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an old couple from the countryside, dressed in their finest clothes and
smelling of mothballs, is invited to attend a wedding in the capital city, it
is because the organizers of the wedding are obliged to do so for custom's
sake. In this particular case, the old couple in question fully merited the
invitation because they were the only surviving paternal relatives of the
The wife was delighted at the invitation and said so openly, although it was not her direct relatives who were getting married. Her husband, the head of the household, reacted solemnly:
"Get my good clothes out, will you?" It was more than evident from his reply that he wanted to attend alone. His wife contradicted his plan immediately:
"If you are worried about the costs, I have enough money for the journey into town. And what would you do in the big city all by yourself anyway?"
"What concern is that of yours?" he retorted. "The wedding is going to take place in a restaurant and there will be no need for your help. In fact, it is not really customary..."
"What do you mean by 'not customary'?" she countered angrily. "They don't invite women there just to help in the kitchen, as they do in the countryside. In fact, it is not customary for a man to attend without his wife. In the city, they all go as couples. Didn't you know that?"
He was a taciturn and rather stoic individual.
"No, I didn't." he muttered, and asked for the key to the chest where they kept their money.
Knowing him well, she began sobbing and wiping her tears with a white kerchief conveniently at hand.
They had both been born in the same village and had got married there. Their only son had since departed and they had been living by themselves for some time. The couple were liked by the rest of the village. They were a hard-working pair and got along with one another, most of the time without saying a word. In fact, they rarely spoke - only the essentials.
The wife satisfied her female passion for gossip with the other women of the village, with whom she worked in a brigade.
The husband was wont to return home after work, light himself a cigarette, have a glass of wine with some cheese, and ponder on the order of things in this world.
"I am going to pass away and will never have been to the capital," she lamented. This charged statement caused him to stare at her for a moment. Then he said: "Alright, come along, if you must." She jumped for joy and hastened to get her finest dress out of the closet.
At the village store they asked for the "best and most expensive present for a wedding in the city," which turned out to be a vase of artificial flowers that looked almost real. The present was duly enveloped in transparent wrapping paper with little blossoms on it, which rustled as they carefully carried it home.
With all the preparations and excitement, it was late before they got to sleep on the night preceding their departure.
The next day, a Saturday morning, they set off before dawn, and had hardly slept a wink.
They journeyed into town on the back of a pick-up truck. The wind had dishevelled their hair and they were soon covered in a thin layer of dust. From time to time, they endeavoured to shake it off, but the journey was long and the road was extremely dusty from start to finish. The old fellow stood in front of his wife, protecting her, his face turned to the wind, as if he were looking out at the distance. Once and a while, he wiped the dust out of his eyes. She huddled against him, screened from the wind.
When they got into town, their faces were pale and their fine garments were filthy. The wrapping paper had been torn to shreds.
The first thing they did when they got off the truck was to clean themselves up. She took out a kerchief and spit into it to wipe off her husband's suit. This she did with swift and dexterous movements, as he stood there, looking away from her.
He had turned his eyes to the distant mountains.
"Aren't you finished yet? That's enough, woman," he muttered.
"Wait a moment. No one is watching, and we've got the whole day on our hands." she replied, continuing her work with devotion. "Just look at your shoes. Go and get them brushed off at the shoe shiner's over there." He agreed and sat down at the stall of a nearby shoe shiner, while she wiped her face in the window of a kiosk.
The couple arrived at the bride's home four hours early, and were received courteously. Rather embarrassed, he plunked the vase with the shredded wrapping paper onto the table and took his place ceremoniously in the armchair assigned to him.
"Oh, you shouldn't have bought a present," stammered the bride's father in routine fashion.
The couple murmured an appropriate response, not without pride in their voices.
A young girl then entered the room. She picked up the present with due care, in order not to soil her clothes, and held it in her outstretched fingers where the wrapping paper was not too shredded and dusty, pacing towards the other end of the parlour, where she placed it on a cupboard. The rustling of the paper could be heard all the way into the other room.
"So when did you get into town?" someone asked.
"Just today," they replied in unison. After a further half hour of silence, the old lady gave her husband an awkward glance and turned to the other women:
"Is there anything I can do to give you a hand?"
"No, nothing at all," replied a young girl. "The banquet is going to be held at a restaurant." There was silence once again in their corner of the room. Other guests arrived and were made welcome. Two hours before dinner, the couple decided to stretch their legs and go out for a walk.
They arrived at the restaurant one hour before the appointed time and got in everyone's way.
Someone showed them to two seats in a corner. Thereafter, everyone forgot about them.
The old lady tried to spark a conversation with her neighbour, a rather portly woman. The latter was, however, more interested in joking around and dancing than in conversing with two old people from the countryside.
He ate a little and drank a bit of raki, retaining an air of distinction. From time to time, he listened to the imprecations of a good-looking and elegantly dressed young man who, in choice vocabulary, was expounding on the necessity of psychological and social analysis to reach an understanding of the phenomenon of crime in Albanian society.
As he expounded on his theory, the young man dexterously waved his impeccably white hands and pink nails, which made it more than apparent that he spent much of his time caring for his outward appearance.
