Blogbox | War

The house of flowers

By - 07.11.2023

From the collection “The Moment I Knew the War Started.” 

It was just an ordinary afternoon for us. We came to the graveyard to water the flowers. Grandma and Nana plant the seeds each spring. They buy some of these on the green market, while some is donated by their friends. The summer is in bloom. There are sprouts of daffodils, tulips, geraniums, chrysanthemums, petunias. This is the steady arrangement, these I can recognise. I also know about weeds and that they needs to be removed always. Last week I turned twelve. Mama has been dead for as far as I can remember. The first time they took me here, they told me: grave is your house when you die. I call it the house of flowers, after Tito’s grave. I am proud of it. There is not one like it in Bare. Grandma and Grandpa are Mama’s parents. Nana and Papa are my father’s. Now all four of them are in disability retirement. When they talk, they blame it on her death that they lost their health early. The birthday was a really cheerful affair. The children and adults came to Nana’s and Papa’s house, where Dad and I had moved after Mama’s death.  I got heaps of presents. We ate cake, sang and danced. When the Daily News-Show started on the TV, Papa took the remote and turned up the volume. The announcer said that the breakup of Yugoslavia was increasingly likely. The adults fell silent and we continued the celebration in the street.

We have come to the graveyard from two different parts of the city. Grandma and Grandpa from Grbavica, and we from Vratnik. We met at the trolleybus stop in Đuro Đaković Street. We don’t own a car. Out of these four, only Grandpa used to drive before. He had a yellow Zastava 750, but sold it after his heart attack. I love trolleys. I call them gigantic electric ants. I especially love wiggle wagons with a joint. I stand inside it, grab the handle and twist and bend with the streets.  In front of the graveyard gate there’s a flower shop. The owner is an elderly woman. I remember her face, and we have never asked for her name. We can never get enough of flowers. The vases need to be filled. There’s one at the head and one at the foot of the grave. Grandma and Nana whisper for a short while. They chose roses and carnations. The ascent to Mama’s lot is steep and long. Grandma takes frequent breaks to catch her breath. Grandpa’s stride is the fastest. He goes to the water fountain with his canisters. When we reach the place, he has already had enough time to light a cigarette. The procedure is always the same. First we take out old flowers from the vases. It withered away. The water has evaporated. Grandma and Nana unwrap the fresh bouquets and cut the long stems with large scissors. Papa and Grandpa are weeding. They both have large circles of perspiration on their shirts. The stone is scrubbed and washed. Fresh water is poured into the vases. That day, start of the new school year is the main topic of conversation. They are listing all the things I’d need. They agree on who’s buying what. It’s a sweltering day, there has not been any rain for a long time. That is perhaps why there’s no one there, except for us. I find the quiet of the graveyard to be lovely. It in a way calms me down. What I also like is the view of Hum. There’s that huge transmitter there. From a distance, it resembles a ball pierced with a toothpick.  Once everything has been done, we sit on the edges. Nana is the only one left standing. She has leaned her back on the warm slab of the neighbouring headstone and she says, it’s good for the arthritis.

Grandma needs the longest time to say goodbye. We all kiss Mama’s photo, but Grandma kisses her twice, then she caresses her cheek with her thumb. We stuff the canisters into tote bags. We collect gardening tools. We carry the waste to the can at the exit.  The flower shop is closed and the road empty. The traffic dies down at dusk. After the graveyard, we always go to get some ćevapi and sweets. That is why we need the trolley no. 105 that would take us to the Liberation Square. We keep silent at the bus stop. As we wait, a crow with a walnut in its beak caught my eye. It lands on the round crown of a tree. It bows its head and opens the beak. The walnut is smashed against the pavement. It surges down at once and starts picking up the edible part, bit by bit. We don’t speak much at the kebab shop either, or afterwards in the patisserie. Everything has already been agreed. We would take a little walk, and then I’d go with Grandma and Grandpa to Grbavica. Dad would come to pick me up on Sunday. The only thing that bothers me is how to say that, after the cake, I’d also love some ice cream.  The night has brought some freshness. There’s a breath of wind and people stroll around casually. My ice cream is melting. I lick every drop greedily when at once, from the far end of the street, a booming voice shouts: “Vukovar’s burning!” People look around in confusion. The owner of the voice is a grey-headed man who carries a bulky stash of tomorrow’s papers. He repeats these two words endlessly. The face of the city changes. Passers-by take out their wallets. They pay, some of them forget their change, open the newspapers and read them on the spot. We also stop. I thought that we were going to buy the newspaper. I nibble on the cone, they frown. I don’t know who made the first move. Perhaps me. The rest followed. We slowly wiggled out of the crowd.

The walk got to be a longish one. We walked for such a long time because we were not ready to listen about tomorrow. Let alone think that in spring, we won’t be planting fresh flowers; that the Hum transmitter will be stricken by hundreds of grenades; that both people and birds will die; that we won’t be there no more either. Not together, at least. We were already wondering what to do next when we saw an empty park. We slowly lowered out tote bags on the grass. My legs were throbbing with exhaustion. I used my remaining strength to run to a merry-go-round. Nana and Grandma set on a swing. Grandpa said, don’t, it’s too late, but we really felt like it. We called them too. They hesitated a little. They were obviously embarrassed. Finally, they gave in and got on a seesaw. Suddenly, everything became animated. We shrieked with laughter. Our eyes got teary and the skies spun. At that moment, I saw us with utter clarity, like never before. I put my foot down, and pushed myself even harder. The merry-go-round accelerated and I finally realised! Our sorrow was deep enough to contain the entire country.


Feature Image: Marko Šerer

This story was originally published in “The Moment I Knew the War Started,” a collection of short stories originally published in BHSC, to contribute to more inclusive culture of remembrance. The stories were written by renowned post-Yugoslav authors, who answer the simple question of their memories from the tumultuous 1990s. Albanian translation includes three more stories from Kosovo writers, and is published by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights and forumZFD Serbia. The editors are Vladimir Arsenić, Ana Pejović and Anton Berishaj.