"SKIPPER" by Ratko Adamovic


He could not tell if there was a quiet knock on the door or if he heard a muffled commotion. As if stealing, as if entering a room of a seriously ill person who, at the slightest noise, would suffer immeasurable pain, somebody was slowly opening the door.


Radiant eyes of mother Dana drifted into the room and everything they fell upon began to glimmer. High above them, floated the face of Mr. Jovanovic. It was narrow, with a high forehead and dark shadows under the eyes, and all together made him look very serious. The presence of this couple so obvious and sweeping, with every step they made was spreading a gentle contentment all over the room .


Somebody must be knowingly playing tricks on me, Neverni thought. Just look at that resemblance, it is so evident as if somebody were mocking the human nature. This will be neither good nor easy. What a slip-up in the preparations or maybe not, maybe it was just meant to be a well assessed punishment for all my mischief done over There.


The despair spreading over Neverni’s face because of his incredible resemblance with the alleged father followed by a feeling that it may taper the zone for playing funny games, his tomfoolery and turning everything upside down, Mr Bozha and Mrs Dana must have seen as a symptom of his illness.


It’s over. Nothing will spare me from the phrase ‘look at him, like father, like son?. Fuck, the most disgusting, sticky family trap. Will I have to meddle with it later as well? That’s why my kinfolk from the Archipelago were with me in the room until the last moment. Have I caused so much trouble and disorder to be punished so, made identical with a human being? I - somebody’s copy! Disgusting! But, I will return over there. I am not a Skipper just like that. Even for the Archipelago this fraud is outrageous! Must be that the everlasting harmony is getting blighted. All I need now is to be a bird in their hand, in some parental?I, to belong to someone or something!


Mrs Dana’s worried and disturbed eyes floated all over the room checking every detail, then coming closer and falling gently and lovingly onto Ivan’s face.


Mr Jovanovic approached and pushed the window ajar:


“Do you have to stay in bed all the time? Is that what you were told??o:p>


“Well, I’m in the hospital and people here stay in beds. It is natural, I suppose. In any case, I can se you much better from my bed.?o:p>


In an attempt to blur Mrs Dana’s shining eyes that began filling with tears and were looking at him intently from above her lips mute with worry, Ivan said:


“All right, Mrs Dana, this situation must be extremely confusing for you. How can you tell who is who between the two us??o:p>


Dana sat down on the bed, put her hand gently on his knee and trying to regain her composure and make her lungs breath more rhythmically:


“Eh, my dearest, isn’t it amazing how much he loves his wonderful father.?


What loving has to do with looking alike, he wondered. I can tell, here will be a lot of dumb telephones. But they are different, very much different from the ones down there in the park. Now, here is the first pleasant thing about them, or maybe it’s just another trap - they smell nice.


I hope that the agreeable colors were not chosen for them by my peers in order to get me close with my alleged family easier. But, perhaps, in the new situation, I am paying too much attention to visible effects - their foreheads, eyes, shapes of their heads, the way they walk, the colors they wear. Maybe my kinfolk carried out just a routine approach, in the same way we look at this life on earth only routinely, without singling humans out from other forms of life on This side. We are always but one step far from it, we therefore do not pay to much attention to it.


Sitting on the bed next to Ivan, Dana put her hand inside the leg of Ivan’s pajamas and began gently to massage his shin:


“What would you like your mommy to prepare for you to eat? You have been so long abroad, now you are here, in the hospital and have not had a chance to eat at home yet. Just tell me. Mommy will prepare whatever you want.?o:p>


About eating, I don’t know much, he thought. In the Archipelago it is quite different. I was told to eat whatever they eat. And you will like it, they said, that’s arranged.


