn’t know what to do with their life, the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

I’m one of those who, once finished the studies, would leave with a backpack to travel the world. This could be a great job, going around the world at random. Without a goal. Go explain it to parents and relatives that your dream is not to have a house, get married, have children, have a quiet life. If you just try to bring it up, you’re labelled as the strange, crazy one, the one who doesn’t know what to do with his life, the unripe one, the one who doesn’t want to work, the one who studies so much that he becomes a fool.

I’m twenty-three years old, and for now, I’ve only done a few casual jobs, to try to have some kind of independence and not become a burden for my parents. Comfortable with money, it doesn’t bring happiness but makes everyday life less burdensome. Despite this, the idea of doing the same thing five days a week for years makes me nauseous and afraid.

I am twenty-three years old, and certainties frighten me, although perhaps I would also like to have some assurance.
I am twenty-three years old, and I take refuge in novels, with the hope of finding, between the lines of Dostoevsky or Bukowski, an idea of what I can become when I grow up.
I’m twenty-three years old, and in the evening I willingly stay home and watch an episode of the television series of the moment. My idols are Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston in breaking bad) and Rustin Spencer (Matthew McConaughey in True Detective). By dint of watching TV series, my prototype woman has become Meredith Grey (starring in Grey’s Anatomy). My only interest right now is the start of the second season of Better Call Saul.

I’m twenty-three years old, and I’ve discovered that alcohol, taken in acceptable doses, can become a great life companion.
I’m twenty-three years old, I’ve known love, and I carry my wounds on my heart. We meet different people every day. Some mornings we wake up in a bed that is not our own wondering where the hell we are. Then we turn our heads and connect that this was yet another late evening ended in a bed of a stranger until a few hours before. We all had one true love, and although we do everything we can, we will find it hard to forget it.
I’m twenty-three years old, and I screwed up diets and the mirror, I realized that if there is someone who wants me, he will have to be content with who I am.

I’m twenty-three years old, and I was lucky enough to grow up with very little technology, I realize how sad the adolescence of future generations is.
Ten-year-old children wander around me with their heads already fixed on the screen and their brains wholly lost.
I’m twenty-three years old, and I’m part of the middle generation, the ones who used technology first and now try to use it sparingly. I laugh in the face of my parents’ inability to use apps, and I cry when I watch children fiddling around on the computer better than I do.

I’m twenty-three years old, a lot has changed since high school; with some old friends we don’t say greet anymore, some friends stayed, some decided to move, to go to another country. So I stop and think, my parents’ words come back to my mind…
“enjoy life, because every moment is unique and never comes back.”
I think back to all the moments I spent with my friend, who now lives thousands of miles away from me. I wonder if I enjoyed them enough if I could have seen him more often when he lived across the road if it was worth keeping his face for some nonsense he had done.
I get lost in these thoughts. Then I come to the conclusion that if I can’t wait to hear or see him, then despite those miles, friendship is still there and maybe it will be there forever. Despite the distance, despite the daily problems, despite all the friendship remains and this allows me to sleep quite calmly.

I am twenty-three years old. I don’t follow any model, I don’t want to look like anyone. I would like to leave home as soon as possible, to become independent, to do something with my life, but I don’t know what.
I’m twenty-three years old, I don’t have bright ideas, but I’m one of those with whom a simple beer at the bar on a mid-week evening can be much more interesting than you can imagine.

I’m 23 years old, and I have no desire to grow up.

Gezim Qadraku

This article was written in 2016.

Direction nowhere

First days of May, but looking at people’s clothing it seems like late autumn. You can still see scarves and woolen hats.
Today is an odious day. Unceasing rain and biting wind. The classic to spend in the living room under the blankets, eating until you can’t eat any more while watching some useless program on television.

Instead, I am in this small village in southern Germany. I arrived a couple of minutes ago and the next train is in an exact hour. I have a tour of circumspection and I realize that the station is equipped only with a library and a bar. That’s all.

