My name is Tom and I’ll turn fourteen tomorrow. I live with my mother and grandmother. Granny used to tell me that when she had been a child, a popular cartoon on her TV (which, by the way, weighed several kilos) was „Tom and Jerry“. Tom was a cat who gave hard time to Jerry the mouse. Tom Cat was the „head of the house“ making sure that the „mice do not have it their way“. But the mouse, Jerry, he would not give up easily either. No matter how many times Tom drove him out of the house, he would always come back. So many times Tom would throw him into the wall, but Jerry would always come round. And so they lived. They chased each other, hit each other, and fought with each other. Granny says the cartoon was really good. Everybody knew Tom and Jerry, followed what happened to them. If I had watched this cartoon, I would have been on Tom’s side, of course. Not because he has the same name as me, but because Tom is bigger than Jerry and he does not really want to finish off Jerry because then his life would become boring. If he were to finish Jerry, he would have nobody to tease and bother…
I am Tom, and I do not live in my country any more. My country is on north of Europe, where the winter is the most beautiful in the world. I think that winters here are too short, with not enough snow. And summers are too hot. Granny says that we do not live in our homeland any more because there is a war. She says that there used to be harmony and piece, just as here. War in my country was caused, no more and no less, by a salmon, and twenty years before that, it was the moos. North Europe is reach in good salmon. And so one day, when we finally agreed that the moos from our country were equally important as the brown moos from the neighboring country, a story broke out that the salmons from our country had not nutritional value whatsoever. And then, on top of it all, the salmon started disappearing. A coincidence? We do not think so.
And then the war. My father stayed behind to fight for our country. For salmons’ and our honor. As soon as I turn 18, and that will happen in 2049, I will volunteer to military duty. I want to fight, just like my father. To kill enemies like this: boom, boom, boom! To shot them in the head and to bite their ears off with my teeth! To burn and destroy! They say our salmon is no good!
And so, we are refugees now. I hate that word, refugee. The war forced us to move to Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were sent here because this is considered the safest place. There are no guns, or wars, or tense relations with neighboring countries. Awfully boring country, you know. No mischief, no action. Nobody is fighting and everybody is stupidly smiling to each other in the streets. As soon as we got here, my mom was given a job, but she still spends more time at home than at work; what job is that when you work only five hours a day? Mom says it’s great. And the salary is good too. Mom also says that she would never go back to our country. Nobody looks at her crossly here, and she is relaxed. She feels no different for being a woman who has a job. What a stupid thing! Women should be mothers, they should cook and take care of their families, not work and say foolish things. That is what dad taught me. Uh, I want him back! He will get her straight, with her job and cross looks… The only good thing now is that mom now buys me anything I want, and that is really cool. Uh, if they would give her money without her having to work… that would be even cooler. She would have more time to bake cakes, record my favorite show about rock’n’roll legends while I am at school, and watch reality shows with granny…
You see, mother has completely changed since we got here. She keeps talking about good behavior and polite manners. She even tries to make me behave and look up to those local kids. That stinks! All the kids here play together – boys and girls! And they go to school together. They like going to school! You would not believe it! To make things worse, I had to go to school too. That is terrible and hard thing. Everybody is making problems for me… If I just pull a girl’s hair, I get punished immediately. Would you believe that?!? And if I say one of my „famous words“ to one, the same words I used to say to girls all the time before, I get sent to the principal at once to one of her mind-numbing lectures that take awhile. “Tom, why do you tease girls? Tom, this is something one should not do. Tom, you must understand that girls are equally important as the boys. We make no difference here.” Blah, blah, blah. What a pile of nonsense! Girls to be equal to us?
To make things even worse, boys here are even bigger girls than girls! What cowards they are, you should just see… Nobody wants to join me in my game of cat and mouse, or to stand to my defense. They, the boys, imagine this: they play football together with the girls! Would you believe it! They play all the games together! They even play with dolls and they play a game that I saw here for the first time. It involves books! They listen to music together. Some wear pink clothes too! Boys, hey! Total chaos, I tell you. And school subjects are total bore… One of them that is particularly boring is “Human rights”. The lady professor tires us down with stories about equality of all people on this Earth. And on Tuesdays, a professor gives lessons on “Gender equality”. There they teach us that the girls can do anything boys can! That anybody can be whatever they want! That one is free to choose how they feel and behave. That we should respect and support each other. Sometimes I think that this Bosnia is not at all on this planet Earth! And in addition to compulsory classes, we have this informal education. Informal education? Never heard of it before, have you? You don’t have to go to these classes, but, watch this, if you do, that affects your final grade. That is creative, they say. I say, boring, boring, stupid and lame! Samra, a girl from my class, proposed out of blue to join her in photography classes. She concluded I liked the art of photography since I was carrying camera with me all the time. Since the classes were not mandatory, I naturally refused Samra’s proposal. I told her she should come to my place for me to teach her photography and that I would love to make couple of portraits of her large bottom, if you know what I mean. She said nothing; she only turned her head away angrily. And Darko, boy from the second row, told me I was a lost case. And this lead to discussion among the whole class. Only because I told one girl she had a large bottom. Ha! They are all losers. They know nothing. They are all sooo nice, and happy, there is order and totally uninteresting… Poor me.
