user_mobilelogo

Rimantas Kmita is a poet, essayist, literary critic and researcher. He studied Lithuanian philology and literary criticism at Klaipėda University and defended his dissertation on modern Soviet-era Lithuanian poetry at Vilnius and Greifswald Universities. Kmita is the author of three collections of poetry. In 2016, he published his novel The Southside Chronicles (Pietinia kronikas) in Šiauliai (a Lithuanian city) spoken dialect. This novel describes the beginning of the tenth decade in a proletarian city, undergoing shake-ups of a newly restored state.

reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Comics

vr banner17

Illustration by Liudas Parulskis

 

Excerpt from the novel “Southside Chronicle”

 

 

Chapter 8

Hanover.
No, hold it, not like that.
We get out. In Hanover.
I get out and stand there. In Hanover.
Ya hear – in Hanover!
All together now: Ha-no-ver! Ha-no-ver!
Dig it? I’m in Hanover!

I’m weak at the knees. My mind reels. If only my classmates could see me now – in Hanover – they’d shit their pants out of envy. Of course, when I return, I’ll act all, ya know – no biggie, so I was in Hanover, so what? Pretty cool, though. It’s just too bad that school is out already, and now I’ll only go in September when everyone’s all goin’ on about camps by the lakes and all that jazz, and I, yes, I will say, I went to Hanover.

They give us space by the stadium, on some lawn. By the time we put up our tents, get our shit together, by the time we… Well, we’re lookin’ around and all the team’s coaches are gone. Every possible coach, for all age groups, was with us on the bus, even though we only had two age groups going. At the first stop, they all bought magazines with cars on the covers and didn’t let ‘em outta their hands the whole way to Hanover. They made it look like they were all aces with the German language. But then, we got it, it’s not literature they’re readin’, but ordinary stuff: car brands, years of manufacture, diesel/gas, price, city, telephone number.

One coach stays with us. He tells us we’re gonna practice now. The match just ended. So we change and go. They give us balls. They’re slick, new, stick to your hand. Back home, we’ve maybe got one like that, and it’s only used for adult matches, the rest are peeling, ripped, and slippery as frogs. We pass these back and forth, and look: everyone’s breakin’ out in smiles, and there’s nothing you can do but grin like a dope because it’s such a rush, and when we walk on the pitch, we break out hootin’ and hollerin’.

“This is softer than my babe’s boobs,” hoots Saulius.

“Just don’t break your boner,” someone shouts.

The grass seems painted, smooth, like bedding of some kind – ya fall and feel notin’. We start pushin’ each other, fallin’ – no one’s listenin’ to the coach: “come on, come on”. What come on, come on – all the coaches have split and it’s just this one guy a few years older than us and he’s all “come on” – right. Back home, in the stadium they let us play rugby in, grass only grows along the edges, in the middle it’s just dirt, sometimes more like gravel, and if it rains, then its real porridge. When you fall on your knees on gravel, you remember your mama, your granny, and your whole extended family.

In other words, we frisk about, practice some plays and finish. Nobody’s given us any grub yet. We scarfed all our sandwiches and cookies on the road. It’s a damn long haul to that Hanover. So we start mumbling about food, and some dude comes over with a platter with some kind of buns on’t. We grab ‘em up, but… what? They’re smeared with some kind of ground meat. Yup, raw meat. We look at each other and shrug. We understand what this means – this here is healthy food, you know, lots of energy after practice. So that’s it then. We’re hungry as lions and no one’s got food in their packs. We take it. Carefully. We bite and chew. We bite and think: how do I keep from barfing? When you look at the others, you want to give ‘em shit. Loser – raw meat in your mouth! But you’re eating it too. And you take a second one. Like nothing. No one barfs or books to the john.

After chowing down, we go to the city to check it out. Everything’s in German. Well, yeah – what else would it be? But it’s one thing to think and know in your head that everything in Germany is in German, and it’s another thing to see it, read it, and be lit up by the signs. Yup, lit up. Like some miracle. I mean, it was something already, back in Poland – where the signs aren’t in Russian or Lithuanian, but Polish. Yet there, we could understand something, and here, almost nothing. And when you don’t understand, the miracle is somehow bigger.

We bounce around, getting the what’s what, where the marketplace is at. We check out the automatic machines on the street where you throw in some coins and get some gum. What does it mean, check out? We bang em a bit, maybe they’ll spit somethin’ up.

