After Mother’s latest tantrum, Uncle Mujo became soft. He sought to please Mother as much as possible, letting her escort me wherever she wished, including the hospital. At the central hospital, there were many children, all injured, lying motionlessly in bed. Mother wouldn’t let me out of her sight, though she spent most of the time with a fellow German doctor called Helen who came to Sarajevo, with her son Samir, among the German Red Cross personnel. The hospital had no protection, except some Bosnian militants, including Uncle’s men. A relative sense of peace seemed to linger on the horizon, until a second massacre occurred. Again, at the Markale Market; five shells were fired, killing 43 and injuring 75. Republika Srpska authorities, as in the 1994 incident, denied all responsibility and accused the Bosnian government of bombarding its own people to incite international outrage and possible intervention. On the night of the attack, Uncle’s men raided the hospital, demanding all foreign personnel give themselves up for an interrogation. He accused the Europeans of passing on information to the Serbs about the whereabouts of Bosnian fighters and their sensitive locations. Mother tried to talk him out of his rage, but he seemed to have been possessed. His men roughly gathered all foreign personnel, including Helen, and pointed guns to their heads.
“You filthy scum! Do you know what the Dutch and Croatians did? They tricked the Bosnians into giving up their weapons! Killed the men and children and raped the women!” Uncle exclaimed like a madman. When his men stumbled upon Helen they brought her before Uncle who pointed his gun to her head, screaming, “Are you Dutch?”
“No, I’m not! Please! We’re Lebanese!”
“LIAR! Search her!”
They soon came across her German passport.
“Ah! You’re German!”
Out of the crowd, Samir came running. He pushed Uncle’s men away and knelt by Helen’s side.
“Leave Mama alone!”
Uncle marveled at Samir, Helen’s 11-year-old boy. He stared at him admirably.
“Sheikh Mujo, please stop! She’s my friend! They’re good people!” Mama desperately exclaimed.
“Who is this?” Uncle shouted, referring to Samir.
“My son, Samir.”
“Show me his papers!”
The moment Uncle saw Samir’s passport, his rage seemed to slowly ease.
“Ah, Samir Nasri! So, you really are Lebanese after all.”
“What are you doing in Sarajevo with a child?”
“My husband left to Lebanon. I’m all alone with Samir!”
Uncle glared at her doubtfully and lowered his gun. He soon ordered his men to let go of the other doctors and leave.
“You two are coming with us! You’re our guests for tonight.”
“But Sheikh Mujo…?”
“Hush! Come along.”
Uncle’s men led the four of us to the car. They squeezed us in the back seat while Uncle Mujo drove away quickly. I stared at Samir who sat quietly by my side, his hands as cold as ice, his eyes numbly dead, and asked him and Helen to smile before I took their picture.
Once we were taken back to Uncle’s house, Helen and Samir had a tougher interrogation. Uncle learned about Samir’s father, a Lebanese lawyer and politician who left them both and indulged in sectarian political affairs in Lebanon.
“Is your husband Muslim?”
“What about your child?”
“I prefer to let Samir decide.”
“So, you raise him as an atheist?”
“No! But he has his own will to choose.”
Uncle served Helen and Samir bread and honey as they spoke. Nevertheless, his tone indicated deep dissatisfaction.
“You hear this, Sheikh Suljo? She says she’d rather let him choose! That is the ultimate European bullshit.” Uncle Mujo burst out laughing, while Sheikh Suljo mumbled, “1Astaghfir allah aleazim” disdainfully.
“Come here, boy!” Uncle asked Samir to approach him. As soon as Samir stood before him, he caressed his face and lent him his gun.
“I will need a brave boy like you to guard Nadia! You can have this.”
Samir stared at the gun numbly then grabbed it without flinching.
“Sheikh Mujo, I don’t want my son near any guns.”
“Hush! When men talk, women SHUT UP!”
Helen fell silent. She watched Samir hold the gun and could not utter a word.
