Vesna Cvjetićanin was born in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and never imagined leaving it.  However, in the early 1990s, she found herself moving to Australia with her young family, and has been living in Canberra ever since.  A lawyer and public servant by profession, Vesna is now retired, and spends her time working as a mediator and interpreter, writing poetry, running two radio shows on Canberra’s 2XX FM (Multicultural Voices of the ACT, and Srbija u Mom Srcu [Serbia in my Heart]), and spending time with her children and grandchildren – not to mention her dear pup, Rikki the Whippet.

Image: © Dušica Milutinović, 2019

Bette sat quietly on the window side of a pair of seats reserved for the elderly, on Brisbane bus line 196. Recently, I’ve stopped feeling guilty when taking these seats myself.

I boarded the bus just as it was about to leave from the Cultural Centre station. Earlier, Mona from line 66 had told me to catch this one. I trust people. I trusted young Mona too, especially because she’d told me she was also catching line 196. Sure enough, she was already in there when I hopped on. I chose not to sit next to her. New bus; new opportunity to chat with someone else.

So, there I was, and Bette was there too.

Blue eyes, really bright.  She reminded me of Anika.  I’m not sure if anyone remembers Anika – any of my ancestors, that is, not many of whom are still around, and most of whom live in far away places, back in the Balkans – but Bette looked like Anika. Slender. Tiny. Hands in her lap. She gave me a curious, gentle turn of the head and nodded when I asked if I could sit next to her.

A little old lady, all manicured, each strand of hair in its right place, fair skinned, lippy of a light pink rose shade. Maybe Dior? But maybe not… It was an off-peak bus ride, after all. We commoners ride on these, not ladies.

With the whole ‘lady’ scenario going through my mind, I ask, “This is the bus to Judith Wright Cultural Centre…?” I often express my questions as a statement, my first language heritage showing itself.

“Remind me please where that Centre is,” comes back a question, or demand, whichever.

“Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley?”

“Hmmm. Let me think… Oh, yes, I remember! Yes, this bus will take you there.”

“Oh great, thank you!”

Not even a minute’s silence, and she continues, unprompted, “You see, my daughter’s husband – my son-in-law – used to dance with them.  With the Judith Wright Circa. He is an acrobat… just finished his acrobatic career a few months ago, after their tour in Berlin!” Short pause. Thinking. “He used to be very good!”

Now I pause before responding. With a good dose of curious amazement, I say, “How interesting… Just last weekend, my daughter and I went to see Circus Oz in Canberra! With their ‘Model Citizen’ performance! Have you heard of them?”

Her face lights up, “Yes!!! I know them! He used to perform with them back in 2000s! They are very good!”

“What a coincidence! I’d never before met anyone who had anything to do with the circus or acrobatic performances… and now…” I say.

Her piercing blue eyes suddenly smile, showing the many lines acquired around them over some 80 years, give or take.

“He is really very good! But in his 40s now, the time has come… That’s why he thought he would stop after their European tour.”  Her gaze fades into the distance, over the Brisbane River. I sense a slight sadness from her, perhaps over the fact that the family’s acrobatic days have passed. I sense her love of things unusual and different. I also sense her daughter would be one of those free souls who’d be attracted to an acrobat.

“And what’s your name?” I ask.

“Bet” is what I hear.

My ignorance of the various versions of the name ‘Elizabeth’ obvious with my next question, “How do you spell that?”

She looks at me, and while politely smiling and a little surprised, her voice indicates a slight level of frustration, “Bet. B-e-t-t-e!”

“Oh, of course!” I refrain from apologising for not knowing. It’s my new mantra.

“And what’s yours?” Bette asks.

Here is my moment to return the favour of needing to spell out a name.

“Vesna. V-e-s-n-a. Means Goddess of Spring.”

“That is just lovely.” I notice Bette’s efforts to pinpoint where my name might come from.

We sit next to each other for a few moments in silence, which comes to a halt when Bette hurries me up, “The next stop is yours! It was so nice to chat. And what are you doing in Brisbane?” she asks.

“Performing my poetry at the Queensland Poetry Festival,” I say as I press the red Stop button and stand up to go.

“Another performer!” she says in a louder, excited voice. “Good luck my dear! Enjoy every minute of it!”

“Sure will, thanks Bette.”

I hop off bus 196 and stand by, waving as the bus leaves.

Mona and Bette travel further.

© Vesna Cvjetićanin, 2018