In America, I am with a friend from the streets, Arif, and we are installing an air conditioner in a shopping mall.
It was a tough hot day and it took us two hours just to drag the big boxes with the air conditioners onto the roof construction of the mall building.
Arif came to America before us, not long before, maybe less than a year, but he didn’t speak a word of English. He refused to learn English and that was his final. “I’m not willing to change my mind,” he said, “and after that mess in Bosnia, the last thing I need is to drag myself into the classroom and mess around with some teacher!”
Arif is about ten years older than me and comes from some village nearby Zenica. He came to America with his wife and three small children, and the guarantee letter was sent to him by his brother who was already in America some ten years before the war.
“I saved myself, bro’. He knows nothing about our war and I understand why he doesn’t believe half of the things I say, but I was not born yesterday either. Never mind, I forgive him, my Bota. ‘Cause I don’t believe myself either what I’ve been through with my Envera, I swear with my dear mother. So how can he believe me?”
I see him struggling for breath and sweating on the hot roof, my “friend” Arif, who doesn’t know how to order coffee in a cafeteria and always goes with someone else to translate for him while ordering.
And I laugh, we pass the tools to each other, we work, we go on breaks together, we share the sandwich and the cigarettes, I secretly bring him a beer, so the bosses don’t notice us or these “Yugos” of ours don’t snitch us.
“The negroes, Botha, are the best,” Arif says quietly. “The blacks are the same as our gypsies, and the Mexicans are even better. My Envera brought home three Mexican women from work for coffee. It’s okay bro’, we all together don’t know more than fifteen words in English, so we killed ourselves waving. Each of us with one hand.”
Each of us with one hand.
And so Arif and I are working, that Tuesday on the roof of the mall, in the suffocating heat, and Arif says, “My Bota, this is worse than Vozuća!”
“What Vozuća, bro’?” I tell him stunned.
“Vozuća, Vozuća, that is nearby Zavidovići, where the Krivaja River flows, a place where we fought in the summer of 1994 in the scorching heat. The black earth caught fire, and we were still eager to get back some positions that we lost bloodily a few days before,” Arif started his story, wiping the sweat and tightening the air conditioner case to the tin roof with a tool.
“Wait for a second, Arif, bro’,” I tell him slowly, to measure every word still unspoken, “when exactly in Vozuća, what summer month and are you sure it’s 1994?”
“A hundred percent sure, bro’, July 1994, terrible heat how can I not remember, I remember that Vozuća, better than the birth of my children,” he answers me calmly, wiping the sweat with his shirt sleeve. “My friend – Senad – died the day before; three of them were captured and killed all by them… That Senad, and I, passed a deep shit together…” he finished the sentence more and more slowly and slightly looked up at me.
We looked at each other motionless for a minute. Whole minute.
And one more. Another minute.
His boots are clean, so clean! They shine.
I’ve told you – replace the boy’s fingers on the marble.
“I was also on Vozuća, Arif. In July 1994… My friend also died the day before. Maljutka fell into our ditch!” I say slowly, steadily.
Arif and I were staring at each other. We stopped working. Both powerless. We fought for the homeland, and then to get away from it, as far as possible.
“Come on Bota, let’s finish this,” he says.
“Yes. Let’s get this over with,” we say out loud.
This is the way to leave.
And this is the way to come.
At the very same minute of the peeled sky.