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Marko Dinic: Die guten Tage.

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The Good Days.
Vienna: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 2019.
ISBN 978-3-552-05911-5.

Marco Dinic




We had been on the road for an hour. We crossed the border from Austria to Hungary without any trouble. Although Vienna was less than an hour’s drive behind us, the further east we traveled, the more I was overcome by a dark sense of foreboding, an all-too-familiar uneasiness that was not so simple to shake off.

When I first looked out the window, a thin cloudy veil was lifting in the sky and a few idle wind turbines in the distance were just beginning to stretch their steel limbs in the afternoon breeze. The bus rumbled down the highway like a bad habit. The Hungarian plainclothes customs officers’ passenger check, soon after the border, had been a mere formality. Tensions had been high ever since the incidents on the EU border a month earlier, and we could sense it from their ludicrously fluffed-up chests. But the suspicion in the officials’ eyes could not hide how bored they were to be patrolling this stretch of border.

The bus from Salzburg to Nis, also known as the "migrant worker express," may not have been the most comfortable travel option to Serbia, but it was still the cheapest, even if the prices had risen considerably since I’d last taken this route. That was partly due to the addition of three more buses and consequently more drivers, as the woman on the other end of the line had informed me when I booked my ticket to Belgrade a few days earlier.

I was now seated on one of those new buses listening to the babble of the person next to me, a middle-aged, heavyset man whose bubbly disposition was ill-suited to the halting pace of the journey. Whenever he extended his hands, I could see his tattered, bright-red sweater sticking out beneath his scuffed parka. He was sweating profusely and reeked of cigarettes and cheap aftershave. His sparse hair was parted into a meager comb-over that barely covered his sweat-beaded scalp. His somewhat neglected appearance was accentuated by his dark swampy eyes and by his gray teeth, which he tried to hide with spasmodic curls of his lips. For all that, he seemed friendly, his deep, smoky voice almost familiar. Although he made great efforts to tell me some story about an acquaintance’s visa application last year, he was mostly talking to himself, which didn’t seem to bother him.

My mind had been wandering elsewhere entirely as the monstrous Euroliner gradually accelerated to the Hungarian speed I knew well, a steady clip down a nearly unwavering highway, which I always used to think had no beginning or end, like a kind of white noise.

The buses ran daily, making stops in Wels, Linz, Vienna, Budapest, Subotica, Novi Sad, Belgrade, and Kragujevac. I’d gotten on in Vienna. The passenger’s grim faces lit up when they saw me climb aboard. They greeted me affectionately as if they recognized me from past trips, which was impossible—my last time riding a "migrant worker express" had been ten years back, but in the opposite direction.

In any case, their bulky red noses and bloated bellies fit in with the rest of the crowd, which mostly consisted of fifty-somethings showing telltale signs of the diaspora—manual labor and alcoholism—a mixture that was only possible abroad because although Serbia had plenty of booze to go around, jobs were in short supply. These men now prepared to transform the bus, for the length of our nearly fifteen-hour ride, into a habitat for curiosities and antics that made perfect sense in this context. They sucked perpetually on liquor bottles they had brought along, or drank beers that someone was passing around for a euro thirty apiece. Hours of maddening, blaring turbo-folk served as a soundtrack for the professional boozing in the front rows. Occasionally, when even one of the passengers tired of it, they would play a few songs by Bijelo Dugme. Then their seething tempers would grow suspiciously tranquil and an almost nostalgic air of reverence would set in. Usually, the TV was on too. Old diaspora movies about Žika, who everyone simply calls Mr. Žika, a man who worked as a plumber in 1970s Frankfurt to pay for an apartment in Belgrade and who now mourned his own personal golden age in a series of nine films. I was glad to be getting off in Belgrade.

(p. 9ff.)

© 2019 Paul Zsolnay Verlag Wien
© English translation: Jake Schneider, 2020

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