In the Same Cage by Igor Štiks

By Wasafiri Editor on June 18, 2014 in Fiction

Wasafiri is delighted to be launching our new Special Issue, Writing the Balkans, guest-edited by writer and academic Vesna Goldsworthy. As a little taster of the issue, we’re publishing this extract here from acclaimed writer Igor Štiks (translated by Andrew Wachtel). Igor and a host of other writers from across the Balkans feature in the print issue (no. 78). Their work, which includes a play extract, poetry, essays and interviews, gives the reader a new knowledge of the wealth of literary output from the diverse populations of the region. Come along the live event – Balkan Day on 13 June 2014 at the British Library (in association with Istros Books, Kingston University and the British Library) – to meet some of these fascinating writers and to learn more about their work (see our Events page for more information). Enjoy!

Igor Štiks (1977, Sarajevo), is senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, author of a poetry collection and two prize-winning novels. His novel Elijah’s Chair (2006) was translated into a dozen European languages and made into a play which won the Grand Prix of the 2011 Belgrade International Theatre Festival. (Pictured, image credit: Ema Szabo.)

Andrew Wachtel is president of the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Previously he was dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern University. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and an active translator from multiple Slavic languages.

In the Same Cage

From the novel Elijah’s Chair

Igor Štiks

Translated from the Bosnian/Croatian by Andrew Wachtel

I don’t remember when I finally fell asleep but I am absolutely sure I did not sleep for more than three or four hours. As soon as I got up I went over to the left bank of the Miljacka River to visit the Austrian-era Ashkenazi Temple, now the Jewish Community Centre. Some of the community leaders met me and I introduced myself officially as a television and radio reporter and told them I wanted to write about Sarajevo’s Jews, their role in the history of the city and their position today. They weren’t surprised, perhaps because, given the need to justify their high salaries, all the uninspired foreign reporters keep this thematic card up their sleeves to use on a day when there isn’t enough bad news. I had only one desire that I was capable of sieving from my slough of despair and that could perhaps serve as a partial solution while I tried to figure out what to do with myself. I wanted to visit the old Sephardic synagogue in Baščaršija. I had thought of this earlier and Ivor and I had already been over there, but we found the place locked up and discovered that you could get in only with the permission of the Jewish community. At that point we didn’t have time. And I hadn’t wanted to mix Ivor up with what was an overly private affair. Fortunately, everything was organised quickly. Early in the afternoon I met a guide who took me over to the old part of town. He opened the old iron gates to the courtyard, then the doors of the synagogue, which had, if I understood my guide’s words correctly, been converted into a Jewish Museum years before the war. The man said he would leave me there alone, that he had other business, but that in any case he would lock the courtyard gates. He gave me the spare keys, showed me how to lock up again and reminded me that we’d meet at the Community Centre in a few hours.

That is how I found myself completely alone in the synagogue, a stone structure dating to the sixteenth century. It was truly a strange synagogue, where all the ritual objects served only as museum exhibits as reminders of a time when the Torah had been read here, when Spanish had been whispered in the galleries. In the afternoon sun a gilded Star of David shone in windows practically covered in sandbags. Right next door to the synagogue is a medresseh whose roof is covered with points that look like upturned bullets and the Beg’s Mosque is a bit farther away. Only the absence of bells ringing in Sarajevo’s churches prevented my eyes and ears from experiencing the historical reality of the city – a little Balkan Jerusalem! – that Sarajevans mentioned so proudly, as if to console themselves while that image was being broken to bits on a daily basis, for the destruction that is taking place here every day has been consciously designed to have long-term effects, to alter the city’s profile forever. What will become of Sarajevo, I asked out loud. My God, what will become of me?

The empty synagogue provided no answer.

After I walked around the first floor I ascended to the upper gallery, drawn by an unusual item. Standing down below and looking up into the gallery I saw a large object in the form of a book hanging from the ceiling of the building. It slowly rotated in an imperceptible air current that flowed through the temple. As soon as I got up to the gallery I saw what the thing was. It was a book whose large-format pages were covered with first and last names. It was the book of martyred Sarajevan Jews! The names of the victims of World War Two were listed alphabetically, Spanish ones mixed with German and the occasional Slavic name. At first I wasastonished by the uniqueness of this book of memories, but then, hands shaking, I began to examine this list of disappeared Sarajevans. I immediately understood how valuable this object could be for me for my investigation and I began, ever more quickly and clumsily, to rifle through this unusual book:

















There was even a Richter, but that wasn’t the name that I was searching for, the name I needed today. 






