I had sent Aida, my oldest daughter, off to America during the war. I wanted her to survive and we had a chance to send her to become educated there and I took that opportunity to do so. I missed her terribly, but of course I still had Samir my son with me. This excerpt is three years after she left and my quest to leave the country and see her- even if for a day. Any mother will understand the pain of not seeing your child. I hope you hug your children a little closer today and never take for granted that you are in each other’s lives. May God bless us all.
The Unforgettable Trip
I planned to go to Zagreb in Croatia with Merhamet, but I had missed the list approval deadline, and my trip to Zagreb was impossible.
Muslims couldn’t travel through Serbs territory, but the wish to see my child was greater than any obstacle in my way. My friend, Habiba, encouraged me to find a solutions. “Our Serb neighbors don’t have any problem traveling to Belgrade. Can you borrow an I.D. card from one of your friends and travel to see your daughter?”
“That frightens me,” I said. “What if police notice that the I.D. card isn’t mine?”
“They don’t look at pictures. They only read the names, and if a person has a Serbian name, there is no problem,” said Habiba. “Perhaps you could find someone who looks like you.”
“There is a lady who works in the hospital who is about my age, with green eyes and curly light brown hair. She told me that some people called her Mrs. Softic, but I don’t know her very well. I don’t know even her name.” I paused. “I am not sure that it is a good idea.”
“Is it a good idea to keep us here as though we were in a concentration camp?” asked Habiba. “Why can’t we travel like other people? Catholics are able to travel to Croatia, Serbs to Serbia. What can we do to make our trip possible, Aisa?”
Seka came in and joined our conversation. “You cannot lose anything if you ask her,” said Seka as her fingers played with her chin.
I contemplated about using a false I.D. card throughout the entire evening. One moment I saw myself caught at the border, frightened half to death as the police handcuff me and take me off to jail. The next moment I saw myself crossing the border without difficulty, hearing my daughter calling my name, feeling the hills reverberate to the sound of her voice, and looking after along three years at her beautiful face and into her sparkling blue eyes. My heart tightened with mix of anger and sadness when I looked at my name on my now useless I.D. card, the name I had always been proud, but now the name was preventing me from seeing my bellowed daughter. It seemed horrible that my name, the best present that my parents gave, had become wall separating me from my first born.
It was snowing as I walked toward the hospital, and I hunched inside my coat against the cold. As I entered the hospital, deep in thought about the I.D. card, I did not hear the noises and commotion that was going on around me. I thought about how would make my request, sighed, waited a few seconds, and then quietly knocked onto the office door. A great block of ice settled in my stomach.
The lady opened her eyes widely when she saw me enter. “Oh Mrs. Softic, how can I help you?”
It was the perfect question. I looked around the entire office. Glad that she was alone, I took a deep breath and said almost in a whisper, “I came to ask you to lend me your I.D. card.”
She frowned. I understood that she needed to know all the details, and, taking courage, I continued, “My daughter came to Germany from the United States. I haven’t seen her for three years. You know that I am Muslim and cannot travel anywhere. If I have your I.D. card, I’ll be able to travel to Belgrade,” I said, looking deeply into her eyes.
She sat very quietly as I spoke, and I could tell by the look on her face that my words had not softened her heart.
“I will be going alone,” I continued rapidly, my hope fading, “I will be leaving my son and ailing mother-in-law behind here in our home. I will spend only two days with my daughter. That is it.”
I looked at what was left of my hope, but she was silent, and her face had turned to stone. I knew that I had asked a great deal, but mother’s heart was heedless, seeking only the small laminated card that would open the way to meet my child. To see her again would bring me endless happiness.
“Why are you asking me? Don’t you have any friends who will help you?”
“You and I have physical similarities. I hope that I could pass the border with your picture,” I said, holding down the feeling that she didn’t want to help me.
“It is a very sensitive issue. I will have to talk to my husband,” she said as she looked down at the papers on her desk.
