| Rusmir Smajilodzic |
SARAJEVO (AFP) – Ramiz Pasic’s only inheritance from his father was two hats, a pair of glasses and horse hair brushes but also the fame Sarajevo’s last shoe shiner had amassed over six decades in business.
So when Pasic retired as a worker for a city street cleaning company, he remained loyal to a promise he had made to his celebrated father just months before his death in 2014 at the age of 83.
“It would be a shame for this spot to be empty,” the 64-year-old recalled his father saying about the spot he occupied on a busy street in the Bosnian capital.
“We should preserve the tradition. Can you make me a promise?”
During that conversation “Cika” – or “Uncle” – Miso, as he was known, was still healthy and Pasic did not take his wish seriously.
“He walked to work every day. He could still hit his brushes hard against the metal shinebox at his feet to let passers-by know his shop was open,” said Pasic, with a tired look and unshaven greyish beard.
“And the speed at which he gave the last brush stroke to already polished shoes… I’ll never manage that. You could not even see his hands,” he told AFP.
A Roma from Kosovo, Cika Miso’s real name was Husein Hasan. He moved to Bosnia just after World War II and quickly endeared himself to Sarajevans as he built up his business.
He was a joker “able to make the saddest laugh”, his son said.
Cika Miso notably won sympathy during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war. Despite daily bloody shelling, he continued to show up along the wrecked main thoroughfare, Marshall Tito Street, the same spot where his son now receives clients.
His “success” even attracted city hall. In 2009 Sarajevo authorities awarded Cika Miso a medal of merit, as well as a modest apartment and a pension.
“This was Cika Miso’s workshop, the last shoe shiner on the streets of Sarajevo,” reads a yellowish stone plaque at the site today.
Below a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant window, Pasic emulates his father’s moves but says he recognises the “bar was set high by the old man”.
“Let’s go gentlemen! Cleaning, waxing, polishing!” he shouted as he rubbed his brushes together, then waved to a child and tipped his elegant black hat in respect to a passer-by.
“When I pick up these brushes, which my father used for years, I feel like I am touching his hands. It’s my only wealth,” he said.
The sexagenarian lost his wife seven months ago, and now lives in a small apartment in the centre of Sarajevo with his son’s family.
Winter is merciless in Bosnia and Sarajevo’s busiest street gets little direct sun so Pasic shows up for work in a ski suit that was new when Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.
People pass by, most without noticing him, and it can take hours to get a customer but eventually one arrives. With their shoes on his box, the conversation starts, always on the same topic… Cika Miso. Everyone has a story to tell.
“He was more than a shoe shiner. To have clean shoes is an imperative, but I came here mainly to exchange a few words with Cika Miso, a legend,” said Rusmir Tardagic, a businessman in his 50s.
“It’s different now, though Uncle Ramiz is doing the job well. But, one thing is certain, he looks just like his father,” Tardagic added. Most of the customers are Cika Miso’s old friends.
“Sometimes they simply give a Bosnian marka or two (50 euro cents to one euro, about 60 cents to $1.20) without stopping,” said Pasic.
His pension is just over 150 euros ($171) a month and he earns at least half that much on the street. Most of the money goes to repaying a loan for his wife’s funeral, and he says he has little reason to go home since her death.
“A promise made to one’s father is sacred. I will come here as long as health will allow me. I put my soul into this business,” he said. “And, you know, there are a lot worse things than dying in this chair.”