Sasha and I go to Ziko’s, an old Serbian establishment off of Kantstrasse, just north of Stutti. Ziko’s used to be a popular meeting spot for the Yugo diaspora in the eighties. Back then there were Gypsy musicians and famous sports stars, in particular boxers. Today, the place makes most of its money through busloads of Dutch tourists on package tours. Sasha explains he likes the place because it has two exits; it is always good to see in a lokal. We take a table in the corner facing the front exit so that Sasha has a secure overview of the room.
“Ćevapčići two times, two shopska salad and two great beers,” says Sasha, addressing the waitress. “We need to be watered.”
The two beers come, and while we sip at them Sasha praises the ćevapi in Ziko’s. It is almost as good as down in Yugo, says Sasha. But still, the Yugo ćevapi is unbeatable. Firstly, the cattle are fed differently in Yugo-land, and secondly, the climate is more arid than in Germany so that the meat is much tastier from animals grazing in dryer pastures.
“And, thirdly, and most importantly , everything is just better down in Yugo,” says Sasha.
The ćevapčići comes and Sasha attacks his food with unusual vehemence. More beers arrive and Sasha explains what it is he wants out of me. It’s not that he wants to learn English. He wants to make money; he wants to do business in America.
“What kind of business?” I ask.
“Drugs,” says Sasha. “Cocaine. Hashish. Ecstasy.I joke. No really, what do I want to buy? Many things. Cars, for instance. Oldtimers. Maybe you can help me. What do you think about a biznis partnership? Together we can make a lot of money. No mafia. I can guarantee it. Yes, there is money to be made. We could make a million euro easy. We could buy a house in Montenegro. For my part, a house, a Hummer and a Harley Davidson and I would be happy. You could be my partner.”
“But why me?” I say. “After all, we’ve just met.”
“Somehow the chemistry is perfect between us,” says Sasha. “Usually people just bore me, but with you it is different. I’ve only known you for a couple of hours, but you are simpatično. You have a style of the world, man. I see it in your face. I see it in your eye. I knew I had the right man when I saw you. Rarely am I mistaken in my estimation of people. We could go into business. What do you say?”
Sasha takes out a cigarette and lights it with his nickel plated Zippo.
“You are American. Me, I am a Serb. My people are blamed for all the evils of this world. Of course, the people who talk bad things about Serbs are stupid people who do not know. I killed myself every day explaining the situation to Germans. In the end I came to the conclusion that one who will not see that milk is white will die in the belief that it is black. Not just because no one told him that milk is white, but because he does not want to know it. I am afraid we will never be washed from the lies.”
Sasha sits there, arms folded staring at the door. I nod and sip my beer. The old Serb victim story.
“That’s why when I say I am a Serb people get suspicious. But, you, as an Amerikanac, people trust you. You speak German and English, you are an honest guy. Such people are rare. These people I have to do with: just bandits. But you, I can see that you would never double cross me. The other ones, they are just criminals. They will double cross you for ten cents. Amerikanac, you have to watch out in this life: the world is filled with bad people. I can tell after being with a person for ten minutes if he is a bandit or an honest person. I can smell people. I am like an animal. Stick with me, Amerikanac. Together you will learn about the world.”
“Business deals aren’t my line,” I tell Sasha. “I write.”
Sasha pulls heavily on his beer and looks thoughtful for a moment.
“Write about me,” says Sasha.
I smiled. “Sure thing,” I say.
“I can tell you something about the Wild West,” says Sasha. “What kind of feelings, what dreams fears I had. I will tell you my story without any sentimentalnosti. Such circumstances as I have been in I would never wish on my worst enemy. Actually, for me every day is a war; a battle to survive; to realize wishes, dreams; to conquer fears. I can tell you what it’s like to live in fear every day. I’m telling you, every day is an episode in itself. One day you can experience the heaven – that is to say, the peak, nine thousand meters; and the next day you can experience hell. Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down. That’s my life. My story is worth money, I tell you. Hajde, živeli – who does not drink, let his wife die!”