And then finally! —



In the seconds I needed to take in the names with a quick glance and process them in my brain, I had the feeling that I could hear my heart begin to beat faster and faster with each syllable of a new name, as if it was trying to jump out of my chest, pulsing hard enough to burst.

Zakarija …
And then the next surname


That was the end. I checked the list of dead Schneiders one more time. I closed the book. No, there was not a single Jakob in the list of the dead. My father was not among them!

I sat down on the dusty bench which had probably been put there for tired perusers of the unfortunate reading matter that continued to float above my head. And then I felt better, even a moment of unusual happiness, which was followed by horror. I asked, who here could have been my grandfather, my uncle, my relative … and then, finally, fear. It was as if I suddenly saw myself from the outside and I dropped my head into my hands and truly began to fear for myself. I thought I would go crazy if I kept going and I thought I would go crazy if I didn’t keep going, if I didn’t discover what had happened to Jakob, if I didn’t find him, dead at least. The joy of not finding him in the book was now supplanted by disappointment. Everything would have been over. I would have been free. I would have found my truth, his death would have been as fixed as my mother’s grave and I could have left this hell. I could have cried over my fate somewhere else or, like that accursed priest, I could have wrapped myself up in the problems of my recently discovered Jewishness. Get out of here, damn it.

When I finally eased my head out of my hands and looked up, the synagogue was bathed in afternoon tranquility. The panic had passed. The book hung peacefully, as if no one had touched it recently, as if no one had really disturbed the dead, and the air current that had whistled through the walls of the old building seemed to have stopped. I hoped that goddamned Mitterand had already left Sarajevo and that he had at least left something good behind. I had celebrated his election as French president in 1981 on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, but my admiration for the man had disappeared long ago, ground down by time. Still, I hoped he could do something to get Sarajevo out of its dead end. Soon we would recognise the real meaning of his visit, the shelling that very evening would bring us back to reality, show us who had really been the victor here and disappointment would replace euphoria. But at that point, in the synagogue, I can honestly say I didn’t worry about all this. I was far away, in the lost world of Paula Müller and Jakob Schneider, in the underground of our lives, hanging on to reality, to the surface, only with the help of a thread that I did not let out of my hands; that is, I needed to get to Alma’s premiere that evening.

I went back down to the first floor of the synagogue. I looked at the clock. I had only about half an hour before I needed to return the keys to the Jewish Community Centre and hurry to the theatre. The angle of the sun’s afternoon rays had transformed the synagogue. The section they illuminated shined brightly and, standing within it, I could barely make out the objects in the deep shadows. Having decided to watch the light show, I sat down on an uncomfortable wooden chair with some kind of writing carved on its side. There was a war on outside but in here was the deep past. And silence. Divine silence.

I sat for perhaps ten minutes, collapsed on the chair and into myself, not thinking about anything in particular for perhaps the first time since the previous night and day, watching the play of the afternoon light on the Israelite temple. The tranquillity was shattered by nothing other than my own panicked scream. A deep, incomprehensible, demonic voice which suddenly became audible in the midst of this silence and which emanated from the shadowy part of the synagogue – from right near me more precisely – affected me so strongly that I jumped as if catapulted from the chair and, in the time it took for the echo of my scream to die out in the galleries, I found myself behind a pillar yelling in German, French and English simultaneously, having run past an immobile apparition that I made out in the darkness. It took me ten seconds or so to realise that the intruder had been speaking in Bosnian, that for some reason of his own the unexpected visitor behind my back had asked me something and that his tone was not threatening even if it had momentarily turned the blood in my veins to ice. Eventually I stopped yelling and then the apparition began to laugh out loud. I must have looked pretty funny to that unexpected visitor, but I was rather upset. Even through the play of light and shadow that bathed the synagogue I could tell this was an old man with a long beard. He was now trying to say something in a macaronic language, obviously hoping I would somehow understand through this Esperanto: ‘Keine Angst, mon ami … pas de panique, ha, ha, ha … muy bien, ha, ha’ – he couldn’t stop laughing – ‘moi, je ne te ferai aucun mal, ha, ha … dobro, dobro, alles gut, heh, heh, nema problema …

He came out into the light, hands raised in a sign of peace and welcome. I approached him cautiously. Had it not been for his joyous and disarming laughter I would truly have been afraid of him, even in the light. He was a really old man, over eighty it seemed to me, with a deeply lined face, a long white beard and high forehead. He looked like a prophet, dressed in a worn monk’s habit. Only his eyes, which shone like a twelve-year-old’s, did not fit with his Methuselan image. I was no longer afraid of him. Now I was only angry and I questioned him in English into which he slipped quickly, making up for lacunae in his knowledge with the help of French and sometimes German or Spanish words.

