THE MYSTERIOUS MILO

I don't know when Milo heard about the hundred German marks. Maybe Verica and I had mentioned this last resort of ours in conversation, or she had accidentally told Cica over a cup of coffee. Those were the days of getting to know one another, of friendly queries about family and background. It is not at all unlikely that she mentioned her aunt in Germany. In fact her aunt had come the year before to visit Belgrade and Bosnia, and little by little had given us a hundred marks, not really because her visit had caused us so much expense. Besides, perhaps Milo knew nothing of the hundred, but of the this aunt he certainly did. He liked to talk about it with me. All wives' aunts are strange people, and as for in-laws, I'm much better off without them.

One Saturday morning, however, he knocked cautiously on our door. This was at the very beginning, back in August.

"Miki, you're not still asleep, are you?"

"No, we're up. Come in".

He popped his head round the door with a smile, which I returned, stepped inside, wriggling his shoulders almost apologetically. There was something he wanted to ask me. He had already seen that I was a serious man, a man of his word who liked security. He was like that too. See, he was taking the family away for the weekend. Oh, he did have enough petrol, half a tank in fact, but, as he said, he liked to be on the safe side. He would like to have a bit of money with him, you never knew, they were going away and he had run out of cash, so would I lend him a hundred dinars, just till tomorrow Evening? In all probability, he wouldn't incur any expenditure and as soon as they came back, he would return it.

Whether he noticed my hesitation or not, I don't know. I nodded and gave it to him.

Again he said: "I do understand, because I like caution too, that's why I asked you. Thanks. Ninety percent, I'll give you back the same note tomorrow," he said, taking the note in both hands and showing it to me.

I smiled and nodded again, thinking to myself: We'll see. In any case, buddy, I won't mention it again, maybe only when it's time to make the additional payment for our common consumption of power and water.

But next evening, I hardly heard the purring of the Volkswagen engine stop when Milo knocked at my door, his face beaming.

"Here you are, Miki, your hundred dinars. You did me a great favour. With them, with you, I just felt safe. As I said, it was just in case. Not much unforeseen happens to me. That's where you and I are the same."

I smiled and took the note, thinking to myself: interesting.

However, things got more interesting a few days later. Verica and I were having supper in the kitchen when Milo said in passing: "Good evening, enjoy your meal," but in an absent fashion, quite worried. A serious man this, not at all impulsive, as if at a loss whether to leave the kitchen and what his next step would be. This was responsibility, this was. Cica somehow happened to be at the door. Well, whom would he address if not his wife?

"Oof, if only I knew who I could borrow a hundred marks from," he said, slapping a first against his palm, he would return it in time and with interest. "You know that deal with Pera, everything depends on it, on a hundred marks!" He was talking to Cica, while looking askance at us, casting several surreptitious glances. I somehow managed to avoid meeting his eye.

"Oof, oof," Milo sighed.

I kept quiet, trying to swallow with some difficulty. Verica, however, leaned towards me and whispered: "Shall we lend him ours?" with compassion in her voice. I don't know if he heard her. I made no reply, just pressed her foot under the table. We bent our heads even lower over our plates. Milo never mentioned those hundred marks again.

But next time he asked me directly when both of us happened to be in the kitchen again: "What do you think, Miki, about bribes?"

(Fragment, translated by Mary PopoviŠ)

Back to Beginning