“It is a very sensitive, yes,” I said, desperately searching for a way to soften her heart. “If you were in my shoes, I would do it for you.” I paused. “I don’t have any legal way to travel and meet my child. I am Muslim, a prisoner in my own homeland,” I said, ready to cry. “Our religious differences do not matter. We are mothers and only we know how much we love our children. If someone told me I had to walk on hot coals the entire 250 kilometers to Belgrade to see my daughter, I would do it without hesitation.” My tears prevented any further discussion and I turned and walked toward the door.
“I’ll inform you tomorrow what my husband decides,” she said as I left her office.
The next day, even though I knew that the woman was going to turn me down, I returned to her office to hear the words from her own mouth. As I opened her door, she immediately began shouting at me, “My husband is surprised that you could think about committing such a crime and involving me into the bargain. How dare you come to me with this request? Using a false I.D. card is a criminal act.” I closed her door and felt like a hungry child caught attempting to steal a slice of bread.
I walked home in tears. My heart was broken. My child came from Dayton, Ohio to Frankfurt, Germany and she is ready to come from Frankfurt to Belgrade, but I cannot travel 250 kilometers from Bosanska Gradiska to Belgrade. Dear God, help me to see her sky-blue eyes, squeeze her in my hug, touch her hair, and hear her voice. Those feelings are dearer to me than any material things on earth.
At home, Habiba surprised me with the information that I could obtain a legal document from the police that, together with my I.D. card, would allow me to travel to Belgrade with my . I looked at her suspiciously, but she was positive. She urged me to go to the police station and find out.
I went to the police station at 7 o’clock the next morning, and asked the policemen at the information desk how I could obtain the travel document that Habiba described to me.
“You need a document saying that a Muslim woman can travel through the Serbs Republic to Serbia?”
“I don’t know if that is possible.” He looked at me like I had come from another planet.
“Could I talk to the chief of police? He must know is it possible.”
He shook his head, but gave me the office number.
I knocked on the door that matched the office number, but when I entered I found that a secretary was stationed in front of the chief’s private office. When I told her who I was and why I had come, she narrowed her eyes and in a firm voice told me to wait in the hallway until the chief was available. I waited for about two hours. Other people came, went into the office for a few minutes, and left, apparently having been successful with their request.
By 11 o’clock, a line had formed, and I stood up and took my place at the end.
When I entered the office, the secretary yelled at me, “Why did you come in? You need to wait in the hallway. The chief is not available for you yet!”
“Other people were coming in, and I thought it must about my turn.” I mumbled.
“Your turn is when I tell you. You have to respect rules,” she screamed. I returned back to the hallway like a dog prevented from reaching his food dish.
What kind of “rules” do I have to respect? Muslims don’t have any rights in the country where we, our parents, our grandparents, and our great grandparents were born. Our rights are like dust on the floor, and we are being robbed, raped, forced from our homes, and even killed.
Tears filled my eyes when I prayed to God for self-discipline to control my reaction.
I stood up, refreshed, and paced the hallway again. After 2 o’clock I became nervous again. It was less than an hour until the office closed. I felt only bitterness in my mouth.
At a few minutes three o’clock the chief appeared in the hallway in his winter coat with his briefcase in his hand. He said, “My secretary is writing the document for you. Good luck!” and walked toward the stairs.
“Wait, please wait,” I walked behind him. “You mean I will be able to travel to Belgrade to see my daughter?”
“The secretary will give you all the instructions.” It was hard to separate his words from the sound of his shoes.
The secretary opened the door and gave me the signed and sealed paper with written permission to travel to Belgrade.
“Is this document sufficient to travel?” I couldn’t believe it. Is this all real or am I dreaming? Oh, this is unbelievable! Thank God!
“This document is enough,” she said, and smiled like she was joking with me. I had the impression that she knew that something creepy was enclosed in the envelope. .
