Written by: Miloš Petrik
Translated by: Ivana Rangelov
It all began in the burek bakery of Pavle Krsmanović when the saleslady Smiljka Tomić sold Novica Vasić a burek with meat (still hot) and handed him a receipt, and some change.
It all began, in fact, the day before, while Novica Vasić was helping his girlfriend Lidija Kolarov study obligations law for the sixth time. Novica was then enlightened by the knowledge that goods must be sold at the advertised price.
He was buying a burek at the “old” price which Pavle Krsmanović did not deign to remove for the third week now. For the first time in his life, guided by the vague, fuzzy feeling that something is wrong, Novica rebelled.
“That’s not the price,” he tried to say, but his throat suddenly dried up. He hissed something that sounded like an attempt at a sentence.
Smiljka Tomić looked at him as if she did not understand him, which was true.
“That’s not the price you posted.”
“This? This is the old price. The correct prices are in the cash register. ”
“I don’t care,” Novica said, feeling himself blushing. “I want burek at that price.”
At that moment, Pavle Krsmanović appeared from somewhere and gestured to Smiljka Tomić to get away. He put his hairy hands on the counter and got into Novica’s face.
“No can do. The price went up. Take it or leave it.”
Novica has come up with a few good comebacks to that, but, unfortunately, only an hour or two after turning on his heel and going home without the burek.
An event barely worthy of three minutes of kafana talk. Novica Vasić, however, did not even dream of how it would snowball.
Novica was most bothered by the fact that he knew he was right, but he didn’t have the willpower to confront Krsmanović’s arrogance. Lidija Kolarov, of course, had no words of consolation.
“What did you think, that you could go from door to door correcting people? They know it all very well, but they don’t care. And there’s no way to make them sell you anything at a listed price if they’d decided to fuck about. Perhaps if the Market Inquisition, by some miracle, got involved.” Novica did not waste any time. He sat down at the computer the next morning, and he typed up his denunciation to the Inquisition.
He was very surprised when, two days later, he received an e-mail from inspector Vasilisa Vučinić, informing him that the Inquisition had made an inspection, determined the existence of irregularities from the denunciation and that it has taken measures within its remit. He was so excited that he jumped out of bed as if he was burnt, jumped over Lidija sleeping beside him, pulled on yesterday’s clothes, and ran into the street in his slippers. On the shop window of the bakery of Pavle Krsmanović, a notice was put up that the shop will not open for the next two weeks, according to the ruling of the Market Inquisition number so-and-so. Novica Vasić was delighted.
A lot of things can be said of Novica Vasić: that he is boring, naive, stupid, and even that he has ears too big for the head that nature has endowed him with. One, however, cannot be said: that he is lazy.
From here on, everything went much easier. Novica put some effort towards reading Lidija’s books, and in a short time, he could quiz her without consulting the textbook or regulations. The Zobnica health food store does not display consumer information notes alongside bulk peanuts? Solved. The “Lokator”, a kafana, does not have separate toilets for staff and guests? I don’t think so. The Chinese takeaway“Year Of the Pig” does not have a warning about allergens on the menu? Not for long.
Soon he started a blog called “Consumer Avenger”. In a few short weeks, the views were measured in thousands, and the complaint form for the Market Inquisition (which he himself compiled; Lidija Kolarov had dumped him for a teaching assistant) was downloaded from the site over five hundred times. Enraged consumers across the globe celebrated him on Twitter as a guru.
It did not take long, and Novica was invited as a guest to a local radio station; once, twice, and then to the public television’s morning programme . There, after months of correspondence regarding twenty denunciations, he met in person with inspector Vasilisa Vučinić for the first time.
Not knowing what to expect, Novica thought he had handled himself well. The host, with an unnaturally joyous facial expression, presented him as an urban hero, which surprised him a bit. He was stuttering some gibberish about the responsibility of “all of us”. Vasilisa Vučinić, who was a little younger than he expected, but by behaviour, however, resembled a crone even more than he expected; explained that the Market Inquisition cannot independently “inspectorise” all traders, however it heavily relies on citizens to inform them; and in this case the most prominent informant is Novica. Both women were smiling widely, and Novica could only say that for him, the kind of modest civic engagement he practiced represents “the most normal thing”.
When he left the studio, he got a message from Lidija Kolarov. “Hey, you were so cute on TV. When are we meeting?” He decided not to reply, but he was grinning from ear to ear all the way home.
That day, the “Consumer Avenger” exploded. Several times it went down, and Novica was convinced that it happened due to a DOS attack. He quickly found out that there wasn’t the slightest chance for that: he became popular. In the following weeks, the traffic on the site was constantly increasing, Novica began to pick up some revenue from ads, and got the first headache from the full-time job of answering the mail.
It seemed to Novica as if the whole local Internet began to regard him as an institution of the system. He explained, in vain, that he was not the one to be addressed; however, his virtual mailboxes were filled with more and more denunciations which, under normal circumstances, the Market Inquisition would resolve. He had his duty very well in mind, and all such denunciations were forwarded to Vasilisa Vučinić.
The Internet was quick to surprise him again: he also began to receive threatening messages, and even a few letters from female fans (even if Lidija’s repentant emails weren’t counted, and Novica did not think there was a good reason for that). The threatening ones were routinely solved, he only reported them to the police. He did not feel threatened: his address could not be found anywhere on the Internet or in the address book, and to each troll, a single call from the police would be a sufficient bar from further threats. He would, occasionally reply to the other ones, politely thanking for every kind word, and going no further than that.
