This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Saviour Mine

Dear Saviour

I don’t know how else to address you, for I've no idea of your name.

All I know of you, I learned at second hand, and it all happened so long ago that I have, of course, no memory of it myself. I was only born halfway through it, but if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have been born at all.

I’m sitting here, thinking of you, and where you are now. I want to tell you so much, of who I am, of what I turned out to be like, and I wonder if you’d be interested. I wonder if you’d simply blink in confusion. Maybe you won’t remember me at all.

But what am I saying? Of course you wouldn’t forget me. You, of all people, who carried me in your arms to safety, you will remember.

I wonder what you look like. I have no photograph of you, only a description, and people change over the years. I try to imagine what I’ve been told, and I see a man with a sad and tired face, lines of weariness etched around his eyes. A man who has seen more than anyone should be asked to bear.

I’m sorry if this amuses you. I know, I’m just a girl, a very young and stupid girl. After all, my imagination is all I have.

And in my imagination I can see you, saviour mine. I can see you, with my mother, fleeing with her through the war that ravaged the land. I don’t need to know what my mother looked like – I can see her in the mirror, whenever I care to look; the lips, too large, the jaw, too square. She wasn’t a pretty woman, my mother, and I am not a pretty girl.

But let that pass. I’m not writing this to complain about my looks.

I think of my name, Vera. Vera, that’s what I’m called, because that is what you said my name was, on the note you left pinned to my swaddling clothes. Vera, because that was my mother’s name.

Radmila loves me. She is mother to me, and father, together, and grandparent too, and friend. But she’s not my mother, not Vera, and she’s never pretended to be.

I don’t know – I read over what I’ve just written, and I don’t know why I’m writing to you now. Is it because I want to know who I am, who I really am? Is it because I’ve been waiting to find out what happened to bring me here, to this coastal city, so far away from the tunnel where I was born?

Oh yes, I know about that tunnel. Radmila has told me a lot. All she knows, even if sometimes she told me more than she knew she was telling me.

I know what I am; a mongrel product of rape, unloved by my mother, born out of a kick to the belly, and alive only because of you. Yes, I know all that.

I know what my mother was; war prisoner, rape victim. I know what you were; killer for hire, who killed one last time…killed the man who would have killed my mother, and killed me. You helped me to be born, in that dark tunnel, amid the flames of war.

I don’t know, quite frankly, if I should thank you. Every time something goes wrong, each time I get hurt, I remember that this wouldn’t have happened but for you. If you’d just let me die, none of this would have happened.

But, still.

Radmila talks of you sometimes, and always with a distant expression in her eyes. I know she’s thinking back to that time, the time of the war. I know she’s remembering flames rising in the sky from burning villages, and women nailed to barn doors after being raped, and of old men’s fingers being cut off for a wedding ring. That was the time when lifelong friends turned against each other, for one was a Croat, and one a Serb. But you – you were neither. An outsider.

Mirjana is my best friend…a Croat. I try to imagine hating her, wanting to kill her, or of her wanting to kill me. I try, and frankly, I can’t. But those things happened, and I am at a loss to understand how, or why.

One night, I asked Radmila what had happened to my mother, to Vera. I’d asked her this before, but she’d always rebuffed me. This one time, I don’t know why, she began speaking, in a deadly flat voice. She told me of how you, and Vera, had seen her family led away to be killed or imprisoned, and how you had hidden with me in that derelict boat and watched as the paramilitary clubbed my mother to death, even as she sang a lullaby to me; and others besides, whose only crime was that they were Serbs. She told me that you’d smothered me then, trying to keep me from crying – and given me the kiss of life to make me live again.

So, that makes me doubly indebted to you; and I don’t like the feeling. No.

I’m sitting at my desk, looking down at the clutter. In ten minutes, Mirjana will come, and she and I will go down to the tennis class. I am looking forward to the exertion, because I intend to exhaust myself – and the exhaustion will make me forget, perhaps, for a few minutes, that I am only a silly girl, and that this silly girl owes her existence to you.

I’m trying to imagine the future: what I can or will be, the little triumphs and the crushing disappointments that go to make up a life; and whatever happens, whether my feet tread the path to success or slip down the dark track of failure, it will be all because of you.

And I don’t even know your name. Don’t you think I deserved to know that?

Mirjana is here, I can hear her voice, talking to Radmila. She’s happy and laughing, and I must wipe these tears away, and put on a smile. I don’t want her asking why I’ve been crying.

I think I hate you, sometimes, saviour. I love you for what you gave me, and I hate you for what you took away.

And I wonder about you.


Note: This is based on the film Savior, set in the Bosnian Civil War, and one of the best movies I have ever had the privilege of watching. 

Copyright B Purkayastha 2011

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