“I would like you to cook for me whatever you think I like the best.?o:p>


“My dearest darling, how kind you are. They did not manage, there in the wide world, to change you. Can you hear, Bogoljub, how gentle he is? Tell you mother, do you really feel any pain? When I look at you, I would never say that anything’s bothering you.  They have not yet told us anything concrete, and it makes us crazy with worry. Do you really feel something’s wrong with you??o:p>


“Of course something is wrong. I would be healthy again as tomorrow morning if you would breastfeed me.?o:p>


Caught in the middle of the room out of step, as she was going to get him a glass of juice, the woman let out some sound between a cry and a sob, a sound familiar only to a mother. She tripped and somehow managed to grab hold of the bed. Mr Jovanovic rushed to her aid, put his arm around her shoulder and murmured a few words gently into her hair. His voice was so soft that Ivan could not hear a word.


As if divided into halves, completely absent minded, she was looking down at the tips of her shoes.


What’s wrong now, Ivan asked himself. What the fuck, whenever I ask them about breastfeeding they get out of their minds. Oh my dear tree with your bare inexhaustible breasts, you are so far now, you have no idea that everything is so wrong here. 


With her cheek leaning against Mr Jovanovic’s shoulder, Mrs Dana was slowly recovering. She began to survey Ivan’s face with a loving look and trying to overcome a sob, she said:


“My dear child, there’s nothing that mother wouldn’t do. Through all those years I was troubled with a thought that the foreign world was going to turn you away from your family and you talk as if you had just jumped out of your mother’s arms.?o:p>


In an attempt to find if it was possible to talk about that in a relaxed manner, Ivan asked:


“Can you remember when you breastfed me the last time??o:p>


Lifting her gaze with effort out of depths and mists known only to herself, she spoke in a soft voice:


“For that you don’t need any special remembrance. The ripple of that holly well a mother can never forget. Only someone very insensible would be able to forget it.?o:p>


She stopped for a while and then she continued:


“But I have seen that too in this chaotic and miserable world.?o:p>


My kind! Ivan thought. Look here, this world to her too seems chaotic and miserable. What a mess - you look like your father, your mother says exactly what you think. The rules for living here must have been written by some very mischievous person.


Mrs Dana gently laid her hand on his leg again and began to stroke it:


“Now tell me, my dearest boy, why do you keep calling me Mrs Dana??o:p>




He thought whether he should cry out “daddy?too, but Mr Jovanovic’s face seemed too serious.


“Dad would never tell you, but he is not happy at all when you re calling him ‘uncle Bozha?and although we think that Bogoljub is a very nice name, earnest, but then again ‘daddy?is much nicer than any  name. Nobody calls a father ‘uncle Bozha? ?o:p>


“How can nobody be told what nobody should say?  ‘Uncle Bozha?and ‘Mrs Dana?is special, somehow noble, maybe a little bit too emancipated, but I believe that the emancipated are always more unconventional than plain people.  We are, are we not, a special family, so we also use special titles. Any worthless person can say ‘mommy? but when I say ‘Mrs Dana? eh, that’s another story.?o:p>


“My sweetie, you just get out of the hospital and let’s be nothing special, but a simple, even the simplest possible story.?o:p>


Mr Jovanovic drew an armchair closer to Ivan’s bed and sat down between Dana and Ivan:


“All right you two, will you, with your sentimentalities, make the whole hospital weep??o:p>


He put one arm down on Ivan and the other around his wife’s shoulders and all three of them fell silent.


They stayed for a few minutes in that big peaceful hug, that Ivan somehow managed to tolerate as he thought it must have been customary, and then Mr Jovanovic said to Ivan: 


“The doctors promised to apply the most up to date and reliable procedures to find out what is wrong with you. I hope you are happy with your accommodation. Naturally, a sick man is never comfortable enough. I only wonder, and pray to God that I’m right, when I see how well you look, not a bit like a sick man, if all this is necessary. Don’t you think so mommy? Altogether, I fear that you have worked too hard out there in the foreign world and nothing else. Too much ambition is a dangerous disease too. I am afraid that all that hard work and study and research have put you into the hospital.?o:p>


“What’s wrong with that? A brief break before my return home. It would be a good opportunity for us to get to know each other closer.?o:p>


For a moment, Mr Jovanovic’s face was wrapped in a dark shadow of sadness:


“That’s life. Children grow up, leave their home, end up in who knows which foreign country, they study foreign languages, listen to who knows whose lectures and when they return home, you have to get to know them like some strangers. God forbid, my son. Our getting close should be far from any hospital, God help us!