‘What are you doing here, man?! You really scared me.’

‘Heh, heh, it strikes me that I should be asking you that question, n’est-ce pas?!’ he replied, dropping his hand to his side.

‘I have the permission of the Jewish Community. I have a key, I believe. I am a journalist.’

‘Bueno, bueno. A journalist? OK … But how was I supposed to know who you were and what you were doing slumped in the circumcision chair! And then what was I to think when you jumped up like some kind of maniac, as if the devil himself had spoken to you in this holy place, heh, heh … ’

‘Excuse me, what chair?’

‘For circumcision,’ and with his index and middle fingers he made some scissor-like motions. ‘Chop, chop, heh, heh … That’s what’s written here, see. Even I was circumcised on this chair.’

I looked once again at the uncomfortable wooden chair and the carving on it. Maybe it really said what he claimed it did.

‘See, here,’ he pointed once again at the writing, as if I could understand any of it, and then he pointed it out syllable by syllable, ‘Cir-cum-ci-sion. See.’

This turned out also to be one of the exhibits. I looked at it in amazement and couldn’t believe that right here, where I had been sitting so nicely, was where the rite of circumcision had been performed. The old man came closer and again extended his hand.

‘Hey,’ he cried out, ‘I don’t have all day to wait. Now that we’ve met so pleasantly we might as well get to know each other.’

‘Richter. Richard Richter,’ I said as I took his hand.

Enchanté. My name is … Simon, my dear judge.’

That is how I met my new Sarajevo friend, bathed in the afternoon sun in the old Sephardic synagogue on the 28th of June, just before Alma’s premiere, while President Mitterand’s airplane was flying blissfully toward Paris.

After this unusual mode of acquaintance the two of us stood silently. I hesitated to ask him what he was really doing here. As far as I could recall, all the doors had been locked when we arrived, the man from the Community and myself. I figured that my guide had simply forgotten to lock the gates and the old man had just wandered in. Still, I didn’t say anything but merely lifted my gaze and looked at the synagogue’s two-storey gallery, amazed at its simple and pleasing form.

‘I’ve heard that this synagogue is supposed to be a replica of the former synagogue in Toledo,’ I said, trying to break the silence with some art historical titbit provided by the guide.

‘This is a copy of lots of synagogues from places the Sephardim passed through,’ Simon continued in English. ‘I’m not sure but who knows, perhaps it really is possible that after decades of wandering some former inhabitant of Toledo got to Sarajevo and from the deepest recesses of his nostalgia built this synagogue on precisely the model he had carried throughout his exile, though perhaps things got mixed up a bit in these new parts. Who knows, heh, heh … ’

Simon’s English was peculiar. It was difficult to follow. He was an educated man who could deal easily with a number of foreign languages though he didn’t know any of them perfectly and he combined them through unbelievable linguistic manoeuvres, trying to ensure you would understand him, creating a flood of words whose meaning would wash over you.

‘Yes, yes,’ said Simon, ‘just the way that memories of old Toledo are filtered through El Greco’s painting, so for the local Sephardim the image of the temple of Toledo became equated with their new Sarajevo synagogue in their nostalgia for those faraway and exotic climes. Perhaps I am mistaken but it seems that the memory of an exile plays some strange tricks.’

‘You’re also a Jew, I suppose?’

‘Heh, heh, I’m some weird čifut, cher camarade,’ this was the first time I heard that Turkish word for a Jew, a word that is a pejorative in everyday parlance here.

‘Among the last in Sarajevo, as it is bruited about town.’

‘All sorts of things are bruited about town,’ Simon walked around the synagogue, glancing at its interior which he obviously knew like the back of his hand, and his face betrayed a look of intense interest as if in the course of our conversation he had discovered some new detail. ‘Der letzte Jude? Non … il y a toujours des juifs dans cette ville. Although it is true that when I was born, which was truly a long time ago, mon vieux, this town was filled with Sephardim and some Ashkenazim as well and today the number has fallen so just a few are left and we will soon be carried off by death. And as our numbers decrease, so Sarajevo becomes less of a microcosm that preserves the state of affairs as it was in the Ottoman period, then in the Austrian and finally in the Yugoslav kingdom. What can you say, Sarajevo is the last in a series of accursed … ’

‘What do you mean accursed?’ I asked, amazed at Simon’s train of thought. ‘Do you think this siege is some kind of curse? A curse of history or something like that?’

