The snow in March 2020, two days after the onset of spring, was not good news. What about crops, and how long will our closed, poor, and small country survive on its own food supplies, how long will we last?
These questions tormented me as I remembered the visit my childhood friend Hare in February of this year. We haven’t seen each other for exactly thirty years, since that 1990 when I left Sarajevo, my skateboard in the trunk of the red Lada Niva that my father had collided with years ago and then his neck was in plaster for a while. Sitting in the back seat of that car, on my way to Skopje, I saw the landscapes of my city that changed on the rear window like scenes from a movie. The girl that I liked on the playground playing tennis, the curved street and the big stairs we used to ride, the place where I fell and decided not to cry for the first time, Harris’s house on the corner between Leze Perera and Logavina Street, the former Cinema in the local “Local Community” where the shouts of Bruce Lee, the blows of Rocky and the shootings of Schwartzie from the movie Commandos still echoed.
The world of my childhood ends there and the world of adults begin. The screen becomes black. The cries of the people, the cries of the children, the shelling on the houses, the bullet holes on all the buildings, the mines hidden on the mountains to this day is a horror movie that I did not watch, but it is well known to my friends and their families who stayed there to guard their homes.
Some taxi driver now lives in my apartment, but did that apartment ever belong to me? My grandfather got it as a prominent fighter in World War II, a “medical phenomenon”, as Hare would say. Rambo and Commandos can’t even catch a glimpse of his thirteen bullet wounds, several taken out, most of them left in his body, so that I, in my childish wonder, could touch them and admire his stories from the war. Let’s play a game? Name a significant battle from Bosnia and Herzegovina from World War II – my grandfather was there!
Today, thirty years after I left that apartment and that city, Hare brought me a book. “Logavina, a street under siege,” about the experiences of an American journalist living in Sarajevo, the personal destinies of people who lived under occupation. “Our friend Beljo is also mentioned,” Hare told me. Yes, the Beljo, who constantly got into troubles and thus got the name (“belja” means trouble), a storky, blue-eyed and a boy that always was smiling who survived the war, the years of famine and occupation, burning books and all the furniture from home in the cold Sarajevo winters and then died on the first day of liberation. But I have told you that story, as well as all the other stories that have already been told. I don’t know if I will be able to read the book, although Hare read it, and my childhood friends, Grebo, the good, cheerful, and honest Grebo who survived the siege of Sarajevo, read the book.
Hare is my oldest friend. I know him since my birth, even he admits that I have given him the nickname that is still stuck with him. Today he is old, with a white beard and a bald head, but he has the same smile and joker eyes with which he made us laugh as children. Aren’t people’s eyes really the same all their lives? Except in old age, when they are obscured, it is as if they are putting a protective layer between themselves and the world because they have seen too much, they have survived everything, and everything is already clear to them.
We talked about the old days and how it snowed so much in Sarajevo in the winter that the snow surpassed our children’s heads. We left our homes and jumped straight into the snow. But you are also familiar with that story.
I commented that there have never been such snows in Skopje and that most winters are without it. “It’s the same in Sarajevo now,” he said, “global warming.”
Looking at the snow outside in front of my building, as it stayed on the trees and the empty playground without the usual children’s chatter, I think about why right now, when there is no one to cheer for it, the snow has decided to come back. In one of my stories I told that snow brings joy to children and anger to the elderly, now everyone is in the second category.
Hare was here and left. I didn’t tell him anything I wanted to tell him, and I waited thirty years to do so. I had a flashback again at the meeting with my father, in Herceg Novi, Montenegro, in 2001, while there was a war at home in Macedonia. I wanted to meet him and to get him out of the system, to tell him that I would not be a father like him, that I would not leave and forget my children. And I really didn’t do that. But in the act of caring too much for my children, I made them unprepared for life. I understand that now. The rest of us who have been mistreated or left alone have learned to fight and to succeed. Did my father inadvertently do me a favour? That thought bothers me and disturbs me. The feeling that all you have done out of goodwill turned out bad. But, as I often say, “Whatever you do as a parent, you will make a mistake.” I hope I have also done something good!?
I left Hare in front of his hotel in the centre of my city, Skopje. “Thank you for letting me talk,” he told me, and I replied “Eg … wh … zr …” and that was it. The last thing I said at our first meeting in thirty years. Thousands of thoughts in Macedonian and Serbo-Croatian competed in my head, and none of them made sense. “You live here now,” my mother’s words from thirty years ago when I moved to Skopje were repeated. Indeed, my thoughts are not speaking in my mother tongue, for a long time.
Could I have done something different, say, tell something I didn’t say in my books? Would there be a difference? What would have changed? Whether the writer lives to write or writes to live is an eternal dilemma that I still cannot unravel.
It’s time to get back to reality. I’ve been here for a long time, I’m not what I used to be, that kid is left somewhere there, on the corner between Lese Perera and Logavina, laughing inside Hare’s home and watching TV with him, playing with the turtle in his yard, running out and gathering friends, and then all together running to our playground with a ball in hand and so on all day! Let him stay there.
We are here and we are watching the snow that brings us worries instead of joy. Childhood is over.