23.
Story

Mirko Palfi
Toronto
JOANNA

 

I was always lured by the sea.
Even from a young age, I loved the smell of sunscreen and other beach lotions.
That was financially affordable to me at the time. I had a desire to fall in love with the sea, but I was too far away from it. The great distance was standing between us, but even more so, the lack of money in our household. When I stop to think about it, the main obstacle separating us was the discord and lack of love in our family home.

The scents are powerful. Did this remain engraved in me from my childhood?
I remember in the summer my peers from the neighbourhood went on vacations to the coast with their families. What I remember the most is their preparation for the travel and their overloaded woven and tote bags, which were an essential part of the vacationing process. They were full of everything, mainly useless things like laundry detergent and dish soap, but I still think that there were mostly filled with salami, bacon, sausages, cheese, onions, peppers, flour, rice, potatoes, pasta, roasted pepper spreads, pickles, cold cuts, pates, jams...
The goal was to cram all that in a small car – a four-member family, suitcases full of clothes and food rations for three-to-four weeks, i.e. for the whole duration of the trip! The car would sink from the weight, the chassis almost touching the asphalt. But, that was the way one would embark on the long road from the Vojvodina (northern part of Serbia) to our southern coast. The most important part was going to the sea, and the way and means of how were secondary!
There were also those that were more ambitious, those that didn’t have their small family car, so they had to drag all those overloaded bags to the train station and then suffer through the 12-hour long rocky ride...
What a torturous haul that was, in either case, with a small car or on a slow, grimy train. Should we even call this a vacation?
Now, when I look back, I conclude that it was better that, in those hot summer days, I didn’t have an opportunity to embark on such summer adventures with my parents and brother.

I found consolation in the centre of our small city, a local sport and summer equipment store “Jugoplastika”. They carried on their shelves and cabinets all manner of summer and sporting goods. I loved looking at all this, touching it, and breathing in that smell...
I will never forget that specific scent when I first step into the store!
At times, it felt as if I was a part of some other world... a wonderful world, and in that moment I no longer needed the sea!

Many years have passed and everyone grew up in their own way and life opportunities have changed.
Working in hard physically demanding jobs through the youth employment office in that elusive summer of 1989, when I was only 17 years old, I was able to save enough money to go on my first (and only) summer vacation with three friends. We spent about ten days on the Montenegrin coast. As it turned out, despite the overwhelming desire, the navy blue color of the Adriatic Sea wasn’t as close to my heart as the turquoise colour of the Caribbean, many years later. What the Adriatic was lacking was not just fine white sand, but also subtle shades of light green and sky-blue colours of the sea that dominate in the Caribbean. I keep going back there year after year, and often times few times a year.

Driven by the circumstances, but mostly by my undying desire to see the sea, I found myself in Mexico in November 2018. Mexicans have one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in their country! The archaeological site, city ruins from the 5th century - Chichen Itza (mouth of the well of the Itza). Once more I realized that many tourists visit world’s attractions for the wrong reasons. They don’t care about the fascinating history of the place. The only thing they seem to care about is yet another opportunity to take a photo of themselves in front of the pyramid “Kukulcan”. They do this about hundred times from a hundred angles. On majority of those photos you can see giant heads of tourists in the foreground, with fake smiles, standing in front of the pyramid, as if they are somehow bigger or more important than the pyramid itself or the events that took place there 15 centuries ago.
What close-mindedness and, above all, arrogance of today’s society!
An enormous amount of likeminded tourists, like a herd, rushes daily to the ruins of this 5th century city, and with each of their visit, they take a small piece of the magic of this place.

However, the most beautiful and the most important moment I’ve experienced in Mexico was near the sea, by the shore...
One Saturday in November, a small Mexican girl, Joanna, about 8 years old, was on the beach of the resort with her mother. Her mother was making homemade Mexican food in their house and bringing it to the beach to sell it. This was their only source of income.
I always look for the beach chair at the most secluded part of the beach with the least number of tourists and the least amount of noise. At that same place, at the end of the beach, Joanna showed up with her mother. They pulled one beach chair under a palm tree. Her mother took several small styrofoam dishes out of a big cloth bag, carefully prepared with individual meals to be sold later.
They were sitting there looking very relaxed while they were watching passing tourists and souvenir merchants. The little girl got hungry and her mother offered her one of the packages. Nearby, under a palm tree, I was reading my book while watching them with the edge of my eye. The smell of the homemade food was coming towards me, and I wished I could join them and enjoy their ritual. The only thing I could pay attention to was the two of them. Their peace and tranquility had a very pleasant effect on me. I was hoping that this blissful feeling and the moment would last as long as possible. When they finished their lunch, little Joanna started to play in the sand near me. She occasionally looked at me shyly with curiosity. She made me smile and feel happiness. I called her over and I gave her a pack of gum that I brought from Canada. With a shy childish smile, that she couldn’t conceal, she thanked me in Spanish.

