Mirinda went to the bathroom and like every morning tried to make himself throw up. This time it wasn’t going well, and that spoilt his mood a little. He walked out of the bathroom, went over to the fridge, and looking in at its empty interior made him feel even worse.
‘It seems you’ve done your share of throwing up’, he said to himself, and slammed the door closed. He got dressed, and set off for Frankopanska street. His cevabdzinica was there waiting for him.
‘Hi babe!’, he greeted the waitress.
‘Hi, Booze Mirinda. Shall I bring you something?’
‘Of course. Today I am arriving on an empty stomach.’
‘That’s good. What will you have then?’ asked the waitress.
‘The usual’, Mirinda replied.
As soon as she brought him the loza and a large beer, Mirinda instantly downed the loza, and half the bottle of beer.
That’s better’, said Booze Mirinda, who earned his nickname precisely because he had booze even for breakfast.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and yelled over to Sonja who was washing glasses.
‘Babe, have I ever told you the story of how Ayerton Senna died in my arms? ‘
‘Yes, you have, Booze Mirinda, probably a thousand times already’, said the waitress, who felt she couldn’t handle one of his stories this early in the morning.
Mirinda started talking anyway.
‘I was at the race track when my best friend Senna hit the fence. I had a bad feeling that day. The night before he was kind of tense. I told him. Come on, Senna, let’s drink this one up and then move on, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said he was tired and that he was going to sleep.
At the moment of the crash, when he went off the track, I knew that he was badly injured. I ran down through the stands and over to his car. I was running so hard that the guys from the athletic federation said I was a new a world champion in the hundred meters, but I didn’t care about that and I refused to accept the medal. When I came to his car, I took his head in my arms and asked him, ‘Senna, are you okay?’
‘I’m not, Mirinda’, he said.
I realised we had to work quickly. I went over to the track, and stopped a car that was passing at that moment, I think it was Coulthard. He was out of his mind, but he recognised me straight away so gave me the car. I then drove back and said, ‘Senna, now I’m driving you to the hospital!’
He looked at me, his eyes weary, and said, and I’ll never forget this, ‘Mirinda, anyone but you!’ He said that, and lost his consciousness. Those were his last words. The guys came, the medics, and put him in a van. I drove behind them to the hospital in a racing car. Do you want to know how they were driving? It was so slow, I thought they wanted him to die. Not to mention that the slow driving got my tyres cold, and I almost skidded off the road. Oh, It would all have been different, if Senna had not been scared of me driving too fast!
You know babe, that was one of the saddest days of my life and I still feel terrible when I remember it, even though it’s been five years now’, finished Mirinda, leaving out that he still owed Coulthard a hundred deutch marks for the gas and the tyres.
The waitress put the glass away and looked at him. She knew the story was over.
‘Yes’, said Mirinda, finishing his beer and then ordering another.
He then opened the briefcase he was always carrying around, and took out a pen and a piece of paper.
‘Let’s do some work now’, he said.
‘I’ve already told you to do your business elsewhere. This is not your office’.
‘Will you calm down? I’m just going to write something. Is that illegal?’
He scribbled for some fifteen minutes before he asked Sonja the waitress if she knew the address of the Official Gazette where the ads are sent. She told him the address, she knew it by heart because Mirinda would ask her for it every so often, then she repeated would he please do his work elsewhere.
‘I mean it’, she said.
‘Why are you so nervous? As if three billion trillion million wasps were biting you’, said Booze Mirinda and then he left for the post office.
Vjeko hadn’t been sleeping for nights. It became clear to him he’d got a bit too carried away, that he had skipped at least two leagues, that these were the big boys and that there was no fooling around with them. He knew they were serious. He believed them when they said the other day that the river would swallow him if he couldn’t raise the money in ten days. Of course he didn’t trust them, that’s why he hadn’t been leaving the flat, and that was precisely the reason why he kept looking out the window. Sure, there was no chance for him to come up with that kind of money. Even if he did lift a few wallets, that wouldn’t get him far. All those idiots with credit cards that were all sold out, he was sick of them. If there was even the slightest chance of getting some money, Vjeko would have left the flat, but instead he was just sitting and waiting, ready to face the worst.
