It’s Christmas week! Hope everyone has had a chance to complete their Christmas shopping! I wish you and your family a merry Christmas and that you get to spend it surrounded by the people you love! Cherish these moments and don’t take them for granted! This week’s story is a sort of continuation from the Wheat Field last week, so as always comments/likes/shares appreciated! Thank you and enjoy your holiday week! 🙂
I scheduled the harvesting for July 3, eager to have all my wheat in our attic. Of all the crops that God created, nothing in my opinion is better than wheat. Wheat is more important than corn, or rice, and more useful than any vegetable or fruit. If there is wheat, there will be bread. If there is bread, there will be no hunger. In our cuisine bread is the foundation at each meal.
Early in the morning of the harvest, a young man knocked on our door. He looked familiar, but I could not tell why. He greeted me politely with a smile, revealing teeth white as pearls. “I know you from the school, Mrs. Softic. You greatly helped me a few years ago when I hit the gym teacher. Do you still remember the incident?”
Finally, I recognized the pleasant round face and brown eyes. Curly dark hair that covered his forehead and ears and was almost touching his shoulders gave him a different look. Memories of the conflict occupied my mind. I was the school psychologist and I was asked to help with difficult students and behavior problems. I remembered the loud knocking on my office door. “He hit me on purpose,” said the gym teacher. “We have to kick him out of the school! How dare he treat me this way?”
The same day I met the student with sad-angry eyes. He told me, “He pushed me first. In response, I hit him. We both made mistakes.”
“Why did the gym teacher push you?” I asked softly.
“The teacher came into our classroom this morning, asking all students to go outside. I did not feel good and wanted to stay in. He came up to me, grabbed my shirt, and pushed me. I lost control. I am sorry,” he explained, his eyes full of tears. “We have a big issue at home. My father found a young girlfriend and left my mother, my two sisters, and me. My mother does not have a job… My father is an idiot!” he cried.
I tried to comfort him.
“Please, don’t call my mother. She has enough to deal with. Call my father.” His voice was chock-full of sincerity and his eyes jam-packed with fear. He wanted to apologize to the gym teacher, but the teacher did not want to see him.
The gym teacher tried to get the student expelled from school and a teachers’ meeting was called. My input was requested so I explained that both participants in the conflict made mistakes. I suggested that the student should be allowed to stay in the school, emphasizing his family situation. After a long discussion, many of the teachers agreed with my opinion and voted to give the student a chance to finish his high school education. I talked with that student every week about controlling his emotions, and he graduated from the high school. I believe that the gym teacher never forgave me.
“Tomorrow our new neighbor, Djoko, is going to harvest your wheat,” the young man broke our silence. “Djoko came from Croatia two years ago to join the Serb Army. He has a document stating that the wheat is his, but we all remember that you bought that field, and it is your land.” He moved his hair from his forehead. “I heard that you lost your job, and I want you to have your wheat to feed your family. But, don’t tell anybody about my visit today.”
I closed the door and leaned on the wall in fear and confusion. Recalling his words, I sensed trouble. My heart was thumping, my palms were sweaty, and I asked myself, “Should I harvest today? Djuradj could come to the field with weapons. It could be a bloody harvest. No, no, I don’t want any trouble. All the wheat and fields on the earth cannot compare to a human life. I am not going to harvest today as I planned. I have to stop all our plans.”
I called my cousin, my sister, and my brother, but nobody answered. Finally, I grabbed my bicycle, headed to the field, and prayed for swift and peaceful resolution.
As I approached the field, I met my brother on a tractor pulling a wagon loaded with dozens of huge bags full of wheat.
“I was expecting you all morning. We harvested almost two thirds of the field,” he tried to shout over the tractor’s engine, pairing his words with signs. His tractor moved slowly along the unpaved bumpy road. I ran to the field as fast as I could, leaning on the bicycle from time to time.
It was the middle of the morning and the hot sun’s rays danced in the field like a skilled musician’s fingers on a piano. The red combine roared in a corner and a huge portion of the field looked like a shaven head. A tractor was moving slowly and several men, working as hard as ants, carried the massive brown bags, heavier than their bodies. “Mashallah, it is a very good harvest. You will not go hungry,” said our neighbor, Djevad. His wet t-shirt was glued to his chest. He jumped on the wagon behind the tractor and lit a cigarette.
