As I walk under the hot sun in the walled city once called Ragusa, I leave my passengers behind, get on the small side streets and find Tina waiting for me by the restaurant’s door.
The blonde slim waiter to whom I once casually said “I will be back” has become my weekly business contact point. After making the booking for the evening I sit outside in one of the alley tables. Today I want to experience something new, so I order frog legs. The food order comes with company.
My server sits across the table and before I realise she is telling me all about hippies, musicians, girls wearing flowers in their hair, sitting at the beach and smoking funny things. She talks about this city, a happy place where she spent her youth. She is talking about a time when several nations were as one and how with the fall of the night all these teenagers that were friends became adversaries in a war they didn’t start.
I wish to interrupt her, to freeze that moment right there, it’s at the grasp of my hand, I could take a picture of Tina sitting opposite me, with the thin walled alley full of empty tables. She stops for a moment and smiles as if she read my mind, but through her eyes I can see it was only a moment to breathe. She is smiling at me as if in the background there were people walking living their life in 1990. She is looking at me as if behind me the first bomb had just fallen and her neighbours are not going to be her friends anymore.
This middle-aged woman, now a humble server at a restaurant, as there are so many, is yet again giving me more than I had bargained for. She is making the history I talk about every week real. It’s not something I read in book, it’s not a bullet hole I once saw on a church wall, it’s something behind her eyes. Something that teaches me about things you can’t find on internet, things you can’t find in the mostly useful pages of guidebooks.
As she carries on telling more about the before and the after, about that unusual day that followed a night like so many others, I devour the newly experienced mythical chicken tasting frog legs. For a few moments I get lost in time travel without having to undertake years of experience to build an impossibly smart device.
When I finish the food Tina walks away with my plate, pulls out a cigarette and gets back to her daily chores. I get up and as I walk back through those Dalmatian streets I feel it’s the first time my feet actually touch that ground.
I walk away with the most precious of souvenirs; the picture I never took.