Say You Believe Me
by SUMEJA TULIC
My lonesomeness in Belgrade is every weirdo’s dream.
Most nights I curl in my hotel bed and watch cable television reruns of Sex and the City and Twin Peaks. If I am in a room that ends with the number 3, I get a balcony that overlooks the park and the parliament. Instead of staging an honoring service for Ivo Andric who lived in the same premises during 1933, I take a cup of coffee and, at times, think of Special Agent Dale Cooper or someone else — random, fictional, inaccessible and according to some dogma forbidden or dangers — I would gladly share my room with. In the afternoon, couples, awkward threesomes, loners and who-not will stand in front of the cinema next door. They will pass the Humphrey Bogart life-sized statue on their way in, and I will completely forget them.
As it gets darker outside, the towers and the thin and tall endings of buildings meet up, there, in the rosy and purple mash up of fog and sunset. Beneath them, in unpredictable sequences, the city’s many lights will blaze and shortly disappear.
As in any other telling about loneliness, this one implies heartbreak too. Mine in Belgrade was like my nana’s stroke — it took time to notice its occurrence and took a lifetime to sort out its consequences.
He was the embodiment of the imperfections in reaction to which I metamorphose into one crazy but hopefully lovable deer. I guess he is that chemical agent that summons the combination of sweet and fuck in me. You see, when I’m not sure of things, I dilute the matter additionally by using terminology from domains I know nothing about. This is why chemistry, biology and deer have hijacked this paragraph.
In winter, I wear a boyish coat and pair of sinkers and stroll around. By the way, pretending to be a feminized boy is my No. 1 safety rule in walking alone at night. Obviously, No. 2 is looking like a poor person (not to be confused with hobo chic!). If I were to tell anyone what I see each time I go out at night, it would sound like a bunch of unconnected fixations on shops run by the Orthodox church scattered here and there; girls working in fast food places; shades of oily green lights that cut through trees and parked cars; the touching symmetry of the bridges crossing Sava.
The nervous exchanges of looks and polite smiles with strangers at night are like the sudden skype calls of unknown creeps drawn to your profile picture. There is something utterly wild and stupid that makes me pick their call. I guess it is the same thing that compels characters in horror films to walk alone into the woods. That is why when I am passing by the Terazije tunnel I let go of my hand, waiting for someone to take it in his own.
As the night progresses, the cars go wilder. And then, it all comes crashing into one silent hour, when I can only hear the old elevator taking tipsy guests to their rooms. On the other side of the city, around the times thieves break in houses, the animals at the Belgrade Good Hope Garden zoo become louder.
To portray the surreal nineties in Belgrade I recount the events in the Belgrade Good Hope Garden. The zoo’s first chimpanzee, Sammy, used to escape often and when he did it in 1990, the manager of the zoo made a televised appeal for his recovery and organized a rooftop expedition to lure Sammy back. With trade sanctions imposed, the manager made several appeals for carrots and cabbage and asked the city to provide hot water for a newborn hippo.
Then there was the incident with the elephant called Twiggy that was lent for breeding purposes by a Dutch zoo. Apparently the Dutch, compelled by the genocide in Srebrenica, asked for Twiggy back. As Twiggy failed to breed, the director of the Belgrade zoo resisted her return. I am not sure what happened to Twiggy after this. Also, I am not sure where are Nijas and Azra, the two camels that Muammar el-Qaddafi brought to Belgrade during a conference of nonaligned nations.
Mornings come fast in hotel rooms, even faster when you have to leave for work. There is that part of the morning appreciated only by those who got off from school or work to finish an assigned errand or to attend an out of office meeting. With the expected amount of exaggeration that goes into every metaphor — it feels like a free trip to a place you cannot afford to travel to. The joy I get from it in Belgrade is double the one I have in my hometown.
As I am map-illiterate, I will get lost on my way to point B for sure. Straying away from the usual streets bring unexpected sceneries and often a chance to feel home when you are really miles away from it. Once in Stockholm I took an early walk before breakfast and on my way I stumbled upon really tiny school children walking with their parents to school. The way they waved and shouted sweet hellos to each other from a considerable distance stayed with me to this day.
My favorite Belgrade intermediary connecting points so far are a flock of pigeons that flew, despite the cold rain, over the city’s fortress, and my own reflection in the display of the municipal library covered with Danilo Kis posters. For a moment it seemed we were having a conversation. As I was entertaining this idea, I was already at the Slavija Square, between a bus and a tram, inches away from a speeding car. If your flight ever gets delayed, and you are forced to stay over, the airport minibus will take you to Hotel Slavija. Wake up earlier and immerse your self among sleepy Belgradians crossing the Slavija intersections with a cigarette or a warm pastry in their hand.
The cab drives to the airport are usually composed of 20-minute Yugo-nostalgic rants that cathartically culminate in conspiracy theories that perfectly explain the violent crumbling of the old country. I hate nostalgia, but what I hate more is being an asshole to a middle aged man opening himself to a random person. So I lose myself in these conversations, nod my head and agree loudly with complete nonsense.
Obviously, I’m not that cool someone you bring to meet your bandmates. The essentials of cool imply withstanding silence around new acquaintances and suppressing the urge to impress. I fail at both. I spent a great deal of elementary school being the substitute teacher to my classmates. The power I drained from my classmates’ submissiveness still powers my confidence, so I am OK with not meeting the band. Your band sucks anyways!
Last time I saw him, my deer routine failed me. All that shape shifting is tiring. Pretending to be prey for sake of huntsmen’s affection is deadly.
Photographs by the author.
“Predictable Miracles” – Work Drugs (mp3)
“Lost Weekend” – Work Drugs (mp3)