In Memory of Srebrenica
New Hampshire, United States of America
July 11th, 2015
Hamida set in her chair by the window. Her small apartment was stuffy and the air outside was heavy, she felt as if she was looking through a curtain of mist. She could see slow moving cars outside her two story apartment building. She rocked slowly, back and forth, back and forth. Smooth motion of her movement kept her mind quiet and calm. The chair was green, with purple flowers, base was wooden. It was an old rocking chair she picked up at the flea market when she arrived in the United States in 1997. The news of yet another anniversary of Srebrenica were scarce and no one paid particular attention to the Russian sanctions in the UN Security Council. Hamida did not expect this to resonate through ether of the constant flashes of “you will not believe what she did next, click here to view” celebrity videos seeping through the social media and now the news.
She rose slowly hugging her slim form and walked over to the bureau next to her full size bed. It was neatly made. The whole room was tidy, scarcely furnished. The bed, the rocking chair and the bureau were the only things occupying this hot, suffocating room. On the bureau she stroked the small wooden box with the writings from a paragraph of Qur’an her grandmother gave her. She kept her teenage girl prized possessions in the box when she left home. This was the only object besides an extra pair of underwear she took with her when the soldiers came to collect them. She lifted its cover after a few moments and took a couple of black and white photographs out. Her mother, father, two brothers and she as a baby in her mother’s lap set on a 1970-ies style sofa grinning at the camera. Second photograph showed her as a little girl and her brothers standing in their front yard. Their old white Fico was visible in the background. She turned the photograph around, July 1983 it said in a neat, sloped cursive writing. She was 5 years old and she remembered this photograph being taken. Her uncle who came from Germany that year where he worked in construction brought back a brand new Olympus that he was so excited to show off in the village. Those days cameras were rare and photographs were cherished once developed. In the age of iPhones and digital cameras where every moment is captured and little is left for the actual living, the photographs are no longer symbols of happiness and remembrance. They are a witness of decay of human self absorption. Uncle Sakib had them line up so that he can snap a few photographs, to take the camera for a test drive. She also remembered a watermelon he brought and how the juice streaked down her chin and her bare legs. Her mother scolded her for staining her blouse, but she did so mildly, as she always did with all her children. Hamida was her youngest. Cherished by her father who called her Sine (My Son) even though he already had two sons. She liked being pulled into his lap in the evenings when he set on the bench in front of their house smoking cigarettes and waiting for the dusk to arrive after a long day of work in the fields. He always had a gleam in his eye when he stroked her hair and softly talked about the work he had to do the next day. That was her “babo”, a strong, utilitarian working man. His callused hands have stroked her check often and she felt the ridges on the finger tips, but never harsh, always soft and welcoming. His scent of sweat, grass and sometimes the cow dung that stuck to his shoes lingered in her nostrils, but not unpleasant. It lingered as a fond memory that she felt as comfort in the depths of her belly.
Hamida was absorbed by her brother’s faces. They looked so much like her father. Young, grinning, full of life. She stroked the picture and placed it back in the small box. She stood there for a moment and then returned to her chair. She picked up a book and set it in her lap. She looked out the window once more and rocked, back and forth. The book lay there in her lap. Hamida stayed in the chair not picking it up, the quiet was always her cloak, as the memories rushed through her. She could not escape them: her father’s scream when they took her brothers; soldiers laughing and pushing him away; her mother clawing the soldier’s stained uniform; soldier swinging his hand and backhanding her across the face sending her sprawling on the doorstep where she stood; another soldier telling her to get up and take me to join the other women standing on the road. Hamida replayed the moment when her mother got up and grabbed her hand. She replayed the last time she saw her father, when one of the soldiers grabbed his arms and pushed him behind the house where her brothers were dragged earlier. She blocked many other memories; walking to the gathering place where they were kept waiting for the buses to take them away; her mother’s crying; the smell of despair that was everywhere around her.
