For the next week I am reminiscing ahead of my wedding anniversary…
Each day I would make the long trek to PTT for the daily UN Press briefing and to find a way out of the city when the time came. It was better than two miles each way, which would not have been so difficult back home. I was in excellent shape when I left for the war, but the war and its deprivations were wearing me down. I was lucky for one small meal a day, and usually that was watered down soup with a few beans, a meager amount of meat and a bit of potato. More than that I always carried a small knapsack with film, cameras, my journals and a few emergency items should I need to escape the city at a moments notice. Each day there would be no word on my Press pass, and each day the trip across the city would become a little harder. It was soon obvious that the UN had no intention of restoring my credentials.
I went out and stood in the road, looking off towards the no man’s land. Sarajevo’s little world came to an abrupt end at a line of tank traps and barbed wire. A hundred yards out a bullet riddled bus was cocked at an angle at the side of the road, half consumed in weeds. A hundred yards further on an overpass and another line of barricades marked the Serbian lines. Beyond that, Serbian territory encompassed hardly more than a mile. At the other end the pass and those good men guarding the road to Igman. A mile meant the difference between freedom and hell, but it might as well have been the ocean, for both were equally formidable.
I lost track of the time. I was supposed to meet Ana at Radnik, and when I realized the time I was already late. I ran the whole way, praying that she would wait, but when I arrived she was nowhere to be found. I looked up and down the street wondering if we had reached an inevitable crossroads. If I chose to walk away now that would be it, and we would be finished. Both of us would be spared any further heartbreak, or the illusion that we had any chance at all, but then why was I so desperately sad? It was as though my heart had been torn from my chest. I didn’t want to be free of her. It was like leaving the sanctuary of a desert oasis. I was lost and utterly alone.
I was falling in love with Ana. There was no denying that fact. It had come upon me so fast and so unexpected. I had vowed not to let this happen, but it was only too easy to retreat from the war to the peace and stillness of Ana’s embrace. Was it possible that it was desperation, the natural loneliness of being in a strange place so far from home, or my own foolish romanticism? I rejected all of these outright, because there was something about Ana, as though I had tapped into a deeper and cleaner current running beneath the world. Out love was doomed, of course, and I should have been terribly sad for that fact. Instead, I was uplifted for the few days we’d shared, and that was enough to last a lifetime.
“Bill?” I turned to find Ana crossing the street from the direction of Nadja and Hasan’s. There was a worried look on her face.
“God, I thought I missed you.”
“I went to Nadja’s,” she said. “I was afraid something happened to you. You look awful.”
“I ran from PTT, but I’m here, and you’re here.” I couldn’t stop smiling. She must have thought I was crazy.
“For a minute I was worried you hated me after the way I acted at Skendarija.” She wiped away sweat pouring down my face. “Are you okay?”
“Fine, I’m fine.” I said as gunfire rattled in Marin Dvor. “What shall we do?”
“Walk,” she said, “if you’re not too tired? I just like walking with you.”
We held hands and strolled among the shops of Bashcharshija. Many of them remained open through the war, more out of habit, just as they had done for centuries. When we left Radnik I noticed that our steps were not in rhythm, as though it indicated something more significant, or that it was a sign that we were really wrong for one another. When I took note again we were nearly to her building. Like two gently merging rivers Ana and I found that common rhythm, and I knew.
“Have you decided when you will leave?” she asked, as a Norwegian tank rumbled by throwing up a terrific cloud of dust.
“Soon I think.”
“Another war, another girl?’ she smiled tragically. “Maybe you won’t get out?”
“Remember my American passport,” I said. “It works wonders.”
“You won’t mind if I say a prayer for you?”
It was dark when we reached her building on Koshevsko Hill. A skirmish near the zoo shook the entire neighborhood. Ana and I sat on the floor in the war room fearing the battle might spill over. We sat close. Ana took my hand and measured the fingers against her. Slowly she interlocked her fingers with mine. Starlight played off her hair.
“The stars are so bright tonight,” I said softly.
“I wish it was raining. I love the rain, how it smells, and how it seems to quiet the whole world. When it rains they don’t shoot at each other so much. Sometimes it stops the whole war, and then there is nothing but the rain. I think it is so much harder to hate when it rains.”
“It always makes m a little sad.”
She looked up into my eyes. “Sadness is closer to love than hate.”
“One of my favorite things back home is watching the city come back to life after a sudden downpour. People look to the sky from doorways and under awnings and ask one another if it will rain again, people who normally wouldn’t talk to one another.”
“Mom use to tell us that the sound of rain is music for your soul.” Ana nuzzled a little closer and I couldn’t refrain. Lifting her chin I leaned to kiss her softly. I drew slowly away and looked into her deep dark eyes. A shell exploded close by, stealing the peacefulness of her expression.
“That was close,” she said tensely. She was holding my hand tightly, her eyes moved to the window.
“Maybe that’s it,” I said.
“No wait.” Ana instant later another shell exploded.
“How did you know?”
“Favorite Chetnik trick. They hope that people will come out of hiding to check for wounded, this way they get more.”
“Think they’re done?” The battled seemed to dwindle.
“Maybe for now. So, tell me something secret about you.”
“I know one.”
“You must tell me.”
“I don’t know.”
“I like you very much.”
“Me too,” she replied as I leaned to kiss her once more. I might have remained there forever if Renata didn’t bang on the door disturbing us a minute later. Ana sat up and straightened herself.
“Ana, the hour!” There was ample alarm in Renata’s tone.
“Five of ten!” Ana exclaimed. “You must leave or you’ll be arrested. Curfew, I’m sorry I lost track of the time.” She stood and pulled me to my feet. She was already shoving me out the door.
“Never mind. Meet me at church tomorrow. Remember, eight steps, eight steps, eight steps.”
I stumbled down the stairs and out onto the street. There wasn’t a sound or soul to be seen. The battle at the zoo had ended, leaving only sporadic sniper fire. More responded from the plaza, stabbing through an anxious silence. I slipped quietly past the police station on the corner and ran all the way to Marin Dvor.
It was the same route I always took. Each night I would pass the same people; the guard at Restoran Kan (a UN hangout), the sentry in Crni Vrh above the train station, and the lovers saying goodnight near the stairs above the Holiday Inn. A block from Hasan’s I paused in the shadow of a doorway until the two policemen passed, then dodged across the street into the building.