‘Listen, buddy, I don’t know anything, but the longer I live the more it seems to me that some kind of devilish logic, some kind of ancient curse of unknown origin is slowly destroying all cities where various faiths, nations, languages, tones and paths have been mixed up like items on a menu.’

‘You said “the last in a series” … ’

‘Yes, the last, or one of the last of such cities which are all on death’s door.’ Simon was now looking upwards and he pointed at the Star of David on the big window. ‘What I’m talking about is that if you try hard and you look through that star from every corner of the synagogue, from the gallery to the first floor, you can see through its points the roof of a medresseh or some minaret or the Orthodox church behind you or the Catholics just at hand over there; we’re not talking about some kind of coexistence but rather about a mixing of all that into some kind of new thing, into Sarajevans. That’s disappearing. The people are disappearing and only empty buildings remain, like this synagogue, museums … ’

‘But still, it isn’t all over yet. All my friends here … ’

‘Not the end,’ he interrupted, ‘let’s hope it’s not, but the end is slowly coming. That’s why I say that Sarajevo is the last or among the last and you can’t stop the dominoes from falling. It was in the city’s nature to be accepting, from the time it was founded we were together — Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews. Slavs, Turks, Armenians, Arabs, Albanians and tutti quanti mixed here. K und K brought in Austrians, Hungarians, Czechs, Ashkenazim, Poles … The Kingdom of Yugoslavia left everything that was wandering around inside its borders alone, but then, with World War Two the decimation began, the curse began to work. Still, the city recovered, continuing to live without its Jews or with a much smaller number of us, enough only to keep the memories alive. And once again the city began to accept and fold in outsiders, making Sarajevans out of those who were born here and those who came from outside. In this war, in this siege the city is locked in a vice from which everyone wants to escape, no matter who they are. Because it’s not just Serbs and Jews and Muslims and Croatians and Yugoslavs (for we shouldn’t forget that they existed) who are running away, it’s Sarajevans and they are taking with them something of the city. Because those who are raining bombs down on us from the hills are only fulfilling the curse whose origins are unknown to us, but it seems to me that this only serves to further rip the fabric of cities like this one, like some sort of modern-day disease, as it were.’

‘What do you think,’ Simon’s theory intrigued me. ‘A disease, or is it merely history.’

Ecoutez,’ he continued, stroking his long beard. ‘Let’s start from the history of this century which destroyed, at various tempos but nevertheless quite thoroughly, world cities, contemporary Babylons, sites of asylum for peoples where even the morons were born with a knowledge of several languages, cities which have remained in name while their souls, excuse me for using such a cliché but there isn’t a better word, have disappeared, gone with the people into exile or the grave. Let’s start with Alexandria shorn of Greeks, Jews or Europeans, through divided and tormented Jerusalem to the split city of Nicosia, Damascus and Aleppo, from Beirut at war within itself to Istanbul without Greeks and Armenians, to Salonika without Turks and Sephardim, only to tot up the most obvious cases … But this disease has not affected the former Ottoman cities exclusively, for what would you say about Trieste, Vilnius, Königsberg, Warsaw, Lviv, Odessa, Czernovtsy … Sarajevo, I’m afraid, is at the end of that list. Cities disappear and only memories, empty houses and the occasional eyewitness, like me, remain.’

‘But the city will survive somehow, its citizens are defending it all together … ’ I said, trying to resist Simon’s dark predictions. ‘Sorry, I am just a foreigner, but it seems to me that, despite what’s being said by the warmongers, politicians and leaders of various peoples here, at least in Sarajevo the war is not “between Serbs and Muslims”, this is no “ethnic conflict” but rather a conflict between those who are defending the Sarajevo you’ve described and those who wish the city to suffer the fate you’ve predicted for it. And it seems to me they’ve chosen a good strategy because this criminal siege, this dirty war is the best way to rip, as you put it, the fabric of the city, its spirit, its soul or some other thing it holds within itself and that all its people together hold onto or at least the ones who have chosen to stay do. I don’t know, perhaps I am overly naïve. I am a foreigner here, un étranger parmi vous … ’

Simon listened to me carefully, nodding his head and looking up towards the positions of Karadžić’s irregulars every time he heard a questionable sound.

