I’m sitting in a small cafe bar waiting for my friend Marija whom I haven’t seen since high school. She left with her husband for Canada after the war. How long had it been since we’d seen each other? It seems like an eternity… I can’t wait to see her. I close my eyes and try to picture her. I can hear the sea hitting the rocks, shrieks of sea gulls and… I feel the sun warming my face. It is wonderful, I should try to do this more often… Suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder and I see a familiar face. We hug each other, and with great curiosity we start asking each other questions about everything.
– Do you still remember the war? Does it still affect you?
– It was very hard to watch so much pain, suffering, and sadness. In the end we managed to get through all of that. Many nurses got killed during that period.
– On the day when the attack on the Borovo factory in Vukovar happened – Marija continued explaining – we had so many wounded people, and it took the whole day to take care for them. Besides soldiers, children, and women, the elderly were also wounded. Sometimes men with guns would threaten and insult us while we were treating the wounded because of our nationality. We were tired and exhausted; 48 hours on our feet and there wasn’t enough food and water. We tried to distribute the little food and water that we had among the patients. When the wounded stopped coming in, we would clean, sterilize instruments, and do anything else that was needed. Then we would visit patients who needed wound dressing and special therapy. We always tried to smile and show hope, promising that better times would come. Often we would help each other with jokes. I remember one colleague said while laughing that we did not need to pay for expensive fitness centers or go on expensive diets because we were all very “fit”. We avoided talking about difficult topics. When alone and in silence, we would think about the harsh days that were awaiting us no matter what we did. Our minds were full of sorrow, fear, and uncertainty about what tomorrow would bring. One artillery attack after another. There weren’t enough doctors or nurses and the amount of work increased every hour. We could barely stand on our feet. I was horrified. Instead of talking we were running from one patient to another, trying to keep it all under control.
There was one time when I raised my head and saw a guy standing with a weapon pointed at us. I watched with fear and saw that he was moving his mouth, but I didn’t understand what he was saying. After he left, one doctor shouted, “They’re scared of us! That’s why they’re visiting us, so they can scare us.” A colleague then took a gun and said, “Don‘t fear. From today on I will be on guard at the entrance and nobody will threaten you.” We all started laughing because we knew that he was trying to encourage us.
Every day we had to go through all that again. Sometimes I would go hide and cry for some time. How was it for you here in Dalmatia?
– I didn’t participate in the war, my Ana did. You know her from all our talks; she was on the southern front. She told me that sometimes enemies were so close that she had to breathe carefully so that they didn’t hear her. She told me that the worst time occurred when soldiers entered mine fields. They got the call in the middle of the night and rushed to help. Ana’s eyes filled with tears when she told me this part of her story. Although she was trying not to cry, she wasn’t ready for what was coming. She saw a lot of blood and body parts spread all over the field…
Almost every wounded soldier expressed a desire to help his fellow soldier. After giving first aid, they carried them quickly inside the vehicle to transport them to the nearest hospital. When it was his time to go, a doctor turned to Ana and said, “Ana I’m sorry but you need to stay here because there isn’t enough space inside the vehicle.”
As I was listening to her, I got a sudden urge to slap that doctor. But the doctor was right: there was no room in the ambulance.
– And what happened, did she stay?
|Drita, left, and Marija, right, share memories over coffee|
– Yes, she turned towards him and only said: “Alright.” She remained there all alone on that field in that cottage in the middle of the night.
If it were me I would die from fear.
In the cottage Ana started pushing everything that was inside it towards the door. You know dear Ivana, I know exactly how Ana felt and what was going through her head at that moment.
Yes, because you also had similar experiences, Marija. After she did that, Ana hid behind the barricade that she had made in the room and stayed like that all alone, waiting for a miracle to happen.
–How long did she stay like that?
– She didn’t know how long she was there. Then she heard voices. Imagine my Ana crawling like a real soldier towards the door without knowing whether the voices belonged to our soldiers or enemies. Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice. She screamed her lungs out, “Mate is that you?”
Our soldiers were there. They instantly rushed towards the door and started pushing them, trying to free her as quickly as possible. When they entered the cottage, she hugged them and told them again and again how glad she was to see them. Daybreak came but she was still very scared. They tried to encourage her by reminding her that she was the first one to help the wounded when they needed help, or how she was brave when the bombarding was going on. Thank God we are alive and it is all behind us!
Many years later, at the same table like last time, I’m sitting her wondering and looking around for the check. Yes, it’s all the same, sunny day. I am watching the distant sea and seagulls as they fight for food. I am closing my eyes trying to imagine her in my mind. She is not with us anymore; my dear friend Marija is gone. The pain is unbearable.
I open my eyes and see people slowly drinking their coffee and talking, just like the two of us the last time we were here in this cafe bar. They are enjoying the sun. Children are playing. Yes, everything is the same. And yet again, nothing is the same and never will be.
Drita Puharić is a professional associate at the University of Split, Department of Health Studies. She received her bachelor’s degree at the University of Zagreb, Croatia and master’s degree in Nursing Sciences at the University of Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her recent publications include sexual health of adolescents (Intenational Nursing Rewiev, 2015), postdoctoral education (Acta Medica Academica, 2016), and breastfeeding (Maternal and Child Nutrition, 2016). Her research interests include maternal education of breastfeeding advantages. She is currently working towards her Ph.D.