All the prozac was making him lethargic. A rush of fear and then a rush of lethargy. Fear, booze, panic, prozac, booze, prozac, some more prozac, excitement, lethargy. In that order, more or less. Lethe, the river of oblivion. Still, with every new day it would take him more effort to swim down Lethe, he was evermore cowered in fear. ‘You wanted to play mobsters, you idiot, and only yesterday you were an altar boy. Why, you still go for lunch at your mum’s every Sunday’, he was telling himself while helplessness was coming over his body and his mind. He decided to split from Osijek.
Mirinda was sitting at his table, drinking loza and taking his papers out of the briefcase.
‘You are waiting on your customer?’ Sonja asked, because she was feeling bored and Mirinda was her only guest.
‘Who gets you these papers, anyway?’
‘What do you mean? English queen gave them to me’, he said and Sonja laughed.
‘What are you laughing about? Elisabeth II gave them to me. Her signature is here, look’, he pushed the paper towards her, but she decided to stay in the monotony of the empty bar.
‘Sure. You met her at the farmer’s market?’
‘Oh, all right, feel free to take the piss out of me. But Mirinda knows what he is doing. Old Betty and me, we’re old pals. Once, I even grabbed hold of her a bit, the fire was about to break out, but then this carriage came to pick her up and she said she had to go.’
She was amused by these stories, to a certain extent, anyway. Sometimes, though, she felt she could strangle him, when he would spend an hour and a half ranting away about how thirty years earlier he had been the boxing world champion, or how one year ago he’d gone to China and beat, one by one, all the Chinamen at table tennis. Or, how he was still, ten years after he had left tennis, listed on ATP chart. He also had his successes in science, warcraft, art and seduction of women, but he preferred to think back to his sports victories.
‘So, you are something like her ambassador? Is that your job?’
‘You could say that’, confirmed Booze Mirinda and asked for another loza.
‘Your Majesty is drinking a bit too much.’
‘You should be happy I’m drinking. I am mostly the only one drinking in this bar. It beats the hell out of me how you manage to stay in business.’
‘It’s not easy, Mirinda, I’ll tell you that. It would be a bit easier if you paid us some kind of rent, since you list this address as your headquarters in the papers.’
She didn’t want to get into discussions over it. They’d been over that a number of times and everything would always stay the same. He would still do his business at the cevabdzinica. He would start something, pull a trick on someone, then he would be hiding for a while until the dust settled, and then he would be back.
The business was a little slow lately. The initial burst, which involved something like a mass frenzy, was long finished, it was when Senna was still alive. Still, Mirinda knew well that he had to be patient, because there were always those who were in the need of a fresh start, and he also knew, that another fool was born every day. Although despair drove them to doing the stupid thing, it was still stupid. Desperate, but stupid, too. Mirinda was patiently waiting for one such customer, and so a new boost for his business. This morning his mobile rang before his vomiting routine. The number was hidden, and that always meant business. It meant that the customer was in trouble. Regular people who wanted a better future didn’t have a hidden number. Hidden numbers normally make people nervous, but Mirinda always liked them. They always gave away the fact of a customer being in deep shit, and for him that meant only one thing. A higher charge.
He didn’t have working hours, so he answered, although he was still sleeping.
‘Yes, it’s me’, Mirinda mumbled.
‘I saw your ad in the paper’, said the voice on the other end of the line. This marked the beginning of a beautiful business relationship.
Mirinda explained how the thing worked, and the meeting was arranged.
‘My office is on number three, Frankopanska street ‘, said Mirinda and hung up.
He was cheerful. He went to the bathroom and finally shaved after five days, then he crouched in front of the toilet and threw up properly. It was a wonderful beginning to a day.
Vjeko entered the town through the bushes that were below the railroad, he noticed the rooster at the top of the silo, and then took Starceviceva street down to the centre. He was wandering about for quite a while before he hit Frankopanska. This was because Mirinda, being strictly business and half asleep, forgot to give him any kind of landmark such as a church, that was only twenty meters away from cevabzinica.
When he entered, Mirinda was already sitting there, all dressed up, combed hair and a tie around his neck. It was a stained tie, this was true, but nevertheless a tie. He was the only guest in that small space, which was impossible to enter without being noticed, so both of them instantly knew that the other one was his man. Sonja the waitress realised it too, so when this guy with the sunglasses that could not hide his tired and scared eyes had barely muttered M, the waitress was already pointing towards Mirinda, who was pretending he hadn’t noticed him.
‘Mister Miroslav?’ asked Vjeko, drawing closer to the table.
Mirinda stood up, proudly presenting his six foot three stature, he offered his hand and in a deep voice said, ‘You can call me Mirinda’. He said it so loud that Vjeko jumped.
