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Merciful ATM Machines

11:57 am

Somewhere in Serbia en route to Sarajevo, Bosnia

I came a little closer than I would have liked to missing my 11:30 am bus to Bosnia this morning. A stickler for planning ahead, even I can get a little shortsighted with how long prepping for a journey can take.

I woke up later than usual, about 8:30 am. I was abruptly woken up late last night, or maybe it was early this morning. The time escapes me, but it was the noise of a loud argument that did the trick. The family staying in the room next door was in town for a wedding celebration. I heard a distinct male voice, gruff in tone, and unmistakably worked up about one thing or another. It’s always funny how celebrations can bring out passion in a variety of forms.

Eventually the raucous subsided, or my body just decided it needed to shut down until the wee hours of morning. In any event, I woke up again to the faint sounds of the air conditioner hanging in the corner of the room.

I bought my ticket for Bosnia online and printed out the ticket with the help of Magdalena at what was the equivalent to the local Kinkos. I hailed a cab at about 11:00 am, ten minutes later than I’d planned. When I opened the door the first thing I saw was a pair of reading glasses resting on the passenger seat behind the driver. “Are these yours?” I asked. “No,” the gentlemen said. But he took them and quickly peeked to see if the prescription was a match.

I arrived at the bus station at 11:10. I gave the cab driver a generous tip as I tried to rid myself of Serbian money. I had a strange feeling it was going to come back to haunt me whether for a luggage loading fee, or some other nondescript toll that feels common in these parts.

I asked a ticket agent if he knew where I needed to catch the 11:30 am bus to Sarajevo. He pointed to the stand that read, “10,” which was conveniently situated right behind me. Piece of cake, I thought. I got in line with bags in tow and got ready to board the bus when I was stopped. A gentlemen tried to explain that I needed to present another ticket on top of my other ticket. I was confused, but somehow not surprised.

I went to a ticket booth and a humorless woman working behind the glass window informed me that I owed her 170 Dinars, which I did not have. “Can I give you a card?” I asked. “No,” she said. Now the minutes read 11:21 am as I frantically looked for an ATM. I sped through corridors, rounded corners, and asked everyone in my sights where I could find such a machine. All seemed to agree there was one in the vicinity but its exact whereabouts remained a mystery.

Finally, I came across one from a bank that had given me trouble during my stay in the city. “It’s all over,” I said. “I’m going to miss my bus and for something that was totally avoidable.” Still, I gave the ATM a try and before I knew it I was holding 600 Dinars. The machine had shown pity on me. I grabbed the Serbian bills, probably for the last time in a long time, and raced back to grab the nebulous ticket. I boarded the bus a bit out of breath, took my seat, and thought, This might make a good little story someday.

Milan, a 24-year old law student from Bosnia who I spoke with for much of my bus ride from Belgrade told me, “Always keep a positive attitude. It’s a common thing to say, but important.”

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