What you are about to read is a disturbing story about a 17-year-old boy, whom I didn’t know so well, especially on that July 25th in 2005 when I had been able to help him. He was cheerful, childish, at times serious, zealous, successful for his age and friendly. Also, he was a goddamn faggot, living in Serbia. A young, naive gay man, looking for new experiences, still very much an adolescent. It could not be explained to him that the trust he places so lightly in a stranger could cost him his life – he enjoyed flirting with strangers and kissing unknown men too much to see the danger. He confessed to me, sometime later, that he did not always enjoy it and that it didn’t always make him happy, but did thrill him in a specific way. Those are the years, I guess. When we were talking recently, I asked him yet again – “Weren’t you afraid to go to strangers’ homes or bring strangers into your home?” He said he did not think they could possibly harm him. I believed his mischievous, but still innocent nature. He was a stupid kid, gay, looking for the likes of himself, like an animal chasing the runaway herd. On July 25th 2005, he learned a very big lesson. About life, about himself, about the country he lived in and on how much he failed to appreciate what he had… With this I will end my assessment of his character and stop describing him, and let him tell you the story in his own words. I will get him to return to the time when he was 17, still in high school, and when one day – instead of meeting with a friend – he went to meet a stranger whom he’d been texting with for two months…

It’s not like I was afraid to meet him, I met guys before in the same way. Gay-serbia chat, the “Cruiser”, Mondo mobile chat. The latter is exactly what led me to Marko. I remember his nickname was “Tuborg”, though he changed it sometimes. My nickname stayed the same, so he always contacted me first. As we were both reluctant to exchange phone numbers or e-mail addresses at first, we left it at descriptions of height, weight, eye and hair colour, and a few other details. After two months of seemingly meaningless texting came the day when we had agreed to finally meet.He had at last decided to give me his phone number. I was very excited; very eager. Dark hair and tan, 19, tall, economics major. This was enough to drive me to meet him – I was looking forward to finally meeting someone younger, as this was a rarity in Belgrade – at least in my dating circles.

It was Monday, the 25th. I knew I will have to cancel my other plans and lie to my family as to where I was going. I packed my wallet – with enough, but not too much cash – and the movie “La Mala Educacion” that I was meant to watch with my friend that afternoon into a rucksack that I always carried with me. I don’t know if I had been hoping this stranger would become my boyfriend, or just another adventure, but all at the same time I was happy, confused, intrigued – as I wondered whether he really looked as described – and scared, as I was before every new encounter. I called for a taxi, said goodbye to my mother and left the building. He said he’d wait for me in front of a highschool and that there were coffee shops nearby where we’d be able to sit down and talk. I had no idea on how the neighborhood looked as I’d never been there before. As the cab meter ticked, it only made me more anxious. We were near the place where Marko, which he said his name was, would be waiting for me. The cab stopped, but at first I just kept staring out of the window. The cab driver, with a slight sneer, reminded me that I should get out and pay the fare. I apologized, paid, and got out of the car with my rucksack. The asphalt was far too hot; I could feel my feet burning, although I was in light sandals. I crossed the street and waited in front of the school, at the agreed place, at the agreed time. I texted him to say I arrived. I grew impatient and started pacing up and down as he was not there yet, and there were no coffee shops nearby. A decrepit tavern full of drunken men – yes, coffee shops – certainly not. My phone started beeping. “I’ll be there in two minutes. I’m wearing a black shirt”, his text said. A few more stinging hot minutes later, I saw a chubby, not much taller than myself, guy approaching me slowly. He was pale, blond, with closely cropped hair. He wore a black tracksuit and a black shirt. He was not handsome, but he was the only male creature in a black shirt approaching me, thus Marko without doubt. He finally approached me and held out his hand, “Hi, I’m Marko”. I had many questions for him in my mind, but instead I just looked around, silent, visibly disappointed. “Listen, I can see you don’t really like me….” he started. “No, that’s not the point,” I tried to interrupt, but he continued: “at least we can go to my apartment and have a drink and a chat, since you’re already here”. A few second thoughts later, I naively said yes. We headed towards dark yellow, or dark cream buildings, I fail to recall; as we got nearer to the entrance the tension in the pit of my stomach started mounting again. “Maybe I should…” I kept thinking that I should leave. “Oh come on, look at how hot it is, I’ve got ice tea upstairs. Have a drink, have a chat, and when you get bored you can go home,” he said while lightly pulling me towards the entrance, holding my hand. Even though I didn’t know him, I didn’t want to