It was the lunch time and I felt hungry as well. Even though there was abundance of food at the hotel, I’ve decided to buy lunch from Joanna’s mom. There was rice, dark brown ground beans, milled beef meat with spicy Habanero peppers and still warm tortillas, in which you would wrap the rest of the ingredients. I’ve never enjoyed lunch in any other hotels or on any other vacation as much as this one. I think it tasted so good because Joanna’s mom made it with love. For dessert, I had freshly squeezed fruit juice in plastic water bottles that they also sold.
Because I didn’t know enough Spanish, little Joanna and I only exchanged few words but I gave her a bit of attention and a lot of positive energy and sincere love. She felt it and that is why I also sensed her pure love that only child could have... that was the exchange that fascinated me!

The sun began setting on the beach and leaving behind its golden shades. Joanna’s mom sold all fifteen food containers that she brought and it was time for them to head back home. The whole event of their presence on the beach and our short, but warm encounter, felt like it lasted only few seconds but it seemed enough for Joanna to come and say bye to me. I got up from my chair with a desire to see them off as they made small steps in the sand on their way home.
Child intuition (what else?), but it was as if she knew that we will never see each other again.
Little Joanna kept turning back every ten steps and waved at me for as long as she could see me.
I waved back with pleasure to her every wave, and something around my heart felt very warm.
I realized she touched my soul in a way that not many people could in the past. She touched the finest, the most sincere part of my existence.
With ease she touched my soul! I also had a feeling that we will never see each other again!
I remained standing a bit longer on the beach while looking in the same direction they went. I stayed that way until they disappeared from my view. I thought how I would love to see them again tomorrow, as one tear with ease fell down my face. The next few minutes I felt as if I couldn’t move even if I wanted to. I didn’t even bother to stop the remaining tears that were coming down. I completely gave myself to that blissful moment. I was overcome by joy and sorrow at the same time! Joy, because I had a chance to experience this, and sorrow that it all flew by me in a second.

The next day was Sunday. I was at the beach at my usual spot, but they were not there, the mother and little Joana. I tried to inquire about them from lifeguards and souvenir merchants. They told me that Sunday, for most people in Mexico, is the day to rest to spend time with family or go to the church.
I only had a half a day left, Monday until 12:30. That was my departure time from the hotel to catch the shuttle to the airport. I got up early, ate my breakfast, packed my suitcase and went to the beach. I had until about 11:30.
I had this great wish to see and hug little Joanna again. Give her some money for a toy or whatever else she desires, and to thank her for the feeling she awoke in me. The clock was ticking the final hours of our possible encounter.
It was almost noon and they were still not there. I had to leave and take a shower and get ready for my departure. When I finished checking out at the reception, I had about 10 minutes left. I went to the beach again hoping that I’ll see them again. My heart was trembling while I was walking down the beach... I noticed the mother sitting under the palm tree, at our spot. With great excitement I went towards her but soon realized that little Joanna was not with her. Having in mind it was Monday, she was probably in school. I called upon one of the lifeguards that knew English well to play the role of a translator. He explained to the mother, in their native Spanish, that her little Joanna, waving at me with her little hand while leaving the beach, melted part of my heart that was long frozen over.                                I knew that this was something that was priceless, but I still wanted to repay them in some way!
I also mentioned that it would be my great pleasure, if this sum of money, though an unusual gift, could convey to little Joanna even a fraction of happiness she brought to me. The mother looked into my eyes without blinking. She was sighing. Both our eyes began to sparkle.
One tear was looming at the corner of her eye. Without a word, she hugged me really hard. And I hugged her back, even harder! At that moment, no other words were needed.

Happy and with a tear in my eye, I went on my journey home...

 

Translated by Nikol Markovic

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даље

Људи говоре је српски загранични часопис за књижевност и културу који излази у Торонту од 2008.године. Поред књижевности и уметности, бави се свим областима које чине културу српског народа.

У часопису је петнаестак рубрика и свака почиње са по једном репродукцијом слика уметника о коме се пише у том броју. Излази 4 пута годишње на 150 страна, а некада и као двоброј на 300 страна.

Циљ му је да повеже српске писце и читаоце ма где они живели. Његова основна уређивачка начела су: естетско, етичко и духовно јединство.

Уредништво

Мило Ломпар
главни и одговорни уредник
(Београд, Србија)

Владимир Димитријевић
оперативни уредник за матичне земље
(Чачак, Србија)

Радомир Батуран
оперативни уредник за дијаспору
(Торонто, Канада)

Александар Петровић
уредник за културу
(Београд, Србија)

Жељко Продановић
уредник за поезију
(Окланд, Нови Зеланд)

 

Небојша Радић
уредник за језик и писмо
(Кембриџ, Енглеска)

Жељко Родић
уредник за уметност
(Оквил, Канада)

Никол Марковић
уредник енглеске секције и секретар Уредништва
(Торонто, Канада)

Џонатан Лок Харт
уредник енглеске секције
(Торонто, Канада)

Лектори

Душица Ивановић
Торонто

Сања Крстоношић
Торонто

Александра Крстовић
Торонто

Графички дизајн

Антоније Батуран
Лондон

Технички уредник

Радмило Вишњевац
Торонто

Издавач

Часопис "Људи говоре"
The Journal "People Say"

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Toronto ON,
M4C 1X4 Canada

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Торонто

Контакт

Никол Марковић, секретар
т: 416 823 8121


Радомир Батуран, oперативни уредник
т: 416 558 0587


477 Milverton Blvd. Toronto,
On. M4C 1X4, Canada

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ISSN 1925-5667

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