.Father and I
exchanged lookslooked at each other in silence. Any words werewould have been superfluous inat that moment, for about 50 years ago, he had experienced thesimilar brutality in the Second World War, and decades before that, his own father, my grandfather, had spent four years in themuddy trenches fighting in the First World War. It seemed that every newgeneration in this part of Europe wasis doomed to spill more blood in meaningless conflicts.
We heard knocking at the door. Father stood up and shuffled to open it.
“How many sons do you have?” a voice asked.
“Only one,” Father answered.
“Go and tell him to come out. He has to come with us,” the voice said.
I did not wait for him to fetch me, and I went outside to face a
younglanky young man inwearing a combat uniform and a black headband. His rifle hung on his shoulder, and a pistol and two hand grenades hung on his belt. He was relaxed. He told me to follow him, and we joined the groups of soldiers and rounded-up men walking down the street. We stopped at my neighbour Asim's house. A soldier who knocked at his door was Asim’s workmate before Asim had been sacked just aslike all the other non-Serbs. The soldier could not hide his tears watching his former colleague hugging his family.
“I know your son is innocent,” he told
tohis mother who was crying. “I’ve got orders. If I don’t do as I'm told, they will arrest me too.”
We walked to the crossing where busses and tanks were waiting for us. Groups of soldiers stood idly around, smoking and watching us with scornful looks. Many were teenagers who had been sitting at school desks a few weeks
agobefore and playing basketball and football after school. Suddenly, they had been thrown into a brutal war where they had a chance to give free rein to their imagination, and torture and kill people as they pleased.
As I boarded the bus, a burly soldier got in my way. He glowered at me and pointed his rifle at my face. “Give me your money!” he growled. I told him I did not have any money, but my answer made him only more furious. He swore, swung his rifle, and held it over his head shouting, “Give me money, or I’ll smash your head.”
My legs buckled. I imagined the black rifle butt smashing my head and my teeth and destroying my face. The man was so strong; he could kill anyone with one single blow.
“Don’t beat him. He has no money. I have money!” someone shouted from the back of the bus.
The soldier turned around, the veins on his thick neck throbbing. My neighbour Enver, a wealthy man, stepped forward holding in front of him a thick wad of money. “I have money,” he repeated. The burly soldier immediately lost interest in me, grunted and grabbed the money. I used this moment to slink by him, but I hardly managed to make two steps when another soldier sitting close to the aisle stretched out his leg, trying to trip me up. I hopped instinctively, landed awkwardly, and almost fell. I plopped into an empty seat and heard the soldier laughing scornfully. “You could’ve broken your neck!” he shouted. I looked up at Enver to express my gratitude. I waved at him, and he gave me a thumbs-up wink.
A minute or two later, a stocky, swarthy soldier with dark, curly hair, boarded the bus. He was furious, and he lashed out at the soldier who had taken money from my neighbour.
“You idiot! Who told you to take money from the prisoners? You’ve brought shame on my unit. You’ll pay dearly for this. Give me back the money.”
The burly soldier cowered and shrivelled, his muscles turning into jelly. He took the money out of his shirt pocket and gave it to his superior. The swarthy man went up to Enver, gave him back the money and apologised. Enver and he chatted like two old acquaintances, and I would later discover that many of my neighbours knew him well. Because of his swarthy skin and curly hair, he was nicknamed Gypsy. He told us not to worry as long as we were under his command. Before he disembarked, he pushed the burly soldier off the bus.
in front of him.I looked out of the window as histhat soldier's comrades took his rifle and his belt from him and led him away.
They drove us first to the barracks, but when we arrived there, an officer came out and told our guards they were filled to capacity. The buses turned around, and soon we rolled along the motorway. There were three guards
inon our bus. One stood beside the driver, the second in the middle, and the third at the back. As soon as we left the periphery of the town, the guard in the middle, a man of about twenty, started to remove branded watches from prisoners’ wrists. He was not in a hurry, and he wore a smug smile on his face as he walked up and down the aisle filling his pockets with booty. “You’ll not need them anyway,” he said. Someone asked him what they were going to do with us. He answered that we would be exchanged for the Serbs living under the control of the Bosnian government. I did not know if he was telling the truth, but the idea of being transported like cattle through the country seemed terrible. I would not only be separated from my father until (at least) the end of the war, but I would also (probably have to) become a soldier in the Bosnian army. I was not keen on risking mylife and mylimb to fight fightingfor thenationalistic leaders and their mad ideas.
TO BE CONTINUED
Student or Learner