Prishtina, May 2010 — The sunshine of a May morning couldn’t erase the darkness that he felt inside. The huge smile that he wore almost every day was gone. Fatmir Spahiu had spent almost the whole the week at the hospital. His father, Faik, was dying of cancer.
Fatmir ducked out for a cigarette. He smoked two packs per day then. In front of the hospital, there was an old man sitting in a chair. Wrinkled, he looked tired and weak from chemotherapy.
Wearing blue pajamas, the gray-haired man was lost in thought, his gaze fixed far away on the hospital’s garden. As Fatmir went out, the old man recognized him. He was Oki, the main character from the TV sitcom “Kafeneja Jonë,” or “Our Café.”
“Let me hug you,” said the man, trying to get up from his chair. “You are extending my life, boy.”
Every Monday, the patient told Fatmir, he made sure to be in front of the television to catch the latest “Kafeneja Jonë” episode. “Do not forget to hug the other guys in the show for me,” the man said.
Fatmir’s eyebrows stood up as a smile returned to his face.
It’s exactly four years later and Fatmir often recalls the encounter, especially during May, the month of his father’s death. But now there isn’t a cloud over him.
“I live for those moments,” Fatmir says of making people happy, which he does in those 40 minutes each week when “Kafeneja Jonë” airs. “If you give me thousands of euros and this moment, believe me that I will choose this. Believe me.”
‘You need to be very serious in order to be funny’
Wearing his favorite blue jeans and a red shirt, Fatmir has his morning coffee at Rings restaurant in central Prishtina. He often relaxes for a few minutes here, before starting his busy day. Sometimes he has theatrical rehearsals, while on other days he needs to work on “Kafeneja Jonë.” Or he’s frequently heading to the office of his advertising company, Buka, or Bread.
“Can you bring me sweetener please?” he asks the waiter. “Don’t make jokes like this. Do I need always to remind you,” Fatmir continues, as the waiter laughs.
Being considered a serious guy is a big challenge for Fatmir. No one calls him Fatmir. People know him as Oki and talk to him as if he’s the fictional character he plays in “Kafeneja Jonë.”
But even when Fatmir is cracking jokes, he still seems quite serious.
“You need to be very serious in order to be funny. But sometimes this is a real problem. They all think that I make jokes about everything,” he says, putting two packets of sugar substitute in his coffee.
Fatmir is using sugar substitute frequently because of his weight. On this day, he weights about 130 kilograms. He had lost 30 kilograms but gained it all back.
“This moment is the peak of my careless behavior,” Fatmir says about his weight. This time he’s resolving to drop down to 99 — not 100 kilograms.
Days ago he received a call from a friend who lives in London. “Hey, I found some very good and big jeans. Do you want me to buy them for you?” his friend asked, mocking his weight. Fatmir doesn’t mind about the jokes because he knows that his friendship is based on fun. He even says that he’s “the weakest comedian among his friends.”
The first autograph
Back at Rings, the restaurant in Prishtina, Fatmir recalls a rehearsal with his old professor, the late Faruk Begolli. They were in front of the stage when a woman in her 40s approached them with a child. Fatmir smiled and moved away, assuming she wanted to talk with the famous Kosovar actor and director. But then the woman said to Fatmir, “Can you give me an autograph for my kid?”
Emotion overcame Fatmir. No one before asked him for an autograph. He looked at his professor hesitantly, perhaps even feeling bad. Begolli handed him a pen and said, “Sign.”
After signing the autograph and hugging the child, Fatmir received an important lesson from his professor.
“Hey, donkey, let me tell you how to do it,” Fatmir recalls Begolli saying. “First you write to whom you dedicate the autograph, than your write place and the date. And in the end you sign.”
Fatmir looks at his watch after finishing his coffee. He’s waiting for someone. A woman approaches with a child. Fatmir smiles as he sees his wife, Zana, with one of his biggest fans — his 3-year-old son, Mali. Fatmir gets up to leave for his next destination, wherever Mali wants.
“He changed my life,” Fatmir says.