On Monday I had my last guitar lesson at the Pavarotti Centre in East Mostar. I usually rode my bike to guitar lessons, but this day I walked.

On my way home I passed four young men sitting on a rock wall by a park. They asked me for a cigarette. "Don't have any," I replied. "I don't smoke."

I continued on, but they had immediately noticed my accent. "Hey, hold up a second!" one of them shouted. "Come back here!" Part of me thought I should just continue, but he just sounded curious. People here are often curious when they hear a foreigner speaking their language well. So I went back. "What?"

"Those are nice sunglasses. Can I see them?" asked a dirty blond of about 20 years. I handed them to him with some trepidation. He put them on. "Wow, they're great. How much did they cost?"

They were Lacoste sunglasses with polarized lenses. I had bought them for about $250 two years ago in Italy. "I don't remember," I replied. "I bought them a couple years ago."

The blond gave them to a stocky fellow who looked like the ringleader. He put them on, walked 40 feet away and inspected himself in the mirror of a car. "I like them," he announced. "They're mine. Get outta here," he told me.

It looked to me like this was going to take awhile to play their game, and I didn't feel like it. "Come on," I said, "give me my sunglasses."

"Call the police," he mocked.

I reached for them, but he pulled back. So I reached for them very quickly and snatched them off his face.

Then I felt this warm fuzzy feeling all over my head, and I was falling down. I landed with a thud. I was a little confused, because I hadn't seen anything coming. Was I hit by a car? As I slowly picked myself up, I realized I had been punched somehow. I was a little dazed. There were only two guys now, the blond and the ringleader. The blond picked my sunglasses off the ground and handed them to me.

I looked around. Old people were hurrying by; shopkeepers were looking out their windows. A longhaired, rough-looking 40-year-old was now chumming with the perpetrators. "Come on over here and rest up a bit," he offered. He beckoned toward the park. A young storekeeper across the street was motioning for me to come to his store.

I was confused. I didn't know who was safe or who was dangerous, and my whole head was pounding. I turned and started running.

I heard them laughing as I took off. I ran and ran, and started crying, and ran, and ran some more. My head was really hurting now. Should I go to the police? Was I seriously injured? I spotted a police officer supervising some street work. I started toward him, and then saw him reach behind a fence, pull out a beer and take a swig. I passed him up and continued toward home.

When Gina arrived home 15 minutes after me, she found me bleeding lightly and sobbing uncontrollably on the couch. She phoned a friend who drove me to emergency. They got me to close my eyes and touch my nose, walk in a straight line, and vomit into a little bowl. It was my vomiting that made them decide to send me for an x-ray.

I guess there's only one x-ray machine in Mostar, so we had to drive a mile or so to this other place. The staff there was only interested in one thing: Did this happen on that side or this side (the Muslim or the Catholic side)? When I said it happened on that side, they wanted to know why I expected to get treatment on this side. When I explained that I lived on this side, they wanted to know what I was doing on that side. They seemed dissatisfied with my answer about the Pavarotti Music School. The attending nurse made sure to tell the doctor, the radiologist and the cleaning ladies that I was attacked on that side, and they each in turn gave me a disapproving look.

So the x-rays turned out negative. They called the police on this side, and I had to explain to the officer that despite his enthusiasm about nabbing the perpetrators on that side, I really just wanted to go home and sleep.

I vomited a few more times on the way home, and then flopped on the couch and slept two hours.

So now it's Friday. Tuesday my face swelled up like a grapefruit and my eye turned dark purple. Wednesday it stayed like a grapefruit. Yesterday the swelling started back down, and I went out of the house for the first time. Today my face is almost back to normal, but my eye is turning new shades of blues and yellows.

I've had a lot of time to think about what I did right or wrong, and what was going through the minds of the guys who did this. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I'm glad I never got angry at any time. I'm happy to know that I'm virtually incapable of rage, even when provoked.
  • I shouldn't have snatched for the glasses. That was too aggressive. I probably could have talked my way through it if I had been more patient.
  • Why would anyone just smoke me in the side of the head with no warning? I mean, isn't there some sort of Geneva Convention for street fights? Aren't they supposed to give me a stiff shove or something to start out?
  • Wow, getting punched as a grown-up is much different then getting punched by 10-year-old Vernon Nault in the fifth grade (that was the last time this happened). I'll take 10-year-old punches any day.
  • Why didn't they take my sunglasses? And I had money and credit cards, too. Maybe they didn't plan this very well? Maybe they scared themselves?

You know, although the guys who attacked me will never be punished for this specific crime, they've already been punished in so many ways. They lived through a terrible war, they have no money, no jobs, no prospects, no future. They're trapped in a divided country in a dying world. It's no wonder they feel like knocking a few heads now and again.