I ate off these suckers for three straight days. These placemats brought joy to my life. Which is more than most placemats can say.
I needed something to charge my phone before I caught the train out of the city. An old hand-me-down Soviet sleeper train. An ER9, I'd find out. So I hit an electronics store, the little jeweled shoebox type places where I feel paranoid to have my backpack on. Like I'm going to knock over something expensive if I don’t watch where I'm turning. It's done up like a Blockbuster, but instead of shelving units with DVDs there are rows of knock-off smartphones and silicone cases and coiled up AV cords on the walls. At the front is a glass cabinet showcasing Asian and Russian batteries with their boxes opened.
“Why are there two prices?” I write on Google Translate, then hand it to the guy behind the counter. There are no customers, yet four or five uniformed employees loitering around the store. They’re all huge-looking Serb dudes. He punches something into the app, then hands the phone back.
It reads: “Full price and payment plan.”
I do a quick double take: it's 1400 dinar for the full price, or 1800 dinar in installments. About seventeen bucks. The average Serb earns 65,000 dinar per month, or 2,167 per day in a 30-day month. This Chinese power bank is nearly a whole day’s work.
I write in my phone: “Do people normally do the payment plan?”
He says, “This is Serbia," aloud.
“Wait,” he says, then takes the phone from my hand. He checks the input jack. It’s a USB-C, but all he’s got are the original fat USBs, and he doesn't have any adapters for sale. “No good,” he says. Always no good.
I write: “Where can I buy what I need?”
He grabs the phone back, drops a pin on the map, then ushers me out of the store; Through the window he waves and points when he sees me headed the wrong way, his hand held in the shape of a gun.