FICTION: “Sarajevo (A Step into the Ugly Past)”

 By Oguljennet Kurbandurdyyeva


“I hate the world and almost all people in it…Im ashamed to belong to such species.” —Bertrand Russell


What a cold day it was. I couldn’t feel my feet. Wind was blowing so hard and fast that it was scratching my cheeks. I could barely open my eyes. I wonder why the Kyrgyz people have those Asian looking, closed eyes, even when they look at you. The wind must be blowing every second there.  I was waiting for the truck to arrive. My cellphone rang. It was my grandma.

  • “Yes, grandma?”
  • “Did the truck arrive?”
  • “No grandma, not yet”
  • “The boxes are ready.”
  • “Alright grandma. Uncle Enver will be here any second. ”

I hung up and then started to move around to get a little bit warmer. Ah, here he is. Finally, I saw the headlights of the truck. It stopped right in front of me, and Uncle Enver came out of it.

  • “Uncle Enver!”
  • “Aylin! How are you?”
  • “If you were five minutes later, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to feel anything because of this bitter cold.”
  • “Oh, I’m sorry my princess. There was traffic on the bridge. We’ve never had this kind of cold here before. Well, are you guys ready?”
  • “Yes, we are.”
  • “Then let’s load the truck.”

We entered the apartment and picked up all the boxes. They were all loaded into the truck. Uncle Enver:

  • “Come on, get in. We have a long way to go to Bosnia.”

The truck was a little small for three people, so I had to squeeze in the middle and listen to Uncle Enver and grandma’s boring conversation. A couple hours later, Uncle Enver woke me up and said:

  • “Aylin, here is the borderline. Say goodbye to Edirne.”

I looked around, but I didn’t see anything except snow. I whispered “Goodbye. . .”

Our first stop was in Sofia. They spoke Russian, except a few words were different. From there we went to Skopje. I was inside the truck, listening to their conversation, and I understood them because they were talking in Russian again, only changing the order of the words.

Our next stop should have been Kosovo, but my uncle didn’t want to drive from there. When I asked why, I saw him trying to not cry in front of me. So I never asked that question again. My uncle is a big guy with a light-brown beard. A huge guy, who has the strength of three men. How could a simple question affect him this much?                                                                                                              We went from Albania to Montenegro and finally to Sarajevo. My uncle hit the breaks and said:

  • “Here it is, the heart of Bosnia, Sarajevo.”

I looked around and saw small houses and buildings. My grandma reached into her purse, then took out a key. She pointed her finger and said:

  • “Do you see that door?”
  • “Yes, grandma.”
  • “Here, take the keys and open it.”

My uncle rubbed my back and smiled at me. I mean, what was the big deal about it?  It’s just going there and opening the door. So, I got out from the truck and went to that door. While opening the door, I smelled some paint. I looked around the house, and all the walls were painted white. The wooden floor had paint all over it. There were two bedrooms in the house. I entered the first one. It had a big window. Then I entered the second room. It didn’t have a window, but I felt this thing that I cannot put into words. It just didn’t feel right.

I looked around and saw some numbers on the wall. It was painted over but I could feel it with my fingertips. 16.11.1989.  It’s a birthdate. But whose? Because I was born in 18.04.1993.  My uncle tapped my back and said:

  • “I knew you would find it.”

Full of questions, I looked at him. Before even opening my mouth, he said:

  • “No Aylin. Don’t ask me anything.”
  • “But whose house is this?”
  • “Ah, this house belongs to many people. I mean, belonged.”
  • “Where are they now?”
  • “Don’t know. Most of them are dead.”
  • “How?”
  • “Serbians”
  • “Oh, the Bosnian war?”
  • “Yes, my smart sister.”
  • “Why are we here?”

Uncle Enver didn’t reply. He just looked down and smiled and then he turned his back and left the room. I had so many questions to ask.

  • “Aylin!” My grandma shouted.
  • “Yes?!” I shouted back.
  • “Come, help us take out these boxes!”

While I was leaving the room, my eyes couldn’t stop staring at the birth date. We were taking out everything from the truck and putting it into the house. It was very cold, but the snow wasn’t hard enough to step on. I could see that my grandma was getting tired, so I didn’t try to ask questions because I knew that when she gets tired, she gets agitated. It’s better to just stay quiet.  It was getting dark, and we were getting hungry as well. Uncle Enver bought some lahmacun and ayran from the bakery. While we were eating, somebody knocked on the door. Uncle got up and said:

  • “Ah, that must be my friend.”

