A Love Affair in Maligrad-Short Story

“Lake Girl’s Tomb”… This is what the inhabitants of that fishing village called the big black stone that sometimes, in the west, shone brilliant particles as if it were in chrome layers. It wasn’t really an ordinary grave. It was a large stone in front of the island of Maligrad which testified to a distant, painful story, a story of fallen love. Whenever a stranger came down from town to village and the occasion came to talk about that stone shining under the moonlight, fishermen talked about a story that everyone told in their own way, so much so that sometimes the event in question was so distorted. so much so that from all the history it remained true except that the girl had been killed for a love affair with a stranger. So history had become a kind of legend, and in the fog of time no one really knew the truth of what happened during World War I, when those shores were invaded by the multinational Austro-Hungarian, German, Bulgarian, and so on. , who fought against the French of the “Army of the Orient” Even in an old newspaper, someone who described the history of that small village with some twenty houses, added that that girl had given up her last breath on the day of the end of the war, when her boyfriend her had been found murdered by the lake.

One of those days, Sotir Lena, a passionate about archaeology and history, set out for the island, which has been mentioned many times when talking about the church in Maligrad, the rock-cut chapel where there were still magnificent medieval frescoes and had been closed since 1968, when religion was outlawed. The frescoes were said to belong to the great master David Selenicasi. The boat had set off, emitting black smoke that spread over the bright surface of the lake, which until then had rested peacefully. He had just finished his research expedition to the village of Lin, by the lake, and immediately begged a friend of his, Thanas, a teacher in Pustec, to go and see the caves of the hermits on the other side of the lake. They were located opposite the village shore, no more than a mile away. It was Thanasi who spoke to him about the caves and the grave of a foreign soldier killed during the war, about which a Korça newspaper also wrote right after the “Great War” but no one knew where that place was. Some said he was Austrian, others German, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Czech. God knew. Thus, this story was lost and wasted in the frosts of time. This story had bothered him for years, but then they could not go because the island had been declared a military zone and no one had the right to trespass there, not even the fishermen themselves. As for the sheep, it was the border soldiers who had released some sheep, and each time one was raised they slaughtered it and made a feast on the green plateau of the island, which resembled a paradise. Going there was then considered an escape attempt, as according to the regime, on the other side were always the enemies, the Greeks and the Slavs. But fortunately, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of democracy, crossing the border was no longer a sin but the Albanian youth liked the sea better, emigrating as best they could to Italy.

When they reached the bottom of the rocky cliff they looked up and Thanasi signaled to them:

– Get better!

Sotir grabbed the ropes and, swaying back and forth, began to climb. A flock of seagulls passed nearby screaming, seemingly unhappy with the presence of people.

Finally he arrived and with difficulty entered from where suddenly a flock of birds came out all the shouts taking the sky. In fact, it was a cave that sank deep into the rock, where someone had put a bunch of dried branches and leaves, apparently to sleep. Above, in an open place, was an icon, and next to it, some extinguished candles could not be seen. Further a knife, some clothes left in the corner, and an old net seemingly to catch fish but the rocks birds had made their nests. There was hope that there would be no frescoes on the rock or old medieval relics but that cave was incredibly simple and without any historical value. Just an eremite cave, which for years seemed to have lived there in the most extreme conditions a man could live in: lake water and fish to quench his hunger… He looked from all sides and found a place old cross and next to it an old booklet of psalms, made dirty by the dust. Then curious, extending his hand into a pit inserted in the depths, something made him curious. “Wonder,” he said to himself, and began to remove them by throwing them down his feet and inserting his hand even deeper, just above his toes. Suddenly he touched something wooden. It had to be something of a board. He pulled it out slowly and when he pulled it out he spotted a wooden box. When he opened it, he was amazed at what he found in it: an old photographic camera covered in a cloth, some film clichés in negatives that simply featured human silhouettes or images of nature, and a matrix of numbers, as it seemed to any soldier. lost. “Surprising,” he thought. What could this old apparatus be in such a cave? Whose would it be? He looked at the camera and wanted to open it but immediately, seeing that it was too old, he immediately thought it would be good not to open it. “Maybe there’s a movie and it can get light!” He added. “Who could have hidden it here?” The Eremite that was lost in the depths of the lake or the priest of Maligrad, his Lord, who had many relics before he closed them?”