Mrs Dana moved closer to Ivan, took his hand and kissed it.


I wonder, Ivan thought, how it was possible for our instructors to convince this gentle and sensitive woman that I, a scoffer so unruly and treacherous could ever be her son. The situation is getting more and more complicated. Surely, I will not be able to hold back much longer.


Father was under impression of what Ivan had said about getting close again.


“Ivan, I beg you, only this one thing, while you are here please try to be as patient as possible. You have a TV set, you will be getting newspapers every day. The nurse in charge is one of the best, very proficient and very pleasant. Don’t rush. Stay and rest for a while here after all those years of hard work.?o:p>


They believe beyond any doubt that I am their son! Madness! They do believe and the lady who has never breastfed me can hardly keep back her tears. Look, Mr Jovanovic is taking a deep breath and it must be that he is preparing a new speech. Daddy, a lecturer. Daddy, an adviser. Daddy, an unyielding architect of the best way of life.


Mr Bozha got up from his seat:


“Many friends are sending their regards and, I must tell you, some of the closest friends are quite upset as you got into the hospital almost immediately after the landing. There are various suspicions, but let’s not talk about that now. Please do not pay any attention to any gossip that may come to you here. You don’t need to get even more upset. They say that it seems there was something fishy about it, as an expert like you is not easily let come back to our misery and chaos. I tried to convince them that it is out of question as you are not an expert of a NASA team, that you don’t work for the silicon valley, that your profession is of no strategic interest for any state or military ?All right, no more about that.?o:p>


Mr Jovanovic sat down in the armchair again. He was disappointed with the conversation being so tense, at least odd. He was hoping that the three of them in the peace of the hospital would be able to talk about everything at length, that their son would tell them about their life of which they knew so little, about his work abroad, his career, his doctorates, further plans, that he would, if it were only so, mention marriage and he was especially hurt as Ivan did not say anything about this comfortable suite and unusual treatment that, he believed so, his father had arranged for him. Not a word.


Mrs Dana was afraid of such conversation. She was happy to have her son around, to be able to stroke him, look at him, listen and to pray for him to leave the hospital as soon as possible. Something was telling her that he was not seriously ill.


“Now, being here alone as a family,?Mr Jovanovic was going on, “I must tell you that sometimes I do not understand you at all.?o:p>


Mrs Dana resolutely raised her arm toward her husband as to shut him up, but then she put her hands together like in a prayer.


“Dana please, aren’t we a family?  I have to tell him. In a few days he will be out of here and will go straight to his flat. We will have no other opportunity for a discussion like this.?o:p>


“All right, Bogoljub, go on. At least there are enough beds and medications for all three of us here.?o:p>


“Please let uncle Bozha talk. He will not hurt me. On the contrary, it could be helpful.?o:p>


“I don’t know when and where you have adopted that style, certainly not from us, you could neither see nor hear that at home. People really keep you in high esteem, but you don’t take any notice, even worse, as if a devil tries you, you are extremely unpleasant to people.?o:p>


? I? Unpleasant? To people? But I ?only yesterday?


“Of course, a Jovanovic. But you did not take after me. You took after the granduncle’s line of the family, the headstrong Jovanovices, our ancestors. That line was head-strong and strong-minded, and, God help me, boisterous and difficult for themselves as well as for others. If you had only taken after my grandfather! He was like an angel, wise and strict only when it’s really needed and the wise always put that “needed? before their family saints and we have, through centuries and centuries, with wreaths of thorns, in blood and suffering, we have never had better advisers so what the family protector signals, we do. But it seems that you have in your veins the granduncle’s wild blood. And being like him, you would never admit anything.?o:p>


