by Fionn Zarubica
When I am bored I like to go for a walk in Belgrade and smile at people.
It is more fun than I imagine it would be to hear the complete works of Henry Miller read out loud by Prince Philip.
The young women I pass are usually checking me out. They know that I am not from around here and are taking inventory of my rig. But when I smile at them they quickly look ahead, staring into wherever with painstaking indifference.
Young men do the “I don’t see you on the street with me, I am entirely alone, na na na na na naaaaa…”
Some young men, meaning not yet middle-aged, have perfected the art of fractionally shifting their gaze from my eyes to my hairline and then holding position, so as to defy me to think they were ever looking anywhere else. But this is a technique employed mostly by gay men. For the straight ones, I just don’t exist, any more than their mothers do when they have feedback for their boys.
My favorites are the babas. They show discipline. They are able to do the doubting, suspicious, life is hard, don’t even think about talking me out of it face twice – the baba double take.
However, there is one group that always smiles back. They are the middle-agers. I think it is because they have lived long enough to know that life is tough and we need every smile we can get; yet they have not lived so long as to have given up on the possibility of approaching joy.
Friday is my birthday, and I am going to celebrate it in the Serbian way. I am going to play hostess to my friends. We don’t do this in America; instead we wait to be hosted, and experience all the associated disappointment if it doesn’t happen just as we envision it should. I like that here we think of our lives in terms of gratitude to others.
On Friday, I am also going to smile mercilessly at people on the street…it is the least I can do.
Image: Henry Miller, 1950