I enter the bar and order an espresso. The waiter asks me if I want to drink it “at the window“. That would be the series of tables arranged with a view to the outside, the parking of the station, or in a more secluded area at the bottom of the room.

I opt for “the window“. I don’t want to miss such a view. I take my place and observe the combination of colors of the chairs and tables. Light green and brown. I like it. It gives me the idea of a split between new and old. I sip the espresso with some fear, but I am happily surprised. It’s not bad at all. Perhaps low expectations play an important role in the judgment. I take out of my backpack the book I’m reading: “The sympathizer“, the Pulitzer Prize of 2015.

I read in a language that is not my native one and live in a country where another language is spoken. I’ve gone so far as to handle four idioms with enough ease. One never knows how many goals can reach. Between one line and the next, I let myself be distracted by the people who arrive at the station. I look up more and more often and enjoy the spectacle of everyday life. I look at people and try to guess their lives. It’s an exercise I’ve been doing since I was a child.
I created stories in my mind starting from reality because it has never been enough for me. Meanwhile, a young girl, too young, running with a stroller attracts my attention. I always wonder what motivates people to have children while they are in what is undoubtedly the best age. She enters the station and disappears in a blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, a stream of teenagers enter and leave the station like ants. I look at their faces and the way they are dressed. It reminds me of the importance I gave to the appearance when I was their age and the total disinterest I felt in school. As I resume the reading I feel a man behind me ordering something speaking in Italian. He knows the waiter. The two of them exchange a couple of jokes. I like the feeling I get when I understand someone who speaks a language other than the local one and this does not have the faintest idea that there is an unknown person around who can understand it. It gives me a feeling of power and control.

I have always needed to keep everything under control. Especially when I’m in a public place I don’t know. I keep reading while I keep my headphones, but all I really do is check the situation around me. I hear a gentleman asking the waiter where the sugar is. I have it. The cashier I assume points towards me and I hear the man moving to my direction. He touches my shoulder and, almost embarrassed, asks me if he can take the sugar. I pretend to fall from the pear tree and play the part. I am one step ahead, I have always been one step ahead. Nothing catches me unprepared. It is impossible to surprise me, I always know what happens, especially if they are people I know. People have become so predictable today that there is nothing interesting about establishing relationships. You only need to go around every social profile to have an almost perfect knowledge of an individual. And then they’re all so interested and focused on themselves. No one observes or tries to understand who is around them. They are impressed when you tell them the smallest details after a short conversation and they don’t understand how you were able to understand them so clearly. It’s so easy for me, a kind of hobby I’d say.

I keep reading, along with pauses to observe people outside.
I like it. For a moment I think I could live in the stations. That wouldn’t be a bad idea since all I need to do to work is my laptop and a Wi-Fi connection. I check the clock and I realize that forty minutes have passed. In twenty minutes I have the train. In ten minutes I get off the table.

I close the book and start to think about my next destination. A town in the south-east of Germany, on the border with Austria. A new reality, new people to know and stories to tell, at least I hope. I don’t know what I could call this period of my life.
As I get up, the words of Ghemon in the song “Voci nella testa” come to mind.
A rhyme says: “direction I don’t know well“.
I modify it, I could call this precise moment of my existence “direction nowhere“.
I don’t know where I’m going, but that’s okay.

Gezim Qadraku.

Coffee time

I remember that at that time I got into this habit of writing a list of the things I wanted to do during the day.
I had read a few motivational books and everyone suggested that I should have written down my daily schedule as soon as I woke up and then, before going to bed, mark out all the activities that I had been able to do.
It gives extra motivation, they explained. When you go home and check how many things you were able to do you feel a sense of pride towards yourself. Otherwise, it is still a useful tool for understanding how to organize your day.
It was a time when I woke up really early every morning, practiced Yoga, trained before going to work and I had totally changed my diet. Habits light-years away from my past everyday life.

