What next? you ask. Switzerland, I say. Let's go sleep in
Bern. Why is it called Bern? you ask in Bern, and you yawn, and I yawn, and
there are bears in Bern, and drunks and children fall in the pit and get saved
or die. We sleep well no matter where, we fall asleep together well. We have
slept through a lot of world. We have slept on the train to Belgrade with our
legs like bridges across the seats. The conductor's hat was tired and too small
for his forehead. The conductor wanted a sincere ten euro for the mud on his
seats. The conductor wore a mustache.
On the plane from Serbia you saw crows on the runway and
fell asleep in the midst of a panic attack, and I had to wake you up and tell
you about it, and that made you freak out again. During our landing the
stewardess played Blue Velvet and danced slowly between the rows, but we didn't
hear it, we didn't see it, we had our eyes closed.
In Washington we fell asleep in the National Gallery of Art—Matisse,
the sleeping pill—but it wasn't only him, it was the troubling nights before;
we had made up a new game, decided not to speak during the dark for a week, but
you busted the edict right after midnight. You said that I wasn't being silent
in English. You said that I was keeping still in a different language, and you
felt left out and found it unjust. I couldn't answer. Rules are rules. I was
scared that if I opened my mouth it wouldn't be English that came out. So we
lay there awake, night after night—me not wanting to sleep unintelligibly next
to you, and you trying to understand what I wasn't saying.
On a bench by the Brandenburg Gate we slept on a Sunday to
voices of Russian tourists, to songs of pigeons. We were led to the bench with
our eyes closed, again a game in which only our dreams were supposed to see the
grand columns. As we woke up we couldn't remember what dreams we had, and we
spoke Russian songs fluently for hours.
In Eastern Alabama we fell asleep on a dirt road leading to
a church in the fields. Three hours in a full morning heat until a fat black
guy woke us, fist against the windshield. We followed James to the mess, and
the mess trembled and stunk and boiled. Let's sleep, you whispered, but chants
and god and James kept us awake. We nestled up against him, he put his hands
flat on our heads, his good shirt smelled like a lemon.
In Oxford, Mississippi, we slept in Faulkner's spacious
garden and—believe me or not—on that day in Faulkner's garden, I forgot what
the deal was with our sleeping. As a matter of fact, I forgot what the deal was
with all our games, rules, and assignments. It happened at the sight of that
Japanese photographer. You remember? A young guy, white jeans, who rollicked
with his tripod between the cedar trees, looking for the right angle, for the
best light, eyes alert like a vigilant lover. Focused people are the most
beautiful ones, you said and called over to him asking if he would tell us a
Japanese bedtime story. He didn't pay attention to us or he was scared of strangers
lying in Faulkner's grass or he didn't speak this language, and when I was a
kid, I believed that unheard and incomprehensible words don't just disappear
but gather as clouds in the sky and come back to us as thunder, so that
everyone can hear them. After you fell asleep, back in Faulkner's garden, I
kissed your temple because I like it so much to see a kiss written down on your
In Bern we went to Einstein's house, we wanted to sleep for
Einstein. We have a soft spot for sleeping where famous people once slept. Bern
is named Bern because Berlin was already given away, and you placed yourself on
a chair under the photograph of Einstein's wife and you closed your beautiful
eyes, and I sat opposite on the floor and closed my beautiful eyes, and we paid
homage to Einstein. It was half an hour maybe, before they came and got us. I
never told you what I dreamt in Bern. In Bern I dreamt about Japan—that is, I
dreamt about Bill Murray. Let's soon go sleep Japan. On that day in Bern, you
were a little bit sick, you were a little bit pale, you were a little bit
silent in Bern. In Bern you were a little bit asleep with me.
Saša Stanišić was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1978. His first novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone has been translated into 30 languages. He has been living mostly in German speaking countries since 1992 and has been writing short stories all his life. In his first short story there were partisans and a talking dog. In his plays puppets play. Stanišić is currently Writer-in-Residence at M.I.T.