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While I Wait: A Journey of Recovery

Memories of Life in a Besieged City

Copyright W.C.Turck

“Get out of the bed…NOW!” Mama’s screaming woke me up, and still dazed I jumped out of the bed only to collide with Olja whose face mirrored my confusion.

 “To the hallway, quick…leave the socks just grab your shoes damn it,” Mama yelled.

Suddenly, my mind registered and processed the sounds coming from outside, and there it was a chaos. Sounds of artillery mixed in with the vibrations of powerful explosions and the sprinkling showers of searing metal pieces, the flesh destroying fragments of grenades. Balancing on one leg I tried, unsuccessfully, to put my foot into a tennis shoe, my hands and whole body shaking uncontrollably. Unable to breathe and feeling that I was about to vomit all over myself, I gave up and with shoes in my arms I quickly ran outside the entrance door, to the common building hallway.

       The building was alive, neighbors stood in pajamas, some with drowsy children in their arms, others holding plastic bags filled with the precious mementoes of a once peaceful life. “What’s going on?” “Where are we going to hide?” “Did anyone get the keys to the fucking bomb shelter?” “I have to pee!!!!!” Neighbors all spoke at the same time. Suddenly, a bullet came crashing through the narrow windows on the side of the exterior wall, lodging itself above Mr. Halil’s head. Realizing that we all stood in the least safe place in the building, Mama charged downstairs yelling at our neighbor, Radovan, to come with her and help open the door of the underground bomb shelter, previously used by a restaurant for storage.

       A mass of people started moving downward, some running in panic and some taking careful, unsure steps in the dark, clutching the rails tightly. Olja appeared next to me, and holding hands we descended down to the basement. The area was filthy, filled with grime, rat droppings, garbage and human excrement all littering the floor.

“Walking through shit and not caring at all,” Olja sung into my ear to a tune of some old-fashioned folk song, making me laugh out-loud and earning me a scolding from the lady living on the first floor.

We watched as Mama and Radovan tried to break through the door that led to the shelter unsuccessfully. A few minutes later, Djole, the architect whose apartment was on the ground floor appeared with the key. It still took some effort to push open the door, but it finally opened. Leading with a flash light Djole entered a tiny administration room that led to the heavy steel shelter door. Since the area was underground, it was safe to turn the lights on and so we did…

to be continued…

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