from The Bernardi Set
by Slobodan Tišma (translated from Serbo-Croatian by Nada Likić)

Excerpted from an award-winning novel set in the fictional city of Djurvidek (in former Yugoslavia), in the early 21st century.

My fear of being alone was the main reason I let all those people into my flat. At least it seemed to me so. When he finally got up half an hour after my return, Berlinič told me that a man from Zagreb had called the previous night and introduced himself as a television editor. The man asked to speak with my father; allegedly, he had heard that we had a set of furniture that had artistic value, and he was a serious potential buyer. Berlinič wrote down the man’s name and the phone number we should call if we intended to sell the furniture. Of course, I wouldn't even consider calling him because selling the set was out of the question. Winter was just about to begin, and my sleeping in the wrecked car on the parking lot was coming to an end. It had already gotten cold at night, and I was forced to reluctantly come back to the flat. The solution was to move into the room where the furniture was packed, where I could be relatively isolated from my guests or tenants, or whatever they were. I had no intention of unpacking the Bernardi furniture; there was no need for that. All I needed was a mattress and a sleeping bag. In the corner, a lamp with an interesting painted shade made for a cosy ambiance. By the way, that room was just next to the bathroom, which absolutely suited me. Its walls were whitewashed. Since it was on the northern side, it got little day light. There were no paintings on the walls, not even a single nail. Everything clean, perfect for listening to music. I set the mattress under the window, so my eyes were directed towards the furniture piled and wrapped in white cloth. Lying on the mattress in the evening, I was trying to recall every piece of the furniture hidden under the white sheet, i.e. each Bernardi piece that I owned. A large rectangular wardrobe on small legs; a cube-shaped cabinet with three drawers, of which the upper had a lock, also on small legs; a very low, square tea table; a stool resembling a pianist bench, but unstuffed, the edges of the seat bent upward a bit, upholstered in shiny black box calf leather; a cube-shaped armchair, with thin pickets, an oval back and a seat also upholstered in shiny black box calf, unstuffed; a very simple bed, practically just a board on small legs, framed on three sides, with a mattress upholstered in chequered black-white fabric. Impressive, one piece nicer than the other. Only in my mind did all those concrete-abstract shapes come to life, actually refreshing my memory. So I fell asleep and had a dream of the phone ringing, of picking up the receiver, and finding out that on the other side of the line is none other than Bernardo Bernardi. He tells me that he wants to buy the furniture, that he wants to give it as a present to his daughter for her eighteenth birthday. I am perplexed, I don’t know how to answer; I am sorry to reject him, but then I don't feel like selling the furniture. I ask him: Sir, why are you angry? I am not angry, says Bernie, but save the set for me, especially the chair. But I don't have a chair, I reply. And that's all I can remember about that dream. The next day the television editor—actually an art dealer—called and introduced himself as Mitar Jovanić, the name should have meant something to me. He said that he had called the previous day and that he was a serious buyer. Since I was interested in how much he was ready to pay, I didn't reject him at once. He asked if the furniture was well preserved, which pieces made the set, and how much I asked for it. I cited all the pieces, and then told the price: ten thousand Deutsch marks. An ooooh could be heard from the other side: you have overvalued it, it's too much, I’m a trader, I know how prices go, it's too much. Well, how much would you pay, I ask him. Five thousand, Mr. Jovanić replies. Unfortunately, I can't sell you the set that cheaply, it is by the one and only Bernardo Bernardi. But can I ask you something: who told you that we have the Bernardi set? Not important now at all, he replied, from a friend of yours from youth whom you may no longer remember. The conversation ended here. During the day Berlinič asked me several times what kind of furniture it was; he was intrigued, he wanted to see it. It was obvious that he was eavesdropping. I almost didn't pay attention to his pleading because in my mind I was preoccupied with the dream I had had. I was trying to explain to myself what Bernardi's message meant: save the chair for me! What’s the chair in question? It is not very consoling when dead people pose puzzles in your dreams. I rejected Berlinič, I told him that the furniture was packed and that it would be very complicated to unpack it. I directed him to the art book in which there was a photo of the set. By the way, I didn't let anybody in the room, and if I went out, I ensured it was locked securely. Actually, I didn't know much about Bernardi, I only knew that he was a big name in modern art.

