We fell in love with­out speak­ing

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

I’ll never for­get the first mo­ment I saw Branko. It was 2009 and I was 25, work­ing as a mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for a cir­cus in the UK. I’d trav­elled alone from Glouces­ter­shire to the vil­lage of Gornja Grabovica in Ser­bia, on a mis­sion to learn Roma-style ac­cor­dion. A week or so into my two-month trip, a friend called Du­san took me to meet his cousin Branko, who he said was one of the coun­try’s best vi­o­lin­ists.

When we ar­rived, Branko came out of the house he shared with his aunt and grand­mother, wear­ing a white vest and jeans. I don’t re­mem­ber think­ing he was at­trac­tive, but for some rea­son I took a photo of him that I still have to­day.

We all sat around a ta­ble in the gar­den. I didn’t speak a word of Ser­bian and Branko knew no English, so Du­san strug­gled to trans­late. Branko was shy; it wasn’t ev­ery day an English woman turned up at his house. The fol­low­ing day I went back, and we played mu­sic to­gether late into the night. We did this sev­eral more times, quickly de­vel­op­ing a strong con­nec­tion. It was to­tally pla­tonic, how­ever; noth­ing else en­tered my head, partly be­cause he had a girl­friend.

Af­ter two months I re­turned to Bri­tain. I was still de­ter­mined to learn Roma ac­cor­dion, but for the next cou­ple of years I was busy tour­ing with my work. Then, in July 2011, I had a few weeks off, and felt I was be­ing called back to Ser­bia.

As soon as Branko heard I was back in Gornja Grabovica, he came straight to see me. With Du­san trans­lat­ing again, he told me he’d thought about me ev­ery day since I had left. He had bro­ken up with his girl­friend months ear­lier. It felt un­real, like magic.

It was ex­cit­ing to ac­knowl­edge our con­nec­tion, but un­usual to feel some­thing for each other with­out be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate fully.

That night we went to an igranke, or dance. I just en­joyed be­ing near Branko. His body lan­guage was so open, and he was so kind and lov­ing. The next day we played mu­sic to­gether for hours, cre­at­ing new com­po­si­tions. He still couldn’t say a word in English, and I’d only picked up ba­sic things in Ser­bian, but it just felt right. We could usu­ally work out what the other was try­ing to con­vey on an in­stinc­tual level, and if we couldn’t, we’d just laugh. It was so ro­man­tic. If I could rewind time, I’d go back to that mo­ment.

I stayed at his house that night, and we fell asleep in each other’s arms. I’d never felt so happy.

Not be­ing able to ex­press the sub­tleties of my emo­tions made it more in­tense. It was a re­lief for me to be able to just feel and be, rather than con­stantly talk­ing.

Af­ter three weeks, I had to leave for work in Bri­tain. It was in­cred­i­bly painful, and Branko wor­ried I’d never come back. But I was des­per­ate to go straight back out there. My mum was very sup­port­ive, ad­vis­ing me to do what felt right. From then, it be­came more real. I bought au­dio tapes to learn Ser­bian and booked a one-way flight. This time I stayed for three months.

The type of Ser­bian Roma cul­ture Branko lived in was very dif­fer­ent from the English cul­ture I knew. There isn’t the same lan­guage to de­scribe the process of start­ing a re­la­tion­ship; if you start spend­ing time with some­one, then you’re with them, and you im­me­di­ately say, “I love you.”

Branko and I planned to go to Bri­tain to­gether for a while to earn money and in­tro­duce him to my life; but he had rarely trav­elled even in his own coun­try, and his tourist visa was re­fused twice. It was dif­fi­cult to go back alone. When I re­turned, we de­cided to get mar­ried, and in March 2012 we had a sim­ple but chaotic wed­ding in Ser­bia. We built a house on the ex­act spot we first met in Branko’s grand­mother’s gar­den.

We formed a band, Faith i Branko, and have spent the last three years tour­ing Europe, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, play­ing fes­ti­vals and re­leas­ing an al­bum. To­day my Ser­bian is pretty good, and while Branko still doesn’t speak flu­ent English, he un­der­stands a lot. They say mu­sic is the lan­guage of the soul. We took a leap to find out if that is true, and mu­sic has held us to­gether ever since

Faith Ris­tic

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