Food, Refugees

Despite total neglect, one pear tree and three plum trees in our front yard produced an abundance of soft, juicy, sweet fruit, every year. With four families living in our house, it was decided that each would claim one tree. But which would go to whom? The difference in the size of the trees was significant, and we had a problem on our hands.

The four families gathered in the front yard under the canopy of the smallest tree to discuss dividing the fruit. Perhaps because he was the strongest and tallest among us, a man named Bojan appointed himself the arbitrator of the plum tree partition.

“The smallest plum tree goes to you and your boys, Darinka,” Bojan said, turning his gaze towards the newest residents of our disintegrating home. Darinka was a short woman with ruddy, slightly saggy cheeks. The index finger on her left hand was missing, and so was her husband Milan. But neither loss prevented Darinka from getting up at four in the morning to walk four kilometers to the dairy farm, where she hand-milked forty cow udders, each and every day. “Ten minutes per cow,” Darinka bragged whenever she was asked how she got everything done. “The secret is to sing to them and kiss their bellies as you milk them. If you do that, the milk will shoot out faster than water out of a nicked water pipe.”

Darinka usually returned home at six o’clock in the evening with rough calluses on her nine swollen fingers, and was welcomed with a hot plate of soup and a spotless home that her two shaggy boys managed while she worked. (It is important to mention here that their home was a mouse-infested basement, which had only been cleared out and repainted by Bojan and grandfather Lazar when this short woman with ruddy cheeks knocked on our door asking for to feed her two sons.)

“I get the biggest plum tree because I have three adult men and one ravenous woman to feed,” Bojan said and looked around to see if anyone objected. No one dared to protest. His clenched fist was the size of Baba Jela’s head and I’ve seen him pull staples and nails out of wood with his enormous fingers.

“Savo and his family get the pear tree because he is allergic to plums,” continued Bojan. “He can’t even peel one without getting a rash and watery eyes. However, he will give each of us a jar or two of jam when his wife cooks it.”

“I know that your family has the most members, Lazare,” Bojan turned his giant eyes towards my cowed grandfather, “but you’ll have to accept the second plum tree because your wife is Croatian.” No other explanation was given for the tree with sparse leaves and small fruit.

“Baba Jela is Croatian?” I whispered to my mother, pulling on her sleeve. Both my mother and Baba Jela were too scared to say anything. “Baba Jela is our enemy!” I thought to myself.

That evening, I want to bed anxious and confused. I had always thought that Baba Jela was one of us, but she was suddenly a villain, now. About ten days after the unjust but peaceful partition of fruit trees, tired and annoyed with my unusual silence and furtive glances, Baba Jela sat me down and recited the following:

Some of us are young and some of us are old,
Naked in the snow we all feel cold.

Some like salty foods and others like theirs bland,
Smiling is unavoidable with a piece of chocolate in one’s hand.

Some belong to this and some belong to that group,
After two plates of bean soup most of us have to poop.

The majority of the herd is white but a few are black sheep,
When a disease kills a lamb both black and white weep.

Some are short as mushrooms and others are of massive height,
When someone says ‘boo’ we all jump in fright.

Some are smart and some are dumb,
The first group reads books while the second fights over plums.

Blog post courtesy of Milan Djurasovic, a Bosnian American collage artist, blogger, and book author. He currently lives and works in St. Petersburg, Russia. His educational background is in psychology and history.


Image by Gaston Lisak