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Happiness

By Erih Kos / July 13, 1983



Alimpije Markovic, law clerk in the Palilula Municipal Assembly, left his apartment that morning not in the best of moods. There were several reasons for this. The first was his wife: the day before, when he had come home from the office, she had told him that their son, a high school student, had brought home his report card for the first term with three failing grades and a reprimand for a great many unexcused absences. Then, he had waited up until 11 o'clock that night for his daughter, a student, to come home, and had had a longish and unpleasant talk with her, after which he had been unable to get to sleep. Tossing on the bed, halfway between sleep and wakefulness, his mind had kept turning over his own troubles which might come upon him at work, because of his new boss, whom he still didn't know well enough. And because of the old secretary, who, he was certain, didn't care for him at all. There was no visible reason for this. As far as he could see, he hadn't done anything wrong - but one never knew what could be held against even the most conscientious member of the community in hard and complicated times.

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On top of all this, early in the morning, in the unheated kitchen after a sleepless night, his wife had placed a cup of cold coffee on the table in front of him and asked for shopping money, which, at the end of the month, he didn't have to give her. After this, Alimpije Markovic felt that his troubles were too much for him. ''Too much misery for one man to bear,'' he thought, taking his coat and descending the dark staircase.

It was dark. The streetlights had been extinguished, and those of the heavens , still unlit, or still weak and not yet luminous, had not broken through the smoke, the fog, and the low clouds. The streets were almost deserted; only a stray passer-by hurried along here and there, hunched and chilled. Those who did not have to go out early, and could laze in warm beds as long as they liked, should count their blessings, Alimpije Markovic thought.

A few people passed by him, coming from the other direction or overtaking him. Workers hurrying to the depots of the city bus lines, charwomen hurrying home, their work finished before the shops and offices opened, early travellers, departing or arriving by train.

Two or three people greeted him in passing - those whom he passed practically every day in the street, not really knowing them - but even they only waved a hand by way of greeting, as everyone had his head bent.

Then two large women appeared, walking in his direction, taking up so much of the sidewalk that he wondered how he could pass them. Would he have to step down into the water, or would it be better to huddle close to the wall, and perhaps to move out of their path into the nearest doorway until the women had passed? He felt they would run over him, like a truck or a tractor come up onto the sidewalk; in his miserable mood, not wishing to collide with anyone that morning , he moved to the wall and stood against it sideways, facing the street, giving the women a free passage and waiting for them to go by. Even so, the one nearest him practically brushed against him. And precisely she, who seemed to him the younger of the two, said in passing, addressing her friend sufficiently clearly and distinctly for him to hear:

''I tell you: I am so very happy!''