‘ … and I think the aggressor will have won on the day that the defenders of the city turn it into a single national or religious denomination. Then the battle for the city will be lost, regardless of the military outcome.’

Donc, vous êtes d’accord avec moi!’ Simon cried out. ‘It really is some kind of curse. Those “up there” are simply its agents and those “down here” who believe they’re defending the city as it really is, all together, cosmopolitan, Sarajevan in the end … they are simply naïvely fighting against what fate has prepared for them. Because how can you defend yourself against a curse when you have to fight, on the one hand, an enemy with a clear plan to alter the city even at the cost of destroying it completely and, on the other, behind your back is that curse, that fratricidal disease which is simultaneously setting a trap, weakening the defence of the city from within. For the attackers are more and more successful insofar as they can spread the virus among the defenders, the virus that will eat up the city. Then Sarajevo as such will disappear, join that roster of dead cities that I totted up even if some few who remember the old times remain.’

‘I have to admit that I believe naively in this city because, if it should disappear as it is, what will the future of other cities look like? Forgive my naiveté, but this curse or disease you’ve talked about won’t burn itself out and stop here … It could get stronger and then … ’

‘And then let God help those who sleep peacefully today … ’

After that ominous prognosis Simon stopped talking, lowered his eyes and, continuing to walk around, he stroked his beard and frowned. I shot a quick glance at the clock. I had to leave right away if I wanted to get to the premiere on time. The occasional sounds of gunfire did not promise anything very pleasant. But, just as I had decided to say goodbye to my new acquaintance, Simon suddenly turned towards me and asked: ‘What are you really doing here, Mr. Richter?’

‘That’s what I wanted to ask you.’

‘Really? Well, you see, I come here from time to time to meditate about the past. This is one of the few places where you can truly be alone in this city, heh, heh … as long as no curious visitors come by. And you?’

‘I’m a journalist. I got permission to visit the synagogue. A man from the Jewish Community opened the door and left me to look at the building and thus … ’

‘That isn’t what I asked you,’ Simon interrupted suddenly. ‘I asked what you were really doing here. In the synagogue.’

‘I told you. I’m a journalist. Un journaliste étranger, c’est tout.’

‘You’re not a complete étranger, Herr Richter, because a person who comes into the synagogue in the middle of the death and suffering that surrounds us, that person is perhaps un journaliste quelconque or whatever you are, Mr. Richter, but he isn’t here by accident.’

‘What are you thinking? What’s so strange about it?’ I felt uncomfortable, even nervous, as if Simon were reading my mind.

‘This person … ’ Simon turned towards me and raised his voice as if passing sentence on me. ‘This person is looking for something.’

‘I’m not looking for anything. What are you … ’

‘This person did not come just to sightsee,’ Simon said, coming towards me and looking me straight in the eye, ‘this person came here to find something, or perhaps someone … ’

‘No! It’s not true, I’m a … ’ I didn’t recognise that I had begun to retreat and defend myself from the accusations of this unknown person like a child before an all-knowing father.

‘Why were you looking through the book? Hmm?!’ He yelled loud enough to make me shake. His deep voice echoed through the synagogue. His eyes seemed to drop into the deep wrinkles that lined his whole face. I felt my shoulders touch up against the cold pillar of the gallery. ‘Pourquoi?!

Now I realise that fate was laughing at me, that the edge of her wings passed close to my face and grazed me lightly, that I was vouchsafed a miracle, that I was being given an opportunity. Now I know that Simon could have helped me had I answered his question truthfully. And today I would not be sitting here, the pistol would not be bouncing around the drawer every time I bang the typewriter keys as if smashing the letters down on the paper on which I am writing my story will make it easier to take. Alma would never have happened. Everything would be better.

But fate’s wing brushed by and, instead of telling the old man everything, something else came into my head, the moment passed and in front of me I saw nothing but an old man I didn’t know who was trying to read my mind, his almost invisible eyes and that strange apparition that pulled me in and looked me over, that slowly guessed at and bored into the depths of the locked safe of my intimate thoughts and that now stood before me waiting for an answer I wouldn’t provide.

‘You’ve guessed well, cher monsieur,’ I said, nodding my head as if in admission. ‘I’m not really here to write an article.’

