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The War at Home


“Kiza asked her for a date. She said she was married, but she gave him her phone number anyway and promised to go out for a drink. Not bad, eh? The small one?”

Ana pointed discreetly at a woman in police uniform standing just behind the iron barrier. Helmet on her head, steely eyes, but a nicely filled uniform and sensual lips. A soldier’s dream.

We were standing on University Avenue, across the street from the U.S. consulate, in a crowd of about a thousand, mostly Serbs. Not my idea of a good place to spend the evening. No one was smiling; a smile felt like a betrayal. The crowd was mostly silent. Some wore targets on the backs of their jackets. It was the fifth night of bombing, the fifth night of our protest.

© 1999 D.Todorovic“Have you got something for a headache?” asked Ana. I always carry a little pill in a metal container in my pocket. I handed it to Ana. It’s called “Caffetin.” My mother brought it from Serbia on her last visit. Now it’s a rare pill. The factory that makes it was bombed.

I have a rare mother, too. Technically, she’s a refugee, living in a village in Serbia with our distant family. I can’t go there, because I wouldn’t be able to go out again, being younger than sixty. And she can’t come here because she doesn’t have visa and the Canadian embassy in Belgrade is closed.

I looked at the small female cop and wondered if she would hit Kiza if she was ordered? Of course, she would. Would she go out with him if there was no clash tonight? Perhaps. There was a strange erotic tension in that. And something very fictional.

Here in Toronto, I have no way of opposing such fiction. Every time I look at the sky, I am reminded of the bombs falling out of that same blue heaven on the towns in Serbia. Every time I eat, I wonder if the people there have enough food. Whenever I drive my car out of an underground garage, I think how perfect a shelter that would be for my friends and family. Because I can’t change that, I am losing—or have lost already—my sense of reality. I am at war, since I can hear planes in the air, and every distant sound of the night is an explosion in the outskirts of Toronto, and each new e-mail can deliver another blow.

Last night, I received a brief message from my best friend, Zoran, who is in Serbia. He’s a father of two, and an expert in computers. Here is the whole message: “I have been in the army for the last two weeks now. Everything here is desolate and sad. The Horror.”

Listen to Dragan reading this article:

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Note: In Fall 1999 Saturday Night Magazine organised a promotional reading in Toronto’s Chapters Bookstore. This recording was made live on that occasion.

Three times I have been in demonstrations hoping for the West to help. March, 1991—a month before the war in Yugoslavia—200,000 people in the streets of Belgrade, Milosevic on the verge of being overthrown, and by evening, tanks in the streets; two years later, during the siege of Sarajevo, the taste of teargas imported from Germany, ensuring the siege would continue; and then on a bitterly cold day in Toronto in 1997, when more than a thousand Canadian Serbs supported the demonstrators in Belgrade protesting against Milosevic when he refused to recognise an opposition victory in the municipal elections. Were all these things merely internal Serbian affairs?

Now, the West was doing too much. And I was on the streets again, another hopeless number desperately trying to be heard.

The fact that both my homeland and my new land were too busy fighting to listen to me, had made me feel completely isolated and useless, bringing a new state of mind. This was worse than anything I had ever experienced: the adrenaline of panic and the ice of depression, mixed with an urge to scream and kill. This war has aroused the worst in all of us: in the NATO countries, in Serbs, in Albanians, too.

From time to time, people in the crowd would look up at sky. So many things come from the sky: sunshine, God’s will, satellite signals, rain, bombs. When it’s raining in Serbia, fewer bombs fall.

I found myself wishing for a huge rain, a world-wide rain, a hard rain that would stop the planes over there, drive us from the street over here, raise a flood that would sweep the small woman in the helmet into Kiza’s arms.

[Published in Saturday Night Magazine]
© 1999 Dragan Todorovic, All rights reserved.
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