All characters or places appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons , living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Thanks goes to my wife Veronica for always supporting me.
Special thanks goes Teddi and 12 Doispe for the excellent writing environment, thanks mate.
Last but not least to Klasse for the illustration I forced him to do, thanks buddy.
Chapter 1, Sunday
My name is Tim and I am a writer or at least I like to think I am. I muddle along selling articles for small amounts of money, when I can. I try to push my blog filled with commercial, but with small success. Still I am a writer, just not a very successful one. Always looking for a story, you know, that story that will be THE NOVEL, the one that will make all my money worries dissipate into nothingness. So, with my rather tall and scruffy body, I tried to find that story at many different places, bars, restaurants, airports or even the train station, but nothing really worked out. I just did not get any flow and the stories I came up with became predictable and boring. At the train station I kept being interrupted by one alcoholic after another, making my idea to get a story out among the public a rather hopeless task.
Well, shame on the one who gives up, so one night, as I usually write at night, I decided to take a stroll through the city, just walked aimlessly to see where my feet would take me. It was a rather dark and chilly night, it had rained during the day driving most people indoors and leaving the streets mostly deserted. You could see one or two stray dogs quickly getting out of the way and that was about it.
I felt like I was walking through a cliché of a book and perhaps I was, life can be that way sometimes.
Under-dressed, as always, I drew the thin jacket closer around my bony body and hurried my steps. Coming onto a street, not really famous for its public establishments, I passed a building I must have passed a hundred times before without paying any special attention to it, but this night I did.
A non-descriptive concrete building with bricks staring back at me from the spots where they had managed to cling onto the wall. The front door was a glass one, you know the ones you most often find at restaurants, but the building had no sign that gave it away as such a place. I stepped up the few steps to the door and peered in, curious what the purpose of this building was. The glass must have been slightly tinted as, when I got closer, an open space filled with round small tables spread out before my eyes. People were scattered around the place, deep in conversation with some tired looking waitresses walking around, delivering beverages to customers. The inside was cosy, dark wooden panels filled with an assortment of painting and photographs, a classy place would be a good description.
“How have I managed to miss this place?” I thought to myself.
“Maybe it is a private club and that is why, a lot of fishy places in this city;” my mind continued.
“Well, what can they do except throw me out?” and with that I opened the door and stepped in.
The inside heat struck me and I found myself directly liking the place, you know, those places you just feel good in right away.
A passing waitress nodded at me, which I took as an invitation that it was OK to grab a table and sit down.
Letting my eyes scan the place I saw some free tables and a staircase leading to an upper floor.
“Do you have tables up there?” I asked her. She just nodded and waved her hand that I could go upstairs if I wanted to, never uttering a single word. You know how some people can, without saying a single word, convey a feeling or a direction, without actually having to say anything at all.
I nodded and took the stairs to the upper floor, there looking much the same as the lower floor did, without the bar disk that was on ground floor.
Fewer tables and fewer people, I was however not alone and I was glad for that.
I wanted to drink in the atmosphere, get some inspiration and, if I were the only one there, it would have been just like home, and that would have made the point to go out, well, pointless.
No, it had the right amount of people to give me some people to observe, but not so many that their talk would drown out my mind, blocking my writing.
I do love restaurants or bars with a second floor. It gives any bar a relaxed feeling, you get away from the loudest people, you know the ones who always decide to take possession of the first floor where they can be seen.
I took a table close to the stairs so I could keep an eye on the people coming up the stairs, but still away from the centre of attention, giving me a chance to observe but not being observed myself.
The tables here were the same as downstairs, small wooden ones, round with the patina of having been through many years, without looking worn or cheap in any way. I think they might have been oak tables, but they did not have the weight of oak, sturdy without any wobble. The chairs were made of the same material with a nice high backrest, furnished with a leather stuffing that made leaning back a real treat.
While I waited for a waitress I unpacked my laptop, arranged my bag and jacket on one of the extra chairs so I could use the whole surface of the table, and then I started up my computer. While it ticked away, taking its time as always, being old but with a new battery, I spend the time looking at people.
