I met two businessmen on the same day, in the space of maybe one and a half hour (poltora chasa). The first I met near the Saint Sava Temple, and the second in front of a bakery in Njegoseva. The first is a ten year old, walking down towards Branicevska street, carrying two bundles of the smallest candles: he looks like a juggler entering the scene, he will toss the two bundles in the air and form a circle, and be awarded for his effort with an applause.
His merchandise is not tightly held in the two bundles, the candles are more like two hand fans, the owner is looking at them while he is walking, as if this is the first time he has decided to count them. The wind is blowing from all directions, just like in Saint Petersburg; the young trader has no gloves, but does not strike me as an individual sensitive to the cold: he walks with his jacket unbuttoned.
I deliberately choose not to dwell on the origin of the candles, let’s say that you bought them with the purpose of reselling them on cemeteries, all I see is that you are multiplying their estimated number with the retail price, and really, how much income could they bring if you are faced with the average demand, where are you taking them and who will buy them from you? The grieving families or some flower shop, which will offer them alongside wreaths, teardrops and bouquets.
I cannot call you a proletarian, the root of the word is the Latin word proles (progeny), a proletarian is a person who has nothing else but his progeny. You have no progeny, but you are that progeny, you are the one who defines social class, this is a job in the domain of pure trade – but you may also be collecting cardboard with your father, or own equipment for washing windshields. You pass me by like a person heading decisively towards his goals – good luck, young man!
At the door of the bakery stands a ten year old, his haircut resembles the ones in old French illustrations of orphan children. He is in a good mood, smiling. With certain elegance and feigned routine, he opens the door, hoping that the customers, once they satisfy their hunger and receive some change, will remember this feudal service, the same one provided in a hotel by a uniformed doorman.
I have a fifty note, but somehow I believe that, if I was to give it to him, it might prompt his young head to form an untrue, too good impression both about himself and about the average do-gooder. There is a crowd in the bakery, I leave the line and ask him if he would have a tenner for change, since I have a fifty. “I will”, he says evenly, as if this is the way he does business with most of his clients.
I buy a buckwheat roll – a very healthy plant, a guarantee of slim longevity, pay with another banknote, and offer the doorman the fifty on my way out. He has already prepared the tenner, a banknote predominant in his daily turnover, we exchange banknotes with one move. “Short reckonings make long friends”, I say – as if this was some kind of serious business transaction. “Right you are chief”- he retorts, in the same serious manner.
The next morning I happen to hear the following slogan on the radio – STOP EMPLOYING THE OLD, a good witticism, but one lagging behind daily life – was it not just yesterday that I met two maybe too young businessmen, one trying his hand in the magical world of trade, either with startup capital or focused on primitive accumulation of capital; and the other, who offers only a service, without any prior material investments.
One didn’t even notice me, the other called me “chief”.
Like master, like man.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic