Ada Ciganlija

The sun is beating down on the concrete canyon of the street. My girlfriend and I squeeze under the thin precious slivers of shade from the only tree we can find, and wait.

Finally, the clanking yellow metal can that is the bus rumbles full throttle towards us, black fumes emanating behind it. We get on, the diesel engine revs into gear and hot air rushes in. The bus, being number 55, is full of people who, like us, are going to Ada lake for a swim, for shade, for the bikinis and the muscles, but mostly because it is summer.

A wild energy wafts through to us from the back, so I turn to look and see that on the last row are sat four or five teenage boys. They are t-shirtless and showing off their pubescent muscles to any female who dares engage their testosterone-filled attention spans.

Case in point: at the very next stop, a couple of teenage girls get on and the boys give them a loud cheer and a whistle or two. A little later on, when the bus stalls and the driver tries several times before reigniting life back into his over-heated engine, the boys give a loud cheer and a hoot.

By the time we reach our destination, everybody is hot, tired and has not an ounce of patience left for civil norms of society. The bus flings its hydraulic doors open and all of us disgorge mob-mentality style and good luck to anyone who happens to be walking in the other direction.

Our party-bus comrades soon dissipate in the heat. My girlfriend and I are now faced with the prospect of having to brave the scorching sun until we get to the shade of the trees on the other side of the lake.

We are only a third of the way into our trek when a guy on a bike passes us and I see that below his saddle he has one of those little bags that everyone seems to think they need. On it is the logo of the Tour de France and seeing it reminds me I’m missing the day’s stage.

By a bench, I spot an abandoned crocodile leather shoe. It’s a pretty fancy shoe, belonging to what must have been a dandy kind-of-guy, and immediately I wonder what happened on that bench the night before.

We finally make it to the trees and are immediately welcomed by the constant sound of water pouring out of a public fountain. We cool down for a while and I notice how utterly burnt the grass beyond our patch of shade is; it no longer has any trace of chlorophyll in it but is instead a corn-coloured yellow. A portly middle-aged woman with two big wet patches on her shirt from her swimsuit below walks past.

Refreshed, we get up and amble our way past stalls that sell anything the flip-flopped hordes might desire: ice-cream, sunglasses, jewellery, more ice-cream, drinks, snacks, and, in case I didn’t mention it, ice-cream.

Just beyond the stalls, we enter the ecosystem that is Ada proper. Whole families are grouped on blankets, towels and inflatables of all kinds, all of which are strategically placed in the deepest shade possible.

We walk past a matriarch, sat cross-legged and with a knife in hand, cutting pieces off of a huge watermelon. She holds up each slice long enough — a matter of milliseconds — for it to be swiped by one of the orbiting kids.

A little further on, a retired couple are sat at one of those wooden tables. They’re busy laying out utensils, food and drinks from pre-packaged picnic boxes. I watch on and admire this silent choreography that only years of practice can deliver.

Amongst the islands of life, pigeons and sparrows are involved in an incessant battle over any potential discarded scraps of anything that might mildly qualify as edible. (Somehow, the tiny sparrows always zero-in on the target, swoop in, pick it up and fly away victoriously in the time it takes the much larger pigeons to even begin processing what just happened. I feel a little sorry for them).

We give the thump-thump-thump of generic pop music from a nearby cafe a wide berth and start to look around for a place to collapse. A little boy runs past us with arms outstretched, Jesus-like, because of the inflatable arm safety rings he is wearing.

Eventually we find a spot and lay down our blanket — courtesy of an unnamed airline. The earth floor is hard like concrete but I am sleepy; I can faintly hear the splashing of water in the distance.

I turn onto my side and with heavy eyelids, I see that a dozen of meters away, just beyond the groups of people, a toddler is peeing against a tree. His mother is standing behind him, holding whatever needs to be held.

An old man on a bike then slowly pedals into my vision. He is wearing nothing but speedos and flip-flops and his posture reminds me of the way fishermen cycle: slowly, rhythmically, and with the least bit of care for the concept of Time. I close my eyes and fall asleep.

God, I love summer.


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