Father Of One - Jani Anttola
Thanks to Kaleidoscopic for the spot and sorting out this exclusive extract from author Jani as part of the tour!
Maka had come so near to the enemy he was afraid to move. Even the dry leaves on the ground could give him away. He lay down in the brackens and waited.
He lay still until night fell. The soldiers made a campfire, and he could see the shadows dance in the trees. He heard them talk and laugh. Some started singing: “Molim se u džamiji… I pray in a mosque… pray there were only Chetniks in Serbia,” they hollered, mocking the Bosniaks. Maka could hear more troops arrive at the campsite.
Now I know, he thought, how rabbits must feel in the dark… He had an urge to back off, but he knew that in the night all sounds became monstrous noises.
He tried to sleep. Afraid of donning the T-shirt, he was half-naked and swarms of mosquitoes attacked him. He tried to wrap himself in the bracken fronds, shivering in the cold and weak with thirst and hunger. He wished he could have just a sip of water. The hard roundness of the hand grenade pressed against his chest.
Then, for the first time, he felt it: it came with sudden clarity, like the chill of the air on his back.
He would never make it out of this alive.
He had always managed to push the image of his own death somewhere underneath the preparations, plans, attacking, retreating, ducking the shells, foraging and plain surviving. He had refused to believe it would one day come to this. It was always somebody else’s death, his platoon members, his relatives, his friends. He had shoved it into the back of his mind where it lay buried under his will to one day start everything from anew. But he could no longer push it aside: he now understood he would die in this forest.
Near yet another crest he came across a path in the forest. Muddy and raw, it looked as if it had been beaten by thousands of feet. Maka figured it was the same trail he had trod in the column three nights ago. Here, it was quite high up. Looking through the trees, to the west, he could see valleys and mist in the lowlands far away and up ahead hilltops and more hilltops. There was no sign of life.
The trail would take him towards Tuzla. But, seeing that it had been the main escape route from Srebrenica, the Chetniks should have taken control of it by now. He might walk straight into another ambush. Still, he reckoned, he couldn’t continue this brainless roaming.
He decided to take it.
The trail was waterlogged and slippery after the rain. Maka advanced slowly, holding the rifle so that he could fire it instantly. The forest was steaming and he sweated copiously. Little by little, the drinking water was gone. Right before the path opened into a large clearing on the mountain’s face, he stopped to take rest under the shade of the trees.
He sat in the cover of some juniper shrubs, tired and sleepy. He took out the honey and ate some. His bowel was still growling, but to his relief, nothing was coming out anymore. With his eyes closed, he smelled the pleasant odour of the seed cones. All was quiet now.
Just a low, humming susurration floated over the windless silence, like distant engines idling.
Maka got up and sneaked his way to the edge of the forest. Peering past the trees he saw them: dozens of dead bodies covered the hillside down in the clearing. They had toppled in every direction and on top of each other, young, old, in civilian clothes, some in camouflage fatigues, all swarmed by a million blowflies.
This is it.
He would shoot some of them, then kill himself with the last one.
Maka counted his rounds. One in the chamber, four in the magazine. That was enough. And he had the grenade. He clipped off a cartridge and put it in his pocket. How many could he get? One? Two? More? He decided on three. A good number. He’d kill two on the road, then at least one more with the grenade when they stormed the house.
Three lives for his. It sounded like some sort of a deal.
He placed the muzzle of the automatic rifle into the rugged hole and took aim at the nearest soldier. He was about thirty metres away. Maka would drop him with a single slug. But when he looked at the man through the sights, over the blued metal of the gun, he felt bitter about dying this way. He knew the man outside was there to kill him and his kin, but what if he, too, was somebody’s father? He was probably in his forties and distantly resembled a clerk who had worked in the post office in Srebrenica. This Chetnik also wore a šajkača, with its V-shaped top making his head look like a pig’s hoof. He had a messy stubble and a moustache that seemed to hang from his long, thin nose, as he stood under the sun with weary eyes.
So, you’re here to kill me?
It’s you who’s going to die now. But I don’t do this because I like it.
If there were a way to leave this situation without killing anybody, let alone himself, Maka would do so. Just it was too late. It was far too much, and nothing could get it undone. He positioned the sights in the middle of the man’s chest and calmed his breathing down. He took the slack out of the trigger, until he felt the tiny resistance of the firing mechanism in his fingertip.
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Find out more about Finnisg author, Jani Anttola, at https://www.jani-anttola.com/