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Archive for October, 2013

We knew that they would come, but we didn’t know when. They surrounded our village in darkness, silent and wary as wolves. It was late spring, and a soft rain had been falling for days, bringing with it a mist that enveloped our village and obscured the stars.

Our commander was as nervous as a cat and spat curses between drags on his cigarette. He dismantled and cleaned his weapons again and again. It took the edge off. He was worried because the headman of our village had sent some boys out to high pasture with the sheep, and the dogs had gone with them. There would be no forewarning.

Before that, the headman had sent the women and children to the Albanian border and had said whoever wanted to go with them should volunteer now. I wanted to go, but a warning look from my older brother, Rexcep, stopped me, and I hung back, not daring to look when the convoy of cars left.

The commander, a short wiry man, had come to the village with a mission. He had automatic weapons and some combat training, it seems. He never commented on his past, but I heard from one of his team that the weapons and the training came courtesy of the Germans and the CIA, who had positioned themselves on the Albanian side of the border.

‘Hey, you, poet, quit dreaming. Get out there and relieve the watch.’ That was Agim, a man whose coarse choppy haircut made him seem as if he was wearing an animal’s pelt on his head. ‘You too, fat man, back him up,’ he ordered. The fat man, whose one source of entertainment since he had come to our village had been to torment me, stopped snickering.

‘Fuck,’ he said. Agim threw him a weapon.

‘You little shit,’ the fat man said. I could feel his moist breath right behind me, ‘You know why Agim sent you out here, right? Because he can’t afford to lose his good fighters.’

‘You’re out here too, Fat Man,’ I said, not looking back at the others, who were lounging and smoking and talking among themselves. That ought to shut him up, I thought. But he went on, ‘When those overgrown bastards come, I’ll rip them apart with my bare hands and hang them by their -‘ The fat man never got a chance to finish his fantasy, because, at that very moment, he went down in a heap, his skull exploding. I hit the ground.

I didn’t have a chance to fire my weapon as a warning to the others before the ground was littered with bullets. I felt a searing pain shoot up my leg as an explosion of light blinded me. I tried to grab my gun but was caught in the crossfire. I heard them coming, and flipping myself over, crawled behind the woodpile. My heart was beating so fast that I thought it would fly out of my chest and over our village, straight into the woods.

I was afraid to look down at my leg, at the sticky blood that I could feel gushing out freely amidst the leafy debris. I peeled off my shirt and made a tourniquet for my leg. All this seemed to happen as if time had slowed, then come to a complete stop. I heard the battle raging, but, it too, seemed far away. All I could think was that I would lose my leg if I managed to survive. I could hear my own blood pulsing with a soft shrrr –shrrr sound that intensified with each passing moment.

Then I remembered the last time I had seen my girl, Aida. She had sneaked out to meet me against her father’s wishes. Her father was a policeman loyal to the Belgrade regime and had big plans for his daughter. He wasn’t going to see her waste herself on someone like me who had nothing to offer. I knew she loved me, but she was an obedient daughter. After we parted, I waited around to see her family leave for Serbia where they would have to start all over again, like thousands of other Albanian Kosovars who felt an allegiance to Yugoslavia.

I think that is where I was going when they caught me. Somehow I thought that I could reach Aida. I was almost in the woods when I heard heavy footsteps. I couldn’t see a thing and found myself near a copse of trees. I put my arms up to shield myself. Two giant men, wearing infrared visors, stood in front of me, their guns loaded and ready to fire.

‘It’s a kid,’ the one on the left said.

‘Kids have an uncanny way of growing up,’ the other replied.

‘He’s been shot,’ the man on the left said, bending down to examine my leg. ‘Pick him up,’ he ordered.

The other man hoisted me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I must have been stiff with fear because he said with a laugh, ‘Don’t worry little Shiptar, you’re going to live.’ He carried me through the village and put me in back of a truck with four other wounded men. We waited for their team to assemble.

‘Finished Dragan?’ I heard one of them ask.

‘Yes,’ the man named Dragan replied, lighting a cigarette.

‘The commander and the others from the KLA?’

‘Finished.’

‘Let’s go then.’

I must have passed out, and when I came to, I was in the hospital. The doctors managed to save my leg, although I’ll always have a limp, they say. When I walk out of here, I’ll keep walking straight to Aida, and then we’ll leave for Canada if we can.

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Yakshah

The morning after Yasna disappeared, the Slaveni were in an uproar. They sent a party to search for her, but they did not find her. Morana said her disappearance was proof of her witchery, but most thought she had been taken by the spirits to live in the woods where she had been happiest, gathering her herbs to make medicines.

Yaroslav became an old man overnight, and shrived up and sat in front of the doorstop, day after day, useless, gazing up at nothing. Sometimes he wandered down by the river, looking into the water and one day he was found, drowned, though he had a peaceful expression on his face. People said he had gone mad looking for his daughter.

Mitar and the others sent me far from the Slaveni, to the grasslands, where one day is just like another, unchanging, with no relief on the horizon, save an occasional blackbird that rises on the wind and glides over the empty sky.

Morana found herself a good husband among them, but is unhappy still and spreads her mischief and lies. The people tolerate her, and she sits, fat and content among them, because it is their nature to love gossip and spread envy.

Mitar never let Yasna return to the Slaveni. He bound her with his love and desire, the way I bound the Bee Girl to me. I saw her put the crown of a bride on her head, and they were married, and some say his wounds were healed.

Yasna still tends to the sick. She walks in the woods, but she is no longer poor and barefoot, and Mitar seeks her wise council. I have heard that they are often seen walking, heads together, murmuring in their own special language, the way that lovers who are truly united often do, but perhaps that is a story, because true love never lasts but passes like the seasons.

I think about the Bee Girl’s love, sometimes with regret, before I remember that I am a solitary man, and that it will always be my nature and my curse to love the silence and the wind and the horses more than any other living being.

Vesna

I never left the space between worlds. The memories of that summer and all that had passed swirled in the air, became alive again, and bound me to Yakshah for the duration of his life on earth.

There is a puddle on the road. The rain has just stopped, and there is a freshness in the air. Everything is green and verdant. Clouds are moving rapidly and gather once again. He remembers a puddle, remembers rain drops beginning to hit it obliquely, remembers me running through the rain to meet him, remembers lifting me up onto his horse as we wait out the storm under a canopy of leaves, our skins wet, and feels the heat from our bodies as we turn to face each other.

He remembers the sultriness of the day, the song of the cicadas, the empty blue sky, the scorched grasses, the steam rising off the earth after a passing rain shower; remembers our bodies, ablaze, and then remembers the water, cool, murky, with unknown depths, mud squishing between our toes – green water, green trees, green marshes, blue skies.

He remembers the fall of my hair, the angle of my hip, the arch of my foot, the color of my skin; remembers when he doesn’t want to; remembers when he is alone.

He remembers the leaves swirling, falling off trees – straw and gold, falling in a spiral, remembers sending me away, watching my face fall, my smile fade, my head lower. And he remembers watching me get smaller and smaller, and disappear in the distance.

All this he remembers in the song of the earth, because I am part of it, forever, in the seasons, in the wind and the rain.

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