“I need to buy a travel ticket for my trip. I will call my daughter in Germany to advise her to buy a ticket for her trip to Serbia. Do you think we can do it?” I looked at her puzzled.
“Why you are asking me what you need to do? You have your life and do what you want,” she said bossily.
I went straight to the bus station and bought the ticket for the first bus from Bosanska Gradiska to Belgrade. On my way home, I stopped at Ljubica’s house and informed her about the news. She gave me a puzzled look and suggested that I hold of telling Aida to come until I had gotten across the Serbian border. Ljubica took a piece of paper and wrote down a phone number. “Slavica, my husband’s niece, lives in Bjeljina . She runs a restaurant there. Here is her number. In case you don’t passed the border, you can come back 20 kilometers, find her, and sleep in her house. Mihailo will call her.”
Aida screamed when I informed her that I have the necessary travel document and my bus ticket in my purse.
“I am going to search for the best travel connections from Bremen to Belgrade,” she said.
“I hope to see you soon in Belgrade, but don’t buy a travel ticket until I have gotten across the border,” I said.
Samir looked at me and said, “I haven’t seen my sister for three years. I’d be glad to see her too.”
“I know, but it is dangerous to travel to Belgrade this time.” I shook my head looked at my fifteen-year-old son, reluctant to admit the misgivings I still had about the success of the trip.
Nana took something covered in a magazine from beneath her pillow and gave it to me. “This towel is a gift for Aida. Tell her to use the towel to dry her hands before her prayers and to remember her Nana. I am not sure that we will see each other again in this life. Please ask her to take good care of my Husein, and give her my salaams.” Several tears rolled Nana’s face.
“Don’t worry about Samir and Nana.” My friend Seka touched my shoulder. “Habiba and I will be here entire time and we will take a good care of them. Enjoy your time with your daughter.”
I left my bed when I heard the first roosters’ calls and asked God to protect me and my daughter on our trips and keep safe the rest of my family while I was gone. The cold of the frigid December morning, combined with the thoughts of the upcoming scary trip, seemed to constrict the very flow of my blood.
The bus came on time. I took a window seat about halfway back, placed my bag on my lap, and looked quickly at the other passengers. I couldn’t recognize any of them. As I was setting myself, a young woman set down next to me in the aisle seat.
“You are traveling to Belgrade with us?” The bus driver asked looking at my ticket.
“Yes.” I answered briefly, as I returned my ticket to my wallet.
“I am going to Belgrade too,” said the woman sitting next to me.
“I hope we will have a safe trip.” I didn’t want to be impolite, but I opened a book as a shield from her possible questions. I felt fortunate that she left me alone. As we passed the town of Derventa, the war showed its devastation. I sighed as I saw empty villages and destroyed houses on both sides of the road. A few dogs were scavenging through the debris, and I noticed an oak tree that hosted several crows.
Suddenly, the bus stopped. Soldiers crowded on board, filled every empty seat and the aisle. The entire bus now smelled like a pub. Frightened by their presence and their weapons, I crouched against my window, making myself as small as possible. I looked at my book again, but couldn’t read even a sentence. After about seven hours of riding, the bus finally stopped in front of a new house with a restaurant in it. The driver announced a 30- minute break.
The other passengers went into the restaurant to eat, but I was too nervous and walked off a little ways to be alone with my thoughts. The lady who had sat beside me on the bus, who had brought her own sandwich, joined me. “We are almost in Serbia,” she said. “We have only 40 more kilometers until the border.”
When she mentioned the border, my heart skipped a beat, and I found myself unable to speak.
“Why are you going to Serbia? She asked.
“I want to see my daughter.” I sighed.
She came closer to me and asked softly, “Are you Muslim?”
Her question surprised me. I waited a little bit, looked around, and half-whispered, “Yes, I am Muslim.”
