Most of Jan's half-friends had gathered for his birthday party. They sat at an oblong wooden table on an archaically decorated porch closed on three sides with the final wall being seemingly covered by a vine. Everyone, now already slightly under the influence of alcohol, was inattentively listening to the old singer who was introducing his backing group during the last song and trying to end with dignity his tedious performance, which had been constantly disrupted by unconnected tidbits of conversation of all the excitement-yearning guests. Jan could hardly wait for this part of the evening to end, for then he would finally be able to spend some time conversing with the few people whose presence he sincerely desired. The singer took a bow and the drunker of the guests started to applaud enthusiastically; Jan awkwardly joined his palms several times, hoping he wouldn't appear too unsatisfied, and it seemed he'd succeeded. He felt he was the only one who'd actually paid any attention to the performance; everyone else was too busy drinking and making a clamour. He was annoyed by it.
While Jan wasn't paying attention to the other side of the table, the waitress must have brought the cake that was now waiting for someone to stick candles in it and light them. Tine, who was, as opposed to everyone else, somewhat close to Jan, beckoned him to sit down and proceed. Jan began and most of the other guests paid no heed to it – among the thick smoke, the smell of wine and the din it would be hard to ask of anyone to concern themselves with the birthday-boy – only those immediately next to the cake stared at it as if enchanted and this made Jan feel slightly paranoid. It wouldn't be surprising at all if it turned out they wanted to pull a practical joke on him and planted a firecracker among the candles that would spatter the cake all over the room; in spite of his fear, he continued and when eventually all the candles were lit and he blew with all his breath, he was relieved and surprised at the same time that the evening had thus far not incorporated anything that would really bother him. He'd expected everything else from those present, so he looked at Tine and asked: »Why is it all so simple? I've never been to a party where the one being celebrated wasn't put in a situation they don't want to be in.« Tine was getting ready to reply, but was interrupted by a throng of guests who'd gotten up and started to push towards the door. Something was evidently about to happen outside. Jan cautiously followed and Tine walked by him. »He'll be here any minute,« he heard the crowd say and for a moment he was frightened by the prospect of what was about to come. Who was he and why was everyone so anxious for him to arrive? Jan stepped through the door and saw a multitude of guests captivated by three pairs of car lights that were descending with great speed down the hillside meadow and heard exuberant shouting from far away.
Screeching tyres and a hundred and eighty degree turn signalled the end of the journey for the first of the cars. The window on top was open and a black-clad youth with a small devilish beard was standing up, screaming that this was the best night ever. Jan didn't know him and after this short demonstration felt no need to change that. The door opened when the other two cars came to a halt after a similarly spectacular performance. Borut stepped out and indicated to the crowd with a wave of his hand to step back and give Jan some space. Tine leaned towards him and whispered simply: »Forgive me.« He then beckoned him to follow Borut who'd by now moved a few metres away. Jan obeyed. »Happy birthday, my old man!« Borut gleefully exclaimed and offered his hand to Jan. He shook it apprehensively, as he knew the visit cannot possibly be so well-intentioned. »Because we know you so well we bought you a present you are going to enjoy very much,« said Borut and raised his hand towards one of the cars. »Oh no,« Jan whispered and noticed two approaching female figures in the dark.
»This is Maja,« Borut introduced the first of the two girls. She was tall, taller than Borut and almost taller than Jan, and she had a lithe, though possibly too thin, body wrapped in a tight black dress which emphasized her breasts and ribs. She had narrow sharp eyebrows that almost joined into a single one over her turned-up nose and full red lips and a very nicely shaped oval head covered with a millimetre or two of black hair. »I'm very happy to meet you, Jan,« she said hyperactively and started to draw circles with her eyes so she wouldn't be bored waiting for him to reply. Jan remained silent. He couldn't believe his so-called friends would stoop so low as to buy him a whore for birthday. He stared at her flabbergasted, trying to come up with a response that would excuse him from this obligation and she didn't even notice his lack of interest and suddenly stopped her circling: »Just come when you're ready.« Jan still stood silently, staring at her, until he redirected his attention towards her companion. She was shifting from one foot to the other and it was perfectly obvious she didn't want to be here. With a mixture of boredom and disgust she was looking at Jan and Borut and Tine and Maja and thus made clear her complete unreadiness to engage in conversation with any of those pathetic people. Unlike Maja she had long bright brown hair, but Jan was mostly attracted to the white ring hanging on a necklace that kept bumping into her body while she was moving. She must have thought Jan was looking at her breasts, because she turned away, started to walk towards the studio by the inn and uncomfortably said: »Come, Maja, let's go.« She followed eagerly, almost hopping the entire way.
