Sarajevo, fourth of April 1992. Morning. You could hear a gun shot from the surrounding hills, and then another one. A minute of silence. A multiple shot. I’m happy. Tomorrow is my tenth birthday. My dad and I are celebrating, we are born on the same day. I’m envious of him because I understand now that a man cannot wish for a better present on his birthday than his own child. The phone rings, but not for long. Mother answered. Tears. Something is not right. Her hands are trembling. She is putting down the receiver. “Children get packed, we are going to Zabrdje! If anyone asks, say that we are going to grandma’s for the weekend.” I don’t remember how fast we packed, but I was under impression that I haven’t even blinked and we were already in the hallway. Unopened birthday toys and ornaments were left behind. My mom, sister and I were shopping for them in the city. Yesterday, we were planning a birthday party. Today, it is one woman, two kids, ski-boots bag containing ‘it’, pair of glasses and tears. Mom usually put them on when she needed to get something from the grocery store across the street after an argument with my dad. It was a shame for other people to see you having a swollen face.
Steps. I feel the staircase flying under our feet. We are almost tumbling down. Our neighbor, a woman in her thirties, standing in front of an open door, yelling to someone inside: “Dzemal, look Serbs are fleeing, they fear Muslims will slaughter them!” I didn’t understand what that means. What is a Muslim? Who are those Serbs? I felt that something was not right, and almost like I was guilty for my mother’s tears and for my sister’s confusion whose hand was sweating while it was gripping mine.
We are crossing the street and the playground that was right besides the store where we used to buy ice-cream and cards with pictures of football players and ninja turtles. A group of kids, carefree, shouts of happiness and embarrassment boys felt because of the crush they felt for girls that were always whispering somewhere nearby. Miroslav runs up to me:
“Where are you going?”
“To the grandma’s for the weekend.”
A lie. An innocent child convicted to a life-long punishment, the guilt is haunting me to this day. I never saw Miroslav again. Is he alive? Did he manage to escape the madness with his family and his little sister? If I knew, would this guilt that I feel be smaller or greater?
Taxi, brief words, road, hills, village … our country house. Twenty people, I think they came to celebrate my birthday. Worry is painted across people’s faces, cigarettes, smoke, pills on the coffee table. TV was on, some other faces are speaking loudly. I’m waiting for my dad. My uncle and him went fishing. They say that at this time of the year the rainbow trout ‘goes nuts’ on Jablanica lake. The eldest uncle, army captain, the same one who called mom this morning, said that there wasn’t going to be a war before Monday. ‘It’s a pity to waste a good fishing weekend and so much trout.’ – my dad said.
Father and my other uncle, both avid fisherman, arrived early tomorrow morning. I couldn’t wait to see my dad. I ran out of the house jumping into his arms:
“Dad, it’s our birthday today. There are so many people in our house but no presents?”
“It is war son.”
I didn’t understand something again. The world of grownup is so complicated. Children could not comprehend it. In few days we were sitting on the last carrier plane from Sarajevo to Belgrade. I was afraid of Belgrade, that great capital city. My cousin asked the pilot:
“Sir, when is the airplane falling?”
“Kiddo, the airplane won’t fall, we are landing in half an hour.”