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The little restaurant at the rear of my delicatessen was famous for its ćevapčići. The best in Sarajevo. The best in Bosnia. The national dish, but be careful how you use that ‘national’ word. All the young people liked them — portions of grilled, ground meat served on a plate, with flatbread and finely chopped raw onions. At my place — everybody knew Moritz Schiller’s deli near the Latin Bridge over the River Miljacka — the ćevapčići came with kaymak, a thick, creamy cheese which melts a little over the well-seasoned mix of pork and beef.
I saw him standing outside the front entrance that day in June all those years ago, when the archduke narrowly escaped with his life, and I recognized him immediately: Gavrilo Princip. He’d been a customer of sorts when he was still at school — that is, before he was expelled for being part of a demonstration. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years but except for the adolescent moustache he hadn’t changed much in appearance — still small, and thin as a toothpick.
I had been a kind of friend to him. I listened and I took note of what he said, which must have flattered him I suppose. He was a young idealist, loud and strident in his views. I said he was a customer “of sorts” because he never bought much. But he often found the money for my ćevapčići.
“Eat, Gavrilo,” I would say, “Build yourself up.” I always made sure he had extra on his plate.
There had been trouble. Everybody knew a bomb had exploded close to the archduke as the royal cars had passed through the streets, and I suppose as heir apparent to the throne he should have been taken back to the railway station immediately and put on the next train to Vienna. But no, he had stayed on and had gone to a function at the civic hall.
I guessed immediately that Gavrilo was involved.