english_stories- 115 - 05.10.2004 : Zeljko Tomic Sokolac - (6)
Author: Željko Tomic, Canada
Dedicated to Slavko Suka
Sometimes, just for a moment, you meet somebody who makes an impression on you, which hunts you for the rest of your life. Such case was the time when I met Slavko Šuka. It was during the last war, when I was sent on a hill called the Major's Grave. I shared the same trench with Slavko. He was an intelligent man, whose optimism impressed the other solders. His quick-witted stores, followed by loud laughter of the other men were endless!
In those somber times, only a few people had a radio, but everybody was interested what was happening in the country. That was why we would send Slavko to a nearby trench to listen to the 6 o'clock news. When Slavko would come back from his "assignment", he would start talking, and his talk could last for a couple hours at the time. Slavko talked to us by his loud, distinctive voice, but his sentences had the power of Shakespeare.
When all the news were retold, Slavko would continue retelling the news, knowing we all needed some fun more than the only meal we had that day. Slavko would talk, and talk, and talk... While he was speaking, the dark would fall over the old beech woods. Looking back, his stories were the only spark of light in the midst of endless darkness.
After the war had ended I left the country. A few years ago, while I was visiting my home town, somebody told me Slavko had died. The tiny glimmer of light on the war days disappeared from the face of the Earth at the moment I heard my dear friend Slavko had passed away. Somehow, I felt a part of me died too.
I don't know if Slavko's chiming voice is still making birds near the Major's Grave to stream airborne, but sometimes, when the night is falling over the Rocky Mountains I have a feeling I can hear Slavko's voice.
english_stories- 160 - 08.10.2004 : Zeljko Tomic Sokolac - (4)
by Željko Tomic
Dedicated to Zoran Rundic, Vrapci, Bosnia and 10. 000 Serbs killed by Muslims in Sarajevo
I stopped to rest for a while. I was forty years old, so climbing up the steep hill was not an easy task for me any more. The ground was rocky and hard to traverse. I turned around. Behind me was a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains on three sides. A small river winds its way along the valley floor. The river was deep and beautiful, disappearing behind the hills on the other side of the valley.
I took a deep breath and made myself walking again. I didn"t come here to enjoy the countryside, I came to visit my friend"s grave, who was killed ten years ago during the civil war in Bosnia. Zoran, that was his name, had been my playmate from childhood. At that time I thought we would be the best friends forever, but his father got a new job and Zoran moved to Sarajevo, forty kilometers far from our home town Sokolac. It took me several years to realize I was wrong to blame Zoran for braking our friendship.
The gate was open, so I passed through into the graveyard. The graveyard had a small hill at the canter, with an old apple tree on the top. It was a modest, family graveyard with gravestones of different ages, shapes and sizes, surrounded by a barbed wire fence. I walked straight to a white marble cross, the most beautiful in the graveyard.
Then I saw the picture. It seemed to me the picture imprinted into the cold marble was taken the same night ten years ago, when that extraordinarily handsome fellow popped up in my life again. My fiancé, Svjetlana, wanted us to go on a double date with her girlfriend, Aida Muhovic. As soon as I saw his big brown eyes filled with something between love and loss, they reminded me on the young boy who used to stroll with me uncut grass fields and misty woods. The same boy who disappeared from my life 23 years ago!
I sat on a marble bench next to his grave. I touched the cold gravestone, like I was trying to check if Zoran lied there. But the stone was cold. I felt the same frizzing, lifeless coldness that brought into me the war that broke out when I was on the top of my happiness. Zoran decided to stay in Sarajevo. He didn"t want to abandon Aida, his Muslim girlfriend. Zoran had no idea what nationalism and hatred was. Alija Kapo, a Muslim man from the village Stjenice, near Rogatica, targeted Zoran only because he was a Serb. He came by, and beat him up. Zoran couldn"t run away. Muslim army didn"t want Serbs to leave Sarajevo, so the city was sealed from the inside. I wish I knew if Zoran was different when Alija Kapo took him to the city garbage depot and killed him over there. However, I am sure at the moment he died he didn"t hate his fiancé Aida for being a Muslim.