“I assumed.” She smiled. “As the soldiers entered the bus, your hands trembled and when we passed all those destroyed villages, I noticed tears in your eyes.”
We were quiet for a moment. “I have a document from our police, but I am frightened. I am not sure that the police will let me pass the checkpoint.”
“I trusted the news reports broadcasted in Serbia that the Muslims in Bosnia were causing all the trouble for themselves in order to gain the world’s attention. Then I spent ten days in the Serbs Republic, and what I saw changed my mind.” She looked at the frozen grass in front of her. “During those days, I was ashamed of what the Serbs soldiers were doing.”
“I cannot think about this dark past right now,” I said. “My fear is about what is going to happen at the checkpoint.”
“I am sure that your police know what kind of documents you need in order to pass the checkpoint.”
Suddenly, my empty stomach growled with a stabbing pain. I bent double, unable to move. The passengers were coming back to the bus. My newfound friend offered help, but I motioned for her to return to the bus. My pain subsided a bit and I followed the passengers. I put my coat on my lap and placed both sleeves around my stomach. The pain soared again, and I grimaced.
After about forty minutes, the bus stopped again. The driver stood up and said, “We are at the Serbian border. Have your I.D. cards ready. I hope we will continue our trip soon.” He opened the bus door and two policemen came in.
“I. D. cards please,” said one of them as he began to look at the cards on my side of the bus. My hands were trembling, but I pulled out my I.D. card and the special Muslim travel document. Everybody was quiet until he looked at my card. “You are Aisa Softic!” He gazed down at me. “Go to the office!” His strong, angry, bull-like voice rose and paralyzed me. I couldn’t move.
“I have the d-d-document. You d-d-didn’t see it,” I mumbled.
“Go to the office! Did you hear me!” The policeman frowned.
I stood up, but I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking. I put the coat on my shoulders, picked up my bag and purse, and headed slowly toward the bus door. As I was passing the driver he asked me, “Did you take all your belongings with you?”
I nodded and left the bus. I was the only passenger who was taken off the bus. As the policemen stepped down, the door closed, and the bus began to move away from where we stood. The distance between me and the bus became larger and larger until the bus passed the checkpoint and crossed the river Drina into Serbia. As the bus slowly disappeared, my hope and excitement at the possibility of seeing my daughter vanished. I was standing and staring as if I were in a dream.
“Come on! Why are you standing there like a statue? Move! Another bus is coming!” a policeman yelled.
I sighed deeply and walked toward the office like a robot. The policeman who checked my I.D. card was standing behind a desk. An older policeman was sitting in a corner.
“I thought that our Republic was clear now, but look; some Muslims are still there! How do you dare come here? Look at where you came from! What do you want?”
My legs were quaking, and I could barely remain standing against the force of his shouting.
“I want to go to Belgrade. I have a document from our police,” I said and placed the paper on the desk in front of him.
He took my document, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash can.
I couldn’t keep silent any more. “I waited for that paper an entire day! I only want to see my daughter!” I was hardly able to contain my anger and my pain, but I did not feel fear anymore.
The older policemen came over to me. “Go to Bjeljina police tomorrow. They need to call us and announce that you are coming with their permission. The police know what they need to do to make possible for you to cross the border.”
I sighed again, dried my face, and I left the office. The sun had disappeared, leaving a gentle ribbon of light on the horizon. The bridge over the Drina River looked cold, sad, and distant. The other side of the river was so close-a few minutes walking distance-but in this complicated, war-torn part of the world so very, very far. A cold breeze chilled my face and brought the sad sound of the flowing Drina River to my ears- sound like crying. My eyes filled with tears. Cry, my beloved river, and my favorite country, my heart is crying too. I desire for you, my precious river to flow peacefully and that the bridges above your water connect your banks and connect people. I wish for you, my beloved country, to be a safe place for all Bosnians who want to live here.
I dried my face and walked towards a small group of people. I came close to a young lady who held a baby and asked, “Excuse me, how can I find a bus to Bjeljina?”
