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Jonas Žakaitis is a writer based in Vilnius, Lithuania. He has recently published his first collection of short stories 90s (90s.lt). His writings have also been published in various artist publications and contemporary art magazines.
He has participated in numerous contemporary art projects as a gallerist and a curator.

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Elena Narbutaite, Illustration after Leonora Carrington painting 'Self-portrait', 1937–8

 

Short stories from the book 90s

 

 

The Central Market

A: How long have you been working here?
B: Five years.
C: What do you mean, five years? Eight, at least!
A: So, how long is it then?
B: All right then, eight years.
C: At least eight years. I remember when we started. The place hadn’t yet been overrun by Chinese. And there weren’t so many traders.
A: And what exactly do you have to do here?
C: We’re guards. When we first started, I used to do the work of two guards. I kept an eye on everything in the market and I watched the perimeter fence of the parking lot. But then a couple of years ago I had two hip replacements, so now I’m disabled. I can hardly walk.
B: Can I offer you some tea, or coffee?
A: I could do with a coffee, thank you.
B: Is instant okay? It’s all we have.
A: It’s fine.
B: Milk and sugar?
A: Just a spoonful of sugar, thank you.
C: Tell him about that old guy, the one who lived here for six months.
B: What is there to say?
C: What do you mean, what is there to say? You don’t come across someone like that every day!
A: Tell me about him, I’m interested.
B: Well, we noticed that he came every day, and he stayed from opening time until closing time. He was always well dressed, you could see that he was well off. But as it turned out, he couldn’t remember a thing.
A: What do you mean, he couldn’t remember?
C: You can’t tell a simple story!
B: He was ill, or something, so he could remember what had happened an hour ago, but not what happened yesterday. He came here every day as if it was for the first time.
C: Come on, let’s be clear, he didn’t come here on his own. He was brought here, someone left him here.
A: Who would bring him?
C: His children, or his grandchildren, we’re not sure. But they’d drive him here every morning, like you take a child to nursery school. Neatly dressed, and with some money.
A: And what did he do all day?
C: Nothing.
B: He mixed with the traders. He’d sit in the cafe. Everyone recognised him as a lifer, and they’d chat with him, but he couldn’t remember anything himself.
A: Did you chat with him?
B: Not really.
C: What can you talk about when you know he won’t remember anything?
A: And how do you know he couldn’t remember anything?
C: Oh, everyone here knew very well. You can’t hide something like that.
B: The waitress in the coffee shop told us how every morning he’d come in and order the same breakfast. And he’d always introduce himself to her.
C: His family left him here so they wouldn’t have to pay for a nursing home.
A: What do you mean?
C: It was perfectly clear. Everyone wants to save a bit of money. Do you know what a nursing home costs these days?
A: So instead of putting him in a nursing home, they left him in the market?
C: Yes. It’s safe here. We’re here, and the people generally work all day. It’s full of places to eat, the food is good, and there are people to chat to. What else does an elderly person need? And besides, he couldn’t remember anything, so each day was new to him. I wouldn’t complain if they left me here. What can you do in those old nursing homes? Sit in front of the television with the other old men?
B: There’s a television here too.
A: Do you do your shopping at this market, or do you go somewhere else?
C: What business is it of yours where we do our shopping?
A: I’m just asking.
C: You can stop asking. We’re not paid to answer your questions. And they don’t pay us to spend time here either. We live here.
A: You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.
C: Do you have any idea how many Chinese live here on the same passport?
A: No.
B: Some disappear, some come back.
A: Chinese?
B: Yes.
C: They even keep animals here. We hear everything at night.

