'Disintegration' by The Cure always throws me in at the deep end. If I just close my eyes, I can hear 'Praying For Rain', and smell the scent of hibiscus tea steaming in my cup. I lie back in my soft modular armchair and pick up a book, in anticipation of entering a different world for a while. I'm going out with my friends later. Whatever time of year it is, I wear black. But I'm not sad. I'm happiest I've ever been. I'd like to believe that black is a fashion statement, I like clean lines and how it contrasts with my platinum hair and red lipstick. But really, I'm grieving for the childhood and love I never had. I'm home. Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1991.
As the adults wage war on each other, settling scores from the past, I remember the Revolution Boulevard on one of those magical afternoons when the rain and the sun conspire to bathe even the grayest of cities in soft lilac light. and the street smells of wet flowers, coffee and baked bread. In my mind's eye I look around my parent's apartment, a modern three bedroom with polished parquet floor and a big loggia in Vračar, the heart of the city. Vrač is a fortune teller, a wizard, or a witch. I love the name of my borough, and how it betrays its history.
I take the elevator and walk through the passage that leads to the side street. The hustle and bustle of the street seems quieter in the stretch of the road that spans the length of my building. Leafy trees on a small plateau, and a kiosk selling hamburgers, offer a place to stop and take a breath. A woman and her dog are standing there, waiting. Across the road is the club at the memory of which all my senses come alive with lust for boys, my first kiss, the music and sweaty bodies of beautiful people. Memories pull me over to my old grammar school, where I sit on a low wall with two Anas, before I walk through that massive ornate door again, run up the broad marble stairs to my blue classroom where, along with 29 other girls, I laugh like I've never laughed before. Or since. It's a co-ed school but the two boys who were originally in the class transferred out long ago. When they can't be in charge they leave, typical. So PE classes never took place, because we didn't want to break a sweat and our head teacher wanted to drink in peace. A win-win situation. So we use the free period to run to the caffe five minutes away and have cheap Turkish coffee in their beer garden. On our way back, we pass Music School, and stop briefly to listen to the sounds of the students practicing. I'd love to hang around for a while but my heart soars back to my old block in New Belgrade. It's a cold winter's night and thick snow is piled up on either side of the road. Beige buildings with a brown geometric trim look grubby when contrasted with all that white. The surfaces are frozen and glistening in the yellow lights of street lamps. As much as I love Belgrade in the afternoon (I'm not a morning person, obviously), my Belgrade is clad in darkness. It's when we all go out and live truly free, unaware of the impending implosion.
I don't want to go to Australia, but I have to. Or do I? My parents said we're leaving, the war has broken out and all this will be destroyed. We have to save ourselves. But nobody asked me. I bet I could just hide around town, stay with friends, and wait it out until they are gone. Maybe they'll leave me the flat. They probably won't, though.
I'm back home. It's my leaving do and everyone's turned up. There's a continuous line of people making a bridge between my apartment and the club across the road. They're telling me how much they'll miss me. I don't even know half of them, but they seem to know me. Apparently somehow, in the last few months, I've become popular. Maybe because I have the coolest apartment, or because Alexander is in love with me, or maybe because I'm leaving. I'm someone who can carry the truth of what we were like and what really happened, long after what we have now is gone.
I'm lying on the stairs with a boy between my legs. We are making out furiously but I feel nothing, and then I feel everything, and then nothing again. Feelings wax and wane like a wave. Finally happy. Finally free from my violent parents. I have a great thing going for me here - the coolest city in the world loves me. I have brilliant friends. I'm going to be a film director. Or a writer. But I'm leaving in two weeks. I am curbing my emotions, knowing what's to come. After me and the guy are done, Alexander's friend confronts me with the question "So, what happened to your lipstick?" and tells me that I'm breaking his best friend's heart.
It's here that I want to stay forever, so I close my eyes and stare at the pictures deeply etched in my mind, in this night without stars, in the city that never sleeps, listening to The Cure and reading my book, Kafka's 'Castle' or a millionth re-read of 'Crime and Punishment'. Who would've thought goth music and Eastern European existentialism could be so uplifting to a teenager? Sadness is my baseline, so the theme doesn't bother me. Instead, I hear melody in the words of my Slavic language, the beauty of thought and sentence seducing me. I'll have a bath later, with this album on repeat. I haven't eaten much today besides tea, I'm thriving on energy alone. I'll dance with Alexander to 'Lovesong' tonight. Only a string of tragic and sad events will follow, for while. I never want to go down that road again. Dressed in my faded Levis, pale green top and matching suede Oxfords, I dance and cartwheel on the tram tracks of the leafy boulevard, to the rhytm in my head, and along the way I kung-fu fight anyone who tries to stop me. Click.
Just a little non-fiction, keeping me sane as I struggle with a turning point in my as yet untitled vampire novel, now 73000 words long.
I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real
I've been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures
Are all I can feel...
That I almost believe that the pictures
Are all I can feel...