He was thinking so when Thanasi heard him and called him anxiously.

– I’m coming down! – he replied and immediately appeared at the top of the stairs and with the box in his hand he started to go down the stairs.

– What did he have? – Thanasi asked when the other was released on the boat.

– An ugly icon, an iron cross and some old rags, but here in this box there is a camera, – and he extended the box.

– What’s up?

Sotiri shrugged.

– A very old camera… I had never seen one. Who knows what is inside, but this should be opened by a specialist.

The boatman looked surprised while Thanas looked at him with a laugh:

– Here’s what it means when you deal with archaeology and history! Who cares!

– However, gold is not my friend! There may be some old historical photographs, who knows?

After a while, the old boat with those colors washed out of time left for the shore from where they had come a while ago. With their eyes fixed on the cliffs, they still looked curiously at the other smaller rock holes, each of which may have had a strange and mystical history. As they used to say in these parts, the trumpeters of God, the madmen of the church or those whom the priest had cursed but who did not want to be separated from the great God were closed there.

The next morning, Sotiri left for Pogradec and immediately stopped at the city photographer, a friend of his. Petro had been a photographer all his life, as had his father and grandfather. They were among the first photographers to open a shop in the city, and his grandfather taught him photography when he was young in America. He worked as an apprentice in an American atelier. Since then, their family has been honored that all the wedding and life photos of that city were taken. There you find them, alive and dead. A real photography museum.

As he met her, he showed her the bag from which he took the glass tiles and the old camera.

– Where did you find this, congratulations? – said the surprised photographer.

– Be careful I didn’t open it. Maybe there’s something inside, so I came to you.

“It’s a strange, very old camera, and it’s probably one of those from World War I,” said Petro, and putting on his glasses, he spotted the letters engraved on the camera. Something muttered and then added:

– I am from a good Austrian firm, but it no longer exists. Do you see this hook here? This prevents it from opening. Maybe they wanted to open it but didn’t know. Come with me now to open it in the dark room because it is not known kështu as well as the clichés.

Sotiri followed behind and the photographer closed the door. After a while, in that red light that covered the dark room, slowly and somewhat with difficulty, Petro moved the little hook and opened the camera, pulling out an old film, which he watched as he raised it above his eyes. It was a negative that was not exposed.

“Who knows what we’re going to see,” Petro said with a laugh, and immediately turned to the side where there were two rubber buckets of solution and water. He immediately introduced her while waiting for her development.

– Do well not to open it, as the light would have burned out at all. As far as I can see, the negatives in other clichés are well preserved. Surprisingly, no one has touched him for so many years.

In the semi-darkness of the laboratory, Petro looked at the negatives, distinguishing between human figures and landscapes, the contours of a village, and so on. Curious, he immediately put them all in the solution and after a few minutes took them out and let them dry. In the red light they began to look at those human figures as well as some views of the village. Apparently it was the same village, as in the background was the small island of Maligrad. In another were some peasants laden with corn cobs; a church, some children sitting on the doorstep of a village house, further, a very old peasant portrait but with a kind and smiling face; then a group of soldiers and the figure of a soldier taking off his hat holding it in his hand and laughing at the one photographing it.

Petro approached even further from the photo looking out of his uniform.

– I was a soldier of the First World War.

-“Surprising,” whispered Sotiri, “how do you know him?”

– Nemca’s soldiers also dressed like that.

Petro, meanwhile, was watching another cliché. She was a girl with a light summer dress and open chest. A very beautiful girl, with long buns that fell over her shoulders. She laughed too. Yes, she looked happy. In the next photo, she was lying on the grass, looking from the target with her hand half raised as if she didn’t want to be photographed, even though her smile betrayed her, as her face showed that she was very happy. The next photo was an even more beautiful portrait: she had her head down and her beard, beard and very few eyes were in the foreground. It was a rare art photograph. A virgin beauty.

– Maybe he was a photographer! – said Petro. – Look how beautifully he photographed it. I know that in the war, then everyone mobilized: actors, painters, photographers, musicians. They all led them to the front in the face of death. “It’s the same porn the other day,” Petro added, looking out of the girl’s cliché.

