This is the true story of a woman who escaped certain death in Bosnia. It all happened just a few years ago:
Shafts of light spread over the bedroom floor, slowly highlighting the criss-cross pattern of the mat, as the run rose on yet another day in the war torn village. The men had returned home the day before, after many weeks in the battlefield. Worn out, they fell into the loving arms of anxious wives. Weeks spent in fear, ended in a happy reunion of family life.
Soon after day break the baby cried. Aisha reached over to the basket and picked him up. His brown curls shone in the early morning light. She put him into bed next to her and fed him while she dozed peacefully off to sleep again.
The room was simply furnished. There was a rough wooden bed, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. On the chest of drawers stood a square mirror, a brush and comb and a small jewelry box her husband had given her on her wedding day. Hand woven mats were spread across the floor, keeping away the growing cold of winter. The window was covered with dark green shutters. They were tightly closed. The baby’s cot stood next to their bed which was covered with handmade, soft downy quilts. Squares of various colors, collected and sewn together.
Ahmad stirred and opened his eyes that were encased in dark circles. He turned over and looked at the sleeping baby nestled snugly against his mother. He smiled tenderly and stared at the ceiling, watching the growing formations of light and shade and drifted off to sleep once more.
The familiar sound of guns in the distance made him wake up immediately. Unconsciously he reached for his gun, kept just beneath the bed where he lay. It was loaded. The sound died away and he relaxed, replacing the gun beneath the bed. He stroked the tiny head of his son who lay between him and his wife. In waking hours, there was the ever-present fear of invasion and death. His concern for his family’s safety and that of his village, urged him on into fields of blood and death. Constantly searching for the enemies who dealt out rape, torture and death.
He lay still in bed while his wife and son slept. After two days, he would have to return to the battle field. His thoughts were disturbed by a rumbling sound coming down the street, then the sound of running feet. His listened intently. Then there was a very loud bang at the door and a group of soldiers burst into the house. Within seconds they were in the bedroom just as Ahmad was reaching for his gun. Aisha awoke startled, and the baby screamed. Three soldiers with rough, hard hands pinned Ahmad to the bed while the officer in charge shouted questions at him. The silence that Ahmad maintained frustrated the Officer who kicked him hard and beat him across the back. Ahmad refused to speak. Aisha covered herself with the blanket and stared at her husband lying face down on the bed beside her. His dignity crushed by pinning hands. She couldn’t move or speak. She sat frozen in terror. The baby kept screaming.
Question after question, repeating the same words while Ahmad pursed his lips and kept his eyes closed tight. He dreaded what might happen to his family but he couldn’t reveal the information that would spell disaster to the whole district. He was being given the choice between betrayal or death. The choice was easy – death would be a final release from the hardships of life. Nothing could make him give in to these tyrants. After what seemed like hours, the Officer simply ordered, “It’s no use, get rid of him.” The second officer in charge had a face cut from granite. His square jaw never clinched and there was no expression in his eyes as he took out his gun and shot the helpless man in the temple at point blank range, sending Ahmad on to a peaceful place that he would never know.
Immediately the other soldiers let got their hold on him and started looking around the room. Their eyes turned to Aisha who sat there screaming and screaming and screaming. Her voice drowned out that of her baby son. The soldiers looked her up and down carefully then looked at each other and smiled. The Officer in charge called them. They left. “Don’t worry, you dogs,” he smiled, “you can come back a bit later to finish off your work.”
Aisha’s screams gave way to a frozen state of shock. She sat in the bed staring straight in front of her. The door opened quietly and footsteps were heard approaching her bed, now red with blood. The baby whimpered, too tired to scream. A hand touched Aisha’s shoulder and she jumped in horror. She found the face of her neighbour who pulled her hand and dragged her from the bed.
“Aisha! Aisha! Pull yourself together. There’s no time. We have to go now.” She gave Aisha a drink and shook her.
“They will come back at any time and if you are here, well, you mustn’t be here.” The older lady shook her head and looked at the floor, she didn’t dare look at the body on the bed.
“Come on Aisha, put on your warm clothes and boots. We have to run. My girls and I are ready and all the women who are still alive are leaving now. Aisha, listen! We have to leave now!”
Aisha blinked and looked around her. She saw the body of her husband and started to cry.
“Aisha,” said her neighbour more gently, “there’s no time for tears now. Come on, we have to go..” Aisha started to move.
“Good Aisha. Remember if they come back they will kill you and your baby, do you understand.”
“Yes, yes, I do. I’m coming now,” said Aisha in a daze. She was breathing heavily, concentrating on not looking at the bed. She gathered all her remaining strength in an effort to escape imminent death.
Feelings of panic overtook her. She rushed around the room thinking of what she should take. Her neighbour had already left and she could hear the sound of the other women and children leaving the village on foot. She didn’t want to be left behind so she hurried even more. She packed a few necessities into a small bag, turned to where the baby lay and grabbed at him and the quilt and raced out the door.
All day and the next night they traveled without stopping. Aisha was exhausted. She continually saw stars in front of her eyes. Her mind was still in shock after witnessing the brutal death of her loving husband. There was no time or space to sort out everything that had happened. Her hand clung tightly to the precious bundle she carried and on she ran. Often blinded by tears, she walked, then ran, then walked again. Sometimes she would look back over her shoulder and see the flames of fire reaching up from her village; her home, and tiny feelings of gratitude, deep down in her soul made her glad she was not there. Her feet surged forward, lengthening the distance between herself and destruction.
Finally, they arrived at the border. Warm, caring eyes surveyed the scene and offered the poor, tired women and children warm drinks, bread and blankets. Only after safely crossing the border and finally sitting down to rest did Aisha open the bundle she had been carrying over all those miles. An explosion in the distance, rocked them from rest and Aisha’s eyes looked up sharply as whatever remained of her village was wiped off the face of the earth.
With trembling hands she continued to unwrap her precious bundle.
Her screams alerted the guards and women surrounded her in pity and fear. Her thin, shaking hands had uncovered a pillow within her bundle. Previously, somewhere in her tumult and desire to escape death, her hands had reached for her baby but had mistakenly grabbed the pillow and quilt which in a blind race of fear, had been bundled up and carried with her these long, hard miles.
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