 

 

The St Petersburg Restaurant

You laugh because I’m only thirteen and I’m already sitting at a table, wearing my jacket, trying to order a vodka. Because there’s nothing else to drink here, just vodka on the menu. I saw everything. How you came in wearing thick black jackets and knee-high snow boots. How you wore sweaters with tigers and pumas, and waterfalls and jungle birds under your jackets. How you quickly stuffed those knee-high boots into plastic bags and hid them under the table. How you tucked your feet into the high-heel shoes which you brought in with you under your arms. Where are your men? Why didn’t they come this evening? I already know the answer. I saw them standing in the taxi rank, wearing the leather jackets you picked out for them. They were figuring out how much each would have to put in for the sauna. I know what they do in there. I often see them. Once one of them bought a remote-controlled lawnmower, and they stood around in a circle for a long time, because each one wanted to drive it, and wouldn’t share the controls. Look at the little boy sitting there, what a serious face, come, it’s better to dance with us, you say loudly and pull my arm. I’m ashamed, because I don’t know how to dance, so I decide to drink more vodka. But you know how to dance, and sing. You know how to cook stews with bay leaves, and how to make jam. You know how to choose a watermelon, and how to dry shoes by stuffing them with newspaper. You burst out crying when you’re sad, and then telephone each other and talk for a long time. And not only can I not find any words, but I’m also sitting here absolutely alone, tormenting myself with vodka. So come, you can just sit there, you say to me. I try my hardest not to look at your bodies. At your big bosoms under those tigers. But you purposely lift your skirt and twist your thighs and smooth your hair down with the palms of your hands. You clap and laugh when I climb up on to the table to make a speech. I don’t know who was controlling my tongue, but I promise that next week I’ll hire a bus and pick all of you up and drive around all day. I’d like to go shopping with you, and pick out some material and some rugs, I say. You can dance a bit more, and sing; you can roll out the rolls of fabric, and cut off however much you’d like; we’ll stuff the whole bus full of fabric. Write down your phone numbers, I say, I’ll call you.

 

 

The Lecturer

When I was studying for my degree, there was this old lecturer who taught ancient philosophy in my first year, the most boring class of all. But thanks to the student grapevine, everyone knew that this lecturer had once been homeless, and that he’d only been saved from his predicament by the young head of the philosophy department, whom the students liked very much. It was rumoured that when there was a change in the administration a few years earlier, the lecturer had been dismissed; he’d been unable to find work elsewhere, and after a year he had got through his savings, lost his apartment, and, looking sickly, with only his coat and his briefcase, he had taken to skulking on the street. It was only by accident that the young dean ran into him on the street, and he immediately realised that the old man didn’t have any close relatives to help him. He was afraid that the man wouldn’t survive on the street, so he hired him to teach ancient philosophy. I remember watching him during lectures, and trying to imagine how he lived now. I imagined he didn’t think any more, didn’t socialise, he only came to his lectures, went to the shops, and then sat on the edge of his bed in a one-room apartment and stared at nothing all night. I also imagined that he was somehow shattered inside, like after a bomb explosion; that he was completely alone, and lived like a hermit, but among people. I thought he was simply trying to get by, that his job and existence were only about survival. I would look at his hands and his hair: always so clean, they were almost sterile.

But as it turns out, he had a dog. I only learned this later, when the dean told me. A black one, like a Labrador, but not purebred.

One very warm spring afternoon, I went for a run in the park by the river. It was much later; I’d already finished my studies long ago. As I was running, I heard a siren behind me: an ambulance was trying to get past on the path. I saw it stop a few hundred metres in front of me. Of course, I ran on to see what had happened, and when I looked, I saw my old lecturer lying there. I asked the paramedic if he was dead, but I could see clearly for myself that he was. I talked a little with the paramedic and the driver. They said his heart had probably given up and he died right there. What happens now? I asked. What do you do with the body? Nothing, they said, the emergency services can’t do anything, we need to wait for the police to register the occurrence, and then another department will come, the one that collects the dead. The Labrador cross sat calmly next to the old man. What will happen to the dog? I asked. The dog’s not our concern, they said. Again, another department will have to come and collect it. I could see that they were purposely in no hurry to do anything. They sat calmly with the dog next to the body and warmed themselves in the sun. It was the first time I had seen a dead person: that’s not counting funerals, they’re completely different; a newly deceased person. It looked as if nothing had happened to him.

After some time, I saw a young couple walking with the dog. You got that dog from the shelter, I said. Why yes! they answered. How did you know?

