We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About: A play for two characters
By Tanja Šljivar
Translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Cory Tamler and Željko Maksimović
Volume 7, Issue 2 (Fall 2018)
Bosnian playwright Tanja Šljivar, Serbian actor Željko Maksimović, and American writer and theater scholar Cory Tamler first met in 2012 in Belgrade, Serbia to work together on a series of original performances created for underutilized public spaces in the city. As our sense of artistic and personal connection to one another grew beyond that original project, we became interested in two things: the idea of literary translation as a communal act, as a collective formative practice; and the excellence of Serbo-Croatian-language theater compared with the relative lack of excellent translations of dramatic texts from the language into English. The latter problem, we knew, was partially an issue of fluency (so few English speakers learn Serbian), but it also had to do with the difficulty of translating the complexity of the cultural and historical reality of the Balkans into an English-speaking context without weighing it down with endless footnotes and explanations. We began to consider collaborative translation as a method of using our interest to address the lack we had perceived. Šljivar’s work is a particular challenge because her characters often speak idiomatic regional Bosnian that would at times be difficult even for a native speaker to untangle. Her Sterija Award-winning We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About is a two-person play in which the accidental meeting of a middle-aged woman and a teenage boy in a public restroom one summer evening leads them into a role-play through which they try, and ultimately fail, to narrate their whole lives to one another. Milan and Mara, the characters in the play, face the same gap that the three of us come up against in our collaborations: the one of orienting and re-orienting within one another’s languages and contexts. From slanted Bosnian folk-songs to intricate references to Serbian TV shows and bloody regional conflict, the script is dense with elusive, allusive meaning. We have included a glossary written by Šljivar, which follows, to help readers of the text make sense of some of the more complex cultural references; but in production, we encourage the director and actors to find their own solutions.
Tanja Šljivar was born in Banjaluka, SFR Yugoslavia in 1988. She holds both BA and MA degrees in dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, as well as an MA in applied theater studies from JLU, Giessen, Germany. Her full-length plays How Much is Pate?, Scratching or How My Grandmother Killed Herself, We are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About, But the City Has Protected Me, All Adventurous Women Do, Regime of Love, and the short play Stillborn, have been published, read on stage and produced in professional theaters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Spain, Poland, Austria, and Germany (most recently in Deutsches Theater, Berlin; Schauspiel Stuttgart; and Atelje 212, Belgrade). She also writes short stories, radio plays, screenplays and theater-theory texts. She has received several awards for her playwriting, most recently the prestigious Sterija Award for the best contemporary play in Serbia, the MESS Market co-production award for All Adveturous Women Do in Bosnia, and a nomination for the Retzhoferdramapreis 2017 for the same play, in Austria. Her plays have been translated into some ten languages. She has been a guest of writing residencies IHAG in Graz, Austria, Museums Quartier 21 in Vienna, Austria, and Prishtina Has No River in Prishtina, Kosovo.
Cory Tamler (www.corytamler.com) is a writer, editor, translator, and artist whose academic and critical writing and translations have been published in Studies in Musical Theatre, Asymptote, Culturebot, The Offing, Extended Play, Howlround, and SCENA. As an artist, she works across performance, writing, and installation to create fresh points of contact between environments and objects—human and nonhuman—in them. She has created and participated in research-based performance projects in the United States, Germany, and Serbia, and has worked with museums and companies including the New Museum for Contemporary Art, Open Waters, The Civilians, Sprat Artistic Ensemble, Yinzerspielen, and the School of Making Thinking. Cory was a Fulbright Scholar (Berlin) and is currently a Ph.D. student in Theatre and Performance at The Graduate Center, CUNY.
Željko Maksimović was born in Belgrade in 1985 but grew up during the 90s in Loznica, a town on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. He studied English Language and Literature and Japanese Language before he enrolled at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts and graduated from the Department of Acting. He has translated essays and books on theatre theory, such as Cambridge’s Introduction to Theater Directing by Maria Shevtsova, and several works by Tanja Šljivar (in collaboration with Cory Tamler), published in various national and international publications. He works as an actor, TV host, and translator in Belgrade (Serbia) and occasionally Prague (Czech Republic) where he collaborates with the director duo SKUTR. He is currently performing in Tanja Šljivar’s Regime of Love in Atelje 212 theatre in Belgrade.
We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About
MILAN, a couple of hours more and he’ll be 17, came here tonight to celebrate his birthday
MARA, 45, came here tonight to fix her make-up and to rest
Everything takes place in Bosnia, in a public toilet
…and I walked in back with crazy Neal: he was telling me about the inscriptions carved on shithouse walls in the east and in the west. “They’re entirely different, in the East they make cracks and corny jokes of all kinds; in the West they just write their names, Red O’Hara, Bluffton Montana, came by here, date, the reason being the enormous loneliness that differs just a shade and cunthair as you move across the Mississippi.”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957
And so the years, the young years walk by in this damn country.
A Ukrainian forced laborer in Germany, writing on the wall of a Gestapo prison in Cologne, 1944
Free market and marketing, get out of the University.
Graffiti in the women’s toilet at the University library in Giessen, 2013
Although the restroom’s public, it’s white and sterile. Because the restroom’s public, it’s covered in graffiti. People like to write about the kind of dick they like on the walls of the restroom. People like to write about what it would be like to shove a wooden plank up the ass of whatever ethnic minority they hate on the walls of the restroom. Milan and Mara are in the restroom for an entire night in June. It doesn’t stink—a woman cleans it regularly and then initials the chart that tracks the hourly schedule. It might be one of those restrooms you find at rest stops along highways or in big train stations, the kind that don’t even exist in Bosnia, where you put in a coin to go through the turnstile and receive a coupon for fifty cents off a coffee or a pastry. But most likely, it’s an underground restroom, one of the kinds used for cruising. It could also be a telephone booth at a post office, scribbled on with ballpoint pen, or a park where people have carved words into the bark of the trees, or the wall of a squash court particolored with graffiti, or a classroom with a blackboard covered in chalk scrawls. But it’s probably a public restroom. It’s a bit dull, a bit sad. Milan is celebrating his seventeenth birthday and you’d never guess that Mara is over forty, although she’s forty-five. She’s mourning old loves; Milan has never had one. Regularly, Milan takes a drink from a bottle of whiskey he got from his dad as a birthday present. Mara and Milan meet each other for the first time tonight, and they understand each other well.
Beloved son o’mine, my green apple
MARA: I kneel at my son’s grave and wail. He can’t hear me anymore.
MILAN: I’m in my grave. My mother kneels above the grave and wails. I can’t hear her anymore.
MARA: I buried my son in Jošavka. Or at Crni vrh. Or in Brezičani, or Lađevci, or Šnjegotina. One of those small villages. Definitely somewhere near Čelinac. Anyway, that’s where I taught him everything.
MILAN: I was buried here, near Čelinac. In Brezičani. Or Šnjegotina. My mother was born here, she bought a burial plot here, for herself. But when I died first, she didn’t know what to do, it was so sudden. So to avoid taking out loans for a plot in Banjaluka, she tossed me into the plot she already had.
MARA: I prepared my famous veal and potato stew, except I didn’t chop the potatoes, I just threw them into the pressure cooker whole, and everyone at the funeral ate them like that: a whole potato in a spoon. All it took was a little extra chewing and no one choked.
MILAN: She couldn’t call a priest. I didn’t die of natural causes.
MARA: He’s gone but nobody took him from me, what could I have done but throw whole potatoes into the cooker, put on a tight black skirt, and head off to bury him in my own plot.
MILAN: Baba Đuja (she once came into my room while I was changing clothes and didn’t have any underwear on, so she slowly crossed herself and only then closed the door and went out) kissed my mom with her slobbering mouth.
MARA: And Vuk, and Dragica, and Krstan and six Sladojevićs, and Rosa and Persa, and Anđelka slobbered all over me, covering me with their tears, and snot, and saliva, and eye goop; and their dry skin flaked off their cheeks onto mine. The rest of the people just hugged me. And everyone was sorry, really sorry.
MILAN: No one at my funeral looked good except for my mom.
MARA: When I was little, I was convinced that I could jump from the third floor and not get hurt. I thought that because of a dream I had once: I jump from the balcony and land on my feet, my white sandals in the green grass, and don’t even twist my ankles. Now that I’m big, I’m convinced that I’ll die if Baba Đuja kisses me once more at your funeral. I think that because of the small chunks of potato and veal from my stew in the corners of her mouth. She chews the whole potatoes, I go to the toilet and with a felt pen I write Dear son, my green apple.
MILAN: I’m in my grave and I can’t hear my mother wailing.
MARA: I kneel at my son’s grave and wail. He can’t hear me anymore.
Mara reads off the restroom wall a song of lamentation she once wrote there.
Beloved son o’ mine, my green apple
Oh alas, thou dear unwed boy o’ mine
Thy bereav’d mother hath not married thee
Nor hath she roasted a ton of bacon
Nor hath she wash’d enough hampers of socks
Nor clean’d up enough bowls of your vomit
Thou hast hasten’d again, dear son o’ mine
Dear bridegroom, the son of a dear mother
Thou hast not chosen thyself a maiden
Unmarried shall the young damsels remain
They shan’t stew enough sauerkraut for you
Nor abrade enough shit down the toilet
Nor cover up enough bruises with scarves
Despair’st thou not, oh dearest heart o’ mine,
That thou hast brought thy mother so much grief?
Oh, shalt thou not feel commiseration?
Pay thy mother heed when she begs of you
Not to lie about coming home on time
And to graduate from the greatest schools
At least bruise not your dear lonesome mother
If thou shalt give her no fondness at all
If you were alive, I would make you scrambled eggs now.
MILAN: If I were alive, I would sit next to you now.
I’m going to kill myself, Mom.
MARA is silent.
Mom, I’m going to kill myself.
MARA is silent.
You were sitting on the blue couch, you’d just had it reupholstered with some cheap fabric, it was rough but somehow it felt nice when I would lie naked on it to jerk off when you and Dad would go visit someone, and you were smoking. I walked past you carrying a big black garbage bag filled with sneakers, you didn’t even look at me, I went into the bathroom, laid out all of the sneakers in the bathtub and let the cold water flow over them. You kept ashing your cigarette on the floor, you didn’t give a fuck about cleaning it up, and you were listening to Billie’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” off that player you were so proud to be the first one in our building to own, but you realized later you fucked yourself, it won’t play pirated CDs, and it’s hard to find anything that isn’t pirated in town, so all you can do is listen to Billie, but you don’t really care. I like to walk through mud on purpose, but I don’t like cleaning my sneakers with that pink cloth you gave me, so soon the bathtub was full of muddy water. You took the white remote control plastered with Scotch tape and switched to Exkluziv on RTL, you can’t get enough of the pretty hostess rattling off juicy details from the lives of B-list celebrities. I lay down naked on my sneakers and the muddy water reached my nipples. You changed the channel, leaving the pretty hostess behind; now, instead of rejoicing in her neatly plucked eyebrows, you’re watching the news and rejoicing in hearing about all of the accidents that have happened without touching you. A soft cotton Adidas sneaker was wedged up my ass, a Puma underneath my back, under my neck a Reebok, I rubbed a Nike between my legs, a Kappa floated over my belly-button and a Champion near my mouth (I bit it early on, when it really started to hurt) and a Fila bobbed up beneath my ear. You started to wonder then why I was keeping the water on for so long, so you screamed “Why are you keeping the water on so long?” I didn’t answer, I took that blue razor you use to shave your armpits but almost never your legs because you don’t feel like it, and I cut myself with it a little bit. My beautiful, my warm red blood gushed out of me and you were sitting on the cheap upholstery, smoking. Sneakers below me, sneakers on my head, sneakers under my arm, sneakers on my pupils, sneakers in my teeth, sneakers in my capillaries, I was covered in sneakers, and patterns, and pretty lines, yellow and purple and red with air cushion soles and with cleats, made of rubber and made of plastic and made of cotton and made of polyester and made of my blood. Instead of going to get some vodka, you came to the bathroom to get me. The bathtub was filled to the brim with me and with sneakers. It was beautiful to you, you wanted to call Explosiv, that sensationalistic TV show you’re always watching, you stared at the scene amazed, then you started to scream.
