It is a long wait at the J.F. Kennedy Airport. Walt Whitman is my whole luggage.” Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a
cosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual” one that eats, drinks and breeds…This is a book where I find myself. Fifty two poems of Songs
of Myself exhausted me entirely. Enough reading for today. I am relaxing my eyes upon the women passing by me going in all directions.
A cosmopolitan auction specifically for me. I am bidding with small cash in my pocket. I will brand their skin with the price I paid for them
at the auction. Some of them, as they catch my gaze resting on them, sense there is more to it than mere curiosity or male impudence.
My eyes are betraying me. Nothing special, like in those so called extra sensors, just a power of concentration and imagination. I see all
of those numerous nuances of monotony determined by the human skin. Sometimes I am in the middle of this whirlpool, the rushing time,
of Whitman’s Continuance ”Wide are time and space – wide the Nature’s fields”…If, in fact, there is no resurrection, man is, from the first
letters in the Bible, on the wrong track. Waiting to resurrect himself, the same as he has been in another world, paradise, mostly. And
that, immediately after death. What self-adoration and impatience! Everyone wants to return to the same image! No one ever thinks
about returning through somebody else, in a new mold and another time. In 100, 200 or 3,000 years. In another shape. As an ant, or
water. Or a portrait hanging on the wall. Perhaps even that depends on the “righteous” way. Of life in the higher spheres. Again proving,
again conditions. Who knows whether this whole blackmailing ever ends. Maybe a man with evil in himself would have an easier time if
there were no God. What if He cheats, resurrects through man, and thanks to him cleanses His own evil? Thus atoning the guilt for
creating the Man, but also for allowing the man to “create” Him. His own guilt he puts on the man not allowing him to find out the truth,
throwing him from one error to another, one ignorance to another. And so it repeats for centuries. And how long it will last only God
One should live without any of such headaches, like these various types appearing from escalators, dragging their luggage like
puppies, walking unperturbed in all directions, bored and yawning, or sitting in cafés like the one where I am drinking beer, awed by the
assortment at the “Kennedy”, the airport belonging to the city more a part of cosmos than the earth, of another, non-earthly civilization. I
have chosen a café close to the point from which I am supposed to go through the customs procedure before entering the airplane. As
soon as I have closed the book, hardly even wiggling out of the Whitman’s 52 “Songs of Myself” at the moment when, with a new
collection of the world’s beauties in my eyes, I am getting ready to go through the newspaper, I glimpse my best friend from our students’
days, whom I have not seen in an entire eternity. Passing by the line of boxes above which gaudy advertisements of tourists’ and air
agencies glide by him like a long time ago when he walked the beach, taking in the mental picture of the environment around himself.
I get up abruptly, almost knocking over the chair, and my voice jumps like a rubber ball when I call his name: “Vladislave!” and
immediately, the next second, almost under the echo of the pronounced name, as if the exclamation gets shoved back into my mouth
again, repeat more to myself “Vladislave” – showing to all I have made a mistake. Several of those sitting in the open airport café keep
their gaze upon me. Simultaneously, while these few syllables last, another flash in my consciousness explodes, because the person I
called by the name of my friend is quite young. Perhaps twenty five or a few years older. I am nearing sixty, which would be the same for
him too. Apart from awkwardness, I even feel a touch of nervousness because of the apparition. The impression has been strong and
unexpected, the young stranger unusually resembling the young Vladislav from our college years, so much that the rational sense of time
in a short uncontrolled flash has been completely annulled. The name long time buried with those who do not exist anymore unstoppably
burst out. The days of our schooling at the School of Philology of the University of Belgrade, life in the Student City, the adventures in
cafés and restaurants…all of that is so far behind us, at the end of 1970’s Vladislav and I were inseparable…summers at the seaside in
the student camp, long card games of preference, the job of a ski instructor at the Mountain Durmitor, a waiter in the night coffee house
“Kragujevac” at the open air market place Zeleni Venac. We tried all the existing venues to make some money…some thirty or more
years have passed since. But the head is not idling. Whitman’s Book of origin is the cause.
I intend to wave at the waiter to pay for the drink but I notice the man I have called stops. He stays like that for a moment. As if
deciding whether to answer or pretend he has not heard and go on, hiding, who knows why.
His move astonishes me because it coincides with my call. After a short indecision, shown through his shoulders, he turns slowly
looking in my direction and the people sitting around me at different tables. His gaze lingers over us resting on me for a few seconds.
