58: Bread

In Belgrade bread shops line the streets like Starbucks' do in New York City. Every corner, every block, the fragrant smell of baking drifts to the street, inviting you to grab a loaf, or a pretzel, or a pastry. 

It's become my morning routine to make the block and a half pilgrimage to my favorite bakery, adjacent to the farmers market and always crowded by locals, for fresh bread to eat with eggs for breakfast. 

A thick band of people stands just outside the open storefront, picking at chocolate croissants and pretzels and flaky confections I can't name, chatting, enjoying the morning's spoils. 

I push my way inside and wait patiently, joining the disorganized mob that gathers for their daily bread. I'm shoved and pushed. I'm often cut in line, but unable to protest in my foreign tongue. Despite the delay, the crowd is shifted through quickly, the two women behind the counter quickly procuring orders, making swift change for bills tendered.

I make it to the front, and she waits expectantly for my order. "May I have one of those loaves please," I say, extending my finger and pointing as accurately as I can to a certain piece. I know my English is superfluous; while many young people in the tourist-riddled parts of Belgrade understand perfectly, this older Serbian woman doesn't catch a word. I know she won't- we do this dance every morning- but learned manners stop me from ordering silently, and I press on with muttered instructions and simple phrases I hope may help in her search for the loaf I've selected. 

Eventually she begins pointing at every bread variety, until she gets to the one I want and I vigorously shake my head 'yes.' 

She should be annoyed by me. She has an ever-thickening crowd to serve, and my fumbling inability to speak in Serbian has cost her too much time. Instead of gruffness, she offers me the warmest smile, the tiny lines by her eyes creasing into beautiful folds, proud of our ability to tackle the barrier created by our mother tongues once again. 

She carefully searches for the best loaf, a kindness she extends to me every morning. When she has picked the softest, the crustiest piece, usually still warm from the oven, she carefully packs it into a paper bag and hands it over. Finally she just gives me a look, a smile, and another nod. 

It's her turn to be lost for words now. She might utter the cost of the bread, but knows the Serbian numbers will fall on deaf ears. Instead of frantically issuing meaningless words like I've spent the last few minutes doing, she simply waits, cocking her head, allowing the global convention of trading money for bread to speak for her. I hand her a bill, and she makes me change. I smile as big as I can, and gift her the only Serbian word I know-- "Hvala!" 

The loaf has cost me 45 Serbian Dinar, or exactly 40 US cents. I'll eat a couple of slices now and the rest, sadly, will go to waste. At such insignificant prices, eating day-old bread seems criminal. Tomorrow morning I will be back for a fresh loaf. 

I take my bread and make my way back through the stacked bodies waiting their turn, as she moves to help the person behind me. I break free of the crowd and back onto the street, where a gust of fruit scented wind breezes over from the market, erasing the smell of bread, leaving my nose bereft for another whiff. 

As I make my way home I rip the end piece off my prize and take a bite. I emit an audible 'mmmmm' as the sweetness and saltiness mingle in a dance with the perfectly soft middle and crunchy hard crust, immediately wishing the baker could have watched me take my first mouthful. After all, appreciation for delicious food is a universal language. 

34: Spinning

"Push on my hand and spin away from me. You have to trust that I'll pull you back."

Thank you, Czech man, for teaching me how to Salsa. If you knew me better- if you knew me at all- you would realize that when you've gifted me with momentum and freedom, and I've twirled away to the point where our arms are outstretched and our interlocked palms are the only things left connecting us in our dance, it isn't me who should be afraid. 

If my track record holds true, I'll probably just... 

Let go. 

Short Story Interlude

The clouds did nothing to obscure the sharp stone peaks that reached up to pierce them as the twin clocks of the cathedral’s towers ticked slowly past yet another excruciating minute. The sky rumbled and creased, suddenly breaking open to let thick drops land all around me, turning the sidewalk dark, the landscape metamorphosing as a hundred umbrellas popped to attention to shield their masters. The greyness in the square deepened as time marched on, as people marched by, as my resolve marched slowly away from me. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick.


I glanced at my phone again, willing time to both speed up and stop, the lingering doubt surfacing.