For seven years Zoran was buried by the garbage depot in an unmarked grave. After the Dayton agreement, his remains were found and identified by UN peacekeepers. His family was able to give him a decent funeral. Although his killer"s name is well known, he was never punished.
The graveyard was silent, yet comfortable because the wind that was playing absently with the old apple tree leaves, made me feel Zoran"s soul was surfing around the place. I crossed myself, pronounced the name of God, bent over and kissed the gravestone. Before I walked out of the graveyard, without looking back, I told Zoran I did marry Svjetlana and I got with her a beautiful, redhead daughter Marija, who was seven years old at the time. Unfortunately, I had no courage to tell Zoran that Aida got married to a Muslim man, and gave birth to three kids.
The hill was steep, there was a long walk for me to the point where I came from. Besides, the dark was falling down. Every time dark comes over Bosnia I get a feeling, I will never see the Sun again.
Alija Kapo was never charged for this crime. He lives now in suburb of Sarajevo called Buljakov Potok.
english_stories- 9912 - 16.06.2006 : Zeljko Tomic Sokolac - (6)
People on the Road
Author: Željko Tomic, Sokolac © Copyright Željko Tomic
This story is one of my first English writings. I wrote it on February 27, 1996, on the day when Serbian people had to leave Sarajevo as a result of the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia.
The snow is covering the road very high and only tracks of a vehicle that went by a long time ago, remind the locals that vehicles used to travel along the road which goes through former Bosnia.
A woman steps on the road. She looks on both sides of the road, and there is no living thing in sight. The white strip covered by the snow is empty as far as the eye could see.
She has lived for fifty-five years next to the road and watched people who used to travel in beautiful cars, happy and busy. Now the road is empty.
She stands there for a few minutes, like she is waiting for somebody. In spite of being very cold, she isn"t dressed warmly enough. She got used living in the freezing mountain climate, so it looks like she doesn"t care about the harsh weather conditions and hostile climate. She is a highlander, who has never been sick.
Suddenly, the woman sees something. Someone is slowly approaching the place where she is. It took for a while to realize it is a silhouette of a very old man. In his hand, he is holding a frozen rope. On the other end of the rope, there is a cow. The animal is walking slowly through the snow. Very often, the old man turns back his head, like he is checking on the cow. An old woman is walking twenty meters behind them, trying to catch up the small group. The entire company looks tired, and sad. All those difficult years of their lives left marks on their faces.
Instead of greeting with "Good afternoon! " like it is a habit in the countryside, the old man turns toward woman by the side of the road and said:
"I had three sons who died in the war. My family lived in one place for two hundred years, but some crazy politicians made me leave my hearthstone, and abandon my bed, where I could die in piece. How can I now visit my sons' graves? I wanted to dig out their graves and bring their remains with me. However, I didn"t have money to pay for for a truck, so I burned my house because I didn"t want to leave it to the Muslim phanatics who killed my sons. I have nothing in this world, except the woman and the cow. I have no destination. I am a dead man! "
At the moment, the old woman catches up with her husband, and they continue their walk to nowhere.
The woman is concerned about the old couple. For a while she will think about them, but in recent days she has heard so many tragic stories like this one, so when a new traveler pops up on the road she will pay attention toward them and forget about the old couple. It might be her only son, who has gone far away.
For a moment she looks at the winter sky. An American fighter jet was drawing a long white line on the clear horizon. Even though a plane like that one dropped a bomb on her neighbor"s house just a week ago, she doesn"t hate them. They are coming from the place where her son lives. She hopes the passenger planes will be scratching the sky soon. One of them could bring her son to visit her. Canada isn"t far away for the planes, is it?
english_stories- 78098 - 12.10.2012 : Zeljko Tomic Sokolac - (2)
My daughter agreed, so I began the story:
Once upon a time a war burst out in your mother's hometown. Some evil politicians became leaders of the country, each of them intended to establish their own kingdom. However, Bosnia was only one with three constituent nations living in it: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. It soon became obvious the negotiations would lead nowhere, so politicians handed over guns to their closest followers and each national group occupied the territory on which they were dominant.
