„How are you sure God exists? Or any type of reincarnation? Or after life?“ asked Milena, when we lived together in Belgrade. „Because I simply cannot imagine just ceasing to exist. My spirit, soul, everything I’ve gained in this world, with this mind and this heart can’t just disappear like that.“ said I, thinking how life cannot just shut down without, at least, finding another form, recycling itself. „I get your point“, continued Milena, „but, what if it can? Look, I see it this way, remember all those stories your mom told you happened to her, you are aware of them right? You know the way they happened and all the details? But you were not around to experience them yourself, you didn’t exist then. You weren’t here then, same as you are not going to be here in 100 years…“
I relived the conversation Milena and I had few years ago, while approaching the fence i recognized from the photo, at the little square on the edge of Vltava, looking at the long, dark brown bridge over and tall Cathedral rising from the Castle at the hill-top behind it. Even the weather, cloudy and gray, is matching the one from the photo, taken at the same place, exactly 25 years earlier, with my mom leaning on this same fence in her light gray fur coat smiling at my dad behind the camera. She was visiting him, as she usually did whenever she missed him or Prague, this time around not for long given that it was a sowing season and she was the only one helping her father-in-law, my grandpa, working in the field.
When she first came to the village my dad grew up in, she thought it was only temporary, only to meet her husband’s father and cousins after which they would leave for Belgrade, or any other place my dad would be working at. Because, she married him, not his family, she’d always repeat this advising me to choose a husband that would take my side and take me with him wherever he is. It’s been seven years now, and she was still living in the village with her little boy, her firstborn, my brother Goran. My dad was working for the construction company near Prague and was usually away from home every few months, leaving her in the village, that for her, a city girl, seemed as if she traveled through time or to the parallel universe. There was no bathroom, she had to share the house with her husband’s cousins, knew little to no Serbian, worked in the field, cleaned the stable and fed the animals and washed dirty diapers and clothes at the cold water stream near the house. Again, she thought, this is temporary. My dad was earning enough money for them to buy a new house somewhere, and she planned, as soon as she gives birth to her second one, she will start studying again and find a job right after.
Goran celebrated his seventh birthday that April 1992, while my lungs just started fully developing in my mom’s womb. I was kicking her belly big time when she and Goran were catching a train from Belgrade to Prague to see my dad right before I was born. Yugoslavia, then, was a country of opportunities with most valuable passport in the world with Belgrade, its capital, as a free, progressive, trendsetting city of Europe. This is why she left Soviet Russia on the first place, and crossed the iron curtain to create a new chance for herself and her children.
It was a rather cold April day in Prague, but she didn’t care, she was happy she gets to walk through the heart of Europe with her boys, occasionally caressing her stomach, hoping she’ll get a girl in her team. Air was frisky and streets were, unlike they are today, empty enough for Goran to try his new bike my dad has bought for him. They crossed the bridge stopping at the National Theater building with its golden roof and carriages on its corners ready to fly into the grey sky, where they turned left towards the core of the city with the old stone bridge at its edge. She was reading the names of the stores and streets, one after the other – Narodni, Betlemska, Karlovy lazne, practicing her pronunciation, before reaching the monument of Smetana, sitting at the middle of the little, semi circled square placed over murky Vltava. She walked around the monument, straight to the fence, not looking away from the statues placed along the length of the bridge in front of her. „Turn around“, my dad said capturing my 25-year-old mom and 8 months old me with his camera, smiling and care free, in front of the Charles bridge.
Here I am, 25 years old, standing at the same place, counting the same little statues over the same blurred river, sound of my thoughts prevailing sound of its strong stream.
25 years ago, shortly after mom returned home and I was born, war started, displacing people and territories, leaving everything and everyone devastated, my grandfather tragically died and my dad decided to return to his village and never leave again, watching the rest of their money melt into alcohol, while drowning slowly in his sorrow. Mom stood by her family and shortly after added a single mother to her housewife status. Milking cows, harvesting, watching her and her children’s identities shifting with political streams and society getting poorer and more corrupted, she’d be reminiscing Prague wondering what would it happen if they just stayed there.
Here am I, 25 years later, standing at the same place, thinking how strange it is that I was here, before I was here. „God must be existing then.“ I murmured watching the ducks fighting the stream, „After life must be existing…“
If it really does, It surely owes you bigger luck and better circumstances my dearest mom.