“From now on, you’re our guests in Sarajevo! And Samir is our fighter.”
The Drowned Whale
Samir and Helen spent the following seven months in Uncle Mujo’s house. The war was beginning to reach an end, but the siege of Sarajevo was standing still. During these months, Uncle Mujo often included Samir in his meetings, treating him as an active militia member. He taught him to shoot with guns and filled his head with radical beliefs. Samir used to listen and say nothing. Always silent and quiet. Yet he fulfilled uncle’s wishes and became my own guardian. A protector I didn’t ask for. Helen was still waiting for the siege to end to go back to Germany, but uncle had other plans for Samir. He declared he needed a son and that Helen could stay with us for as long as she wished. At night, Samir used to read me my stories and protect me from evil monsters. My toys wouldn’t dare be mean to me in his presence and they feared him as much as they feared uncle. On the night of the 11th of February, Uncle Mujo bought us all dessert. He declared that the war was to be over within a few counted days, but asked us all not to forget the atrocities of the Serbs. That night, while everyone was asleep, I abruptly woke up. I searched for Samir, but did not find him in his room. There was a slight noise coming from the basement. I headed there alone, sneaking on my tiptoes. There, I found uncle, Sheikh Suljo, and Samir along with three other men in military uniforms. I recognized their uniform immediately as it belonged to the Serbian army. I listened as Uncle cursed them and called them murderers. Though the war was nearly over, he had unfinished business to settle.
“Watch now Samir as I avenge your brothers!” Uncle said and pointed a gun to one of the soldier’s heads. “This is for what you did in Srebrenica!!” he said and blew off the soldier’s head. I watched as Sheikh Suljo recited Quran nearby while uncle moved to the second soldier. “This is for the women and children at Markale!” The sound of the second bullet left me shivering. I gave out a muffled cry and shut my eyes. Uncle soon noticed my presence; he walked straight to me and held my hand. “Ah! Nadia, Nadia!” he sighed deeply, “Perhaps you should see this!” He held my hand and led me inside the basement. I stared at Samir as he stood silent.
“Now, for Lieutenant Milićević, I give you this honor, Samir!” Uncle said it and gave the gun to Samir. “Do it!”
The lieutenant started to mutter feverishly in Serbian. I understood some of his words…
“You’re going to let a little boy kill me you bastard!”
Samir’s hand trembled with the gun. He stared at Uncle and his scattered men reluctantly.
“Shoot him, Samir!” Uncle exclaimed, but Samir couldn’t.
“Don’t you love Nadia, Samir? Do it for Nadia!”
Samir stared at me and fell silent, the words choking in his throat.
“Do it, Samir! Do it!” Uncle exclaimed in his ears as he squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
Samir closed his eyes and pressed the trigger. Soon, it was over. The Serbian lieutenant fell to the ground dead. Uncle patted Samir’s shoulder proudly. It wasn’t long before Samir looked at me with an expression of regret and fainted.
The Last Favour
Do you see now, my dear Pierre? I’m back to where everything began. To where Mama met Papa, her prince charming. But sadly, I cannot continue my tale for the whale has drowned. It drowned when both Samir and I were young. When my camera captured photos of dead bodies shot by ruthless snipers in alleys. And when I donated my illustrated fairy books to children who were scattered and torn to pieces under heavy Serb shelling. My fairy whale drowned with lots of secrets and untold tales. But I still have some dark secrets myself. Did I tell you that the night Samir killed that lieutenant, he did not cease killing? Or that Sheikh Suljo looked in my eyes eight years later and told me, “I can’t pray because I want you!” And tonight, I ought to meet my guardian again to ask him for a final favour. It’s Paris, after all, the city of lights; so how can some frail darkness scare us? What is that? You say I’ve deceived you? Ah, sweet Pierre, you were waiting for the girl’s wild sexual tales. I apologize. Well, the night is still young my dear. And there’s still plenty of time left till I meet Samir.