During the day I went to The Queen of Immigrants Library to learn more about him. I even thought that he was an Italian artist, which, of course, wasn't true. I learnt that he originated from Dalmatia, from the island of Korčula. But the greatest shock was the revelation that he died in Bol near Brač the same day when I had that accident or, better put, that experience on the Adriatic highway by the Brač channel. But under which circumstances he died at the age of sixty-four, I couldn’t find out at all. Did he die from natural causes or under some unfortunate circumstances? Yet, I didn't like much of what I had read about him. He wasn't a man to my liking, he wasn't my type. It seems that he was too influential, he received numerous awards, which is shit. Why? So, I didn't like Bernardi, but just because of that I admired him, I respected the difference. What would this world be if everybody were as I am? But I admired his artistic work incredibly, his ideas about art. Design, besides music, is maybe the only modern art where the well-known idea about original artistic work in the age of mechanical reproduction has been completely embodied. Furniture is a notion of artistic work, something extremely precious, like a negative of sculpture, adapted to the human body which is absent, I was thinking that way. Bernardi's design stressed exactly that spatial absence, vacant space. Simply, nobody should sit in that armchair or on that chair which is a pure being by itself. Or perhaps someone is sitting, but he is not visible. That is even more interesting. Maybe all this is nonsense, but art has always attracted me with its magic. Although I never understood anything, I’ve always loved to look at paintings, to listen to music. My relation to art was totally irrational, I didn't love interpretations which always left me dissatisfied. I didn't read fiction, because it was half way, neither here nor there, a prosthetic discipline. It might even be said that I didn't like to think at all. So it was always strange to me when I engaged in some contemplation, in order to explain something to myself, and I only made things even more complicated. I found out that Bernardi had also been the author of the project of “a minimal flat”: how does one walk in a bedsit and not stub one’s toes against the bed? Ha-ha, great! I needed something just like that, I had enough of my company. I had already been considering selling the flat so as to get rid of the guests. I have always wavered between selfishness and generosity. But then, once I get rid of those few friends, what am I to do? But I couldn’t sell the flat without father’s permission, which meant that I had to get in touch with him again and even force him to come here for a few days and do the whole thing by himself. (In my madness I forgot that my father wasn’t the owner of the flat at all, he only had the right to live in it, which meant that selling was out of the question.) I didn’t like any of that at all. But maybe that was the way we could see each other again after so much time. Did I want that meeting? Would he want it? I had his address and phone number, he lived in Split. Every time I passed near the parking lot I would look at the wreck. One night the snow fell down and covered it all. I felt like getting into it and meditating a bit in the back seat. When I got into it, at once I sensed that magic smell of pipe tobacco, it was mixing with the smell of freshly fallen snow. I was imagining that I was on the big wave of the icy Ocean, but in the room. I felt someone’s presence, as if something were looking at me in my hideaway, some big eye. All of a sudden I licked the frame of the door; it was salty, very, very salty. When I later on went back to the flat, I felt as if I had been in the wreck all along, that I had mounted that deep purple shell on my back, brought it into the room. The wreck absorbed the whole space along with all the furniture. Yet, I was trying to substitute the wreck with a big blue eye, to translate it, to take the position outside the wreck. But the impossibility of stepping outside the wreck, the egg, appeared to me as only temporary, which was already a reason for panicking. The eye was enormous. The immense chasm look of Someone, of anyone, suited me better, promised me better chances for escape, for trance. Though, I only whispered, like a child: I am greeting you, old icy Ocean! I was worried, but as soon as I lay down and warmed up a bit, the feeling disappeared. Soon I fell asleep and in my dream I saw standing by my bed a man whose face was framed by a Roman beard, and he told me: You have stolen my daughter’s car, shame on you! But who are you, I asked. I am Trago Della Bernardina, Yugoslav conceptual artist, said the man. Then I said: If you are Trago Della Bernardina, then I am Bernardo Bernardi. Well, you are really Bernardo Bernardi, only you don’t know that, said the man. Yet, you are wrong, my friend, I don’t have anything at all in common with Bernardi, I was trying to convince him. But are you Bernardo Bernardi by any chance? I asked him suddenly, and he smiled mysteriously. So, we kept getting our lines crossed, me on a black square, he on a white square, which lined up into infinity, till I finally awoke. I was gazing with my eyes wide open: the room was flashing in the darkness, the whiteness from the street got in and lay on the white icy mountain that stood mysteriously silent in the middle. Some voices were coming from the sitting room. Berlinič and the fat guy were arguing although it was so late. As far as I could understand it was politics again. The failed communist against the newcomer democrat. Bah! I thought, how can people waste so many words and so much energy on something they can't affect at all. It was just a game, a motif, and it wasn't important. They had already been barking at each other, and then someone started to cough. That was the end of the discussion. But maybe I wasn't right: were they wasting energy, or were they warming up before going out in the street where they were needed? Indeed. But, by whom?