“Neverni, uncle Bozha, Neverni.?o:p>


“All right, Neverni, but also Jovanovic, but neither of the two of you should be impolite with my, that is our friends, especially not in our home, especially not when we are gathered to celebrate the return of our son from the world.?o:p>


“And who had organized that gathering??o:p>


“I did, who else.?o:p>


“Tell me why, you great organizer.?o:p>


“Why?! Why! Mummy, do you hear what he’s asking me? Well, it is not every day that an only son comes back from abroad with honors and reputation.?o:p>


“I do not understand. He, the son of yours, comes back from somewhere and you organize a gathering of friends and relatives. But why??o:p>


Disheartened with the conversation taking such course and upset with the strange misunderstanding and dissent from the very beginning, feeling some unknown tense strings spreading across the room from the moment they entered it that were causing her subconscious cold shiver which she did not want to admit even to herself, Mrs Dana laid her hand on Ivan’s shoulder and moved closer to him:


“It scares me when you are talking and asking like this. Who knows what you were fed with up there in the world and what they had filled your head with. Only dear Lord knows what water you were drinking. Water can be most dangerous when you are away in the world as water carries in it our native customs, washes off and keeps in it the soul of the land and its people. The water on this side of the ocean is different from the water that flows way over there, beyond that great sea. You drink water from this side of our mountain and then you drink water from the other side of the mountain and at once you get sick, attacked by diseases of which you have never heard. Water remembers everything, my dear child ?footsteps of our grandfathers and of domestic animals, it remembers which vegetables we plant and eat - and you must have heard ?it remembers our sighs. They say that a sick man gets better very quickly when he drinks the same water he used to drink as a child, water that was rinsing your diapers and bathed your body after birth. And there, where you were wandering for many years, only God knows whose memories and whose native customs you were drinking. It is always dangerous when you, as a stranger, drink somebody else’s water. And you talk like ??the woman lost her breath. She sighed deeply and then she continued:


“You are asking your father as if you had, God forbid, just come for the first time from God knows where.?o:p>


So that is what they mean when they talk about motherly instincts, Ivan thought not without irony. She is the only one who can tell and feel that I have just arrived. Congratulations, madam.


“Do you listen to what your mother is telling you? Were you not told almost the same, maybe in a more moderate way, by your godfather Milan the other night. You have forgotten that we here too have finished some schools, as good and as serious, although much poorer than those ones of yours over there, in the world. But more and more often I think that ours are better, more humane, as they did not rise so high as to degrade and disdain any other school that hasn’t got their seal. And, as mother said, it seems that you were being constantly poisoned there. They washed your brain and poured in something else instead. Well, my son, we have been in the big world too, but have always managed to come back with respect for our people, our nation, our land and our education above all other. I forgive you for being very unpleasant towards other people, but it was outrageous what you were saying to your god father Milan. My child, you must not have forgotten, he is a pastor, a man of the church for so many years, he baptized you. The tradition has been going on from my grandfather.?o:p>


“Mr Jovanovic, are you positively sure that it was I there, that night??o:p>


“Oh, anything may be possible when it’s possible that an educated man, a man of the world, can say things that you said to that saint of a man.?o:p>


“Booboo, uncle Bozha. We have not yet decided where I was that night, but please stop fooling me. By talking about me and my bad conduct, you are actually playing tricks with me, a deception I definitely cannot bear. Believe me, I don’t know who was talking and who with, in whose house it has all happened, but I know one thing for sure ?one can be either a man or a saint. Both at the same time, Mr Jovanovic, is simply impossible. Wait until tomorrow ?and trust me, I know that for sure ?I will make you a long list of scoundrels, liars, frauds and hysterical psychopaths who you, people, had canonized and made them saints. Dear Bogoljub! Daddy! Don?you tell me!?o:p>


Mr Jovanovic got up, walked across the room, almost bashed into the door and then hit his forehead with his open palm so hard that it could be heard in the adjacent room. It looked as if he was going to faint as he was trying to unbutton his shirt and pull off his tie. He managed to get back to the armchair and then he collapsed in it. While Mrs Dana, her fingers stiff with unrest and worry, was trying to find some pills in her purse, Jovanovic turned to Ivan and very seriously he began:


