When customers say they’re wearing shoes his dad used to shine, Ramiz Hasani polishes them with special care, and slowly, because for a moment it feels like his old man has been brought back to life.
Husein Hasani — better known as “Uncle Misho” — died one year ago Tuesday at age 83, bequeathing his shoe-shining box to his son. The death of the “city symbol” who charmed generations of Sarajevans over six decades left the city “emptier,” the mayor said back then.
For days, Sarajevans prayed, laid flowers and lit candles around an old pair of shoes and Uncle Misho’s shining box, placed in front of his empty wooden chair.
Uncle Misho offered his services with songs and merry chatter even as sniper fire raged in Sarajevo during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war that killed over 100,000 people.
“To see him sitting and waiting for customers while everything around him was falling apart was a surreal scene,” said Hamid Kajmakovic, 78, a retired economist. “But it gave people strength to endure the horror of the war.”
For putting Sarajevans into a good mood, city authorities honoured the elderly Roma by giving him a small apartment and a retirement pension. But hanging up his brushes just wasn’t for him. He kept on sitting at the same step outside McDonald’s on Sarajevo’s main street, shining shoes and greeting passers-by.
Hasani is so proud to be the son of Sarajevo’s legendary shoe shine that he takes pains to look exactly like his dad: same mustache, same hat, same gestures and of course same spot.
The plaque from McDonald’s employees pays tribute to “Sarajevo’s last shoe shiner.” “Thank God, that’s wrong,” the 64-year-old Hasani said with a laugh.