– Probably one of the girls in the village he fell in love with. Petro took the last picture and spotted her figure again at the entrance of the church in Maligrad, in that chapel inserted in the large cave where there were only rocks for the dome.

– How beautiful, it looks like a Madalena!

 – Apparently he took it by boat to photograph it here!

– Sure! Petro added again.

– There was no one to bring him except him. Then they were masters of the front.

The views were wonderful and the astonishment had overwhelmed both of them.

– Surprisingly, an Albanian girl in the apparatus of an Austrian soldier. Are you really one of the girls in that village?

– But who else then?

– It’s amazing how a girl could go with a foreign soldier.

– Why, it seems strange? Feelings have no limits dear friend… In those parts people have been much more liberated. It was not like the time we lived that when you saw a girl with a boy somewhere they had to get married.

Sotiri laughed and continued to stare at that beautiful love idyll that appeared in those few pictures. The white and somewhat ocher light of the sun gave her face special graces.

– Can you give me a series of these photos? They would be interesting for the village museum. I am convinced that such photos do not exist.

“Of course they have a lot of interest in history,” Petro said.

– Furthermore, I would be curious to find out who that girl was. Is it really the legend that was once told in the village?

– What legend?

– A love story of a girl with a stranger. She was a Vlach and the language would have united them.

– Why don’t you say we’re dealing with a love novel ?!

Finally Petro turned on the lights, wrapped the pictures on a piece of paper, and reached out.

– Take it, meanwhile I’m making a series for myself… when you pass here, let’s get the camera and the photo clichés. Those of the heritage section will be amazed at this story… and don’t forget to tell me about that love story.

The next day, returning to Prespa, Sotiri was always thinking about the “lake girl” and many thoughts were running through his head. Was she the daughter of the legend with the tomb on the shores of Maligrad? In fact, time coincided with the story of that event. Did he die? Was he killed or how? The first thing to clarify was whether the girl in the photo was the same as the “Black Stone” or not. Someone had told him that the story was actually related to the Shtëmbaçi family and that it had been written about this event since the war in one of Korça’s newspapers, a time when foreign armies had left behind only corpses and a great mourning.

When he landed in the village, he went straight to Uncle Tas’s house, hoping that perhaps the 80-year-old could tell him something, but he soon realized that the old man would not say much to him.

“I don’t hear what you’re saying,” the old man replied that day.

He didn’t seem to want to hear about it. The old man was shown to be deaf and often took his eyes off the other’s penetrating gaze. Suddenly the bride of the house said something else to him and he heard her for beauty. This detail prompted Sotir to harass the conversation even more. “He’s probably doing it,” he thought, and went on. After a while he took the picture and showed it to the old man. Uncle Tasi took it and put it forward. He approached her and looked at her carefully, and behold, his face took on a different appearance. It was getting dark. He held it for a moment in his trembling hand and threw it away, muttering. Sotiri bent down and took it, thinking that the picture had teased the old man.

Looking at the picture only now he noticed that behind the girl was the gate of a house. Apparently the old man had spotted their house where he was born. With his old glasses, those thick glasses, the old man looked at the pictures and muttered. There was no sound of what he was saying, but his murmur sounded like a kind of mourning, something like mourning. Maybe even though the girl resembled his mother? Was it their blood?

– Uncle, what is the story of the lake girl’s grave? They say he was from your family.

The old man turned his eyes, looked at her for a moment, and did not speak. He muttered for a moment, sipped the coffee the bride had brought, and after a long silence added:

– It’s been so many bad years, uncle, why didn’t I live then ?! Dad didn’t tell us anything about him. Mother was telling something. I was small…

– Is he drowned?

– That’s what they say…

– Why were they not buried in the village cemetery but on the shore of the lake.

– And how do I know these are old stories. He wanted to leave the village, get married…

– Were any of those soldiers of the First World War? From those of the Austro-Hungarian army?

The old man shrugged.

– Who knows, boy, – and meanwhile he took the package and lit a cigarette.

Apparently he wanted to end the conversation. However, Sotiri did not get up and started taking other pictures, giving them to the old man one by one. Uncle Tasi would look at them, close his eyes to the pictures, and always return to that picture of the girl in the background of the large gate of the house.

