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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 34 page 12


angels on a ladder
Jacob's Vision in the Sarajevo Haggadah (detail)

Angels of Sarajevo

by Elga Mannik

August 28, 1995 was not a good day to be in Sarajevo. Andrew, a young British journalist standing only a short distance away from Katija, his Bosnian girlfriend, was trying to negotiate some black-market goods at the Markale marketplace when the first mortar shell hit. He was thrown clear of the blast and landed heavily on his side, breaking his wrist and sustaining a multitude of cuts and bruises. Because of this, he was spared seeing Katija explode into pieces along with the 43 others that were killed and the 75 who were wounded. His superficial injuries were nothing compared to the immense pain at the loss of his beloved Katija. Only the night before, they had talked about the possibility getting out of the war zone and escaping to England but Katija was torn between thoughts of love and freedom versus leaving behind the city of her birth. Now she would never leave Sarajevo. She was buried in the cemetery on the hill beside her parents. Only Andrew was left to mourn her. He didn’t even know about the baby that she carried, which was a blessing in a way. To also lose his child would have been unendurable.

The Bosnian War was, for most of the world, either inconsequential or too convoluted to understand. Andrew would go on to write articles explaining the conflict and then finally a book, dedicated to his Katija, which was turned into a documentary film.

Some twenty-four years later, in a row house in central London, a young woman named Chelsea barged into the study where Andrew sat in his recliner chair peacefully napping.

“Daddy, wake up. I have exciting news!” she announced.

“For the love of God, Chels, do you have to blunder in while I’m working?” he grumbled.

“Working? You were sound asleep! Listen to this, Daddy. My friend Cheryl is going to Croatia with two other girls from our class and she asked me to come along. You said you want me to enjoy this summer after graduating, so I told them yes.”

“That sounds interesting.”

“All I need is a small loan and I’ll be out of your hair for a month.”

“Why not ask your mother? She’s the one with the investment banker boyfriend and seemingly unlimited funds.”

“Before I even mentioned money she said she wasn’t keen on my going there. She only understands Monaco or South of France. Eastern Europe may as well be Mars in her estimation. And because of Jeremy, she thinks I should go to France again but I’ve been there so many times, Daddy. Just ’cause her lover-boy has a house there doesn’t mean I’ll never get to experience anything else, right?”

“Please don’t call him lover-boy. And I thought you liked Le Midi.”

“I did, for the last four years, but Croatia is the in spot now. We’ll start in Split then bike around the islands. We’ll stay in hostels. It won’t cost a lot.”

“Sounds like you’ve already made a decision. God knows, I can’t stop you. You’re 21, not a child anymore. I guess I could give you some money, but don’t tell your mother. Say you earned it at some part time job.”

“Oh, thank you Daddy! Actually I might get paid for a travel blog I’m going to write. Yippeeeee!! I’m going to Dalmatia! We are going to have so much fun. I promise, Daddy, as soon as I’m back I’ll start looking for a full time job and make you proud of me. But this last summer for myself, I want to go exploring. Exactly like you did when you were young. I can’t help it, adventure travel is in my genes, your fault really.”

She instantly regretted her words.

Andrew lowered his head. “Yes, going to the Balkans was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me up to that point,” he said. He stared off into space.

Chelsea came and sat down on the arm of his chair. She took his large hand in her tiny one. “Sorry to bring up old memories. I know it makes you sad to think about those times and her.”

“We would have been so happy.”

“But then you wouldn’t have married Mummy.”