Anatolije Lazarevic saw sadness in his bright eyes. Deep grief that leaves scars behind.
Confession can heal, son.
The man shook his head, the scarf slipping from his face. The grimaces on his cheeks were gentle, in stark contrast to the piercing eyes. He quickly put back his scarf and pulled it high over his nose. Anatolije Lazarevic raised his hand and placed it on his shoulder. Their eyes met and hung in the cold, November air. Silence hovered between them, and Anatolije’s hand slid down from the newcomer’s shoulder.
What you are about to read… said the stranger, may it remain between you and God.
From his pocket, he took out a silver chain with a small medallion. He opened it, and Anatolije Lazarevic recognized the saint in the small picture.
You gave it to me, don’t you remember, Father?
The old priest looked up at the stranger. A memory slipped through his mind, and he suddenly knew who the person was standing before him. A shiver ran through his body. The man reached out and placed the pendant in the priest’s palm. Anatolije opened his mouth to say something, but the stranger turned and left. While he was leaving, he was looking at a stranger’s back when he felt something wet on his nose. He raised his head and looked at the sky. Tiny snowflakes began to swirl through the air. He inhaled; his lungs were sore from the air. He returned to the church of Saint George and closed the door behind him. Inside the air was cold, now the cold seeped into his bones. He approached the holy water and wet his three fingers in it. He crossed himself.
Holy Father, give me strength and power. Amen.
He sat down on one of the desks, opened the notebook, and began to read.
Dolno Romanovce, Serbia
The house, where Snezana Radojković and her son lived, was next to the old cemetery behind the main street, which went down the hill along with the Romanova Reka. The cemetery had many tombstones, which no one took care of, some were torn down, and some were completely overgrown. Both were always afraid when they walked along the shortcut path by the graves to their neighbor Zivko to buy milk. The son tightly squeezed his mother’s hand and tried to keep his eyes closed, so as not to see the overgrown stones and crosses, which were praying from the ground.
Come on, don’t be so timid, his mother told him, speeding up her pace, while he tried not to look at the black and white faces staring at him from all sides.
He was most afraid of the old man with a long mustache and beard. He felt his gaze on his back, piercing into his back, and followed him till the end of the road. It wasn’t until they got home that he felt safe again.
He had not met his father, he died before he was born. His mother told him that it was better that way because Ljubisa Radojkovic was a bad person. All that remained of them was the large black-and-white photo on the kitchen wall, picturing his father Ljubisa, and his brother Rajko. They were standing under the tall walnut tree in the garden and looked seriously somewhere ahead of them. His uncle Rajko lived in the house a bit higher, next to the forest. His mother told him he was just like his brother.
When it was raining outside, he crawled on the bench under the window and played with the rosary. He touched the wooden balls with his fingers, connected them in a circle, and squeezed them in his palm, while his mother mixed flour and sugar in a large bowl, and added marmalade, egg, milk, and honey.
Lale, do you know what I’m making? He shook his head. What you love most.