Dina Katan Ben-Zion On:
The Pajamas by David Albahari
The story “The Pajamas” appears in a collection of short stories titled “Shadows” (Senke), published in 2006 by the Serbian-Jewish author David Albahari (born 1948). Albahari, world-renowned writer, has received many important literary awards and his books have been translated into several languages. The pajamas, an intimate and almost banal clothing item, serves in this story as both a simple and sophisticated metaphor of the human condition, of awareness of the body’s mortality, which increases and exacerbates at the sight of blooming youth and in the presence of the unattainable object of desire, stirring under embarrassing circumstances and exposing the tragic gap between the possible and the unachievable.
The plot of this minute yet weighty story takes place before us in the home bathroom, another intimate and almost banal space, and reveals with brutal innocence and without prejudice the truth of the aging body confronted with the young body in its prime. In the hands of the skilled writer such “large” subjects, which stand at the heart of the drama in the everyman’s life, become the object of ironic observation, whose symbols in this story are heart-rending: Walt Disney figures printed on old, worn-out pajamas, which were given to the protagonist by his wife who had left him many years earlier, and who is growing more and more distant still. In the reader’s mind the pajamas turn into a visual representation of the rift between the partners and a symbol of longing for the unattainable and of the painful acceptance of the silent reclusion of a body doomed to age desolate. This state—primarily in its mental aspect—aggravates in the forced presence of the young generation, who, in their natural affability and in the exuberant passion pulsing through their bodies, render the protagonist naked and exposed, both physically and emotionally, subjected to the memory of the warmth that the printed Disney characters once granted him in the distant past. With eyes wide open, with faint humor and with wisdom that seeks no condolences, the story’s protagonist stares directly at the existential condition of a man whose wife had abandoned him, whose older son lives in his apartment and holds his occasional trysts with young women there. The encounters with them during sleepless nights further expose the gaping void in the father’s life, a void which can no longer be mended. The story courageously casts a direct gaze at one of the most painful and threatening processes in our lives, delicately illustrating the advance of passion in its prime—short-lived and impotent. He does so with grace, irony and restraint that enhance the experience of the reader, who is exposed to the laws of transience that govern our lives and apply at all times, everywhere and in every human condition.