offend him. The hall of the building was very long and smelled of urine. It was dusky. The walls were also a dark yellow and wrinkled, as far as I could see in the weak light, and most of the light switches were missing. The lift was quite ordinary, the type you usually see in most buildings in Belgrade. Graffiti on the outside, some writings in felt-tip pen, peeling olive-green paint. The concrete in the building was, of course, ice cold and dirty, covered with discarded gum, cigarette butts and paper. We entered the elevator and he pressed the 4th floor button. The elevator smelled of damp and tobacco, old age and rust that covered the door. Half the lights were broken. When we got to his floor, the hall looked just like the lobby. Same horrid walls, white ceilings covered in cobwebs, unwashed staircase… “This way,” he pulled my shoulder. It was the second or third apartment to the left of the elevator. He unlocked the door and we entered together. “Shall I take my shoes off?” I asked. “Nah, mom didn’t clean anyhow, don’t bother” he said. The flat was old-fashioned, damp, dusty, and a bit messy. I went through the narrow hallway towards the living room and stopped there. There was a wooden fan on the ceiling, the kind you don’t see around much anymore. It was switched off. On the right, there was a coffee table with a small embroidered white tablecloth with cigarette ash stains; and a small clock on top of it. Right next to the table, a dark gray or green sofa was wedged between the wall and a wardrobe. White lace curtains covered a whole wall, and all the windows. There was a glimpse of an open door leading towards the balcony. In the room there was also a plain dining table, covered in a plastic oilcloth <rece Metak i ostade ziv, kao prevod za musemu!!!> and an embroidered tablecloth on top. The walls were mainly painted white, or covered in strange brownish-yellow wallpaper that was oozing damp, except for the kitchen. The kitchen was done in light brown tile, the kind people used to cover their house furnaces in. There was a visibly old stove, and a fridge of similar age in the kitchen. Still not moving, I looked around the walls and saw a few patron saint icons throughout the apartment. Some sun rays that managed to get through the curtains betrayed how dusty the place was. There was a carpet covering almost all of the floor – an olive green with black, gray and white patterns, again dirty and covered in stains. Marko reappeared behind me and locked the door, texting someone at the same time.

“Come inside, have a seat, and make yourself comfortable,” he said, gesturing towards the living room and still looking at his mobile phone. I made my way to the sofa, and from somewhere behind me he added: “Just give me a second to go change, and I’ll be right with you.” I sat down. He went into the room, and closed the door. Then it was quiet.
On the table I saw a half-full bottle of sparkling water and freshly sliced bread. The door opened very abruptly and noisily, as if pulled from its frame, and from the hall two men stormed into the room – Marko, and another taller, much skinnier guy in a short-sleeved black shirt. They were headed towards me and looked enraged. “Marko, who is…”
“Shut up you faggot, and I’m not Marko by the way…” he said, rummaging through the things left on the dining table. “But…” I wanted to ask for an explanation, raised my arms in confusion when the other guy screamed “Didn’t I tell you to shut up, you motherfucking queen!” and then produced a gun from behind his back. Metallic, rather large. Then, in fear and also in my heart still hoping this was some kind of a joke, I started laughing. “Look at this kid – has the guts to laugh…” the skinnier guy said looking at Marko. “I’ll show you something to laugh at, you ugly little…,” he said, pressing the nozzle into my temple. At this moment I realized that everything that was happening was very real, and not a game, and that I must play by the rules if I wanted to get out of there safe, so I sat there; very quiet, very still. He held the gun pointed at my head for about a minute, while I stared at the floor. He was cursing, but I heard nothing then. All I could perceive was the cold metal against my skin, which depending on his rage and the strength of his spoken threats seemed to be sinking ever deeper into my skin.
The anger made him breathe faster and harder. I could sometimes feel his breath on my skin, as he was too angry. “Let him go, come on,” said Marko, or whatever his name was. Soon thereafter, the gun was no longer on my face. “Thank you,” I said. “Did we ask you anything, huh?!” “No,” I answered with humility.
“Well then you better shut your mouth because here you can talk only when addressed by either of us.”
“I was just…” I tried reasoning.
“Did we fucking ask you anything, you little faggot? Shut your mouth or I will… and hand that rucksack over!”, which I did immediately.
They ripped it open and poured the contents on the floor – my flat keys, wallet, the tape and two phones. “What do we have here?” he said, grabbing the tape. “A movie,” I volunteered. Having opened the box, Marko commented: “Mala educacion, huh?” The skinnier man laughed and waved his gun:”Looks like your mommy and daddy didn’t bring you up well enough.”
Almost simultaneously, they asked “Who do you live with?” while Marko played around with my phones. “With my parents,” I said.
