Student or Learner
This is the first part of my short story, Friends. Please would you correct my mistakes.
Milan and Omer had been best friends since their childhood. They were born in the same year, and they grew up in the same street. That was in the 70’s when Yugoslavia was a prosperous country in which people enjoyed much more freedom compared to their socialist neighbours whose dictators kept their workers behind the iron curtain and treated them as traitors if they tried to move to the West. Unlike them, the Yugoslav dictator, Tito, a locksmith by trade, opened the borders and gave his citizens the opportunity to travel whenever they wanted and import almost whatever they wanted, under the condition that they did not plot against the government. Those who dared openly to criticize the communists had only two alternatives in their lives: to move abroad and spend the rest of their lives in exile, before the police arrested them, or to await a court trial, which would inevitably sentence them to long prison sentences, which would certainly destroy them physically and mentally.
Milan’s and Omer’s parents had no interest in criticising the government or moving abroad. They were well-educated, had well-paid jobs and lived ordinary lives in which they lacked nothing. Their children lived in a country where there were no street gangs, no dangerous drugs and no paedophiles lurking behind the bushes and around corners. Thus, Milan and Omer could play in the street from early morning until late in the evening without fear or worries. In the spring and summer, they would run after a ball, play hide and seek, tag, conkers, marbles and other children's games, or saunter from one orchard to another picking up fruit, which was in abundance. Sometimes their parents drove them to the river where they learnt how to swim even before they started school. In the winter they would take out their sledges, go to the top of a hill and slide down the slope, or they would build snow forts and had snowball fights with other children. When they began school, Milan and Omer were almost inseparable. Every morning they would strap on their school bags and walk about a quarter of an hour to their school and then a few hours later back home. Their two families were like one. They celebrated birthdays and national holidays together; they invited each other to dinners and drinks. Every summer they would spend their holidays on the Adriatic Sea where Milan and Omer had the time of their lives. They made castles of sand on beautiful beaches, which stretched for kilometres, and they swam in the crystal clear sea. In the evening, they joined their parents and went to patisseries and restaurants where food was excellent and cheap.
Both Milan’s and Omer’s parents were members of the Communist Party. They firmly believed in the idea of socialism and workers’ self-management. Whenever they travelled, they proudly showed their children what the country had managed to achieve after the end of the Second World War. Sometimes they met tourists from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Poland or the USSR. For the majority of them Yugoslavia was the only country where they could feel winds from the West. They could buy clothes and gadgets, which were impossible to buy in their countries, watch American and British films and soap operas, and buy rock and pop music by popular Western bands. Being Slavic people, they did not need interpreters to understand each other. They were also full of admiration for the relative freedom of a Yugoslav who could so easily get a passport and travel all over the world. For someone who was born behind the iron curtain, this was something incredible. Whenever they met someone from Yugoslavia they would ask to see their passports. They would hold it in their hands as something sacred, leaf through it and stare in awe when they saw how many countries that person had already visited. The Yugoslavs would usually smile and say, “You know we have Tito, he is the greatest leader ever.” Indeed, Tito knew what he was doing. He had appropriated one of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic Sea for himself, where he built a beautiful palace and to where he welcomed celebrities from the whole world. At the same time, he built the most terrible gulag for the political prisoners where the poor people spent decades breaking stones and then carrying them from one part of the barren island to another. Tito knew what he was doing, but ordinary people did not want to hear anything about that. After all, they were not hungry, they received flats from their factories and paid low rents; they could buy any household appliance and even purchase a small car. Therefore, they sang aloud, “Comrade Tito, we promise you that from your path we will not turn.” Nobody knew what that path exactly was, and nobody dared to ask either. Instead, people had faith in their leader, who outwitted the Nazis, had courage to say “No” to the arrogant Stalin and succeeded in borrowing billions of dollars from the West, under the pretext that the country must be strong to defend itself from the Warsaw Pact. When they were still children, Milan and Omer had learnt many revolutionary songs by heart. Songs about the revolution, partisans, party, brotherhood and unity. It was brotherhood and unity Tito and the communists were most proud of. So proud that they called the first built motorway “The Brotherhood and Unity Motorway”. During the Second World War, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims had committed terrible crimes towards each other. It was not animosity, but pure hatred, and that turned into barbarism Europe had not seen since the Middle Ages. But suddenly he appeared, in a dazzling white uniform covered in gold and diamonds, and told the masses that there would be no more killing, no more hatred, no more quarrelling.
There would only be brotherly love under the red flag of the Communist Party. Many doubted that a simple locksmith would ever succeed. Nevertheless, his methods were reliable and effective. Those who opposed him would disappear without trace, included some of his best friends for whom he reserved years in prison instead of instant death, as a sign of mercy and compassion. That magic time went on for 35 years and then the great magician became terminally ill, and despite the best doctors from both the East and West, he was not able to outsmart the Great Reaper. When the news broke, the whole country erupted in a long mournful howl. Everyone was weeping for the great man, who would never again drive Hollywood stars in his Mercedes cabriolet around his island. Still teenagers, Milan and Omer wept as well, for Tito was had been like a father figure to them. They had pictures of him in their rooms, on their schoolbooks, in classrooms, and school laboratories. He watched them from the oversized portraits on the important buildings. Both families watched together his funeral on TV, cried, and asked themselves what was going to happen to the country without its commander. As it was, life went on as before and there were neither upheavals nor conflicts.
TO BE CONTINUED
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