MARA: Ever since you were 10 I haven’t been able to look at you naked, that’s why I screamed.
MILAN: You bought me high-top sneakers, soft around the ankles with white shoelaces that turned grey after three days.
MARA: I also bought you those air cushion sneakers with a bright red line on the side.
MILAN: And soccer cleats.
MARA: And tight black sweatpants.
MILAN: And white socks to tuck the sweatpants into.
MARA: And a windbreaker, black.
MILAN: And a sweatshirt, blue, cotton.
MARA: And a bright green one with a Nike symbol.
MILAN: And one with a purple zipper, made out of something like silk. We always went shopping in sports stores on Gospodska Street and in Zenit and in Boska when you would get a paycheck, but once when you were drunk, you took me to the flea market. You kept asking the women if the sneakers they were selling were fakes or the real thing, you were just fucking around, they looked blankly at you and one told you “What do you mean real thing, the real thing costs a hundred marks”. Remember when I was a baby and you were dead drunk with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a bottle of milk that you never even heated in the other, how you would stick the bottle in my mouth and the vodka in your mouth and sing me to sleep? (Milan sings) Boil some coffee for me, son, just as if it’s for yourself, dear son. Aaand I will come around midnight to sit beside you. And then you would always sit on the floor and rock the crib, and I would always fall asleep. At the age of six, I learned how to make coffee just the way you liked it—let it boil once, no sugar, and then I would give the coffee to you after your seventh shot of vodka, and then we would start together: Boil some coffee for me, son and then we would sleep together in your big bed.
MARA: But coffee was always waiting for you, too, and a freshly-made bed. No matter how wasted I would get, I would always make your bed. You wouldn’t come home for ten days. From a football match. You wouldn’t come for sixteen days. From the store. You wouldn’t come for four months. From the war. You wouldn’t come for three years. From the suburban flat you moved to in Budžak. But coffee and bed were waiting for you.
MARA AND MILAN (singing together):
Make the bed for me, mother/son
Just as if it’s for yourself, dear mother/son.
Aaand I will come around midnight
To lie beside you.
MARA: Just come back to your mother, at midnight, it’s fine, at six in the morning, it’s fine, in thirteen years, it’s fine, just come back to your mother.
MILAN: If I were alive, tonight I wouldn’t go play Counterstrike in one of those gaming dens, or to a casino, or the gym, or a coffee shop, or to a club, or a bar, or a bistro, or a commissary, or a café, or to a disco, I would stay to sleep with you in the big bed.
MARA AND MILAN (singing together, hugging and rocking each other gently, then stronger):
Don’t come, mother/son
Cause I’m caressing another mother/son now
Aaand I have said
That I found a better mother/son than you
MARA: When you were alive, I had a zillion problems, now I just have one: visiting your grave.
MILAN: My mom would never say something like that, but fine.
MARA: If I had ever had a son with Vojo, he would kill himself and I would say just that. Or he would die because of Vojo, Vojo was lethal. When Vojo loved me, I was always ill. The first time we met, I got cancer of the esophagus, and then when we fucked for the first time, it metastasized to the lungs. I yell at him “Vojo, I’ve got toxic shock syndrome!” He won’t even respond. In the end, I got jaundice and I would vomit constantly when he cuddled me, but he was never around, anyway. I had a fever for the first three months of our relationship, then he left me after six, married Milena later, he only gave her slight nausea, she drank beetroot every morning, so it was easier for her to bear him, I could never do that, it’s bitter.
MILAN: When we were coming home from a Nike shop with a sleeveless T-shirt for the gym and sneakers, white, for hanging around, I wanted to tell you “Mom, I’m going to kill myself,” but it was too hot, so I just drank Red Bull from a plastic bottle, the kind that can fit into a holder on a bike. I also wanted to say something to Gram once, that she lied to me and that we didn’t let some woman ride with us when we were supposed to, but it was so hot and sweat was pouring down Grandma’s neck and her wrinkled cleavage and I started saying something, but Gram said “Please, don’t talk now” so I didn’t say anything. We had been in a horse-drawn cart, riding with Grandma from Kobatovci to Mahovljane. Uncle Ostoja was sitting in the front, he had the reins and he was the only one the brown horse would obey, because they both had dark complexions. Grandma and I were sitting on a wooden bench behind him, I was skinny, Grandma was fat, she was sitting on a blanket, she took it all for herself and riding on the wood hurt my bony butt and a woman blocked our way. Ostoja pulled the reins, the brown horse stopped and Grandma and I jerked forward, Gram told him “For fuck’s sake, Ostoja, you’re not driving potatoes!” Auntie was also there, curled up by Grandma’s fat ankles and fat wool socks, she didn’t say anything. The woman looked at the horse’s eyes, then at Ostoja’s eyes, then at Grandma’s eyes, then at my eyes, Auntie’s eyes weren’t visible because of Grandma’s ankles. Then she said she’s from Prijedor and she wants us to give her a ride. Ostoja didn’t want to, so he drove past her. Grandma later told me this story, she said it had happened to her and my aunt and Ostoja and that I wasn’t there. Then that I dreamt it. Then Aunt Slavka said she also dreamt it. Then there was television coverage on it. There was also a film. But I still think that I was driving with Gram and Uncle Ostoja and Aunt Slavka on a horse-drawn cart. And that there was a woman blocking our way in front of the brown horse, brown as uncle’s skin, who said she was from Prijedor. “Before, in the factory, I used to make ceramic tiles, blue ones with white flowers, and pink with a white stripe down the middle, and yellow with an ochre pattern, and after, at the factory, when I took a dump I would take it in a barrel, they slapped me, they knocked out my tooth, and my left tit was out and they squashed it with their hands, and the beans were small and mushy, and they turned off the lights at nine, and my ribs were visible and one of my ribs broke, I don’t even remember how and another one of my teeth got smashed, that one I broke myself when there was nothing left to chew.” The woman reeked, and she had huge eyes, one green and the other grey, and you could see her bones, and Grandma told Ostoja to keep going, but not like he’s carting potatoes, like he’s carting humans, and he started up the cart, but he couldn’t go around her easily. And then I forgot it all, because it was stupid. And because I was little. And Gram also didn’t talk about it. But once she and Slavka said after lunch, “Remember when we were going to Mahovljane and a woman with huge eyes appeared,” and I said “Is that the woman that had one green eye and one grey?” and Grandma and Slavka looked at each other and said “Yes, how do you know that, you weren’t there with us?” But I knew that Gram put a cotton handkerchief over my face, because it was hot, so she wanted to cool me down and keep me from looking. And then I forgot. But later, they said on TV, “Before, in that place, they used to manufacture tiles, and after, they wouldn’t let people eat and they would turn off all of the lights and make them shit in barrels.” And then my aunt also dreamed about the woman. So she told Grandma, “I had a dream about her, the one with one grey eye and one green eye.” And then we really never talked about it again. Otoja didn’t even care, he was just concentrated on carting us like humans, not potatoes, he never dreamt about her.
June 21, two drops of blood
MILAN: I’m definitely going to have a daughter. Grandma would never even think of travelling by horse-drawn cart with a granddaughter from Kobatovci to Mahovljane. Grandma was a girl once, she knows that any girl would get hot in the cart and that her little belly and tits would shake.
MARA: I’m eleven years old. And my panties are bloody for the first time, and my groin is bloody, and my skirt is bloody, and my thighs are bloody. And my knees are bloody, but I skinned them on the cobblestones four days ago, so it’s not the same, cause they’re also yellow and green and scabby.
MILAN: I am thirty-five. I’m wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and a singlet underneath and I’m sweating.
MARA: I’m standing facing a short man with a moustache. He’s wearing a white short-sleeved shirt and a singlet is showing underneath and he’s sweating. My blood would suit his shirt, cause it’s his blood.
MILAN: The girl has scabby knees and a green skirt with a ribbon on the back.
MARA: I’m wearing a green linen skirt with a ribbon on the back and I say to the man that my mom told me when I asked her, and I asked her two days ago, because I really didn’t care before, that he’s my dad.
MILAN: The girl says that her mom told her, when she asked the other day, and she really didn’t care before, that I’m her dad.
MARA: My dad is an engine driver, I found him in a sooty locomotive, he’s a baker and a lawyer, I got to his office easily, it’s only two blocks from my house. My dad graduated from a high school of uselessness, so he spent his days getting drunk at the local dive where everything smelled of beer and old men with liver spots and grey hair on their chests when I first got my period, he works as as a conductor with a baton and as a history teacher, I saw two drops of blood on my panties in the third floor toilet at the elementary school, my dad deals with exports and imports, we talked in a big warehouse and I smiled only once, he didn’t smile at all, he’s got an engineering degree and he owns a tailor shop, he spends all day sitting in a bingo hall looking at white balls with numbers on them, when a woman’s voice announced that the number six had been drawn I saw blood on my panties.
MILAN: There’s a girl with a green skirt and a ribbon on the back, she’s bleeding and I’m sweating, she says she asked her mom and that she told her I’m her dad.
MARA: Daddy. Daddy, I’m bleeding, right now, and I didn’t fall, I swear, I did skin my knees, but four days ago, on the cobblestones, but I was watching where I was going, Mom drew me a map to get to your store, I go out of my house, then turned right, then the second street to the left and I stopped at the crossing, I didn’t fall, Daddy, and there’s blood running down my leg and sticking.
MILAN: What am I supposed to do with it now? Here’s some satin, use that.
MARA: He gave me some red satin from the shelf in the tailor’s shop, didn’t even know how to explain how to use it.
MILAN: And a red card I would give to a player if he kicked another player in the balls.
MARA: And a red roll of film, undeveloped, with photos he exhibited at the town gallery and in a group exhibition in Vienna.
MILAN: And a ball of red cotton I would give to a patient whose teeth I’m fixing, after I tell him to spit.
MARA: A red folder to hold wills authorizations statements proclamations and permissions.
MILAN: Take the red curtain from a window of the bus that I drive from Bakinci to Kobatovci each day every forty-five minutes.
