the ledge files
the ledge - nl - uk

Natasha Radojcic
Querido, Amsterdam,

refered to by:
Orhan Pamuk

Other excerpts

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Olaf Olafsson

Melania Mazzucco

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Natasha Radojcic

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The Egyptologist
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The Known World
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John Banville

Uncle Tom's Cabin
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American Purgatorio
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The Restless Supermarket
Ivan Vladislavic

Kathryn Harrison

Samuel Beckett

Bitter Fruit
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The Gaze
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In Babylon
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Pavel & I
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Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk
David Sedaris

the ledge - flash version*



A fat peasant woman, a rarity for wartime, kicked her bloated leg against the cage stuffed with white chickens yelling, shoo, shoo to prevent the birds from huddling together and keeping whatever breeze there was from cooling them off. Each time she hit the cage her colossal pink and purple cleavage bobbled from side to side almost swallowing the thick gold chain between her breasts. The petrified birds clustered closer, cocking their crimson-crested heads and their long white necks away from the attacking limb. By the next sundown, the townsfolk would finish picking out which of the offered birds were juicy and plump enough to adorn their break-of-the-Ramadan-fast feasts. The chosen heads and necks would be separated by the chakija’s curved blades.
Rough red skin circled the empty yellow blankness of the birds’ pupils. Somewhere Halid had read about the direct link between chickens and dinosaurs. Like him, they were descendants of magnificent warriors, and like him they hadn’t an inkling of courage left.
It was too hot for early October, and he had sweated through his wool turtleneck during the three-hour bus ride from the train station in Split, where he had arrived from Sarajevo.


There he had spent the night crunched up on a wooden bench using his suitcase as a pillow. Not having showered in over two weeks, he was embarrassed to take off his sweater. On top of the smell, he had no undershirt and the fresh skin of his scar might make the passengers uneasy. Well, he thought, evaluating the traveling conditions of his caged companions, at least I’m not covered with feathers.
‘I heard you tell the driver that you’re just back from the war,’ the young man sitting next to him commented. ‘What’s it like, Sarajevo?’
‘It used to be big,’ Halid said hoping that his answer would satisfy the man’s curiosity and shut him up. ‘Now it’s just burnt.’
‘I’m going to go there. The trade schools are reopening next month. In two years I’ll be a licensed electrician.’
Halid’s village was approaching. Soon he would be getting off. All he had to do was ignore the intruder a little longer; so he pretended to be more interested in the sights outside the bus window.
The familiar turns on the narrow two-lane road pushed through the Dinara. The thick mountain forest separated the harsh rakija brandy-guzzling highlanders from the docile coastal dwellers.


To Halid’s left lay an empty water channel, one of the many failed Communist ventures. It was designed in the late seventies to bring water after the ten-year drought had destroyed several harvests. The leading local Communist politician, a self-proclaimed ‘loyal son of the dry land’ concocted a plan to blast through the fields that bordered the road and carve out a water channel. Almost everyone in the area lived off the land and had been reduced to total poverty by the drought. The young men, including Halid, volunteered to work on the channel, which got them out of high school classes and paid their keep for two months.
The disastrous project resulted in several outrageous blunders. The worst was the government’s decision to confiscate the land around the channel for ‘security purposes’. When the fresh water finally arrived and took care of the drought, most people had little land left to crop and no access to the water.
Halid wondered to whom the cornfields and empty pastures belonged now that the war was over. The Communists were no longer in power, and the new land distribution was in effect. He wondered if any of his family’s cattle had survived the war. Five years later, with all the heavy stable work falling on his mother’s ailing back, he couldn’t hope for much.


Mother. He hadn’t called in months. They had never been able to afford a phone, and he was too embarrassed to call the neighbors and wait while somebody fetched her. Sweet Mother: she wrote every month. At first he opened her letters eagerly, but their was nothing in them except news of someone’s death. She never complained of her own sorry state – and not for lack of suffering, which was obvious in the scribbles and corrections. Her hand shook in deep sadness. After five months, he stopped reading. The rest of the forty-eight letters remained neatly folded at the bottom of his suitcase tied with a ribbon he washed each time a new one arrived.

The bus driver was under pressure to get to his last stop before nightfall, and he barely slowed down to let Halid jump off. There were still Serbian rebel snipers everywhere, especially on the desolate mountain roads that were not patrolled by the Bosnian Army. Their infamous ‘checkpoints’ were often the sites of robberies.
The driver shouted ‘good luck to you hero’, as he accelerated, leaving Halid in a cloud of dust.
He kicked his heels together to shake off his boots, dropped his suitcase, and opened and closed his fist a few times, pumping the blood back into his fingers.


The platoon swore it was the best therapy. Three months after the bullet had been removed from his shoulder, the pain could get almost as intense as the day he was shot.
He sat down on his suitcase and tossed the sweater on the road before him. The night was descending quickly, and it brought a slight refreshing breeze. He lifted his arms to air out his armpits.
The middle of the road before him was torn up, probably by a military truck, or even a tank. But the scattered acorns were untouched – Halid figured it had to have been peaceful on this spot for at least two weeks. With his good hand, he picked up a handful of pebbles. They had cracks from water freezing and expanding inside them. They had been on the road for a while, possibly a winter or two. Maybe he even stepped on one of them when he departed four years ago. That thought stirred him, and he let the stones roll out of his hand.
He wasn’t ready for this. He had not planned to come back. He had not planned to be here, not this soon. The doctor prescribed another three months of therapy before he was to go home. After the treatment, he intended to stay in Sarajevo with one of his Muslim war buddies whose Christian wife left him and took their children back to her father in Serbia.


But the ambulances brought in more wounded than the hospital could handle, and he was asked to clear the space.
‘So, you were shot?’ the nurse asked when he objected. ‘So was everybody else.’ She handed him his suitcase without looking up from a new admission sheet.
During the first few days he slept in an abandoned building, hiding from the military police who were rounding up the wandering soldiers and sending them home to their families. He rang his friend’s doorbell several times at night; there was no answer. He tried getting a job cleaning stores for the local merchants. They laughed at him in his uniform at first, but when they realized he was serious, asked for his ID: only locals could be hired. Then armed guards were placed in front of all abandoned buildings, leaving nowhere to hide. The only option left was home; the last place in the world he wanted to see.

The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.