After meeting her, I started to leave a space between my activities for her. We met each other in the office corridors. She worked two floors above mine, but very often she had to go down. One day she needed to talk to me and it was a great excuse to take a break and have a coffee. Just the time for a short chat and that became a routine.
“Coffee?” and we met somewhere, with these pauses that began to grow longer and longer. And everything became more and more interesting. She, her ways of doing things, her habits and her shyness that never disappeared. I immediately mentioned to her that I should have soon left that office. My skills were needed by our employees in another city.

Moving to work, something I’d always loved. A point that probably played in my favor during the interview job. I had given my full willingness to move and move periodically.
But in those days, the only thing I wanted to do was go back and no longer give that availability.
I understood why I’d always wanted to move so much.
I had never had a reason to stay in a place before.
I realized that I never thought that I could have missed someone.
I had never told anyone, saying goodbye to them, “I’ll miss you”.
The time had come and I just didn’t know how to handle it.
I would have missed her. That was not much but sure.
I still missed her before I left, I missed her even though I saw her every day and I hoped that every second with her would last forever.
Although we knew that nothing more would come, it was still something. A new feeling that had upset my everyday life.

It was fine in those moments.
We were not the kind of people who need to talk to understand each other and this had brought us closer from the beginning, as all those people who at least once in their lives have been silent with someone for a series of minutes without feeling uncomfortable can well understand.
Without feeling that terrible feeling of having to say something.
It happens rarely, with few people, and it’s right.
We went on for a period that now seems infinite to me – on second thought – but at the time I felt a blink of an eye. Until I told her because, in the end, the things have to be said. And you have to do it by looking people in the eyes. Which was easier for me with her. I felt comfortable looking at her, I felt safe inside her pupils.

It’s never enough” I confessed to her, stroking an eyebrow and losing myself for the umpteenth time in her eyes.
What?” she asked me, in a surprising and curious tone.
The time with you!“I replied, smiling.
Somehow trying to show her how happy it was to be with her.

Gezim Qadraku.

I’ll be back soon

I’m at the airport, waiting for a friend who’s coming back from London after two months of work. The speaker announces that the plane is half an hour late. Not having many options I decide to take a walk aimlessly. I wonder for a while until I reach the departure gates.
My attention is immediately captured by a child and what should be his father. I am kidnapped by the way the little one is glued to the parent. I sit on a bench and keep watching them. I can already imagine how this story will end.

After a couple of minutes, the father hugs his woman with a touching and deep gesture. They remain attached to each other for an indefinite time. When they come off, both have shiny eyes.  He is a little less, while she just can’t hold back her tears. It’s a blow to the heart to look at her, it hurts me. She tries to hide the emotion by looking up and putting on her sunglasses. She doesn’t want the child to see her like that.
The father is holding back because now comes the impossible part. He lowers himself towards his little one, caresses his hair and pulls out a forced, hard-fought smile, while he succeeds in the very complicated exercise of keeping tears inside his body. I can get a very clear idea of the power of the knot in the throat she’s trying.

He hugs him hard and the son literally clings to his body. It’s a snapshot, a flash. There should be someone – for each one of us – who takes pictures or films certain moments of our existence. That gesture should be shown in schools to explain the meaning of parent, child, family.
It is impossible to think that those two bodies could come off. It would be like asking or expecting, that a natural event stops following its course. Ask the flowers not to bloom in spring or the water of the rivers not to feed the seas. You can’t do that.
The mother is forced to do what she does not want. She pulls the baby to herself with a quick gesture, somehow trying to reduce the pain. As if that was possible.
I read the father’s lips: “I’ll be back soon”.
The child knows that he is lying to him and bursts into a roaring cry. He turns around and hugs the legs of the mother. She looks at her man, gently caresses his face and tells him to go. In my heart, selfishly, I wish myself the good fortune to find such a woman.
He looks at the little one and then turns his back on his family.