“I see. And do your mommy and daddy know that you take it in the ass?”
“No,” I mumbled.
“They don’t, huh? They don’t?” The skinnier man was speaking, his jaw clenched in anger, and slapped me hard across the face. “You fucking…”
Marko pulled him away from me. “Let’s go,” Marko told him, pointing towards the room they appeared from. They took my phones with them and were gone for about ten minutes. I was looking around the room nervously. I couldn’t run, the door was locked, and the 4th floor balcony was not the most convenient place to jump from… On top of this I knew I mustn’t provoke them with anything, and that I can only hope they will let me leave at some point. Suddenly they came out of the room and approached me again.
“Mommy, daddy, cousins, friends, other little faggots, it’s all there. We got all the numbers.” I was quiet. “Now you are going to go through your phonebook and tell us who else is a faggot,” said the skinnier guy and sat down next to me. “For this one guy, who is like your lover or whatever, we already know – we went through your messages,” said Marko. “And those that said gay behind the name,” the other man added, laughing. “Now let’s go down the list,” Marko said handing me the phone. Gathering myself, I said as calmly as I could: “…but I don’t know many of them.” The skinnier guy got aggressive again and grabbed my jaw. Marko pulled him away and told him to let me talk.
“Fine, there are two more,” I said, the words stuck in my throat.
“Oh, right, two more. Which two then?” the skinny guy got cynical. I picked out two contacts at random whom I had never met, all the while knowing the problems I could cause, wondering what would happen to them. I had to get out; and yes, I was a coward.
“Did you fuck them too?” the skinny guy was relentless in his questioning.
“I never met them,” I said, my eyes returning to the floor.
“Never met them huh? And you got here in such a hurry! Who the fuck are you trying to fool kid?!” This time it was Marko who got aggressive.
“I really never met them before. Fine, I will tell you how and what, just please leave me alone,” I started defending myself. I was extremely frigthened and could feel goosebumps all over my body.
“Tell us what?”
“I will tell you where and how I meet guys,” I said, looking straight at them this time, making eye contact.
“Let’s hear it then,” said Marko with an air of superiority.
“There is the gay-serbia chat, where I met a few guys. Sometimes I went to their house, sometimes they came to me.”
“And did you fuck all of them?” the skinny guy said arrogantly.
“No, actually, not a single one. I just talked with most of them.” I was staring into space again.
“Come on, kid, you wouldn’t bring those faggots home to have coffee with them, don’t lie to us or we’ll beat the lights out of you.” Again, Marko was getting aggressive.
“With some it was more than talking, but I never slept with any of them, I’m not lying to you!”
All the while they were incredulously laughing at me. Then Marko asked: “So how long have you been doing this then?”
“Since I was fourteen.”
They burst into laughter. “Look at this fucking faggot! Since you were fourteen? Nice going kid!” the skinnier was screaming in mockery.
Again, Marko was speaking: “Do you fuck chicks?”
Already utterly humiliated, I answered. “No.”
At this moment the skinnier guy went wild, jumped and took his shirt off, and said – in my face, squeezing his barely visible biceps: “This is what chicks like. Of course you don’t fuck them!” and then he put on a tight, flamboyant shirt and started humping my shoulder, asking in a feminine voice: “Do I look like a faggot now, huh? Would I get some action from your friends?” he laughed, enjoying himself.
Marko started shouting “Cut the crap already. Get his wallet, he must have some kind of ID in there.”
Taking the wallet and seeing about 2400 dinars [~24 euros] that I had with me, he said: “Where did you get this kind of money?”
“It’s my pocket money,” I said.
“Oooh, pocket money eh? Rich mommy and daddy then.” He took a part of the money. “This is for me, and you’ll need the rest to get home later.”
“If it’s the money, take all of it, take both of the phones as well, just please let me go,” I was desperately trying to get out. They both smiled at me, and then Marko asked: “Do you know why you’re here, kid?”
“No,” I answered truthfully.
“Because you are a little faggot whore who fucks for money, this is why,” the skinnier was screaming in my face. “We know you’re a prostitute, so don’t play stupid. We’re from the 29th of November office, from the underage delinquency department,” said Marko, leaning on a table. “What? But this is not true! I am not!” and again, I got upset and tried justifying myself, when to prove his claims he showed me some kind of ID that may well have been a public transport card – I was so fraught I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. All I can remember is a white frame and a small photo, that’s how scared I was. “Listen, we get it – you’re not a bad kid, otherwise we would have kicked your ass like that guy this morning. It’s just that you’re fucking gay, that’s all!” Marko seemed a bit more calm now, but then, the skinnier continued enthusiastically: “Oh come on, we have to give him a little beating too!”