Yeah, Germany, not Poland and not Latvia – we didn’t really know what to bring here to sell. Of course, they move cars from here, but what to bring? Someone said you could sell ruble coins with Lenin’s head. But where? An- und Verkauf stores, we see, are full of all kinds of junk, so we go in, show our stuff. No, thank you. We’re confused – why don’t they care about Lenin? Somehow, we find the market, but it’s obvious we’re not the first here with our Lenins. It’s not like goin’ to the Indians with your shiny baubles. And how we searched for those Ilyiches, combing the relatives, trying to buy them, trying to figure how much those Germans thirsting for the exotic would pay in Deutschmarks… Deutschmarks – for those you could buy stuff at the commercial shops, like with dollars, and the commercial shops had boomboxes, shoes, duds, and bubble gum – all original. With the Ilyiches, it seems, we had to get around back when Lenin was still standing in the center of Šiauliai across from the poly-tech.

What then? – just cigarettes. We each took a block. We couldn’t think of anything else. Cigarettes and Lenins. A pack here is five marks. If you get two a pack, then that’s forty marks for a block! But they didn’t go for cigs, some even get pissed, like, policaj! Well, fuck me – completely.  You offer them half the price and they don’t go for it. You just can’t figure those Germans.

So we bum around the stores, and in one, a saleswoman with a heavy accent says in Russian, “Can I help you?” Like, get lost. Fine, it’s not like we’re gonna say our pockets are full of Lenins and we’re just comparing prices. But why does she speak Russian when Lithuanians don’t look anything like Russians – even from afar? Like I said, you just can’t figure those Germans.

Bumming around town, we come up to this one store. You can see from far away that the doors are glass. OK, but you can’t see door handles. We come up closer, and there’s still no door handles. So how do you get in? We take another step, and the doors open by themselves. What the fuck?! We step back. No, well, this is just too much. It’s like in those cartoons – open sesame. But here there’s no magic word. I’m standing there – I look at it this way, that way. Others go in. Inside, it all seems normal. Customers, salespeople, walkin’ about. But no, I’m not goin’ in. When you want to go out, there’ll be some trick. If you don’t know, you won’t get out. You just can’t figure those Germans.

And when evening comes, all the advertisements light up. You gaze through darkness and it seems as if the whole street shimmers with some kind of fireworks. Where have I seen such colors? Nowhere? No way my TV has those. And it looks like everything is shimmering for you. Or because of you. Some broads come up to us – neither chicks nor broads really – they say something – also for you. And when they understand that you don’t get it, they take you by the hand and pull you along. Then it finally dawns that these are whores, and what… Pfff, of course, you’d go, but where can you go when your pockets are full of Lenin heads, and the Deutschmarks are in German pockets. Yeah, sure, the German coach pulled out some marks and told the others to take us out on the town. And he pointed at me - that one knows German. Well, yeah, I studied German at school. And when a class from Germany came for a visit to our school, I could chat with ‘em all right, or it seemed that way to me. Not so much a trip as, how is it… well, like, you’re all friendly with some foreign school, write to each other and they come. But I don’t remember that we wrote anything. Maybe our school wrote for us, I dunno.

So those Germans are like, talkin’ us out on the town this evening. They head off in the lead and we tail ‘em. We’re just tryin’ not to get left behind. There’s tons of people. Everything twinkles. We go to this one bar – there’s no place to sit. Then they dive into another and disappear. We wait, loitering by the door… nothing. Well, I wouldn’t go anywhere with them, I’d be afraid. I’m even afraid of the old man asking for dough. Here, in this foreign city, anything can happen in the middle of the night. But this geezer is totally in your face. Just look. man, how I look and how you look – maybe you want to exchange jackets, huh? Sure, I’ll give him money, this geezer… But what can you say? Eventually, the geezer goes away on his own, wise to the fact that we won’t give ‘im bupkis, and we can’t say much a’ anythin’ either.

Well, the gang is sendin’ me inside already. I push my way through the bar, go downstairs, somewhere or other, and find ‘em. They’re all chill, drinking a second round of wheat bears. I come up to the table, and fuck if I’m about to curse them out… But, shit, I dunno how to swear in German. So I mumble something like …BusNach HauseBus… And they’re all “ja, ja,” and I jam out with my Lenin heads knockin’ on my leg, heavy things those, but they knock soft – no one hears.

Well, the bunch of ‘em come out after the second round, some split in one direction, some in the other. And we’re all thinkin’ that we’ll be left here all night with the whores, so we jump up to one of ‘em and say as clearly as possible, “nachhauzefahren, nachhauzefahren, nachhauze… na…” And he’s all evasive and shit, but he takes us to the tramway and somehow explains to us where to get out.

We get back and I lie down in my tent, hungry as all hell, but even more, I want to go home – to Šiauliai.

In the morning: our first match.

How are you supposed to play when you’re in Hanover?

How are you supposed to play, when there’s a black man standing in front of you? A real one, not from MTV, and not from a poster.

How are you supposed to play, when yesterday you came face to face with a UFO? – the doors that open on their own.

Of course we’re a mess on the pitch. Everyone does whatever – just not what we tried to do in practice the day before.