‘What are you nervous for? Have no fear, I haven’t hit a man since I stopped boxing’, said Mirinda and then, still on his feet, he boxed the first verbal round, talking about his boxing days, three world champion titles and an Olympic gold in the heavy weight category, after which he was carried all over Koprivnica for three days.
Vjeko couldn’t decide whether he thought the guy was nuts, or just drunk, so he chose the option that was easier for him to handle; that the guy was a boozer. They sat down and spent a few minutes talking about sports, women (Mirinda was talking about Sonja to be precise) and the weather. Mirinda managed to down another loza, and then they got down to business.
‘I thought we were meeting in your office?’ asked Vjeko who found it a bit surreal to think that you could set off for anywhere from this kind of shithole, let alone New Zealand. He asked, he had to ask, but he would accept any answer, because broken bones were a reality that made the obscurity of the cevabdzinica seem less relevant.
Mirinda just smiled in response. That smile didn’t mean anything, it was no more than a pose, but it always seemed to work. The buyer would feel ashamed, the question would suddenly seem stupid, and he would feel like some kid who didn’t understand anything. When he wiped the smile away, Mirinda took out his renowned papers, necessary for the ones who wanted to make it to the island at the end of the world, under the watchful eye of auntie Elisabeth.
‘Are these the original documents?’
‘Of course they are! Here you can see the stamp and the signature.’
Vjeko didn’t have any choice. He counted the two thousand deutch marks and handed them to Mirinda, who wasted no time in buying a round of drinks.
‘God save the queen and the visa regime’, he proposed and emptied the glass.
He felt nice. The business took off again, and that was the most important thing of all. ‘You have never seen me’, said Vjeko and left. For New Zealand, he thought.
Mirinda did what he always did after a job well done, he took a two-weeks’ holiday and spent it in Shanghai, the bar at the railway station. Two weeks were normally enough for the more dangerous types to split, get caught, jailed and then deported. Then to return, look for him at cevabdzinica and then disappear forever in fear of being found by those that made them want to split in the first place. There was also an extra charge, which was another reason he liked dangerous customers. It was more risky with these types, but they would give up soon, being themselves the game. As opposed to the regular folks who wanted to leave to ‘follow their bellies to find bread’, as they say in Croatia. These people didn’t pose a real danger, since all they would ever think of doing was to call the police, and in this kind of relationship it was a bit stupid and therefore ruled out. They would be looking for him all over town for days though, begging him to give them their money back, which was unnerving and exhausting.
Two weeks later he dropped by the office again, he was the only customer as usual. Every now and then, someone would drop in to pick up a portion of cevapi, and then they were in a hurry to leave, before they got depressed by the place.
‘He was looking for you’, said Sonja when he came in.
‘You know very well who.’
Mirinda sat down and drank a beer.
‘Excuse me? What for?’ said Sonja in wonder.
‘Because my brother is a commander in the NATO forces.’
‘Don’t even think of starting it again’, said Sonja and sat down on the stairs at the entrance to smoke a cigarette.
Mirinda was sitting at a table caressing his beer. He didn’t have a briefcase on him which was a clear sign for Sonja that he still had money, and that this time he would pay. Sonja finished her cigarette, got up, and moved to throw the butt away in a manhole when a black SUV pulled over. Two guys with lots of muscle on them, and in a bad moods got out of the car. Their heads were shaved, and they had heavy gold chains around their necks.
‘Do you happen to know some Miroslav?’ one of them asked Sonja.
She paused to think for a moment, which was enough of a signal to these guys that she was being indecisive. They went in and went straight over to the corner where Mirinda was sitting, all alone, just as they would want him to be.
Mirinda was hesitating as well, and the same guy who was talking to Sonja grabbed him by the neck.
‘Guys, you look like you’ve been stung by a million billion eight hundred thousand wasps’, said Mirinda when the guy relaxed his grip.
That sentence didn’t seem to go down well with the other guy who slapped him straight in the face. Mirinda fell off the chair, then both guys helped him up.
‘That’s what I call a proper belter! I got a similar one when I was boxing for the world champion title’, he said and noticed that the guys were still angry. ‘Don’t get offended, guys! I didn’t say that you looked stung by the wasps for being bloated with steroids; it’s because you looked angry!’
‘This guy’s nuts’, said the smacker to the speaker.
‘Are you nuts?’ asked the speaker.