Simon seemed surprised at my admission and then, as if disarmed by my confession, he looked at me with curiosity. His eyes came to the surface again, through the deep lines that were almost like scars.

‘The story might seem a bit bizarre to you, but this is how it is. I didn’t lie when I told you that I’m a journalist. I really am. I’m a journalist and television reporter. But that doesn’t explain why I’m in the synagogue. What happened is that a couple of days ago a friend of mine from Vienna contacted me and told me a strange story accompanied by an even stranger request. It sounds unbelievable but he’s really a very close friend, you understand. Having lived in Paris for twenty years, he recently returned to Vienna and guess what happened to him there … While renovating his apartment he found a sort of niche, or, better, a hole in a wall that had been covered by a bookshelf for decades. And in there he found a box containing a blue notebook. And now, listen, in that notebook … can you imagine what he found in that notebook? In that notebook he found a letter his mother had written to some unknown person, someone about whom my friend had never heard anything, who was, judging by the words in that letter, his real father. So, you can imagine how this discovery affected him. Not only to discover that his father was not really his father, which is something, I must admit, that could shake the strongest of us, but to find out that his father, his real father I mean, had disappeared before he was born. The Gestapo had arrested him as a Communist in 1941 under a false name. Nevertheless, from his mother’s letter my friend was able to figure out what his father’s real name was along with some other details and that led straight to this synagogue. Because it turns out that his real father was a Jew. And a Jew from Sarajevo, can you believe it?! And now the poor guy wants to find something out about him. It’s easy to guess that his real father died long ago, but my friend doesn’t care about that, he wants to find out what happened to him. He wanted to come to Sarajevo straightaway but then he realised there was a war on here and that stopped his investigation in its tracks. He was in despair and had no idea what to do. But then, through the media, he discovered that I – his old friend – was here in Sarajevo and he asked me to help. I decided to help him. So I did come here today for professional reasons, journalistic ones in fact, but I realised that these dovetailed with my detective work or, to put it better, with my decision to help my friend out. I’d been trying to find something out about that person for a long time but couldn’t, so you can imagine my joy, my excitement, when I saw that book in the gallery. An amazing story, no?’

A half-truth was better than a lie anyway. Simon looked at me searchingly, showing real interest and the severity that had really scared me melted away. It seemed he was still under the spell of the story he’d just heard.

Tiens, tiens … This business with your friend. Very interesting, hmm … ’

‘And I think that perhaps you could help me. If you want to, of course,’ I couldn’t believe I was daring to suggest this.

‘Yes, yes, volontiers, if of course I can help your friend. Sorry about what happened earlier, I didn’t know. You surprised me, that is, the way you were looking at that book surprised me. I said to myself, that guy is looking for something … ’

‘And you were right,’ I interrupted. ‘I know that what I was doing could create the wrong impression.’

But still I was tense and I wanted to end this encounter without mentioning the name of Jakob Schneider. It was as if after the previous night and everything that had happened to me on this overly packed day I was not ready to hear anything that some practically unknown person might know about him.

‘Listen,’ I said nervously, ‘I really have to go now. I think it would be better if I wrote down the name of the person I’m looking for and you could then think about whether you can help me. My friend would be truly grateful.’

With this I completed the role. I wrote the name down quickly on a little piece of paper and pushed it into Simon’s hand before he could ask me anything. He put the paper in some invisible pocket of his coat without even looking at it.

‘It’s dark in here. There isn’t much light left, and my eyes, you know … Very interesting story … But … ’

‘I’ll give you my address,’ I interrupted again, hurrying to get out of there as quickly as possible, ‘or you can give me yours and we could get together again in some convenient spot. I’d like to continue this fascinating conversation.’

‘Addresses are unnecessary, believe me we’ll meet again … ’

‘What … ? You don’t have an address, nothing … ’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Simon as he tapped me on the shoulder.

‘I guess I can lock the door,’ I said to him as I headed to the exit, ‘and that you’ll find your own way out.’

‘You’ve got that right, stranger.’

I locked the synagogue door and ran across the courtyard. The gate was locked, just as my guide had promised. How had Simon gotten in? Truly weird, I thought. I bolted the courtyard gate behind me, hoping Simon knew what he was talking about. I headed toward the Community Centre. The sun was setting over the besieged city, accompanied as so many times before by the sound of detonations in the distance.

Quel beau dimanche!
Adieu, Monsieur le Président.

But, at that moment I didn’t want to think about this. The premiere awaited me.