I recalled that Trago Della Bernardina who had appeared in my dream, had moved to Djurvidek several years before. Sometimes I would come across him at a corner; by the way, the entire city knew him. He was dressed in the national flag, tricoloured. That way he was stumbling in the streets. I thought: maybe that old carcass had a daughter, and the Mercedes wreck down there on the parking lot really belonged to her? I would get into trouble. Or was the apparition in my dream Bernardi's ghost? And was the wreck in question languishing hundreds of kilometres away in the sea depths? By the way, it often appeared to me that I lived at the bottom of the Ocean.

I didn't go to the city much, maybe only when I just had to and that was late at night. I was afraid. I especially feared the twilight at the promenade. Several times, for no reason, amid the evening city rush I panicked. It was a very difficult experience. In the evening everybody would go out, but I would stay at home. But I got used to that. Though sometimes one of my guests stayed with me. The most annoying situation was when the nameless man stayed, the one with whom I had nothing to talk about. I had no idea who he was. I was obstinately avoiding asking Berlinič or anybody else about him. If they couldn’t tell me, I didn’t care at all. So we would sit and watch TV, he would be stoutly silent, not even a single word from his mouth, he didn't comment on the programme. I thought that he, actually, was very intelligent. He knew that chattering is ordinary nonsense, waste of time. I could retreat to my room, but I didn't want to be inhospitable, or show him that I wasn't interested in him. If the programme on TV was boring, which happened very often, in my mind I was wandering with Berlinič and Aleksić all around the evening city. I would see them strolling along the promenade, then dropping in at restaurants and discotheques, then commenting on the appearance of Djurvidek girls, but also of boys. Once I even saw them in a fight near a bar, in which they got the short end of the stick. They were just watching, they couldn't afford anything, actually, they hadn't a penny in their pockets. And they hungered for everything, poor boys.