“Wait here with us. We are going to Bjeljina, too. I hope the bus comes very soon,” she said and moved the child to her other arm. I was going to Bjeljina for the first time. My eyes grew moist with gratitude when the woman promised to help me to find Slavica. The chains around me broke and I breathed easily.
I thanked her from bottom of my heart and, following her directions, I walked to Slavica’s restaurant. A half- moon, slipping in and out from behind scattered clouds, was my new companion. The blowing wind brought the sound of howling dogs and I shivered at thought that they might attack me. I was relieved when they passed me seemingly without interest. I slowly walked to the other side of the street and turned my head down into my coat as much as possible.
I noticed a middle-age woman standing in front of the restaurant door. “My uncle asked me twice about you already. I was nervous, not knowing what was going on. Come in.” She opened the restaurant door and found a seat for me in a quiet area. After a few minutes, she came in from the kitchen carrying a big tray with hot soup, chicken and potatoes, and cake. The soup tasted very good.
As I finished the soup, two older ladies joined me. I offered food to them, but they surprised me with their request. “I had my supper, but you can buy one drink for me. A small glass of sljivovica (plum brandy) would warm me this cold night,” said taller one.
“Sljivovica is fine for me too,” said the other lady.
I became quiet. Muslims are not supposed to partake of alcoholic drinks, nor are they supposed to buy, sell or serve them.
Suddenly, I was in an uncomfortable situation and I just stared at the two women. But the lady in the fur hat went on, as though she not had noticed my silence, opened her purse, and pulled out bunch of cards. “Are you a member of any of our patriotic organizations?”
I put a bite of food in my mouth to make myself unable to answer.
“We are very active these days in the fight for freedom. It is time for all Serbs to live in one country. Only harmony will save the Serbian nation. I am serving Arkan’s soldiers. This card is proof of my membership.”
The other lady showed her cards. “This one is evidence of helping Seselj’s followers. I also advocate for Drashkovic’s movement. Look at these documents!”
The food I had started to swallow stuck in my throat, and suddenly I felt like a mouse in front of two large hungry cats. All three of the organizations were among the most radical of Serbian organizations, and among the cruelest of Muslims’ enemies.
Slavica’s voice freed me. “Ladies, leave my guest alone. Take another table please. She needs to finish her supper and I need her help in the kitchen.”
“Oh, we didn’t know she is your guest. Is she your guest? We only talked to her about our work as freedom fighters.”
“You are sljivovica fighters; fighting only with words over drinks. I’ll bring your drinks and you can go,” said Slavica, taking my tray and giving me a signal to follow her. She found a chair in her kitchen and let me finish my meal.
Slavica treated me very well. She shared her secrets about how she was helping and protecting her Muslim friends and neighbors.
She made a bed for me in an attic bedroom. The bed linen, white as snow, looked fresh. She brought a snack and juice. When she was ready to leave me, I asked, “What do you think about my chance of crossing the border tomorrow?”
“Honestly, you have a very small chance.”
“I want to try,” I said. I asked where the police station was and how I could get there. She promised to wake me up in the morning and give me directions.
Another sleepless night was in front of me. I found a newspaper and read that former American president Ronald Regan had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The man who was able to lead the strongest and richest country in world was becoming forgetful. Nobody is excused. Diseases attack kings just as they attack every other human being. People need to fight diseases, not each other.
In the morning, I headed to the police station, ready to wait the entire day if necessary. I was surprised that the policeman at the desk treated me very professionally.
“I am going to write the document for you. You can go and buy a ticket, and I will make call to the checkpoint,” the policeman said.
A few minutes later, with the document in my hand and hope in my heart, I called Aida. “It looks like this time I will be able to get across the border to see you.”
“That is wonderful. I am going to buy a ticket as well”.
