I knew what was happening outside of my tile prison. Mom was lying down on the bed in our cabin-style hostel room, flipping through the thin copy of Oscar Wilde children's stories I had just finished. Lauren was outside, dealing with round two of the drunk Finn who had spotted us on the porch earlier. He watched us conduct an unproductive conversation with the sweet desk manager who spoke no English, and, buoyed by cheap beer and unwarranted confidence, he wandered his way into the hostel foyer, ready to grab our asses and fight with anyone who wanted to stop him. Earlier, we had played along lightheartedly with his inebriated attempts at flirtation. Now, worn out by exhaustion at finding decent accomodation, his middle-aged slurriness was not quite as cute.
This is when Emir entered our lives. Oh dear God. Emir. This is what he did: he woke up that morning, he put on a tight t-shirt, he re-Biced his head till it shone, he lit a cigarette and showed up in my life and dammit Emir, why must you be a chain-smoking, espresso-guzzling seductive Muslim from the former Yugoslavia while I am stuck, STUCK I tell you! in this lame life as a white girl from American suburbia? Why can't I have an addictive personality, leather pants, at least one dark secret that gives my eyes a hooded quality? Why can't I have stories of my days as a traveling busker, when I lived off of the kindness of strangers? Emir had the relaxed cool of someone who knew that, scars and all, they were the absolute shit and didn't care if you didn't agree. He also had flawed English, a confident chuckle and the ability to make me shy just by looking in my general direction.
I loved him.
Emir came blazing into the hostel and argued furiously with our Finnish suitor and quite literally tossed him out by his collar. Oh, the testosterone, how can a maid in waiting not swoon? Dusting himself off, he shuffled some papers behind the counter and explained that "he needs to stop drinking, it's not attractive. And he also needs to get the fuck out of here." I felt childish that moments before I had been amused at the old guy's antics. A more worldly woman would not have taken the time to laugh.
Earlier that day, a rickety bus took us up the side of the hill where we had heard a wonderful view of the city awaited us. An old woman, holding her groceries fresh from the market, wriggled her way around in her seat and gazed at us, telling us a story in Bosnian while smiling serenely. She paused. "Zlatkas," she grinned, gesturing to her face in the way Santa Claus did for the deaf girl in Miracle on 34th Street. "Golden Girls? Golden Child?" Our limited vocabulary clued us in to "zlat," but the rest of her meaning was lost. We got off the bus together, the old vehicle kicking up dust as it made a three point turn to head back down the hill. Last stop! And beautiful it was, yes. But also surreal to stand on an isthmus between two valleys and imagine the Serbs standing, crouching, lying in the grass around us and using their massive guns to entrap the Sarajevans. We stood alone, sharing the view with an abandoned crane ("Volim te, Tito!" declared in bold, spray painted contrast to the fading yellow of an unused machine), the city's beauty holding a bitterness that we wanted to touch gingerly.
"The tunnel? No, no. I don't want to go near the tunnel. I have seen the tunnel. I have seen plenty of the tunnel, and I never want to see it again in my life."
Emir had spoken. At this point, his word was pretty much law. We had asked him about the locations one expects to see in Sarajevo-- Olympic stadiums, the Holiday Inn (Lauren's suggestion-- the exact location in which so many journalists had been confined during the war held a strange attraction, although by the time we got there, it was hardly worth the trip, since no one was willing to acknowledge that anything of the sort had ever occurred), Baščaršija. They were all met with an aloof disdain, but at the mention of the escape tunnel, we were firmly shut down. I again felt sheepish.
They say that the escape tunnel, which was the only entrance to or exit from the city for the thousand days of Serb attack, was used by every person living in the city at one point or another. Despite the fact that, much like Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, it is a major draw for tourists in Bosnia, Emir saw it as dragging out the past, not to mention a little disrespectful to treat what once was a lifeline as entertainment for an afternoon. Isn't it too soon to go near a place that holds such bone-deep pain for so many?
Maybe. But if no one sees the tunnels and the houses and the mortar shells that represent what man can do to each other, then it will keep happening.
I had a lot of time to think about this before Emir rescued me from the bathroom with a laugh. Yes, I think I'm in love.