Pushing the Boundary

1 December 2014 Fikret Pajalic

Pushing the Boundary

Courtesy of Getty Images

After coming to Australia as a refugee, Fikret Pajalic discovered something that he desperately wanted to share with his family on the other side of the world.

 

It was late December 1997 and my wife and I were on our way to Bosnia. It was just two years since the war had finished. We left the concrete heat of Northcote in Melbourne’s inner north and flew off into the Balkan winter.

My family asked me to come in their summer, but I could only get time off in December and January, when Aussies go on holiday. I worked in a factory that closed up shop for eight weeks during summer, so I didn’t have much choice. My wife was born in Melbourne so was only faintly acquainted with Sarajevo’s seasons. She said she didn’t mind seeing a proper winter.

We landed at Sarajevo Airport the same day President Clinton and his cavalcade entered the city. Officially Clinton was on his way to visit a US army base 120km north of Sarajevo, but decided to stop in the capital and wish Bosnian citizens and American soldiers a ‘Merry Christmas’. Unofficially, he wanted to try the famous Sarajevo ćevapi, a grilled skinless sausage of ground beef and spices served in somun bread.

Every major road was blocked off and we had to skirt around the city, through suburbs that were the first line of defence, to get to my parents’ house. While the city centre was decorated and cleaned up, the suburbs still bled. We could see the trenches, bombed houses, blown up schools. The snow started falling and it didn’t stop for two days. If you’re not a kid, there’s not much you can do in winter. I came prepared. I brought with me 10 four-hour video tapes of cricket matches I had recorded during my past three years in Melbourne.

I fell in love with cricket because of the boredom. I arrived in Melbourne with a bunch of refugees in May 1994 and had no money, work or any useful language skills. So we watched lots of television, and cricket seemed to be on all the time. A Croat man from the flat next door, who was born in Australia, tried to explain the rules while we watched. At the end of the first day of watching, things started falling into place. I understood the game and could follow it. I was hooked by the hypnotic monotony, pierced by an occasional shriek from a bowler.

I started barracking for a chubby youngster called Shane for no particular reason, except that back in Yugoslavia I remembered a character from a Western movie with the same name. Shane from the movie was noble and heroic and ready to die for a cause. I didn’t know if Cricket Shane had the first two qualities, but he seemed to be doing everything he could to get the other bastards/batsmen out.

My mission was to introduce cricket to my Bosnian neighbourhood, which, with hindsight, was a folly almost as great as Hitler attacking the Russians. Apart from the tapes, I brought a bat, shin pads and two cricket balls.

My friends, my father and my brother watched the game for about twenty minutes before unanimously declaring it to be the most boring game ever. I tried not to look offended.

“A couple of years away from home and he thinks he’s an Englishman,” I heard someone mutter. Here I was talking cricket to people in a city that had gone through a four-year siege; the longest in the history of modern warfare. They needed more practical things than games. I could not look my father and brother in the eye.

Wind forward to 2011 and my first ever Skype conversation with my brother. He’s married and has a 12-year-old son, Karim. It’s late June and sunny in Bosnia. My brother has a laptop and he wants to show me around. He takes me on a virtual trip and I see the backyard of my childhood, where my brother and I kicked a soccer ball until our bare feet were bloody from burrs and thistles.

“Watch this,” he says, walking toward one side of the screen. On the other side I see Karim, dressed in white shorts and a white T-shirt, holding a bat. My brother runs and delivers a bouncer. Unfazed by the speed, Karim slashes it along the ground and says: “That’s a boundary for sure.”

 

» Fikret Pajalic came to Melbourne as a refugee and learned English in his mid- twenties. His fiction has appeared in many publications, such as Overland, Verge Annual and Structo (UK). He’s working on a short- story collection funded by Arts Victoria.

This piece was first published in Ed#468.

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