Posted: Saturday, November 20, 2010 6:22:17 PM
The Ordeals of Parents Escaping Prosecution
What am I grateful for? One main thought comes to mind: the one where my parents risked their lives to immigrate to America after the Bosnian Genocide in 1992. And, after a trip to Bosnia in 2010, I began only to understand what my parents had gone through for the sake of their unborn children.
It was the summer of 2010, where my mother and I drudgingly sat in the stuffy red car, driving to the oldest part of the medieval Bosnian city: Sarajevo. Tired, I leaned my head against the window and stared at the confusing contrasts of half-detonated buildings and glittering modern hotels.
“How long will it take to get there?” I asked, yawning.
That summer had been mostly uneventful, with few exceptions (like this) to drive to the city. We had left my brother, sister, and father with the majstore, or the plumbers, at our house. My mother had previously suggested going to the city to stock up on somune, or flatbreads.
We soon arrived at the bakery, when I noticed my mother’s face fall. The bakery, still open since before the war, was on my mother’s home street where she had freely roamed as a young child. She parked the car to the side and wildly looked around at her familiar surroundings, murmuring, “I wonder if the same people live here.”
The bakery was fragrant and warm. A large open fireplace flickered at the center, drawing attention to its hand-crafted engravings on rustic stones. In front of it stood rows of stands with steaming varieties of breads.
My mother searched their faces, half worried and half anxious, but her shoulders fell again when she did not recognize anyone. Suddenly she turned and winked at me, whispering “It was even better and bigger when I was your age”.
Anxious to return home, I nodded quickly. She painstakingly chose what she needed and beckoned to me to carry the bags.
When we re-entered the car, she asked sadly, “Would you mind if we drove by my house?”
My heart lurched for I knew the sadness of it would return and nodded, now melancholy.
The car’s wheels hit against the stoned street, causing a sudden Rump! to commence. She pushed on the gas and set the car to trudge up to the top of the hill where her old home laid.
“Look. See that house in red there? You see it?” she spoke quickly.
“That’s my old boyfriend’s house. He was a Serb.”
“Oh. What happened to him?”
“He married some lady. I kissed him once, you know. It was really gross—I had only wanted to try it anyway. It was like putting a slug in my face.”
I grimaced, not wishing to conjure this image.
“Look over there. Do you see that boarded house?”
A now-tilting house stood to the left where kitties were prowling around. Strangely, the house was colored pink.
“An old guy lived there. He shot himself in the leg so he wouldn’t have to go to the front when he was drafted”.
My eyes widened, shocked.
“Everyone knew what he did,” she said contemptly.
The car continued to trudge upwards. It began to hasten, though tired and out of breath.
“That house with the boarded wooden gate? With the paper stapled on it? You see it? Right over there…”
I nodded, noticing the houses were stacked closely with similar wooden gates that were covered in open-mouthed lions. With the cobble-stoned streets, it looked medieval and haunted.
She began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, alarmed.
“My best friend lived there. She is the one I still talk to on Facebook. The one that lives in Australia. She took care of me just like a sister…” she trailed off.
Further up, her eyes began to flow with tears again.
“See, the house with roses sticking out? The broken windows? The large oak doors? What was Halida’s.”
I felt my heart drop. Halida was my great-grandmother, murdered on the street while in line for bread to bring to her starving family.
I spied the bright pink roses, imagining my young mother playing with them and helping Halida choose sweet-smelling herbs for sweet teas. She had once told me that whenever she was in trouble, she hid under her grandmother’s long traditional skirts, while Halida would take the stings of the sharp stick that my mother’s mother used whenever children were naughty.
I shuddered, feeling the uneasy ghostliness that loomed in the empty street.
My mother’s sobs became louder.
“What’s wrong?!” I asked, near tears myself.
She slowed the car.
“That alleyway..,” she stumbled between tears. “That alleyway…”
I wildly looked in it.
“My… my friend’s brother… fell dead… shrapnel… I saw him die there on the street… He was laying in her lap as his brains spilled… I saw him die…” she sobbed.
Tears filled my eyes and I sighed. The car creaked, straining to pull itself to the top.
She continued to cry, clutching the wheel. And there it was. The two-story, broken, old home that once was hers. We passed the small “cupboard” room (our family joked that she was the ‘Harry Potter’ of the family) and she winced, straining to spy any lost relics.
Silence followed, and the car released itself down the hill. She wiped the remaining tears and looked apologetically at me.
“I’m sorry. I had to see it.”
I leaned my head again to the window.
“I know, Mama. I understand.”
* * *
Only after this experience did I feel truly in my heart of my mother's secret ordeal that she had never really talked about. And this is what I am most grateful for: for parents that cared for the future generations and their education to the point of leaving their home country for a strange new world.