Anika's Times

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Among the stories published between the wars there are several characters who dominate the tales in which they appear and seem similarly to stand for a whole category of human experience. An example is the heroine of the of the story “Anika's Times“(1931). Anika is a woman who wreaks havoc in Višegrad through the unpredictable distribution of her favours. The impact she made is still spoken of when the story opens, several generations later. Anika is a self-willed creature whose defiance of convention – flouted initially out of pique with a particular young man – predictably brings her no happiness to the extent that she welcomes the prospect of the inevitable retribution her as a relief for herself and others: “It would be an act of charity of someone would kill me”, she repeats several times before her death. In this way Anika herself is not entirely in control of her destiny, but is the vehicle of an overwhelming power over men.

The story of Anika is given an additional dimension in the form of an explanatory introduction the exact meaning of which is perhaps not immediately clear, but emerges from the account of “Anika’s Times”. This introduction describes the growing schizophrenia of the parish priest of a village outside Višegrad and his obsessive, furtive watching of women. As long as the villagers speak of him they tend to be reminded also of Anika. There is only a tenuous connection between her and father Vujadin, so that the association of the two stories in the villagers’ minds seems to suggest a more profound link. Vujadin’s madness is not directly attributable to his experience of women; he has become cut off from his fellow-men by a variety of factors. But as he steadily loses touch with society, women seem to loom ever larger in his consciousness. In this aspect of his madness that seems to disturb the villagers and urge them to give it form in their recollection of the legend of Anika.

Within the framework of the story “Anika's Times“, this introduction appears as a kind of meditation on man's perennial need to control and account for his powerful response to woman, the need which led to the creation of the legend of Adam and Eve.

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St. Georges feast day that year was remembered in town as the day on which Anika "announced herself". By the time of the feast of St. Elias, only two months later, her banner was completely unfurled. Anika opened her home to men. She hired two women, village tramps, whose names were Yelenka and Saveta, as her companions. It was in this manner that the reign of Anika Krnoyelats began - a reign of a year and a half which Anika devoted herself to evil and disaster in much the same way that other people might occupy themselves with children, bread, their homes. She ignited men, set them afire, not only in the kasaba, but in the whole district of Vishegrad. Many details have been forgotten, and many a misfortune was never revealed, but it was not until Anika's times that the people of Vishegrad discovered what powers an evil woman possesses.

Little by little the yard in front of Anika's house came to resemble a camping site. No one could keep track of the many who came at night; young and old, bachelors and married men, neighbors from nearby Dobrun and travelers from distant Focha. And there were others who, bereft of shame or reason, came in full daylight and sat in the yard or, if allowed, in the house, or simply wandered about with their hands in their pockets, glancing from time to time up at Anika's window.

One of the most desperate and ardent of Anika's visitors was a certain Tane Kuyunjiya, a thin man with very wide eyes on a worn, tired face. He would sit on a crate behind the kitchen door, saying nothing, waiting patiently for Anika, looking up only when Yelenka and Saveta entered the kitchen. Going past him as though he did not exist, Yelenka and Saveta received their guests and proceeded with them to their rooms. When they threw him out of the kitchen, he would seat himself somewhere in the yard, bashfully smiling at Yelenka as she chased him out.

"Ah, let me be, bona. What am I doing to you?"

He would wait in the yard for hours, with a mournful expression, as though he found it hard to sit there for so long. Occasionally he would rise and leave without a word, only to come again the next day. At home he was scolded by his wife, Kosara, a robust woman of peasant stock with eyebrows that ran together.

"Have you been sitting in the bitches' yard again, you ugly duckling? You should stayed there!

"Eh, I should have stayed there." he repeated sadly, and his thoughts went back to the yard he had just left.

This indifference drove Kosara insane and she started a dreadful row, but Tane only waved his hand, as though awakened from a dream.

Some of Anika's company were quite mad, like Nazif, a big and retarded youth from the house of a beg. He was a quiet fool, deaf and dumb. He would pass under Anika's window and call to her in his unintelligible language at least twice a day. He offered her a handful of sugar, and she jested with him about it.

"That isn't enough, Nazif, not enough," Anika called from above, smiling. Somehow or other the idiot understood what she had said, ran home, stole some money from his brothers, bought two half-pecks of sugar and returned to the window. Grinning with happiness, he offered her his fortune in sugar. Anika roared with laughter and indicated to him, through signs, that he had still brought enough, and he left mumbling sadly.

From that day on he came every morning, carrying a basket filled with sugar, as well as additional amounts under his wide sash and in his pockets. Anika soon grew bored with the joke. The madman's persistence angered her, and she sent Saveta and Yelenka to chase him away. He defended himself and then left muttering incoherently, only to appear bright and early the following day with even more sugar. They chased him away again. All day long he carried the sugar around the town, twittering and murmuring. Children followed him, teased him, and stole sugar from the basket which he clutched so passionately.

There were, of course, men who, lacking the courage to come in the daytime, waited for night to make their regular appearance, although many of them had no prospects of even entering Anika's house. They would simply sit there, on the trough by the fountain, waiting and smoking all night long. A man could arrive at night unseen by anyone; and he could leave in the same way. On the following morning a small heap of wood shavings and cigarette butts would appear where he had been sitting. He must have been an unhappy young man, God only knew which one; Anika certainly did not know him, and he knew her only by sight. For they were not all there just to see Anika. Some came simply because they were drawn to evil things, other because they had been from birth lost and tormented. Everything that was questionable, and contrary to God's will, assembled around that house and in that yard. The circle of men around Anika's house was rapidly expanding, and in time embraced not only the weak and the wicked, but the healthy and the wise too.

In the end, there were but few young men in the kasaba who had not been to Anika or who had not tried to approach her. First, they went to her stealthily, at night, obliquely and individually. They talked of her as something shameful and horrible, but at the same time distant and almost beyond belief. But the more they talked and gossiped about her, the more comprehensible her evil seemed. At first they pointed a stern finger at those who went there, but in the end it was those who did not go to Anika's who attracted scorn. Since only a small group of men managed to reach Anika at first try, and the rest had to content themselves with Yelenka and Saveta, envy, male pride, and vanity began taking their toll. Those who had been rejected came again, hoping to make up for the double humiliation of having gone and been rejected all in one night; and those who had been received once could no longer stop themselves, but as if under a spell went back again and again.