“No,” said Marko, continuing. “Calm down, you idiot, we won’t. But kid – listen – we’ve got both your numbers. Here are your phones back. Don’t even think about throwing one or God forbid both of them, or switch them off, or reject our calls. Understood?”
“Yes, understood,” I said.
“You will pick up when we call and tell us where you are, and cooperate – otherwise we’ll beat you up and put you into juvenile.”
“But why?” I was getting more and more confused about their accusations.
“Why? Why?” Marko was laughing. The skinnier guy started clarifying: “Because you are a faggot, a little whore that sleeps around and takes money for it. Do you really think we believed mommy and daddy give you this kind of money to carry around with you?”
“But I didn’t do this, even if you wanted to you couldn’t prove it, nobody can confirm it because it never happened!!!” I kept defending myself.
The skinny guy then said: “Some guys would disagree. They said you were charging a thousand for a blow-job”.
“What guys?” I allowed myself to get mildly annoyed.
“Hey kid, I can put a bag of anything I like into your pocket, call my colleagues and you’re done – going to juvenile. And there they won’t be as kind to you as we were, you can trust that,” said Marko. “You should be grateful we didn’t kick your ass, although you deserved it, as any faggot does,” the skinnier guy was puffing.
“Just pick up when we call and cooperate, and everything will be fine,” Marko was trying to be reassuring.
“Cooperate?” Again, I was confused.
“Well yes, you’ll give us info on who’s gay. We’ll bring him to this flat, and then you do whatever it is you do, and then you pretend you need something from one of the rooms and we will take over,” Marko was clarifying again.
“But, how will I…” I tried formulating a question.
“Listen faggot, do you want to go into juvenile?” both of them screamed. I said no.
“Then listen to us and cut the bullshit, and now get your things and go” retorted Marko.
They mumbled something to each other briefly. I couldn’t make out the words as I was gathering my things from the floor and thought about what would happen to me next, and then Marko turned and said he’ll walk me to the station. When I got up, my knees finally started shaking despite all the holding back. “Why are you shaking, you pussy?” said the skinnier, turning towards me, while Marko pushed him away and calmed him down. I was standing in the middle of the living room, right under that wooden fan, after almost two hours of torture.
Now it was Marko who screamed: “Will you fucking stop shaking?”
“I’m sorry, I really can’t control myself.” I found myself dragged by the arm through the hall and out of the flat. The other guy stayed in the flat, returning to the room where he had been hiding when we arrived. “Get the lift,” Marko said while locking the door. In the lift he looked at me the whole time with his icy, watered-down blue eyes. He was silent. I was silent. Then he looked the other way for a while. Finally, the elevator stopped and we got out. We rushed towards the bus stop. “Do you know which bus you’re getting?”
“I think so.”

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As soon as we got to the stop, a bus appeared. I was not sure what the number was, or where it was going. I got in, sat next to a window, and then started shaking. He watched from the street, hands crossed behind his back. It was almost 3.30, but I couldn’t go home. I got off at one of the next stops and started wandering towards the centre. I was walking but kept hitting the flower boxes, people, kept tripping on any irregularities of the pavement…
I kept staring at the ground in humiliation.
I decided to go home at around 7.30.
I unlocked the door and my mother asked where I had been. “I took a walk.” I tried disappearing into my room.
“The whole day?” she asked in confusion. “The whole day mom, the whole day.” I got into the room, shrunk into a ball on the bed and only then allowed myself to let all of my fear out. I started crying like a little child, only then fully understanding what had happened to me that day. After a while I got up and out of my room, and told my mother: “I will go to bed early tonight. I’m going to the shower.” I got into the bathroom and stared at my red and bloated face in the mirror. I felt disgusted by myself. I felt dirty. And so I showered, and showered, rubbing the skin stronger and stronger, scratching my arms, chest, throat and face in anger and helplessness…
That evening, I finally got to know this boy a little better. All these years that I had known him, he didn’t allow me in, he didn’t allow me to understand his core. His almost carefree life – mostly due to his parents – was now over. He got out of the shower, he remembers, and towelled himself, pressing wildly. Scraping his skin. Trying to get all the dirt off. He opened the bathroom door realising he was not a child anymore and that he can’t trust people like he used to. He also understood he will not be careless or carefree anymore. He went to the bed, naked and red from the scalding water that he used to wash the 25th of July off of himself, although he knew this was impossible. We both understood he had suddenly grown and matured that day, and that his life had changed entirely. We agreed to never part again. I am grateful for what he has done for me, and for being my best friend today, as I am his.

Originally published in September 2010