Packed and ready for Sarajevo, I couldn’t help being excited, but back then I was suffering from The Fear, so excitement brought anxiety. But it wasn’t as bad as it had been. I no longer thought I was becoming schizophrenic when it came—I was done with that. And I no longer thought I was dying. Instead, I was always sure I had developed food poisoning. While this irrational fear was not as extreme as the other two scenarios, it would be—to my credit—nightmarish in transit.
I tried to push my bus ticket back a day, but I only succeeded in passing my Angst to the German bus agent. “But your bus is leaving TODAY!” she said, exasperated, almost yelling, in that not uncommon German way. I hung up the phone and sighed. I’d have to brave my imaginary diarrhea on the bus.
After I made the five minute walk to the Nürnberg bus station, I gradually calmed down. I felt like it was already in the Balkans. There were dozens waiting for their respective buses, ready to enjoy their time off for Easter. Soon, I spotted a man pull out a green square of astro turf, three cups, and a marble.
I’d only seen this in the movies, so I had to get a closer look. The “operator” was mixing the cups around, trying to get people to play. A Croatian with gray hair stepped forward and held up three hundred euros—a two hundred and a one hundred bill. He pointed to the middle cup; the operator flipped it over, and there was nothing there. Shit. Three hundred gone like that. And if you’re opting to take the twenty hour bus ride from Nürnberg to Zagreb in lieu of a plane, I doubt you have 300 euros to throw around. The operator shuffled the shells again, then turned his back trying to get more players. The Croatian looked at me.
“I think it’s under the right one,” he said pointing with his foot.
“I have no idea.”
The Croatian seemed unconcerned with my opinion and flipped over the right cup, the operator’s back still turned. The marble was there. The Croatian quickly put the cup back over the it and his foot on top of the cup. He tapped the operator’s shoulder.
“200 euros,” he said, holding no money this time. The Croatian looked at me again. “Are you playing with me?” This had to be a scam. He asked again, “Are you playing with me?” I didn’t want a part of this.
The operator looked at me and said, “Are you playing with him?” I paused for a second and shook my head no. The operator flipped the cup and handed the Croatian 200 euros, and then he handed me 200 euros. At first I had no idea why he gave me the money. But later, around hour seventeen on the bus, I remembered that in some Balkan countries, shaking your head means yes and nodding means no.
Good thing it wasn’t a scam.