– What was your uncle’s name?

-“Sofia!”

Then the old man dropped his head on the sofa cushion and closed his eyes. He wanted to rest. Sad memories, old wounds oshta Perhaps he remembered his mother’s face. Did they look alike?

Sotir saw that the old man was lost in his own and did not want to disturb him anymore. He signaled to the bride that he was getting up to leave the old man alone.

As soon as he got out on the street he felt a strange pleasure. All this must have been the story of that legend, even the true story that was unfolding after the storm of that time, not even far away. Around autumn, she revealed her graces, that colorful world, especially with the red of the trees, the oaks and the white bodies of the poplars. Of course, he thought, the old man knew something, a family story that was not told in its entirety, that was kept secret and that we did not tell, after the girl had died or been killed. But if she had died she would have been buried like everyone else in the village cemetery. No, not Sotiri thought. Something more serious should have happened. Did this love hurt their family honor and kill them? Some time ago, in the village, someone who was dealing with the history of those parts, showed that he had been the old man of the house who had killed him, and this was because he was connected with a foreign soldier. Others denied it and said it had been a comedy that had fallen in love and killed both of them, when they wanted to go to the island.

He walked over and thought back to the conjecture of her murder: “Could two young lovers have been killed even though it was war time? Where was his grave? Then another voice said: “Everything could have happened then. It was a war and the Albanians did not know if those soldiers were their allies or enemies. ”… At that time, European armies were fighting each other on Albanian soil, and the whole of Albania had turned into a battlefield.

In the evening, on his way back to bed, he thought again that afternoon about the murder that had probably taken place on the shore. He closed his eyes and imagined strangely how it could have happened. Their figures in the pictures suddenly came to life and they were both rushing towards the shore where a small boat was waiting. They went to find a shelter to kiss, to say words of love to conceive bodies and souls. He imagined for a moment so smiling, happier than ever, with those long hair that the freshness of the lake took away. But suddenly a rifle had cracked. The girl turned her head screaming and the soldier slowly fell into the water, not far from the shore. He fell there, without a weapon, without a helmet, with only his military jacket unbuttoned on that sunny October day. That face appeared again, with those open eyes, terrified by that misfortune and pain. Undoubtedly he should have shouted and rushed towards him taking him in his arms to pull him ashore. But he was already murmuring. He said bits of words, so bloody, and with a slight laugh he was finally silent.

Two days later he handed over the old block in small letters, written in a foreign language he did not understand, together with the soldier’s matrix to the museum. The matrix had the number 21470 A. Those of the museum were told that he had taken note of the address that was above it and that he would try to write to that address. “It must be his address,” he told them. – Who knows, maybe someone can still live. He handed over the camera, the movies and left. However, that story would tear him apart all those days. He could not forget the smiling eyes of that girl and the happy face of that soldier with his jacket unbuttoned, as if with his love he wanted to make the world happy and put an end to that useless and barbaric war. A beautiful story, he said to himself, a love novel in wartime. An interrupted love and a painful tragedy.

Two days later he handed over the old block in small letters, written in a foreign language he did not understand, together with the soldier’s matrix to the museum. The matrix had the number 21470 A. Those of the museum were told that he had taken note of the address that was above it and that he would try to write to that address. “It must be his address,” he told them. – Who knows, maybe someone can still live. He handed over the camera, the movies and left. However, that story would tear him apart all those days. He could not forget the smiling eyes of that girl and the happy face of that soldier with his jacket unbuttoned, as if with his love he wanted to make the world happy and put an end to that useless and barbaric war. A beautiful story, he said to himself, a love novel in wartime. An interrupted love and a painful tragedy.

Two days later he wrote a letter and hurried to go to a friend of his who knew the old pharmacist of the city. He had a Czech wife, but by the end of the 1960s she had left for Prague. The pharmacist was in love when he was a student in Prague and after studying they returned to Tirana, but their happiness would not last long. The regime had decided to remove all those women from the “socialist camp”.

