Tears ran down my face, my mouth was full of onion-flavoured lava and pig-fat, and my eleven-year-old aspirations of manhood were as distant as they were before I got into the car with these lunatics.
To make matters worse, they all smoked. Constantly. There was never not a lit cigarette being puffed on for the entire length of the trip to the hunting ground.
“So open a window!” you say. In a car full of Serbs such a thing was simply not possible. You see, an open window would generate “promaya”. And promaya, as every Serb will tell you as he crosses himself in holy protection, kills Serbs. No Serb would ever voluntarily subject himself to promaya, and should promaya occur, then everything else will stop until the cause of this promaya is dealt with.
I will save you Googling the word. It means “draught”. Cool air being directed into a confined space in which there is a Serb is a catastrophe. All Serbs know this because all Serbs are raised to know this. It’s a simple fact of life for us. How so many non-Serbs have managed to live after being subjected to promaya remains a great Serbian mystery, but may well have something to do with Satan.
So no open window. Just chain-smoking Serbs munching on onions, pig-fat, and chillies. All the way from Sydney to the Macquarie Marshes – which lie some way past Warren on the Carinda Road. That is now a seven-odd hour ride – maybe eight-and-a-bit if you stop for a meal. In 1972 this journey took a solid 18 hours – which included an hour-long discussion with a policeman the other side of Dubbo, but I’ll get to that.
On this journey no-one cared about my needs. No-one gave a shit when I had to pee. No-one gave any thought to my comfort, or that the wooden orange crate I had on my lap had caused me to lose all feeling in my legs, so I had to fall out of the car when it did stop for petrol. There was no water to drink (it had all been packed away in the back of the car for use on the hunting ground), so I had to slurp it from taps in petrol stations or front yards of houses in small towns where we might stop along the way. There were no lollies or chips to keep me sugared up and perky. There was lots of onions, pig-fat, and chillies, and obviously vast quantities of rakija which Pane would sip at from time to time (my dad didn’t drink, and Voya, who drove the whole way, would only have a belt every hour or so to keep him focussed), but nothing at all in that car was geared to keeping me in any state approaching contentment.
I was not even asked if I was OK at any stage. I was pretty much ignored, which was quite normal, so I was not in the least offended or hurt. I was a child. These were adults, and they spoke of adult things in adult ways, and it was expected I would sit in respectful silence just wondering if I would ever get the full use of my legs back.
To be perfectly honest, I only understood maybe 70 per cent of what was being said anyway. The men were using words and phrases I had not ever heard before. Sure there were the usual Serb swear words my dad used in everyday speech, which I was familiar with. But there seemed to be all these other swear words he was using for the very first time in my hearing, and they would be combined with other words in ways that truly astonished and amazed me. When I ran them past my mum upon my return she turned very pale, spoke to Jesus for a while, and then went to have words with my father about how her son had acquired this new vocabulary. It was subsequently made clear I was not to use those words at the dinner table ever again. My mum was not at all good with me saying to her: “Ma nemoj da me zezash!” when she put more soup on my plate. I cannot blame her. Had I known I was telling her to stop sucking my dick I would never have said it. The Aussie equivalent is “Stop shit-stirring me”. But when you consider the Serbian equivalent to “Fuck off” is “Idi u pichku materinu” (“Get into your mother’s cunt”) you’ll understand there really is no equivalence here at all.
So I sat in numb-legged and respectful silence in the back of Voya’s car for hours upon hours, and listened to the men discussing things. Did they have enough salt for the hides? Who was that goofy idiot in the car behind us and who was responsible for bringing him? Did they have enough cigarettes? Did Voya remember to bring the key for the gate? The new spotlight should be much better than the old spotlight. All the Yugoslav Communists needed to be hanged immediately after all the remaining Yugoslav fascists were lined up against a wall and shot. Their conversations were wide-ranging, loud, and their positions on various issues were absolute and with no hint of compromise.
The Germans made the best cars. Sima was the greatest gunsmith the world had ever seen and it was great he was along for this trip. An SG shotgun shell was more efficacious than an SSG load if the pig was especially large. My father’s .303-270 was better in every way than Voya’s .243. Dalmatian wine was the best in the world. Red-furred pigs were more aggressive than black-furred pigs, but the mottled, piebald fuckers were the nastiest of them all. And so on and so forth.
Nothing was ever solved, no debate was ever won or lost, and despite everyone telling everyone to get into their mother’s cunt every few seconds, no-one ever got mad and they laughed a lot. And Pane continued to consume the onions, pig-fat, and chillies with terrifying regularity.
I was in awe of him. How could a human being put that much high-end fire-food into his mouth and not die was beyond me. He offered me bits of slanina from time to time, and let me have bites of an onion, but after the initial tear-filled collapse of my first chilli-tasting, didn’t bother holding the jar out to me.
I dozed off from time to time, but I must have fallen into a deeper sleep late in the afternoon because it was dark when I woke up struggling to breathe. The air in the car was poisonous. My father, Voya, and Dragan, were in the process of telling Pane they were ready to fuck the sun that shone on him, the mother’s milk that fed him, his mouth, his diet, his faith, and his very blood, while Pane chortled at them. I knew it was serious when both Voya and my father opened their windows a few centimetres, letting the dreaded promaya in.
I understood that death by promaya was preferable to asphyxiation due to Pane’s arse-gas. Quite understandable, actually. His diet of onion, salted pig-fat, chillies, and rakija produced farts that transcended anything I had ever experienced before. I had no terms of reference. I was eleven. And I was trapped in a miasma of such despicable horror, I had no idea how Voya could even drive. The stench was impossible. A human being could surely not produce such a smell. And yet…here it was…
We continued to hurtle through the night. The smell Pane had emitted lingered. He helped himself to more slanina, onion, and chillies. Clearly, there would be further emissions. My legs were much better. There had been vague pins and needles before. Now I felt nothing below my pelvis. My spine might as well have been severed. This must be what it’s like to have been born without legs.
I had no idea where we were, and I had no idea where we were going. So I also had no idea how long this trip was going to last. My father was of the view such information was not essential to me, and after I had earlier asked him where we were, only to be told “Na putu” (“On the road”), I kept my mouth shut. It was likewise pointless to ask how much further we had to go. None of that was my business, and I had no issues or questions that needed to be addressed, as far as my fellow hunters were concerned.
In today’s enlightened times, this might be seen as child abuse. Pandering to a child’s every whim, whimper, and whine, is what clearly guides many parents today. It is what passes for parenting today. Which is all well and good, I guess.
In 1973, in Voya’s Ford, there was none of that. There were only endless cigarettes, Pane’s unimaginable bowel gasses, and orange crate which had crippled me, swearing on a level I could barely grasp, debates on subjects I could not comprehend, and the all-consuming realisation that my needs, wants, whims, whimpers, and whines were as important to this situation as the bugs that crashed into Voya’s car as it hurtled through the night.
Now please don’t think my childish feelings were hurt by any of this. They were not important enough to be hurt. And it’s not like this was anything new, either. My feelings were only ever important to my mum, and they were only ever addressed by her. But only up to a point. When she was not there, like now, they were not addressed at all.
And this is when the police car pulled over our little convoy…
PART THREE IS ON THE WAY…
Subscribe and get to see the real spicy stuff and much more
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.