TE21 Serbian Moments

Darko Tuševljaković

Where are you from?

demanding topics, they would need to be accompanied by a strong drink. He squeezed his lips and squinted, Clint Eastwood-style, and ordered the same. We toasted by saying “Ching!”, since plastic cups can’t make a real clinking sound. “Sometimes a point shifts, but the circle remains the same,” he continued. “At the end of the ‘90s, I fled the NATO bombing. I went from Serbia back to Bosnia by illegal means, across the river. Deserter, traitor—these are the answers to the question ‘Whoare you?’ In away, those two journeys, theone to Belgrade and the one from Belgrade, cancel each other out. I don’t know if you know what I mean by that. All of it passes and if you survive, you grasp the fact that you’ve been treading water. The smallest circle is, to be sure, a point.” After this it seemed like there was nothing else to be said, and he leaned back against the headrest and stared at the clouds we were passing over. The plane stumbled over something invisible, faltered and shook, and then calmed back down. It went through a couple of dance moves like this, and my fellow traveler kept his eyes closed during that time. When he opened them again, the clouds were the same as before and we were closer only in theory to our goal. He turned towards me. “It all passes,” he said, as if he expected me to recall exactly where we had left off with our conversation. “Things change. Everything seems the same, but none of it is. Today they try to persuade us that the bad stuff is behind us, that we’re pressing forward with giant strides, that there’ll be no new journey towipe out the previous one. And although they stay put, in the same places, countries move closer to each other, and farther apart. Frequently at the same time. Croatia has never been closer to Serbia, nobody’s

rattling their sabers anymore, and everyone’s talking about dialogue and reconciliation—but Croatia is also more distant, because it’s a part of something that persistently eludes its eastern neighbor. At any rate, I go there a lot. I love the Adriatic coast, except when people ask me where I’m from.” I then inquired: “Do you know how to answer that question at all?” And he just shrugged his shoulders and buckled his seat belt when the warning signs above our heads flashed. We began our descent. The plane circled slowly above the city, in a broad arc that let us enjoy the panoramic view—everything was in sight, the parks, the arterial roads, the Atomium, the Grand- Place, the Palace of Justice, the EU Quarter—but he kept on looking at me. “Without a doubt one could say that I’m not worthy of my ancestors.” I expected that comment to have something to do with his chronic running away fromwars, but when he continued, I felt a pinchof shame atmy bad judgment. “Both of my grandfathers traced wider circles. One of them worked in metallurgy. He shoveled coal and tempered steel in Bosnia, and by the 1950s he was traveling to the West on business, to countries that were putting together the industrial alliance that was the basis for everything we flew over today; and the other one was a pilot. Imagine—a pilot! And I can’t even look down from here.” He smiled and hit the armrest with his palm, oddly entertained by what he had revealed about himself. He shook his head dismissively. It was like he found it hard to believe this truth, and he was clenching his jaw when we touched down. While the plane taxied towards its spot by the jet bridge, he silently studied the runway and the airport buildings. The day was gloomy; the sun had remained above



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