Josip Mlakić: A Summer Journey

At dusk, we entered a small town called S. that had been taken that day. I, colonel Petrovic, the commander of the second battalion, his driv¬er and a person from Belgrade called Markica were in a carelessly paint¬ed greyish-olive jeep with its previous white, UN colour showing through. Everyone in the brigade called Markica Aids. He was a thin and pale young man who was with Arkan when the war started. He was dressed up as if going to a parade, and over his back he had a long dag¬ger just like some post-apocalyptic samurai, even though it made the ride unbearable for him.


When we entered the town, Petrovic said that we should make a few rounds across the peaceful town which was slowly sinking into dark­ness, like a ship enveloped in fog. There was no one to be seen in the dark, short streets. On our right, a group of houses was burning down. The wind would stir the flames a little bit and it made the burning hous­es look like giant fireflies.

The colonel ordered the driver to stop next to an ugly three-storey house. All three of us got out of the car. He told us that he lived in that typical, grey, socialistic house before the war. Then he went inside carry­ing a flashlight. Markica took his gun and followed him inside while I stayed outside.

I could hear them walking on broken glass inside. There was nobody in the street and I only heard some distant voices but I couldn't understand what they were saying. Across the street the wind played a game with a white shirt hanging on a rope. It reminded me of a white flag. A little bit below, on the same building which looked just like the one where they entered there was a sentence written in large letters: "Understand once and for all, this is Bosnia!". Right underneath there was a drawing of a shield with a lily on it. All the windows on the build­ing were broken and some of them were replaced with plastic coverings which had a dirty, milky colour in the dark and reminded me of a cataract on a dead man's eyes. Around the edges of this building, which blocked the sight of the burning houses, there was a halo of soft light.

Petrovic returned after ten minutes. He carried a stack of paper and a bottle of slivovitz in his hands. Markica was still inside, we could hear his walking inside the building. We sat on the sidewalk with our backs turned to the colonel's house. He opened the bottle and we started taking turns drinking the bad, sour slivovitz. Then he showed me the papers he had in his hand.

"This is all I could find that belonged to me," he said.

He handed me a photo, but I couldn't see anything except for a couple of silhouettes. The colonel flashed some light on it but it didn't help. The light reflected off the photo but 1 pretended to have seen what was on it and I returned it to him.

"This is me and my wife and kids in Makarska in 1983. Those were the fucking times! Who knows if I'll ever be able to see Makarska again in my life!"

Then Markica showed up with a frightened old man in front of him. Somewhere behind our backs I heard somebody sing but it stopped after a few bursts were fired from a gun.

"Hey boss, look what I fucking found!" said Markica and pointed to the old man.

He laid his gun on the ground and grabbed the old man by the neck. He put the old man's head under his arm and pulled out the dagger. The old man was desperately trying to break free of his grasp releasing inar­ticulate sounds, like a trapped animal. Surprisingly enough his screams didn't sound like begging. Markica managed to cut his neck a little bit, leaving a bloody line which in the dark had an oily black colour. However, the old man managed to cut loose and Markica dropped the dagger which hit the asphalt with a blunt sound.

When Markica managed to get the old man's head under his arm again, the colonel approached them holding out his gun. He cocked his gun, looked at the old man's face for a moment and fired two bullets into his head.

In the next moment, when Markica wandered off into the dark and the old man's body way lying a few meters away from us like a forgotten piece of furniture, the colonel said: "Once, when I was a child, I saw grandpa's dog caught in a bear trap that broke his back legs. Grandpa killed him with his carbine. The dog looked at us just like that old man". He pointed towards the body, and then took a long swig from the bottle.

We sat on the sidewalk for a long time. We could see a dark piece of the sky at the end of the street. The night was dark and only the weak flame coming from the houses burning out like huge candles still resis­ted the darkness that was swallowing up the town.



Translated by Edin Balalic


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