A companion story to Ghosts
As she watched Luka and Juraj from across the aisle, Alenka couldn't help wondering if they asked too much of their children. They'd agonized over how much of their pasts to share with the children. Spent far too many sleepless nights discussing what details to reveal and what things were left best unspoken. In the end both she and Luka had decided to answer honestly when the questions came. Even once the decision had been made though it never quite eased the guilt over their sharing a burden that at times proved too heavy for even their parents to carry.
She'd seen some of the effects that the truth created already...the way Juraj seemed older then his friends. The seriousness that came over him when he thought no one was watching. Then too, there were those nights when she had woke to find him standing in the doorway to their room, silently watching his parents as they slept. Once caught he would confess that he thought by standing watch he might protect them from the nightmares that still came as memories of the past ventured too close..
With Maja it reflected differently, still too young to fully understand she sought the closeness, more so from her father but at times with whoever was closest. With Luka it was as if she sensed when his thoughts were drifting to his past, and in those moments she was there, drawn to him like a moth to a flame. There were moments when she thought she should feel jealousy at the bond that existed between them, but in truth it only re-enforced the closeness that they shared as a family She found a smile settling at the thought. In a time when so many families were drifting away from each other they maintained a closeness few seemed to know.
Time would tell if either child would resent their parents for placing such a heavy burden on them at such young ages, but how could they not? She and Luka could neither pretend their pasts didn't exist without denying those that had come before and been lost, something unimaginable to either. The only thing then that remained was for them to share it, to answer the questions that would come with honesty, and to finally accept the consequences of what that knowledge would bring.
"Mama...can I color now?" The small hand on her arm drew her out of her thoughts and Alenka found her concerns withdrawing.
"Of course, Beba." Alenka leaned forward to pull her bag from under the seat and unzipped it before withdrawing several books as well as a new box of crayons. "Are you done with the LEGOs?"
"Yeah.." She scooped up those that remained on her tray and passed them to her mother before taking the offered books. "Mama, how much longer before I can sit with Tata? She asked the question after a quick glance across the aisle, that prompted Alenka to look as well.
"I think they're talking, maybe when they finish Juraj will be ready to move back over." She lay the crayons on the tray after opening the box.
"He's been sitting there a long time..." She made the assessment even as she flipped through her book to find a clean page.
"Not as long as you were sitting with Tata earlier." She found her smile deepening as her daughter released an exasperated sigh before pulling a crayon from the box.
"Sleeping doesn't count." Maja defended before dropping her eyes to her book as she began to color.
At the comment Alenka couldn't help laughing then covered her mouth to silence it as she was met by the small girl's glare in return. "I'm sorry, Beba...maybe by lunch you can switch." She leaned over to give her a light kiss with the apology before straightening and allowing her to focus on her coloring.
"You have beautiful children." Alenka shifted her attention as the elderly woman to her right spoke.
"Thank you, I hope they haven't been too much of a bother to you." She turned enough so she could place her full attention on the woman as they talked.
"Not at all." The woman chuckled softly as she answered. "It's a long flight, I fly quite a bit, not much else to do at my age. They've done better then most of the children I've been seated besides. I have to say your boy seems very mature though, how old are they?"
"Thank you." She accepted the compliment on Juraj's behalf before answering the question. Maja just turned 5." She glanced to the girl a moment then looked back. "Juraj, our son, is ten."
"I'd have guessed him at older then that." The woman looked across the aisle at Luka and the boy. "He looks like his Father."
"Yes, he does." She offered a proud smile with the agreement.
"You've been inthe states on vacation? I am hearing an accent aren't I? She allowed her curiosity to get the better of her before laying her knitting aside with the question.
Alenka smiled before answering "No, we live in Chicago, but my husband and I were both born in Croatia...we're taking our vacation there."
"I'm afraid I couldn't help but hear some of the conversation between the two children when you were sitting across the aisle." She paused as if not sure whether she should continue. "Your daughter seems a little concerned."
Alenka nodded. "She is..." She found herself flicking her eyes to Maja before saying anything else. "My husband and I left not long after the war...this is my first time back and I think that probably has a lot to do with it." It surprised her that she felt comfortable enough with the woman to reveal the information and when the woman only smiled in return she found herself relieved.
"I'm sure it'll be fine, I've been watching the way both of you are with them..they're very lucky." She picked up her knitting again with the compliment.
"Thank you." Alenka found herself blushing under the praise. She was about to say more when she felt a light tug on her sleeve.
"Mama...look..." Maja drew her attention to the picture she had been working on.
"Excuse me..." She offered the apology and glanced to the book on the tray beside her.
"That's quite all right." The woman went back to her knitting without a second thought leaving Alenka to her daughter.
"That's very good, Beba." With the shift to Maja again it was easy to forget her earlier concerns...and as she listened to her daughter's animated chatter it wasn't long before they had faded completely.
to be continued...