MARA: And a red rag he uses to wipe down the bar and the thin rims of glasses.
MILAN: This red glove I wear when I’m changing oil in the motorcycle is also good.
MARA: And a piece of red chalk he uses to write formulas, containing pentane and octane and aldehydes, on the blackboard. He also passed me a red bowl that I could drip into.
MILAN: Have a tomato juice.
MARA: I’ll wear red lipstick to turn attention away from it.
MILAN: Just don’t wear red clothes, especially on Fridays. They’ll say you’re a hooker.
MARA: And you’re a fag.
MILAN: Use a party membership card to stop it up. It’s nothing, it’s nothing, I tell you. Don’t talk about it.
MARA: I don’t talk about it. Cause it’s nothing.
MILAN: Put it against your thigh.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: On your knee.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: On your belly.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: Wherever it’s leaking.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: So that it’s not showing.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: In your pants.
MARA: In my panties.
MILAN: I don’t want to know where it is, just as long as it’s not showing.
MARA: You spread it open, and you look into the mirror. In my panties, I tell you. Dad, will you take me to the hospital? There’s something wrong with this.
MILAN: I don’t know where you’re bleeding from, you’re not bleeding, there’s nowhere to bleed from, stop it, here, it’s stopped bleeding, you can’t see it under the little green skirt.
MARA: When my tits started growing last year, when I was ten, Mom thought I had cancer or a blood clot at least, so she took me to the doctor who told her “Ma’am, it’s just tits,” and this winter I went sledding and when I came home, my panties were bloody, less than now, but enough to make me lose my mind, I was already eleven, Mom said “Did you fall off the sled?” I said I didn’t, Mom said “What do you mean you didn’t, you did, you fell onto a branch, onto an iron pole, onto a yellow fence.”
MILAN: While we were dating, your mom was always ill. After our first date she got cancer of the esophagus, and then after I spent the night at her place for the first time, it metastasized to the lungs. She called me once, said she had toxic shock syndrome, at first I didn’t want to pick up. Then she called so often that my old man said he would bust my jaw if I didn’t pick up, so I went to see her. She’d put in a tampon for the first time in her life and was out of her mind, she’d only used cotton wool before that because it was natural and odorless and because it was good enough, well it never actually leaks that much, and because it was white. I pulled out her tampon; she said I saved her life. We thought it was impossible that we would end up with a little girl, there was so much blood on the bed. However, eventually she ended up with both jaundice and you, and she would always vomit when I caressed her, but I was never there anyway. Now my wife drinks beetroot juice every morning, so she can put up with me much better than your mom, your mom could never do that, it’s bitter.
MARA: I see clearly that my mother is insane.
MILAN: I can drive you to the hospital, but I can’t talk to the doctor, I don’t know what’s wrong with you anyway.
MARA: Milanka and Branka already have their periods, Ljubica doesn’t but when she feels like avoiding gym classes, she lies and puts some tomato in her panties, sometimes she doesn’t even do that, she’ll just say “Sir, I have my period today.” She’s excused from gym classes more often than she participates, so sometimes she gets her period three times a month, but the teacher doesn’t notice because he drinks too much and he likes sparing girls from participating in class so that their hands don’t get scratched up by the rusty climbing bar or a rough basketball or a nicked bocce ball. When the three of them are sitting out of the gym class, it’s great for the rest of us, because our teacher isn’t watching us then and can’t see how clumsy we are at volleyball, okay not all of us are, just me and a girl called Božana. The teacher then watches Ljubica’s hands, the ones he spared from gym class, and Milanka’s neck and Branka’s back, he doesn’t see the way I’m trying to serve and failing. And Milanka told me that she and Pedja never kiss when she is excused from gym class and she’s glad because she actually doesn’t like it when he’s sticking his big tongue in her mouth, so during these days she’s really excused, from everything, completely. Now I will also be able to say “Sir, I have my period today,” and I won’t get busted for not knowing how to serve and I will sit in my teacher’s lap and he will look at the back of my head and breathe into it and he will tell me that I am pretty, and he won’t see Božana who also doesn’t know how to serve and Božana will be grateful to me. And I am also glad that, since none of the boys in the class thinks I am pretty, at least the gym teacher will think so.
I am in my dad’s living room. This is the first time I’ve seen him in eight years. He has another version of Mom, and another version of me. And I found this other me on Facebook, then I looked up where she lives on Google Maps, then I rang the bell and Dad opened the door. I am eleven and in half an hour, I will get my first period.
MILAN: I am in my living room. There’s a girl who says that I am her dad. She’s wearing a white collared shirt under a blue sweater. She’s fat and I tell her so. You’re fat.
MARA: Mom feeds me well.
MILAN: My daughter isn’t fat.
MARA: I am your daughter.
MILAN: There she is in the photo. She also has a blue sweater and a white shirt; so yes, the two of you do resemble one another, sort of.
MARA: When I was six, Mom told me you were an engine driver. I went to the park because there are no trains there. Okay, except that one in front of the museum, but on this train it says A locomotive used during the National Liberation Struggle for the needs of the National Liberation Movement in Bosanska Krupa, Gornji Podgradci, but I wasn’t afraid I would run into you, because Mom never told me you liberated any nation. This park also has a cannon and a tank and for my last birthday, ten of us climbed up on the cannon and we took photos. When I was eight, she told me you were a tailor, so I went to a swimming pool and I dived with my eyes open, okay so it was a children’s pool and okay it was too shallow to dive and really I was touching the bottom covered with yellow square tiles, but I only had my trunks, I had nothing on that you might have sewn. Then last year she told me you were a bum and a maniac, so I didn’t go out on the street for a month. I wanted to use my hula hoop, but I could do it in my room as well.
MILAN: I’m an accountant.
MARA: Shit, now I don’t know where not to go. Where do accountants work?
MILAN: In offices. I also learn magic tricks in my spare time.
MARA: Ah fuck, I love the circus, I can’t avoid that too much. Once, there under the big top, I rode an elephant, I’ve got a photo of it, and I was afraid you would see me and make me get off; see, I was right, the last thing I need is somebody at school telling me “I saw your old man, he pulled a rabbit out of a hat or a pigeon from a hanky” or some dumb thing like that, but okay nobody at my school knows you anyway, but whatever, can you please not perform in the circus, the Italian one that comes to Banjaluka every summer? I always dress appropriately for the circus: neon green and pink pants I got on the discount rack along with half the neighborhood.
MILAN: There’s pudding in the fridge, go find it yourself.
MARA: He gave me the raspberry pudding my other mom made for the other me and there was still some left when my stomach started to hurt and I told him I needed to go to the toilet. I could not sit on the toilet seat because Mom told me never to sit on other people’s toilets, and Dad was definitely other people, so I pulled down my panties and squatted above the seat and saw the bottles of shampoo beside the bathtub: one said anti-dandruff, the other one said it was for damaged hair, that bottle was bigger, and there was also a pink shampoo bottle with a princess on it, so gross; and that’s when I saw the blood on my panties. Dad is devouring the remains of the raspberry pudding in the living room, and here’s me in the bathroom, writing on the tiles with my bloody finger: June twenty-first, two drops of blood. I pulled up my panties and zipped myself up, I didn’t even pee, and went back to the living room where my dad was sitting.
MARA reads the menstruation calendar off the toilet wall that she once wrote there.
June twenty-first: two drops of blood.
June twenty-second: there were sixteen.
June twenty-third: so many drops of blood that I thought it was all over and in a few hours I would be dead.
MILAN: The anti-dandruff shampoo is mine.
MARA: And this would happen every month and Mom gave me a card to put Xs on for days when there’s blood, but told me never to show it to anyone. Seventeen years later, also in June, the drops won’t come, even those first two. I will tell that to Branko, he will pretend that he hasn’t heard it. We will have Ivana, then Marko. Marko will be prettier, it was clear from the moment the nurses first showed him to me, wrapped into a cotton diaper. Branko’s mother also said it instantly, as well as all the women from the neighborhood.
MILAN: The girl with a white collared shirt underneath a blue sweater has just peed in the toilet and now she is standing in my living room again and saying something about blood.
MARA: My panties are bloody.
MILAN: You fell on the tiles.
MARA: I can walk, I didn’t fall. I can walk on cold surfaces, and I can walk barefoot, and on small platforms, you taught me how to walk.
MILAN: Then you’re not bleeding.
MARA: Dad, take me to the hospital.
MILAN: I have to go shopping. I can drop you off but your mom has to pick you up.
MARA: Mom and me stand by the fridge and eat. White bread topped with fresh creamy kajmak made with real cream, and with prosciutto and ajvar. I can taste the roasted red peppers in the ajvar, and the garlic. We each have our own plate and I’m also eating a little jam on the side, Mom says it’s disgusting to mix it like that. Then she cuts a huge slice of the cake that was frozen and waiting for the Xs in the calendar. We eat the entire cake together, because it’s a chocolate cake, and it also has cherries as decoration. Mom says you and me are the same, we bleed on the same days, we only need one card, you mark all of the Xs down and tell me when the fourteenth day from the first X comes, that’s when I cannot see Zoka. You always eat at the table. Your other wife and the other me don’t have their periods on the same days, they are not the same like me and my mom. Mom says she can’t wait until she gets to mark the Xs down only every sixth month, or never, can’t wait for her tits to get smaller so she can hang out with Zoka more often, but maybe she won’t even be up for it by then. Mom also says that in her day, she only used cotton wool. Mom says that every time something starts or ends you are allowed to be crazy, so now I am allowed, cause it just started; and she will also be allowed, in about twenty years, when the blood stops, when her cycle ends, to be crazy once more. I only have one more thing to ask you—Mom is stupid so she can’t answer me—does Goran Bregović live in Sarajevo?
Just say it, General or A mountain, burst into leaf; upon it a brother and a sister
MILAN: At the club, I watch my sister dance. She’s wearing a short black dress with fringe on the hem. She’s alone on a small dance floor, only three steps separate me from her. I yell at her to get down from there, she can’t hear me.
MARA: At the disco, I went up the three steps to the dance floor so I could dance there, I don’t want to dance with the pole cause then everyone would look. I practice at home, barefoot in front of the mirror, so I’m surprised by how nice it is at the disco in my high heels and with green and red and purple lights flaring all over me and tomorrow no one will say that I’m crazy the way Dad says when I’m dancing in front of the mirror, because this is a disco, it’s normal to do it here.
MILAN: I am wearing a tight black t-shirt and a lot of hair gel, my hair smells stronger than the sweet machine-made smoke that’s winding around my sister’s nylon tights.
MARA: I dance my head off, I dance, I don’t give a fuck, dance, my dress is so tight, there’s no tomorrow, there’s no nothing. Last night from the ashes, I stole some fire. I’m still sleeping. I see my brother through the smoke, he says something to me.
MILAN: She sees me, comes down off the stage towards me, of course some jerks are looking at her, one in a white t-shirt with print that’s supposed to look like red spray-paint, the other in a white t-shirt with a decal of some Chinese letters on it which has started peeling off over his left pec, the third one in a white t-shirt with a decal of a cobweb and the fourth one in a regular white t-shirt, tight and sleeveless. Fuck them all.
