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The Basement Tapes

A telephone conversation between me and Radovan Karadžić, June 22 1995. The massacre of Srebrenica is less than a month away. “C'mere,” he says. “Come to Pale.” I say no. He insists. I say no. I tell him to relieve the supply condition of both Sarajevo and the eastern enclaves, meaning Goražde, Žepa and Srebrenica. Then, I say, I will think about it.

He says he’ll see what he can do. Then he hangs up. 

In English: 25 - 30 journalists boarding
an Aeroflot plane to Cuba.
No sign of Snowden.


[of Safe Area for Candy Animals]

[M. is lying in a bathtub.]

Later on, in the belly of the beast, the dungeon where they’d sent me to lie down in, or sit, stand, have some exercise, try walking to the door and back, start again - I could do as I pleased in my basement closet painted black, as long as I didn’t disturb the other prisoners coming clean, the nurse had made herself crystal clear at that point, me just staring ahead (clean my ass, they're dandy, sedated to their eyeballs, it’s me who’s in pain here, waiting for the fucking North Pole to thaw) - I remembered the other time in detention. My third. This time I’d hit the bottom and gone sailing through, like the ball that Iniesta sent flying over the Dutch defense earlier that summer: 1 - 0.

I had cried, sitting by myself at the beer joint, as I'd watched the Spanish team on television, arriving in Madrid. The crowd. The team. They had finally won the big one. And I had lost, in almost as majestic a fashion. This time.

It's all in your head. The dry season that had haunted Fernando Torres lately, or the one that halted the promising literary career of Henry in The Art of Fielding, were matters of spirit, not of skill. If I can psyche myself up, I reasoned, recall a happier time, as it happened, maybe I'll have a chance to get through this.

If I can just make the goddamn commentators shut up.

So I tried to focus. It was a bitch, with three music videos going on at the same time inside of your head, the second you closed your eyes. So you keep 'em open, boy. Open? I want to make you squeal like... No, not that movie. Look at those ugly ass pipes going across the ceiling: Blood Simple. Focus. Now!

Before, it had felt like a party inside. It was at the other place, and I had been in a lot better shape. There had been life in Scheveningen, even joy. I had felt way more isolated outside than I did once I got in. My loneliness evaporated the second time I stepped in that tiny cubicle, the smoking room, they had called it, max three persons at a time. Window giving to the corridor. You didn’t consider the one giving to the street a real window, its blinds drawn for all eternity.

Was it my second cigarette? Could have been the third. In that ballpark anyhow. When I met Katariina.

* * *

Beautiful ladies are often so vain. You can't even look at them. They think all anyone ever wants is to get into their pants. Which is an accurate assessment in most of the cases. Anyhow, Katariina wasn't like that.

I had swallowed my last pill in the bathroom of the waiting area. That’s how I felt so good. A sip of water, anyone? Grab your plastic cups, I’m pouring!

I was ready for the game. Ready to wait until my name was called.

On the bench to my right a fellow did as he was told, leaning his elbows on his thighs. He could have been praying. He seemed quite young. The hood of a sweatshirt shaded his face, so I couldn’t be certain. Anyway, I wasn’t into interfering with his torment too much. Waiting was the worst part. Waiting to get in. Waiting for the first pill, in case your blood alcohol was over point one. Waiting for lunch, for dinner, for the meds. Waiting, praying for sleep.

Later on, as we became roommates, I learned more about his situation.

Man, they don’t call it a welfare state for nothing. They'll try to rehabilitate you a thousand times, if you just let them do it. Money don’t mean dick to us. We’re still trying to cope with the news that the Soviet Union is no longer there.

Suddenly, inside my head, I hear a voice. A calm, articulate speaker with a trace of an accent. Danish, is it?

“A night like any other”, the voice says. “I was making my rounds in

Another, nastier voice, bordering on psychotic, cuts in, “The fuck you were there for? Going to see your lover boy?”

“At that moment, I was going to ask him if he’d brushed his teeth.”

Enough, I say, gritting mine. Enough! You can keep that up later on. Now hush, hush... can’t you see I’m busy?

To my surprise, the voices fall silent. They obey the pill in my belly, not me.

Instead of hearing voices, I see a desolate dirt road in front of me, drenched in sunlight. Next to it stands an ominous sign.


the sign says, and continues,

“We have more pigs than men,
and more guns than pigs.”

I chuckle. Matias, 20, sitting next to me, is having none of it. No fun at all. No tour of the Babić Land for him. Matias has a sideshow of his own going on at full blast, complete with beetles or roaches of some kind crawling on the floor, the man-sized house plant next to him coming to, trying to eat the bugs or something. Trying to eat him, for all I know. Feed me! I can't quite follow his scenario even afterwards, as he explains it to me. 

There's a book to every person, a work that somehow defines his or her character. Matias has a book as well, he is a book called Pharmaca Fennica, where every drug ever sold in this country is described, dissected, disseminated... you name it. He tells you everything about it.

I’m sitting on a chair in the middle of our room. I feel almost guilty, feeling so good. Matias is lying on his bed. He calls his visions flashbacks. I don't ask what he’s been doing. I find it obvious, and dull. Still, who knows? He volunteers that he’s been drinking beer. He has a girlfriend 500 km away, in Copenhagen, and has been feeling down. I understand.

I am telling why I’m here, babbling away. Then I stop. Above the door, there’s an object, like a small crystal ball gone black, attached to the wall.

“What’s that,” I ask Matias. “Is it a camera?”

“Course it is.”

“You mean they’re watching our every move?”

“If we make a move, yeah.”

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