The Meek Tourist
My landlord got his boat engine going and ran it, revved it, for a nice long time. This sound, and my rumbling stomach, pushed back against my travel anxiety and compelled me to venture to the market.
Walking the aisles, I hid behind my feeling that I was an unfit visitor, my self-consciousness that always struck during my first days in a new place. I managed to find four kinds of cereal. I couldn’t locate sliced cheese. And where was the bread? Behind the counter with the meat and eggs. I would have to ask for it. The deliberation over whether to just skip the bread took nearly five minutes–it would be very American and carb-aware of me, but then what would I do with this tunafish? Finally, I went to the counter, pointed, and smiled as warmly as I could. I tried to remember that the women in the store were accustomed to tourists. They presented me with the bread just left of the bread I wanted. I took it, beaming nonetheless.
At the checkout, a woman in fingerless gloves and a leather coat peered through her heavy eye makeup at the subtotal, then changed her mind on a jumbo jar of beets. Another register opened nearby. The Croatian Tammy Faye turned to advise me into the other line, likely so she could take her time considering other items to keep or to leave. I gave her a blank stare and a blink and a small choke with a shrug. And she nodded and muttered to the clerk. She understood: this poor tourist had no clue what was going on and it wasn’t worth the charades. In the summer, the city would be full of visitors, but this was spring so we were scarce.
Elsewhere, people had Croatia written on their calendars, their summer plans, their bucket lists. Arrangements for a trip to the coast. And they would arrive, where I’d already wandered, and perhaps we’d just miss each other. I should be grateful to be there! I reminded myself of this so often that I missed the middle ground and became too reverent. Sorry I hadn’t learned this seemingly impossible language, desirous not to be in anyone’s way. In a few days I would be more bold–or at least more efficient–but in the first days the learning curve always arched back at me. But at least I had taken the first few steps, at least I had enough for lunch.