The marketplace

She was not going to school yet, but her sister was while also starting music school. The music school was next to a foundry, and the foundry was across the street from the Belgrade Baking Industry, one of the largest bakeries in town. The marketplace was around the corner, Rakovica market, full of fresh foods, mostly vegetables. The market stalls were in the middle, market shops – hardware store, fish shop, dairy shop, a small supermarket and the butcher – in a half circle surrounding the stalls. 

Dad was the butcher, mostly working long hours. Mom was the only driver in the family. She was one of two drivers in the street, but the other one was grumpy. So mom was driving dad to work, the neighbor to the health station, sister to the music school. She would get to sit in the car and enjoy the rides and sing. The marketplace was always exciting, full of action, sellers and the customers rushing, from one shop to the next, stall to stall, back and forth. Especially Uncle Milun, from the hardware store, was running, round and big like a cannonball, her sister would say (she saw it in a comic book and loved to use the word). It was always clean, the marketplace, the cleanest place in the world, she thought, someone was always hosing it down. Some people slept inside the market stalls on the weekends, she wished she could do it too. It seemed cozy and warm. She would sit inside the newspaper kiosk with auntie Prodana while mom was helping dad in the shop. Auntie would show her the latest magazines and comic books and the new types of lollies and chewing gum. She would get to choose one to taste it. Peach flavored chewing gum was her favorite, but it didn’t get delivered to the newspaper kiosk often.

There was a special moment she would anticipate, look forward to, actually, in those hours while waiting for mom and dad to finish at the shop and the sister to return from music school. In the afternoon, some time when it was already starting to get dark, an amazing thing would occur. The foundry would release the smoke, thick, black, hot smoke coming out of black pipes, making her eyes itchy and making it difficult to breathe. Sometimes the smoke sparkled with glowing hot drops of metal. At the same time, the bakery would finish the evening round of bread for the factories in the neighborhood. But it would release the most beautiful, the sweetest, almost intoxicating smell of freshly baked loaves. The two smells would mix, bitter and thick with sweet and exhilarating, making her choke a bit and still gasp for more. She could feel her empty tummy, and the eyes were itchy from tiredness, too, it was getting dark and late. The heavy smell felt nourishing, right, safe, and comforting, it meant that everyone was going to be fed soon.