The remaining two rooms in the flat were packed with guests, three people in each. In the sitting room, which was the biggest, besides Berlinič, there were Varda and Aleksić, and in the smaller bedroom, just next to the entrance door, Veljanski, the fat guy, and the unknown man who jumped out from the small bathroom. More or less similar destinies had gotten together, so there wasn’t much material for drama. There were discussions, but it always ended peacefully. There was a kind of a tacit agreement about decency, and anyway, they were guests there and they had to respect some rules. All of them had experienced life’s shipwrecks, which had apparently created a mutual understanding that pruned away extreme behaviour. That was the most important thing, that's why I tolerated them. Personally, I wasn't that interested in their histories, their life stories, I knew just a few details from their lives. Berlinič was an exception, I practically grew up with him. As a distinguished political figure, Berlinič was compromised when his political opponents found out somewhere that in his youth he had been treated in a psychiatric institution. It is known that a mental or psychic disorder is a deadly sin for a politician, there is no cure to those illnesses, once mad, forever mad. He could be trusted no more. Since political responsibility is the responsibility of the highest rank, one should not risk it. However, when politicians are in question, it isn't very important if they have ever in their lives behaved publicly in a socially unacceptable way. Of course, it is common with everybody, but if their behaviour was institutionally marked, registered, even if it was only latent, hidden, if they by any chance visited a psychiatrist or they were, God forbid, treated in a psychiatric institution where their records are kept, black on white. And there it is, the end of a political career. That's just what happened to Berlinič. Of course, socially unacceptable behaviour can be a criminal activity, and politicians aren’t immune to that, but it is a much smaller problem. Sins from one’s youth can be easily forgiven, we have a lot cases like that, not just one, my God, we are all just humans. But madness, it can't be cured, though it took place a long time ago. When I say madness, I have in mind in the first place a kind of a symptom manifested as an after-effect of something inconceivable. Criminal activity is understandable, it can be justified, madness is not, and in that sense it is unacceptable. And it is punished, though not institutionally, as crime is, but through the back door, tacitly. Although there is the doctors' etiquette, and secrecy is guaranteed, it is of no importance. Rumours are enough, like some kind of aural hallucination. If someone tries to defend himself publicly, one makes the matter even worse. He starts to shout everywhere: I am not mad! Or even worse, he tries to get satisfaction through a legal proceeding. Immediately he gets the reaction: Here he has gone mad, the madness has come back. Soon after the newspapers revealed Berlinič's secret, he was deposed from a very influential position in his party. His party friends pulled some strings and got him the position of a clerk in the consulate in Tirana. His wife didn't want to move there, his marriage broke apart. When he came back to his native town, he lived in a hotel for a while. They found him a job in a sports centre, which he didn’t want to accept. By the way, by vocation he was an electrical engineer. He remained penniless. There were rumours that he was sleeping on the Danube quay. One day I met him stumbling with a rucksack on his back in Jevrejska street. A rucksack on someone's back is a dangerous mark, though of course I don't have in mind today's students pushing their way on the public buses—I’d charge those double to ride—I have in mind solitary individuals who are well into their middle age. It means that the person is in a phase of struggling, the phase of the last mobilization, of the motto “All that is mine I carry with me”. And Berlinič was in that phase when I met him. He was a few years older than me, we went to the same secondary school. I remember him and Aleksić, on whom I will elaborate later, when they were youth activists visiting my class to give us political lectures. We despised them. We called them Janissaries1. What was happening to Berlinič after he finished secondary school, I don't know, but for sure he continued his political career. After the introduction of the multi-party system, he advanced in the political hierarchy and it seemed that his psychotic episode was forgotten. But what actually happened: after the secondary school graduation trip to several Dalmatian towns, Berlinič returned home alone, on foot, half naked. Apparently, he walked along the railway by the Una all the way to Novska, and from there along the highway to Belgrade. When he finally reached Djurvidek, wearing only underwear, singing: “Across the forests and hills of our proud country...”2, his parents were horrified, they took him to hospital themselves. It is possible that, while on the excursion, he took LSD, which was very popular at the time, and afterwards he couldn’t come down. It is known that schizoid persons may have such problems. Or they can easily recover, but madness comes back from time to time, which is even worse. Berlinič's friend Aleksić is a different story. As a war orphan, by the way, he was born in a concentration camp, from his early childhood he was a favourite of politicians, as if the Party comrades repaid their debt to his parents by unofficially adopting him. He was still a college student when he became a commissar at the Cultural Centre of Djurvidek. He was known to be exceptionally efficient and generally a man with little patience. Once he drove a Jeep to Belgrade to bring some poets to recite their verse on the occasion of May Day. He went straight away to the Kolarac restaurant, where all Belgrade poets usually gathered, and then he asked them all to come with him to Djurvidek, and of course, he didn't even know their names. Since all of them couldn't fit inside the Jeep, and they all wanted to go, they started pushing in, tried to sit in one another’s lap. So Aleksić told one legendary poet to get out, and as he didn't want to go, Aleksić slapped him, took him by the collar of his shirt and threw him out of the Jeep. That's the way he was. However, Aleksić went through a profound change all of a sudden. Besides being a commissar at the Cultural Centre, he was doing various other tasks given to him by the Party. Once he took part in some Party-orchestrated chicanery, when they expelled a very good-looking girl from the Party, and the girl committed suicide later. Feeling remorseful because of that, he repented publicly. And this was also the end of his political career. However, his enormous energy couldn't leave him alone, he had to do something, so he decided to practice some art. And when a political activist moves to an artistic medium, it's completely certain which art he will practice: he became a film director. Aleksić wasn’t the only example. It is understandable that social topics dominated his art, he couldn't run away from politics. Yet, he succeeded very soon, he won the Grand Prix at the International Film Festival in Vrnjačka Banja, which, of course, was a great accomplishment. A world career appeared to be in sight. However, bit by bit, he started going around in circles, from film to film he dealt with socially deprived and marginalized groups, he repeated the same story all the time, and interest in his art gradually faded away. Although he got all the domestic awards, he experienced great disappointment. Once we ran into each other in the street, and he complained to me that he couldn’t reconcile himself with the fact that, as a director, he was nothing abroad. Hence, I gave him a piece of advice, I told him: Listen, make a film about yourself. He didn't follow it. Actually, he wasn't interested in what I thought about his destiny, he didn't think I was competent to think anything about him as an artist. He just had an urge to bemoan no matter to whom. Eventually he stopped making films and ended where he ended, in my flat. Simply, he couldn't get any money, and since a film can't be made without money, he put an end to it all. The only thing he could do was write poetry. Berlinič and Aleksić's room-mate was Varda. He once used to work as a sound executive at Radio Djurvidek. By the way, he also was a famous hockey player. He moved to Canada, lived in Toronto where he tried playing hockey professionally. But competition was too tough for him there. Then he tried patenting a new puck, but he didn't succeed. I found out what the matter was during an argument between him and Berlinič who was a big football fan. Varda was claiming that hockey was a much more dynamic sport than football and that the reason for its insufficient popularity was because it was not visible enough on TV. That is, the puck cannot be clearly discerned on a TV screen, it is too small. A football can be seen much better. Hockey players are rushing across a skating rink, but on a TV screen, what they are rushing after is often not discernable. In Canada, Varda tried to patent a new puck with fluorescent filling so it would shine and therefore be much more visible. But in that case the ice surface should be black. Black ice, huh? This is very reasonable, it is strange that the patent didn’t advance. It seems that the hockey public is not interested in watching hockey on TV, they regularly go to arenas and watch directly from the platforms, and then the puck is seen quite well, which is not the case with football. But watching a telecasting of a football match, we can see more and much better than if we were at a stadium. When Varda came back from Canada he indulged in drinking and, physically, he’d completely wasted away, from a burly man he became a shadow. By the way, I had known him since the time when I was trying to record an album in the sound studio at Radio Djurvidek. Of course, eventually nothing came of that, but we remained good friends. He really was a good man, but a bit unrealistic. Veljanski, the commandant of the small bedroom, didn't have any teeth. He must have liked sweets very much when he was a little boy. But where were the dentures he had been wearing since secondary-school days? By the way, he was the best English Studies student in his class. He should have stayed at the university after graduation, but his cutting tongue cost him a lecturer post. He got employed in a tourist agency as a guide and travelled almost all over the world, there wasn't a continent he hadn't been to. At one occasion when he was guiding tourists around Venice, he stopped at the Bridge of Sighs, right by the legendary window through which Giacomo Casanova escaped from his torturers, took the dentures out his mouth, the upper and the lower set, threw them by his feet in front of the dumbfounded tourists, and crushed the dentures to pieces. He returned home on the first train, leaving the tourist group with no explanation. He quit the job and took to roaming. His daughters were trying to get him back into normal life, but they didn't manage it. He was a choleric person, he would lose his temper. His attendants in the smaller bedroom were the fat one and the nameless man who’d jump out from the bathroom. Although, one could hardly say that the nameless man could be anybody's attendant, I don't believe that he submitted to anybody. The fat one was a medical student, he liked singing opera melodies and buzzing around the flat in a bathrobe, that's all I knew about him. And who this new guest was, I had no idea, as I have already said. And that was it, all in all, a group of cheerful guys who entertained me but also annoyed from time to time. But I have been known as a very patient person, never making snap decisions.

