Last stop: Walthamstow Central (short stories)


Breakfast in Svid Cafe. She bought a cheese pastry in a bakery in Dolac Street. The cheese was slightly sour, maybe off, but she still enjoyed it alongside a double espresso. The strong and energising liquid was attaching itself along her palate. The terrace overlooked the harbour. The leader of the rock band Patchwork Rino Kasica walked by and waved. For years his band had been working on a project with the symbolic name “unvisible”. The album might be out already, but being invisible no one was aware of it.

The music was loud. Big Blue Something and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You say we’ve got nothing in common and I say what about Breakfast at Tiffany’s… Oh God, that was an old tune. She’d got their CD somewhere. If she had not lost it during many moves. Or it might be at mother’s place in Dubrovnik.

The enormous ship Marko Polo was getting ready for the evening departure for Dalmatia. Next to it there was a tiny smiley fishing boat called Plavko. It was all happening in a morning slow-motion. Tourists with enormous rucksacks sat on the table next to her; two pale blokes and a freckly girl. Polish or Czech, or maybe Scandinavians. They looked at the menu. A white Fiat Tipo with the windows down and Red Hot Chilli Peppers at maximum volume stopped at the traffic lights and demolished the morning peace and quiet.

A dirty and shabby trio of Roma kids with sleepy and hungry eyes was asking for one, two kunas. On the table behind her the conversation moved to the inefficient social services. These kids can turn only to street crime, said someone.

She could have invited Carlo to breakfast. He always had time for her.

“I’m painting Oprtalj in purple and green and my people are flying in the sky!”

“Like in Chagall?”

“No, no, much better! And I’m using only purple and green!”

“Is that enough for a landscape?”

“Of course. Come with me!”

Carlo was impulsive and capricious, with the desperation of an old man who lives by the motto “now or never”. He did not accept the burden of ageing. He lived in his own world of colours and brushes and was inventing his own philosophy. Her boss at the gallery had asked her to help this famous painter with organising a couple of exhibitions. He kept inviting her to his studio. He was drinking whisky and offering her sweet liqueurs.

He could not stop talking about a well-preserved fifty-year-old lady with an amazing décolletage, the widow of a movie director who had been trying to seduce him at a recent party in the City Department for Arts and Culture.

“And did you meet her…afterwards?”

“No yet…will do!”

He had trays full of cheeses, white grapes and apples. And she could hear Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre in the background.

“Such a pity no coffee shop would play classical music!”

“Do you really think that would attract costumers?” she said writing down notes for the catalogue.

“Of course!” He changed the CD. She recognised Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto.

“Ok, can we now make the list of your new work that you want to present at the exhibition?”


Home in Dubrovnik. Far away from everything. Dubrovnik wasn’t really her home. Her mother had moved to Dubrovnik after the divorce. She wanted to go as far as possible. They sold the large flat and bought two small ones for themselves and she was left with nothing. Dad lived his own life and she stopped visiting him.

Mum encased herself in a cocoon of an unbelievable absence. She was always somewhere else and she never explained why she chose Dubrovnik. She could have moved anywhere; to Pula, to Zagreb, somewhere closer… She could have stayed in Rijeka; the town was large enough for both of them to avoid each other.

The ship Liburnija was warming up its engines and everyone was fighting for a space on the deck, waving at the people ashore with excitement and happiness. She told Kristijan that she would not be around for a few days. And she was hoping that he would question her in a teasingly jealous voice like he used to. “Well, how many days? Where are you off to? And why am I not invited?” And similar whispers of dedicated lovers. But it was no longer like that. Now there was an abyss between them; deep as the end of the world. Bad horoscope. Bad phase. Bad storm. Who knows when it will clear, she thought leaving behind a city falling into the embrace of a hot night.

Mum waiting for her in Gruz port. Tired from the 20 hours of lying around the deck, she just collapsed into her arms.

“Did you have enough to eat?” Mum’s usual question.

“Kind of…”

She forgot to make sandwiches and take a bottle of mineral water. She did not think that she could get hungry on the ship. And then she spent 50 kunas on a burnt omelette, a mineral water and for the “cover” (a pâté on a slim slice of bread).

She wanted to tell her that something was wrong between her and Kristijan and that most probably they would end it. But mother liked Kristijan or at least, she accepted him as part of the family. Or she was just happy that her only daughter had someone and she could move on.

Her post-divorce bunker located on the corner between Od Kupa and Bozidarevica streets was ascetic and minimalist. She had not taken much from their family home in Rijeka, just her teaching books. No saucepans or tea towels. In her new apartment she had a large kitchen-cum-living room, bedroom, a bathroom and a utility room.

“How are you…otherwise?”

She asked mum, referring to her menopausal heatwaves, the sudden and sharp pains in every single joint, insomnia and panic attacks.

“I live somehow… I cannot go to heaven and cannot stay on earth!”

How optimistic! She decided not to mention illnesses any more. It was easier just to relax into an indefinable relationship with her mother. It’d been years since she’d managed to get any feelings out of mother; as if there was no anger, no disagreement, no understanding or laughter left in her. Lying awake on the sofa bed she was listening to late passers-by walking towards Zvijezdiceva Street. The walls of mother’s place were a far cry from the posh ones in the flat in Vezica, that were covered with expensive paintings by Vojo Radoicic, Solaris and Carmello Butkovich-Visintin and tapestries by mother’s friend Irena Cviji? Perkovi?. She didn’t care for vases with dried or live flowers anymore or crystal bowls where she kept sweets for her teacher friends when they came around for a coffee and chat about education and culture in this country.

Her mother was someone else. She still worked as a teacher. In Lapad. This time at the primary school. And no longer did she bring home her preparation materials or exam papers. She went through them in the staff room early in the morning or late in the afternoon. There was nothing in her flat that would reveal her profession.
Next morning they walked down Bozidarevica Street towards the Stradun. On the way there they popped into the cobbler Aldo in Uska Street, where mother had left her two pairs of teacher’s shoes for mending.

Stradun was crowded, mostly with young American marines from the naval ship in the port. They livened up the town and every morning shocked the locals by jumping from the cliffs outside the city walls shouting “someone call my mom”. They stopped for a drink in the Festival coffee shop. Mother was still drinking caffè lattes with cold milk.

“How’s that boyfriend of yours?”

“Kristijan…fine… I guess…”

They went to the beach in Lapad, close to the Kompas hotel. Mother sat in the deep shade reading her book on Harry Potter. She still wanted to know what was going on in the world of literature. She swam. She tried to remember their summer holidays when they still resembled a family. She could not, as if they never existed.

“A friend of mine is opening a gallery… She needs someone to help her… In case you would like to leave Rijeka… The pantry could be turned into a nice bedroom…to start with…” Said mother seeing her off.


Her one bedroom flat in Donja Vezica welcomed her with all kinds of doubts as her eyes stumbled across every detail that reminded her of Kristijan. A multi-photograph frame on the sidetable filled with pathetic images of them – on her graduation, on a beach and on a weekend in Venice. Next to it an album with images of their togetherness; with smiles and cuddles illustrating a perfect match. These photos were supposed to take them back to their beginnings.

Maybe it all still made sense. He knew she was coming back today. She tried to relax in a soft and hot bath of Nivea, agonizingly waiting for the phone to ring.

“We will not let such a crisis to break us up, will we?”

“Of course not…”

“No relationship is perfect…”

“Of course not…”

She was rewinding the movie. Slowly. Everything went downhill from the moment he started his new job. He was employed in an Austrian bank as a controller of foreign currency transactions, bought a fancy new mobile phone, stayed longer and longer in the office and most evenings went out with his colleagues.