MARA: Four guys in white t-shirts are watching me, luckily I’m wearing this V-neck dress that shows off both of my tits, but not too much, and there comes my bro wanting to tell me something, his hair smells nice, I can smell it in spite of the thick smoke of all the Marlboros and the stink of sour wine and sweet cola and vodka and the yellow light and silver disco ball which is broken so it doesn’t revolve and the triangular mirrors and gray smoke. The term “disco” was no longer used in the English-speaking world after 1980, they moved on there to nightclub or dance club or just club, but we kept calling them discos, us and the Germans and the French and the Latin Americans. My brother puts grease in his hair and you can smell it from miles away.
MILAN: I put grease in my hair. Light grease.
MARA: Guys are jealous of him, they think he’s my boyfriend. From the snake print clutch I borrowed from Mom, the one she only carries at weddings, I take a pack of Partners, with filters, and three of the four guys in white t-shirts come to me with lighters, a red plastic one, a fake Zippo, and a blue plastic one with Lovely written on it which doesn’t even work, my brothers yanks the cigarette from my mouth and asks them if there’s a problem, cause if there isn’t a problem he’ll make one, they’re like bro, take it easy, your sis is fine, so what. Then he tells me he’s going to kill himself.
MILAN: I ask them if there’s a problem, because if there’s not I’m gonna make one, one of them says something like Mara is fine, I swing my hand to hit him, I don’t even care where, when a song Krajina is our destiny starts playing, Krajina is our prayer, Krajina is our destiny, forever in our hearts and me and the four shitheads start jumping on each other, now we’re moshing. I move Mara out of the way, but first I tell her I’m going to kill myself. Not a second later, another song starts: Have you ever loved me as I loved you, have you ever loved me as I loved you, have you ever loved me. I think, I’m gonna tell her now, she needs to know, we wallowed in the mud together in the countryside when we watched pigs eating watermelon rinds and we wanted to eat them too, and every time I see her in the meadow behind the house I know exactly what she’ll do, she’ll scratch her nose and the inner side of her elbow, and I think why not tell her.
MARA: The band that sings this song is Medeni mjesec and their name means Honeymoon and they disbanded, it’s not known precisely when, some members went abroad, others went to rehab at monasteries, and some are still making music. Let’s ask these guys to take a photo of us.
MILAN: Sis, I am going to kill myself, in a bathtub, I’ll pile all the sneakers Ma bought me underneath me, an Adidas in the ass, a Puma underneath my back, under my neck a Reebok, a Nike between my legs, a Kappa on my belly-button, below my mouth a Champion to bite into when it starts to hurt in the beginning, a Fila beneath my ear. I’ll let the water flow over them and over me, Ma’ll scream “Why are you keeping the water on so long?” I won’t answer; I’ll cut myself with her blue razor. Ma will be smoking on the new cheap upholstery in the living room, then instead of going to get some vodka, she’ll come to the bathroom to get me and she’ll scream. Either that or I’ll go to war.
MARA: Fuck you’re drunk, let me take a picture of you. Like that time when you lit your first cigarette, it looked great on you, so I kept the photo in a drawer, I was afraid to take it out because Mom would see that you’d started smoking.
MILAN: Or when she made me a cherry cake for my ninth birthday, but I wanted a chocolate one, so my smile was sour and my teeth came out looking really white because the light from the chandelier reflected off of them.
MARA: Or at the swimming pool when you were missing your two front teeth, you were only six.
MILAN: When I go to war I’ll send you one, me in a rumpled uniform, a mixture of green and coffee brown, with a white shirt underneath, the one I wore for phys ed that Mom washed once a week, I thought you could also wash it sometimes, in the photo I’ll be sitting at a table and smoking. You’ll keep that one in a frame on a plywood table in your bedroom and everyone will think it was taken there because the table in the photo is exactly the same as the one in your bedroom that the photo in its frame is sitting on and then you won’t feel like explaining, you’ll just say yes, this is where it was taken.
MARA: Or when you brought Jelena over and I took a photo of her not wanting to eat the peas Ma made and you’re sitting beside her, drunk as a lord and, like, Ma and Jelena don’t get it, but me and you do. I captured her blonde highlights, all right, then her ma put it in a frame, placed it on a cloth cloth doily and on top of the TV and told everyone it’s Jelena, her sister-in-law took it.
MILAN: Or when our old man took a photo of us in Makarska and cut off half of your head.
MARA: Or when you were on a small stage, speaking and I was in the audience, applauding, I used up the entire roll of film, but only two photos were good enough to go into the album. Today, as I become a Pioneer, I give my Pioneer’s word of honor—That I shall study and work diligently, respect my parents and my seniors.
MILAN: Or when Baba Đuja hugged me at the Slava and there was a huge yellow candle in front of us, so you can’t see she’s missing half her teeth.
MARA: We drank five more kalimotxos each. Ugly in the mouth, ugly going down the throat, ugly in the stomach, but pretty in the head. He paid for everything, because Mom always gives him more money than me. I scrounged around to be able to get the last round, my teeth were already red by then when I looked in the triangular mirror, not white, and I asked a kid with a cap to give me three billion so me and my brother could drink a kalimotxo, I said I don’t drink usually, but I really feel like it now, I thought he’d just look at my tits and give me the money, but he says “Get the fuck out of here slut,” but then the waiter bought me the last round. Sweet cola and sour wine in thirty-milliliter plastic cups and then I gave him only one piece of advice.
MILAN: Five kalimotxos in thirty-milliliter plastic cups, I got wasted and went to the toilet to piss, one of those ones you have to squat over, of course, the disco was so white trash, then I threw up, my sister held my head.
MARA: Stick two fingers inside, the index and the middle finger, I tell him, but he can’t.
MILAN: I can’t stick my fingers down my throat, but I think of Mom’s tiny, mushy peas, so I puke up the beans she made tonight.
MARA: It sprays my heels a bit too, but at the disco in the dark, you can’t see it.
MILAN: My sister washes me, she drenches a handkerchief at the sink and wipes my neck, I write on the toilet wall with a key. Just say it, General.
MARA: I drench the handkerchief and wipe his neck, then my high heels, cleaning his vomit.
Milan reads a rhyme he once wrote on the toilet wall.
Just say it, General
And we’ll fly like bullets.
Fly in the air, kid? Better go to school.
Somebody added that later, I saw it next weekend when I came back to throw up again.
I wrote to the General that if he just says it, we’ll fly like bullets, and who “we” were precisely I didn’t know, but me and those four jerks in white t-shirts who were hitting on my sister, that’s who I had in mind.
MARA: I find it funny, so on the next tile I write Dragana Mirkovic with a felt pen and I draw a heart.
MILAN: Somebody left me an answer that said I should go to school.
MARA: I only gave him one piece of advice, and it was: Milan, before you go to war, abstain for six days from eating fat and drinking beer and on the seventh day, go and receive communion. Fast for six days, but it will be counted as twelve because you are from a family of heathens, because our old man is not a believer, because he says “Godfuckingdamnit” when he’s watching a soccer game although he’s happy, and when he’s watching the news, he says “Godfuckingdamnit” and he’s afraid, and on the seventh day take white bread and red wine from the priest’s wrinkled hand.
MILAN: She says something about Pa watching TV and about white bread, I heave, my stomach twitches, but it doesn’t even come up my throat, it just goes back down.
MARA: Don’t touch yourself for six days and don’t touch Jelena and on the seventh day the priest will say he’s giving you the body and blood of Christ. The blood isn’t salty. The body isn’t firm. The body is doughy and it has a crust and the blood is bitter and sweet, the blood is made out of late harvest grapes.
MILAN: She says doughy and she says body and out of me comes this cheese-like yellow liquid.
MARA: And if you lock yourself in the bathroom and I knock because I want to put on my waterproof mascara and I know what you’re doing inside but I pretend that I don’t, cause I can do that in bed and you can’t because Dad won’t wash your sheets and Mom’s drunk, you can also do that, it doesn’t matter. And if you sweat a lot on the day of the communion and you don’t manage to take a shower, you can also do that, it doesn’t matter. And if you feel like pissing, hell, even if you feel like doing number two, go to the plastic toilet beside the church, then take communion, you can also do that, it doesn’t matter.
MILAN: I throw up from the smell of my sweat. I feel the smell of Ma’s beans coming once again from the hole in the ground and I throw up a runny green liquid. I don’t feel better.
MARA: And even if you feel sick like today, just throw up, then take communion, then throw up again, it doesn’t matter because the sacramental curtain of the Eucharist can be lifted by anyone who knows what body tastes like and what blood tastes like. I would join you, but in seven days I will have my period and I would bleed out all of the newly received blood of the Savior, and you really can’t do that, it does matter. And just so you know, so you aren’t taken by surprise, it actually tastes like white bread and red wine, not like the real body and blood you tasted with me that time when you were six and later all the time with Jelena, but you should pretend in front of the priest that it tastes like body and that it tastes like blood, mine and Jelena’s.
MILAN: She says to remember Jelena’s body. I remember Gram in the countryside climbing the ladder to the roof of the summer kitchen wearing a long skirt without underwear and Mara and me looking under Grandma’s skirt. Grandma isn’t wearing stockings, Grandma isn’t wearing hosiery, Grandma hasn’t stuffed cotton wool between her legs, Grandma isn’t using a sanitary pad, Grandma doesn’t know what a tampon is, Grandma hasn’t rolled rags to absorb the blood, Grandma isn’t even wearing panties. Grandma’s blood pours down her thighs and she climbs to the roof of the summer kitchen to take something down. I stop throwing up. Grandma never took communion.
At Kruna, in one of the booths, my sister dances with three of her girlfriends, I come alone to tell her my good news.
MARA: Jovana’s pulled all of her hair up in a bun, Ivana has slicked hers back and has a high ponytail on top, Anđela’s wearing her hair parted on the right, mine is parted on the left.
MILAN: One life, one dream, to be rich and young. And I love you and I love you, love me while I’m fighting and burning, while I’m afraid. I call out “What’s up?” to a bro while I’m walking towards my sis.
MARA: Both Jovana and Anđela have the hots for my brother, but okay, now they’re pretending they don’t see him, they’re dancing, Ivana touches my collarbone, then my cheekbone and there he is with us.
MILAN: Some crazy bitch with a shaggy haircut comes by and says she’ll show me her tits if I find an earring she lost.
MARA: A mix of twelve of Ceca’s songs, all live recordings, she says Put your hands up and we all put our hands up for fun like we’re at a concert. A lot of girls pass by him, but he’s coming towards us. I only know I gave the flower of my youth to him.
MILAN: I press one in a puffy white dress against the wall just for the sake of doing it, I can see her a little better under the lasers, fuck she’s got a stretch mark on her left tit, GTFO. I go up to my sister and say:
Sis, I’m getting married.
MARA: Mom’s gonna go nuts. She’s gonna stuff her snake print clutch with ten airplane bottles of vodka, she’s gonna bust it apart, I won’t be able to use it anymore, or lend it to Anđela when she’s going to a parking lot in Paprikovac for a make-out session.
