“Detachment of hard-breathing Tartars began to arrive more frequently....” That’s the way this story begins. It is published in 1922 as one of Andrić’s stories on Bosnia under the Turkish rule. It is rather interesting considering the main character Mula Jusuf, an eccentric and perverted man. Jusuf comes from Jedrene, finished his schooling in Istanbul, and used to work in Sarajevo where he came into conflict with prominent townsmen. That’s why pasha took him in service, in order to tease those respectful men from Sarajevo. He is one of Andrić’s aggressors, like Mustafa Madžar, a variation on the theme of an individual who inflicts suffering in the context of the systematic violence of an army. Mula Jusuf is a man with an obscure history of implication in uninvestigated acts of violence. He does not dominate the story in which he appears but remains a sinister presence in the background until the end, when he is given the task of taking a young Turkish woman, dispossessed by the war, back to her father. The pattern of his vicious behavior then reasserts itself. Alone with the woman, he forces her to strip and eventually stabs her to death.
translated by Joseph Hitrec, George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London, 1969
The judge despaired over the mounting costs and the loafing. After a vexing and exasperating day at the courthouse, he would shut himself in his home and threaten not to come out again until the camp was moved; but next morning fear and impatience would drive him out once again. His house was in the center of the little town; the only occupants of the large dwelling were he and his wife and the servants, whom they changed frequently. The old curmudgeon's home was crammed to the rafters; the cellars, granaries, and barns were piled high with stores. The rooms, in which a wintry silence always reigned, were smothered in carpets, spreads, embroideries, boxes and chests of aromatic wood. But every where and over everything there lay that chilly spotlessness so often found in Bosnian homes that was intimidating and forbidding, that neither cheered nor served anyone. This wealth and cleanliness were guarded and protected all day long by the judge's wife, a flat-chested woman with missing teeth, contorted and rumpled from so much fussing around the rooms, from bickering with the servants, and from her excessive thrift. It was in this house that the girl refugee from Trebinje was sheltered.
She had been kidnapped from her father's estate by the rebel-brigand Špaljo Montenegrin, who then took her to the Tara monastery with the idea of having her baptized so that he could marry her. As the Turkish police were close on his heels, he had to flee with her from monastery to monastery, from accomplice to accomplice; he would leave her in hiding for a few days and go away to do his raiding, and then, without warning, in the middle of the day or in the dead of the night, come back and drag her away again. Eventually, a superior Turkish force had routed him on the highway between Gorade and Sokolac, and retaken the girl. They brought her to Višegrad, where the town elders decided to send her back to her father at the first opportunity, and until then to put her up in a home where there were no children. And so she was allotted to the judge.
This tall girl was quite deranged by her terrible and disastrous experiences. She had lost her power of speech and now started dully and fixedly in front of her, incapable of recognizing or comprehending anything.
The dreadful Špaljo, who had swooped down on her family's manor like lightning and killed everyone and dragged her away with him, had been all skin and gristle, cold and hard. Then there had been those peasants huts full of smoke and goat droppings. Then the icy monasteries that smelled of pork fat and incense, and gray-haired monks with sepulchral voices and beards yellowed by tobacco. And betweentimes, those head-long night flights when under the blackness of the mountains one's will and wits crumbled and tree branches whipped one's eyes. In that terror, hardness, and cold, she had lost all sense of herself. Since they had brought her to the judge's house, she had calmed down a little. She still did not open her mouth but did not weep either, and spent the whole day sitting in the small garden that was enclosed by high walls; it was damp there and full of fiercely tangled undergrowth. As soon as they led her indoors, she would back into a corner of a room and crouch there with her hands pressed between her knees. Days passed and the judge waited in vain till the Pasha sent for her as he had promised. Supplies had still not arrived. The army camped on.
It was only toward the end of the second week that everything suddenly took a turn for the better. To begin with, the temperature dropped sharply on Friday evening and streams of cold air soughed loudly into the valley and broke the stagnation. The sky shook with thunderclaps; bolts of lightening vaulted across the slopes one after another. When night fell, there was a heavy cloudburst. Sheets of water hit the ground with such force that they turned to vapor, swept this way and that by the wind. All things vanished and lost their voice, save for the downpour that fell all night like a dream and a respite.