I bought a bus ticket to travel from Bjeljina to Belgrade. The bus left at 1 p.m., and I had just enough time to inform Slavica and thank her for her help. She was astonished that the policeman wrote the document for me.
“You are very lucky, and I am surprised. I did not think the police were willing to help Muslims in any way. But we never know,” she said, as she stared at my document.
As the bus came to the checkpoint, a policeman came to check our I.D. cards. I handed him mine without fear. When he started yelling, I mistakenly thought he was screaming at some other unfortunate Muslim who was without the proper document from Bjeljina’s police.
“Are you deaf? Can you hear me?” he asked me angrily.
“Are you speaking to me? I have a document from Bjeljina’s police,” I said, handing him my authorization.
“You are crazy, woman! Go out!” he screamed, shaking his head.
I stood up, speechless, stepped off the bus with as much dignity as my surprise and anger would permit, and strode quickly to the office.
“There is a mistake here,” I said to the border officer. I obtained a travel permit from Bjeljina police just a few hours ago, and the officer who signed can it said he would notify you, and he said I would have no trouble traveling to Belgra de.”
“You cannot pass the border! You must go back!”
The room began to spin and I walked, somewhat unsteady, outside into the cold. I gritted my teeth and kept my mouth shut to keep from crying. How can people be so cruel? Why are they playing with me? Are they happy doing this? Don’t they realize that someday, they will be asked to account for how they treated other people, regardless of their religion?
It was around two o’clock. I found out that the next bus to Bjeljina was leaving at five o’clock. That meant I would not be able to get to a phone in time to make an international call to Aida to tell her not to fly to Belgrade. I didn’t have time to wait. I walked toward the border checkpoint and noticed a black Mercedes with a driver and two passengers in it. I approached the driver’s side and asked if I could go with them to Bjeljina. The driver allowed me to get into the car, and as I sat down, the lady asked me, “Why are you in such hurry?”
At that point my self-control broke and I couldn’t hold in my anger and frustration any longer. “I think that the Serbs are treating us Muslims the same as Germans treated the Jews.” I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. “I couldn’t pass the border again,” I said and cried.
When I finally reached Aida by phone, I was extremely upset and, instead of using words, I sobbed. “Mom, are you okay? I am sorry for all of your troubles, but you did all that was in your power to make our meeting possible. It looks like God has a different plan for us. Don’t be sad. If it is God’s will, we will see each other again soon.”
Aida’s gentle words were calming, and I felt some relief from the pressure I had been under. Aida was right. I would have to trust in God that I would see my daughter another time. How many mothers do not have that hope? I must to have more patience.
“What happened? Why couldn’t you pass the border this time?” Slavica hugged me.
“It is the same reason as yesterday,” I said and tears flooded again.
“Time fades everything, even our hair. These difficult days will someday be only as a bad dream.” Slavica patted my shoulder. “I have to work and you’ll be bored in my house alone. Go visit my Muslim neighbors, Muris and his wife. They are very good people. You can talk and drink coffee with them. When I finish my work, I’ll come to bring you back.” She smiled, but I was unable to smile back.
I liked the idea, left the restaurant and walked down the street. Just as I got there I met a lady in a long dress and a warm vest. I greeted her with Muslim greetings, assuming she must be Muris’s wife. She didn’t answer, turned her head, and walked up outside stairway to the second floor.
“Excuse me; I am looking for Muris and his wife. Is this their house?”
“They live on the first floor,” said the woman from the highest step.
Muris and his wife welcomed me warmly. Their gray hair and wrinkled hands and faces revealed their old age, and their eyes could not hide their sadness.
“Who lives upstairs?” I asked, as I sat on a sofa.
“Shshsh,” Muris said touching his lips with his index finger. “A Serbian family took over our second floor.”
“Slavica called recently and asked if you made it. I don’t know what we would do without her help. She brought us bags and bags of flour. It is our secret. We must be careful. If other Serbs find out, they might kill her.”