MILAN: Either that or I’ll pile up all the sneakers Ma bought me in the bathtub and I’ll lie down on top of them and let the water and my beautiful blood flow. An Adidas in the ass, a Puma underneath my back, under my neck a Reebok, a Nike between my legs, a Kappa on my belly-button, below my mouth a Champion to bite it when it starts to hurt in the beginning, a Fila beneath my ear. Ma’s smoking on the upholstery, watching TV, instead of going to get some vodka, she comes to get me and starts to scream.
MARA: Oh fuck getting married, let me take a picture of you. I also have one in my phone of you eating a gyro.
MILAN: The one where I’m with Pero at the stadium is cool too. He’s wearing a Red Star scarf and I’m wearing a Partizan scarf and we came to a Borac game just to be assholes.
MARA: I’ve got an 8GB memory card, I can fit seven hundred more.
MILAN: And the one after the gym, like I’m sweaty.
MARA: And the one with you smoking a cigar.
MILAN: And one you took here in this booth with Marko and Šone and Rope, but that one’s idiotic because we’re all wearing button-down shirts. But okay, there’s also one where I’m wearing a t-shirt—like, Homer Simpson drinking beer.
MARA: Under the blossoming tree, in a white dress, I will always wait for you like our grandmother waited for our grandfather and the sacrament of marriage will be revealed to you and Jelena and her blonde highlights and to sheets crusty with cum that the old man doesn’t want to wash out and Ma doesn’t even know about because of all the vodka. I will be the one who dances the most at the wedding, I will request the most songs, I will break the most glasses, I will adorn the most guests with flowers and ornaments, I will give you the most money in a white envelope, I will bake you the biggest cake and I’ll bring it out at midnight, I will buy the most photos from the photographer, I will catch the bouquet, but you won’t be able to look at me, little brother, when the priest lays a wreath upon your heads, yours and Jelena’s, which will go along well with her highlights, when he begins the betrothal service you won’t be able to look at me although I will be dressed completely decently, in a short dress (but my little brother’s getting married), in high heels (but my little brother’s getting married), no cleavage because of the uncle who I know, when we shake hands, would like to put mine on his cock, but can’t do it because of the old man, and you know what these wreaths mean, you have violated the sacrament of marriage with Jelena, because you are the only one who knows the ways I scratch my eyelid or my elbow when you look at me in the field behind the house, because the newlyweds wear wreaths as a sign of victory, to show they haven’t been defeated by passion before marriage and that this is what grants them entry to their shared bed: that is, as the victors over carnal pleasures, if someone, caught in lust, has surrendered to fornication, why would they, as the defeated party, get to wear the wreath of victory upon their head, that’s what the priest will ask, and you’ll know that it’s not meant to be, and you’ll know that Mom was pouring vodka down her throat while she was listening to you in the other room, you’ll know that Dad was changing the sheets, you’ll know we all heard when you two broke the shelf you were clinging to and you’ll know what it was that the two of us promised and touched and said and swore and cut and bled and sang and told and dreamt and vowed and felt and knew and thought and didn’t say and engraved and weeded and dug out and then buried again under the blossoms when I was eight and you were six.
MILAN: She’s glad that I’m getting married, but she nags me about a shelf Jelena and I broke once when I was banging her while everyone was home and heard it, but I don’t even need to wear the wreath, fuck the wreath, don’t you have more important things to worry about?
MARA: Let’s take a photo. Joca takes our picture with an iPhone, but we’re in front of the mirror, so she’s also in the photo. We pose in front of the mirror and the song I sold my soul to the devil when I tasted the old wine, how can such a hot girl be sad, can’t you see what you’re doing to me, you bastard plays. We hear a click, Milan sticks out his tongue, for fuck’s sake, can’t you ever look normal in a picture.
MILAN: Jelena is always the craziest one in pictures, she wears sunglasses to other people’s weddings. She will be a pretty mother, if ours had looked like that we would be fine now.
MARA: At your wedding, we’ll take one to put in a frame, you and Jelena in the middle, our folks behind you—Mom’s snake print clutch swollen with her little vodka bottles, but you can’t see it because of Jelena’s puffy wedding dress with the feathers, so it looks like we’re all normal. I stand next to you, you’re holding both me and Jelena around the waist. I’m wearing a short dress that doesn’t show any cleavage and high heels, and we’re all smiling.
MILAN: Jovana takes a photo of us in front of the mirror in Kruna with her iPhone, I think I should fool around, so I stick my tongue out.
MARA: After we take that picture, you and Jelena will stay to take pictures with the entire wedding party, Mom will go to the kitchen, supposedly to make sure that they bring out the heated sarma but actually to down shots of vodka, the old man will go back to his table so that when the heated sarma comes out he’s ready to pack his mouth full of stuffed cabbage leaves, and I will go to the toilet. You and Jelena take pictures with Vuk, and Dragica, and Krstan and the six Sladojevićs, and Rosa and Persa, and Anđelka. There’ll also be a photo of the two of you in the middle with Baba Đuja kissing you on the cheek, slobbering all over you, and the feathers from Jelena’s dress all around her as well. The photographer clicks the camera, Baba Đuja slobbers over your left cheek with her mouth and I’m in the toilet, writing on the tiles with a waterproof eyeliner pencil. A mountain, burst into leaf; upon it a brother and a sister.
Mara reads a lament she once wanted to write there off the toilet wall.
A mountain, burst into leaf;
Upon it, a brother and a sister
In mud the pigs wallow
Brother makes a promise to Sister
Touches Sister’s knee
And collar bone
My sister, it will not be much longer
Before I return to our homeland
Why, hence, dost thou not come to me
I would come to thee, sister
But a foreigner forbids it
A foreigner, a good maiden
Sister taketh out her eyes for her brother
But her eyes cannot grow back
Nor can her heart for the brother
My eye will never cease to cry
They don’t love you like I love you
I wasn’t planning to write the last line, but I added it because the band played the song at that moment, the old man requested it after the sarma, like, for his two children and for him and his sister who wasn’t even at the wedding.
I will write that with the waterproof eyeliner pencil, then I might even erase some lines with a wet wipe, Baba Đuja and Rosa and Persa and Anđelka don’t need to read it all when they come to pee, and then I’ll say to myself: beauty, fashion, and music know no limits. And I’ll feel better. And I’ll come out, and once again I’ll dance the most and I’ll adorn the most guests with flowers and ornaments and I’ll bring out the biggest cake at midnight.
MILAN: She says she will make me the biggest cake, I say li’l bro has some candy now, let’s all snort a line off Jovana’s iPhone.
MARA: When we took another picture, someone started banging on the toilet door, I told them to fuck off, we each snorted a line and went back to our booth. He didn’t talk about the wedding any more.
MILAN: It’s either that or I’ll kill myself.
MARA: I wanted to take another picture for Facebook, I held my phone up above our heads, pressed my cheek against his, he closed his eyes because of the bright light, I opened my eyelids as wide as I could, I always look good like that and we laughed. We take three, four, five, six more pictures and he kisses me and I kiss him.
Mara and Milan kiss on the mouth.
MILAN: I won’t even tell Mom. That I’m getting married. I want her to be surprised when she gets the invitation.
MARA: I won’t tell Mom either.
Mara and Milan are still kissing on the mouth.
MARA: This is your biggest secret. You’re doing this in memory of you.
Mara and Milan are still kissing on the mouth.
MARA: I have a test in Latin tomorrow, but never mind. The only thing I know is that Ma always says the first sentence in her Latin book was Yugoslavia est patria mea. In mine it’s Puella est pulchra. The girl is pretty. And the pupil is hard-working. The fuck I am.
Mara and Milan are still kissing on the mouth.
Young man, no compensation
Mara and Milan are still kissing on the mouth.
MILAN: In the public toilet, I kiss a woman thirty years my senior. She looks at my shoulders and at the white mottled tiles and I scratch words into them with a bottle opener. Young man, no compensation.
MARA: In the public toilet a kid with a bottle of whiskey in his hand scribbles something on the tiles. I look at his shoulders.
Milan reads a personal ad he just wrote there off the toilet wall.
MILAN: Young man, no compensation, will fuck your brains out, free-spirited, discreetly, big cock, frantically, well-built, with dedication, black hair, better than anyone else, green eyes. And no younger than fifty-four, please.
I am in an ugly flat belonging to a woman who read my ad in the public toilet. She wants to give me fifty-five marks for sex, on an armchair which smells like my grandma did just before she died, when she wasn’t able to clean herself anymore, so Ma bathed her once a week, but mostly only her back and armpits, before Happy People on Sunday evenings, because that was the only thing we all watched together, and my sister would always cry if Grandma smelled too bad.
MARA: I sit on an armchair with my legs crossed, opposite the kid whose ad I read in the public toilet. I’ll give him fifty-five marks for sex, me on top, kissing included, touching my boobs and clitoris included, if he can find it. I bought the armchairs on sale, two for one, on the third floor of the Kastel. I paid at the cash register and when they put them in two large plastic bags, they weighed more than I expected, and when I turned to ask my child to help me with them, I figured out that she was gone. “Where are you Ivana,” I was calling her with the shop assistant who was wearing glasses he’d mended with duct tape. I found her among the carpets which were hanging one next to another from a mobile metal contraption. She was thirteen and her cheeks were red from what the shop assistant claimed was wool but was actually polypropene. I was a bit embarrassed, not because Ivana was among the carpets, but because I gave birth to her, but I just handed her the armchair in a bag to carry. Right in front of Kastel, we hitched a ride in a yellow Yugo, the color of piss, the man smelled just the way these armchairs smell now, he had a small green pine tree hanging from his rearview mirror which smelled even worse than him, so Ivana threw up. While I was cleaning her mouth with a tissue, I asked her what she was doing back there among the carpets. She said she didn’t know.
MILAN: Between the armchairs there are three tables. The first fits into the second, and they both fit into the third. My ma also had these three nesting coffee tables, but she never took out the smaller two; she didn’t want them to get dusty for nothing. Below the dark glass tabletop, there’s a postcard from Makarska on rocky ground with a church, and a photo of a man and a woman on the beach, sitting on a rough cotton towel with 101 Dalmatians print. She’s in a red bikini with white letters that look like the letters in alphabet soup across the top, but it’s illegible, it says something like beach fun, and he’s wearing a white singlet and bright blue trunks, my old man had the same ones.
MARA: Branko and me, on our first summer holiday together. All day long we played Parcheesi and all night long I was on top, kissing included, touching my boobs and clitoris included, if he can find it.
MILAN: On a lacquered commode by the tables, there’s a color TV with a green screen and a sponge over the speakers, and a beautiful big red on/off button.
MARA: And an orange-white empty vase on it, Ivana always said like a giraffe. And a cloth doily which Branko’s mom crocheted, underneath the vase, that time he didn’t show up at home for four nights I cut up all the other ones with scissors and threw them into the toilet. Then I flushed.
MILAN: A row of thin red books, then a row of thin blue books. My mom bought the green and the brown ones with her first paycheck.
