As soon as I introduce myself, I can see the gears behind their eyes spinning, grinding, overheating and jamming to a halt. Perplexed they stare. And like clockwork, that question tumbles from their mouth.
Why did you come to Pančevo?
At this point, it’s become so routine, simply stating my name feels like dropping a coin in a coke machine and waiting for the mechanism to drop the can of soda in the form of that bubbly question.
After all, what in the world would this foreign man be doing in this little known country in an even lesser known town? What odd fate conspired to lead him and his Lady to little auld Pančevo?
To answer that, first we must slightly alter the question.
This is what it should be:
What brings you back to Pančevo?
Yes, what bring me back to Pančevo. Indeed, I’ve been here once before, back in February 2017. And how I ended up here then is a sordid story in itself. I’ll keep it simple, though. Spare you the details, scandalous as they might be, and get to the meat.
I was living Albania before that. That strange land south of the border. A series of strange, strange events had occurred and I desperately needed to leave the place. My health and sanity were, to put it mildly, at stake.
But there was once catch:
Whilst living in Albania, I’d adopted a puppy off the street, the “Lady” I’d mentioned earlier. And every form of transport out of Albania strictly forbade dogs due to the country’s general disgust for humanity’s most holy four-legged creatures. I was doomed, I thought, forever stranded there to mentally and physically unravel. I could not leave without my dog, even if it meant being damned to stay in a place I so desperately needed to escape. If I left her behind, I’d never be able to forgive myself. And if I’d stayed, there wouldn’t have been a self to forgive. I’d mostly likely have died.
This is what they call Catch-22, in its rawest form.
And there is no more sinister form of torture for a man upon this Earth than a Catch-22.
But then some strange Slavic God sent me some strange Slavic saviour in the form of some rough beast — a towering, dishevelled, bombastic, hard-drinking poet named Dejan.
I’d met Dejan nearly a year prior whilst living in Tirana. He was there for a short while on a writer-in-residency programme. We’d met on his first or second day and town, quickly consummating our friendship with a night of rakija swilling, jokes, punk rock, Balkan observations, comparisons of the Irish and the Serbs, laughter and poetry. Thus began a friendship that, for me at least, ran thicker than blood and more intoxicating than the Slivovica itself.
I’d kept in touch with Dejan after his departure from Tirana, mainly via late-night, drunken Facebook chats about music and prose and Yugoslavia and the occasional Viber drunk-dial. And when he learned of my crisis he didn’t hesitate in offering to drive all the way to Tirana in his car, pick me and Lady up and drive us back to safety in Pančevo, from where I could get to wherever I needed to go in the EU.
And true to his word, by God so he did. To this day I’ll never forget the immense relief I felt seeing his stubbled face pounding beers at a cafe on the main thoroughfare in Tirana, accompanied by his faithful, ushanka-topped accomplice Krisian, where they my presence to lead the way to my flat where Lady eagerly anticipated our suddenly possibly escape from Albania.
We had a couple nights of general debauchery before finally boarding starship PA 076 NK and setting sail for safer waters up north, one of which included the Partisan search-and-rescue duo getting locked inside my flat while I was out and Kristian being forced to contemplate the possibility of sprouting wings and flying from the balcony into the dark, despairing streets of Tirana.
But after that long, winding trip through the winding balkan streets back north, including a brief panic at the Montenegrin border with substances that shall not be named hidden inside a souvlaki sandwich, and disembarking in Pančevo, I felt something immediately. I want to say love and soul, but that isn’t quite right. Perhaps kindness and camaraderie? But that’s not quite it either. Maybe it was community and kinship and humanity? Yes, that, but something more. Generosity? Yes, but…
And now that I think it about it, it was none of those things on their own, but rather all of those things put together. A word which the English language does not yet possess.
So I shall invent it:
Yes, I felt Pančevosity.
And though then I could not stay long then, that feeling haunted me in the most pleasant way after I’d left. It would wake me at night, calling me back. The song birds would sing its simple syllables in the morning and in it could be heard the lashes of wind and rattle of tree branches as the sun would set wherever I may be. It called out in Lady’s howls at the midnight moon and it echoed with each drop of my foot.
And so, I eventually submitted to it. I dropped everything, quit my job, surrendered myself to an odd twist of fate and blissfully followed those calls of Pančevosity back to their source.
And so here I am. Back in Pančevo.
And for now, when they ask why did you come? I shall merely respond with:
Tekst preuzet sa bloga Perceiving Pančevo
Kevin Patrick Cullen trenutno živi u Pančevu. Sajt Pančevo Si Ti će objavljivati njegove zapise o našem gradu.