Vlado is the bravest man I know. No, Vlado is the smartest man I know. “Never let emotions overwhelm your logic,” he said in a Spock, from a planet Vulcan, manner.
It was March 2020 and the whole world was in a panic. Except for Vlado. Let me tell you a few words about him.
In 1996, I fell in love with a girl who was taking an Italian language course with me, and instead of telling her, I wrote her letters that I never gave her. What today’s Americans would call a classic “bitch move.”
That 1996 we were finishing high school, I was attending “Josip Broz – Tito” highschool, named after the former Marshal on a white horse, the pride of every Yugoslav, from a seven-year-old child who put Tito stickers all over the furniture in his home, to a seventy-seven-year-old man who kept a picture of Tito on his TV. Vlado was in his fourth year at the “Marija Sklodovska-Kiri” High School of Chemistry. One of these two characters will be remembered in history, you decide who.
Vlado was sitting on his couch in the small kitchen on the fifth floor of a socialist building in Skopje’s “Karposh” neighbourhood and listening to my stories about my unfulfilled love, that I have told him I don’t even know myself how many times. He did not comment on anything and occasionally responded with his standard “a-ha”. My place – the chair next to the small dining table, and above it a shelf with a radio cassette player and next to it cassettes of rock and hard rock bands from the seventies to the nineties of the last century.
The end of the last century was the time of cassette players, TVs with cathode-ray tubes, turntables, records, tape cassettes, video recorders and VHS cassettes, walkmen and CD players and other technology that is unnecessary today, but it seemed fantastic to us as futuristic as the Marty Mcfly’s hoverboard from the movie “Back to the Future”. Times have changed, but some things have not. Vlado’s eternal “a-ha” and his views on life and people.
The kitchen was no more than two meters wide to three meters long, but it was Vlado’s world. There I tried to unite my world with his and poured out my soul, while Vlado silently witnessed that cosmic act.
To the left of the kitchen – a magical space called “pantry” in which on a shelf were arranged all the necessary groceries for the family and of course the jars with domestic products characteristic of our environment – ajvar, pickles, lutenica… The barrel with the sauerkraut, of course, was stored in Vlado’s basement and his task was from time to time, especially when his mother decided to make sarma, to go there, to open it, to take one sauerkraut, to mix the “swamp” water as Vlado called it and to close the barrel properly. Vlado also had other household chores, such as vacuuming at home. All my friends and I had the same responsibility. In the Balkans and in that way the gender equality was maintained. The boys cleaned with a vacuum cleaner. Personally, I had other homework assignments, to scrape the bathtub, because “it’s a man’s job and requires strength”, and like all friends, I participated in family washing carpets (except Vlado who washed them himself and for a fee that seemed a cruel move from his parents, but eventually led to Vlado’s financial independence and success in later life), then painting the house and constantly moving furniture for different seasons.
Sometimes I washed the dishes not because I had to, but because I wanted to since the time I lived with my father and grandfather and I was often left alone at home. Then my greatest pleasure was to bring the chair to the sink, soak the sponge in water and detergent, and start rubbing. The foam that was collecting on my hands like sugar wool and disappeared with a jet of water seemed magical to me. Again alone and without choice, I sometimes fried eggs for myself, but then I realized that it was not enough to mix it, leave it in the pan and go to watch the cartoons. If you don’t want them to be “raw on the top, burned on the bottom”, you need to turn the egg while frying it, I learned early, maybe at the age of nine without the help of Jamie Oliver!
The smell of flour and home-made products went into my nostrils after Vlado opened the door of the pantry and took the bread out. He took out the board, cut a slice of bread and ate it like that – without anything. Such a simple and so practical act. No wasting time on opening jars and smearing unnecessary salty or sweat layers, just cut-out and eat!
As a continuation of “our” world was the terrace, no larger than a half-meter and maybe two meters wide, where in addition to the various wooden objects that Vlado’s father constantly cut and shaped with the knives he made and sharpened himself, there were standard building jardinieres with flowers, a small coffee table and two chairs. There we continued our conversation in which I forgot my fear of heights fueled by excursions through the narrow mountain roads across Bosnia and Montenegro where buses defy the laws of gravity.
In those extensions of our minds, we passed a part of our youths, my later unfulfilled loves and the only great love of Vlado that happened and disappeared without him sharing a word with me. That’s why Vlado is the bravest man I know.
In March 2020, the world was in a panic over what I called a “war with an invisible enemy.” Hidden at home and isolated from each other, as was the case in my hometown of Sarajevo, in a real war in the early 1990s, we lived in uncertainty. Vlado lived in the most affected country in Europe, Italy, and stoically endured everything that happened, with a rational approach and a cool head.
Then I remembered one of our conversations from the “time of the kitchen” in which we talked about his grandfather who came during the Second World War with the fascists in Macedonia, as a doctor, and fell in love with Vlado’s future grandmother, with whom he gave birth to several children. However, he never recovered from the war and, tormented by his own demons, returned to his home country, leaving his wife and children alone.
“I would go crazy in a war,” Vlado commented, identifying with his grandfather, and I saw it as a sign of weakness in him, someone I considered the most mentally stable person I knew. That conversation remained somewhere in the annals of the four walls between the kitchen table and the chair next to it, the couch and the cassette player, the bread-cutting board and the smell of flour. The life went on in a frantic paste that swallowed memories and experiences by the fear of the war and the uncertainty of our little country that always struggled to survive.
Returning to that conversation, after many years, in that terrible March 2020 (and all wars begin in the spring), I reminded Vlado of the conversation about his grandfather who did not remarry after the war, experienced deep old age and left all his property and money. of the church. However, he left to the descendants of Macedonia citizenship with which everyone left for his home country.
“You said you would go crazy in a war,” I said, “but what we’ve been going through this “kind of war”, and it seems to me that you would have endured the real thing quite well.”
“No, war is taking lives, and today it is about saving lives. Now it is most necessary to have a rational approach to things, “Vlado explained to me and continued:
“I am relatively calm because I have studied things in detail so that I can make an informed decision. I don’t want to be hypochondriac and live in fear all my life. Of course, one should be careful and responsible for one’s health. For immunity, take vitamins, keto diet, intermittent fasting, exercise, information from scientific sources, protection with masks and most importantly – not visiting the elderly people, we must protect them. My general preoccupation is not to infect others and that is why I am isolated, “Vlado concluded.
That is why Vlado is brave, but not like some “I will not be affected by this” people that live in our environment, and not only that – he is virtuous, because his preoccupation is with others, and then himself. That is why Vlado’s “madness” in the war would be not because of fear for himself, but because of the obligation to hurt others, I understood that in these times of war. It is a lesson that in difficult times we should all learn and repeat. I think that then the world would be a better place to live.