It’s the summer of 1987 and I keep returning to Divača. Nothing is there, except everything is.
If those people knew where I live now, they wouldn’t be too pleased. The border is close. Over there, Italians are the enemy. There is as yet no highway, and they call their own style of driving “destroying the tourism”. Especially zero mercy is shown if the passing car is Italian: a sharp turn as if to hit it. To make the driver panicky. To show them they are on enemy territory.
We hop from one town to another, with names such as Povir, Matavun, Orlek. Somewhere they give us “drunk peaches”, peaches bathing in a vat of wine. I drink in the dialect too. The word for the mouth organ is especially challenging: it sounds like “uerhltze”, the world away from official Slovenian “orglice”.
We are to be found everywhere, even on beer bottles, they say.
After this coming-alive summer, there is another and then autumn comes and with it the University. The Department of English Language and Literature greets me with its variety of girls and a handful of boys.
A black-haired, fully unknown girl stands before me, grinning ear to ear, and calls me by my name, surname and nickname. The dialect, which she does nothing to hide, puts her right there, under the Vremščica hill.
And yet, try as I might, no matter how often I’ve been to her town, her face, never mind the name, remains a mystery.
I only remember the boys.
Tarok.net is gaining members by the minute. Card-playing can take you places, so it’s not surprising that we soon start talking about taking our game offline. An organiser is found, a venue is confirmed, and we are on! The facts that it’s winter, that we’ve just had mountains of new snow and that the meeting is in the very south of Slovenia, stop only cowards.
Get-togethers soon turn regular. Another time the instruction is to bring along a self-made dessert. Not a frequent baker, I have some nail-biting fun with an orange sponge cake. As I’m taking it to the restaurant where we are meeting, a huge black host dog comes running, jumps on me, flips the tray from my hands and swallows the entire cake before I can even scream.
Meeting people who you only know by nickname and from not the best photo can be thrilling. My nickname is Mexi. I inherited it from my father, just that his is spelled Meksi. One of the highly memorable conversations goes like this:
– *Extends hand toward a newly-arrived guy.* Mexi.
– No, Mexi. *Tries to pronounce it as carefully as possible.* Like Mexico.
– Haha, well, almost, but no. MEXI!
– Mesi. *His expression remains unchanged throughout.*
Only after several repeats I realise that he is not repeating after me at all but rather giving me his nickname which I’ve seen online already when I played against him.
Damn Messi and all his soccer buddies!
There is one name that I can’t wait to hear at an introduction at such a meeting. BORIS. He is such an ego that he spells his nick in all caps. He plays like that too: as long as he is winning, all is good, but if god forbid I should win once, twice, or even more than that, he gets nasty, invents new rules, or disappears because he has “lunch”.
There is no profile photo. Of course there isn’t. I can’t wait to meet this specimen.
Alas, so far no show. There comes a time when he promises to show up the next time, “for sure”. I forget all about it but then I pass by the bar late into the meeting, I lift my head and lock eyes with a man standing there. He is perfectly unknown and has BORIS all over him. His eyes scream it, spewing venom at everything that crawls.
I approach him and say quietly: “BORIS?”
He nods, somewhat unsure if that was smart.
Friends whisk me away before I can say anything more. Outside I bump into a girl who often plays with him too, and start explaining to her that BORIS is inside, by the bar! She gives me a funny look but says nothing. Then she takes me by the hand to the bench where a little jittery old man is sitting. He doesn’t make eye contact. When I sit down opposite him, he smiles and shakes my hand with both of his, repeating in a cheerful tone: “Oh yes, Mexi, Mexi, Mexi, I remember you!” And then he giggles, fully un-BORIS-like.
You can’t even hate him after that.
As for the guy by the bar: you can be BORIS, if just for one night.