MARA: And an oilcloth that crumbs stick to, with green and navy blue and pink stars.
MILAN: I turn off the lamp which matches the vase—both of them orange and white like a giraffe—and I say to the woman that I’ve been craving licking pussy and eating tomatoes these days, like, unbelievably.
MARA: I haven’t seen an erect cock in three years, and I don’t see one now, either, because the kid turned off the fucking lamp. I turn on the lamp that matches the vase, orange and white like a giraffe. His cock is on his stomach, it’s both dark and light, both big and small, both veiny and smooth, both hairless and hairy, both circumcised and uncircumcised, but it’s young.
MILAN: I charge extra for blowjobs, I tell you I feel like eating tomatoes and licking pussy, so I’ll do that free of charge now.
Mara touches Milan’s hair.
MARA: When you were born, I found a brown bug and a nest of little white nits in Ivana’s hair, she didn’t even scratch, she was too lazy for that. In Relaks in the neighborhood they cut her hair with metal scissors all the way to the scalp while all the old ladies of Banjaluka pretended not to watch from under their hood dryers, and then she was, but she already had been, uglier than Marko.
Milan touches Mara’s eyes.
MILAN: When I first saw that my mom had tiny black eyes, which always scared me, and which turned into slits after a liter and a half of vodka, you were twenty-eight and you hated cooking that entire year, and also shopping and going to have coffee and to the movies and to Gospodska Street, and talking to your mom on the phone, and to your godfather Željko as well, and watching television, and filling out forms, and driving in the car, and combing your hair, but you loved lying in bed and covering your head. Branko would buy two hundred grams of cheese with holes, a blood sausage, pickles, a can of sardines and a loaf of soft white bread, and you both got fat.
Mara touches Milan’s mouth.
MARA: When Marko first called me Mom, yours had her head in the toilet for three hours. You bought toilet paper, lavender-scented, to wipe her mouth, but she vomited even more from the scent; in the end you left the bathroom and laid on the bed she made while she was sober.
Milan touches Mara’s nose.
MILAN: Marko hit you here once, when you wouldn’t give him half a mark to play Counterstrike.
Mara touches Milan’s teeth.
MARA: Ivana got two of her molars fixed, and then I bought her a Kinder Surprise for not crying at the dentist, and it rotted her first premolar.
Mara touches Milan’s eyebrows.
When Ivana plucked her eyebrows for the first time, she was so red around the eyes that she skipped her first two classes and came back crying from the last, and then she drew them back on with a pencil.
Milan touches Mara’s ears.
MILAN: Mom took you to the jeweler so that you would be the prettiest girl in the street, he pressed the small piercing gun against your earlobe, “What color earring do you want, ma’am?” you thought purple, she said blue, you took them out after seventeen days because your left lobe went blue and you were back to being just the third prettiest.
Mara touches Milan’s neck.
MARA: I would kiss Branko on the neck when he snored, every night for six years, I saw something like that in the movies, his mouth reeked, so I couldn’t kiss him there, and he was sleeping, so he couldn’t kiss me back, to kiss his eyes would have been like he was dead, so I kissed his neck and it was soft and I got used to the smell, and when he wouldn’t show up for four nights, I didn’t sleep, but imagined kissing his neck while he was snoring.
Mara touches Milan’s upper arms.
MARA: When Marko had been going to the gym for three months Branko told him not to be lame, but to get work on a construction site in Budžak at the age of seventeen like he had, and at thirty-five on a construction site for office buildings downtown. When Marko had been going to the gym for six months, he cut his hair and then he was, but he already had been, prettier than Ivana. When Marko had been going to the gym for nine months, he brought home a girl named Jelena, she had blonde highlights in her brown hair, I spoke a bit about that to her, I told her I used Revlon, and she nodded, then they went to his room, and she was loud, and he was silent, I thought of her blonde head, I couldn’t even smoke. When she left, Marko repaired the shelf they broke while they were in there together. When Marko had been going to the gym for a year I had no idea what his arms had been like a year before, I wanted to touch the vein on the right one, to remember, but I remembered the blonde head in his bed, so I didn’t.
Milan touches Mara’s mouth.
Zoka was my first kiss, we were sitting in a park where the stone fountain was, where the metal fountain is now, and I was talking about the countries and cities guessing-game I played at home with my brother, I thought of Lithuania, my brother couldn’t guess it at all.
MILAN: A woman with a dry mouth and big ears was my first kiss, she told me she had been sitting in the other room when her son broke a shelf while having sex with his girlfriend and she couldn’t even smoke.
Milan touches Mara’s breasts.
MARA: Zoka was also the first to touch my tits, I was sitting on a plywood table and again I thought of a country, I told him “Zoka, it’s a country of roses,” he put his hand under my t-shirt and didn’t guess it was Bulgaria.
MILAN: The first nipples I touched were on tits that had started growing at the same time as my mom’s had. They were sagging and smelled different than I thought they would, and they had brown freckles all around the nipples and on the nipples, but they were tits. I told her my mom’s tits started shrinking when she started getting wasted on vodka. She said hers started growing when she bought a push-up bra at the second stand on the left at the market on her daughter’s recommendation.
MARA: When I asked Ivana how come she had such big breasts all of a sudden, I’d given birth to her, she couldn’t possibly have exceeded me, she told me about the second stand on the left at the market, she said they sold bras that make your tits grow, and I bought a black and a white bra there.
Mara puts her hand into Milan’s pants.
When I first saw a cock, it was shown to me by a boy with a big nose behind a building, everyone said he ripped clouds when he put his head back, and other girls always said it wasn’t just his nose that was big, it was something else as well, and then they’d giggle, and I didn’t get what the other thing was, so I asked him, and then he showed it to me through the fly of his blue shorts and it was so ugly that I dreamt about two pink worms wallowing in white mucus and I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning and go to school.
Milan puts his hand into Mara’s pants.
MILAN: When I first saw a cunt, I was celebrating my seventeenth birthday in the public toilet. I read the graffiti on the toilet wall with a woman thirty years my senior, it said A mountain, burst into leaf; upon it, a brother and a sister, and it said June 21: two drops of blood, and I told her about Ma and the vodka, because it had happened even if I hadn’t told her, and she told me about her son and the razor, because that had happened even if she hadn’t told me, and I wanted to do the same with a blue razor and I told her that, and she told me she loved dancing at the disco and then we fucked, I did her because I had never done it before, and she did me because she hadn’t done it for three years.
Milan and Mara have intercourse on a closed toilet seat. Milan sits on the seat, Mara sits on Milan. It’s pretty and white.
I had my first fuck on my seventeenth birthday, it was a bad year, I was dead drunk on cheap whiskey, that was the first and the last time I drank it, Dad gave it to me as a present. And I told her her hymen was silky and I told her I didn’t want her first time to be painful and it was about the two hundred eighty-third time for her and the only thing I could think of to say was why didn’t you wait for me to be your third, at least. It was in a public toilet and I never felt like going there again.
MARA: I always thought my first fuck would be with Zoka, but it was actually with Voja, why, I have no idea. All I have left from Zoka is a photo he once sent in a yellow envelope from the war. It’s him in a rumpled uniform, a mixture of green and coffee brown, with a white t-shirt underneath, the one he wore for phys ed that his mom washed once a week, and I thought I could also wash it sometimes, he’s sitting at a table. The plywood of the table is cheap and bright, the table in my room is made of the same stuff, one time a small piece of it rammed into my thigh while Zoka and I were naked on the table, there was blood as if he were inside me, but actually he only touched my tits. And everyone who comes over asks, did he take the photo here, I say yes, there’s no point in explaining. And Voja always made me sick, after our first date I got cancer of the esophagus, and then when we fucked for the first time it metastasized in my lungs. I called him, “Voja I have toxic shock syndrome,” he wouldn’t pick up. I also had Rajko, Rajko promised me love, had a wife before me and promised her the same. I was crazy, he couldn’t handle it. Rajko once sang to me in the park, and I really thought, okay it might be this way, and then he went to his third wife, if he did the same thing with her I really don’t know anymore. And here I am with Branko now, how, I also really don’t know anymore.
MILAN: Last year for my birthday Miša and I bought six cans of beer and a bag of salty roasted peanuts. It was neither cold nor sunny outside, neither windy nor rainy, the sky wasn’t cloudy, but it wasn’t bright either, there was no moon or stars, the sun was neither up nor down, it was my sixteenth birthday and I had no idea what to do with myself. Miša might have not known it was my birthday but he certainly didn’t know what to do with himself. We walked from school along a beautiful street covered in fallen leaves, and on the left there was a house, we knew we would enter it. We never met the people who lived in the house, we never even saw them, although we passed by every day on the way from school, we didn’t know if there was a family, or a single woman, or a single man, or a couple, or a single person. We were sitting in the living room. There was a painting of horses on the wall and another one of poppies. We heard a mother putting her child to sleep upstairs. We didn’t turn on the TV. We didn’t open the cans. At first, we didn’t open the bag of peanuts. When the child stopped crying, I started chewing on the peanuts.
MARA: I was going with Branko for dinner at our best man’s and we hadn’t been on the road for five minutes before I told him to stop, that I needed to take a breather and fix my make-up. I peed in the toilet, dabbed at myself with paper, flushed, I hadn’t even washed my hands yet and there was some kid with a bottle of whiskey there. In my bedroom, as a girl, I had a poster with a couple in the front seat of a convertible and they’re driving somewhere, I have no idea where, nor do I care, but it would be nice if you came for me like that once, I wouldn’t care where you got the convertible, we would just go and sleep in the car and in the hostels along the road, and it would all be like an American film, but the hostels would be cleaner than my room and the seats of the convertible would be more comfortable than the armchairs in my living room, and the receptionists in the hostels would be nicer than Branko and Ivana and Marko, and I wouldn’t need to cook, we would eat rice at a Chinese place or sandwiches. And we would do what we’re doing tonight, every day, several times a day.
MILAN: When I had chicken pox, your capillaries broke, one over here under your left breast and the other there, in the middle of your belly, and that’s where I scratched the most and I have a scar under my left breast and one over here in the middle of my belly.
MARA: The kid and I had a couple of the same scars on our bodies, I don’t know if it was that my capillaries had broken or he’d made them just now with his nail and tooth. When I got back to the car, Branko asked me what took me so long, I said, I was fixing my make-up and I peed and took a breather. He said you could’ve taken your breather here.
MILAN: Her husband asks her what took her so long, I gulp my whiskey.
MARA: Took a breather and fixed my make-up.
MILAN: She says she fixed her make-up and took a breather. I gulp my whiskey.
Milan and Mara are still sitting in a sterile, white, public toilet. The tiles in the toilet are still mottled. Everything is still a bit sad, but a bit pretty as well.
By Tanja Šljivar
Edited by Cory Tamler and Željko Maksimović
- People like to write about what it would be like to shove a wooden plank up the ass of whatever ethnic minority they hate on the walls of the restroom. – A “joke” which a fellow student from my primary school once made. We all laughed a lot. I thought, at a time, that it was a very brave joke for a child. Now, I am intrigued by the image which is implied.
