The street was my home. I spent half of my life on the street, and I had no other home for a long time.
There must have been better and more comfortable ones, but that one was mine. Therefore, it was
I was only thirteen when I started roaming the streets and rummaging for food. I had never met my
parents. What had happened to them, I didn’t know, and I didn’t think I would ever find out.
I spent thirteen years in an orphanage, that filthy hole. The orphanage employees were not kind and
friendly, and led by their example, the orphans were also cruel, rude, moody and gruesome. The
orphanage employees were not very creative with naming the orphans. They gave me the name John.
I hated that place. And finally, when I was thirteen, I ran away. I didn’t think anyone there missed me.
They obviously didn’t put much effort in to catch me and bring me back.
First, I starved for days. I didn’t know where to look for food, how to steal. My inexperience cost me an empty stomach. No one would give a job to a 13-year-old orphan, either.
I met an old man, Vilo. He was also roaming the streets. But he did that voluntarily. When his
wife died, he left his house with only his clothes on, and never went back. He told me he had wanted to
die at the beginning. But the power of will to live won. He felt hungry and he searched for food. In the
garbage bins, restaurants garbage containers, wherever he thought he could find some scraps and
leftovers. It was not the life he had to live. He had a good pension and a nice house, but he chose the
I had always thought that something must have cracked in his head. And that crack, that hole, the cavity
which was empty and void needed to be filled. Otherwise, his brain couldn’t function normally. The
death of his wife made that hole, and his old life couldn’t fill it. Therefore, he opted for the street life.
I had never lost anything that I had had in that time, because I had never had anything. I believed
that instead of a brain, my skull was filled with the void. That nothingness couldn’t be easily filled since it
preserved empty for so long. And I didn’t know what could be a good filler, until I met Vilo.
When Vilo was in a good mood, which means his crack was calm, and it didn’t happen often, he told me
about his wife and children. He had two sons who were married and had their own families. All of them
were trying hard to bring Vilo to his senses. They often came to the area where Vilo slept and hung out,
brought him food and clothes and tried to talk to him. Sometimes, he accepted the food, clothes and
kind words and he listened to his sons and grandchildren, but often, he refused everything they offered
him and ran away.
I looked at those clean, good-looking and pleasant people and thought how happy I would be to have
my own family. That would be my brain filler. I wished not only to have the house but home, household,
people that would fill those empty rooms and bring liveliness to otherwise just a building.
One day, the older Vilo’s son, Joyce, came to see his father. Vilo and I were sitting on the cardboard
sheets in front of an abandoned building. When Vilo saw his son, he picked up his scraps and ran away. I
remained to at least try to comfort Joyce, since he seemed sad and disappointed that his own father
didn’t want to see him. Even though he must have already got used to Vilo’s strange behavior, Joyce
always seemed broken-hearted when Vilo refused his gifts and company. I felt sorry for Joyce.
Joyce sat down on one of the cardboard sheets and started telling me how he had a hard day at
work and that he had hoped his father would at least be in a good mood and make him feel better.
Being a carpenter was a nice thing and he loved his job except when the bosses got nasty and started
complaining about everything. I wondered what the carpenter’s day looked like. Seeing my
curiosity, Joyce face lightened. He looked in my eyes and told me that if I really wanted to see how the
carpenter spent his working day, I could join him the next day at work and watch him working.
I was pretty excited about Joyce’s offer. But I looked at my ragged clothes that were also very dirty and
got ashamed. Joyce understood my hesitation to accept his offer and he told me he would give me some
clothes and that I could even take shower in the shower room of his company. I smiled and looked
forward to the next day.
Becoming a carpenter was not easy. But at the same time, it was not that difficult either. And I wanted
to learn the carpentry skill. Joyce was happy. He promised to teach me and train me. In exchange, I would
help him out when necessary, when he alone was not able to finish a job on the scheduled time. Of
course, I would get paid for it.
The excitement of learning made me a great student. My curiosity and motivation impressed Joyce. And
he was a patient teacher. No reprimands came from him. He always made sure to explain me, with a
caring voice, what I did wrong. In a month, I was able to do some tasks he gave me alone.
In the meantime, Vilo continued his roaming the streets aimlessly and carelessly. Once I felt the comfort
of working and earning money, I started struggling to understand why this old man had abandoned all
the benefits of the normal life. I knew that the hole in his brain was different than mine, but I didn’t
know how to persuade him to come back to his old life. He just didn’t want the old life. He wanted
something new, different from the painful memory.
Well, I wanted the same: something new, but better.
After few months of working as the carpenter with Joyce, I earned enough money to rent a small room
and buy some clothes. Joyce was, however, very generous and he gave me a lot of his clothing pieces
that he hadn’t worn anymore. I was eternally grateful for everything he had done for me.
Months went by and I was doing fine working and living the life I loved. It seemed to me that I had been
just born and that I was just getting to know the beauty of living.
Then, I met Maria, a girl who worked as a cashier in the local store and we started dating. Maria was a
short, almond-eyed brunette whose smile bought me the first time I saw her. For the first time in my
life, I felt truly loved and wanted. I realized that there was no bigger award in life than to share
happiness with the people you loved. And I was awarded. I was happy, loved and I loved someone
deeply and honestly.
Maria and I got married after six months of dating. We managed to buy a small apartment on the
outskirts of the town. Those were the best days of my life.
