Fiction: The End of Childhood

Danijela Trajković
Written by Danijela Trajković
Translated by Danijela Trajković and Octavio Quintanilla

It was 1998. The end of the school year was near. My brother and I were excited. This meant only a few days more, and we would go to the village to spend summer holidays with our relatives and friends as we had done for years. We packed, and then planned what we were going to do. Although I was eighteen and my brother was sixteen, we were still children, innocent and happy.

The war in Kosovo had started. Young, inexperienced soldiers, most of whom had never seen a real rifle before, were sent to defend their homeland. The evening news at seven thirty were a nightmare. Every day someone was killed. Everything about the war was disgusting. In other parts of Serbia, life seemed normal: we lived the usual daily activities: school, work, recreation, TV. I counted the days.
One night, as I watched the evening news with my parents, I heard a familiar name: "Today soldier Mladen S. was killed ..." I immediately knew it was him.

"Wait," my mother said in shock. "Maybe it’s not him. Let's hear it again."

"No, I've heard it well. It’s him.“ I ran out of the room. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die. My brother was playing basketball with some friends in the yard. Suddenly I cried: "Mladen was killed!" The game stopped. The ball lost its direction.

Later, my parents criticized me for telling my brother the sad news the way I did. I immediately accepted Mladen’s death. I did not react like my mother, who hoped it might not be true. After the shock, I cried for hours. My weeping went on for days. It was unbearable.

At that time, we lived in a place where the Albanians were the majority. Surprisingly, I did not feel any hatred for them. One day, as I walked home from school, I noticed them everywhere, the pain inside me, the pain that made me cry steadily. Still, it was my pain and I was not interested in anyone. A family friend, a Serbian woman, felt sorry for me, she was gentle: "Oh, my dear child, I heard your friend was killed." I cried quietly. My brother and I did not go to the funeral, just our parents. I still have not seen his grave. I light candles for his soul in churches.

In the year 2000, my brother and I were in the village. We were not there since Mladen was killed. We could not, we just could not show up where everything died. I recall one picture of the two of us with our two cousins, who were also cousins of Mladen. We are walking along the village road. God, this is the picture of four dead children! Those were not four young people walking, but four ghosts. We roamed the village without knowing what to do, what to talk about. A dead silence ruled the place. Our heads bowed into the dust of the road. It seemed that the only thing alive was the earth, that gave us signs of life breathing, moving its dusty breasts. We were near our grandfather's house. On the other side of the road was Mladen's house.We were at the point of the road where we could see some kind of garden owned by Mladen’s family. Then, they moved to the new house when Mladen went to the army and went with all the ceremonies traditionally performed by Serbs: music, food and drink,  guests and joy. The old house was almost completely deteriorated in two years. It looked like a house in Gothic novels. I saw Mladen's poster* on the front of the house. It was blue, which meant that someone young died. I still see that nasty shade of blue. In the garden under the road was an old apple tree. It had bloomed. How sweet this apple tree was! We loved to climb it and eat its fruits. Now, who is going to eat them? The tree also looked sad at us. It no longer had a purpose in life.

It is 2018. I'm not asleep. It's two after midnight. I heard a neighbor's rooster crow at one o’clock. I'm writing about Mladen. For the first time. I wrote letters to him while he was in the army. Later, his mother showed them to me to see how she kept them. I do not remember whether I got a response from him. I cannot remember it. But I remember so well that my heart gleefully jumped every time he came to my grandfather's yard to play hide and seek, or football, or when he came inside the house to talk, watch TV, play cards, listen to himself tell jokes,  munch seeds in winter and drank sweet wine ... I would fly out of my room when I knew he was coming. I watched him once from my room through a small window with bars. He was helping his grandfather work. He was shirtless. I watched his sun-tanned body and muscles and later,watched him kiss his girlfriend at a café. I did not hate her. Oh, not at all. Nor him. His sisters would sometimes comment about their relationship. I would feel jealous, but would say nothing.

I adored him since I knew he existed. He was only two years older than me. We would only see each other in summer and winter holidays. He was a talented artist and drew my portrait once. Once, I met him on a road while he was with friends. I started to stutter terribly when he spoke to me and I felt my legs fail me. Oh, forget the legs— but the stutter upset me. I had been ambushed by surprise.
Not once I told him how I felt. We were friends. The most intimate moment that ever happened between us was this: he stood in front of his gate, and I stood in front of my own. His house was on the upper side of the road. He tossed a green plum up to my feet. We looked at each other. We did not say anything. At that moment, he had strange look, which I had never seen before: mysterious, male.
Shortly before his departure to the army, we accidentally found ourselves at a wedding. There was another young man who would also not return from Kosovo. I was so happy that day. We got a photo, but I rarely see it. I think of his green, slightly slanted eyes, with thick lashes and brown hair. Every time I watch Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio or hear the songs “I Will Always Love You” and “You Will Never Know,” remind me of him.

Mladen is a part of the past. He can no longer influence me as he did when I was a young girl. He is always present, but he occupies me less and less. But there is something that clings to me and eats at me all these years. A day or two before his death he called me on the phone. I think it was the first time he had called me. I was the one usually calling him. My father picked up the phone. My father told him that I was not home, even though I was a step away from the phone. It was his last call. No, I haven’t forgiven my father. Not yet.


*In Serbia when someone dies there is a poster with the photo of dead person with given details about funeral, etc., put on the front wall of the house of the dead person, as well in many places in public, especially on trees or lampposts.

3 comments :

  1. nice plot but the translation has weakened the narrative at places. war torn societies always undergo such sufferings that move the readers world over. a platonic love overpowers all other emotions in the story and makes the story a worth reading experience.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Soft love-stories are always interesting.

    ReplyDelete

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