Walking in Zagreb, we are always surprised when we realize how much it means to us. It is like every neighborhood is distinguished. Entering Zrinjevac from the main train station, we make progress to the main square and become connected with hundreds of those who are awkward, those who are insecure a bit, overwhelmed with work and duties, and those who are curious and want to get a little lost. But, those individuals have one common characteristic – They are in the middle of the universe – Zagreb’s. In every corner of that universe, links exist for every man and woman to follow. They can go to upper part of the city to discover historical sites that are part of Zagreb’s DNA. One path is leading to the square of flowers, with flower shops, newest fashion hits and high society of Zagreb enjoying their chit-chats between sips of coffee and beer.
Individuals have many reasons to stick to their own neighborhood. Especially if they don’t possess the identity of the “downtown people”. Their existence outlined in little grey apartments and hallways. Little shacks that hold their leftover personalities.
Those places full of people that are simply forgotten. You probably know few of them. Those people who are barely surviving in their 30m2 apartments. They are forever waiting for some long lost relative to pay them a visit. They see light of the day only when they are going to the store, to buy some milk and bread. Then, they spend their days petting their puppies and kittens. Some are blessed to have fellow creatures here for them. Sometimes, exiting the building is like discovering new grounds – a world that is offering new hope. But, it is actually securing everlasting pressure for those who are struggling to cope.
At 7 o’clock in the morning, the world starts resolving through its usual patterns. While the workers burn their first calories catching trams, Zdenka from Ozaljska Street starts her walk. She is takes small, calm steps, but her smile is forced and dishonest. Her posture leans towards the grocery store. She knows that she will not lose much time if she makes a glance at shop window for the eye candy of new curtains and dresses. Once she is over, she bangs her walking stick on the ground.
People mind their own business. That selfish act of ignorance and egotism brings extra pressure on those who are wrestling for decent lives. One can say that the street consists of two parts of the same mirror. One part is filled with people who set foot with cheeky, arrogant attitude. And not giving two shits about the feelings of others. The other, much smaller part, with the likes of Zdenka and others. They cross those heavy yards just to get a quarter of bread. And a little milk on the side.
Arriving at the store, they feel fatigued. But, as they come inside, things turn in their favor. With a smile from a kind lady cashier, Zdenka knows that she is unconditionally accepted. All with a usually asked “How are you?” friendly nodding of the head, and a few words about the events of the past few days. As they converse, fridges and ice chambers joyfully buzz around them. And the destructive thoughts that Zdenka had, seem to vanish for a few seconds. It is the melancholic sound called “Buzzing denial”.
Although, buzzing becomes unimportant as she gets set to pay. That horrific moment when she realizes that her heart is deeper than her wallet. Finding no bills, her fingers dig through the wallet for a few misplaced coins to spare a chocolate bar for one of those long lost relatives who might just pop in today. But, she has barely enough money for the necessary, nothing more for luxury.
She exits like a disgraced soldier after a dishonorable release from the army. Leaving behind all those blessings she wanted to possess. Only to recall that all those goodies are reserved for the privileged masses from downtown. With the shaking of her legs, she continues to her little sanctuary. Tilting her head in the direction of the city center, she feels the urge to spit violently. But, her spit sticks, nobody knows where and why. Fluids that should have come up through her mouth, erupt in the form of tears. And that is one and the only time that she attracted attention to herself. A young man, who works in the record store, hurries to help. But, he is immediately reprimanded by his strict boss.
As she fights a battle in her head, the hallway comes to her. Or she comes to the hallway. It is difficult to determine who is alive and who is inanimate in that moment.
Through the thick layers of fluid in her eyes, some whiteness comes to her sight as she registers the mailbox. Although she is positive that it is just her brain playing games with her, she opens a mailbox with great excitement.
Many people in Ban Jelačić square turn to Trešnjevka in that moment. They want to determine the source of the beastly scream. Everyone is shocked, from Ilica to Ozaljska Street. Only Zdenka is lying down peacefully near her mailbox and by the letter.
Sightseeing Zagreb can give you plenty of beautiful memories. But, nobody discovers the hallways of the rejected.
Janko Mikac was born in Zagreb, Croatia in November of 1994 and since then has been living in nearby Zabok. He began writing very short stories based on his personal experiences and people from my class. He is currently gathering material for his first compilation of short stories– Građani života (Citizens of life)—and is looking forward to cooperating with story lovers and publishers to inspire him to write even more.