We sat at Perast’s prized Conte Restoran as we had every week this summer, listening to the Adriatic Sea lapping at our table’s edge.
The day was powder grey.
The mountains looked like someone had used an eraser on them, the watercolour clouds sagged, and droplets of rain were making perfect circles on the thick black ink sea.
As we sipped our champagne and chewed our calamari, a kayak arrived, and a waiter dressed in crisp white emerged out of nowhere holding takeaway coffee. Bending down, torso hovering above the water, he handed the woman in the kayak the cup. Minutes later, another one appeared a distance away, and I searched for the waiter, ready again with more refreshment, but this time no one was there.
As the vessel neared, I noticed it was not like the kayaks I had seen before. In fact, it wasn’t a kayak at all. It was a tiny vintage rowboat. Dark wooded and rotted, with furry oars eaten away by time and tide. The boat stopped directly at our table, and that’s when I recognised the occupants.
Their clothes told me they hadn’t been home since we encountered them yesterday. Red scarf and all.
With that same knowing smirk he had issued me in the capital, he eyed me like he knew my dreams. The girl in the sunglasses sat behind, and being so much closer this time, I was able to peruse the format of her face. Pretty in that classical, old-world way, she possessed the features valued in a time long ago, before exoticness became the standard of beauty.
“Do you have a euro for some wine?” asked the man.
“I don’t carry cash,” Milena announced unapologetically.
“A free spirit indeed,” he replied this time.
Brow furrowed, my mind busily searched for a match for the girl’s unshakably resonating visage. As they rowed away slowly, I could feel them watching me for the longest time.
When I saw they were safely out of earshot, I interrogated Milena without breath.
“What are the odds of the same people from the park yesterday, over a hundred and twenty kilometres away, being in exactly the same place as us today, again, asking us for wine money, again?”
“Happens,” she replied, bored.
“They feel so familiar,” I continued. “I…can’t explain it.”
“I can. We saw them yesterday,” Milena retorted matter-of-factly and with great disinterest.
“No,” I insisted, “even yesterday they felt familiar.”
“They’re just typical Montenegrin faces Nina,” Milena reasoned, “you see them everywhere.”
We finished our meal in silence, as I continued seeking to place their acquaintance in my mind. Too preoccupied, I couldn’t taste the meal.
The rain had stopped, and muscular men muddied by the Balkan summer sun and sporting citrus coloured board shorts, lined the thoroughfare offering tourists taxi boats to Our Lady of the Rocks.
“Ay-land bow-t,” they called out in thick Montenegrin accents. We climbed into a white dingy with one, who forgot to charge us at the end.
Once on the island, we sat cross-legged at the lighthouse, staring out in awe of the majesty of Kotor Bay. —Well, I did. Milena utilised the time to profanely condemn the boatman for not making conversation during the four hundred metre trip. That’s another thing I told myself I’d bring up on a separate occasion: her lack of ability to enjoy the moment. The list was building.
My discontentment was intercepted by a voice from behind.
“Do you have a euro for some wine?”
Swiveling around in unison, we found the same strange couple standing above us. I began fumbling through the back pocket of my denim shorts to find some, in the hope he’d finally go away.
He turned to his female companion and smiled.
“And here I thought we would need to play this game for much longer.”
Despite considering his comment largely inappropriate, I had already committed to the exchange, and couldn’t renege now. As I placed the three euros into his outstretched hand, the temperature of his palm surprised me.
“Come with us back to the shore,” he urged. “There’s something I want to show you.”
“We have to wait for the taxi boat to return,” I explained.
“Ours is just here,” he said in a pitch that was high, eyes now glistening and almost ethereal, as he pointed at the decaying oak vessel we’d seen them in at the restaurant.
“That wasn’t there before,” I thought out loud.
“Wasn’t it?” he replied, ushering us towards it with body language that made anything but acquiescence impossible.
Milena narrowed her eyes. “We won’t all fit,” was her contribution, hands on hips.
“We will,” he assured.
After clambering aboard, my right hand squeezed at Milena’s left, as we sat facing the two. And with an astonishing effortlessness, he began gliding the boat across the charcoal sea.
“Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool,” the man said as he began to remove the scarf that had been glued to his neck. The girl nodded in agreement and slowly raised her sunglasses to rest at the top of her head.
Unencumbered by the barrier of her shades for the very first time, I saw her eyes. Celestial and blue, with birthmarks on the corners of each that looked as if somebody had drawn on two love-hearts with a felt tip pen.
“What happened?” Milena interrupted the little world of the girl I’d fallen into, and that’s when I noticed the man’s disfigurement. Spanning all the way around his neck.
A loud hot wind flailed in my ears.
Absent of words, he continued rowing.
As we grew closer to the shore I could see people congregated at our favourite diving spot. I recognised some of them. The old man from the kiosk we buy soft drinks from was there, shaking his head as he laid down a large pastel wreath. The curly-haired woman whose Jack Russel we always pat was there too, farewelling a single rose into the water. And the busker we share our cigarettes with was there as well, placing a packet of our preferred brand gently onto the rock. Even the priest who greets us when we pass by his house was there, crossing his chest and saying a prayer.
“Who died here?” I asked in a whisper.
Wearing that knowing smile, Nikola replied.
About The Author
Miya Yamanouchi is a writer in South Eastern Europe. Her journalistic work can be found at Balkan Insight and The Sarajevo Times where she has reported on post-conflict issues including landmines, mine victims, transitional justice and ethnic tensions. In August 2020, Miya took her first ever creative writing class at university where she discovered a love for writing fiction and poetry.
Since then her poetic work has been published in Poets and War, Poetry Atlas and is forthcoming at Weasel Press, while her micro fiction stories can be found at Friday Flash Fiction and 50-Word Stories. Holding a Bachelor of Counselling, Miya’s self-help articles and inspirational quotes have appeared in books, magazines and textbooks since 2011, and she is also a Master of Communication student with a 90 plus average.
Cover art created by illustrator Romeo Varga for this story.