My original plan was to buy some cheap second-hand outdoor gear and travel to Slovenia by train. Once arrived, I would pretend to be one of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts who wander the hills and woods all year around. I was going to reconnoitre for a few days and see
wherewhich route was the easiest to cross over the border, without risking ofbeing stopped. If I were lucky, maybe I would meet someone who could help me and smuggle me without charging me too much.
The plan was dangerous and unpredictable, but still Yugoslavia was not DDR, and the borders with Austria or Italy did not have any walls or fences. I was trying to persuade myself that in
thecase I was arrested, they were going to believe me I had lost my way. But the more time passed the more my mind was invaded by nightmares. I was running through the woods, breathless and exhausted, dazed and disoriented, pursued by the vicious dogs and ruthless soldiers, who would be greatly rewarded if they caught me. They surrounded me, taunted me, cursed me, called me all kinds of names, and finally, they beat me with their heavy boots and rifflerifle butts. They broke my ribs, legs, arms, and injured my kidneys and liver and covered me in blood. I tried to think positive, but I knew what the communists did to their enemies and the brave people who showed even the slightest sign of rebellion.
As the months
mountedpassed, and I had not received any letters from the military, I decided to apply for a passport and try my luck. I filled in the application form, attached other required documents and photos to it and gave them to the office worker. The man took the documents, skimmed though them, and without mentioning anything about the military service, told me to come back in a week. I could hardly believe what I had heard, and I rushed outside before he changed his mind. When I saw him the next time, he proffered me the red booklet and wished me good luck. I was so excited and my heart beat so loud that I feared he would hear it. At that time, a Yugoslavian passport was like a magic key that opened the door to the West. While the people in our neighbouring countries sat like in a large prison behind the iron curtain, we Yugoslavs had the opportunity to travel all over the West without visas or any difficulties. At least the locksmith was shrewd enough to persuade the leaders in the West that he was their faithful friend and ally. As a sign of their friendship, they hadgenerously lent him billions of dollars, employed thousands of Yugoslavs in their factories and companies, and abolished visa requirement for his citizens. The fact that he still imprisoned, killed and tortured people for their thinking seemed not to bother the leaders of the West.
I delayed my departure for as long as I could. I was worried about my father, who was suffering from ill health. He had survived two heart attacks previously and now was afraid that his heart was too weak to pull through the next one. I was a small child when my parents divorced, and my mother left our home without ever coming back. She became a stranger to me while my father and I grew very fond of each other. I felt a pang of conscience about persuading him to lie and involving him in all
thisthese. He was honest and he never had any dealings with the police. Now that he, having to lie as a sixty-year-old man, must have caused him great pain and discomfort. had
I held the called-up papers in front of me and looked at the name of the town, which lay hundreds of kilometres away from my home, somewhere in the south of Serbia, and my stomach tightened. Some of the men who had done military service told me they had eaten bean soup every single day and countless cans of sardine
cans. I hated such food, and now I imagined myself sitting in a prickly olive-green uniform in a mess hall and getting sick.
My father looked up at me with his sad eyes. “What are you going to do?”
“I’ll run away.”
I paused for a moment, looked at his slouching body and felt something heavy growing in my throat. “Today,” I said, avoiding his eyes. “I’ll take the afternoon train.”
I was close to tears and slinked out,
to my room to spare him being hurt again. I sat on my bed looking at the books in a bookcase, posters of singers and actors on the walls, and photographs of me in school group portraits. On the desk, there was a paperback of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I was not going to read to the end, and in the typewriter in therewas my poem, which I was never going to finish. There must have been hundreds if not thousands of young men and women in socialist Europe who, in this very moment, felt the similar sorrow. They were fleeing Utopia, its secret police, torture chambers, mock trials, gulags and almighty leaders, who lived like gods in their luxurious palaces while their own people turned into beggars.
Student or Learner