“Aisa prays and God blesses her with a good harvest,” said our friend Mirsad as whipped sweat from his suntanned brown face. I thanked him for helping me and offered several bags of the wheat for his family. “My family is far away, in Sweden,” Mirsad said, with sadness in his voice. “They are safe there, but not happy. Sweden is a gentle version of jail for them. Everything they love is here. They miss home already, our people, our sun, and our fields. I miss them too. Every time I talk to my children, their voices fill my heart.” He paused. “I cannot stand it when my son cries, calling me to move to Sweden to be with them.”
“Are you going to join them?” I asked as I noticed tears filling his eyes.
“I cannot go to cold Sweden and leave this beauty, this paradise,” he said and the goodness that was within him radiated through a gentle smile. My heart agreed with him and I sighed gratefully. I did not know this would be our last conversation. I could not have known then that he would be in another world just a few hours later. Tomorrow night he would be murdered in his own home, beaten to death. I could not have known that those strong arms that were helping me would be broken into many pieces, as he was trying to protect himself.
As the tractor, pulling a wagon full of bags, moved from the field, I noticed a full grain bag on the other side along the border with the cornfield, and I quickly walked over to pick it up. Suddenly, a tall man appeared in front of me as swiftly as a ghost. He stunned me with his cold eyes. Fear filled my body, making me stiff, unable to move. He must be Djoko. His whole body was still except the dancing fingers of the hand holding an ax. What will he do with that ax? Is it too late to run? Is my life ending?
For moment, he was silent too. My knees shook as I glanced at him. On top of his short straight brown hair were sunglasses. His wide wrinkled forehead was covered with drops of sweat and he wore a light blue T-shirt and brown shorts. As our eyes met, he opened his thin lips and white teeth appeared, “Are you Aisa Softic?”
“You must be crazy! Why are you harvesting my wheat?” he asked loudly, anger blazing from his eyes like heat from the July sun.
I collected my strength and answered softly, “This is my wheat. I cultivated it on my land and I am harvesting it.”
“I fought for this land. I left Croatia to build the Serbian Republic, our land. The land is mine. What are my kids going to eat?” he asked me as though I was responsible for his kids.
“I’ll give you a few bags of wheat for your kids. I don’t want them to be hungry,” I said, controlling my shaky voice.
“I don’t want a few bags. I want it all,” he raised his voice.
“I lost my teaching job six months ago. I need this wheat to feed my family.”
“Where is your husband? Did he go to fight Serbs? Is he expecting that we’ll take care of his family?” He screamed squeezing the ax, and I could see his muscles tense.
I was not in the state of mind to even contemplate an answer. I would not dare tell him that any human being with a spark of morality would not give him their field either. How could somebody be indifferent to genocide? I am to be removed, like dirt, making your new country ‘clean’, pure Serbian. Your own sense of power and your weapons provoked you. You believed that it would be an easy task to eliminate unarmed and innocent civilian population, bur people stand up to injustice.
At this moment my fight adrenalin mechanism overruled my mind and body. I stepped a few steps back instinctively, searching for any place to ran, but.my widened eyes glued on his ax, that sharp, cold tool. Bitterness filled my dry mouth and throat. I saw him as a wolf and I was a sheep to be sacrificed. Fear paralyzed me and I could not speak. My brain was blocked and I couldn’t even pray, couldn’t think about my children. The only thing I could focus on was the blood pounding in my ears. This was it. This was the end for me.
Suddenly, he moved a few steps back from me, the spasm in his muscles disappeared, and the wooden part of the ax touched the ground. His eyes blinked. “Our fight is not over. You will give me all the wheat. You may have it over my dead body. I am warning you! Stupid woman!” He walked through the field leaning on his ax and looking three-legged. He became smaller and smaller until he finally became a black dot bouncing across the field with the other heat spots.
Two tractors moved slowly through the unpaved side roads towards my home, pulling the wagons filled with wheat bags. I was on one of the wagons, surrounded by the bags and bouncing to their rhythm. When one bag bumped my head, all of Djoko’s words buzzed again in my ears and caused my frightened heart to skip a beat. I needed air and, collecting all my strength and pulled myself up to the top of the pile of wheat bags. Completely or partially destroyed houses along our way grabbed my attention, and I counted them one after another. Without windows or roofs they looked like ghost homes. Even dead, the houses reflected the different tastes and prosperity levels of the villagers. I knew their owners, remembered their family members, and their voices echoed in my memory. Once they had crossed the bridge spanning the Sava River, they became homeless refugees that traveled through the world crashed and empty, like abandoned houses they left behind I was stuck between two hard choices: to join a river of refugees, or stay and fight constantly for my rights, and for my live and lives of my family.