Another possible reason why I tolerated them was the fact that they kept the flat very tidy. But it wasn't my obsession with neatness as much as it was my fear of hoarding, of waste piling up. I liked that, this way they showed certain responsibility. They didn't cook, oh no. Everybody had to manage somehow. Of course they could eat something in the flat, but pans and pots were out of the question. Also there was no tension, they did argue, but tactfully. There were limits that nobody crossed. A cough, a laugh, doesn't matter, and it would be the end of a story. As time went by, my word was law less and less, especially after I had begun staying in the car wreck overnight, but incidents, like the one with the toilet and the bathroom, were rare. Sometimes I would exhibit that authoritarian mentality, but I would quickly retreat. Simply, I didn't like to command. In a certain sense it can be said that I was neither consistent, nor honest. I was aware of all that, but I didn't care, it was all the same to me. All that wasn't important. Was I a personality? Did anyone respect me? There were much more important things. Pleasure was the only important thing, and was it shared with anyone? Of course not, even in spite of good faith, even if I undoubtedly wished for that. For me it was the deepest intimacy, something only mine and nobody else's. What made me happy, others couldn't even dream about. But maybe even I didn't know what made me happy? It was inconceivable. How someone saw me, what one thought about me, I really didn't care. Did thought of me bring comfort or a frown? Even the feeling of disgust and scorn was most desirable. Scorn is freeing. I have always been trying to break the illusion of others’ views and opinions. Of course, it made me even more lonesome, but it was the price of living in truth, the truth in a single body and a single soul. If you don’t represent anything to a society, you still have a family. If you don’t have a family, if you are alone, you still have nature, your body, i.e. the cosmos and eternity as the biggest prison. Alone under the stars facing the Ocean. Is that a little bit of something? Is that Nothing?

