The "Matrix" was originally published in Croatian in the short story collection: Reci Mi Sve/Tell Me Everything (CeKaPe, 2013). Accompanying photo was taken by Bruno Loverenic.
Today is the day. What should I wear? High heels? Sure, it’s warm outside; I’ll put on peep toes. Jeans are good; they go with everything. White T-shirt, black jacket, to match the shoes. I wanna look like Trinity. In my belt, I put two pieces. Then one piece in each jacket pocket, one in each jeans pocket… one in a holster over the T-shirt, under the jacket. And the bag. You bet I’m packing.
Bank first. I got number 246; it’ll be a wait. I could read a book while I’m in here. I’m checking all the pieces, making sure they’re ready, wondering which to use first.
This is taking time. I’ve been waiting for five years and now there are thirty people in front of me, each and every one of them with a sad story, just like me. Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten myself into this in the first place. But the place was too big after Mom died, what was I gonna do with all that space? I just wanted a smaller apartment. Nothing unusual, right?
The list of laws they used to fuck me over is as long as my arm. First there was the nationalization, then the matter of inheritance and ownership. I signed and signed and signed documents. They kept shoving papers in my face to sign. This proves you agree to be represented by us in court. Who wouldn’t sign that? This proves you agree for us to take over your life. OK, not exactly, but it turned out that way.
So, where did it all go wrong? One of the papers to sign was a credit application to refinance something I never needed to refinance. Because the apartment belonged to my Mom, it had been paid in full a long time ago—I still remember those lines and those documents. My Mom was already old and fragile, we took a fishing stool wherever we went, as she couldn’t stand in line to sign, agree, and consent. The bank says Mom had agreed to a credit, and now they want me to pay them in cash? They have an explanation, of course, but who understands their language? Endless legal babble until you grow tired of it and just sign. It’s just a formality, they say.
Ever since I realized it was all in vain, I keep filing applications and requests to annul all the previous ones, while the bank keeps refusing. They never fail to find just the precedent to benefit them, not me.
It was supposed to be simple: sell the large place, buy a smaller one. I just wanted a smaller apartment.
The line has moved; number 239 is a crying woman. They are refusing to give her an advance on her social security check. She’s in the red and interest keep eating up everything she makes. The teller says they are powerless. It’s only the fifth, the woman says; how am I going to pay the electricity bill? What am I going to eat for the rest of the month? The teller calls the guards and the one who shows up is packing just one piece—a lot less than me—grabs the woman and escorts her to the door. Number 240, a veteran. He’s packing, too; I can see the bumps under his clothes. This should be fun. The teller is telling no again. I wonder what it’s like to say no for living. Maybe it’s well paid, that would make it OK. Still, no one is paid enough on a day you get a client like me. It certainly won’t be paid enough today.
I’m eavesdropping—can’t stop. Unbelievable. The vet owned two hundred to a man, couldn’t pay in time, got sued. The court clerk made a typo and two hundred turned into twenty thousand. An omitted period—one period—and the vet owns twenty thousand. He’s yelling. Banging his fist on the teller’s counter. How can you pretend that mistake wasn’t a mistake, how am I gonna come up with that kind of money? I do not owe that much; I owe twenty times less! I’ll kill you all! Take us to court, then. I can’t take you to court, that would cost me and I can’t afford it! I’m a veteran, I lost my leg defending this country, I get five thousand a month and it all ends up in your hands! I’m waiting for the mayhem, but the teller is calling the guards again and the same guy shows up again. The vet sees him coming, shakes his head in dismay, leaves. He’s not as mad as I am. Yet. One period?
I’ve been doing this dance for five years. If the agency bought the apartment from me, how come I never saw any money? Where is the proof they bought it? How could this happen? And why? Take us to court, they keep saying, knowing it would take me a million documents to do so. Why am I paying taxes for an apartment I supposedly don’t own? Those were the terms of the agreement, they say—and you signed it. Take us to court.
I can’t wait for my number to show up on the screen. I’m not taking my eyes off it, watching numbers appear and disappear accompanied by an annoying beeping sound. I’m sure that’s a planned move on their part. They could have chosen a lovelier sound, but no, they went with this devil’s squeal. To make us crazy. Well, they succeeded. The five-year dance ends today.
It’s my turn and I ask my questions. I have all the documents, I say. Signed and stamped. Official. The teller glances through, says they won’t do. Why not? I ask with a kind smile. Because there is no registry number on them, and because I wasn’t supposed to file those here, and besides, the bank has dealt with cases like mine in the past and the petitioner never wins. It is at the bank’s discretion to decide if I get the money or not. Any money. Oh, is that so, I say. Well, in that case, give me back my documents and I’ll go file them where I’m supposed to. Do it the right way. Oh, I’ve already stamped them as invalid, she says. She would need to call her superior to issue new ones. So call him, I say. The bitch picks up the phone and whispers some bullshit into the receiver. I’m gonna lose the documents and get thrown out of here, I can tell. But, no, her superior shows up, after all, a loser in a cheap suit. How may I be of assistance, he asks. I explain everything one more time, and, naturally, he says no to everything. “Court-signed documents cannot be filed and unfiled just like that,” he says. “You’ve filed it, it’s done.” We’ll take care of everything now, he says, and I can’t believe my ears. Trust us, he says.
I’ve lost and I know it. There is no way I can get duplicates of every single paper the teller has just taken from me, there’s no way I can get back my apartment, my money, my life. I’m stuck. It’s a good thing the superior asshole is right here in front of me. I put on my sunglasses and reach for the guns in the holsters under my armpits. The teller and the asshole get a full magazine each. It feels good. I grab my documents, noticing the guards rushing toward me. There’s four of them, all wearing bulletproof vests. I run, bounce off the walls, escape them defying the laws of physics. I reach for the grenades in my jacket pockets. Pins out, and it’s done. The line is not moving, nobody’s running away, people are thrilled with the show, applauding. No one is getting hurt except the guys who need some hurting. Men in black are rushing down the stairs… but they are not men, after all. Not human. Bankers. I have four magazines left, just enough for them. And then silence. The dust is settling, the line is frantic with adrenaline, almost joy. People are hugging and cheering, grabbing their documents and money from behind the counter. Good for them. I’ve got what’s mine and now it’s time to leave.
I dust off my jacket, check my hair, check the nail polish winking from the peep toes. I’m happy to see it’s still perfect, not a dent in it. I check my guns; they’re all still here, good. I load them again; next stop—lawyers. The ones that represent the agency that now owns my apartment. I won’t even bother asking questions or standing in line, I’ve heard all their smug lies. I’ll just walk in, kill everything in sight, walk out. See if they send me off with a sneer like the last time.
And then the land-registry people get it. They let the lawyers—who by then will be dead—get away with their scam. When I asked them how they could do it, they said it was my mistake not to check the ownership status sooner. These things need to be checked several times a year, they said. The law firm obeyed the rules to the letter. It’ll feel extra good to spill their blood on their disgusting books. Shred the paper into bloody confetti. And sign my name on the dotted line where it says Owner. To the letter, gentlemen.
Last stop, the morgue. They misplaced the death certificate just long enough to allow all those thieves to forge my mother’s signature, make it look like she was still alive, giving them all the power.
When I’m done, I’ll go have a cup of coffee with Mirjana, haven’t seen her in a while. It’s not even ten yet, I’ll make it. We’ll chat about stuff, she’ll ask me what’s new, and I’ll say I finally got my apartment back. I’ll have all the bloody papers in my bag.