This is a series of short stories I’m doing for a new project in Kosovo called Kosovo 2.o. This is the first one and it’s based on stories I was told while I was in Prishtina, with a little bit of ‘poetic license’ just to keep you on the seat edge.
After the war, they say, security jobs were everywhere. Buildings had been abandoned, places had been damaged and with a heavy air of uncertainty all around, people thought it be best to tool up and defend what was theirs rather than wait for consequences. They hired security men to live on site and protect their properties. In a lot of cases, these security guards weren’t much older than kids. Now being a security guard requires unique levels of responsibility. You have to care about something that’s not yours and if it comes to it, you might even have to put yourself in danger to protect this something you are paid to care about but don’t. It’s hard for anyone to be a good security guard, harder still for young, headstrong boys
Anyway, three boys from Prishtina, not much older than their early twenties, were given a job working as security for a prison in the countryside. The prison was empty, of course. The prisoners had long since been released, escaped or been thrown into other security facilities. All that was left was facility and this is what the boys from Prishtina were asked to guard. But it was winter and the heating had been long since switched off. So the three boys were doing patrols round the building trying to keep warm, and it was as useless as trying to stay dry on a surf board. It was the kind of weather that no amount of clothing could protect you from, and the icy wind whipped through that old internment facility like an arctic cave.
So the boys got it into their head that unless they did something about the damned cold, they were going to freeze to death in that prison. They decided to make a fire in one of the cells. It’ll be cosy as an oven, they thought. They ran around the prison breaking the place apart to get bits of wood and timber. They pulled shelves off of walls, snapped doors in two and ripped floorboards up. The building was abandoned and the boys were hired to protect it, and yes, they were ripping the place apart. But they were better security guards alive than frozen dead. They lit a huge fire, then smoked cigarettes and sat towards the far end of the cell admiring their work.
I guess it’s impossible to tell when you break a piece of timber from a door, or pull a floor board up off the ground, whether it’s been painted in regular paint or some awful chemical mixture that’s also used to sterilize small animals. The boys didn’t know anyway. And as the paint on the broken timber began to bubble and turn into gas, the three of them caught the fumes in their nostrils and passed out.
Now say what you will about the toxic paint, it was nothing compared to the cheap beams they’d used to keep the ceiling in the air. Passed out, and pretty much as good as goners, the flames danced up to the ceiling and burnt holes through to the other side. A tonne of snow fell through. It covered the boys and woke them up. Soaking and cornered by a growing fire, they did the only thing they could – climb out through the roof and abandon the prison.
The prison didn’t burn completely to the ground, but as sun came up the next morning it had burned to about half its size. Of course at that stage, the boys were back in Prishtina. They were dry and warm and not too disappointed that their brief careers as security guards had gone up in noxious smoke.