 

 

The Radio

A man is driving his car one evening, and turns the knob of the radio, not finding anything interesting to listen to. Then, on one frequency, he hears the quiet voice of a young girl, without any music. The man listens, and tries to figure out what the girl is doing. First, he hears her playing, talking about something in her made-up language; and he finds it interesting, and doesn’t change the station. Then he hears her begin to call for her mother, and begins to cry. But nothing changes; there is no music, there are no adults. The man stops the car and finds the address of the radio station. He turns around, and drives back to the city. It is ten in the evening, and the entire building is unlocked and empty. He tries each door, one by one, and in the women’s toilet he finds the girl’s mother deeply asleep on the floor. When she wakes up, she tells him that she had worked on her own in the studio for three nights in a row, and that during the day she has other jobs, and the last thing she remembers is making coffee, and after that nothing. She gave up out of exhaustion. While she is talking, she suddenly remembers her daughter, and jumps up and rushes to the studio at the end of the corridor. She finds her little girl perched on a chair, with all the microphones switched on, crying.

 

 

The 1990s

The cassette was labelled ‘UNDERWORLD’, although it may very well have been a compilation, maybe just a few of their songs, I don’t remember any more. But the sound changed everything; we’d never heard anything like it, a sound so voluminous it was bigger than any building we’d ever seen. When my brother brought us that bootleg cassette, he said: This is the best group right now, they’ve earned a million dollars for this album, and they put all the money into bags and drove into the desert and burned it. I remember how everything changed after I listened to that cassette. The sound was proof that somewhere out there a totally different life existed from the one I was living, other technologies, other spaces, a place where everything was different. How can I explain it to you? The existence of UNDERWORLD made it seem to me that everything had already happened, and that we were only just beginning to understand. And this caused a number of other things; someone told me that the music on the cassette was created from signals from cosmic satellites; someone tried to explain about that burnt cash. But I just wanted to make the sound myself. I wanted to be that sound, with no intermediaries. But at that time, I didn’t have the ability to understand, I still had a lot to figure out.

(...)
                         
One day, I get a letter telling me that a childhood friend has died in an accident. He’d been working in America for about ten years by that time, and now the postman brings me a letter telling me he was killed while driving a truck. I stand there, read the letter, and realise that my friend wrote it himself. Well, maybe not himself, but the letter was written based on his wishes. And then comes the understanding that he didn’t die, but had moved in to live with me, you see. That he will continue to drive his truck, go to the shops, go about his affairs there, in America; that nothing has changed, only now all of this will happen directly in my head, he will live through me. Things don’t disappear so easily. Now my neurons, my circuits, are his body, and he can do what he likes, drive to the sea, meet people. I feel this quite distinctly. I don’t have to do anything special, I just accept the information, feel how he moves, what he sees, what he hears at this moment.

But that’s not all: there are other things. How can I explain this so that you’ll understand? You know how it is, when something gets stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it? Like when you hear a song on your way somewhere, and then it’s stuck in your head all day? Or when you’re talking with someone, and then afterwards, for some reason, a word or phrase from that conversation hooks in and keeps reappearing? You don’t choose these things, they choose you, and begin to change you, to use your energy. You don’t consciously know it’s happening, but those words are already independently joining up with other words in your head, with other memories. And you start to make associations. You’ll insist that the lyrics of a song are meaningless, but then you suddenly remember something, you notice a feeling or a rhythm that you’ve started to carry inside yourself. And then, of course, you start to think: why did those exact words stick in my head? And by then they’ve already entered into your consciousness. You’ve appropriated them. And you see, it’s all well and good when it’s a song or a conversation, because you can see where it comes from and cut your ties if necessary. But what happens if it’s not a song or a conversation? What if something pops into your head, but you don’t know where it comes from?

This is the future in action. Something you don’t yet recognise, which begins to live through you. When I think about these things, I’m overcome by such a longing, such grief almost. It’s hard to explain. You live your life, do your work, keep busy as usual; but these things live through you. You don’t recognise them, you cannot recognise them. Sometimes I try simply to imagine how, for example, animals see us, how they follow us, watch what we do, and adapt to us. They don’t really understand what we’re doing. Theirs is a different type of logic in action. But they do everything alongside us.

And this is similar to how things from the future are with us, but we see them as though we are animals. Previously unheard melodies appear, feelings of all kinds, completely new information, and we can only take them in as we are. Do you understand? We take in these signals, they work through us, but we cannot explain the forms they take, or what they can hope from us.

 

 

 

Translated by Medeine Tribinevicius

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