When Maria stayed pregnant, my happiness was lifted to exhilaration. I was so excited that I would
become a father and that there would be another small human being on this planet thanks to Maria and
me that I told everyone the news: friends, Joyce, acquaintances, passersby. They all seemed happy for
me, even those who saw me for the first time.
During the eighth month of pregnancy, as her belly was growing, her anxiety and some strange pain in
the abdomen grew as well. She started feeling unwell very often. Dizziness, weakness, pain, migraines
tortured her and she was hospitalized.
My blood ran cold those days. I feared the worst. And unfortunately, the worst thing one could imagine
happened to me. I lost Maria and our baby. The miscarriage ended up with Maria’s death as well. And
her death opened another huge hole not only in my brain but in my heart also. The pain I felt was
unbearable. And those holes inflicted agony I didn’t know how to fight against. And I didn’t fight. I just
let it be.
The next few weeks, I was a dead man walking. Actually, I didn’t even walk, I didn’t go outside. I stayed
inside the dark apartment with the curtains pulled down day and night. The stale air was suffocating but
I didn’t care. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think or work. It seemed as if my whole world had
fallen apart. And I wondered what I was doing alive here anyway.
Joyce kept calling me and stopping by my place and he tried to help but I didn’t want any help.
One day, not sure if it was morning, afternoon or evening, someone knocked on my door. I knew it
was not Joyce, because he would enter my apartment without my response to his knocking or ringing
the bell. He would bring me the food, try to make some order in my small and messy room and then
leave. But this knocking was different, persistent. It lasted almost fifteen minutes.
I reluctantly stood and dragged myself to the door.
When I opened the door, and unexpected surprise greeted me. Vilo was standing there in his rags.
A strong, familiar odor was spreading around him. It reminded me of the years spent on the
street. After being left alone, emotionally smashed and dispirited, I started thinking about the street life.
Vilo looked at me with his big, blue, watery eyes and said he was sorry for my loss. He seemed in a good
mood. I gestured him to come in. He obeyed, but refused to sit on the sofa or in a chair since
he didn’t want to make them dirty. Instead, he just spread some old newspaper sheets on the floor and
sat there. I felt embarrassed. I was so ashamed that he had done this for me and I felt so uncomfortable
that I sat with him on the floor.
After a couple of minutes in complete silence, he asked me what I intended to do. I looked at him
surprised by the question and asked: “To do with what?”
“To do with your life, son.”
He caught me completely off guard. I didn’t know what to answer. Then he said, “I know you are thinking of leaving all of this: everything that you have achieved and made, everything that you have dreamed of. I know that you just want all that to go to hell and you don’t want to know about it anymore. That life brings the memory of those who were gone. And that wound is so fresh that it seems impossible to heal. I know that you just want to get drunk, wasted, high. You just want to forget, actually, not to think about it. I know that. You want to run away from what hurts you. And that pain seems unbearable. I know that because I’ve been there.
"You even think about going back to the street, about joining me in this endless drifting and roaming
life. I can feel it. I can read your thoughts. Well, I don’t blame you for your thoughts. I understand them,
but I don’t support them. Listen to me, young man. You probably now look at me and think: what is this old fool saying? Is he mad?
"Yes, I am. And that is the reason why I chose this kind of life. You know me well, and you know that I
have that crack in my head. And when that crack gets nervous, I change completely. Some kind of
strange madness possesses me. I cannot control what I am doing and I don’t recognize people, places
and I don’t know what I am capable of making. Maybe I can hurt someone, kill someone, make some
irreparable damage. I don’t know, because in those situations, I don’t have control over my actions. That
is the reason why I left my house, my children and grandchildren. I don’t want to hurt them in those kind
of spaced-out moments. I don’t want to harm them. I would never forgive myself. However, I don’t want
to be locked in some asylum, prison or some other spooky institution either, where they would drug me
and keep me locked and shackled. I prefer this kind of freedom than that kind of prison.
"But you are different. Yes, you have some crack in your brain as well, but that crack, that hole is not like
mine. You are young, strong and you can control your emotions. You can and you should rise above the
misery and pain you have involuntarily embraced. You can pick up strength and continue doing what
you love. There is the whole world out there you need to discover. It is waiting for you. You can’t go
back to something you ran away from.”
Then, he stopped talking. I saw that his eyes became different, not focused and a bit blurred. He started
fidgeting and he became restless. He wanted to do something but he didn’t know what. The crack in his brain took over control. Unexpectedly and all of a sudden.
At once, he just stood up and left.
I remained sitting on the floor for a long time. I was baffled. This Vilo was a man that I had just met. The
old Vilo and I never talked about this kind of matters. The old Vilo was a senile man who didn’t talk
much. But he was good company. The new Vilo left me speechless. But he did provoke some emotions
in me. For the first time, I felt that I had talked to someone who had authority to influence my feelings,
to someone who was the father figure and had that strange power to make me do what he had asked
me to. I was a child again.
When, finally, I woke up from this bewilderment, from a trance that caused my cracked brain work again,
I stood up, looked around the room and realized how messy and dirty it was. I opened the windows, let
the air and sunlight in and started cleaning my home.
Ana Vidosavljevic is from Serbia currently living in Indonesia. She is a teacher, international relations specialist, writer, translator, interpreter, journalist, surfer and mom-to-be. Her collection of short stories Mermaids will be published by Adelaide Books in September 2019, and a memoir Flower Thieves will be published by the same publishing house in April 2020.
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