They talked in a low rather sober tone, if I should put a feeling to it after only a brief glance.
I also heard some hidden speakers playing music, but with volume turned down so low I could not really make out what kind of music they were playing, something slow guessing by the beat.
The waitress came and I ordered my standard beverage, a draught beer and she nodded, never asking me what brand I wanted, just accepted I wanted a beer and went to get me one.
“Wow, this is really the place for me. No stupid question, no phoney smiles or asking me how I am doing without actually wanting to hear my answer” I thought to myself and felt pretty damn fine.
Chapter 2, the story of the man, Sunday
The beer came, my computer had started up and so had my favourite word processor Open Office and my mind, as always, went blank. I had no idea what to write, no story came to me, so I sipped my beer and prayed to the gods of inspiration to come to me and lend a hand, but of course they have more important things to do, still you can always hope.
Just aimlessly looking at people, sipping my beer and lighting a cigarette, as the ashtrays seemed to indicate that it was OK, I just sat at my table spacing out.
Suddenly a man came to my table, not that old, maybe in his 40s, but with a worn appearance on his face that made him look older.
“Are you a writer?” he asked, probably taking a guess from my unused computer in front of me.
“Well I try to be, please have a seat” I motioned with my hand to the free chair opposite me.
“I came here to write, but seems I have no real inspiration, so I would appreciate a talk if you are up for one.”
He nodded, sat down, the waitress looked at him but did not approach the table to ask if he wanted something.
“Do you want something to drink? I feel bad drinking if you have nothing.”
“No, I don’t want to drink anything.”
He looked down at the table for the longest time and then raised his head, looking straight at me with his staring almost haunted eyes.
“I have a story to tell you if you are interested, something I have needed to get off my chest for the longest time.”
“I am always interested if you want to tell me, do you mind if I take notes?”
“I don’t mind,” he said and again looked down at the table surface, staying silent for the longest time.
After what felt like 10 minutes, but probably was just 30 seconds, he started to tell me his story.
“I used to be a UN soldier back in the 90s, Bosnian war, you know.”
“Yeah, some horrible shit happening there, I remember“, I said just to keep the talk going, as the man, who never introduced himself, had gone silent again. I waited, did not want to stress or rush him, just wanted to hear what he had to say.
“We were stationed in Bosnia, just a few of us, no mandate, just going with our whitewashed armoured personnel carriers trying to deter killing, but rather helpless to really do anything about it. You know, like a policeman that nobody listens to.“
He scratched the table with his fingernail, almost like he was drawing out an imaginary map of where he had been.
“Away from all the villages there was a house we used to pass on our patrols, small house with a young family living there. They always came out and smiled at us, just happy to see us, I guess.
They had a small boy who used to kick a deflated football ball, showing off, and he was not bad at all. His sister always stood by, a bit older and probably a bit embarrassed, you know the way siblings are.”
He smiled a faint smile, a happy memory, if only slightly so, as his small smile waned away quickly.
“So, every week we drove by this house, always they came out and greeted us, always looking so friendly. So after a couple of times we began to stop and have our meal break at this house. They did knew some English, not much but a bit anyway so we talked some, played some football with the kid and some soldiers flirted with the sister in that kind of friendly way you do when you are just fooling around a bit.
She was really beautiful, but we got so friendly with the family that we rather saw her as sister more than anything else.
She really was a beauty, she really was…” again his voice trails away and fades out, taking a break, gathering energy to continue.
Now his fingernail is making the outlines of a house, there are the walls, the chimney and some stick figures being drawn in the table surface and, as quickly as you see the outlines, they disappear again.
The man takes out his wallet and hands me a photograph.
“There they are, me in the middle, Dino holding the football we got him.”
I looked at the photo showing some soldiers standing in front of a house with big smiles on their faces, a kid making rabbit ears behind the head of one, while keeping his ball with the other hand, a girl stroking her hair behind her ears and the parents laughing, standing a bit to the side.
The photo was folded many times, looked like it was a polaroid, not of the best quality and quite faded with age.
I handed the photo back to him and he carefully folded it and put it back in his wallet from where he had taken it out.