As soon as he told her the story, the pharmacist sat down and, drinking coffee, immediately translated the short letter and promised that he would read the photocopies of that block with curiosity to see what was written on it. In the evening, upon returning home, Sotiri began copying the letter in Czech:

“Madam, sir… I am writing to you, I am an Albanian archaeologist assistant and I am writing to you about Jaromir Knisel, who during the Great War was a soldier in Albania and exactly on the Prespa front. We found his matrix as well as a camera with some pictures. We know nothing about his fate, but this matrix leaves us thinking that he must have been killed in Prespa. If he is one of his family members, we would like to contact him so that we can post his photos and ask where his grave can be found. Accept the best wishes, Sotir Zavalani.”

The next day, he immediately started that letter by inserting three of the photos of the Czech soldier Jaromir Knisel.

Two days later, Sotiri had left for Durrës to spend a few days on vacation. In return, he continued his work in Lin with the archeological team, waiting for a letter from Prague not to come, but no one had responded. So upset, he thought that address would no longer exist, as many things had changed everywhere in Europe, as well as in Prague. He was sorry that he would not find anyone to take that glad tidings of the missing man, those pictures with his happy face at the end of that war.

Not long after, ten days later, someone informed him that a letter had come to his address. He immediately thought that maybe some news had come from Prague. Was the address correct? Was there anyone left from his family?… When he received the letter, he and the pharmacist went back to the nearby café, ordered something, and immediately took out the letter that had the same address. It was written by Mrs. Harovar. Here is what he wrote:

“Dear Sir. I am writing to you from the Jaromir Knisel family. My grandfather Vicheslav Knisel was the brother of soldier Knisel. He told me that in vain Jaromir’s mother had waited for her son. From the army reports no one could give accurate information about his death. From the family search, it was known that until the day of Amnesty he had been alive in his company but that very day he had disappeared. Since he had not joined the army, he was considered a loser, always on suspicion of deserting, but since he had never been alive for years, and after some testimony, this note on his card had been erased. He was a missing person like thousands of others who were killed in the front and covered by cannon soil or drowned in lakes. Many of them were disfigured by bombs without being able to identify themselves. His mother and father suffered greatly at the loss of their son, even though they waited for years but eventually lost hope. He had been a student at the School of Fine Arts and was a promising young photographer. He was even an excellent flutist. A host of photos are on the city music. Your letter is great news for us and we are looking for exactly where his matrix was found. Yesterday I talked to your consulate in Prague and they told me I could go whenever I wanted to Albania to look for his grave. I even sent a letter to our embassy in Tirana regarding this event. Your news has delighted us all over our family. Jaromiri will finally return to Prague! At the beginning of September we plan to come to Tirana and from there to Prespa. God will finally lead us to the shelter of our Jaromir.”

Two days later, together with Thanas, he went back to the village near Prespa. The fishermen had started fishing, with their small boats painted in blue. At first they stopped at the “Black Stone”, or “Stone of the Lake Girl” waiting for one of the residents to take them to the church in Maligrad. It was Tasi Shtëmbaç’s nephew who would take them. Apparently, he already wanted to learn from the story that was being talked about in the family. When he stopped at the “Black Stone”, which he had seen as a child, he began to touch it and look at it differently, as if it were something mystical, a stone that probably kept a grave under it, the grave of that girl who never before had heard of it.

It was a beautiful day and the boat was roaring silently over the blue water of the lake. The rising sun made the caves look like the caves of the hermit crabs, some of which were impossible to climb. When they stopped and entered the church doorstep, the ocher light of the sun penetrated inside it as if the restoration had begun. The frescoes were brighter, and in the apostles’ robes stood a beautiful red, somewhat cherry. One of the workers was told that the priest was expected to come from time to time. He was an old priest, and they welcomed him in the hope that perhaps the priest might tell them something about this story. Perhaps the old church books could have traces of Sofia or of the soldier Jaromir Knisel himself.

– The priest is coming, – announced the boatman, who from the threshold had suddenly noticed the other boat leaving the shore towards the island.

And indeed when they appeared on the doorstep, they saw that blue boat spotting the black figure of the approaching priest. Then they glanced at the island’s plateau, towards the rocks that rose above the church, where nature had created that green plateau. Whoever hoped that even that unexplored place might reveal something unexpected…

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