17 August 2023


I am sitting on the beige couch. Well, actually it is not beige. It is blue with some white ornaments on it, with a beige blanket over it. My eyes scan the room. I can see the door of the apartment through the hallway facing me, the kitchen right next to it lurks behind the simple big wooden table with four chairs around it. On the left side of the room there is a big old yugoslavian sideboard with a TV -Antenna on it. It can not be touched otherwise the picture of the TV will vanish into black and white pixels. Opposite of that, on the spot where another couch used to be, a hospital bed stands now.  Not sure if it is a hospital bed or just a bed for people who need assistance with moving. Anyways it’s big and you can use a remote for it to lower or rise. My grandfather sits on that bed. On the edge of it. His feet barely touching the ground. His dark green woolen sweater looks like it was thrown over him. The bulk under his beige pants gives away the diaper he must wear now. I breathe in slowly. It smells of nothing much. Clean and dusty. It used to smell very bad. Unaired and moldy. Since my grandmother passed away 10 or more years ago the hygiene in the flat gradually declined. It has been much better for some months, since a very sturdy woman comes to take care of the household and my grandfather. Shortly after my grandmother passed away my grandfather said while cooking some white beans that if he would have known how much work my grandmother had with keeping a clean house and feeding everybody he would have helped her more. I don’t remember that my grandfather did any cooking or cleaning while my grandmother was alive. He did those “manly” jobs you need to do maybe once a week around home. I think of this while my eyes scour the room. They end up looking at my grandfather’s head. His white gray tinted hair or what’s left of it looking like he has been lying in bed all day. I search for the three very long hair strands he used to leave on the left side of his head so he can comb them over his bold middle to the right side.They are gone. His hair is now equally short on both sides. 

My gaze lowers to his face. His eyes are closed in a smirk, he smiles at a story he was just telling me. He always was a good storyteller. Mostly he talked about his childhood. His father died in the second World War fighting with the partisans and he lived with his grandfather, uncles, aunts and cousins in a big village house, sleeping above the cattle. At the age of 14 he had to walk almost every day over the mountain to the city. He had started an apprenticeship there at a carpentry shop. When it would get too late to return home he would sleep in the sawdust on the floor. When he was home he was taking care of the cattle.

My eyes wander towards his hands. In them he is clutching his cane. It is a stick made by his best and most likely only still alive friend. It is a well fixed tree branch. My cousins want to buy him a new one but my grandfather is holding on to this cane as if it is not only giving him support while walking. His hands are wrinkled like his face. When I see wrinkles on myself, I am slightly annoyed by age, but when I see them on others, I find them almost poetic. Traces of stories. His hands have a brownish skin tone, like his face. He giggles a bit. His hands shake with the giggles. Or maybe it’s his Parkinson. When he gesticulates his hands flutter along the words in the air. I continue looking at the hands while he is reminiscing over his childhood. Both of his thumbs are missing a corner of flesh.

My grandfather was a carpenter his whole life. First in a yugoslavian carpentry named by Mirka Ginova, a fighter against the nazis. She was hanged in Greece in 1946 for being one of the leading figures of NOF (National Liberation Front). The father of my grandfather died one or two years prior. My grandfather never really knew his father. He remembers the day his father got called for, packing his things and leaving the village with the partisans. 

My eyes now follow his eyes. His hands are now folded over the top part of the wooden cane. His thumbs grazing the handle. How strange of a body part hands are… We touch so many things, do so many things with them, they burn a bit, bruise, get cuts, touch gently, touch violently, touch everything. Like we literally touch everything with them. I look at the hard blisters of my grandfather’s hands. As if they are extra small little nubs of fingers. I remember being with him in his later own carpentry close to the village he grew up in. I spent  whole summers there. Me, some chickens, cats, and a goat my grandfather had. In-between making jufki and ajvar with my grandmother and roving around the hills. 

I spent a lot of time in the carpentry of my grandfather. Where I would make little two-legged chairs and swords.  Well my grandfather did most of the job, but after a while I could build simpler things on my own. His hands picking the piece of wood most suitable. Always holding it tight and caressing it firmly as if to feel if it has the right inner fit. Maybe there was something to it. Years of experience must have let him hear the whisper of wood. He would hold the piece of wood slightly above his head, eye it knowingly and then put it on the working bench. His other hand would take the saw, or sometimes if it was a bigger piece he would turn on the electric saw. But not until he would say “Dedo, move away a bit” and point with his hand to the place where he thought is the safest for me to stand. Dedo is the word for grandfather, for grandpa. Often relatives call their younger relatives with the word that is actually meant for them. I would move away and watch his hands take the piece of wood in a tight grasp and under a lot of sound the saw would cut it to the wanted size. 

Now he is holding onto a piece of wood, without it he would probably fall down while moving across his apartment. He points to the kitchen “Dedo, take yourself some juice and there are some cookies somewhere” I don’t want anything, but I know that he won’t stop until I get up and take some juice. I examine the glasses; they are clean now since he has someone to do the dishes for him. I hand him his cup. He takes it and it shakingly finds its way to his mouth. When my mother moved to live with my father, they were all living together in one house with two stories. By all I mean my uncle, mother, father, grandmother and grandfather. In summer my grandfather would wait in front of the house sitting next to a small round table. Waiting for my mother to come back from work or from school with me. He loves my mother. He would wait there and my mother would make some Turkish coffee and they would sit in front of the house. When they couldn’t speak the same language, they would use gesture. My mother fast, lively, and excited. My grandfather slower, more cautions. At least that is what I imagine. Then he would take out a soft package of cigarettes from his T-shirt pocket, offer a cigarette to my mother, who always declined. She favored another brand.

My grandfather says he only smoked because he wanted to keep my mother company. I don’t remember my grandfather smoking. I can’t imagine his hand holding a cigarette. It is an alien combination. I remember his hands always working, crafting, fixing something. His voice saying hand me the screwdriver, hand me the wood slicer, hand me the flashlight. His hands always slightly coloured with sawdust, oil or paint. I remember him cleaning them very often with what we called “razreduvac” – Nitro thinner. Often, I had to pour it over his hands, and he would scrub them with his fingernails. It was my go-to cleaning method for a long period as well. Mostly when I was painting. I still feel the dryness it would leave, making the hands feel like sandpaper. Ajde, he would say at the end and shake of the droplets of leftover caustic liquid to the ground, take the nitro thinner of my hands, put the cap on and bring it to its place. We always had nitro thinner at our home, at my grandfather’s home, at the village house, at my uncle’s house. 

Now I am sitting in this flat my father bought 10+ years ago for my grandparents to live in. I don’t think that there is any nitro thinner around. No need for it. The house where my grandfather would wait in front of, was getting too much for them. I look at how he puts the cup back to the table. It takes a while, not only because his hand is shaking but also because the table is too short for his sitting position. I stand up and sit next to him. Put my hand on his hands. He always feels a little embarrassed when I hug him or touch him.He used to hold me up to pick cherries or almonds from the trees in his garden in the village house. Making sure I feel safe. I feel his blisters and I look at his weirdly shaped fingernails. Especially those on his thumbs, each of them missing a corner. I remember how I made my first shelf with him and my father. Shelf sounds so boring. It was more like a wall sideboard with integrated coat hangers. His hands came in to guide mine. It was a gift for a dear friend and their new flat. All of the furniture we own was made by my grandfather or father. I realize that I don’t have anything made by them in my flat in Berlin. I shake his hand before I leave. He holds it with both of his and slips a bill into mine. Always, even after all these years. I take it. There is no arguing.