»What the hell is wrong with you?« Jan exclaimed once they got out of hearing range. »I thought I made it clear you won't do this to me.« »Oh, come on, be a bit more interesting,« said Borut with a bothersome tone. »We went to great lengths to find you Maja. It's not like anyone unauthorized is going to find out.« »And them?« Jan pointed at the crowd that had by now diverted its attention away from this conversation and dealt mostly with further drinking. »Who authorized them?« »You did,« Borut replied, »once you befriended us.« »You know very well I didn't want that,« Jan objected. »Well, well, you always had the choice to step away. Now you're a part of us, and we love you. Ask yourself what's worse – delight with that bald whore or disappointing all of your friends?« Jan didn't answer. Of course he could step away. He had a choice. He always did. Even this very moment he could choose to reject this gift and sever all ties with this company, but he didn't. He repressed his moral instincts and started to walk towards the studio. »You'll thank us,« laughed Borut behind his back, while Jan was silently walking and it was like he was about to be hanged. He opened the door and stepped inside.
Maja wasn't in the room. She heard him open the door and called from the bathroom while an electric razor was buzzing: »You're early, wait, I'll be right out.« Jan didn't say anything. He saw an opportunity to save himself. The window on the other side of the room was open and led to a different street than the front door. »I haven't seen such a handsome man in a long time,« Maja spoke, her voice echoing. »I'm very glad to have come today.« Jan was by the window and his right foot was already on the frame. He supported himself with his arms and climbed higher. »I'll do my very best for you. How old are you anyway?« Jan didn't reply. He turned on the window-frame and jumped out. »You look around twenty, am I right? Twenty?« He started to run down the alley. The sound of the razor began to decline and only after he couldn't hear it anymore did he stop and took a look around. He didn't know where he was, but that wasn't as important as the knowledge that he must get as far away as possible. So he ran and ran and ran among suburban row houses and gardens and cherries and vines and sleeping dogs behind fences until he had no more strength and was forced to stop. He sat on the pavement and tried to get his breath back.
He knew his escape would have major consequences. He would lose all those he didn't want but was still afraid to lose. It might be better this way. In any other situation he wouldn't dare to do anything similar, but now it was as if fate granted him his greatest wish for his birthday. He will be free again and will decide for himself how to live his life. He attempted to find his way out of the labirynth of tiny alleys, emboldened with the awareness that he will finally free himself from the chains of sociableness and he felt a rising rapture.
It didn't take long for him to hear the sounds of the party. He followed them and they led him to the parking lot. Maja's fair-haired companion sat near the edge by blossoming flowers. When he went by she didn't even notice him at first. She was looking down, trying to capture light from street lamps with her white ring and reflect it at the ground, smiling all the while. Then she heard footsteps and saw Jan, who was gazing at her and at the same time trying to walk as silently as possible, so she wouldn't hear him. It seemed like she was near tears when they exchanged glances, but she quickly went back to her wrinkled smile and continued turning the ring on the necklace. Now he couldn't wait to confront Borut. Then he will return to her and explain the situation they pushed him into.
Borut's car was still parked at the same place and inside, lit by a shabby light, sat Borut and Maja who now had a completely bare head. They were laughing and talking and smoking and Jan made slow steps to make them ready for his arrival. Only when he was right by the car did they notice him and Borut opened the window, still smiling. »Hello, birthday-boy,« he said gleefully. »Hello,« Jan replied with apprehension. »Maja was just telling me you were her best lover yet,« said Borut. »It's true, sweetheart,« she agreed. Jan nodded and silently exhaled. Fucking harlot. She ruined everything with that.
Rk. Aljoša Šorgo, 30. 5. 2011, 5. 9. 2011