The young man with the fine hands continued, "It is senseless to try to condemn and castigate social evils nowadays. I think, and I am quite convinced of this, that crime in our society derives from the lack of a social contract. Only this would provide us with a definitive solution to the ills of our society and nation."
The people listened to his ideas respectfully and nodded. A young girl, sitting a short distance away, stared at the handsome gentleman with sorrow in her eyes. It was unclear whether the sorrow derived from the 'said' ills of our society and nation or was the result of some fleeting emotion she felt as she listened to his impassioned words.
After a while, the old man lost interest. There was no more hint of feeling to be seen in his face.
The old couple said nothing throughout most of the dinner.
They ate as much as they could, and, when they had had their fill, the old woman took out a plastic bag to stuff it with leftover meat.
"What do you think you are doing?" he admonished angrily. "What are you doing? You are going to put us to shame in front of all the people. We are here in the city."
"I thought we could take a little something with us for lunch tomorrow. Look, everyone is doing it," she pleaded. It must be said that all the other guests, even those from the city, were indeed filling their bags with food and drink.
"You see," she said as the other guests were leaving, "we are the only ones who got nothing."
"They can take whatever they want, but we are not taking anything," he interrupted. They stayed until the early hours of the morning because they did not want to spend money on a hotel room. At dawn, they finally departed at the same time as the rock-and-roll group.
The bus back to the village was due to leave at four in the afternoon. For fear of thieves, they went into a cafe on the outskirts of town. There, they had coffee and sat around to pass the time.
At eight o'clock, they got up and left or, more precisely, were complimented out. The waiter pretended to have to sweep the floors around their feet and in doing so, raised an inordinate amount of dust with his broom.
The old lady was about to protest to the barman, but her husband rose to his feet.
"Don't bother," he said, "it is probably custom here."
"What sort of custom is that? They are just trying to get rid of us because we are from the countryside. I am going to give him a piece of my mind and, on top of that, he did not hand us our change. There are ten leks missing. You can see it in his face, he's a heartless thief." They set off, not knowing quite where to go.
The old couple meandered through the streets, looking at store windows until the afternoon. When the heat was at its zenith, they resolved to take a city bus to the overland bus station.
They waited and waited. The city bus was late and the heat had become unbearable.
"Come along, we'll walk it," he rasped, setting off.
"Where? It's too far!" she protested and followed behind him, taking little steps. In no time, they were drenched in perspiration. He wiped his brow with a folded handkerchief and continued down the road in a noble manner. She panted and shouted at him, having difficulty making herself understood.
"Slow down. Do you want to kill me? I'm exhausted." He continued in large paces.
"Hold on for a moment, will you? You're not listening. Stop!" she shouted.
"What's wrong?" he eventually asked.
"What do you mean, what is wrong? Can't you see I am exhausted. You are acting as if someone is chasing us. We still have three hours until the bus leaves."
He slowed down, and stopped at a crossroads, not knowing which direction to take. Gasping, she eventually caught up with him and uttered:
"It must be that way, to the left."
He set off to the right with his mouth wide open because of the dryness of the air. She plodded on, several paces behind him.
"Hold on, I can't go any further," she protested. "If I at least had a glass of water. There is not even a public fountain here. Get me a bottle of water, will you, or I am going to collapse here on the spot. Go, leave me. I am not taking another step!" The old fellow stopped at a store and bought his wife a bottle of water, handing it to her without saying a word. She gulped it down as he waited, looking into the distance.
She left the bottle half full for him. He took one sip. "Have it all, I don't want any more," she insisted, but he refused. She put the cap on the bottle and stuffed into her purse.
Once again, the couple set off slowly. The heat was oppressive. They had not even got halfway down the road when she began complaining. The old fellow refused to listen this time and continued his march.
She gave him an ultimatum.
"I am not going another step. You go wherever you want. I can't walk anymore. Do you understand? I cannot go any further. Are you listening? I think I am going to faint." She would not give in, and went and sat down on the curb near an iron fence.
He continued walking, but then looked back. Seeing that she would not budge, he returned to her.
The old fellow stood there for a while and looked around hesitantly before sitting down on the curb himself, two or three metres away from her.
She approached him. He said nothing and continued staring into the distance.
There were few people out on the road. Rare pedestrians passed by indifferently.
The old woman initially leaned against his shoulder, seemingly exhausted.
He murmured something or other.
"What?" she asked in a daze.
"Nothing," he replied. She snoozed. He murmured something once more.
"What did you say?" she inquired again.
"What are you doing, woman? Can't you see that people are staring? You should be ashamed of yourself," he blustered.
"Ashamed of what? What am I doing? I'm exhausted. We didn't sleep a wink all night." Saying this, she did something that shocked her husband deeply. She rested her head on his knee.
He blushed and griped: "What are you doing, woman?"
The old lady had fallen asleep and was breathing deeply. He gave her a glance and then continued staring into the distance. He took another look at her and pondered on the order of things in this world.
She snored lightly and snuggled against him. Her head was about to fall off his knee.
Embarrassed, the old fellow then did something he had never done before. He showed affection to a woman in public. Placing his rough hand on her head, he stroked her grey hair ever so gently. She seemed to sense the gesture and gave a sigh of satisfaction. She was now sound asleep.
The sun shone mercilessly, melting the pavement in front of them