“Where you runnin’, where you runnin’!” Yells the coach.

What the fuck are you yelling about? – I think to myself. Have you ever stood in front of a black man? And really – you come here reading the classifieds for cars, running around god knows where while we stand around like on ice, with no practice… and now you’re yelling, “where you runnin’! Where you runnin’!”

A good question, in principle. I could ask myself the same. I mean, you run cause runnin’ is better – you run and wait for the hit. To lie on the grass and think, when will this be over? Sometimes you don’ have a clue what’s goin’ on, sometimes it’s better not to know, just let everything end: ASAP. You kick the ball out, do stupid shit, fuck around.

Near the end, coach sends out Artūriuks – he’s from the older group, but looks young. With him, somehow, we make a few tries, and it doesn’t look so bad. We took a good beatin’ all right, though, and now we’re walkin’ around like we’ve been in a washing machine.

“Those negros seriously smell,” says Saulius to me while we’re changing.

“Maybe you should get a whiff a’ yourself? Maybe your head’s not right after you missed the ball and went rolling around on the grass. Nice grass, though, soft, good to roll around in…”

But we didn’t talk much. Sure, negros smell. For me too. Somehow. I mean, that’s what everyone used to say. When that basketball team came to Šiauliai, they brought a negro. Legs like matchsticks, of course we couldn’t smell ‘im, but people wouldn’t chant “Nigger go home!” for no reason. And who woulda thought, coming to Germany, we’d be playing against negros? I mean, it’s not Africa! I think everyone’s heads are all messed up with those negros. Just think. We grew up with the graffiti of RED ARMY GO HOME! But the place they went home to is still a lot closer to us, clearer. And with them went our only foreign language, though, when we learned it, it wasn’t foreign. Now we’re tearin’ off in the other direction, where nothing is clear and everything is colorful and shines. But somehow we’re bothered by colored people. We need to sit ourselves down and fix our heads first.

So, maybe those black dudes smell, but we’re also a bit of the earth and clay – stinking up the joint after the match. Well, after all that, we’ve got to shower. Well now, the showers. The showers are there, but where are the knobs? We all run in – some still in their gear, some not – and where the fuck are the knobs? How do we wash? What? Are they fuckin’ with us? Bumblin’ about in there, one of the heads turns on and douses Dariuks, and he still has his shit on, the wet little bear. We all crack up. That’s a good one, we think, but we still can’t figure out all the angles – how it all works. You stand under the shower and it runs. Far out. This shit’s not even on TV. But how do you control it? Where’s the hot, the cold? This kind of lukewarm water runs and that’s it. OK, then.

It puts us in a better mood at once. The match doesn’t seem so bad. Now, there’ll be somethin’ to talk about when we get home: the showers turn on all on their own, the doors at the store also open on their own, and then sometimes – they have these stairs that lift you up to the next floor, not a lift, mind you – moving stairs.

In the morning, we got more ground meat. A big bowl of it on the table. Well, OK, there was also bread, butter, cheese, but I went for the ground meat – if they put it there, it can’t be poison, right? To be honest, it wasn’t so bad. And as soon as we were done eatin’, I thought how that ground meat reminded me of my evenin’ when I felt up Edita. I felt a little queasy then, but I downed a couple cups a’ coffee with sugar and it was all copacetic. Time to think of the match.

We played the Poles first. We’ve played them before, and breezed right through. We got used to the stadium, the grass – when you’re not afraid to fall, it’s like – you start flyin’. We had finished off the Poles once before back in Gdansk.

There’s no need to even talk about the Swedes. And the next day, it was time to face those fuckers who were pounding wheat beers in the bar while we were left outside like some watermelons. We mauled ‘em good. It seemed as if our scrum would push them all the way back to that bar. We got every ball out of the scrum. It was over quick. The upshot was that their coach came into our changing room afterwards. He says something. I understand it means something like – You guys rock, fantastic. Anyone who wants to from your team can stay. We’ll find you a job, a little extra for each game. You can stay.

We all look at each other, the coaches talk it over. But I’m thinking, what is this? I’ve gotta finish school, it’s not for me. Like I’m fuckin’ smart or somethin’. Like I’m serious about life.

Most of us went back home. No coaches. They were pedalin’ their VW Golfs. We had our cigs, what was left of ‘em, which we sold to truck drivers at petrol stations. So we came home happy, and bad ass, way more bad ass than before. I mean, neon lights shined for us, whores took us by the hand. And we were all wearing t-shirts that said HANOVER RUGBY. You go out with that in the courtyard, and what do you think the first question will be?

 

 

Translated from the Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

e-max.it: your social media marketing partner

Sponsors

Friends

logo lrsThe Lithuanian Culture Institutelogo lim

Write us