Still, he did not look up at me, stared for the longest time at the wallet, reliving some memories I assumed and I did not want to disturb him, so I sat patiently, sipped my beer, waited and looked at him.
His face, now haggard even more so than before, he started to to talk again.
“Things started to get worse, more and more killings took place and we could do nothing. The family got worried, the smile of the parents disappeared and only the children seemed not effected. They also worried, but showed it less and in a better way kept up the appearance, strange should have been the opposite. Who knows, maybe we made them feel safe, if only for the short time we were around.
We got assigned another patrol area and no longer got to drive by their house, it was a dangerous time and we really did not have much time to think about the family. We mentioned them in passing, wondered how the kid liked the football ball we had given to him and so on.”
Now he sighs deeply, some bad memory must have come back in vivid colours.
“Then we finally got to patrol that area again, looking forward to meeting the family, have some jokes with them, but most of all make sure they were doing OK.
In was on a Wednesday, really crappy weather, winter snow had melted and then frozen again, making the small roads incredible slippery.
It took us forever to drive to the house, but around two thirty we came to the bend after which we would see the house again.
The motor strained, the wheels slipped, but finally we managed to get around the corner. Nobody came out to welcome us like they used to, no smoke from the chimney and even from afar the house looked cold and empty.
Maybe they have left, someone said, it has been pretty many killings in these parts.
We did not use the term ethnic cleansing at this time, not we the soldiers anyway, but we knew that many bad things were happening.
We drove closer, keeping an eye out for anything, maybe they were just hiding, maybe some militia men were around, we did not know, you see.”
Again he stopped, I knew something horrible had happened , I could see that on his face, it was contorting as he spoke, turning more and more grim and worn.
“Then we saw them, they just laid there in front of the house, the front door open like they just had got out to greet someone, maybe they thought it was us, I don’t know.
The mother was holding Dino in her arms, he hold the broken ball in his arms, both shot dead, cold and white, some snow covering their poor faces. The father must have screamed and tried to stop whoever did it, as he even in death had a running pose.
Then the sister, that beautiful girl….”
He started to cry, the tears started slowly falling down his cheeks and they did not stop, all the time he looked down that table.
I offered him a napkin but he did not take it, maybe he did not even see it, maybe he needed to cry and I let him.
“They had…they had..raped her, her dress all messed up, her face screaming, dress soaked in blood, such a horrible sight I have never seen in my life….that beautiful girl.”
He took a deep breath and then continued.
“So we documented the place, tried to detach ourselves from the horror, do our job. After that, we buried them together, Dino with his football ball.
I never managed to get over this, that image still haunts my memory every night, every god damn night I see this in front of me.”
Going quiet again, his tears slowly stopping, drying on his worn face.
”I just needed to get this off my chest,” he finally said.
Then he looked up at me again, tears now completely dried, that empty hollow stare, like he was looking through me, maybe still seeing that house, with those dead people.
“Thanks for listening.”
“Thank you for sharing your story with me. I am so sorry.” not knowing what else to say.
He nodded, put out his hand and I shook it, then he went back to his table and sat down. At the table sat a young curly boy waiting for him, his son I assumed. They continued their conversation, maybe the one they had stopped when he decided to come and talk to me. The boy had a striking resemblance to the boy in the picture, it was not him, but looking very much like him.
The story had captured me so much that I had forgotten to take notes, forgot to ask him more details about where it had happened, the name of all the family members.
Somehow I did not want to write this down, and somehow I knew that I had to write, it needed to be put down on paper, maybe a way to keep that family alive, in memory if nothing else. The story needed to be told and maybe that was his purpose, to make me tell his story.
I finished my beer, left some money on the table, probably way more than I should, I just needed to get out, needed to get some fresh air. Walking down the stairs, nodding in a distracted way to the waitress I passed on the stairs, navigating between the tables I went out in to the cold night, glad for the fresh air.
My feet took me home. I had enough of going through the streets freezing, I just needed to get home and start writing, getting this story down in my laptop and then I wanted to sleep, I needed to sleep.
This is a preview of the book to be published as soon as it is finished.