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He hugged his daughter tightly and said, “You’re right, Chelsea. And you are the one good thing in my life. Don’t tell your mother I said so. You know how she is.”
“I was thinking, maybe I could do a side trip and go to Sarajevo and have a look around. It would make me feel closer to you and—”
“No! Don’t you even think about it! The thought of you in that city is terrifying. Absolutely not!” he protested.
“Calm down, pater!”
In Chelsea’s mind, she’d already made plans to go. She just wouldn’t tell him now after witnessing this reaction. She wanted to see for herself the place that had brought him such joy and then overwhelming heartbreak so long ago.
After a gruelling 7-hour bus ride from Split to Sarajevo, Chelsea was both exhausted and excited. She had been unable to convince any of the other girls to come with her. They were too busy preparing for a weekend trip to Hvar with some Australian boys. There is more to life than drinking pivo and flirting, Chelsea determined. She used the travel time on the bus to research about the events leading to World War I in which Sarajevo played such a fateful part. Now she would tackle the background of the Bosnian War of the 1990s. Because her father was part of that, she also felt part of that. And so here they were — finally! — entering the main bus station. Now she must find the hostel, shower, have some Bosnian coffee and sample the famous ćevapi. After that, go see the Latin Bridge and the site of Archduke Ferdinand’s demise.
Day two found her on a walking tour guided by Petar, a handsome university student. There were a couple of Italian women and a Swedish girl in the group but Chelsea found herself monopolizing Petar as he talked about the devastating 44-month Siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian War. He described it without getting too morbid and laid out the timelines of the years of suffering of the citizens. He claimed that today, the people of his city were on a mission to promote tourism and funnel the profits back into the restoration of many of the damaged buildings. Petar was a political science student who offered his knowledge without rancour and made a point of mentioning that his father was Muslim, his mother Catholic, and his ex-girlfriend an Orthodox Serbian. He stressed the “ex” and looked right at Chelsea at that moment. A signal.
“You see,” he went on, “we found our way back to living together in peace. I personally find it easier to steer clear of religion and simply try to be a decent human being. But that being said, on our tour we will visit a synagogue, a cathedral, and a mosque. We will never forget what happened here but we will learn from it. For those of you who might be interested, our company also does a tunnel tour which is informative about the siege of the early 1990s, and that particular guide lived through it while he was in the army so he has some stories to tell. That tour leaves tomorrow at 11:00 so let me know if you are interested in booking it.”
“Me for sure!” Chelsea raised her hand excitedly.
Petar smiled at the lovely British girl. He just might tag along on tomorrow’s tour himself.
The next stop was the National Museum where Chelsea was impressed by the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, a medieval illuminated manuscript, important to the Jewish people, detailing their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. The pages were illuminated with pigments of gold and silver and lapis lazuli. Chelsea was struck by one particular painting of faceless angels ascending a ladder which according to the script, so Petar explained, were angels that appeared to the patriarch Jacob in a dream. For some reason, that image stayed with her. She mused, had angels saved her father from death in this city all those years ago?
The tour over, Chelsea and Petar strolled back together towards the old market. “I would love to ask you for coffee but I have a class that I must attend,” he said sadly, “but tomorrow I will come on the tunnel tour with you as I hope to be a guide on that one in the future. Would you like me to walk you back to your hotel?”
“No, don’t worry, it’s just around the corner from here, the Barcelona Hostel. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow,” she said.
Next day, she was seated next to Petar in the minivan heading to the site of the famous secret tunnel that was a lifeline to the people of Sarajevo, their only means of bringing in food, medicine and supplies, during the long siege. Dragan, the tour leader, told of his struggles during the war and showed the shrapnel scars on his legs. “I am lucky to be alive!” he said.