A Short History of the Building

written by Miljenko Jergović

illustration Klara Rusan

The man who spoke quietly not to wake the trees


For a couple of years in the mid−1980s, my mother worked in the National Museum. She was head of the accounting department in a not too big office, which had an unusually high ceiling. There was no smaller room with a higher ceiling or a more distant sky. If I could fly, she would say, it would be easier. If they upset me, I would simply spread my wings and flee to the corner of the ceiling, like a bat. She did not complain so much about the people, though, as much as when she worked in the Department of Social Accounting or later, when she worked at the School of Dental Medicine. Archaeologists, ethnologists, biologists were calmer than bookkeepers or dentists. And much much older. They were all between 150 and 200 years old and Borivoj Čović, a nice professor and a famous archaeologist, was over three thousand years old. He did look well, just as Veljko Paškvalin, a curator at the Museum, but at first glance you could have seen that they were not from this world. They used to come to my mother’s office and make jokes with her from the Glasinac culture or play tricks from a more contemporary antic period, unlike her – without a care in the world. As if they did not have to apply for loans for a new bedroom or a Zastava 750, order fuel for the winter period, care about the difference between Kreka or Miljevina type of coal or know the price of bread and milk. She found it all a bit unnerving. She was that type of a woman; it was as if she always looked for something that would make her feel nervous. She was usually depressed, sunken and humiliated; succumbed to one of those long pre-climacteric depressions she used to take long vacations for, but would then spend those fifteen days in bed.