by SUMEJA TULIC
I hate geographical distances and maybe that is why I am fond of photographs of celebrities catching flights on several different airports in one week. There is something in defying distance, something almost blasphemous or at least exciting in changing the scenery of her destiny every now and then.
At home we didn’t own a globe or a map of any kind. In my dad’s office there was one showing the former Yugoslavia’s topography. I never found it to be sufficient. My fingers would wonder outside of its borders sometimes to Italy, sometimes south, across the Mediterranean Sea, back to the place I was.
I often remember these finger travels when I’m at airports or at bus stations; also I still do these travels. I close my eyes and randomly place my finger somewhere. Before I do so, I make sure I’m far from the center, where Europe is, and that I’m not pointing very low or very high, so I’m at a safe distance from both poles. Now, very often, selfishly, I miss my self around some people who are far away, and then, I look up a stash of photographs in messy and unnamed folders.
One of those people is Raphael. We met at the opening of an exhibition of broken relationships. Among everyday items and quirky and sophisticated commemorative objects of past love stories, stood the only black man in the room. Over the curse of one very hectic week in August, I got to know this tall, Dutch student of English and literature. My initial drive was to tell him all the “interesting” things I learned from my high school librarian who occasionally taught postmodern literature. I’m pretty sure I followed my initial drive, because it is the only explanation for me defining love to him as "the creative energy of Eros." Of course, I was the one who asked that question in first place.
I didn’t stop speaking or being endlessly happy to have met him. At points it looked like an infatuation, and maybe it was. We didn’t explore that option, because among other things, he had infectious mononucleosis, commonly known as the kissing disease. Unlike the sleeping beauty, Raphael could not have been woken. On the contrary, he could have passed his sickness with one. If I was to be infected with fatigue and fever, I wish it would have been because of someone like Raphael.
I try not to think about it when he drives me on his bike in Amsterdam, when I’m leaning on his back, trying to be cool about it, and about the bare windows of homes of Amsterdammers implying unrestrained comfort; the river, the screaming tourists, the fact that it is so beautiful all together.
I don’t wish I had met Raphael when he was a teen for a simple reason, between playing basketball and playing a text based supernerdy multiplayer online game, he and his crowd were into coining nicknames. I bet I would have been nicknamed something similar to what they called the Christian girl: "Vaginus Innocentius." Also, Raphael was in love and could barely eat because of Tanya, a girl he remembers like “stunning natural beauty who I never dared to hit on.” With Tanya and later Charlotte on his mind, we could have never talked about anything or more enjoyably sat together in silence like we sometimes do.
If we forget Deny the dog, Selma is the only child. By all definitions and expectations, she should be a loner, self-centered and selfish. Yes, she is a loner, and she may seem at times self-centered, but she is never selfish. When I got to know Selma, I realized these trades are also chosen ways in which she deals with intrusions of the world, how she ignores the screaming brutalities of our war-torn country.
Selma and I were two cocky idiots who shared the same concerns. Our concerns were so frivolous, but we were two seventeen year olds who thought their observations are beyond their primer object of interest. We would often silently stand next to each other on the bus, observing people. Selma would notice the leftovers of hair gel on schoolboys’ ears; I would nod with a smile.
I will forever remember when I knew she was someone with whom I could share my secrets. We were at a school trip in a beach resort in Turkey. The loud pop music, the enormous sun and the sweet taste of food and drinks were making me dizzy most of the time. When I was with Selma, sharing our dizziness while walking hand in hand, the dizziness would slowly fade away. I guess, if each of us got an equally dizzy or sick companion, we would no longer feel any of it. Our platonic lesbian parade distracted the hormone-raging men of the beach resort. I’m not sure if we knew the full meaning of patriarchy then, but we surely felt like we were beating it in the stomach.
