Boban Knezevic



Boban Knezevic

The Time of Cloths

I inherited a large number of cloths. Ordinary, rectangular dishcloths. Not so ordinary, actually: colorful, decorative, many from faraway countries and of unusual materials, many of strange textures and those too pretty to ever use. Not too large a number – about a hundred. They lie piled on top of each other in a corner of the closet, washed, ironed, ready… And I use them, naturally. I take a cloth from the top of the pile, sometimes two or three and use them for the most ordinary things: wiping dishes, covering the table, handling steaming pots. When a cloth gets dirty or wet or becomes unclean in any other way, I throw it into the washing machine and take the next one. Eventually, the machine is full of various laundry, among which are several (two to ten) cloths. While the laundry is drying and awaiting ironing, I take a few more cloths. Finally, when the washed and dried cloths are ironed, I place them neatly on the pile. Always on the top.

And the process is repeated, week after week, month after month, year after year… Some cloths are not sturdy enough to bear the whole treatment, and show signs of wear, others are permanently stained, or scorched by cigarettes, the iron or stove… but persistently, almost ritually, with pagan fortitude or inborn stubbornness I perform upon them the familiar cycle. Years go by… decades… sometimes, very rarely and very, very painfully, I decide that a cloth has served its term and demote it to a lower rank: wiping the floor or the terrace. I have no idea what would actually have to happen for a cloth to deserve total eviction from my life. Even those cloths completely worn and torn remain hidden somewhere in a nook of the terrace or way beneath the bathtub, to calmly spent their days of retirement, aware that I still might see them or touch them for a moment, sooner or later, during some rearrangement of things.

And I then take the next cloth from the top.

The fascinating thing is that I own about a hundred cloths, but at least seventy of them I have never used, not once, not a single time, nor have I ever even seen them spread out. There might be ten or fifteen cloths that have had the honor of being used once or twice, during various celebrations and gatherings. For all these years, for decades of my life I have been using the same ten or maybe twenty cloths at most. It would take centuries to wear out all the cloths in the manner in which I use them… although most of them would probably rot by then.

I gaze at the unused portion of the evenly stacked pile and I think of how some of those cloths, never used, are quite surely of better quality than these I have chosen by circumstance. Some are prettier, more colorful, some more absorbing, softer beneath the fingertips… I wonder how something so obvious did not occur to me earlier, but occurred now that I am old and do not think of death as of something inevitable and distant, but as of something unwelcome and close… in this sleepless night I stand by the pile of unused cloths, cloths perhaps completely stiff, perhaps forever deformed by this lifetime of unmovingness… I stand and watch the sleeping city. The bitterness within me is complete.

It’s not these cloths that are important, they’re not what has engulfed me with despair this night… A large part of my life is behind me, perhaps most of it… I have been many things, probably achieving the most as an editor, a literary editor… Renowned and relatively successful in that field, respected, arrogant in my consistency… I chose texts that would be printed, I published the writers I chose to… and now I stand, alone in the slipping night trying to find one, at least one, even ever so slight, difference between the way I used cloths and authors offering me their writings.

If ever I shed a tear because of this, at least I shall have what to wipe it with. •

© 2004 Project Rastko, TPA Janus & individual copyright owners