Global Geneva is initiating a new component focusing on creative writing. The following is an excerpt from the short story ‘American Lottery’ by award-winning author Gazmend M. Kapllani. This was published in the June-September 2018 Summer print & e-edition of the magazine.
The American Embassy showed itself to us in the form of a huge yellow building with a huge American flag waving on the top. Three times we were interviewed by three different gentlemen. Their eyes examined us the way that doctors look at patients who are struck by some terminal disease. During the examinations they were assisted by the same translator, a short Albanian man around fifty, with small ears like dried Turkish figs and scarce hair on his head.
Outside the Embassy there was a huge line of people with thin bodies, wrinkled faces and eyes that looked like cracked porcelain cups, waiting to hear their names and cross the fateful gate of the Embassy. Next to the gate stood a few Albanian policemen who kept the long line absolutely even and straight. Their blue and red hats were, for some inexplicable reason, always bigger than their heads. Every time we exited the Embassy, after being interviewed, some of the people would leave the line and ask us questions like: “did the Americans ask difficult questions?” “did the Americans ask if you have a bank account?”. Usually my father would answer the questions in a military style, with short, sharp sentences.
Three months after the three interviews the mailman brought us another white envelope. Mother took it in her hands and opened it with the tense and attentive gestures of a bomb expert. My father and I hung on her every word. She read it and she smiled like someone who had survived a death sentence. After a month, she announced, two gentlemen from the American Embassy would pay us a visit. This was our last test on our way to America.
The first wave of joy past, my parents gathered in a corner of the sitting room, in a safe distance from me, trying to decode the meaning of the upcoming visit, whether there was something insidious behind it. The devil lies in the details, my mother said. The conclusion was drawn though that the visit meant something particularly good. It meant that only the width of a hair now separated us from America. The visit of the two unknown gentleman incarnated the very width of the hair.
My mother was convinced that the two gentlemen were coming to us in order to gather evidence that we deserved to live in America, that is, that we were living in Albania according to “civilized patterns”. My father felt somehow vexed for the fact that our civilized way of life was put into question. My mother though saw the whole thing in mathematical terms. She was convinced that this was the last equation to solve and our last test to pass. America, she declared triumphantly, was now in our hands. She raised her right hand and clenched its fingers like she wanted to imprison the dream of America in her fist.
The next day my mother’s enthusiasm shifted suddenly to panic. She looked around the house and felt that it was stripped of objects and symbols that would make us sympathetic to the eyes of our unknown American examiners. “If we don’t prepare properly for the visit we will fail America” she said. A whole day, from dawn to dusk, my parents discussed, argued, agreed, disagreed and agreed again on some basic steps to take in order to win the hearts andn minds of our American examiners.
My uncle would serve as our unofficial adviser in this supreme endeavour.
– “You should have a puppy. It’s the first indicator of a civilized life” – my uncle told my father.
– “We had never had a puppy” – my father answered.
– “Get one then!” – said my uncle.
My mother found the idea of the puppy plausible. In any case it won’t harm our positive outlook, she said. Without wasting time, my parents launched themselves in the search of a puppy.
Stray dogs were all over the place in our small town. Dirty and hungry they wandered around the rusty and overwhelmed trash bins, wagging their long tails, fiercely fighting against each other in the middle of the day or doggedly making love in the dead of night. They seemed seriously irritated by the sudden multiplication of private cars in the narrow and bumpy streets of our town. Private cars were not allowed during communism and after its fall they were popping up like mushrooms after the rain.
We didn’t need a dog like those stray uncivilized dogs. What we needed was a dog of special breed, clean, beautiful and civilized. My parents started visiting friendly and not so friendly houses and at the end of their one-week search they looked themselves like defeated stray dogs in the middle of the cold winter. No dog that would match my uncle’s description was to be found in our town.