Next morning, the greater part of supplies arrived in town. The day was damp and clean-washed; the views acquired new depth, the horizons were clear. The forests on the high slopes looked like new. It was decided to break camp at dawn next morning, to move out and send a detachment for the balance of the supply train, which was then to proceed directly to Srebrenica. The Pasha summoned the judge again; the girl was moved from the latter's house to a furnished inner room at the Suleiman Beg blockhouse. Mullah Yusuf took upon himself the responsibility of sending her that evening to Sarajevo in the company of old Avdaga and some mounted men, and from there, through his friend Munir Effendi, who was a dispatcher of mails, to deliver her to her father at Trebinje.
The camp echoed with noise, preparations, and livelier singing. After a brilliant day the dusk was gathering fast, with only a fleeting afterglow, when Mullah Yusuf came down to the blockhouse to see the girl.
The old woman Fatima had gone home. The girl sat in a corner, wrapped in a shawl. He addressed her gently, hastening to assure her that he would say a prayer over her in order to cure her and send her home; but for that she would have to take off the wrap. She rose for a moment, as if wavering.
"Better take it off, daughter. Go on."
She threw off the shawl and stood tall and motionless before him, somehow bigger and handsomer now that she was set fully against the small, low-ceilinged room; surprising and dumbfounding him with her good looks and well-shaped body. Her neck shone palely; darkened neither by hair nor shadows, it looked extraordinarily smooth and white.
"You must take off the jacket too. Yes, the jacket. Otherwise it can't be done."
His voice quavered and he smiled fixedly.
With a meek air of helplessness, the girl raised her arms (as if about to be crucified) and peeled off her short sleeveless jacket. The movements of those arms, white and ample and yet drained of all strength and will, overpowered and shattered the trembling mullah, and he came up to her to untie the sash of her pantaloons.
"This, too, daughter. Off with everything, everything!"
She resisted weakly, with gestures that were stunted and mechanical as in a dream.
Here the hand could wander at leisure , over those things and hips. No end to it, ever! It was warm there, and smooth like ice. His mouth twisted and gathered in a pucker, as if from raspberries; he felt weak-kneed and the muscles of his left cheek twitched visibly. The girl stood there absently and permitted everything with an air of grave, dull apathy that brought the lecher back to his senses and spurred a desire to prolong and sharpen the thrill, to draw forth some protest and movement. He reached up to a low shelf for a barber's razor. He was breathing hard and felt chilly from head to heels: yet kept slavering and using his hands.
"I have to shave you first."
At that point, however, the girl unexpectedly slipped away, gave a stifled shriek, and began to dash around the room. She was only in her shirt, and now that she was in motion it seemed as if every part of her had swelled and was brimming and spilling. She fought back, stumbled and fluttered across the room like an unfurled banner, while the mullah, thin and darkly flushed, lunged at her and sprang after her, keeping up a disjointed mutter and brandishing the razor.
"Stop! A shave first, stop...!
Her shirt split on the right side and the shoulder gleamed up, once more white, round and plump beyond belief. In the tussle and struggle, he accidentally grazed the naked shoulder with razor, and the shallow cut filled with blood.
The mullah stopped short, his head lolling, the face ashen; his dark-blue lids came down low. A pair of teeth flashed through his parted lips. He remained like this for a second, then shivered and hurled himself furiously at the girl. She screamed, but in a choked and thin voice (a mute animal), waiting for him and repulsing him like a battlement, hard, white, and naked. She pounded the walls and rattled the locked door. And through the stampede of their feet and through their panting this sound of her big strong body could still be heard-clear, resonant, almost metallic. Disfigured beyond recognition, the mullah raged on. His turban slipped all the way to the back of his head and his breath came in an exultant rasp.
There was blood on her again, now on the other shoulder, and presently it gushed out of her throat in a spate. She doubled over, slopped to the floor and filled the corner of the room, while the mullah dropped alongside and mingled with her indistinguishably.