It was nearly sunset when we arrived home. My brother and his friends carried the heavy bags up the house steps into the attic. When the last bag was stored, I filled bowls with fresh cooked macaroni and cheese and gave it to them as supper for their trip home.
The wheat brought with it an unpleasantness, a fear, and a discomfort. I sensed trouble and I let Samir go with my brother. I locked the doors and pulled the blinds down, but I couldn’t find peace. I was crushed by distress and fatigue and tears run down my face. I knew that only Gad understand my fear and lowliness, and I prayed, Dear God, please give me the wisdom to understand my role on earth. Is my task to fight for my wheat? What should I do if Djoko comes tonight to bomb my house? I am so frightened and powerless. I feel like one grain of wheat, unable to defend myself. Please protect me and let peace rule in all the fields and homes. Thank you. The prayer took some fear and stiffness away from me, but I couldn’t close my eyes.
The morning sun revealed the dust and small chaff dropped when the wheat was taken to the attic the previous day, so I started to clean. My dear neighbors, Seka and Muharema, helped me. In the late afternoon, as we were placing clean curtains on the windows, a knock on the door interrupted us.
I glanced through the curtain and noticed three unexpected visitors. When I recognized Djoko, my heart almost stopped. He was in uniform and had a rifle slung from his shoulder. His face was dark red, sunglasses hid his eyes, and he was leaning against the house.
He was accompanied by an elderly man and a woman about my age. She held a purse in one hand and moved her straight black hair from her forehead with the other. Her eyes held anger and I had the impression that I had met her somewhere before.
As I opened the door, instead of greetings, the woman said, “We came here to talk about the wheat. You, Mrs. Softic, know very well what I am talking about.” She looked at me keenly. “I am suggesting that you willingly give the wheat to soldier Djoko. He counts on the wheat to feed his family. We came to help you, Mrs. Softic, and help him. He has a document saying that the wheat is his.” Her dislike of me was obvious in the tone of voice.
“Mr. Djoko and I received another letter stating that the wheat is mine. I harvested it yesterday. The wheat is in my attic now. I told Mr. Djoko that he could have a few bags for his children.” I said, looking at their angry eyes.
“I have the letter from last fall and I haven’t received any document about the wheat this year,” said Djoko, “but I know who sent the letter to you. When I finish with you, he will see who is joking with a fighter for the Serbs. I will reward him.” His words were a bit slurred, and there was a strong smell of alcohol on his breath.
“You will regret your stubbornness,” the woman shouted. “I have proof that we warned you. If you want to stay alive, you’ll give the wheat to Djuradj.”
“Mrs. Softic, we know you as our good citizen,” the old man said, biting his lower lip. “That is the reason why we came to talk to you. We have other methods to take the wheat from your attic. It is in your interest to give the wheat to the soldier.”
“I am really sorry that we cannot understand each other, as if we speak different languages,” I said. “I have told you that the wheat is mine, and that is the end of it.”
“All right, we tried to solve the problem peacefully, but obviously it did not work. If language doesn’t help, I know what will. It is your choice, foolish woman, not ours,” said Djoko as he moved away from the door.
“I thought you were intelligent, but you are stupid,” said the woman as she turned to leave. “Yes, you are stupid. We gave you a chance. You made a bad choice, and now you will have to live with the consequences.” I couldn’t recognize their words any more as they walked down the street, growling like hungry brown bears. My skin chilled and I locked the door.
I sat in my room for a while, feeling like chains were tightening around my chest. I needed fresh air and went out onto the balcony that overlooked our garden. I leaned my tired body on the balcony’s still-warm railing. The evening was quiet and the sky clear. As the bright stars appeared and beamed peaceful light, I thought, This war is transforming our homes into fortresses. How can I find a bridge out of the fortress? We could be all destroyed by hatred. I paused. Only faith and love can guide us toward a path of understanding. Dear God, guide me to choose a good path and overcome my own weakness. You are one for all of us.