It was a phrase in Serbian. And also the next one. Composed manually. Printed in Cyrillic letters. Between the lines was the impression of the back of the page. Originally a perfect white, the paper had yellow spots from the time that seeps everywhere …
Waiting for the young man to examine the introductory page of the book, the mysterious man seemed to entertain himself with the inspection of the office, a small room at the end of the hall that had not been repainted in a long time. The narrow multipurpose room contained only a disused filing cabinet with a repeatedly forced sheet metal, a coat rack with a base, two ramshackle chairs, a desk, and a planter with a neglected poinsettia. The small, dingy desk with worn edges, barely enough to house the six volumes of the Serbian Language Dictionary, an edition of the Orthography postwar period and plenty of freshly printed journalistic texts that week.
The light in the room was dim; the choppy shoulders of the neighboring government building blocked the view from the window, so you had to wait until noon to receive a reddish slice of sun, which never lasted more than a quarter of an hour there, as long as it was not cloudy like that. end of november day. Maybe that’s why the young man was hunched over, his face almost tucked between the covers of the book. After reading the first page, he turned it carefully, but didn’t pay attention to the following lines before closing the book and starting to inspect the binding made of cold red sapphire, certainly too elegant for current times.
-So? –Said the man, without his face betraying any emotion that was worthy of a description.
-So?! –The young man beat around the bush even though he sensed what was expected of him, trying to gain another moment to reflect.
“Then make up your mind, do you accept?” The man frowned slightly.
–I’m not sure… –Adam Lozanic´ began, a Philology student, a fellow of the Serbian Language and Literature department, external editor of the tourism and nature magazine Our Beauties. I’m not sure what to say, this is already a book, not a manuscript.
-Of course not. The important thing is that you comply with the conditions. This means that you will not leave any annotation or other written mark beyond the strict object of your work. Discretion goes without saying. If you feel that the remuneration is insufficient, I am ready to offer you… ”The man leaned toward him in a confidential tone.
Adam had already been stunned by the first offer he had made. With the amount, now doubled, he could comfortably live five or six months without worrying about the rent, calmly finish his bachelor’s thesis and finally finish his studies. And if we add to this his work as a freelance in the magazine Our Beauties, He would have enough to get out of the economic disaster he was in.
–It is generous. But my work makes sense, how to say it, only if it applies to manuscripts. The book is something already printed, definitive, and there the correction or the reading cannot change much. Besides, I don’t know what the author, the aforementioned, would say about all this… –the young man hesitated, opening the safari covers again; the title featured on the inside cover my legacy in large letters, and further down: “Written and published on behalf of Mr. Anastas S. Branica, writer.”
–I think you will have nothing against it; He hasn’t been with us for fifty years, ”said the man with a forced smile. I insist, he has no relatives. But, even if I had them, this copy is private property and I consider that I have the right to make some corrections. If I wanted, I could underline lines, fill margins, even tear off sheets that I don’t like. However, I would like you to make some small changes, according to my instructions and my wife’s instructions. Your editor says that you are very careful. Our profession is very similar, and I suppose that is the best recommendation that people in our profession can receive …
Adam Lozanic ‘laid his hands on the covers of the book.
Every time he prepared his exams and pondered which of the books on the long lists of recommended works he should read first, it seemed to him that he could thus perceive the beating of a text. Before starting it, I always practiced that naive superstition. Despite the cold binding of that leather called safian, this book was warm and intensely alive, its hidden pulse throbbing under the young man’s fingertips. As if it had been written a moment ago, it did not differ from the recently completed manuscripts, still heated by the feverish fears and hopes of their authors. Maybe it was just that heat that made him decide.
“Okay, I’m going to try it,” he said. I can’t tell you for sure when I’ll have it finished, it’s quite bulky; Also, the spelling rules have changed several times since then, the punctuation is inadequate, you will have noticed the period after the title; And then, the lexicon, the most sensitive part … Actually, I’m not sure, in what aspects do you want me to intervene?
–When could I start? The mysterious man asked, ignoring that.
-Tomorrow morning. Tonight I am already too tired, the newspaper articles are so tiny and are so riddled with errors … The letters flicker before my eyes even when I am not in front of them. It could start tomorrow morning… –the young man was delaying unnecessarily, as if avoiding wondering what he was getting into.
“Then at nine o’clock.” Don’t be late. If I am handicapped, my wife will receive it. –The client got up and left the room.
Adam Lozanic stared at the tilted calendar, pinned to the door that had just closed. The square indicator marked Monday, November 20. Will my wife receive it !? Where!? And what could all that mean !? Would the mysterious man know his little secret? He shuddered. However, he was convinced that he had never told anyone. From a year ago, from time to time it seemed to him that during his readings he ran into other readers! Only occasionally, sporadically, but with increasing clarity, he remembered those people, generally unknown, who simultaneously read the same book with him. He remembered some details as if he had really lived them. With all your senses. Of course, he had never confessed it to anyone. They would take him for crazy. At best, nutty. To tell the truth, when he thought about these strange things, he himself concluded that his personality was dangerously bordering the limit of sound judgment. Or did he imagine all that because of the excess of literature and the lack of life !?
Remembering the reading, he realized it was time to get on with the job that kept him going for the time being. New texts awaited him, so he sharpened the pencil and went to work, just consulting the Orthography and the volumes of Dictionary. There were tons of articles, but the editor-in-chief himself made his job easier by ordering him to pay attention only to spell checking. Changing the order of the words, the words themselves or the data, should not even go through your mind.
–Lozanic´, keep it in mind, do not tire in vain, that is not your field! He insisted rigorously several times, not hesitating to shake the dandruff from his shoulders and the collar of his navy double breasted jacket in front of him.
–Lord, allow me, here a substantial error escaped, I cannot allow it to be said that the Kopaonik measures almost two thousand five hundred meters, when the official height of the Peak of Pancie, I consulted it on the maps, it is two thousand seventeen meters! The young collaborator once objected.
-Almost! Does the word “almost” mean anything to you? It is small, but enough to cover the difference. And where is the error there? Lozanic´, you are a Serbian philologist, still to graduate, yes, but geographer surely is not. The folding of the earth’s crust is not a finished thing. Also, do you have even a pinch of national pride? Would you round it to only two thousand ?! What a saver! If they asked me, I would put up to three thousand! Now go away and never come back with your stinginess and that cowardly cowardice. –For a moment the publisher left the dandruff in his neck in peace to dismiss him with an impatient gesture.
Our Beauties it came out biweekly. Adam Lozanic´ had the obligation to go to the newsroom on Mondays and review the articles sent by the permanent correspondents of all the existing and non-existent parts of the country. The job you expected came on time, you would have a whole week available for the highest paying job of your entire reading and proofreading career. Perhaps for this very reason, the young man did not deliberately stop correcting the introductory part of the special number that listed, with too much enthusiasm, the national wealth of hunting. He crossed out the problematic “reindeer” in the text and wrote down: “Incorrect. As is known, this species of polar animal is not found in our lands ».
Translation of Dubravka Sužnjević.