But there was the seventh man, the seventh brother who was engaged in literature, he wrote novels, and he was the winner. He took action right at our flat, he didn’t merely end up in it like Aleksić and company. Did I forget the seventh brother accidentally? Did I forget his name by chance? He also worked at the Cultural Centre when Aleksić was a commissar there. He came from the small village called Taraš and immediately he got the position of a technical director. And what he actually did in the Cultural Centre, only God knows. The position of a technical director in a cultural institution? Huh?! But it wasn’t anything strange. Communists practised bringing promising young people from the provinces, putting them in very responsible positions as soon as they came, they made up jobs for them, and these were faithful to them like dogs. Of course, along the way they did various jobs for the Party. On one occasion Aleksić told me how the seventh brother had stopped greeting him in the street. Oh, greeting in the street, what a nuisance. I don’t know why it was important to him if someone greeted him in the street. Of course, it was at the time when Aleksić had already been undone as a director. The seventh brother had always strategically picked his company, he liked getting rid of a friend, making him an ex-friend, he didn’t hesitate much. He had had great plans and ambitions like everyone who came from the provinces. In any case, he hadn’t intended to bury himself and wait for retirement in the Cultural Centre of the city of Djurvidek. He stalked famous, already established writers, through whom he later made connections abroad. Soon his books started being translated, and then awards came as well. He became a European-class writer. Now he started being stalked by young writers who needed to somehow reach those people in power abroad and scrounge scholarships or get invitations to stay in European metropoles. But why am I telling this? What have I to do with the seventh brother? What’s my part in his destiny? Here it is! At the occasion of a literary event in the Cultural Centre, one woman tried to stab her cheating husband with a poisoned umbrella, but she misdirected it and stabbed the seventh brother right in the thigh. The wound wasn’t serious, but he felt ill. I was there at the literary event, and since my i.e. my father’s “beetle” was down there in front of the Cultural Centre, and the ambulance wasn’t coming, I offered to drive him to hospital. While we were putting him into the car, he was half in a coma, the poison was taking effect. I had saved his life. We became friends, and since his flat, given to him by Cultural Centre, hadn’t been finished yet, I suggested he move temporarily into our flat. My father and I had been alone for some time, my mum had left us, and one room was vacant, and that was the one in which the Bernardi furniture was. So, the seventh brother was relishing for a few months in that lovely ambience. But was he noticing that at all? I don’t think so. He was inclined to contemplation, but he hadn’t the sense for aesthetics, he was hopeless with beauty, like his ex-friend Aleksić. Obviously, the almighty had forgotten them. It seems that the destiny of all people, even the most insignificant, is to participate in social success, at least through other people who they have grandly helped once. If I hadn't been there on that occasion, the seventh brother might have finished his career abruptly. But we should help people to realise their wishes, their dreams, why not, to enjoy themselves, no matter what they are, good or bad, honest or mean. The general social success is the destiny of all of us, all participate in a way in the world process of affirmation, in the big “YES” to life and existence. Hence, you can never escape fame, even if nobody ever hears about you. Though, a name is important, you should accept the name of the other man and support him, hide behind him and praise him. For whatever you do, eventually Arjuna, also known in this area as Cancer or Heart Attack, is awaiting to cut you in two. However, whenever the seventh brother was mentioned, all my tenants would say in one voice how he was untalented, how he was no writer, and similar things. Why? They disparaged their contribution to his success. They weren't aware that without their existence the seventh brother wouldn't exist either. They couldn't recognize themselves in him, although they envied him. But, maybe the sense of envy originated just in their unconscious recognition of themselves in him. They hated themselves because of their success, because that betrayed their own loserdom. The hatred of their own “I” was corroding them like acid, but in the real, actual world, there was no more place for war. It seems that such times have come, the world has divided strictly into winners and losers. An insurmountable barrier had come between them. The winners had separated from losers, flown towards new horizons, empowered with knowledge and arts. The losers, those who weren't ready to learn, were wasting away due to the unstoppable loss of energy. The battle field was expanding at high speed, so that they couldn’t reach each other any more. There was only solidarity, i.e. a kinship among losers. Actually, they didn't know anything about the winners any more.

