A Wanderer

Neda, a blue-eyed fourteen-year-old with a swinging black ponytail, was walking down Brothers Wolf Street in Vinkovci and posting black-and-white photocopies of a long-haired Persian cat. There was no need for many colors as the cat was white and would be so in a color photo as well. The cat evinced a pensive, perhaps angry and mistrustful expression, so that if a passerby read the text—A three-year-old female cat, lost. If you find Mimi, call . . .—he might think that she had deliberately run away. And that is what a middle-aged man said, startling Neda, in English. “Are you sure Mimi hasn’t simply run away?” She stared at the man’s thick, curly beard, his long salt-and-pepper hair, and the crow’s-feet around his hazel eyes.

“Pretty cat,” he said.

“I ran out of tacks.”

“No problem!” The stranger stuck the paper to the red bark of the fir tree by its resin. The tree could have been a good Christmas tree in its youth but was now shaggy, its branches drying out, and it bore scars of shrapnel from the war that took place a quarter century ago. The scars kept bleeding resin and failed to heal.

“Are you a refugee?” she asked him. “I’ve read a lot about refugees but I haven’t seen one yet. You look Syrian.”

“You could say that.”

“Why aren’t you in a group?”

“Maybe like your cat I left a group.”

“How did you get here?”

“Across the Danube and through the cornfields.”

“But there were warnings that the fields could be mined.”

“Of course, just to scare people away. How would you grow corn in a minefield?”

“Where are you from?”

The man rolled his eyes. His eyes were large and clear. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I see her!”

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