“One time in Siberia, near Tobolsk.”
“Near Tobolsk. Well, I mean, nothing is near there, but Tobolsk is nearest . . .”
“Well, that’s helpful.”
“You haven’t heard of Tobolsk? That’s where Križanić published his treatise. In 1665!”
“Who would know such things.”
“I’ve been to Tobolsk, so I know.”
“How did we start talking about this?”
“I don’t know, we’re driving in the middle of nowhere, so it reminded me.”
“Reminded you of what?”
“Yes, that’s it! You interrupted me! That’s what I was saying. In that place near Tobolsk, in this town, even more bumfuck than this one, this guy, listen to this, he told me he could procure me a bomb for a million dollars.”
“What kind of bomb?”
They went over a sizable pothole and got a little shaken up. They were now driving through a deep gorge next to a river. It was sleeting lightly.
“Only a million?” said Nikola, gripping the steering wheel firmly.
“That’s what I asked the guy, too. Only a million?”
He blew out some smoke while looking down at the river bank, where numerous plastic bags had gotten stuck in a thicket, like some kind of mistletoe. He’d been expecting to see untouched nature, so he stared at that.
“You know what he said to me?” Oleg asked.
Oleg looked at Nikola, letting the smoke swirling in the car serve as a dramatic pause.
“So I tell him: Only a million? And you know what he says to me?”
“He says, ‘Yes, it’s a small bomb.’”
Oleg put out his cigarette and lit another one.
After some time, Nikola asked, “Do you think he was being serious?”
“I didn’t look into it . . . Russia was in chaos . . .” Oleg thought for a moment and then added with a laugh, “He was either serious, or he was screwing with me.”
“Fuck, man, that’s not really funny.”
“What can I say? I didn’t look into it. It’s my great contribution to humanity.”
“You really are a hero.”
“Hey, what do you think? What if I had brought a small bomb to these geniuses here, how far would it have gone?”
Oleg laughed again.
Damn his sense of humor, thought Nikola.
In the gorge only the white plastic bags in the thicket were still flickering next to the dark river.
At that point the roads branched out and they began a long climb.
Oleg sank deep into his thoughts: a strange night in that hotel near Tobolsk, where he ended up with an incredibly beautiful black-haired woman who looked like a Russian-speaking Indian. She’d appeared next to him at the bar in a disgusting night club at some point during the night. He didn’t know whether she was a hooker or not – he hadn’t solicited her, which didn’t mean that someone else hadn’t, because the people he was working with had their own, sometimes unusual, forms of hospitality. He told her all sorts of nonsense. He said he was a sea captain – and the sea in question was very far away, and frozen, to boot – he told her that he was from Krems in Austria, although that was nowhere near the sea. But none of that bothered her. He was wondering if she was a hooker he was being set up with, or if she found him fun, or if she trusted him. She had that look like she really was attracted to him, maybe even a naively-in-love kind of look, which could have even been true since she wished deeply to leave that world and go to another one, one that he was a symbol of and one with which she was infatuated. He wondered about that, drinking vodka after vodka, telling her about the seas he had sailed, his boat’s sails, and some event that had taken place on a tropical island, which he decorated with the plot of Mutiny on the Bounty, which had been filmed based on true events, but he relied exclusively on the movie, telling her about the island’s native women, who were as beautiful as she was. That was where he lost track of the plot and started talking about the advantages of that culture, which, he said, didn’t condemn free love. He said it was a completely different world, a world he had gotten to know and had become a part of, and the whole time he kept wondering if she really believed him or was just faking it. But as time passed, many vodkas later, he wondered less and less, so they ended up in the hotel and had wonderful sex – although he didn’t have any condoms on him, he couldn’t resist. Besides, since he still kind of thought she was a hooker, he was convinced that she would have condoms, but she didn’t. They kept on drinking from the minibar, and she said that she had Mansi ancestry or something like that, some people from up there, so he revealed his true identity, at which she flinched, saying that she had a child with a compatriot of his. Then she said “Mantyer.” At first he thought that was a name, or maybe the last name of her ex. Mantyer, Mantyer, she kept repeating as if he was supposed to figure it out, and eventually he figured out that it was “Monter,” a company from back home that also had business here. She was probably screwing around with him. She was probably a hooker who made up silly stories like the ones he told her. Or maybe she was a very romantic hooker, who kept forgetting she was a hooker so she had unprotected sex, like she did with him, with some fellow national of his, who had a name that she thought was complicated, so she only remembered the name of his company? Or she was so stupid that you couldn’t even call it stupidity, but some whole other approach to life, like that movie he was telling her about, so it seemed to him that he was becoming a sailor from the movie, which was very different from the role he played in real life, but he liked that so much that he could fall in love with her, and – truth be told – he made love to her again, like a man who was in love. But damnit, what was he supposed to do with this feeling for a hooker, or a romantic hooker, or an otherworldly person who had a child with Mantyer, in that town where he had been offered an atomic bomb? So maybe for that reason he got so drunk that he no longer knew who she was or who had sent her to sleep with him, or whether someone had sent her at all, or whether she was crazy, because at one point, when they were already extremely drunk – they had emptied the minibar – she wrapped her arms around him and cried, telling him that he was the love of her life, and that she knew he was going to leave and abandon her, and how that wasn’t fair, and that he should think it through, and that he would see wrong from right. But he was already so wasted that he couldn’t think, he just kept smiling and nodding his head, he was probably crying, too, yes, yes, he probably was, and on top of all of it the whole night he kept thinking about the little bomb, that little bomb that he eventually decided not to mention to anyone, although he was told always to tell everything, to retell every offer, and he was told this in the most serious tone, which was backed by the most serious consequences. Nikola didn’t know any of that when he said “You really are a hero,” but there’s no sense in explaining that to Nikola, just as there is no sense in how the next morning, while she was asleep, he packed his things and disappeared, leaving her some money, a lot of money, considering she was maybe a hooker, or not so much money, considering she maybe wasn’t one, even considering that she was a crazy hooker who kept forgetting she was a hooker, but he didn’t know any of that, and he was afraid to find out about it sober, just as he was afraid to find out about the little bomb. So he paid for the room, and, after seeing the receptionist pick up the phone, he stormed out of the hotel and into the taxi, and told the driver to step on it and race all the way to Tobolsk, in a panic that was probably exaggerated, especially since he wasn’t completely sure what he was running away from, but he was running away.
By Robert Perišić
Translated by students Literary Translation at the Department of English Language and Literature at University of Zagreb
Edited by Alexander Hoyt and Buzz Poole
Robert Perišić has created his own audience and his own position in modern Croatian literature, and his books portray an authentic view of society in transition and the (anti)heroes who inhabit it. He is the author of two collections of short stories and one poetry collection; his first novel, Our Man in Iraq, was the bestselling Croatian novel of 2008 and also received a respected literary award from the Croatian daily newspaper Jutarnji list. Robert Perišić’s journalistic articles regularly appear in the respected Croatian weekly Globus.