Next morning Hamida woke up with a dull headache. This was a common occurrence after the night spent rolling around in her bed waiting for the sleep to come. She got up and trudged to the small bathroom in the hallway of her condo. She showered and dressed briefly glancing at the box on the bureau. She left the apartment quietly and walked to her small beat-up Dodge Neon. It worked, barely, and as she turned the key she sighed with relief that the car was willing to give her one more day. As she drove into the factory parking lot she mentally prepared herself for the day filled with invoices and collection issues. She worked in the accounting department of a small manufacturing company that produced medical instruments. The place was clean and organized. Her coworker Lisa was a quiet middle aged woman who kept to herself. Hamida called good morning as she walked in and set at her desk and booted up her computer. Opening her e-mail she leaned over to leave her purse in the desk drawer. Glancing back at the screen one e-mail caught her eye. The subject read: Long Lost Friend. The name in the "TO" field looked familiar, Samira Puric. Hamida gingerly opened the e-mail and began to read.
I don't know if you remember me or if this is actually you. I got your e-mail from your cousin, Sakib's son. He lives in Sweden in a town where I work. We were but girls in 1991 when the war started and by 1995 when we last saw each other we both left Bosnia as young mature adults given the circumstances.
I was at the funeral when your brothers and father were buried along with the other man found in the mass grave last year. It was the same as the funeral I went to the previous year, when they buried the remains of my father and my brother. I did not see you there. I suspect you could not come or you did not want to face the past that we both wish did not come to pass. I remember you and our time spent in the orchards beyond our village; Sampling ripe apples from the fruit pregnant trees; The freedom with which we moved through the woods, through our village; Long lazy days spent in the grass behind my house playing with the dolls that your uncle brought us from Germany. After that my memory becomes blurry and I am filled with anxiety whenever my thoughts bring me to those last four years of our lives in Srebrenica. I live every day pretending we did not exist in 1995 and today when the world is looking back to the moment in time when the part of me died I choose to remember you and our childhood. This transcends the hurt and the memories that claw at me every day. I am writing this letter to reach out to the soul who perhaps understands this turmoil and the agony and the desperation that I try to hide every day. If you are there and you receive my letter please do not stay silent. I hope that we did not lose each other like we lost everything else. Perhaps we can talk, e-mail, message. God knows in today's time there are ways. I have been silent for many years, and so have you. I am alone, as you are. I have heard of your mother's passing. Mine died on that bus. Bleeding could not be stopped. You may know. My aunt took care of me, but she had three children of her own. I live day to day, trapped in this body and every day I look for an escape. I do not have the courage to do what my mind is telling me to do. I think of you and I hope you may have more strength than me. I don't know. So, my friend, write if this letter finds you. Write because this friend may be lost forever in the pool of darkness, stronger than the light that may be there. I, however, do not see it.
Hamida read and re-read the letter. She could see Samira. Her dirty blond hair and her clear blue eyes always full of mischief. She remembered the days they spent together and the ease with which they spend hours silently starring at the sky in the orchard comfortably relaxing , their bellies full of ripe apples, while the bees buzzed around them. Hamida got up and took her purse. Lisa looked at her puzzled.
" Where are you going?", she asked with a quiet voice ,brows drawn together.
"I am leaving", said Hamida. Suddenly she felt an urge to run, run until she is free of this place. "Leaving to go where?", Lisa completely abandoned her task and turn her chair to face Hamida.
" I am going to see an old friend." , Hamida was turning her computer off while she spoke. " She is in Sweden."
"In Sweden?", Lisa's voice was rising. "I did not know you were taking vacation."
"I did not know myself.", said Hamida with a small smile on her face. " I will let you know when I am returning."
"But, don't you need to notify the HR? What will Mr. Smith say?" , Lisa was walking now behind Hamida who was striding down the hallway.
"You can let him know and he can call me on my cell.",Hamida was now rushing, wanting to get rid of Lisa.
At the entrance she turned and looked at the small mousy Lisa; Her hair in a neat bun, her eyes, too small for her face, sharply studying Hamida.
"It will be ok Lisa. It is not the end of the world. People take time off work, they live, heck, they die for no reason. I too will die someday and perhaps even lose this job, but that's ok. The world moves on. We have but ourselves to believe in and perhaps others to save." Hamida spoke in a rush. She swung the door of the lobby open and stepped in the hot summer day leaving Lisa staring after her. She raised her face to the sky and smiled broadly for the first time in the past twenty years. She was going home.