In the space between the window panes in my bedroom there is a Prague ladybird lying on its back. All its tiny legs are pointing up in the air. It has passed away. It is lit by the icy January sun, lying there motionless. Indeed, it is a nice ladybird – even though being dead, it radiates some kind of modest serenity, it looks as if its bug apology is reaching (contacting?) me, saying how sorry it is to have yielded its minute ghost right between my window-panes. Its miniature legs are standing motionless in the air attracting my attention. It’s a frame taken from a slow film.
In the background there are beige buildings, as if standing guard, with serious hat-roofs made of neatly roofed red tiles. A moment of silence, it seems to me, is eternal in that world.
Here, in Prague, days are passing nicely, like a thick liquid of vanilla colour which I pour into fine porcelain day-bowls. Thoughts tinkle like occasional knocks of the tea-spoon against the bowl.
What has changed? Why did we leave? Do we like it here, or not? Shall we become Czech one day, or shall we just gush through this city, like a rapid, like a mountain stream? Who shall we be then? What shall remain of us when the alien world impresses itself on us? Are we Serbs more or less? Or are we Belgraders? There is a difference.
My three children and I have been crocheting our lives north of our country, somewhat nostalgic, pretty emotional. Immersed into the sounds of this unintelligible dwarfish language, we nurture our distinctiveness like tiny exotic sensitive plants. The first thing that we discovered was the multi-coloured roles of a simple smile in everyday life. Smiles, bashful smiles, smiles showing no teeth....
It is nothing like the country we came from. I have an impression that polite smiling literally enslaved people in this country.
Never before had I seen people smiling collectively and voluntarily. It is so seductive at first (regardless of the noise coming from my sensitive soul), that on several occasions I almost thought that they found us likeable. Nevertheless, step by step, I notice it now, we started smiling as well.
Even when our hearts are cold and mouths full of rejection. Although at first it all looked like some kind of cheating, I somehow managed to explain to myself that it is a matter of assimilation. Accepting a different culture. That’s the way it is. Smiles are believed to be well-mannered and cultured here. It is like wearing a head-scarf in an oriental country or something like that.
These people are overly polite and kind even when they in fact want to tell you to get the hell out of their field of vision. By the way, the language they speak is armed with diminutives which, together with those short polite smiles, have an effect of a softener. Collectively anaesthetised, our new neighbours, shop-assistants, doctors and pre-school teachers, teach us and give us guidance on the rules of the life here, and we give all our best to adjust. The adjusting goes well for a while, and then we ruin it all. At moments we are wonderfully composed and sensible, but alas, no!
The hot blood running through our veins makes us schizophrenic, and as soon as somebody smiles a little in our family, that smile, almost a grimace, in only a matter of seconds transforms itself into something completely different, and in less than a minute my children are beating one another with grinning faces, showing teeth like mad monkeys, while I am yelling and flailing my hands, enforcing order in our monkey-house.
And that thing with our dog. For a while we walk it as the law says we ought to – using a short leash, collecting its poop with a smile, indeed. And then, when the small thing becomes unbearable, we pull it away like a pile of something, taking it between the cars in the street and jogging the poor dog, thinking at the same time if the physical showdown with a disobedient dog may be a form of family violence here. We leave the space between the cars, faces flushed, again looking around to see if there are spies closely following our Neanderthal manners. If there are, we again give them a shitty smile.
In a nearby park, for a while, we were considered to be a patient family somewhere from the south, but since the Blue-Eyed imposed discipline on the baby-train, pale-skinned Prague mummies have started avoiding us. No sooner do they see us approaching the park than they gather their children in panic, putting them into pushchairs and fastening with all sorts of straps guaranteeing a safe journey back home. They leave the park hurriedly, but smile at us charmingly and gallantly, as if being cordial and pleasantly surprised at the same time.
The situation with the neighbours proved to be no different.
At first, they gave us an unconditional chance to show that we were full members of the western civilisation in our own right – they would say hallo in a soft voice, melodiously and with a smile. Our block of flats is your block of flats. Nevertheless, only a month later, those very same neighbours’ lips are stiffened into a barely visible line on their faces. Now they look as if they bear a serious grudge against us. People from the park may have told them something about us and we have lost our credibility normally associated with new neighbours.
Simply put, it will take us some tome to integrate in such a way that we become invisible.
Even when we learn the language well, when the diminutives get into our ears like the earplugs you shape with your hands, when we get used to waiting patiently for everything and everyone, when that smile impresses itself onto our facial expressions (and lips and eyes) – I am still afraid that even then we will stick out like the tallest girl in class, with breasts grown too soon for her age.
I am looking at my children and my own reflection in the mirror and I still do not notice that we are changing. We are as brash as the first day we arrived and among the walls of our flat we meticulously nurture our wild plant of homeland spirit which pricks everything and everybody, sticking out in a gangly manner.
My Beloved Husband, in those few days that he stirs into this water here, is trying to transform us with the consecration of a priest. People here do not say that. It is not done that way here. People smile here. I feel pleased, somehow primitively, when I see that children naturally struggle to get free, as some butt-naked natives would, clicking with their tongues instead of uttering proper words. Then he goes away, with mild resignation. These pictures remain vivid in his mind for a short time only, and then the whole thing with us and the smiles evaporates from his consciousness.
We still have to wait for the day when the SonOfTheSun joins us, although it is probably only me who is waiting.
I am waiting and I am smiling.