…a literary journey
By Vicki Roberts (452 words)
The man directly behind us kept his head down, and I thought it was to hide his face from me. I could have reached out and touched the brim of his hat, he was that close. I realize now he was just trying to keep from stumbling on the rubble beneath his feet.
My view, looking over the shoulder of my father, was of the past. I saw every step we made immediately after we made it. I saw the back of a soldier and the people who avoided his glare as they reached the place where he stood. I was bundled in my favorite red coat, and I bounced as my father jostled me from side to side, trying to relieve the weight. People held on to each other for support, stepping to avoid the rebar stabbing out of the crumbling concrete.
Three days had passed since we had left what used to be our home. Father said we would reach Croatia today, but that then we would try to get either a train or bus that would get us closer to Slovenia. I didn’t ask him again about mama or Elena; somehow, I understood that they wouldn’t be joining us. When the bombings started, I had been in my small bed, my eyes squeezed tightly closed and my hands covering my ears. Once we were out of the house, he spoke quickly to a woman and placed me in her extended arms. I rubbed my eyes and watched him go back inside. I waited and waited for him to bring everyone else out, but when he reappeared, his face was covered in ash, and he grabbed me roughly from our neighbor’s hands. That was the last time I saw home, and the first time I saw my father cry.
One night when I was twelve, I thought of the man and all the other people we walked with. I asked my father if they were our family. He said, ‘in a way’, and then he sat next to me on my bed and explained the word refugee.
Out in the backyard, my daughter sits on her grandfather’s lap, blowing out all six candles on the birthday cake covered in pink flowers. Elena has just recently begun asking about the girl she was named after. She doesn’t understand why there are no pictures of her to see. I told her they were all lost in a fire.
Everyone cheers, and Elena claps excitedly as the wax begins dripping down each candle. She begins opening her presents, and I walk over to stand behind my father. He reaches back and squeezes the hand I place on his shoulder.