I do not know that man in person, but I have seen him many times running, naked to the waist, with a lemon in his mouth. The man runs, all alone with his thoughts. He bothers no one, he does not disturb anyone, and he sticks to his microcosmos. At least while he is running.
I saw him for the first time during the war. It was not unusual to see a man running during the war, but the entire image that stays in man’s head was unusual. It was unusual for wartime. The image of Nurija in old, blue shorts with two white stripes on the sides, like those we used to wear to physical education classes – because we divide life into the time before and after the war – without a shirt, while sweat trickles down his hairy naked body, and holding a lemon in his mouth which gives him additional strength. With a towel around his neck as if he was a marathoner and Adidas trainers on his feet, he runs. The man runs. Not because of snipers, bombs, fear, panic, search for food, but simply because he wants to run.
For one period of time I used to see him every day. And every day of mine was better after I see him. It’s not pathetic. At least for a moment I thought that there is someone crazier than me in that war.
He was not always running. Sometimes he would push enormous trolleys loaded with all sorts of things, canisters with water, trophies, books, and sometimes he would just walk his dog. He named his dog Mariofil Ljubić. There is also a story about the name of that dog.
He used to run every day along the tram rails, which were not used by trams those years, with indispensable lemon in his mouth and Mariofil by his side, preparing himself for the decisive battle that will liberate the city from the evildoer’s grip, on the relation Skenderija – Barracks Maršal Tito. For those who are not familiar with that fact, there were never any people on this relation because they would all be like on a palm for the sniper which just waited for a wandering pedestrian.
That is how the photographs that went around the world was made, featuring Nurija half-naked, in his element, running, while an UNPROFOR member with full war equipment is in the first plan. And again, it is no surprise that there is snow on the photograph. Nurija never had any problems.
The rare situations when people could see him without a lemon in his mouth is when he replaced lemon with a whistle, to regulate the traffic that was not so frequent in the city at the time or while he was landscaping parks next to the Faculty of Medicine. Those parks were the oases of beauty in the demolished city; places where he expressed the same passion as while running.
Interestingly, it was not surprising to me that Nurija is running. What surprised me is: where did Nurija get all those lemons from? During the war. I still do not have an answer to that question.
People say that he experienced a big family tragedy before the war. That is very likely.
I rarely see him lately. People say he changed and that he usually spends his time in the Kralja Tomislava Street, near the Secondary Gymnasium, sitting on a wall and playing music from an old tape recorder, standing up every once in a while to regulate the traffic and help pedestrians cross the street.
Mariofil is long gone now, but now he has a parrot with whom he talks and shares his fate with.
Not everything is that simple about Nurija, but that is a story for another time.
I don’t know why, but it is kind of hard for me that Nurija is no longer running. I miss that lemon for which only he knew where it comes from, in his mouth. I keep wondering why. As if without Nurija’s persistent and courageous marathon running that sense of illusory safety, which we have been nourishing since the times we have been all but safe on the streets of Sarajevo, is getting lost. That kind of safety in the style “oh, I will be fine”.
As if I miss those wartime jokes at his and our account, when we were wondering whether we can cross the street and someone close to you tells you “put a lemon in your mouth and run, nothing will happen to you”.
As if a part of Sarajevo is dying and Sarajevo is becoming less of a city. Or new generations should come, those that will have their own stories and new weird people whom they will love, with whom they will make jokes, laugh at them, laugh together with them and feel better when they meet them.
And then these new generations will be sad because their Nurijas are no longer running and they, just like we do today, will think how Sarajevo is less of a city because there is no their Nurija with a lemon in his mouth. Or is it that our time is running slowly?