I made it back to Belgrade.
Tassi got the call Wednesday morning, so after she went and picked up her visa at the embassy, we left for the lab to get our PCR tests, then to the bus station where we found out we’d have to take the night bus at 7 pm. That would have, under normal circumstances, meant that we wouldn’t arrive in Belgrade until 2am, but seeing that out bus was an hour late, it was closer to 3:30 by the time I checked into my hostel.
I already hated Belgrade, and my last few days here have given me little more reason to like it.
First, all of my money got stolen out of my bag while it sat on my bed, and the hostel owner told me I made it up, even though he was actually the one telling an increasingly twisted story about a possible thief that was impossible to decipher, to parse out of it which parts were true or no.
And then some Ukrainian kid stole my phone charger right when I couldn’t really afford to replace it.
And then I got turned away, two days in a row, when I showed up at the vaccination site.
On Friday, my first attempt, they told me to try the next day. That they were already finished but I could try again.
Saturday was worse. I went a half hour early, and at first it seemed promising; a woman was just about to usher me into a tent to fill out some form when another stopped her. “Do you have residency?” she asked, and when I shook my head no she broke the bad news. Serbia was no longer inoculating tourists. Though they were touted world wide as offering the shot to anyone who cared to show up, that it was merely a rumor at this point. It was now illegal.
I started to tear up. And I tried to swiftly think of a way to reason with her: I’d take any brand, I’d come everyday, I’d only take what was going to expire or what was left over. What actually made it out of my mouth was just the word “please.”
I’m not sure what happened, but they told me to come back the next day.
And I did.
And because that kid stole my charger I almost got lost on the walk there: it’s a 45 minute walk from my new hostel across most of central Belgrade, and without a map I nearly didn’t make it. When I had already been lost for about ten minutes, I thought about just going home.
But then, in the distance, I caught a glimpse of the fountain in Slavija Square, and I while I didn’t know what time it was nor how late I’d be arriving, I knew exactly the way from there.
And when I showed up the same woman who told me it would be impossible looked left, then right before waving me into a tent. And there another woman helped me to read the simple Serbian form that was required before you were inoculated.
And then I went into a little trailer where a doctor asked me a few questions: do you have any allergies, do you have any symptoms? No, no.
And even then I wasn’t sure if this was merely some kind of screening before I’d just be asked to leave and return later, until she asked me to remove my hoodie as to expose my left arm.
And when she removed the needle from me and asked if I was okay I burst into tears.
I have spent the last year dreaming of this moment. Even when covid vaccines were only speculative, I hung onto this nebulous day, somewhere in the future, when I’d finally get it and my life would return, somewhat, to normal.
And the last year has been so goddamned scary; those lonely months in Johannesburg and those tragic weeks in Egypt, and all the time I’ve spent in the Balkans chasing this goddamned shot. And then it all hit me, all at once, how so much I’ve endured and how many of those fears can end now.
“Are you okay?” they kept asking me while I struggled to breath beneath my tears.
“I’m fine,” I finally managed, wiping my eyes with the backs of my hands, “I’m just so relieved.”
And I am. I AM SO FUCKING RELIEVED, and I may have nothing left but it’s hard to care when in three weeks I’ll be fully vaccinated from the very thing that’s plagued me, and the rest of the world, for far too long.
I’m ready, now.
I’m ready to really get started.