Renata groaned and reached for my shoulder as she tried to stand. It was just over a year since she was wounded by a Serb shell that had exploded outside the window. A finger size chunk of shrapnel struck her in the back. Ana found her in a pool of blood beside the kitchen table. Olja, normally unflappable, was hysterical. A neighbor flagged down a passing car and rushed Renata to the hospital. But there was little they could do for her. The wounded and dying were everywhere. An exhausted nurse bandaged the gaping wound as best as she could and sent the family home.
Renata’s fingers dug into my shoulders as the pain reached a crescendo. Her eyes shrank to narrow slits. But the pain was too much and she collapsed onto the couch again. In the war room Tono was crying for his feeding, but there was no food in the house, and Renata was in no condition to move. The thought that she had no choice made her want to cry. Despite the pain she tried to stand once more. Moaning and bent like an old woman she struggled from the room, barely able to walk.
“I don’t think her wounds healed right,” said Ana, almost near tears herself.
At curfew she walked with me to the end of her street. There was fighting on Igman. We watched flashes across the dark face of the mountain. There was worry in Ana’s face.
“You must leave soon, Bill.”
I studied her face, mulling over a thought. “What if I stayed?”
“Don’t be foolish.”
“I love you, Ana. What if we were meant to…”
She quickly cut me off. “If we were meant to be together we would have met in Chicago or Paris or anywhere but here.”
I sighed heavily and looked again at the mountain. She was right, of course.
“I talked with a friend the other day,” she said. “He works on the tunnel in Dobrinja. He says that if you can get there he will help you across to Butmir.”
“It is very dangerous, but if you have no other choice.”
The time had come, and I decided that night, as I evaded the police on the way to Hasan’s, that I would leaving the following night. Ana’s friend would be at the tunnel and, with a bit of luck, would help me across. I would go to see her in the afternoon to say goodbye. It would be quick, like tearing off a bandage.
The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside. Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.
“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”
The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.
“Little boys with dangerous toys,” I remarked.
“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”
“I was leaving the city tonight.”
“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”
At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”
“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”
“You don’t sound very happy?”
“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.
“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”
“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”
“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”
Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”
“I’m not finished yet,” he said.
“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.
“Just war,” Alto replied.
Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room. As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.
“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.
“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”
“It was all a mistake, Emira.”
“Real love is never a mistake.”
“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”
“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”