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I'm my father's brevidije mal. I'm his firstborn son. To be more precise, I'm his only heir. That's what brevidije mal means. Whether it be in Dronesk, or in Rujga—everywhere I had been when I was younger, and every person I had met knew the responsibilities of such a position.

I don't like to think of myself as having been a lonely child. Yet, thinking back on my childhood, some of my earliest—fondest—memories were of looking out my bedroom window, at the wilderness of Ljerumlup. If one made a motion picture of those times, I'm afraid it would be hours on end of me playing some make-believe game all by my lonesome.

My parents divorced when I was four years old. My mother left to live with her family in Rujga. I was born with asthma and both my parents decided that the clean air in Dronesk was better for my health. Not that living with my mother had ever been a topic of debate. These things were written in stone. I'm a brevidije mal—but not only that, I'm Stefan Konstantin's son, and so custom mandates that I grow up in my ancestors' home.

My mother remarried shortly after the divorce and settled down two blocks from her childhood home. I have a half-brother from her second marriage.

I don't have vivid memories of her in Ljerumlup. The older I get, the harder it is imagining her ever belonging here, surrounded by evergreens. She always seemed like a city person to me, with her partying and her incurable taste for high heels that were ill-suited for the rugged streets of Dronesk. I sometimes try to convince myself that the reason she left was that she felt homesick, but I know that's a lie.

She never returned to Ljerumlup. The times we spoke were over the phone. Once in a blue moon, when she was successful in convincing my father, I was allowed to visit her for a weekend. But only before I sat through a lecture of why she was a bad mother, and why I shouldn't believe the things she said. Especially those about my father's character.

There were times when I was younger when she would break down in tears in the middle of our conversations. She used to say that she was a bad mother for leaving me behind. She weaved beautiful tales about how when I came to live with her in Rujga, I would get everything I wanted. She has never stopped trying, but over the years—as her fervour diluted—I had come to realise the futileness of the situation. Whatever she did, however much she tried, she was never powerful enough to overthrow my father's dictatorship.

My aunt and her husband, and their two children: Adriana and Viktor were our only neighbours. Adriana and I are the same age, and Viktor is three years younger.

Up until I was eight years old Adriana was my only friend in Ljerumlup, in Elhem, in all of Dronesk. But she's never been just a friend—she's a Konstantin as well. Moreover, she had always been the strictest enforcer of brevidije mal. Being two months older than me, she was appointed my role model. Everything she did was praised by both our parents.

The difference between her and I, at that age, was rooted in the fact that she felt nurtured by our parents' approval whereas I felt stifled. I didn't realise how many codes of conduct, and century-old customs, we had in our little bubble in Ljerumlup until Yuri Karamov came into my existence and turned it all upside down.

The truth was that behind his back I was still calling Karamov a bumpkin, even after that afternoon spent taking pictures in his backyard. I didn't see the harm in my behaviour since deep down I thought I knew Yuri better than my classmates who were perpetuating the use of the nicknames. Yet, I didn't want to seem like I was favouring him over the other Brommian at school (some which I thought deserved the nicknames) so I called all of them bumpkins and dimwits, and whatever else was popular.

In my mind, I thought of Yuri as my friend long before I could admit it out loud. I not only daydreamt about striking up a conversation with him, I even went as far as envisioning us going over to each other's houses. We would play chess and tinker with his analogous camera. The days I felt particularly isolated at home, I would imagine us chasing each other's bikes down to the Center. It might not sound like that big of a deal, but to actively seek a friendship with Karamov—a Brommian—was...strange. I felt ridiculous for even wanting to, but even more so never having had to make a friend before. I didn't know how to go about it.

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