- I buried my son in Jošavka. Or at Crni vrh. Or in Brezičani, or Lađevci, or Šnjegotina. One of those small villages. Definitely somewhere near Čelinac. – These toponyms are all small villages or municipalities, I barely ever visited any of them, I just like how these names sounded in succession, they are all near Čelinac, which is larger but still very provincial, and near Banjaluka, which is the largest but still provincial. They are options for the setting of Mara’s possible childhood(s). Think of a very small girl running through imaginary meadows, yet trapped in a mental space which is a province.
- She couldn’t call a priest. I didn’t die of natural causes. – It is officially forbidden for an Orthodox priest to attend a funeral if the deceased has committed suicide. I always found this tradition disgusting, although if I give it a second thought maybe I can see more clearly that, in such a case, it is no longer necessary for a church official to play the mediator between the deceased and the deity when a kind of direct contact might have already taken place.
- When I was little, I was convinced that I could jump from the third floor and not get hurt. I thought that because of a dream I had once – I was always looking at the green grass from the third-floor balcony of my grandmother’s apartment—it seemed inviting, but still not as completely convincing as it had been in my dream.
- Mara reads off the restroom wall a song of lamentation she once wrote there. – Here is the link to the original song. It comes from Croatia, and when one can read the original language then it is easily detectable which parts are appropriated from the song, and which parts I added. At this link there is also more info on the figure of the woman mourner. Stanzas from the original song and my own stanzas alternate: the first stanza is a slightly edited/cut version of the original, the second is mine, and this pattern repeats until the end of the song.
- You were sitting on the blue couch […] then you started to scream. – The two TV shows referenced in this monologue are, in the original play, the programs Exkluziv and Explosiv. Excluziv is a Croatian version of an originally German show, covering showbiz events and celebrity lifestyles. I really did like the first female host of the show. A lot. Exploziv, now playing on the Serbian channel Prva, is bizarrely described as a “TV show whose topics provoked turbulences in public sphere, as well as provided better and more dignified life for many of our fellow citizens.”
- Gospodska Street – The main pedestrian zone in Banjaluka, built in Austro-Hungarian times, nowadays resembling many European cities’ pedestrian zones with shops such as Mango, Nike, etc. In the collective consciousness of Banjaluka’s citizens it stands as a unit of measurement unit for all the other pedestrian and/or shopping zones—e.g., Kärtner Straße or Mariahilfer Straße in Vienna would be described as “their Gospodska.”
- Zenit – A department store in Banjaluka (I love the trashy photos of the store on its website). It was built in the socialist tradition—very basic brand choice—but in 2001 it relocated and became super trashy. In the About Us section, it says: “Department store ‘Čajavec-Zenit’ Banjaluka is located in the street Vladike Platona 3, in the triangle between the Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, the Municipal Court of Banjaluka and the City Stadium. At the present location and in its present form, ‘Zenit’ has existed since 15 January 2001, but it inherited the tradition and experience of the old ‘Zenit House’ which was built immediately after the Great Earthquake of 1969, and located in the very center of the city, between the city hall and Banski dvori (Ban’s Court), and was subsequently demolished in 2001 because of its poor condition. As such, it became the subject of our special attention, as the favorite place for shopping in Banjaluka (which I find hilarious, because it is under no circumstances the favorite place for shopping in Banjaluka). Like all significant objects with long-standing tradition and renown, TC ‘Čajavec-Zenit’ has the ability to influence its environment and is destined to be always at the center of the event. At the beginning its location was at a dead end, and today, in its immediate vicinity, a completely new city center has been built with a number of important facilities, such as the Republika Srpska Government Building complex, RTV of Republika Srpska, the ‘Alternative Television’ building, and a brand-new business and residential city district.” Such a description says a lot to someone who knows Banjaluka, who knows the pre-war city and the post-war one. Street names, architecture, history, and culture merge to form a kind of nightmarish ethno-centric city with a bad marketing strategy. It is under no circumstances the favorite place for shopping in Banjaluka.
- Boska – Also a socialist shopping center, which today is for sure more posh than Zenit, and involved in several scandals—one being that President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik’s daughter started her own business there, opening a sushi lounge at the most attractive location, Boska’s rooftop. In the About Us section of Boska’s website it says: “Department store Boska was built in 1978 in the center of Banjaluka. Boska was immediately imprinted on the hearts of all of Banjaluka’s citizens and became one of the most famous and most memorable symbols of the city. Boska was one of the largest department stores in the former Yugoslavia. In a short time, it achieved the largest turnover in the former Yugoslavia and thus became known not only in Yugoslavia but throughout the Balkans In 2010, Boska regained its former glory! The reopening was a special event for the citizens of Banjaluka. This department store became once again the center of shopping in Banjaluka and the wider region, because its offerings, on 16,000 square meters, were now enriched with the world’s most famous fashion and sports brands. Here you can spend free time with a loved one, family or friends. Shopping or relaxing and hanging out—it’s up to you to decide. Boska has prepared to fit to all your wishes and requests. After a great shopping experience, you can refresh yourself in one of the cozy cafes and enjoy a variety of specialties and exceptional service. Shopping is the ultimate pleasure, and Boska—the symbol of Banjaluka at its very center—is your favorite place where you can feel all the colors of shopping!” It is also sad to think that under no circumstances should one fall for such marketing—Boska is definitely not the place to find the world’s most famous fashion and sports brands. One is more likely to find poor quality goods, for a decent price.
- You kept asking the women if the sneakers they were selling were fakes or the real thing, you were just fucking around, they looked blankly at you and one told you “What do you mean real thing, the real thing costs a hundred marks.” – I really did this with a friend once when we were very young, and a saleswoman replied exactly the same thing, we laughed about it like crazy back then, and we even laugh about it today. Why is it still so silly to us? I really can’t tell. I guess it is something about long summers in the province and encounters between youth and the uncensored world—atmospheres and events which could never be repeated, not with the same intensity, now that we are grown up.
- Boil some coffee for me, son, just as if it’s for yourself, dear son. Aaand I will come around midnight to sit beside you – Paraphrased from a Bosnian folk song: each instance of the words “my dear,” which denote the male singer’s female object of desire in the original, was exchanged for the words “mother” and “son” respectively.
- Budžak – A suburban neighborhood Banjaluka whose name comes from the Turkish word for “godforsaken corner.” During the Bosnian war, in 1993, it was renamed, together with many other streets and neighborhoods. Its new name, Lazarevo, refers to Knez/Emperor Lazar Hrebeljanovic, known as Lazar of Serbia and an important Serbian historical figure from the times of the Battle of Kosovo. This battle and this historical figure play the main role in constituting the conscious and subconscious identity of the Serbian nation. The battle was lost to the Ottoman Empire, but in the tradition of epic songs, it was celebrated as a victory. The practice of ideological renamings is not unique to Banjaluka, but is part of broader public policies all around the former Yugoslavia. Despite such identitarian politics, the new names of the neighborhoods never became part of the colloquial language of Banjaluka’s residents, and thus Mara uses the old name of the neighborhood, as most locals would.
- If I were alive, tonight I wouldn’t go play Counterstrike in one of those gaming dens – Refers to places that gamers would visit in the late ’90s and early 2000s, largely because not everyone owned a computer at the time. In these huge halls, which formerly served as warehouses or underground passages, young boys (and, rarely, girls) would gather to play violent games (first-person shooters and RPGs) as an escape from a war-torn reality, each fixated on his own computer screen, in his own personal virtual reality, and yet feeling as if he is part of a larger gaming community. Extremely popular, some of these places still exist today around the former Yugoslavia. I used to enjoy the feeling of being surprised by the sudden darkness outside, which I would experience after spending the whole afternoon in such gaming dens, only to discover upon exiting them that in the outside world sunset was long past and the streetlights were on.
- When we were coming home from a Nike shop […] he never dreamt about her. – This monologue is somehow central, thematically and formally, to the whole play. The fabrication of individual, familial, and collective memories of the war and war crimes is here represented both through the monologue’s content and through the way it is linguistically and stylistically constructed. The woman is and could be interpreted as a war crime survivor, but at the same time her status as such is constantly questioned and doubted, even by herself. Media coverage, as well as personal and public opinions on the nature of the war crime in question, remain obscured and the subject of dispute. The boy, the narrator of the monologue, shows willingness to accept and find out the truth – but the whole system of narratives and ideologies is preventing him from accessing this truth. I used to make ceramic tiles there at the factory – this sentence uttered by the mysterious woman refers to Keraterm, a concentration camp, run and controlled by the police and Army of Republic of Srpska. However, this claim could be questioned, too, since the camp had no female inmates. I have the strongest and weirdest feeling that my grandmother once told me about a similar encounter with an unknown lady somewhere near Omarska, where these atrocities took place. But until today I haven’t been able to differentiate between dreams, reality, my own memory, my constructed memory, my family’s memory, and my childhood imagination.
- Kobatovci, Bakinci and Mahovljani – Small lowland villages around Banjaluka. Mahovljani today is where Banjaluka airport is located, and where the war airport for the Army of Republika Srpska was.
- A locomotive used during the National Liberation Struggle for the needs of the National Liberation Movement in Bosanska Krupa, Gornji Podgradci – inscription on the locomotive, an artefact from WWII, placed in front of the Ethnographic Museum in Banjaluka. Like all the streets and neighborhoods, the museum’s name has been subject to several ideology-driven changes throughout its history—the most recent one being renaming it from Museum of Bosanska Krajina to Museum of Republika Srpska. I do have a photo made by an analogous camera from my 13th birthday celebration, where me and my classmates all climbed a huge cannon, also dating from WWII, just for fun.
- Kajmak (pronounced “kaymak”) – A creamy dairy product similar to clotted cream, made from the milk of water buffalos, cows, sheep, or goats in Central Asia, some Balkan countries, Turkic regions, Iran, and Iraq. Nowadays, as I undergo a dairy-free diet, my memories of kajmak are bitter-sweet.
- Ajvar – A spread made out of red bell peppers. Usually also contains garlic, eggplant, and chili peppers. It is used in the Balkans in several national cuisines. Each autumn my parents buy huge sacks of peppers at the market and spend a whole weekend preparing winter supplies of ajvar. Then they transport it to my place, wherever I might live at the time. Sometimes I just eat their home made ajvar directly with a spoon from a jar—like in that wonderful scene in Dane Komljen’s movie Bodily Function. I guess that swallowing ajvar in such a manner is a tangible, oral substitute for home.
- Goran Bregović – frontman of probably the most famous Bosnian and Yugoslav rock band Bijelo Dugme, in the last decades active as a film music composer, most notably for Emir Kusturica’s films. My mum had a stalking episode, as a teenager visiting Sarajevo, when she together with a few girlfriends rang a random doorbell inscribed with the surname Bregović. The line was partly inspired by the event, but also by the confusion and discomfort revolving constantly around many formerly Sarajevo-based artists who do not live there anymore—first and foremost due to the war and siege. The relationship of some Sarajevo-born artist to their hometown is nowadays controversial (most notably Kusturica’s) and difficult for a young girl to understand that someone whose art is so deeply rooted in his hometown might have moved away.
