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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 14 page 04


He was just outside my door, as I said, staring along the road by the river, at the people milling about, with his right hand pushed deep into his coat pocket. I am not sure exactly why I walked out of the shop towards him. Perhaps I felt responsible. For him? For a student who might just shout at me? Which in fact he did.

“Gavrilo,” I said, in the polite, gentle voice I use with customers. “Gavrilo, you should eat something.”

“What? Eat? Let me be!” he shouted.

Some heads turned, but across the road there were other people clamoring too, shouting about Serbs, if I remember.

“Gavrilo, you would be safer inside. Sit down at a table and have a plate of ćevap —”

“Moritz,” he said, realizing now who I was. “Moritz, I’ve got a loaded gun.”

“— Which you are not going to wave about, I think.” I knew for certain at that moment what was in his mind. “Gavrilo, it’s dangerous for you here.”

“I am not afraid of danger. I have work to do.”

“Perhaps not today, Gavrilo. You look pale. Your eyes… You should come inside for a little while. Come and talk to me, Gavrilo.” I tugged at his arm. “Listen to what those people are shouting over there. If they found out you were a Serb —”

“I would shoot if they attacked me!”

“I know you would, Gavrilo, but what would that do? I pulled at him again, and this time he responded, as if he had made a sudden decision for himself. He walked quickly towards the restaurant section. I took him to a little table he might have remembered from his schoolboy visits, and I nodded to the man in the kitchen. Gavrilo was shivering in a kind of rage. I sat opposite him.

“It has not been a good day for me, Moritz,” he told me. “I am a dead man if they catch me, but I think I can trust you, because you’ve always listened to me. I’ll be out of the city soon.”

“You are with some companions, I am guessing.”

“Friends I met in Belgrade — but we are all from Bosnia originally. Bosnia which the Austrians have taken, and they are now imposing all sorts of torments on my people. We managed to wrench free of the Turks, and now we have the Austrians.”

“I’ve heard this from you before. I understand what you are saying.”

“Every Serb, Croat and Slovene should be an enemy of Austria. Serbia has the moral duty to help with the unification of all the South Slavs. Unification or death!”

From my angle, I could see what he could not. The open-top limousine with the archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife next to him was clearly visible through the front window, stopped. I was utterly amazed, but did not let it show. And Gavrilo had a gun!

“So am I going to eat or what?” he said.

Yes, I really did keep control of myself. I nodded again to the kitchen man, who brought the plate. Gavrilo seemed to calm down as he looked at it. He ate surprisingly slowly. My ćevapčići is food to savour at leisure. I watched as the archduke’s car spluttered into life again and moved away.

The men in uniform stood behind Gavrilo as he finished his last good meal for a long while. They had the pistol out of his pocket before he knew what was happening. One of them managed to say, “Thanks for your message, Herr Schiller.”

“They won’t hang you, Gavrilo,” I said to him. “You’re not twenty yet.” I don’t think he heard me. He was trying to curse both them and me, but they held a gloved hand over his mouth as they dragged him off, overturning the table as they did so.

So the archduke got back safely to Vienna to stand up to the old-timers and push for more autonomy for ethnic groups in our multicultural empire. What a mercy he wasn’t hurt. If he had been, who knows what the consequences might have been?