Song of Sarajevo

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Salko sets out to travel across war torn Sarajevo and finds something far more important than fresh bread.

Submitted: February 24, 2010

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Submitted: February 24, 2010



The air was calm that February morning. An eerie stillness crept through the city. No one dared stir to risk breaking the fragile peace, a peace that the city and its residents could scarcely remember. The crumbling buildings and derelict streets were composed; the sharp angles of the debris seemed softened by the cool, moist winter air and the thin veneer of gentle, ethereal frost that tenderly covered it.

Salko withdrew from the window and closed the shutters; it was never good to be noticed in Sarajevo. He crossed to a wall covered in thin shallow lines that served as their calendar, drew a stone and added one. February 5th 1994. Almost two years had passed since the fighting had begun and his mother had been killed. Today would have been her birthday.

He opened the pantry to search for something to feed his hungry siblings, anything. Within the vast emptiness of the dusty cupboard he found one bag of flour and three cans of salted beef. Normally this would have been sufficient, but today was different. Today was a special occasion and Salko believed that in times of great despair you had to celebrate all occasions, even the bittersweet ones. Salko took two of the cans and gathered up the little money and cigarettes they had. He donned his tattered greatcoat and scarf and stepped out into the cool calmness of pre-dawn Sarajevo.

When the Serbians had laid siege to Sarajevo Salko had been just thirteen. The first few months were frenzied, anarchical chaos and it was within this dark bedlam that Salko and his younger siblings lost their mother. Wrenched from them by the concussive force of a shell, their own mother and sole provider forever lost at the hand of a man more than a kilometre away. These days were days of pure agony for the people of Sarajevo; there was no music, no art, no natural way of life. It was as if their culture itself had deserted them. These days turned into weeks of sorrow. These weeks in turn to months of numbness. And after 672 days of blockade, bombardment and bereavement Salko found himself walking through the shell of a soulless city. This Sarajevo was akin to the Sarajevo of his childhood only in name.

Salko had to be careful; the route to the marketplace was rife with danger. Serbian snipers hid amongst buildings and did not discern between military and civilian, friend or foe. Many kilometres away were mortars and artillery guns powerful enough to kill Salko where he stood. A barrage would begin with no warning and with relentless ferocity. Natural hazards were abound as well, of its own accord a building could collapse or a road could give way in an instant. This danger fraught journey was but half complete when Salko passed by the remnants of the National Library. He was accustomed to paying it no heed as it hurt him to see such a beautiful building and what was once the pride of his nation in such a state. But as he drew closer he thought that he heard the faint echo of a song. He was suddenly infatuated and drawn towards its soft soothing melodious hum. He passed through the remnants of grand wooden doors that were the library’s entrance, the intricate and exquisite arch that adorned them now indiscernible. Still the music persisted. It was deep and slow.

Salko descended the stairs into the basement of the library and there perched amongst the rubble sat a man, Old and grey with his cello leaning gently on his rounded shoulder. He took great care to produce the flawless notes and his face was a picture of perfect concentration. A thin grey suit hung from his slim frame. His slender graceful hands were adorned by a ring and leather strapped watch. He seemed unperturbed by the intruder and continued to play with practiced ease. For what seemed an eternity Salko stood still and lost himself in the beauty of the song. He forgot the wolves at the gate, the despair that held him tight, the encroaching decay of his home and the clouded future of those he loved. At length Salko approached the man, his breath slow and deep. As Salko grew close the man stopped and looked up, his glistening blue eyes staring into Salko’s own faded brown ones. Not a word was exchanged but both the man in the grey suit and his younger companion began to weep. The man resumed his song, tears flowing freely onto his instrument and down its thick strings. As he listened Salko felt sure that humanity would prevail and that his despair was ill founded. Salko placed his cans of beef at the man’s feet and left without a sound.

Salko had long since departed the library but he still heard the music as if the man in the grey suit was right beside him. All hint of the pre-dawn calmness had been eradicated by the rise of the sun and the necessity of food, water and human interaction. The crumbling streets of Sarajevo were bustling with people who, in their determination to live, possessed an unnatural energy. To them each day in defiance of the Serbians was another tribute to those they had lost.

The marketplace was a hive of activity, people from all over the city met there to get what they needed, money was of use only when dealing with the UN or opportunistic Serbian soldiers. So instead the citizens of Sarajevo plied what they could: cigarettes and alcohol being most highly valued commodities. For three cigarettes Salko was able to get a loaf of bread and for another thirteen he managed even to attain some butter.

Salko left the marketplace with a spring in his step and that same song in his heart. He was almost dazzled by his good fortune and the wonder of the song and as such he hurried home with less regard for his surroundings. He took stairs two at a time and jumped from puddle to puddle. For though the war had greatly matured and aged him he was still a boy at heart. He was happy, the happiest he had been for a long time. The brief glimpse of culture, the contradiction to his despair that was the song, had warmed him. He rounded one street. He rounded another. He climbed a fence and scurried down a lane way.

Then he fell.

A sharp pain had pierced his revitalised senses and he bled. On the wall to his left hung a sign: “Pazite, Snajper!” Salko lay on the ground unable to move, his body surrendering its blood. As the warm blood pooled around him he felt the cold despair that had gripped him loosen and ebb. It was not panic and fear that washed over him but a simple melody, Sarajevo’s faint protest to its fate, the city’s reassurance to its forlorn people. Salko reflected upon the resilient nature of culture as his last breath passed his lips, a whistle, a soft, soothing melodious hum.

The song of Sarajevo.

© Copyright 2019 Colonel Aureliano Buendia. All rights reserved.

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