Nikola Nikolic was born in Podgorica (1989). He graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences, where he also received his master’s
degree. He has published three novels: “The Knot” (2011), “Meander” (2014), “Alarm Sirens” (2019), as well as a collection of
stories “Atacama” (2016). He is one of the six authors of the book of diary entries “2020.” (2021) He publishes stories in Montenegrin
and regional magazines. Nikolić also writes literary criticism. He won the “Bihorska Venera” award for a short story. His stories
have been translated into Albanian, English, Macedonian and German. In the period 2017- 2019. he was the artistic director of the
International Podgorica Book and Education Fair. He is a member of the editorial board of the Kombinat portal, where he publishes
interviews with writers from the region.


The sun first shines upon the strange object at the tiop of Cerro Paranal. Telescopes belonging to the European Southern Observatory Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun appear on the plateau raised in the middle of the Atacama Desert. The sky above the driest place on Earth is free from fog and precipitation throughout the year. Through crystalline air clearance the huge oculars are watching extrasolar planets, the stars that are funkily hovering around the black hole in the center of the Milky Way, searching for alien life and truths about the origin of the universe. During the night the sky is like a site of fire spotted with dew. The amber color rays raise from the telescope, which help the adaptive optics system to eliminate disturbances in the image caused by atmospheric influences.


The shadow is shifting towards the basins hidden among the hills. When its edge reaches the bottom, the light reveals bent creatures that resemble revived rocks. Those are the women who are digging. They arrive in the desert as soon as the first rays foreshadow the arrival of a new day, and then for a few hours break the hard layer of salty soil and stiff lava with shovels. They search for the remains of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. During the dictatorship of August Pinochet, the corpses of political opponents were thrown across the desert of Atacama. The only reminders of them are the faded photographs and memories of women whose faces had been wrinkled by the desert sun for years.


Around noon Konstanca raised her injured knees from the ground. She wipes sweat from her forehead, drinks the last sips of water from the bottle and re-wraps a scarf on her head. She casts an eye on the bag, and then she takes it. A hundred meters rise is waiting for her. Then the shovel serves her as a hiking stick. Steps on the ground deprived of water leave a rough sound behind. She makes progress in a zigzag path, without looking back toward the valley where the light reflections move slowly. The contours of the telescope riseIn front of her. The squares of the saving shadow are thrown on the slope.


She reaches the top of the embankment and leans against the wall of one of the auxiliary buildings. She does not hear any sound around her. She descends to the rock, and then listens again. She peeps out of the shadow and raises her head – the sun is in the zenith, she is not late this time neither. She will soon hear his steps.


Ruben appears behind the last telescope. He walks past the wall, along the curving belt of shade. White shirt with short sleeves, rolled-up beige trousers, red cap. Sometimes it seems to her that he also comes from the city, that uniforms in the observatory must be like those of astronauts. A leather bag is shining in his hand.


“Have you been waiting for long?“


„No, I’ve just arrived. I thought I was late.“


He bends and hugs her, does not let her get up. He installs himself on a concrete block next to her. Black eyes are watching him through the skew slits.


“You look tired.“


“Last night there was a slight panic, the real meteor rain”, he says, although he cannot help noticing that she looks more tired than ever. She was like that only on that first day, when he found her unconscious in this same place, when she, bed ridden, searched for a shade. Then he saved her life. Since then, she comes every day at the same time to take a break with her new friend. And he most of all likes to spend half-hour break like this.


“There you go, brace yourself“, he gives her a bottle of cherimoya juice.


She takes a sip, and than she stops. She closes the bottle and looks along the ground aimlessly.


“Is there something wrong?”


„No it’s…“, her glance glides from his face and stops on the bag.


„Did you manage? You found something?“


Konstanca does not answer. Instead, with a furious sound, she inhales a huge supply of hot air and opens the bag. She carefully takes out of it a black object. She puts it on the ground between her and Ruben’s legs. Several ashy pebbles are separated from it.


Ruben recognizes the sahpe of the boot. The ties are torn, most of the buckles dropped out, and in the hole he barely sees a solid gray substance.


“This is the boot of my son Hector. Boot and foot…“


Ruben hears his heart accelerating. Through the vapor she feels the smell of the mouldered bone, he discerns its darker and lighter shades. Or he imagines it all. Tremendous heat makes the thoughts dizzy. Constance’s wizened fingers touch the remains.


“Wait, how can you be sure? The desert is full of bones. Those could be anyone’s…“


“No, look“, she says calmly and pulls out a piece of cloth from underneath her tongue. The edge is streaked with a green thread. She pulls it and clenches with her trembling hands, shows the crown proof.


“I cannot make a mistake. This is his. They took him in that.“


For a while they sit in silence. The sun moves to the other side and narrows down their shelter. She turns the boot with her head bent over, and he looks toward the wraped horizon. All the way there, behind the massif, the ocean streches. The sky has somewhat brighter shade on that side.


Translated by Tatjana Tomić