Perhaps somewhere among these papers is the birth certificate of Anastasia Grigorievna Karpov. I know that she was born in Belgrade in 1935 and that she died in Sarajevo on her thirty-second birthday. Anastazija H. – my Anastazija – was named after her. Anastasia Grigorievna, who died before her birth, was her grandmother.
A long time ago, when I was a boy, there was no Internet and printed erotic material was not easily available to boys – at least the shy ones and I was shy. I was eleven or twelve years old when I heard that there were some naughty descriptions in Harold Robbins’ books. I borrowed two volumes with brown covers from a friend whose parents had a rich house library. The book was entitled A Stone for Danny Fisher.
If there were any descriptions of sex in the book, I no longer remember them. Actually, I remember almost nothing from the book, except two details. The first is that the title refers to the Jewish custom of placing a stone on a grave on some holiday, Yom Kippur I guess; the other is that the main character, Danny Fisher from the title, comforts himself that after his death, even if he fails to make something of his life, he will not entirely disappear, his name will at least remain recorded in the registration offices, archives, various bureaucratic records and lists. At the time, such consolation seemed odd to me.
I first saw Anastazija in the library. I was fifteen and already in high school; she was about to finish primary school and one year my junior. I will never forget it: she was wearing yellow leggings and a white short-sleeved shirt. She had long curly hair, glasses on her nose and an already large bosom. I asked her what she liked to read. She said: romanced biographies. She had just finished a book by Pierre La Mure about Toulouse-Lautrec and wanted to read something similar. Take Irving Stone, Lust for Life, I said, it’s about Michelangelo.
We started meeting in the library often. I would always recommend a book to her. In time, I started walking her home even though it was not on my way. She told me about her family, her Russian grandmother that she was named after who had taught chemistry in my high school, the same high school she would be attending the following year, and who had died young of breast cancer.
When I first touched Anastazija’s breasts, I remembered her late granny. It was a brief thought, but I still remember it. It happened in summer, after I had finished the first grade of high school and after Anastazija had finished primary school. By autumn, when she started attending high school, we had already become a real couple.
I was envied for Anastazija not only by my classmates, but also by older students. They called her Anaesthesia. Man, those tits could knock you out in an instant – that’s what they said.
In the autumn of 1991 and the winter of 1991 and 1992, there was no one happier in Sarajevo than Anastazija and me. As spring approached, my parents began to say that we should leave Sarajevo, but I thought it was just an idea. When I realized that they meant it seriously, I rebelled. I must at least finish the class, I protested. They said I would finish it in Belgrade.
I was stupid, I guess, or naive, but as we drove towards Belgrade, I was making plans for spending my holidays in Sarajevo. That’s what I told Anastazija too when we were saying good bye. See you soon, then; that’s what she said. Now I think she didn’t believe it at all.
That spring, everything happened so quickly. We had talked on the phone twice before the main post office burnt down and the Sarajevo phones went silent. Don’t get me wrong, but I am glad you are not here. Those were the last words she said to me. Shortly before that, she had told me she was reading War and Peace.
She was killed in the August of 1992, precisely at the time when the library went up in flames. That August I was reading War and Peace. The last book we had read in high school in Sarajevo before we left was Ana Karenina.
Anastazija H. – my Anastazija – cannot be found on the Internet. When you enter her name and surname in the Google search box under inverted commas, you come up with zero results and a suggestion that you perhaps mean some other Anastazija. The only other Anastazija that I think of then is Anastasia Grigorievna Karpov, the grandmother of my Anastazija, born in Belgrade in 1935.
I remember her whenever I pass by the Russian Hall in Narodnog Fronta Street. I remember her in every street that now bears or once bore a Russian name. I remember her when I go to the municipal office or a police station to obtain some documents or do some formalities. I remember her whenever I read Danilo Kiš because he was born in 1935.
I’m looking at the figures: one, nine, three, five and a heap of papers on the shelf below. I don’t know what sort of papers they are, but as long as I don’t know it, the birth certificate of Anastasia Grigorievna Karpov may be among them. She taught chemistry, not physics, but she probably knew about Schrödinger’s cat.
I’m looking at the papers, I won’t touch them. I’ll be looking at them for a while and then go. The birth certificate of Anastasia Grigorievna Karpov may be among them. That thought makes me feel a little, just a little bit better. That Danny Fisher was not stupid.