Selma lived outside of Sarajevo, in the suburbs of a smaller town. She would drive her bike around her idyllic neighborhood covered with apple and oak trees. She loved Alanis Morisette, Radiohead and Björk. Recently I have disclosed to Selma that I actually can’t stand Björk. Her squishy and at the same time screaming voice puts me at unease. “Unlike you, the eternal tranquilizing human pill,” I told her. Selma smiled back from a Skype window chat. She is in Japan now. Just recently she learned how to ignore the sounds of Tokyo and to appreciate when she senses that there are thousands of humans less out there.
The first thing that Selma and Helena have in common is their appreciation of Miranda July. Both of them lent or gave me something of her work. Selma lent me the DVD of Me and You and Everyone We Know, Helena lent me No One Belongs Here More Than You. She spotted the yellow cover of the books on a gas pump in middle of nowhere in Germany. It would have been exceptionally great if Helena found another book by July there, among love novels, porn and gossip publications.
Unlike most of us teenagers of the Scully and Mulder era, Helena never thought of dinosaurs or NLO. Like now, when alone, she read in her bed and wrote “really embarrassing poems” and made “faux-sad drawings.” Helena was born to be loved and listen to. I love her eyes and her expressions when she tells me a story or retells what happened to her since last we met. Helena’s charm is in the comfortable way she bridges the maturity of her soul and the unexpected desires of her young self. She never stops to be wise, understanding or compassionate. Not even when she breaks hearts.
I could easily picture her 16-year-old self deciding to become “more of a girl." She would put lots of make up, borrow sexy dresses, and drink purple and green drinks. I bet, even then, she would single out from all the smoke, glitter, sounds of the clubs she is been to a beautiful lyrical scene to share with the diary or her friends.
Last time I saw Helena, she cooked a dinner for my sister and me in her home in Amsterdam. We sat around the table, a bunch of soon to be adults, concerned about everything, caring actually for nothing. I wish I was there when Helena’s first childrens' play premiered. After the show a mesmerized eight-year old asked Helena if the story was somewhere in a book so he could read it again.
I met Luka on Valentine's Day in a cinema, at an Ingmar Bergman screening. Most people would in defining Luka use the sentence “unlike anyone I have met” for reasons most limited to his calm and yogi like posture, and the fact that he wears things previously worn by his late dad or other male figures from his life. Luka is like nobody I have met because he is never angry, anxious or upset because of the weather or out of boredom. His discontents are short and mostly results of quarrels with his lovely Nona over groceries bought in the supermarket instead of farmer's market, and over “the extensive” usage of chemicals in cleaning.
I love walking with Luka. Few months ago, on one of our strolls, we stopped by the Memorial for children killed during the siege of Sarajevo. Luka casually flipped the rolls engraved with the names of the killed children only to stop it suddenly and say, “So here you have been.” Apparently, he has reconnected with most of his kindergarten and elementary school friends on Facebook, with few exceptions, among which is the girl whose name he just found. She and few other classmates’ faces were untagged on random class photos that every now and then someone would post.
I stood next to him, watching his calmness transform into something even more beautiful - a silent non-imposing grief. That is Luka; my warm friend who loves the mornings and is never ashamed to recommend a film by saying “I cried while watching it.” Luka spends the little free time he has during the week traveling through Google street view. Although we live in the same city, his profound sense of life and joy makes him, sometimes, unreachable and far away. I come with my daily worries and discontents and Luka hugs me and I feel war never happened, everybody is fine and we are still young enough not to be responsible for anything.
Now at home we have dad’s University Atlas from 1977. Geopolitically, the world has changed since the year of publication. Russia is no longer in a great Soviet Union, there is only one Germany, and Djibouti is an independent country. Last time I opened the University Atlas, my finger pointed somewhere in Pakistan. Wonderful.
Sumeja Tulic is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Sarajevo. You can find her website here. She last wrote in these pages about somebody else.
"That Was Only Wasting Time" - Kissed Her Little Sister (mp3
"I Ain't Got a Friend" - Kissed Her Little Sister (mp3)