It’s cold outside. So cold that I sprinted from the car into my local supermarket. I was pulling the plastic red basket behind me, wandering in and out of the isles, full to the brim with products of every kind. I had just landed from Dubrovnik, and was still thinking about the plans to emigrate, hurrying to fill the basket with multi-coloured packaging of all sorts, protecting the calories inside. I was trying to think of what I should buy for dinner, and then I noticed her. A lady in an unfashionable grey coat. With grey hair, osteoporosis hands and obviously marked by life in this Balkan country. Her body was positioned in a strange angle in relation to the fridge containing hundreds of boxes of fresh eggs. The same type of boxes we had once used to line the walls of a pretend recording studio, for my not so successful band’s rehearsals in the mid-eighties.

She looked strange, her body at a weird angle. I stopped, trying to hide behind the shelf displaying extra thick spray cream. She was slowly taking eggs out of the box and carefully placing them into her faded black bag, constantly checking if somebody was watching her. My heart stopped. I started shaking inside. I thought of my grandmother. I could feel tears building behind my eyes. She is stealing an egg which costs so little, so very little. I forgot about trying to hide and that’s when she saw me. She knew that I had seen her. She knew I knew. Those eyes! I will never forget the silent request, the shame that was written all over her wrinkled face. The hope that I would not report her. But this is the thing, dear lady. Where I come from, we don’t grass people up. Secondly, you are somebody’s mother and grandmother. Should I go to the shop manager, who got his position who knows how (because here in Croatia, things work like that), report you and cause you even more suffering? Enabling him to remove the eggs and kick you out into the freezing streets outside. And I should just go back to my French-made car, driving past you like nothing has happened? The same manager, who will drive past her in his Mercedes a few hours later, taking with him all the money, very probably earned from, shall we say , grey economy? And who knows what else?!

I instinctively started walking towards her. I stopped right by her. I wanted to give her a hug. Like a mother. Like a mother of all good people I ever met. I wanted to hug her and protect her. I quickly put 200 kunas into her hand. She looked at me without a word. Our eyes met. Her eyes, which throughout her life only looked to what was right and good, which never thought her country would let her down. Her eyes that were once in love with her Zagreb and everything it stood for. And my eyes, tired from living in a country, which seems to be going only downhill, from worrying about my two boys, now children of divorced parents. She squeezed my hand and took the money. We didn’t say a word. And then she started to cry. As if the tears could wash out all the sadness, all the sorrow of her life. I didn’t know what to do, so I just left. I had left her in the walls of her life, whilst trying to navigate mine. The walls imposed on us by leaders, who are anything but. The walls within which she will probably have to carry on stealing eggs for the rest of her days. The money will last a day, maybe two. That made me feel better, but only for a second. I owe her. We all owed her. Her and others of her generation who lived and worked for everything around us. And today they are forced to live like this, to steal eggs just to survive. I sat in the car for a long time. I couldn’t drive; I didn’t want to leave her. A mother of all the good people I know.

 

Autor, Toni Volarić