The “otherness” of the city of M
The column of Eva Arlova, an author of the HUKANNE project on the pages of Gpress, where representatives of the LBC community, grown up in Belarus, talk about their experience from different states and places on the world map.
I used to be different. In kindergarten, other children bypassed me because I stumbled, I was also outside the cast of «the chosen ones» at school. The university years coincided with the late teenage rebellion phase «against the world», where my place was defined at the bottom, and adulthood made me literally defend my voice on the streets of a country «where I will never be myself.»
This country seemed to freeze in time and, to the last day, lived, imitating decency, humanity, empathy — only sometimes, the stinging hiss inside could become louder, noticeable, clinging to hearing and disturbing sleep at night.
Here they could stab a poison, smiling friendly, badmouth behind their backs and, covered by Sacred Scripture, collect signatures within door-to-door campaigning for «punishing» such persons like me at the infamous prisons. Here they could get mobilized ‘for a common future’, but fence off rainbow flags a couple of steps from white-red-white.
They always stood for everything good here without all the bad, «but let’s go without that issue.»
The otherness was presented as a red rag. And all this was to the embittered society, which for many decades had lived according to prison rules, and instead of a lullaby listened to militaristic speeches mixed with conspiracy theories.
That was enough to feel the power and squeeze hateful targets against the wall. They chose for me where I should spend my days and nights, what to think about, whom to love, and what kind of rights I should have. They wanted me to not exist, and they were willing to sacrifice names, signatures, consciences, and truth to deprive me of the right to be.
We are the unwanted children of an unhappy mother, each and every one of us, “not like others”, has her or his own story — painful to the extent that it sounds, even when other voices fill the space. And this cacophony of pain never leaves room for my own story.
I always felt like a stranger among my kind of people: I can be their voice, but I can’t be a voice among theirs. We protect our pain, and the space is constantly vibrating from tension and unreleased aggression. We hide behind the masks of the best versions of ourselves, and I always stumble in search of understanding.
But all of a sudden it disappears. At one point, we are all together — ‘right’, ‘wrong’ and those who don’t care — are thrown under the iron track of violence that creeps onto roads, avenues and highways and fires our future, our love, our hope.
The city is now like a ghetto,where I am afraid to be at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I listen to the steps on the stairs, I hide flags, books, letters, pictures and toys, through which the ugly videos could splatter my whole «self» over the floor, finding a particular pleasure in focusing on the «otherness».
I look around in the streets, I strenuously compress my jaw, ready -not to run, because there is nowhere to run — but to freeze and be silent if arrested. I live in anticipation of shocks, although this autumn / winter / spring / summer and only a few hundred kilometers from here people anticipate cozy evenings, hot nights, pleasant holidays, career promotions, new cloths from the store… People sit in restaurants, stare into the eyes of loved ones, screw up their eyes while savoring their favorite wine, go dancing in the clubs, and look for adventures in Tinder.
In the city of M. everything stopped to make sense. The city itself has become «other», people get separated from it by concrete walls and barbed wire, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find reasons why to love it.
It provokes sickliness in me: its empty streets which used to be full of voices and happiness; closed and covered with dust apartments where the silence reigns for the third year; ubiquitous red and green, camouflage, swampy colors of the regime which overwhelm with self-confidence and impunity.
The city of M. sleeps poorly, dreams of overcrowded prisons and faceless people in black, and when it wakes up, it cannot understand where the boundary between dreams and reality.
I walk by small steps, in short escapes from taxi to taxi, feeling a chill down my tense spine and having almost nobody to rely on. I can’t get over the thought that now I am by myself: «in case I am detained, imprisoned or killed», no one is around.
The silent taxi drivers who carry me through the lighted streets are almost my only salvation. They don’t ask what I see through the windows of cars, and I can’t ask if they also erase the sharpness of flashbacks when you go through the same routes a hundred times: here were water cannons, and here we were driven into a corner and surrounded; here I stayed all night, clinging to the iron fence, so as not to fall; here people in black helmets chased me like a beast, from cordon to cordon, and here they tried to catch me with a dog…
What have I left in this country, being redundant, unnecessary, constantly forced to justify myself and defend my right to be? There, outside, is a beautiful world where you can be yourself, love whoever you want, talk openly and fall asleep without fear of someone knocking on the door.
