translated by Felicity Rossalyn, Forest Books, London&Boston, Dereta, Belgrade, 1992
His memory worked rapidly and vividly. Only twice in his life had he been moved by the appearance of the woman, and these were inconspicuous events, meaningless and unimportant, the sort which take place in secret, unknown and unseen by anyone else, and are eventually forgotten even by ourselves. But now, out of his whole long and industrious life, only those two incidents confronted him: two small and senseless anxieties which had filled a few days of his boyhood and youth, now grown into two distinct ghosts, which swept aside all the rest, his life, body, and thought, and merged into one single feeling of pain which filled him entirely. Yet all of this was less than the point of the sharpest needle-the last trace of consciousness and the last proof of his existence.
He was ten or eleven years old. Their house was outside the town, isolated among fields and plum orchards in the place where the river Bosnia takes a sharp bend, and skirts Zenica. In spring and autumn when the water rose, the Bosnia grew muddy and swollen and came up to the house itself, sweeping their garden fence away and carrying along the fences of other people, broken off from God knows where. It rolled down logs and roots, depositing a thick sediment of mud, branches, rags, broken barrels and sawn wood. For children it was a new world to delight in, foreign and mysterious, which they spent days exploring after every flood.
That spring the water was unusually capricious, subsiding suddenly and suddenly rising again on the same day. Early one evening the water had subsided after a startling and muddy inundation which had swept through their garden that morning. The sky was low and cloudy, and from the mountains came a distant, muffled roar announcing a new flood. The child was wandering by himself and, with a long stick, drawing patterns at random in the soft reddish mud left behind by the water. Right by the fence he noticed a short, round beam half buried in mud, leaves and pebbles. He was as pleased with it as with an unexpected toy and immediately climbed onto it; carefully, for it was still wet and slippery. He was supported by his stick against the fence and his feet on the log., and so he wavered, losing and then quickly regaining his balance, wholly taken up with those peculiar movements which adults think so senseless and dangerous, but which for children are imposed by the demands of their growing bodies and awakening imaginations. But children's bodies tire easily and their imaginations are quickly satisfied. The child threw away his stick, left himself down and sat astride the beam, feeling the deposit of sand and dry boughs with his left hand. Then his glance fell on something strange and puzzling. In the sand and branches he seemed to see a human ear and lock of hair. He turned around, and behind him he saw a naked female body caught between the beam and the fence, more than half buried in mud; but a shoulder protruded clearly from the sediment, and a little lower down a white hip stuck out. The knee was hidden in mud, but then a calf emerged and the toes. The child went suddenly still. After he had passed a second glance along the whole length of this body the flood had brought, he got slowly down from the beam and began to retreat through the garden, moving backwards without taking his eyes off the place where the drowned woman lay. When he reached the film, dry ground where the beehives were, he stopped; it was only there that he was seized by fear. Running towards the house, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of shame he had never known before. Although he was tormented by fear and need to speak, he could not have found a single word in which to tell them of what he had seen. He wandered around the courtyard and they could scarcely draw him into the house. All the time he looked at his father, mother and brothers, he was thinking, 'Well, now I have to speak, now I shall tell them what I saw." But when he tried to find the first word and begin, his throat closed up and his lips were sealed. As long as it was light, he was in dread lest one of his brothers go into the garden and discover the secret.
He was around twenty-five years old. He had already been five or six years in Istanbul, the youngest of the teachers, highly respected, and unusually mature for his age.
The building he was living in had two aspects. The younger, main one looked onto the sea; the other onto a steep hillside with gardens and graveyards with solitary road leading down it.
One night, the young man stirred and woke up just at midnight. He got up, opened the window and, leaning his head against the wooden bars, breathed in the cold air of early spring. The night was moonless, but clear and starlit.