The smell of fresh coffee filled the room. After few minutes, the room looked like a nursing home filled with old people. There weren’t enough seats on the sofas and chairs, and some of them had to kneel on the rug. Every one of them had a similar war story to share, and all talked at the same time, making the room sound like a beehive. I listened quietly. One lady asked me why I had come to Bjeljina. The question quilted the room, and since I had everyone full attention, I told my story. They listened to me carefully and asked many questions about my daughter’s life in America. Once I started describing my experience at the border, I broke down sobbing. Many of them dried their own tears. Muris shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. One lady moved closer to me and, with deep compassion, patted my hands. “We are afraid even to leave our houses,” she said. “You are brave. God is protecting you.”
The prayer call from a clock interrupted our conversation and we performed the evening prayer. Shortly after the prayer, Slavica came and we walked to her home.
In the morning, I thanked Slavica and prepared to return home. Slavica had told me that I would not be able to catch a bus at the bus station, so I walked out of the city and waited at a roadside bus stop where I found a group of people already waiting.
“Where are you going?” I asked a lady in the group.
“I want to go to Banja Luka, but I haven’t been able to catch a bus for the last three days. I’ve been waiting here every day from dawn to dark. Some buses haven’t stopped at all. Some of them picked up only one or two passengers, and they were always men, because men are stronger and push us women out of their way. I am losing hope of ever getting on the bus,” she said with sadness.
“I have a sick mother-in-law at home. I cannot wait here that long for a bus.” Based on discussion in Mr. Muris’s home, I was positive that I was only Muslim in a group of Serbs waiting for the bus.
I am stuck here. I cannot go anywhere.
“Look, a bus is coming!” she said.
I noticing that people were converging from different directions on the bus stop. Strong men and several soldiers pushed me back to the end of the line.
“I am not sure that all of us could fit in the bus even if it was empty,” said the woman I had been talking with.
Oh my God, it is true; I don’t have any chance to make it onto the bus. This bus looks full. How am I going to get home?
The bus door opened and I recognized the driver’s face. As my brain raced to figure out what to do, he looked at me and said, “Make space for this lady to come onto the bus, please.” All around me were men. Does he mean me? I placed my right hand on my chest in the form of a question.
“Yes, you from Gradiska, you came with us here two days ago. I remember you,” he said. Maybe twenty men stepped aside and made a way for me only to get on already full bus. Oh my God, this is a miracle. Among all those people he chose me, even though he must have known that I was Muslim.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” I said, as I climbed aboard the bus, relieved of my recent fear. As I walked toward an empty seat, somebody called my name,
“Hello Mrs. Softic, what are you doing in Bjeljina? I never expected that I would see you here.” I turned my head and recognized my former student Svetlana.
The memories from my teaching experiences came back. I sighed as I pictured Svetlana’s seat in her classroom and remembered how good a student she was.
A gentleman seated next to Svetlana, stood up and I eased myself down into the still-warm seat. I explained to Svetlana all of my attempts to see my daughter starting with asking the lady in the hospital to lend me her I.D. card and ending with the second time I was turned back at the border.
“Oh my dear teacher, I am so sorry for all of your struggles,” said Svetlana with compassion. “Sorry that nobody who knows you was there for you. I am positive that all of your students would help you.” We were quiet for a while until she broke the silence. “Can I do anything for you, Mrs. Softic? Do you want me to go back and meet your daughter?” She patted my hands on my lap and I could feel the warmth of her friendship.
I answered carefully asked questions from time to time until the bus stopped in Svetlana’s village and she left.
My son, Nana, and my dear friends welcomed me back with open hearts.
“God gave you love for your child,” Nana said. “You did your part. Have patience, my daughter. Look at my life. I delivered seven children, and now there are none here to take care of me and I am not sure that I will ever see any of them again.” Nana dried her tears and I thanked God that I had finished my unforgettable trip