“Had you just disagreed with our guests, had you told them that it was just your own opinion, it would have been all right. But the way you talked to a priest, an outstanding clergyman, about his, about our Lord, that is ?As soon as he speaks of Christ, and you, like a poisonous snake hiss at him: ‘Why don’t you say his real name? The man was Joshua ben Joseph. Is it here unknown? And who said that he is the Lord if he had never told the people so himself? No way would he say that, as he knew he was not. What his brother Jacob would have had to say to that if he had said he was? An epistle says he said he was, that’s all right, it was worded so that one could make assumptions. That he was sent by the Grand Architect to educate the people that too could be assumed from what he was saying, but we know for sure it’s correct!?My boy, can you imagine how I felt when I was listening my son talking like that to his god father, a priest, there, before all of us. In our home! Mommy, please, who cares about medications now. All right, I’ll say no more, but just let me ask him - do you really believe that you can talk like that with someone who is fully conversant with the Holly Mystery whereas we, the plain people, will never see even the rims of its wrap, let alone the face of that holly magnificence??o:p>


In an attempt to put a stop to this conversation, Mrs Dana, as gently as possible, put her hand on Ivan’s mouth. But the White Boy cared no more. He pushed her hand away:


“What holly mystery? What trees does it grow on and where is it kept? My Bogoljub! They read old manuscripts, make the people read letter by letter and learn them by heart, the manuscripts that anybody can read, if they knew how to read. The only difference is in the way they interpret the old manuscripts, what they are able to extract and what incredible patterns and ideas they draw from someone’s old scrawl claiming that under the scarcely articulated, only just scribbled words there is an infinity of sacred thoughts and layers and layers of mysterious substance and secret symbols that spread from the core of this grungy planet all the way up to the furthest galaxies, whereas it was just absurd scraping of a pointed stick on a piece of a dry skin by someone half mad with solitude, by some founder of the post-modernism from the second or the third century. I’m dying to hear how you imagine someone being introduced with the holly mystery. Tell me!?o:p>


That was the least they expected from a sick person they were visiting, their own child - such an outrageous retort - so Mr and Mrs Jovanovic were sitting there before Neverni like two dumbfound roadside tombstones.


“You probably believe that they are taken to a castle of which we don’t know and shouldn’t know as it is a part of the mystery. Address unknown. It is not in the municipal cadastre. Nor in a rural. There are no water or electricity bills. They are hidden away by some mysterious hand. There is no parking place as it is hidden away, concealed between heaven and earth. Water has been cut off for quite a while, but is still there and then again it’s a mystery. Toilets are blocked and out of order, yet, at a place like that, in a secret castle before being introduced with the holly mystery, who would dream of relieving oneself.


They are taken to the castle’s loft to be shown through a tiny, obscured window a far, misty galaxy in which they can catch sight of a figure. They can, because they were told they should. They can catch sight of some undulation and when they say they can see it, they are whispered into their ear by a trembling and solemn voice: ‘That is a Holly Mystery. That, over there. Now, the Holly Mystery is revealed to you.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">  And from the misty galaxy, a frightened, virtuous searcher catches a sight of some glittering, it waves to him, throws at him a greenish-golden orchid flower as a pledge or a vow, a pine branch, an oak leaf, a nail of a horrifying royal lion and says ‘cuckoo? Of course, the scene would be incredulous and vague without a choir of overexcited, weeping monks ?because of the holiness of the place and time - singing hymns under the eaves of the absurd castle as the introduction proceeds. The choir boys need to go to a toilet, but they are holding back. If it only were like that, my Bogoljub. But it isn’t.