- Last night from the ashes, I stole some fire. I’m still sleeping. – These are the lyrics of one of Ceca’s songs: “Ja još spavam u tvojoj majici.” Ceca is the stage name of Svetlana Ražnatović. She is the most famous Serbian turbo-folk singer popular throughout the Balkans whose career began in the 80s. A widow of a war criminal and a criminal herself, she is nevertheless adored by many and is also known as the “Serbian mother.”
- Partner – A brand of Yugoslav cigarettes, produced in a tobacco factory in Skopje, Macedonia. My father used to smoke those cigarettes before the war, when I was a child.
- Krajina is our destiny – A quote from a nationalist rock(!) song “Krajina je naša zakletva” by the band Medeni mjesec (Honeymoon) about Krajina, a self-proclaimed Serbian parastate (formally, from 1991–95) in Croatia during the Croatian War of Independence.
- Have you ever loved me as I loved you – A song by Montenegrin singer Nenad Knežević Knez, “Da l’ si ikada mene voljela.”
- The band that sings this song is Medeni mjesec and their name means Honeymoon and they disbanded, it’s not known precisely when, some members went abroad, others went to rehab at monasteries, and some are still making music – Comment left by some user under the YouTube video clip of the song Krajina je naša zakletva
- When I go to war I’ll send you one, me in a rumpled uniform – Description of a photo inspired by an actual photo I saw on the Facebook page of the Army of Republic of Srpska in 2013, when I wrote the play. Due to the huge number of the photos currently uploaded on the facebook page of the Army of RS it is impossible to retrieve the actual photo. I remember the photo filled me with a combination of sentimentality and distress, since the young man was so thin and somehow inexperienced that despite the uniform he was wearing his masculinity was, if not deconstructed, then shattered by his facial expression and bodily posture while sitting at that plywood desk and smoking.
- Makarska – Popular but trashy Yugoslav family holiday destination, today belonging to the Croatian coast.
- Today, as I become a Pioneer – Quote from the Yugoslav Pioneer Pledge. Saying this pledge was a significant part of each school generation’s induction into the values proclaimed by SFRY. The last generation of Tito’s pioneers was the one born in 1982, which started schooling in the year 1989/1990.
- Slava – The annual family ceremony and veneration of its patron saint, a social event in which the family gathers together at the house of the patriarch. The Slava also brings friends to the house, regardless of whether they have the same Slava. The family saint is inherited from the patriarch. The tradition is an important ethnic marker of Serb identity. Serbs usually regard the Slava as their most significant and most solemn feast day.
- Just say it, General / And we’ll all fly like bullets. – A popular rhyming graffiti which I saw both in Croatia and in Republika Srpska, referring to two different generals and war criminals in the respective geographic locations—Ante Gotovina and Ratko Mladić. The banality of nationalism is thus nicely presented in that identical “chants” are here used in two different “inimical” localities to reference two different people.
- Fly in the air, kid? Better go to school. – After googling the graffiti once, I found a discussion on it on some online forum—and a male anonymous forum member posted this remark, which I found interesting and suitable for the scene. In the play Milan says that this sentence has been added by someone else on the toilet wall, after he wrote the rhyme of praise for the general, and I find that it matches my idea of inscriptions and writing messages by anonymous people to anonymous people – be it online, or on the toilet tiles.
- Dragana Mirkovic – A folk star, but not the controversial type; she’s more of a countryside girl who became famous for her voice, married a millionaire and ended up with shitloads of money, but (in spite of it all) still acts morally superior in a trashy way. She now runs her own music and entertainment TV channel, DM SAT—Dragana Mirković Satellite Television.
- sacramental curtain of the Eucharist – Some of the formulations like this one have been appropriated from the Serbian Orthodox Church propaganda website. The main ironical point of Mara’s advice to Milan here is that no matter what he does he will be able to receive a communion, unlike her, if she is menstruating.
- One life, one dream, to be rich and young. And I love you and I love you, love me while I’m fighting and burning, while I’m afraid. – Lyrics from Ljubavi moja by Elitni odredi feat. Dado Polumenta. Frontman of this former folk-pop band Relja Popović played a main role in a successful Serbian film Ordinary People, dealing with a massacre resembling the one in Srebrenica, in which he portrayed a young soldier being forced to perform atrocities without previous knowledge of what will take place. Relja is married to Nikolija, controversial singer and daughter of one of the greatest Yugoslav and Serbian folk stars, Vesna Zmijanac.
- I only know I gave the flower of my youth to him – Lyrics from Ceca’s song “Pustite me da ga vidm (Just let me see him),” in which she sings about the failure of a heteronormative love of her youth.
- Paprikovac – Neighborhood in Banjaluka, whose name was not changed during the 90s due to its innocent and ideology-free name deriving from the vegetable: paprika. The big parking lot in front of the biggest public socialist hospital in town is a popular drinking and hookup spot for youth driving cars and pretending to be leading US-American lifestyles.
- Red Star and Partizan – Two major Serbian, Belgrade-based soccer clubs; Borac is a soccer team from Banjaluka.
- Under the blossoming tree, in a white dress […] and dug out and then buried again under the blossoms when I was eight and you were six – Mara’s whole account of Milan’s wedding to follow is a pretty accurate description of Orthodox weddings in villages throughout the Balkans, and in the meantime, of many urban weddings, too. “The wreath” is the metaphor for the fake gold crowns which the priest puts on the couple’s heads while performing the (wedding) ritual, and they should symbolize the innocence and virginity of the couple being wed. Many of the wordings here have as well been appropriated from this source.
- don’t you have more important things to worry about – Literally, “It would be better to think of your health.”
- I sold my soul to the devil when I tasted the old wine, how can such a hot girl be sad, can’t you see what you’re doing to me, you bastard – Lyrics from pop-folk singer’s Ana Nikolić’s song Džukelo, about a failed love between a younger woman and an older man. I used the song, characters, and video for it as a base for some of the scenes and sketches of characters in my latest full-length play Regime of Love.
- A mountain, burst into leaf; upon it, a brother and a sister – This song is a mash-up of folkloric poetry, popular songs, and wedding songs. The largest part has been appropriated from two folkloric poems – “Najveća je žalost za bratom (The biggest grief is for a brother)” and “Brat i sestra i tuđinka (Brother and sister and foreign girl).” The last verses of my song have been appropriated from a turbo folk song, popular at weddings: “Brat i sestra (Borther and sister)” by the duo Beki Bekić and Vera Matović. The topic of the first folkloric song is grief for the deceased males in war or battle. The girl feels sorry about her husband and his brother, but the biggest and the only irreparable grief is the one she feels for her brother, symbolized in her act of taking her own eyes out. The song “Brother and sister and foreign girl” is especially interesting in regard to connections between patriarchy and incest, because in it, the brother blames his newly wedded wife for not visiting his sister more often. Bekić and Matović’s song is about a brother working as a guest worker abroad and his sister waiting for him at their village house back in the homeland. All these songs are exemplary of pathological feelings and expected sacrifices from a woman in the family, especially from a sister in regard to her brother. I mixed several lyrics from all three of them, by connecting them through the same motifs that appear in them—like the sister’s question about the uncertainty of her brother’s return or like the motif of the sister’s eye (taking it out and crying). In translation, especially for the US American context, Maksimović and Tamler decided to quote Beyonce’s lyric They don’t love you like I love you, from her song “Hold Up”. Since the song ends up with Mara stating that she added the last lines because of the song the wedding band just started playing (“Brat i sestra,” Bekić&Matović), we had fun imagining a band playing “Hold Up” at a Orthodox wedding.
- beauty, fashion and music know no limits – A sentence I came across on some Internet forum, left by a anonymous female user. I found it striking; as far as I can recall now it was a comment on the forum topic/section dedicated to the previously mentioned band Medeni mjesec (Honeymoon), their careers and songs. This was also the title of the photo coverage of the first haute couture fashion show, by the designer Aleksandar Joksimović, in socialist Yugoslavia, in 1968.
- Yugoslavia est patria mea – My father would often, with great pleasure, quote this, in his own words, first sentence of his Latin book.
- Happy People (Srećni ljudi) – Yugoslav TV series that aired from 1993 to 1996, following the affairs of the family Golubović. Created by the Radiotelevision Belgrade (RTB), it was the first Serbian TV show ever produced after the breakup of Yugoslavia. I remember that when I broke my left elbow in 1994 and had to stay for a few days in the hospital, filled with soldiers wounded in the war and old people and lacking a proper children’s wing, my greatest regret was the fact that I would not be able to watch that week’s episode of Srećni ljudi.
- Kastel – Small socialist shopping center named after one of the most important buildings in Banjaluka, a historic castle dating from the Roman era. My father, as a student in the 80s, worked on furnishing the space as his side job.
- A row of thin red books, then a row of thin blue books – Popular edition, Reč i Misao (Word and Thought), in paperback format, of classics of world and national literature published by Belgrade-based Yugoslav enterprise Rad. Due to its affordable prices, the collection served, in some families, just for the purpose of filling in space on library shelves. The book series had the most amazing description on each cover: “The edition Reč i Misao brings the best works of the world and national literature—which everyone could use and need. The books are equipped with style, and have affordable prices.” Through it, the emancipatory potential and intentions of Yugoslav cultural politics are easily detectable: first of all it was a construction company that printed this edition—so the culture was intertwined with other spheres of social, economic, and political life, and not seen as a separate, elitist, or untouchable entity. Secondly, the print and prices were designed so that everyone was a potential consumer of this literature, primarily working-class people. Last, but not least, the choice of the writers was truly anti-colonial and progressive, due to Yugoslav non-aligned politics and support for third world countries.
- Relaks – Socialist hairdresser’s chain throughout Banjaluka, ruined in the course of the 90s privatization. The thing most specifically remaining in my memory of Relaks is the numerous hood dryers used for the purposes of the permanent wave hairstyle. My grandmother’s special treat for herself was a monthly visit to Relaks, and her own hairdresser Bilja.
- park where the stone fountain was, where the metal fountain is now – Referring to the reconstruction of the park in central Banjaluka, Petar Kočić, which marked one of the most radical changes in the town’s appearance, apart from the destruction of the Ferhadija mosque during the war. Pictures of old Banjaluka always show pedestrians and young and old people together hanging out in the park, by the old fountain. One of the rare photos from my mother’s childhood shows her smiling near the fountain, looking directly into the camera. I had my first kiss in that park, by the fountain. Today the park has something called the musical pavilion which does not really serve that purpose, marking the transitional minimalist architecture style. There is an urban legend that the old fountain was never destroyed, but that it is simply being stored somewhere, just waiting for enough initiative and political will to cause it to reappear on some other spot in town. Pictures of the old and new park can be found here.
- poster with a couple in the front seat of a convertible – Also a very strong memory from my childhood, when I was staying in the countryside, with some distant relatives, in one of the girl’s bedrooms, where I was actually sleeping the whole time, all the walls were covered in posters of heterosexual couples in cars, on motorbikes, on picnic blankets, in erotic poses, representing a girl’s wish for liberation, or at least this is how I read it now.