Meeting Maja

Caverzasi, AP. “Meeting Maja.” Bad Idea Journal Issue 6 2008. p25.

In London, Marko helps me pack my suitcase, as I get ready to visit his parents.

“In Belgrade, you’ll meet Maja,” Marko says as he arranges my belongings like Tetris pieces. Maja helped Marko when he fled to Belgrade at the age of 13, during the break up of Yugoslavia, leaving behind his parents in Zadar city. She enrolled Marko in school and tutored him in math.

”I couldn’t concentrate,” Marko says. “She had this mini skirt, and these green eyes.” Perhaps he also couldn’t concentrate because he had run out of money, and couldn’t contact his parents.

“I had such a bad crush on Maja that I felt nauseous each time she left,” Marko says zipping up my suitcase. No need for me to sit on top of it. He packs as adroitly as a refugee.

Jadranka, Marko’s Croatian mother holds tight to Maja as she introduces her to me. Maja is green eyed alright. They’re light peridot. At 33, she’s married and manages a major Italian store. I can’t help but compare myself to Maja. Perhaps she’s doing the same to me because she says, “Studying at an American university is easy. In America you don’t need to prepare for months to pass the exams. In Belgrade, you must possess total theoretical understanding before you graduate.”

Milan, Marko’s Serbian father, argues that Serbian institutions don’t possess the facilities to do practical applications. They’re grounded in theories because that’s all they’ve got.

Changing the subject at a lull, I ask her, “Can you tell me any stories about Marko?”

“I don’t clearly remember Marko,” she says.

Maybe she doesn’t but I feel she’s trying to snub me.

But then she touches my arm and asks me about Marko and London. I return the interest. She tells me she studied architecture but is managing a foreign store for the money. She’s lived in the same neighborhood her entire life. She hasn’t travelled abroad yet. I start to feel close to her. She’s sharing her life.

Suddenly she says, “For me, I felt happy about 9/11.”

It hurts. I’m blinking at Jadranka. She gently shakes her head.

I try to understand. Earlier that day, on Kneza Milosa Street, I looked at the buildings NATO bombed. It’s so stupid they don’t rebuild them. But most Serbs won’t pardon anybody. Perhaps it’s because they don’t feel the promise of a better future. If they made concessions, they could join the EU someday. But is it so desirable to be an Eastern European in the EU?

Jadranka tells me that for 10 years in Belgrade, she stood in fuel and bread lines, among desperate, and sometimes cruel, people. “The weight of what happened is on the top of me. I can’t change it,” she says. “I can only move a little bit.”

That’s all anyone can expect of anybody in Serbia.