Translated from Macedonian by Elizabeta Bakovska
Everything was prepared for my disgrace; they only waited for the monk to lie on his back under the chair, hide under the velvet falling on the floor, and from below, through the heart-shaped hole to check if what was true – what I claimed or what my husband Gorgi Gingifilo claimed. He is sitting on the bench next to his beatitude Dorotej, silent with his hands pressed between his knees, and I can already feel the monk’s breath on my thighs, the flame of the candle that he is holding in his hand, the air that passes through the pale little hairs on my legs.”Now what has to be known will be found out”, I thought listening to sister Pelagija as she wrote down something in the verdict book with a goose feather, and the warmth that I am feeling underneath feels like mercifully caressing me, opening me, putting me to sleep. And I might have fallen asleep really if it was not for Gorgi who all of sudden stood up in that silence and loudly admitted that he had never been with me in the five years that we were together, he never knew me as a woman. I knew that he was stubborn and shy, but I didn’t know that he would not be able to sustain watching me until the end sitting there on the check-up chair, the virgin chair. That I why I stared at his face, I even shivered a bit, actually I rose listening to him saying what I thought he would never say.
I know that according to the law, both the husband and the wife have to be present in front of the archbishopric court in divorce cases. That is why I came here. If one of them does not respond to calls, the archbishopric summons his three times. Except when due to force majeure, the summon can not be responded. I know of a case like that eight years ago, three years before I was married, I had been promised to serve here where I am now, covered from my breasts down with the velvet falling on the floor tiles. Sometimes I would stay behind the candle counter in the corner of the church, and I listened to the trials. Only father Dorotej, who is the archbishop now knew where I hid, shivered and whispered the magic word of passion, the word hohori. Now too I repeat it to myself, as if sighing with beauty under the dress that hangs on me like a bell; “Say hohori, say it loud, try, say it and you will feel your body shrinking into a single spot, a single spot between the general body and the female body, there, on the edge of the abyss; repeat it once again and then for a hundred more times, and for a hundred more times you will feel two squeezes, two squeezes and a relax in your female body part. That is how the world is created”, said sister Pelagija plucking the basil in father Dorotej’s cell, and I just sighed and kept quiet. “You can do it silently”, she says, “only it is better to say it out loud; woman is a sigh of passion, a scream in the throat, a shiver of the body on the other side of the body”, she finished going out to the balcony. Looking at the lake, she mentioned a cartographer from Galatia: “In the map of the world, Ohrid, the city around us, was marked by the name of Hohori”, she said and smiled. I wanted to ask what it meant, if it was a mistake, or that was the way the world was created, with new words, but sister Pelagija all of a sudden turned and indicated that I should be quiet: father Dorotej came out of the chapel, he lifted his robe and started climbing the stairs. He climbed, looked at me and sighed in his encolpion. Now I remembered that, I see him as if he is in front of me, and I remembered hohori, the word that I whispered hidden behind the candle stand, listening to the Peloponnesus despot Hamart divorcing without the presence of his wife, the daughter of the tradesman Demonian, because she could not come to Ohrid due to the big distance and the war time. The archbishopric court stuck to the rule that the nature of things is to be before the exactness of the law, and it was then that I realised that there was a law above all laws. An Irina had left her husband Joan, the manager of the castle in the imperial castrum; she left to Prilep, and she led a free life for six months. Her husband started a case against her, accusing her of adultery, and she was to be brought to the court, but she managed to jump in the river on the way here. After she had been rescued, after she had been brought to consciousness, she stated that she would not live with Joan for anything. The same thing happened with Ana from Prespa; after the short married life with Niko, she grew to hate her husband, and she ran to other places not to meet him, although he looked for her, begging her to return to him. She stated before the archbishop that is she would not be divorced, she would throw herself from a rock, or jump in a river, or hang herself. This was also the case of Elena, the daughter of Michael from Voden. She had fallen in love with a nobody, and her parents, against her will, of course, married her to Todor the Limp. Elena could not fall in love with him, she escaped and did not return home for months. Begging her and using force, sometimes even beating her, her parents managed to return her to him somehow, but she would stay for a day or two and ran as far as she could again. She stated to the court that she would take her life in deep waters, steep rocks and tall trees if she was not divorced. Another woman, named Chrisa, a relative of the late archbishop Homatian, tried to poison her husband and herself several times because she could not endure her life without love, without passion. As I hid behind the candle counter, pulling my hair away from my ears to hear better, parents and close people witnessed against their daughters and relatives. In the process of the sebast Moscopulos, his wife was represented by four of her relatives. Of