To go bowling in Serbia, you have to pass the Roma-gypsy camps. You go under a bridge where some of their homes are set up, then drive the length of about two New York City blocks until you arrive at Delta City, the shopping mall.
We point out the homes to our children, and the heaps of garbage alongside them. The homes look more like boxes, made out of cardboard, scraps of metal, pieces of wood, than spaces where people eat, sleep, change a diaper, make love. The surroundings are cold and grim. I see a man outside his small house holding a baby and bouncing it on his knee. He, too, has to entertain his child today. I doubt he’ll be going bowling.
I cannot believe what a bad bowler I am. Neither can my husband. Most of the game he’s making fun of me, shaking his head as I get another gutter. About mid-game, I’ve scored six. You read that right. Six. I really don’t want to stay there. My competitive streak is starting to flare. I look at those pins when I’m up next and, damnit, I want to knock them down. I hold the ball between my eyes. I steady myself. I look at those pins and I throw the ball. No gutter…no gutter…a strike! Oh my god! I scream and jump up and down. I turn around. Where is my husband? Where on earth did he go? I got a strike and he missed it?
“Where were you? I just got a strike! You missed it!”
“I had to pee.”
I threw up my arms. It was no surprise that I came in last place.
We got in the car and drove home after that. Past the Roma camps again. I thought about my strike and how my husband missed it. It made me think of other glories that are missed, because that does happen. This is life, after all. I thought of a boy I’ve seen at the outdoor ice rink more than once since our time in Serbia. He looks like he’s about ten years old, but he’s probably older. No doubt his growth has been stunted. I can see age in his face. He skates so well and so fine, you cannot take your eyes off him when he’s on the ice. He skates backwards so fast he looks like he was born with a pair of skates on his feet, or he’s just got pure talent in his Roma-gypsy blood.
If this were America, at the very least he would have his own skates. He would not have to borrow the skates the park lends for free. He’d probably be on a team. He’d be recognized. But this ain’t America where even a scraggly-looking homeless man blessed with a golden voice has more of a chance then a small boy who defies gravity on ice. This is Serbia. There are no cameras, no media, and no one is looking. Like my husband who left during my critical moment of glory, for this young boy, the world has gone out to pee. Only this isn't a game we're talking about. It's a life.