Tuesday, June 17, 2008

my friend

we've had a few nights of pretty good beer drinking and dancing at zelenkovac, but tonight it's quiet as i sit across the table from a friend i have made there. he speaks very little english. i speak no serb except for beer, thank you, and a curse word that i just learned earlier in the evening.

we're drinking beer - again. he points to my beer and asks "why you drink?" i have no answer. he points to his beer and says "sarajevo." he makes fast cutting motions across his throat with his hand. "wife" he says. "wife." "son, eight" he says and then cups the sides of his face with his hands and mimes screaming. he points to the top of his head and pounds on it with his knuckles. it makes a strange sound. he grabs my hand, balls it into a fist and pounds it across the top of his head just above the forehead. "plastic. three." he says as he knocks hard again on three separate places across the top of his head.

finishing his beer, he calls for a new one "pivo!" he lights another cigarette and hitches up his shirt exposing deep scars from bullet wounds, first on the left side then the right. we sit silent, looking at each other for a long time. i feel the tears coming and i want them to stop.

the silence is broken when he points to his eyes and traces tear trails from his eyes down his cheeks with his fingers. "night" he says "bad." "wife. big love. big love." he holds my hand from across the table and gently slides his fingers down my palm, then pulls out his wallet and shows me a photo of himself from 1990, just 2 years before the siege on sarajevo. he is attractive, thin, young, blond. i barely recognize the man in the photo in the person sitting in front of me now. he is the same age as me and looks like he is 60. he is still beautiful, just in a different way. he shows me a photo of his wife and his child from that time.

there is nothing i can do to stop the tears now. he is wiping away his own tears when he see mine and he apologizes over and over again. i tell him that it's ok. we sit and look at each other for awhile and then he says "yebega" (phonetic spelling), a word that i have just learned. the closest translation into english is "f**k it." we giggle, toast with our beer bottles and say "yebega" together. he looks at me and says "you understand?" i nod my head.