The cobblestones of the street ahead of him gleamed as the road mounted the hill, bounded on both sides by a high wall and the dark gardens. His eyes began to close slowly from the fresh night air; he was about to shut the window and go back to bed when white figure appeared at the top of the street, making its way rapidly down it. He opened his eyes wide in a daze between sleeping and waking. The figure was approaching at great speed: it was a woman in white dress, or perhaps just a shift. A little later two dark male figures appeared from a corner at the top of the street; they were running too. The heavy thudding of their feet soon made itself heard. The woman was running straight towards the gate, which was right under the window; she was racing, sparing no effort, evidently mad with fear like a hunted animal. As she came close, she could be clearly seen to be disheveled, half-naked, her clothes torn.
The dull, weak sound of her body could be heard thudding against the heavy, locked gate. The young man leaned out and saw the woman as clearly as before, lying on the broad flagstones. Her head was resting on the threshold itself, and her hand stretched up vainly for the knocker, which she did not have the strength to reach.
Her pursuers, who were only twenty paces away from the building, stopped suddenly when they saw that woman had managed to reach the gate, and swiftly lost themselves in a narrow alley between the garden walls.
The young man did not dare glance down to the gate again. As if he too were playing his part in this strange nocturnal drama, he let go of the bar he was holding. Stepping backwards, he began slowly to retreat to his bed and quickly lay down.
He was utterly numbed, stiff, without a single thought, as if he what he had seen just now had no pierced his consciousness at all. The bed quickly warmed beneath him, and he fell into sleep as rapidly as a faint. He slept five minutes, possibly ten; then something painful and violent awoke him. Like someone else's rough hand. his own stomach roused him from sleep; and, immediately, before he opened his eyes, there flooded through him the painful twilight consciousness of some complicated misfortune. He had experienced something dreadful and terrible. Perhaps he had dreamt it? How wonderful that there is such a thing as consciousness-that a man can wake up and shake off his dreams! Or perhaps he had really experienced something painful, which would be waiting for him as soon as he opened his eyes? So he wavered between sleeping and waking for a while, until at last the heavy conviction grew in him that it had not been a dream, but reality. Awake, he clearly saw a dark, armed men once again chasing the half-naked woman, clearly heard her fall, and once again saw her arm stretched out for the knocker, which was too high. And her knocking might ring out at any moment.
And, here now, was his last minute, and with it this memory, the last gleam of his consciousness.
He tried in vain not to think of it, or to remember something else, anything. Nothing but these two dark memories and a pain which tears, groans or howls could not express. In an anguish hitherto unknown and unsuspected, his last strength was converted into a prayer such as no true believer, learned or simple, had ever made. This is how Alidede prayed under the unbearable pressure of his pain, while his lips moved simply from habit, for there were no longer any words upon them:
"Keeper of all things, Great and Only One, I have been Thin from my beginning, and held so firmly in Thy grasp that no harm could befall me. This knowledge, this peace which Thou gives those who forsake all else and give themselves wholly into Thy care - this is true Paradise. I have lived without hardship, floating like a little grain of dust that dances in the sun's rays; without weight it floats on upward, filled with sunshine, like a little sun itself. I did not know that this kind of bitterness could fill a man's soul. I had forgotten that at the exit from this world, as at the entry, stands woman like a gate. And now comes this bitterness which cleaves my heart in two to remind me of what, with my eyes on heaven, I had forgotten: that the bread which we eat is in fact stolen; that for the life which is given us we are indebted to takdirat, evil destiny, and sin; and that we cannot pass from this world to that better one until we have broken off like ripe fruit, fallen headlong in a painful drop and hit the hard ground. We probably bear the bruise from that fall even in Paradise. This is my thought, O gracious one, and Thou seest it, whether I speak it or not: it is a bitterer and harder thing that I knew to be enslaved to the laws of Thy world."
Seeing Alidede moving his lips, his disciples thought he was speaking his dying prayer and stopped wherever they happened to be, motionless and sad.
So he breathed his last. It was Friday evening, the night of a new moon, and by general agreement, his death was miraculous and holy and filled men with wonder, like his life itself.