Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review


Article excerpt


HE MAKES A LEFT TURN, then a right one. Then left, then right again. Left, right - his car marches through the streets of Kicevo, zigzags, as if descending an endless stairway. "Here he made a left turn, and here he made a right one," S asa explains to me, but keeps his eyes fixed on the road in front of us, his hands busy on the wheel. Sas a Dukosi is a longtime reporter for Macedonian radio and television, but today he is my tour guide. "And this is the kindergarten, next to which her cell phone was found," he goes on. "A woman heard it ringing in the grass and picked up the call. 'Who are you?' the caller asked her, and she explained. They told her to wait right there; they were sending a police car."

Left, right. We are following his route, tracing the turns he took from his home in town to his secluded summer cottage five kilometers away. Even our car is the same as his: a white Opel Astra. We make a final left onto a highway out of town, and Sasa steps on the gas. Soon the houses of Kicevo disappear behind us, magically transformed into fields of ripe wheat and corn. Yellow, green. Yellow, green. Beyond loom the darker shades of the surrounding mountains, clouds threatening to drench the valley.

We get off the highway at a sun-bleached sign that shows the distance (4 km) to the village of Karbunica. Then Sasa makes another sharp turn onto a dirt road and the whole car starts jiggling so violently that my breath escapes in gasps. After a few hundred meters he pulls over and kills the engine. Silence. Dust. Row upon row of bolt-straight cornstalks. Above, the blue pall of the sky. No exit. I unbuckle and jump out of the car. Sasa exits the driver's side.

"This is the place," he says and points. "Look, over there."

In the distance, nestled under the shade of several big walnut trees, is the summer cottage - a ramshackle thing. It has two stories and a red-tiled roof. With its pale pink stucco, it resembles a gingerbread house from some forgotten fairytale. I want to take a bite out of it. Sasa leads me into the cornfield. I part the stalks like curtains in front of me, pulling on the occasional tassel. Before we reach the cottage we run into a barbed wire fence. We need to make our way around. In the back we find an opening, wide enough for us to slip through.

The deep shade of the plums and walnuts keeps the yard cool, even at noon. There is a woodshed with a horseshoe hung on the door for good luck. A white aluminum pitcher hangs from a nail in the siding. I walk around the cottage. Another horseshoe. The owner must have been superstitious. I climb the exterior staircase that leads to the bedroom on the second floor. The landing is choked by thick vines creeping up the railing and the makeshift trellis. So this is the place.

Gathering my courage, I try the door. Of course, the police have locked it. The monster is not at home. I try to peer through the little iron-barred window, but I can see nothing, just the reflections of sky and scraps of clouds floating by. Silence. Heat. So this is where the fairytale ends.

ON A HIGH MOUNTAIN PLATEAU in western Macedonia, just kilometers east of the Albanian border, the town of Kicevo lies in wait. It waits for the buses going north, to the capital Skopje; it waits for the buses going south, to the charming resorts of Lake Ohrid. It waits in vain. Travelers go through Kicevo - they don't stop. There's no reason to. Kicevo remains a minor provincial town like so many, where life runs slowly through the veins, and seventeen years into their independence residents still struggle to make the change. The past has not quite gone away and the future has not yet arrived. Drab apartment buildings painted with faded murals of victorious Communism slump next to cocky, new structures, their freshly poured concrete and red bricks bright in the July sun. The reflections of beatup Yugos are caught momentarily in the tinted windows of slick Audis. …

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