course, the witnesses had to swear first. Now I can not remember if the oath was the same one as the one I said before I was allowed to sit on the check-up chair, pulling the ends of this big velvet dress to cover the chair legs from all sides, but I know that testimony and oath are the only things to determine the truth in the divorce cases. If there is a trial for the adultery of a husband, the witnesses should prove under oath that they had seen the adultery with their very eyes. The adultery testimony heard from another was never accepted, not then and not now. The correspondence, the love letters, for example, were rarely taken as a proof, actually they meant anything only if they clearly spoke about the love affair, and rarely anyone can write such a thing in a letter, if you know that the letters are opened at least three times before reaching the real address. I remember that Zer Gunar of Beroia, may he rest in peace, publicly accused of adultery his wife with the former Beroia dux Constantine Pagonites, in front of this same Dorotej. The day when the trial was to be, Pagonites arrived in a gold-coated two-horse chariot in the city, left it in front of the plane tree, entered this same room and denied the accusation as ungrounded. At the same moment when he said that he had not been with the wife of Zer Gunar from Beroia, the latter stood up and threw several letters to the court, but all the letters only spoke about seeing Constantine close to her, and none gave any direct testimony about the adultery. If only they smelled of her or him, no matter. So, if the husband proves the adultery of his wife under oath, and the wife also denies the accusation under oath, the divorce is allowed only if the wife does not want to live with her husband anymore. After this shame my Gorgi, my husband gave to me, I too did not want to live with him, I say, although our case, at least as it was announced when I sat for the check-up, had nothing to do with adultery, but with something completely different.
And now, finally, before saying what happened at the moment when the spiritual court had me seated on the chair where I still felt the breath of the monk, and he, on purpose, maybe, or it just felt like that, brushes his beard against my ankle, I want it to be known why I am in front of this court, and why the court had allowed such a shame for me and my husband Gorgi Gingifilo. In the divorce cases due to sexual incapability of the husband, the archbishopric court does not only take into consideration the confession of the husband and the testimony of the wife, but it also checks with all relatives and neighbours, with everybody who had the opportunity to know something more about their marriage life. If the husband would not admit that he is sexually incapable, the wife is subjected to a medical examination to determine the condition. And you can imagine this medicine of ours when the monk that went under the chair, apart from his candle, only has an elongated funnel with glass, the same funnel that the archbishop used to observe the stars and the frescoes, as I saw him when I cleaned in the inn, and most often only the folds and eyes of the Holy Mother of God. What can this poor monk see with this funnel inside me, when Gorgi had completely extinguished my sun and my moon inside me?
Now I am but a dark sky and he is responsible for that.
That is why, three months ago, in this same 1466, so exactly when the darkness inside me started to swallow me whole, and I know it happened before we harvested the grain, I came to the Ohrid spiritual court alone: “I, Gina Gingifilo, the daughter of the late Teophilos Nestor, state that my husband Gorgi Gingifilo, to whom I have been married for five years, had not lied with me for this time, never knew me as a woman, and therefore I demand an unconditional divorce.” I thought that the court, especially his beatitude Dorotej, would not demand a legal determination of the actual situation. Unfortunately, my husbands had persistently denied that this was the case, and that it was like that for five years; thus, after he had remained on his previous statement, this morning the court ordered that I put on the long velvet dress and sit on the check-up chair. And then, when I sat down, when I positioned myself as I was supposed to, when I felt the breath of the monk and the funnel approaching, my husband stood up all of a sudden and, as if crying, sniffed and admitted that he had not had me as a woman for five years, that he had never been with me as with a woman. Now, when I am writing this letter to ease my soul, I still don’t know if he did it for me, to protect me, protecting himself, or maybe he still did it for himself, to protect himself protecting me. In any case, the procedure was stopped.
I stood up from the chair, looking at Dorotej and trembling, I felt inside me the word that I had felt on the other side of my body; sister Pelagija smiled, she closed the book of verdicts and stood up; my husband sat on the bench, covering his face with his long, crooked fingers. I knew that nobody could believe what I claimed and what he admired. There was only one who knew the truth, but he also knew that he had to prefer the nature of things before the exactness of the law.
Blaze Minevski (1961, Macedonia) is the author of the novels “Me, Lenin and Mickey Mouse”, “We Should Have Taken a Photo before We Started Hating Each Other”, ”A Story about a Third Party, “The Mark” and ”The Performers”. ”The Mark” won the award “Stale Popov” (2007) for the best book of prose, given by the Macedonian Writers’ Society, the award “Novel of the year” given by the newspaper ‟Utrinski Vesnik” and the award ”13th of November” given by the City of Skopje. He also has to his credit numerous short stories that have won wide acclaim.