“He deserves it, Jackie.” My own voice echoes in my head.


I send my hand deep into the pocket of my trenchcoat once more, palming the handle of my gun, testing my willingness to pull it out, to take aim, to fire.


I glance again past the cathedral, to the corner of Korunni where I know he’ll soon appear. He’ll be in a rush to catch the 22 tram as it stops at Namesti Miru, his brown hair mussed by speed and wind, his suit jacket sacrificed to the rain in deference to necessary swiftness and the unneeded encumbrance of an umbrella.


For all his shortcomings, he never fails to get home to her on time. She’ll be eagerly waiting for him in their townhouse just outside of Praha 7 as she prepares his evening meal. He’ll walk in, kiss her on the cheek, tell her the food smells amazing. I know. I’ve watched.


I’ve watched him every day for the last seventy three days. I know his gait. I know the way he holds his coffee with his right hand but holds pens with his left. I know which train he takes, I know which sixteen stops he passes as he moves endlessly from home to work to home to work to home to work. I know the slight limp in his right leg from when one of his victims fought back. I know he has a scar on his collarbone from the same night. I know he prefers to start his morning newspaper with the sports section, and then move to finance. I know his wife likes him in blue, but he prefers green.


I know the look he gets, nearly once a week, where his eyes turn hard as they shine with unwavering anger. I know the streets where he preys on them. I know what kind of food he offers them as he plays philanthropist. I know the gratitude in their eyes as they’re given a meal, food to warm them from the inside as they sleep on the streets, their homelessness promising to be just a little less painful tonight. I know that even after he lands his first blow to their skull, they rarely make a noise. I think that’s why he picks them as his victims. I think he believes he’s putting them out of their misery. I don’t think he knows he’s a serial killer.


In my perpetual observation it has become increasingly clear that he thinks the rage that wells up inside him is well enough contained through the occasional murder of a vagrant or two. He doesn’t think he has a problem. I’m not even convinced he has a problem. But this is my job, and if I fuck this one up I won’t be given another chance.


I tuck a strand of my wet hair back behind my ear just as the cathedral bells start to ring. With their otherworldly signal I round the corner of Belgicka and walk slowly towards Americka, moving by compulsion more than will. I pass Americka, and I’m one block away. I pick up my pace; he’ll be here any second. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.


He’s wearing green today. Bang.

T-16: You Mean I Can't Just Wing It?

I've never been the kind of person who stresses about things. Overall I'm pleased with it as a trait; I've never lost sleep over anything, and I have an unrivaled ability to compartmentalize. I've always taken the attitude that the more you worry about things, the more likely they are to go wrong. In my devil-may-care existence things tend to work themselves out. TBH, I'm probably just really lucky. 

That all being said, I've found that when applied to my trip preparations 'it will all work itself out' has not been a particularly fruitful attitude. For instance, despite not worrying about it, my body has not magically immunized itself against yellow fever, my phone has not switched itself over to an international plan, and a six month supply of my medication has not appeared in my suitcase. 

I can admit that my life to this point has been fairly easy, and I'm sure my life beyond this point will be similarly simplistic. Unfortunately at this exact juncture, this two weeks leading up to my departure, things are not easy. They're logistically complex, and require some careful planning. As a non-worrier, I'm also a natural non-planner. Even figuring out something as simple as the best solution for cellular service-- a two hour task that required all of three phone calls, four google searches, and a post on facebook-- felt overwhelmingly, annoyingly difficult. 

I like to wing it. Winging it makes me comfortable. Having things on a notepad or in a calendar makes me uncomfortable. Structure really freaks me out. But the thing is; I chose this trip so I wouldn't have to be structured. I selected it so someone else would deal with logistics, and I could spend the next twelve months winging it around the world. So all in all, two weeks of uncomfortable preparation is a small price to pay for a year of freedom. Time to hunker down and git 'er done. 

I'm looking at this as a growth experience. I'm now being forced to deal with a lot of tough problems in a really short timeframe, and it's entirely my fault. I'm hoping I'll come out the other side with a better attitude towards getting my shit together. Wish me luck (and sorry if you don't hear from me for a year because I never figure out this phone thing)!