Sandra Ljubljanovic

© Copyright 2022 by 
Sandra Ljubljanovic

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Some people leave a lasting impression
even though they barely touched our lives.

Grga was my car mechanic. It was not his real name, nor was he really a car mechanic. He was a retired soldier, an engineer by profession, but repairing vehicles and vessels was something he truly enjoyed. He told me his name and surname when we met, and again after a few years while he was checking the brakes of my car on a lonely gravel road by the river, but I forgot it in a matter of minutes. Everybody simply called him Grga.

He was one of those people you can’t put in any of your mental drawers. He was not a friend, but he was not just a person who used to repair my old jalopy. 

When I first came to his yard full of neatly ordered junk, I was greeted by his loud dog Nera, a mongrel saved from … I don’t remember. There are so many things he told me that I forgot. The rare visits I paid him left me with a sense of wonder and a lot of questions (some of them answered more than once), I guess because it was like being thrown into a world that was in so many ways different than mine that it left my brain overwhelmed with all that I saw and heard.

At first, I would take my car for a check-up once a year, but as my car got older, I needed Grga’s help more often. He loved repairing cars and talking about engines, carburettors, and oil filters, explaining what was happening under the hood and showing how to take good care of my ‘little silver tank’ as he called it. 

He was broad-minded, he didn’t only talk about cars, but covered a wide variety of topics, from literature and cinematography to politics, religion, and human relationships. Although he mentioned some friends and acquaintances from time to time, he seemed quite lonely. There was an air of alienation from the rest of the world that was surrounding him, his unfinished house, and the garage crammed with greasy screwdrivers, dusty toolboxes, and a zillion of metal whatnots. Everything looked disorderly there, but he managed to find whatever he needed in a few seconds. 

Therefore, it came as a surprise to me when he pulled out a diary of my car that he kept during all the years he was repairing it. He used to do it meticulously for all the vehicles he took care of. His notes consisted of basic info, what and when he checked or repaired on the vehicle, and some peculiarities about it, like strange noises that one shouldn’t worry about or some harmless scratches (but let’s keep an eye on them because you never know).

There were also some drawings there, not of the whole car, but of some parts that he found interesting. I have no idea what they represented, but they looked kind of artistic, something you could frame and hang on the wall as an abstract piece. When I asked him why he didn’t take a photo instead of drawing, he showed me his old mobile phone, the one he called ‘my dumb phone’ because it couldn’t do most of the things smartphones can. Back to the drawings – they were the windows to his soul. The thin lines were drawn so meticulously that they resembled the finest Portuguese filigree. He drew with a blue pen, but nothing was crossed or corrected. Each one showed a gentle man who was able to gather his thoughts, sit still and meditate over a piece of a car part most people weren’t aware it even existed. It was oddly beautiful, almost surreal, and in a total disbalance with his surroundings and his coarse appearance.

The first thing I think about when I evoke his image is his scraggly moustache, which seemed to have a life of its own, almost floating above his smiling mouth and frail little teeth. With intertangling hues of brown, it was in harmony with his unkempt hair and from the right distance, his head appeared as it was encircled by a lively tawny rainbow.

I don’t recall the colour of his eyes, only that they were bright and cheerful, a bit squinted because of the ever-lingering smile on his face. He was one of the rare people who looked straight into my eyes while talking. Although strange and uncomfortable in the beginning, I got used to it pretty quickly. On the other hand, most of the time he spent beneath the car or had his head stuck under the hood, so these awkward moments were not frequent. 

He got so absorbed in the inspection of the vehicle that you had a feeling he could repair anything. It was not far from the truth for he was very creative in finding the best and cheapest solutions to the problems. He would hunt high and low until he got the cheapest deal on a spare part and apologized profusely if he failed. 

Once, after I haven’t opened my trunk for months, I discovered that all the things in it were covered in mould because there was a leak somewhere. Grga didn’t want me to spend money on fixing it, so he simply took a drill machine and made a hole in the bottom of my trunk. The water still leaked in it, but it didn’t stay and there was no more mould. 

A few years ago, he got a bad kidney infection and couldn’t do any kind of physical work for some time. He never fully recovered, but he got better and was able to repair cars again, but not at the same pace as before. My 18-year-old Fiat had one defect after the other, but Grga barely managed to patch up some of them so that it was functional and when it became obvious that it won’t pass the next inspection, I bought a new car.

Since I didn’t need him anymore and it was the time of the Covid pandemic, I didn’t visit him, but I gave him a call between Christmas and New Year. We chatted for half an hour and that was the last time I spoke with him. I meant to call him again around Easter, but I was told that he died. 

The woman who acquainted me with him said that he was found dead in his house and that he probably had a heart attack. It came as a shock, and I forgot to ask where he was buried. Then again, is it important to visit people’s graves where there’s nothing but an empty body in a box covered with soil? The memories, no matter how few, can emerge anywhere and the moments shared with somebody can be fondly remembered praying in front of a tombstone and checking the oil in your car alike. 

Sandra Ljubljanović is a teacher from Croatia. She lives in the north of the country, in a beautiful baroque town called Vara˛din. Since she has always liked reading, she recently took up writing as her new hobby.

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