It would be convenient if I had a story about a time I saved a child from being attacked by a pack of raging dogs… but alas… I never saved anyone’s leg.

Zoran Kesic

There is a Roma who was named after my father.

He is only one year older than me and he lives in a hut at the top of a dead-end street which was the centre of my social, cultural, and sports life, and it’s also the street my crush lived in.

The year is 1986.

I’m 10 years old, he’s 11, and along with ten other kids from the neighbourhood we partake in the following activities:

  • playing futsal in the dead end street
  • collecting snails on the little field in front of my building, I’m not sure why, but he always took them somewhere
  • licking the edges of the pieces of paper we used to make paper catapults, in order to more efficiently beat our opponents
  • travelling to the next neighbourhood up, where our ‘enemies’ live and throwing eggs through their open windows on hot summer nights before running off
  • going to the nearest cinema (Avala) to watch Jaws, and later re-telling the gory scenes with excitement to those who didn’t go with us
  • swapping comic books, two Captain Mikis for one Zagor
  • playing with marbles in a park near the roundabout of the trolley bus number 22
  • avoiding the ruins where packs of dogs gathered at night, and where – legend has it – a woman’s leg was bitten off and eaten.

One evening, I was attacked by the pups. I don’t know how or why I was there alone. I remember I had a football in my hands, I didn’t want to drop it, and a few ugly, scary, angry dogs were barking as they gathered around me. One is already by my leg and is trying to bite.

My Roma friend, named after my father, comes out of the dark, and throws stones at the dogs, shouting, waving his hands, running towards them.

The dogs were taken aback. Still barking, but retreating. Encouraged, I start to shout and go towards them. I threaten them in Serbian, my friend threatens in Roma. His threats sound more dangerous and more concrete.

The dogs left. The woman who had her leg bitten off wasn’t as lucky to have my Roma friend, named after my father, come around.

Roma, therefore, save people’s legs and can scare off stray dogs.

We will also reach the conclusion that Roma steal.

My mother worked at JAT Airlines, and she often travelled abroad to all sorts of education programs. One time, she went to Switzerland and she brought two radios shaped like ladybugs for me and my older brother.

No one in my world had a radio shaped like a ladybug, not even kids in the next neighbourhood up, and I got one.

And then, after a visit by my Roma friend, named after my father, I lost it.

We were playing in my room, he left, the ladybug was gone and we could no longer find it.

I later found out my dad spoke to his childhood best friend – the father of my Roma friend, named after my father, after which my friend came back to my room to play.

Having heard I may have lost my ladybug radio, my friend asked me if I’d checked under the bed. Even though I’d already checked under each bed, closet, sofa, and turned the whole apartment upside down, my ladybug miraculously appeared under the bed after my friend suggested I look.

Ladybug radios do that, sometimes they fly away and come back.

I’ll brag – I’d stolen toys too.

Whenever we would visit mum and dad’s friends who also had children, I would wait for my little host to leave the room and steal a few marbles, a toy soldier, or anything else I could put in my pocket.

Soon after, stolen toys would disappear from my stash of stolen things, and our visits to those friends would become rarer and rarer. I have my suspicions that my parents stole my stolen toys and brought them back to their owners.

From this, we can conclude that non-Roma also steal.

It would be convenient if I had a story about a time I’ve saved a child from being attacked by a pack of raging dogs – draw a nice parallel and conclude that we are all the same, with our virtues and faults, regardless of the colour of our skin…but alas… I never saved anyone’s leg.

My apologies to the reader, I can’t write about racism towards the Roma, because I’ve heard there is such a thing, but I just don’t understand it. I’ve also heard of quantum physics, but don’t ask me what that’s about.

I can only share my personal experience of what Roma can do:

  • teach you how to count in Roma. Jek, duj, trin, shtar
  • condition being your guest on the show with having to take you on a night out in Stara Pazova, where you’ll hear the best Roma tamburitza players in the world; ‘when we get drunk together, live it and survive it, that’s when we’ll really know each other’
  • cry after you’ve asked them how they got into pigeon keeping and what that was like, because they always cry at stories about the past, love, and pigeons, especially the ones who name their sons after their best childhood friends
  • hit you straight in the eye from a paper catapult from 20 meters away, but they won’t because you are from the same street, neighbourhood, and tribe
  • save your leg from being bitten off by dogs
  • and they can find your ladybug radio