‘No way’, Mirinda answered and held onto the table, waiting for some action on the part of the smacker.
‘OK then. That means we can have a nice conversation’ said the speaker, and then sat down next to Mirinda.
They were looking for Vjeko. They had heard he’d been there for cevapi. Mirinda claimed he’d never seen him. He was drunk and he was brave, and a little nuts into the bargain. Besides, he never gave away his customer’s identity. Half an hour later, the boys decided to leave. It seems they knew when they’d done enough to scare a man properly. The speaker gave him his business card.
‘Export – import’, Mirinda read. ‘Why, we are in the same trade. I’m also in export.’
‘Don’t make me export you out of your shoes’, said the smacker .
‘Call us if you see Vjeko’, said the speaker, got his order of cevapi in flat bread from the counter and went out for his lunch break.
‘You’d better call’, added the smacker.
‘Sure thing’, said Mirinda, who found the smacker a more convincing speaker.
‘I’m just trying to make a living, guys. Don’t hold a grudge against me.’
‘Don’t give us grounds for it’, said the smacker and followed the speaker out.
Mirinda filled up his fridge and closed himself in. This time it was not a vacation. More like a sick leave, or unpaid leave. Preventitive measures. Until the two visitors, the speaker and the smacker, had forgotten about him. Vjeko was a lesser worry since he’d met these two. If he’s got any brains, he’s left the place by now. To Bosnia, Serbia or Hungary; at least that far, if not to New Zealand.
A week later Mirinda terminated his sick leave, took his bag and went to Frankopanska. It was a nice, sunny day and he felt great. Of course he did – after all, he’d got well and he was back outside in the fresh air, and he didn’t feel any eyes following his still insecure steps. But when he reached cevabdzinica his spirits suddenly sank. The windows were covered in sheets of newspapers.
‘You’ve found a real good time to re-do the place, now, when I’m so busy’ Mirinda thought, grabbing the door-handle to ask the workers when they were going to be finished, but the door was locked. There was a piece of paper informing him that it was closed. Both cevabdzinica and Booze Mirinda’s office, it said in the parenthesis. Mirinda smiled and thought of Sonja.
‘It seems I’m out of business’, he mumbled and sat down on the stairs. He took a bottle out of his breastpocket and took a sip. He had a feeling one part of his life was finished. He finished the bottle and smacked the bottle against the wall. Then he got up, and started staggering towards the railway station. He got into Shanghai and asked for a pen. Then he sat down and wrote an ad. The new address was Kolodvorska 4.
‘Babe, do you happen to know the address to the Official Gazette?’ he asked the waitress.
‘I have no idea’, she replied and went back to doing her crossword.
Mirinda thought of Sonja again, he left the bar on which some misguided soul had written ‘snack-bar’, and headed for the post office.
It will take some time before this thing gets going, thought Mirinda to himself and he felt like crying.
For Senna, for Sonja, for himself.
 Cevabdzinica – a place where grilled minced meat dish called ‘cevapi’ is sold. Cevapi are are a very popular fast food in Western Balkan countries.
 Loza – a type of transparent spirit made from remnants of grapes after winemaking process
Marko Gregur was born in 1982 in Koprivnica, Croatia. He has published short stories and poetry in magazines such as Poezija, Kolo, Knjigomat, Republika, Re, Kaj, Avangard, Ulaznica (Serbia), Ars (Montenegro), Odjek (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Glimmer train (USA), Znaci (Varna, Bulgaria), newspapers Večernji list, Vijenac, Zarez, anthologies of young authors from ex-Yugoslavia countries Rukopisi 32 and Rukopisi 33. He won the second prize on the short story contest Dr. Esad Sadiković (Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2010). He was the winner of the short story contest Marko Martinović Car (Vitez, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2010). He was the winner in the prose category on the contest Ulaznica 2012 (Zrenjanin, Serbia, 2012). He won the prize for the best unpublished manuscript by authors up to 35 years Ivan Vitez Trnski awarded by Croatian Writers‘ Association from Podravina and Prigorje region and also the prize for the best unpublished manuscript by authors up to 35 years Prozak awarded by Algoritam publishing house and Zarez. He was one of 20 awarded authors on the short story contest Sea of Words (Barcelona, 2010) open in 43 euromediteranean countries. He has published a collection of poetry Lirska grafomanija and short stories collections Peglica u prosincu and Divan dan za drinkopoly. His prose writings were published in young Croatian prose writers anthology Bez vrata, bez kucanja.