You dig a well and run into ruins from ancient times. In the ruins you find some old manuscripts. From the moment they are found nobody can convince you in the opposite but that the script contains fundamental wisdom only because they originate from the fifth century. It is closer to the time when the one who you call your god appeared, therefore they present a holly testimony. I would be very pleased if anyone could tell me what the age of a script has to do with wisdom and holiness and why someone colossally primitive, plain, smudgy, dirty, always hungry, almost dumb with ignorance is wiser than you who live in abundance of knowledge and vast number of aids to get a proper insight into the secrets of the nature.


In the bush or under a rock or in a shabby shack, an old man sits in dust and stench of his own sweat. He cannot care less about washing and ironing, and he would not have time for it anyway, as all day long and night as well, he sits looking at the sky and is calling out: ‘answer my call, answer my call!?o:p>


Within the old man squats a youngster who has never had guts to seduce his uncle’s young wife while the old nag, three times older than the two of them, was sleeping; or the next door neighbor’s woman; to jump the wall behind which a bosomy widow is waiting for him, the one who told him that same day, there at the well, that he should sneak out of the house and come to her; or to freely and openly walk to the market and courageously toss a coin on the bench before the best whore and say: ‘Let me see you beast. Show me what you can do?


He is scared of his own untried violence that takes away his strength and makes his legs weak while he is watching a naked armpit of his father’s maid as she is stretching the washing, scared as he does not understand why his whole life on a sunny day darkens from the sight of that tuft of hair under her armpit, of an unexpected flash of his father’s third concubine’s naked stomach. Scared of lips, scared of breasts, oh, he is scared of everything as all that makes him burn in a fire of passion and a loss of consciousness.  He is scared as he has been constantly hit by a hammer heavy with maxima about the universal sin.


He sits by a fireplace listening to glorious tales about accomplishments of a hermit who had risen to the very light and who was able to sustain every provocation of the dirty and lecherous flesh. You see, that one who is always scared, the one who listens, gathers his poor rags, on the way out he snatches his father’s old cloak, takes with him his writing materials - whatever they may be - in order to write to the holly spirit that he has firmly decided to not sin. He takes with him two manuscripts - as he has heard that other hermits do so - hagiographies based on notes of unreliable and harebrained authors the meaning of which is further deformed by harebrained and hastily trained transcribers.


And what else, in all that crazy loneliness he begins to hallucinate. He is pressed by the wind and hunger, crushed by heavy morning fogs, he wakes up at night stitched by needles of shame because he is sleeping instead of praying. A raging storm, shrieking of squirrels and hauling of wolves, rustle of snakes, monotonous love calls of birds and the youngster in him breaks and cracks his bones as he is drying out and fading into an old man. And then, if he has what with and what on, he madly begins to describe his hallucinations to those ones who have nothing else to do but to listen to him, admiring him for living for so many years like a wild rooster or a rabbit on grass and berries known to him only. They listen and they say ‘we are lucky as among us is a holly man who preaches and witnesses of the words of Him who has created all things?


Now, try to think, my dear deeply offended Bogoljub, of the Arabian desert under the Klizno mountain in the third century, and try to imagine a scavenger, a man looking for the Holly Secret as you call it, that is Anthony, who had, before arriving under the Klizno mountain, of his own will in the madness of his escape, barricaded himself in a deserted tower squatting in there for full twenty years. Twenty years! Fenced off from the world he kept calling out: ‘answer me, answer me!? Can you imagine the dirt and stench in the deserted, walled up tower? What else he would do when he got his followers and disciples, then to answer all their questions with a ‘Hate the world and whatever it presents. Hate any repose of the flesh.?Is that the substance of the Holly Secret?  What an exciting message, what an exciting teaching, wiping out of everything that presents the cosmic providence and the plan of the Grand Architect. After that, as it happens, one of those who were listening, notes it all down.


Why do you take for the Holly Secret and the Holly Scripture today, after seven or eight hundred years, a description of a distorted shadow in a blazing storm that some solitary man had scribbled down? You call them holly scripts instead of reading them as fiction, belletristic, literature, symbolism, fantastic realism of the sixth century, as the precursors of the novels of the inner stream of consciousness.