Perhaps noticing the traces of surprise. Then, blinking as if remembering something, he looks over our heads as if expecting someone,
trying to reach the bottom and entrance of the huge airport hall. Somehow, at the same moment, the people sitting in the buffet first turn
their gaze upon him, following his reaction, then back to me. However, he stays like this an instant before the ping-pong game goes
again to him. He is already moving away toward one of the open stands with the uniformed beauties behind. These few seconds, while
he is turning his back, are god-given for me. I see my old pal in his full glory, the face, a bit amazed but so close to his genuine
expression in which there has always been a trace of irony. I remember well the gesture of his hand touching the right temple, a sign of a
decision being reached, head slanting to the left while assessing the value of his female loot, hands tight like claws when he lurches into
action. I admire nature and its capability to create two men exactly by the same mold. Obviously remembering something, the man had
turned to check, perhaps waiting for someone, but an unusually sharp likeness with my friend caused the surprise.
I focus my eyes upon the newspaper, pretending to read dedicatedly, but I continue thinking about my old friend and his “double” who
with his turn contributed to the already insane feeling rushing through my head. Soon, I free myself from the vision and my attention turns
to an unusual event at the tennis court in Germany, where a crazy man stabbed a female tennis player in the neck, with a knife, during the
break between two games, and close to it a photo of the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho with the article about his visit to New York. New
York too has paid homage to the author of the Alchemist, the city traditionally hard on everything coming outside of the USA. The critic is
not hiding his admiration. I enter the text fully, feeling as usually, the power of concentration that simultaneously expands my energy while
lavishly consuming it.
I am at the end of the article, about to turn the page, as I find myself eye to eye with the stranger whom I have just addressed by my
friend’s name. He is sitting down at my table. “Hello,” he addresses me offhandedly while shortly telling the passing waitress - “Beer”.
I cannot believe my eyes. Across from me, in person, as if resurrected, seated is my friend, greeting me with “hello”, and ordering a beer.
Trembling slightly, earnestly shaken; I recognize the color of his voice in a foreign language. Are we in the midst of one of our old
crusades and adventures, in a role distribution we often applied in the society? “Hello” I respond, trying to calm down, truly interested in
making the contact and having a chat, since he has so kindly greeted me. “Hello” I repeat and inconspicuously lift my glass in greeting,
taking a swallow of beer. He waves at me, too, when the waitress brings his pint of beer. Then, putting the glass down on the table turns
“Excuse me, sir,…”
I raise my eyes from the newspaper, though I do not know what I have been reading in that intermezzo, looking at him straight, while a
light shiver slithers up my spine. I sense something is going to happen that belongs to the occult flashes of life.
“Sir, have you called me?” the stranger asks in perfect English.
The real meaning of the question hardly reaches my consciousness and at first I want to admit the “error”. The fact that he has
registered the name of my friend as my call to him, stops the usual explanation in such cases: that he reminded me of someone.
Absurdly, as it happens at the moments when we are thinking of something else, in my mind I have been paging through Whitman’s
poetry book Leaves of Grass:”Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me…”…”The banality of the association slightly
fades before the fact that the stranger came here by the call directed at someone else, someone who will never again be summoned by
I do not say anything. Confused by the thought in my head, I look at him questioningly.
“I mean”, he says, “have you called me a minute ago by some strange name?”
Strange name?! Wow, this man must have a crazy intuition if he reacts the way he has and asks these questions too. Have I called
him by a strange name? No, I called my friend by his name, since he looks so much like him whose name I do not know but he answers
to my friend’s name…This is weird!
His gaze is still asking the same.
“Coincidence,” I finally offer, “you look like my friend so much that I mixed up the two of you.”
“Ah, so”, he murmurs. “That’s what I thought too. Weren’t you very surprised in that exclamation, which probably attracted me, like the
“It is possible,” I reply. “It usually happens when you meet someone whom you do not expect to see. Right?”
“Yes. Yes” the stranger answers. “What name did you use to call me?”
“And…you…what is your name?”
“David”…he answers quickly, with obvious impatience.“What name did you use?”
”David” I murmur deaf to his question, and retort again: “David, why did you respond to someone else’s name?”Then I add:
“Vladislave, why did you turn if you are David?”
He waves at my play with words, the same as my friend used to glide over my silliness and ideas he disliked, at the time when we
“Vladislave!” The word screeches like it does with foreigners.
“Vladislave”, we repeat together, I ironing his poor pronunciation, slightly behind the same word.
Then falls the question: “And who is Mr. Vladislave?”
And mine: “David, what prompted you to respond to this name?”
“You are the first”, he pleads.
“All right”, I linger and, acknowledging the bizarre situation but eager to “see” the resolution, I tell him something about Vladislav and
our friendship during college years. I also mention his tragic end, but nothing about the last encounters taking place without previous
ease, witty replicas, ironic remarks, confessions, reports of what happened in the meantime. I want to suggest a game of preference, but
change my mind when, on mentioning our card playing “séances” he mumbles “waste of time”. He shakes his head doubtfully when I
mention my decision to leave the country and shortly states that his marketing business is growing. And that is all.