And since I have no friends, I spend my time online. I play “Music wars”, I chat with virtual people hoping to come across some of my old friends – once I met John and we were both jumping up and down out of joy. And sometimes I hear from my dad. The other day he wrote I should take care of my mom and granny and that I was the head of the family now. That I should watch them with “four eyes”. Of course, dad, I write to him. I never told him mom started “wearing pants”. I did not want to worry him additionally, I will deal with this one way or another. I did not mention Samra, or the subjects, or Darko. What could I tell him? Dad, there is this one Samra in my class; blond hair, eyes of the color of grass, a bit shorter than me, wears colorful jumpers all the time, plays basketball well and listens to The Age. And there is this Darko, who is so obviously in love with her that he seems ridiculous. Darko wears great shoes and has long brown hair, just like a girl…. Samra and Darko play in the school band. I heard Darko yesterday saying the band needed a new drummer. He does not know that he has one right there in the class, and a great one too! Me, of course! I am thinking that I should go to their bend practice, just sit at the drums and leave them speechless, with their mouths open. I see Samra drooling over me, I see Darko growing horns of jealousy. Well, that is exactly what I am going to do tomorrow! I can’t wait! This is the first time I can’t wait to go to school…
The new day came. The lessons are finally over, but the “real school” is just beginning on the top floor…
I have no problems finding the classrooms where they practice. I do not bother to knock.
“Hi, hello, Tom?!”, says Darko.
“Don’t you do some jamming here?”, I ask with angry tone of voice.
“No, I mean, yes. But only in half an hour. I came in early to practice my bass solo. And what are you doing here?”
“I came to play”.
I confused him. He is staring at me blindly. I laugh.
I sit at the drums without wasting any more time on questions and beating around bush. Bum-dum-dum… Darko’s face became even funnier. When I finally finished and he got his breath back, I realized how much I had been missing this. Missing this… playing the real drums, not only those in the “Music Wars”…
“That was incredible, Tom! That was… amazing! I wish I could play like that! Who taught all those tricks? You must play in our band. The local competition is coming, and with you, the prize is ours!”, said Darko.
“O-o, slowly! What prize?”
“Going to the Moonstock festival! For the whole band! Three days of rock’n’roll in London!”
“Don’t say! That is really something! And do the girls go? No, don’t tell me. Their mothers would never let them go. And in the worst case scenario, if they would go, I would have to pretend they were not there. Hey, when is the competition? How much time do we have to practice? What do you play? If you are playing some tacky dance-pop, don’t count on me”.
Darko laughed and continued: “Of course we would all go: that is, if we win, the whole band would go. Music professor would come with us, too, you know Vanja – she is the best. Samra is the singer, and Esma plays keyboard. It would be ridiculous if their mothers would not let them go – Samra’s mother is a famous singer – Samra got her voice from her. They are great. Esma is the one who started the bend, she got us all together. If it weren’t for her, I would still be playing in a boring pop band. And, I should not forget to mention Damir – our guitar virtuoso.”
Funny. I don’t believe until I see it. I haven’t even finished the sentence, when the rest of the group got together in the classroom. Strangely, they found nothing odd with me being there, they all greeted me as friends and took up their instruments. I stand by the drums. Darko gives me a sign to sit down and take my sticks. I get his mimes as though I knew him my whole life. They start with this ancient hit which is still so famous today for its amazing power of music and words, but that does not exactly fit into my vision of the whole thing around a school band, school and its students and professors, the whole situation… Sure enough, I know the song.
Samra starts to sing confidently. She has amazing voice. Darko is not bad at all with his bass. Esma is “magician at the keyboard” and I can’t get my eyes off her. She smiles at me. She looks so cool. The boy with the guitar reminds me a lot of my mate John… They really sound mean. And they look the part too. The fact that the band is made of both boys and girls gives it an additional power and force, strength that makes sense…
I fit in smoothly, and now the whole floor of the school echoes the words of the song Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd. Who knows, maybe this will turn out to be not so bad.
Story: Mensura Jazavčević
Illustration: Filip Andronik
Mensura Jazavčević Mensi was born on March 11, 1983 in Tuzla, where she grew up and got her education. She says for herself that she is a child of conformism and rebellion. She does not believe in old sayings, but she does believe that a person learns for as long as they live. She is into many things, but her greatest passions are writing poetry and music reviews. Her hobbies include painting, virtual expressions, advocating gender equality and reading. She lives and works in Tuzla.