Sretan Božić Bruno

Part 3 of the tutor marked assignment asked us to, in 500 words, write a story or part of a story that fictionalised something mentioned on the radio.

We were asked to choose a setting, which needed to be described vividly, and tell this mini-story from the narrative point of view of a man or woman (a character) whom the story directly affects.  We could not use any dialogue.

The news item I chose was about the Croatian Prime Minister banning office Christmas parties and the exchanging of interoffice Christmas cards in the public sector due to the credit crunch and a need to balance the Croatian economy for the the first time since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.  I must say I never thought I would ever have need to incorporate a Croatian phrase into a story!!

I am usually grateful my working hours afford me sunset walks home in winter.  This evening, though, I slogged along uninspired by our famously flame and indigo dusk vista.

I was sapped by today’s news from the boss and, more gallingly, the repercussions of my own woeful shyness last year.

Mr Dominikovich had called us in just after lunch to relay an announcement by our Prime Minister.  Ivo Sanader was this Christmas, due to the global credit crisis, banning all civil servants in Croatia from holding office parties or exchanging interoffice cards.

The other suits solemnly concurred that, with the Government freezing public sector wages, festivities were a reckless expense.  I nodded along with them, yet my heart was plunging.  I resented that to none of my colleagues was the regional Christmas get-together the highlight of a dreary year.  That this time around I planned boosting myself with Maraschino, our punchy native liqueur, and asking out Adelina from the Zagreb office.

Now I was thwarted from even sending a card wishing her ‘Sretan Božić’ – Merry Christmas.  The internal postal system was too tightly monitored, and I was not privy to her home address.

I rammed my hands in my raincoat pockets – it was a typically soggy Croatian winter – and masochistically recalled meeting the beaming blonde Adelina at the last do.  We were among the few unattached young people there, and together we blossomed.  That night I felt like so much more than timid Bruno Poljak from the Zadar office – yet I baulked at asking for her number.

Since then we have been in frequent e-mail correspondence – on a frustratingly official footing.  Civil Service communications are so regulated, I would never dare sneak in anything more personal.

As the flamboyant sky dimmed behind the ancient town, I jabbed my key into the apartment block door.  I noticed more sharply tonight the paint flaking around the doorframe; the communal bin erupting with eight bedsits’ rubbish.  As I trudged upstairs, the flickering strip light cast an eerie strobe effect on the dust-sugared banisters.

Fat lot I had to offer Adelina.  By the time Prime Minister Sanader lifted the party embargo, she would probably attend with a husband in tow.

My place was an icebox as usual, economising on heating bills being a universal exercise in these times.  I pelted my shoes under the bed and sagged on to its unmade sheets.  I eased off my glasses and lay rubbing my eyes, wondering whether I should change careers.

Then I spotted the answerphone winking.  I flopped a finger on to the play button, and heard Adelina’s vivacious tones.  She was disappointed not to be seeing me this Christmas but hoped we could meet meanwhile, in a non-work setting.

I knocked my alarm clock and several books off the bedside table in my joyous scramble for a pen.  I had no idea how she acquired my home number but, as I scrawled hers on a bookmark, knew I would find out soon.