Your mother's used to live in a part of Sarajevo controlled by the Muslim forces. On the beginning of the war she resisted all my persuasions to run out of the city. A few months later, she realized there was no way to escape the war zone. While being held in Sarajevo, she experienced many unpleasant situations: in several occasions Muslim solders broke into their apartment looking for money and firearms. During the sleepless nights she was listening the sounds coming from the stairways, always being afraid that evil Muslim soldiers could come back to their place in order to torture her father.
In several occasions her father was forcefully taken to dig trenches for the Muslim army. One day he came back severely injured by a grenade explosion. After that they realized he couldn't bend the thumb, index, and middle finger of his right hand, the very same fingers Serbs bring to a point in order to make sign of the cross. Having those three fingers in a strait position was a big deal during the war because some Serbs would use as a greeting sign between themselves. Since they all knew some Muslim extremists would easily kill him because of that, her father never left their apartment until the end of the war.
However, the biggest problem for them was starvation. After living in a double encirclement for two months, they run out of money and food. The were surviving on the Red Cross parcels I was able to send.
In those sober times, even a smallest wish couldn't come true. For example, your mother was daydreaming for three years about having a decent meal, the same one you eat every day. In one of the Red Cross messages I got from her, she mentioned that she would love to get a can of chicken liver pate for her birthday, which was also known as "Argeta". It was her favorite food from the times before the war. She was also hoping she wouldn't need to share it with her family: father, mother and the sister.
Soon after I received the letter, I begun my search for her favorite delicacy. I asked all my friends and family members to help me to find "Argeta". Even my sister living in Serbia checked out all stores looking to buy a can of the pate. However, the grocery stores were almost empty everywhere in the region. Shortly after I realized there was no way to find it. My last hope was a letter I sent to a cousin living in Slovenia, the country which produced the chicken liver pate before the war. However, the answer from him never came back. A few month later I gave up on my search for "Argeta".
At that moment I looked at my daughter and I saw a bitter disappointment from across her face pushing tears from her eyes.
Shortly after I was recruited into 2nd Romanija Motorized Brigade and sent to a place called The Major's Grave, a mountain top in Eastern Bosnia. During that time, soldiers in trenches would get a single meal per day, which consisted of some tea, a dish of bean soup without meet, and a dry loaf of bread which happened to be so hard and tasteless I couldn't eat it even though I was starving.
One foggy morning, an old man followed by an animal showed up on a narrow forest trail. I easily recognized John, a resident of a nearby village, who was followed by a donkey which he called The Stubborn. They were on their regular trip to deliver food to the soldiers. While he was still far away, I could hear delightful shouts of the soldiers from the trenches he was passing by, so I realized that we were getting something really delicious for that day. When the man appeared in front of me, after his usual greeting "God bless you young man", he handed over to me a daily ration of beans, bread and food. Finally, he took a small can of chicken liver pate out of his military bag and gave it to me. At the first glance I immediately knew it was "Argeta". I was so trilled the chicken liver pate found me when I wasn't able to get it myself.
That morning, a small clearing in the forest was filled up with loud laughter of the soldiers. I decided to stay away from them because I couldn't watch their delightful chewing and resist the smell of the food. Even though I was starving I decided to save the chicken liver pate for you mother!
After a while, I was approached by a soldier I barely knew. He asked me why I was sitting alone. Somehow I felt I should open my heart and tell him my sad story. While I was talking the soldier was listening very carefully, and then, when I was done, he took out of his pocket the chicken liver pate can, and said:
Three weeks later, a small Red Cross parcel arrived at your mother's address. In a small cardboard box she got a small bag of flour, which I hid the two chicken liver pate cans in. This was a necessary precaution because the Muslim authorities tend to steal valuables from the Red Cross parcels. Even though my birthday present arrived a bit late, your mother was trilled with it. She ate the chicken liver pate alone, together with a piece of green onion which they got in exchange for a couple of cigarettes. Her mother, father and sister shared the other can of chicken liver pate.
My daughter quickly hugged me tight and kissed me passionately. I am not sure if I deserved the kiss by telling her a good story or I finally succeeded to convince her that I used to love her mother, almost as much as I love her at the moment.
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