On the day before our engagement

The next morning I returned to the military hospital for the letters Alto and Emira had written for their family on the outside. Snipers were dueling in the plaza. The halls of the hospital were crowded with patients and doctors chased there by the gunfire. Above the frustrated curses of staff, protestations and the moans of the sick and wounded, bullets could be heard slapping against the walls of the building, sounding like clapping hands. I found Emira calming patients, but I might have thought I had rescued her. Grabbing my arm she led me quickly up to Alto’s room.

“Terrible,” she said of the shooting, “much worse than I have seen it in some time.”

The Serbs were putting pressure all around the city, attempting to force the Bosnians to divert troops from the mountain offensive.

“You will hate me, but I haven’t finished the letter. I simply have not had time, with all the fighting and new patients. We are overwhelmed, you understand. I don’t think that Alto is finished either. I’m sorry, but if you could return tomorrow.”
“I was leaving the city tonight.”

“One more day, if it is not too much of a problem.”

At least I might have one more day with Ana. “No, it’s no problem.”

“It’s funny,” she smiled. “I didn’t know what to write. Is that crazy? After so long I had a million things to say and to know. I could have written a book, but with all this time passed and only a few small pages, what is most important to say? All I could think to say was ‘I love you’ a thousand times.” Emira shrugged and smiled weakly. “So you’re leaving the city.”

“Soon.”

“You don’t sound very happy?”

“I met a girl.” We paused near Alto’s door. The shooting had stopped and he was on his cot working on the letter.

“A girl? That’s fantastic!” Emira exclaimed. “Tell me her name, really you must.”

“Ana.”

“Your Ana is a lucky girl,” she hugged me. “I hope she knows that.”

“If she won’t marry you,” Alto quipped, “I will!”

Emira swatted at him playfully, admonishing him with a sweet smile. “You’re mad! Now finish your letter so this poor man can go home to America.”

“I’m not finished yet,” he said.

“It’s not supposed to be War and Peace!” Emira remarked.

“Just war,” Alto replied.

Two bullets smacked the wall beside the window chasing us into the hall again. Alto hopped around on one foot having abandoned his crutches with the letter in the room. As more gunfire resounded in the plaza below he thought better of returning for either of them.

“Ah, jebim te…!” he swore.

“Relax,” said Emira. “Bill will return tomorrow.” She looked at me, her eyes hungry for every detail of Ana. “So is this serious with your Ana?”

“It was all a mistake, Emira.”

“Real love is never a mistake.”

“I didn’t plan on this. Really, it was never my intention.”

“Did you think that one day you would just wake up and say, this is the day I will fall in love? When you return tomorrow we will have coffee and we will talk more.”

Later that evening Ana and I went to see her grandmother downtown. Ghostly white clouds drifted silently above the dark city and broken rooftops. I said nothing about leaving, and Ana seemed to be in no mood to confront that eventuality either

A soldier was waiting in the war room when we returned to Ana’s. He was tall and handsome, with broad shoulders and neatly trimmed blond hair. He was still in uniform and dirty from being on the line. He paced the room while his girlfriend looked on with a concerned expression. She was equally stunning by appearance, imbued with the grace and elegance of a dancer. Long golden hair was pulled tightly from her small face. Their expressions were severe and tense. Ana knew why they were there. She checked to be sure no one was on the stairs and closed the door tight.

“Bill, this is my friend Damir.”

I held out a hand but he ignored it. “What has Ana told you about the tunnel?”

“Nothing.” I shrank from his girlfriend’s icy stare. Her name was Nina. She and Ana had gone to school together, and had trained at the same dance school.

“Did she tell you that I work on the tunnel?”

“She never mentioned any names.” I looked at Ana. Her expression spoke of the danger and seriousness of all this.

“Damir,” Nina scowled, “this is a big mistake.”

He waved her off and thought for a moment. “Normally I would not do this. There is a reason that foreigners are forbidden from the tunnel. If the Chetniks learned the location the war could be lost.” He sighed heavily. “However, because of my friendship with Ana I will help you, if you can get there.”

“You understand that if Damir is caught he could be shot,” said Nina. “Will you carry that on your conscience?” She glared accusingly at Ana.

“I will be at the tunnel Monday and Wednesday night,” Damir went to the door. Nina joined him there. His eyes met mine, as though second-guessing his decision. “Do not tell anyone of this.”

They left quickly, Ana and I languishing in the heaviness of their departure.

“Do you trust him?” I asked.

She looked so terribly sad as she nodded. I sighed and checked the time. It was nearly curfew.

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