Later post this week, but here it is nonetheless. This story is difficult to read as there were many threats made against me- to have my house and family taken away, physical harm, emotional abuse…I thank God each day that I was saved from this day because as you’ll read in the story- it was a close call. I had to escape, and make a journey away from everything I knew. To save myself and my family. Read on.
Life at Risk
After a few days I began to feel as if I were running a hotel for pilgrims. So many people shifted in and out each day and it was impossible to keep track who was arriving and who was leaving. I was still fine with the women and children, but I didn’t trust the men and avoided them whenever possible. My house became tense, devoid of any peace.
Finally, I wasn’t able to handle the disorganized confusion any longer, and I went to see Yelena. As I shared all my worries, she promised to come by later in the day to assess the danger.
I just finished spinach pita, when Yelena entered with her son Sasha. She took only a few bites, left her plate, and said, “I go to the living room to see what is going on there. I’ll be back soon.” Yelena walked quietly to the room and closed the door behind her.
Sasha shared his plan of going somewhere to devote his life to God. We had just begun our conversation when Yelena came back with a worried look on her face.
“Aisa, you are not safe here. You have to go from this house as soon as possible.”
“Why? I was treating them with respect and dignity and was sharing my home and my food with them. We were only using one room in the entire house,” I whispered.
“Even this room is no longer safe for you. Leave! Now! Do not stay here even a single night longer!” Her lips became tight.
“It is impossible. I don’t know when the bridge will reopen.”
“I’ll give you my I.D. card, and go to Serbia. It could be dangerous, but staying here is worse. Believe me. It is worse. You have a 50 percent chance of saving your life and Samir’s. But if the two of you stay here in this house, you will almost certainly die. Think about it!” Yelena said firmly, but in a low tone. She closed her eyes and frowned. “Come to my home. Don’t sleep in your house tonight,” she said with finality and they left.
“I am going to Dubrave to get milk for us. I’ll be back before dark.” I informed Seka in the hallway.
“I’ll rest here. Ride safely.”
As I pedaled toward my sister’s home, I noticed the elementary school I had attended so many years before, and my memory floated back to the day I enrolled in the first grade. I almost heard Mother’s words again, “Follow this path, and it will lead you to the school. You cannot miss it. I know you can do it.”
“Oh my dear mother, I had indeed followed the path much farther than you and I ever expected.” The memories of those years filled my eyes with tears, and I had trouble standing on my bicycle. “I am searching for the right path now not only for me but for my son too. I love him more than I love myself.” I dried my tears and prayed: “Dear God, open a good path for my son and me and protect us. You are a great protector.”
When Dervish saw traces of tears in my eyes and heard about Yelena’s suggestions in my trembling voice, she frowned. “It is too dangerous for you to travel by bus.” She became quiet, but her eyes moved as if she were making a plan. “My daughter Esma and her husband Hamdija have friends in Belgrade, maybe they can help you. With two Serbs in the car “your” documents would be less likely to be questioned. I’ll call Esma and see what they can do.”
My throat tightened, and I couldn’t talk. While Dervisha walked to our brother’s house to ask Serbs there to use their phone, I meandered behind her house and hid under an apple tree. The land under my feet was too hard, and the sky above me was too high. I prayed,
Dear God, I am begging You to send good people now to help me to travel safely from this place and guide my son and me to join my husband and my daughter.
Dervisha came back smiling. “Esma’s friends are coming on Friday after work. They are returning back on Sunday. She is positive that they will help.”
I took the gallons of milk with mixed emotions; excited that that respectable response from Belgrade came so quickly, and scared of the trip with the false documents. Even with the spring’ gorgeous flowers and renewed green grass, my village looked somehow gloomy, empty, and frightened.
My home appear in the distance, but I found myself afraid to return. When I opened the door, Seka, looking white as a sheet, grabbed my arm and pulled me into the room. Closing the door quietly behind her she faced me and, with her hand partially covering her mouth, whispered almost hysterically, “Oh my God, I heard them! The door was open, and I heard every word. One of them was yelling that he was going to stay here in your house and that he was going to ‘take care of you. Good care!’ He laughed maniacally as he mentioned your name.”
“Go ask Habiba if we can sleep at her house tonight,” I said, holding her hands.
I went to the kitchen. The women were fixing supper, and the men were sitting around. Everyone was quiet. Too quiet. I gave them a gallon of milk and took some pitas out of the fridge. I pretended that everything was fine, but my trembling hands couldn’t lie.
When the house became quiet, Samir and Seka walked on their tiptoes from our room, through the hallway, and down to the garage. I locked our room and followed them. When we reached the yard, I turned and looked at the building that was our home. The lights were on in different rooms, but their glow no longer seemed to have the warmth of home. I was too tired, cold, and I shivered.
Habiba had made a comfortable bed for me, but I couldn’t close my eyes with my mind racing with thoughts ideas about our upcoming journey.