Yet, something puzzles me: how can a man, an individual, know at one moment that he is competent for something, that all others are beneath him, that they know and can do less, that they are less capable? It was only yesterday that he barely knew anything, or he was just unskilfully learning, but today, here he is on the Olympic throne. Prometheus, though “smart,” knew nothing, an ignoramus compared to Hermes and Hephaestus. But he was bold enough to say to almighty Zeus: Fuck off! He grabbed the fire, i.e. money, unafraid of getting burned. It is that primordial insolence in every winner, his primitivism. Of course, the price is high. There is no free ride. Is there anything more expensive than light, than fire?

But why was that man in the street stooping? Why was he wasting away, why was he dying so hideously? Everybody ends that way. The winners, too. Why? Social success, upholstering, comfortable living were the most important things in his life, but nothing more than that. But he should have asked for more, much more. However, he didn't know what to ask for. Maybe, being aware of that, Bernardi avoided stuffing his armchairs and chairs. Or the stuffing was very thin and the furniture was anything but comfortable. Hence, no upholstering, please! When you sit on a chair, straighten yourself, keep your spine upright. And contemplate, meditate. Don't snooze! That was Bernardi's message.

Generally, the problem with this group, including here the seventh brother, was that none of them appreciated music, they didn't feel it, they weren't even interested in it, with the exception of the fat one, who loved singing opera melodies and standards in the bathroom. But all of them were good at maths. But there is no need to waste words on where maths led them; with the exception of the seventh brother, there is no need to waste words. Anyway, a man often miscalculates, it always turns out differently than he expects. That fact was creating a big obstacle in our relations, something essential was missing, simply, we were too different. Although it is said that music actually is mathematics and that there is almost no difference between the two, still their score, which was more interesting, was something much more banal, pure profit. Maybe there was some music there, but not for my ears. Between us there was a cold zone, the icy Ocean separated us. Music was everything to me. I was even listening to the Bernardi set, the furniture was singing, each piece had its leitmotif, its aria that complemented the general melody, the supreme being of the set, so celebrating the existence of an artistic piece on the very shore of the Ocean. I believe that they all were deaf to that, which was a great pity for them and also for me. For sure our relationship would have been much deeper if they had been slightly less tone-deaf, a bit more sensitive to the quietest tunes of the objects and and and...I had better be silent, I have started putting myself in a special place, praising myself, and I lack both the middle and the ends, as it is said. Especially the middle.

1Janissaries (jăn´Ĭsâr´ēz) [Turk.,=recruits], elite corps in the service of the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). It was composed of war captives and Christian youths forced into service; all the recruits were converted to Islam and trained under the strictest discipline. It was originally organized by Sultan Murad I.

2 Famous partisan song in Yugoslavia during World War II.

Packingtown Review – Vol.12, Fall 2019

Slobodan Tišma is a multimedia artist and a writer, born in 1946 in former Yugoslavia. In the late 1960s, he co-founded the conceptual art group KȏD in his home city of Novi Sad. The city’s avant-garde art scene was broken up by the local authorities in the early 1970, but Tišma re-emerged a decade later as a founder, lead vocalist and songwriter in the bands La Strada (power pop) and Luna (psychedelic new wave). He has published several collections of poetry and four novels. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his literary work, including the NIN Award, established in 1954 and awarded annually for the best new novel, which he received for The Bernardi Set in 2011.

Nada Likić teaches English and translates texts from various fields, including fiction and poetry. She works as a moderator for the English conversation club at the cultural center American Corner in Novi Sad, where she is engaged in arts, literature, health and recreation programs. She is a human-rights, animal-rights, and environmental activist.