How does the earth that has taken away my words, poems, feelings manage to keep me? And where, even if I risk myself and my life, it is not enough just to stay here?
I naively believe that by remaining, staying alive today, I deserve the right to a voice tomorrow.
I am relieving myself of the pain that I still have to endure when we all start playing in a society again. When the polyphony of stories would resonate at full, everyone would want to be a hero and claim more rights over others.
I remain beside people who stand hours in line around prisons and who are looking for a way to live at the moment. I embrace those I love and with whom there is no difference in habits, attitudes and tastes. I stand beside you to offer help at any moment.
We have grown up and become “serious”, and our kitchen conversations — the only way out for fear, pain, frustration, helplessness — are now more likely discussions about grab bag when arrested than friendly gatherings: whom to call, where to go to, whom to ask for help, through whom to pass things, what things to take care of…
In the meantime between talking about depression, prisons, emigration, we try to make it to have an ordinary life, when you can drink beer and sing for the whole throat — not from joy, even though we laugh, but because it hurts.
You can play at night and kiss in the empty streets, holding in your head a rescue plan, the idea that all the «instructions» are given, and the loved ones will know what to do in case… They, these «instructions», unite us stronger than the years of a previous, «peaceful» life.
Now, living on the edge of prison or freedom, beside war and death, it does not matter who we were, how much time we worked and how much we earned, what we dreamed of and where we were aiming to go to. All that matters is who we are and what we are doing now. Only «now» determines where we will arrive, how we will look like, and who will stay with us.
… The first time I looked into the «glass» eyes of riot policemen when my female beloved was arrested. Neither my own destiny, nor the future of the country, nor the ideals and values could make me fall into a trap. I followed her — in order to be close and to be able to stand between, as I always stood between mother and father.
Love has guided me through all these years — from crackdown to crackdown, through the detention of loved ones, prisons, parcels to prisoners, letters, through the painful expectation of freedom for those whom I love, through the risk of depriving myself of the opportunity to breathe freely and see the sky at any moment, through the empty streets, where there are only memories of us before.
Love made me speak, not give up, not surrender — go and find that country where my voice is no longer needed and where everything I said and called for will make sense
There was a lot of love inside me, but there was more of those who needed it, and I didn’t immediately realize that I had nothing more to give. I don’t just have anything to give — and there is nothing left for myself. It was gradual: firstly I stopped going out, then I stopped writing letters to prisons, later, I couldn’t provide help or support anymore. Mornings became hateful, the apartment was a cage, the city was a stranger, and I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up again.
This has been happening every time when I could not see my place in this world, when I could not find the meaning of my existence. Why am I here? Why the hell am I still here?!
Love is over. Words are over, and silence is my last chance to survive, to go through. What next?.. I remain silent, not knowing what to answer to the simple question to which I always had an answer: next, I will finish university, next, I will go to work; next, we will be together /run to different corners; next, I will be healed and I will help others… I don’t see what today’s «next» will look like. Furthermore, I don’t even see «next, we will continue to live.»
What helps me stay afloat?
Once, when they wanted to put me and other ‘perverts’ in jail, they talked about ‘wrong love’, sin and disease. Almost with foam in their mouths, they shouted about «hole» and «rear-wheel drive», gladly read sermons about the influence of the «rotting West» and «traditional values».
They are still talking about it — after the dozens killed, beaten and raped on their orders, after the tens of thousands thrown in prison, after the hundreds of thousands of those who lost their home and loved ones because of them. They say that «lovers do not give up», demonstrating in all their forms that they do not know how to love — and never did. The good keeps the world going, not hate. Everything comes to some balance, and sooner or later the pain will be gone, wounds will heal. Sooner or later, even the grass breaks through asphalt.
I want to see the day when love wins.