TE21 Serbian Moments
Where are you from?
lives, and then around it, with a compass, we draw circles.” He smiled once more and took a gulp of juice. He struggled with the remnants of a bite he had taken, so that I had my doubts about the quality of his sandwich. “The problem is that some people have more than one point of departure. The first ones I remember were in Croatia. At the time, Croatia was still a part of a bigger country, a constituent republic. My mother and father had lines that coincided. They wanted to live anywhere and everywhere along the Adriatic Coast. They made it two- thirds of the way down before the bombs blocked their way. The part of the circle they had already traced changed its center point all of a sudden, and the two of them, along with my sister and me, found themselves in Bosnia.” He extended his arms as faras the tight spaceallowed, inorder toshowwhat a big change thatwas forayoung boy. “Everythingwas thesame, and nothing was the same,” he told me. “But then things got unbearable there, too, and another line was traced. This one was special; it represented an epic in its own right, a journey across a whole microcosm.” The look on his face was like he was trying to see if he was boring me. “You’re Belgian?” I was taken aback by the question. I was prepared to listen, not to talk about myself. About themixedmarriage that producedme, andwhichmeant I always returned to two homes, not one. Two Belgian waters, from different watersheds. Some people’s divisions are famous becauseeverybodytalksaboutthem,andsomepeople’sbecause they are successfully swept under the rug for years. I nodded, and motioned with my hand for him to continue with his confession. “In 1992, I had to get to Belgrade somehow, from this cut-off little city in central Bosnia. That was the next
involuntary destination. But we had to go somewhere. It was a couple of hundred kilometers but it might as well have been thousands. The trip lasted for days, and if there hadn’t been smuggling routes and dirt paths dug through the ravines, there would be nobody here now to tell you this story. The International Red Cross helped. They transported us by plane to Croatia, and from there to Hungary, and only then to Serbia. In the airplane, similar to this one, we traveled with a representative of the Red Cross who was on his way home after completing his assignment. I remember—hewas fromGeneva. Amanwithareallynicehaircut.Hewatcheduswithcompassion as my sister and I vomited into paper bags. That was my first flight.” “You’re not nauseous anymore. You’ve trained well for this,” I joked, pointing to his sandwich wrapper and cup of juice, both now empty. At this he gave a vague shake of his head and adjusted the glasses on his nose once more. I could imagine him doing that as he bent over an encyclopedia or dictionary. “That was the first wider circle, even though it covered already familiar territory. And at every stop, regardless of my age, people would ask me: ‘Who are you? Where are you from? What do you want here?” Something in my eyes made him stop, although I didn’t know exactly what he’d noticed. Maybe my resistance to serious conversation. And to divisions. But it was too late. “It might sound banal to you,” he went on in a mellower tone, as if he were about to give up, “but Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia—thoseare three names foronepoint. Of course, though, the issue is with the larger and smaller circles around that point.” I agreed with him and asked the flight attendant for a whiskey. My eyes met his: if he had definitely opted for
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