Twenty years have passed since. My friend perished in his forties. Traffic accident. I saw the news in our paper about ten days too
late, for “Politika” took that long to reach New York.
“If I understand correctly”, the stranger asks, “in me you have recognized your friend when he was young?”
"Irrational, but true.”
“And your friend has been dead long?”
“True. I understand the weirdness and morbidity of the association myself. But it seems you have something to add?”
I am genuinely interested in what this strange man has to say, becoming close in some way.
“Okay”, he starts. “Why have I turned to the name of another man although it does not sound even vaguely similar to mine? Why?”
He waits a bit while the waiter is collecting the glasses and then cuts into my impatience with another question: “What do you think?”
When I want to protest, he adds: “I will tell you anyway, just what do you think? One can find an explanation for my reaction…Acoustic
flash, for instance, but it is not the core of it. The point is that I have trembled from my roots when you called me.”
“From your roots?”
“Yes, from the roots of my being.” He says that and notices the words he used. Then adds: “If one can say so.”
Hmm!? I am waiting, quoting my fellow traveler Whitman:”When you read this, I who am visible will be invisible, now you are the
physical one, visible, accepting my poems, searching for me…”
“It is unusual”, young stranger continues ,”that I have recognized myself in the name you used. I mean, when you called your friend. Do
you see the paradox?”
He has “trembled from his roots” and “recognized” an unknown name, in a foreign language, as a call for himself? God knows when
this face has been started but here it is and some genetic code has secretly completed him and brought right in front of me at the
Kennedy airport where I am waiting the flight for Zurich. Who knows how much time is necessary for the scattered genes to collect again
and arrange in the combination for the genetic material for another person that has already existed!
“Watch the great circling, connection of all, how perfect!”
Whitman’s messenger, in person, before me!
It will not surprise me if this man tells me he remembers me. Or, that I remind him of his friend from the former life.
I am looking at the stranger thinking how to cut the flow of insane associations, as the monotonous speaker’s voice announces the
third call for the passengers to Zurich. Engaged in conversation, I have missed the previous two. Fear of being late for my flight starts
working, this usually brings me to the airport considerably early. I get up, apologizing.
“The third call,” I say. “I must go, David.”
“Just a minute, sir,” he hurries, handing me his business card. “Something else about your friend. Something personal, something that
makes him stand out…You understand my curiosity. Aren’t we both equally amazed?”
I wave my hand and show my thumb behind, meaning I must board the plane. I look around to the great noise, fiftyish meters behind
us, at the customs check in.
Nothing comes to my mind. Nothing effective for a goodbye. I shrug and head toward the customs check-in.
What can I say? Which word, scene, event, a story in which a whole man can be contained? In one gesture! Women? Wine? Sports?
Money? Books? The sea? In fact, there had been this youth business, labeled “donation”, fun and economically satisfying sea business
for young men to sell their fertile semen to a nameless underground agency operating at the Adriatic Coast. Just one summer in the
nineteen hundred seventies. I don’t know, but have heard about it, it has soon been trodden upon by the military commands left-right, hit-
the-dirt and attention.
Novels are too tight to compress a whole human life, both banal and visible, not to mention the inner and hidden. I can give to this
stranger the book I am carrying with me throughout the whole trip. Maybe the answer is in Whitman’s Continuance: “Never ever anything
gets lost, or can be lost. Neither birth nor identity or form – nothing in the world, neither life, nor power, or any visible thing. The outer
appearance must not deceive; an odd sphere must not confuse you. Time and space are wide – wide are the fields of Nature…”
I walk not more than ten meters when a thought flashes. Preference, of course! How could I forget?
Preference! He lost himself in it totally as if it were the most sublime game. Claimed that preference was life itself, a circle game in
which great players even after the mort-contre go on with the game. He respected spades, diamonds, and clubs, but when he bid with
hearts, he reached a real trance. He played all the high risks – and that on doubled and tripled level.
In front of my eyes a deck of cards dances.
“Preference, Mister David, preference, “I say turning around, but the stranger is not there anymore.
I turn around: he could not have gone far.
Several seconds I stay with a hand in the air, my thumb pressing index finger, as if preparing to throw the ace on the table.
Translated from Serbian into English 2009: Mira N. Mataric
About the author and listing of other works
Page created 9/21/09
This file is not intended to be viewed directly using a web browser. To create a viewable file, use the Preview in Browser or Publish to Yahoo! Web Hosting commands from within Yahoo! SiteBuilder.