1993, Belgrade, Serbia
It was one of those years filled with people’s whispers. For your school friend’s birthday, you would buy a notebook with lines and a pencil. To our cousins from Sarajevo, we’d sent cans of pineapple and boxes of ”cedevita” in which we were hiding cigarettes.
Some events mark our memory like many a movie watched many times. I drive in a bus no. 15, from Zemun towards the city. Silence. I am sitting with my mom noticing an older gentleman standing. He is dressed in black. I want to give him my seat. I ask him to sit down, but he waves his hand and shouts ”no”! Roughly. Absently. I am disappointed. I am used to getting smiles from people and their gratefulness if I do something kind. Everyone leaves the bus at the last station. In that moment he comes to me and puts a bunch of Ferrero rocher in that famous golden plait paper in mu hand, a few packs of gums and a little bit warped bar of some expensive chocolates. He does it almost silently. A woman passes by and says warmly ”you did not do that bad”. I don’t even get to say thank you. From the great joy I felt.
2008, Ohrid, Macedonia
A strange wind blows making us feel intoxicated. Everything is funny, life is tickling at our feet. When we enter the St. Naum’s church, suddenly the silence comes and we are moving towards the saint’s coffin. The legend says, as the local keeper explains, that if you lean your head on his grave you can hear his heart beating. I am listening, listening … and i hear nothing. It’s not like I had any expectations, but there are many of those who, like in that Ceslav Milos poem, wait for hours for some sign in front of the icon and never get it. A group of Brits are entering and an elderly married couple comes to us. They too know about the legend and a man asks me with a smile if I can hear anything. I shake my head to give a negative answer and his wife comments ” maybe she doesn’t believe strongly enough”. ”She believes”, he answers, like he has known me forever, with so much confidence that leaves me confused. When I get up, he says in the same tone: ”I am sure that you are a wonderful girl”. That sentence makes no sense, sounds pathetic and excessive to someone who doesn’t transcend through my thoughts at that moment. But it is as if he realizes that there are moments, irrational to the core when we see the lack of signs as proof of our own mistake and iniquity. And besides, the stranger says that everything is fine.
Afterward, even though it has no importance anymore, he puts down his head saying that he hears the beats. We meet again tomorrow in the city by accident; I ask him if he has really heard them, and he says no. ”But it seemed to me like it would have meant to you if those beats were real.”
- Budapest, Hungary
I am at the well known Budapest market. It’s crunch time, I hardly manage to find a seat to eat a slice of the watermelon. In a few hours, it will be time for me to go home. The father, in his sixties, and a son ask me if they could sit beside me. The conversation with the father starts spontaneously. He is from Canada, works as a psychiatrist, and his son is finishing a Ph.D. in London… he asks me why I am in Budapest. I explain how I attended a seminar on holocaust, culture of memory, I talk and talk until I notice his face has changed. ”It is wonderful that you are studying that. I am, you know, the child of the survivors”. He holds his tears as he continues ”I came to Budapest to speak about it in the Synagogue for the first time in my life.” We both are silent. ”There is some meaning in it all. Life, I mean.” It was the last sentence he said before his son came back with the lunch and we continued, shaken, talking about other, usual stories.
Sometimes strangers remind us that you can in a moment transcend that long distance from unfamiliar to close. And we all come back to our world, touched by something. A bit changed.
Because there is sense to it all. Life, I mean.