“Where are you from?” the guy asks me with American-accented English.
“Na, dann lass uns doch auf Deutsch schwätzen!” Clearly a south-west German accent. We continue in German. His beard is older than the proverbial three days. Judging by his smell, he hasn’t had a shower in as many days. Dark curly hair, shrewd eyes. A cigarette in his mouth, he stands next to the bus in Tivat. I had approached him to inquire whether this was the bus to Kotor. It is my last day in Montenegro; I got up early to make the most of it. “My name is Dragan”, he extends his hand.
Dragan needs to go to Kotor as well, so we board the bus together. I am about to take a seat in one of the front rows, but Dragan is attracted by the rear seat. “Come on, let’s move to the back. The front seats are for crummies.” This reminds me of the years I spent on school buses. The last row was always occupied by the very cool guys. I was never one of them.
The ride to Kotor doesn’t take very long, although the bus ignores the tunnel which was drilled through Vrmac and prefers to circumvent the steep mountain, maybe for fear of tunnels, maybe to justify a higher fare. Dragan’s life seems to be more exciting than mine, so I decide to listen instead of talking about myself.
“I was born in Germany, in Heilbronn. Studied mechanical engineering in Mannheim and German philology in Hamburg. Got a degree in both. And now I do odd jobs as a waiter,” he begins to recount before I could ask any question.
“But the season is over.” It is the first week of November. “And this year was crap anyway. Too much rain, not enough tourists.”
Dragan lists the eight languages which he professes to speak: German, English, French, Italian, Serbian, Berber, Albanian and Russian. I try to infer the stations of his life from this information.
He doesn’t wait for me to ask him how he ended up as a waiter on the coast of Montenegro. Like an actor whose new film is released and who gives the same interview twenty times, he knows exactly what people are interested in. He had a restaurant in Germany. Then a divorce. The wife denounced him to the tax authority, of course his business wasn’t completely clean. Four years in prison. Deportation to Bosnia, where he had never lived. “I had only been to Bosnia a few times as a child, and then I suddenly had to start my life all over there!”
German immigration law. What a waste of talent and skills. People blessed with German citizenship can easily become leaders of anti-immigrant groups like Pegida with such a history.
Dragan is married again. His second wife is from Ukraine, she was in Montenegro legally, but some authorization for employment was missing when she was picked up in a raid on a restaurant. Expulsion to Ukraine. He would of course like to join her, even if there is a war in Ukraine. But flight tickets are expensive and the land route is not an option because he was barred from entering the EU for life, he says.
This morning, Dragan is on the way to the doctor. He needs cortisone injections because of three broken ribs. I am going to Kotor to climb up to the fortress nestled on the mountain slope. Suddenly I feel comparatively young and free and full of energy, yet I know that I haven’t done anything to earn this luck. Time has run out before I can ask Dragan for his age, but probably he is much younger than he looks.
Dragan stays on the bus for a few more stops when I leave at Kotor bus station. I wish him well, and he asks me with shame in his voice whether I could help him with a few Euros. “I don’t have much myself,” I reply, which is only half a lie, as I pull out my wallet and hand him 5 Euros. I have already decided to write about this encounter and regard the donation as remuneration for the protagonist.