Nada’s family lived in an old flat that had survived the war, right in the center of Belgrade so it only took Suleiman five minutes to march me along to an office on the ninth floor overlooking Marx-Engels Square.
The Serbian woman who interviewed us wore a tvinset and pearls and spoke better R.P. than I did. In keeping with her tvinset and pearls she seemed obsessed with the British Council. Had they advertised the post? Had I been there? What did they have to say? Without official backing from the British Council, the cultural branch of the Embassy, the idea of a foreigner just going down to Pristina and wandering into the Faculty was, for Tvinset, quite out of the question.
Down below Marx Engels square was jam-packed with cars. I could remember when it was just a building site. That was where I’d first seen Albanians, probably, men in white caps with barrows and pickaxes. I could remember when there were no cars in Belgrade at all, when it had been like Pristina.
“Of course,” Suleiman was saying blandly. We were, of course, just on our way to British Council but as a courtesy, had called on Tvinset’s govern- ment department first.
The British Council offices were on a noisy corner of Marshal Tito Street over a book shop. Suleiman led the way up the stairs past dove grey photographs of British poets and composers, through the outer office policed by Serbian secretaries (“Good morning, Comrade colleagues!”) and straight into a room where a fair young man was kneeling among piles of books and what looked like an inexhaustible supply of posters of Westminster Abbey.
“This is Tony, our English Language Officer,” Suleiman announced, gazing down at him benignly.
Before I could stop him he’d introduced me as the new English Lan- guage teacher who had traveled across Europe specifically to seek Council backing for the new Pristina post.
The head of the British Council was even less encouraging than Tvinset.
They had no money for an extra post! And they were certainly not empowered to contact any lady up on any ninth floor. And, frankly, Kosmet was a very difficult area. If I should succeed, well, I would be welcome to borrow books and things. Met Tony?
We found ourselves back on the pavement again and it wasn’t even nine a.m. We did have a lot of posters of Westminster Abbey. Suleiman was starting to look hot in his dark suit and tie. The peasant women selling flowers on the corner were already sprinkling them cool with water. The thing to do said Suleiman, thinking hard, was to leave no stone unturned.