I was surprised because it was late to expect any friends. My grandma stopped eating her lahmacun and took a big sip from her ayran. A very young lady came into the room. Uncle Enver introduced us.

  • “Selma, this is Aylin and Aylin this is Selma.”

Selma kept looking into my eyes like she was trying to find something, something that she lost before. I was going to shake her hand, but she put her hands over my cheeks and softly squeezed them. I felt her cold fingers. Her eyes were getting watery. I didn’t know what to do. It was weird and creepy and scary. She opened her mouth:

  • “Do you remember me Aylin?”

I shook my head to the left and right to say “no.”


  • “I mean, how could you?” Selma replied. “You were a little baby at that time.”
  • “What are you talking about?” I asked.

Selma looked at my grandma and said:

  • “Did you tell her anything?”

Grandma responded:  “I thought it would be better not to grow any roots in her, that I might not be able to cut out.”

Selma closed her eyes and let one tear fall.

  • “Aylin, my sweet sister,” Selma sighed.
  • “Sister?” I exclaimed. “ What are you talking about?”
  • “Our mother came here for university with her lover,” Selma continued. “You know that right?”
  • “Yes, grandma told me,” I replied. “After finishing her university, she became a journalist.”
  • “Yes, she did,” said Selma, then added: “Good, so tell me what you know.”
  • “And then she married her Greek lover and they created me,” I began, “but one day, when they were going to work, they had a car accident. They didn’t survive the crash. This is what grandma told me.”

Selma just kept looking at me. Then she softly grabbed my hand and said:

  • “Let’s go.”
  • “Where?”
  • “I know a nice café.”
  • “Ok.”

Selma turned around and said to my uncle:  “We won’t be late.”


  • “Be careful, girls,” Uncle Enver advised us.

She had a very nice black car. I sat in the front seat and instantly smelled the scent of cigarettes. We drove up to the café. It had giant letters on it saying “Tuzla Cafe.” We sat down and Selma ordered two coffees. She asked:

  • “I hope you are old enough to drink coffee.”

I smiled and replied:

  • “Of course, unless you tell my grandma.”
  • “Haha, don’t worry, I won’t.”

The coffee was too bitter. Selma noticed it and asked for sugar. I added sugar to my coffee and said:

  • “Now it tastes better.”
  • “Aylin, my dear,” Selma began, “I’m sorry for showing up in your life like this. I should have come earlier. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t brave enough to look at your eyes. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t say anything. I was just squeezing my eyebrows together trying to understand what she was saying. My brain couldn’t get it. I gathered my breath and asked:

  • “So that was your birthdate on the wall?”
  • “Yes, my dear.”
  • “Why were you too scared to see me? I mean why did you need courage to see me?”
  • “Our mother’s death affected me very deeply.”
  • “And our father’s…”
  • “Yes, and our father’s death too. Are you mad at me?”
  • “No, but I wish you had come earlier.”
  • “You are absolutely right Aylin. You are right. It’s not going to happen again. I can promise you that. You, your grandma and I are going to live in that house. We are going to have a happy, new life. I will teach you the Bosnian language. You will go to school here.”

I was very excited. It was a new school, a new place anda  new life. Of course I’m going to miss Edirne, but finding out that I have a sister was an incredible moment in my life.

We finished our coffee and went back to the house. Uncle Enver was sleeping and grandma was reading a book as always. I brushed my teeth and went to sleep, but before going to bed, Selma gave me a kiss on my cheek and said:

  • “Goodnight Aylin.”

I replied with a smile:

  • “Goodnight Selma.”

I went to bed, closed the door, and opened the window to let the fresh air come in. It was still snowing. I went under my blankets and happily closed my eyes. Oh God, what a day it had been.

Grandma:  “Did you tell her?”

Selma:   “Everything? No.”

Grandma: “Why not?”


Selma:  “She is too young to learn about the ugly past. How can I tell her that she is the illegitimate child of a Serbian soldier? How can I tell her that my mother never wanted to see her face?  My poor dad, he got shot trying to stop that horrible moment. No…now is not the time to tell it. ”

Grandma:  “Ok, then.”

[I wish that I had never opened that window. I wish that later I hadn’t gotten really cold and hadn’t gotten out of the bed to close the window.  I wish that I had never heard this conversation between Selma and grandma.]