Jara K. broke this kind of routine. There was something in the first email that she sent to him that was very interesting to Novica. Perhaps it was how she described his efforts: she used words like “his work”, which was closely related to Novica’s own experience of his own endeavour. Perhaps it was the fact that the remark that his work was a “big thing” was spiced up with a winking smiley. And maybe the attached picture of a beautiful girl in expensive underwear, who seemed very excited by the sliding of a strap of her bra, ruled over. Anyway, she asked him out for a drink, to “duly thank him” for everything he did.
Novica, however, was not as naive as his few friends thought. He replied to her briefly and in a composed manner, as with everyone else, and then set himself to furious googling of the mysterious Jara. The photo was a bit too professional, and it turned out that he was right: she was part of a series from the local incarnation of the “Playboy”.
The very next morning he got a new email, with a repeated invitation to a date. Irritated, tired, half-naked and bleary-eyed (he always checked the mail before the first coffee), he replied quite sharply, convinced that it was some kind of a hoax. After five strict sentences which he edited and rearranged five times, he also attached a link to the “Playboy” article where he had found the photos, and wrote that he did not understand, if someone is already impersonating somebody else, why do they do it so naively.
In the afternoon, he was greeted by the reply: Jara K. is really Jara K, and she is engaged in “modelling”. And she really wants to meet him. As evidence, she enclosed a photo of the same girl, in a grey track suit, and without makeup. In one hand she held the daily newspapers, probably still hot off the press, and in the other a paper on which “I ♥ Novica” was written with a pink lip gloss. Something snapped inside Novica. His motives, he told himself, they were always unselfish. He just wanted to correct some minor injustice. However, he wondered more and more, the longer he looked at Jara’s photos, would it be so wrong if there were some benefits for him, from this whole business? No! He suggested to Jara to meet her somewhere in her neighbourhood. To his surprise, she suggested a café not far from his building.
He arrived about ten minutes earlier, and that made him feel the same as when as when he was left without a burek. He ordered a coffee, and, vainly, tried not to look toward the entrance. The scheduled time has passed, and after it, seven unacceptably long minutes. Novica was about to pretend for a second time that he was going to get up when Jara appeared. She looked a bit shorter in person, tinier than in the pictures, but no less provocative. She scanned the room with her big green eyes, and, when she noticed him, she lit up his corner with a smile. Novica wanted to get up and wave at her, but his knees, teaming up with his jaw, decided that he shall stay down and grin.
She sat next to him, said that she was glad to have met him, touching the back of his hand on that occasion, causing him a slight cardiac arrhythmia. Two hours of Novica’s life simply disappeared in the fragrance of perfume and coffee. He offered to walk her home, and she, despite his experiences and extremely realistic expectations, accepted.
Novica was too bewitched which made the skepticism, which determined the tone of his email to Jara that morning, impossible to revive, even for a moment. Not even when the path to Jara’s flat went inexplicably into a dark parking lot. Novica did not realize his mistake, even when a hard hit to the head threw him on the ground, blurring his vision.
Confused and half-blind from the pain, he moaned and scratched at the asphalt, trying to determine the direction in which the ground was. He felt a sharp pain in the ribs. His hands covered his chest all by themselves, and he fell face down in a shallow puddle. When he tried to get back on his feet, someone stepped on his fingers.
“Don’t wanna get up?” asked Pavle Krsmanović rhetorically. “Do you know how much you have cost me?”
“No… please…” Novica begged. The muddy water from the puddle was going down his chin. Pavle Krsmanović kicked him into the stomach, and Novica thought that he would throw up everything he had ever put in his mouth, starting with the coffee he had drunk with Jara, and concluding with his mother’s milk.
“What are you begging for? Now you beg, when everyone’s getting their burek at that Seferi’s place. And what am I supposed to do? “
“You’re so pathetic.” Novica raised his head and met Jara K’s gaze. Jara Krsmanović’s gaze, he realized with horror.
“But… How did you find me? Private address… “
“Oh, a private address, who could have possibly revealed it so carelessly?” Novica froze. Inspector Vasilisa Vučinić walked into his field of view.
“What did you think, that the Market Inquisition exists just because of you?” The tip of her shoe met not so gently with the tip of his nose. “Every day a new denunciation! If I wanted to actually do things, do you think I would take a government job? “
Novica became aware that a lot of people gathered around him. He recognized some of the local merchants and shopkeepers on whose bad side he got on quite recklessly, he thought, but most of them were completely unknown.
“For the love of God, who are you people?!” he screamed.
A young man, whose butcher’s he reported for the incorrectly labeled fatty tissue in sausages, came out of the crowd.
“We are the militant wing of the Association of Entrepreneurs,” he said, pulling the meat chopper from the covers. “Get ready to be recalled.”
Miloš Petrik is a lawyer from Belgrade who left a glamorous job in the lawyer’s office for the glamorous job in the media business, and a glamorous job in the media for a glamorous job in the production of computer games. He was published in several domestic and foreign magazines and anthologies, collaborated with Radio Beograd 202, participated several times as a screenwriter at the exhibition of the International Salon of Comics in Belgrade, and wrote a collection of stories “Grey Chronicle” published by the Association of Fantasy Lovers “Lazar Komarčić”. Lately, he is engaged in literary translation. He likes food, beer, ties and games of all kinds. He is married and lives in Belgrade.
Ivana Rangelov, born in 1992 in Kraljevo. Graduated from the Faculty of Philology and Arts in Kragujevac, major English language and literature. I teach English, translate, which is my first love, occasionally do some writing, and I am collecting books for my personal library. I have translated various texts, from the literary ones to vocational ones.