The emptiness that is created is deafening. For a moment I think the whole airport has stopped and is watching them. I don’t feel anything. I can only feel the pain of those three people that increases dramatically every second that passes.
I know this kind of stories. I’ve already heard those words. I know how that child feels. He doesn’t understand why her father is doing something as terrible as going to work somewhere far away. He feels betrayed and is not wrong. But what he doesn’t know is that his father is doing such a bad thing just for him. So that he doesn’t miss anything now that he’s small and above all, so that, in a certain way, he can secure a future when he’ll be big.
That child will understand it, he will understand all this when he is grown up. But now he doesn’t care. Now he just wants to have his father there with him to play and go and eat ice cream together.

What the father doesn’t know is that he will lose pieces of his son’s life forever. He’ll let days, months and maybe years slip by. This will last until he can take it with him or decides to return. It may happen if the period of distance is prolonged for too many years, that that son will not be able to recognize him and will go into the arms of someone else when he will be back.
He will ask his mother, “Who is this man?”.
And then that father will take all the blame in the world. He will wonder if it was worth it to make his creature suffer. To live far from his family and then to return so as not to be recognized.
What all those who left their land asked themselves at least once in their lives: “but was it really worth it?”
Yes, as if a simple human being were able to answer such a question.

I take one last look at that child and remind of the story my mother used to talk to me. The photo of the three of us, with my father holding me in his arms a few days after birth next to my mother, who I asked her to kiss before falling asleep while he was away. When he came back and I told her to make him sleep under the bed, that man.
I didn’t call him Daddy anymore. He had become “that man”. It had been a long time since he left and I was just a child. I was not to blame, neither was my father. It’s nobody’s fault actually, it’s life.
I always wondered how he felt, but I never had the courage to ask him directly.
I go outside to smoke a cigarette and I pray that no father should be forced to make such decisions.

Gezim Qadraku.

Which war?

There was war in Kosovo and I was in first grade.
There was war, but I didn’t know.
I never heard that word at home.
Yet our people died.
My grandfather died in those days and other relatives of mine.
My mother lost a part of herself forever.
And I didn’t notice anything.

There was war in my country and yet my life continued.
I went to school and training.
I used to play in the park with my classmates.
I used to watch cartoons, do my homework and who knows what I dreamed of becoming.
Maybe the astronaut or maybe a footballer.

There was war, but I didn’t know it.
My parents watched the news secretly.
They talked in a low voice with their relatives.
They were hiding everything from me.
They didn’t show the pain that was destroying them.

Then the war ended and we returned to Kosovo.
We entered a house I didn’t know about.
There was my grandmother, uncle, aunt, and my cousins.
My grandfather wasn’t there.
Maybe he is gone somewhere, I thought.
But then everyone began to cry and I understood.
I didn’t ask for anything because I immediately understood what had happened.
I had seen the damages the war had done after we got off the plane.
I had seen the houses destroyed by the flames, the marks of the bullets on the buildings, the streets full of holes, the faces of the people.
I was seeing the war now.
Now that it was over.

There had been war and I hadn’t noticed it.
Now that room full of people seemed to be the emptiest place that existed.
The walls were completely white and empty.
The furniture was ugly.
The people were sad.
No one laughed.
The smell of death was still there.
There had been war and it had ruined our lives, but I hadn’t noticed.

There had been war and I hadn’t seen my parents suffer.
They had hidden everything.
They had not shown the slightest pain.
Then I understood how much they loved me.
I told myself that I should have done the same with the people I loved.
I should have only shown them the happy part and never the sad part.
I should have never told them how much I was suffering.
I understood that that way I would have only made them feel bad too and I would have never forgiven myself.

There had been war and my parents had kept it all inside.
They had unwittingly taught me how to handle pain.
Crying inside.
To always show the smile.
Not asking for help.
To say that everything is fine.
There was war, but I didn’t know it.

Gezim Qadraku.

(Wikiwand Images)