A companion story to Ghosts
By the time lunch was over the expectation of landing had replaced whatever lingering concerns the children still had. Juraj's had been easily placated by the travel book his Mother presented him with and the two had settled into an easy conversation with it open between them. If only Maja had been so easily appeased, the small girl's impatience was growing and with it came the restlessness common to many her age.
"Tata, won't we ever get there?" She knelt on her seat, alternating her attention between the window and the present view of clouds it held and her Father. Over the last twenty minutes Luka was persuaded she had begun to time her questions to those exact moments when she somehow knew he had finally fallen asleep. At he latest he cracked one eye open wearily.
"You asked me that less then five minutes ago, Maja." He smothered a yawn to punctuate the response.
"But it's taking forever." With the protest she climbed over the armrest that separated them onto his lap, ending whatever hopes he had of finding sleep again.
"Sitting upright he shifted to make the arrangement more comfortable for both of them. "Still worried, Beba?" He asked the question though he knew he dreaded the possible answer.
"A little." Maja admitted as she turned to face him, then took one of his hands so she could lace her small fingers with his larger ones. "Will we go to the graves first?"
Luka found himself unsure of how to answer...how could he tell her what even he didn't yet know? "I'm not sure, I'll have to talk to Mama, see what she feels. It's been a long time since she's been back, she may want to see other things first."
"What about you, Tata? Do you want to see other places too?" As she questioned him she laced her fingers into his other hand as well.
"I'd like you and Juraj to see more then just the cemeteries, it's very different now from how it was, so it's not the same as if nothing had changed. My family wasn't from Vukovar so I didn't know the City that well at first, we'd come here so I could go to Medical School." He found it easier to be open with the small girl then he might have been with his son at her age, the fears at revealing his weaknesses seeming to have lessened with age.
"The Captain has informed us that we are ready to begin our descent into Vukovar..." The Stewardesses words interrupted their conversation and Luka flicked his eyes to Alenka, offering her a smile of reassurance before returning his attention to his daughter.
"Time to go back to your own seat now, Beba and buckle up." He gave her a kiss before releasing her then once she was settled rebuckled her seatbelt before leaning across her as she called his attention to the sights appearing outside the window.
An hour later they were on the ground and stood just past customs. "It's so hard to believe we're finally here." Alenka spoke softly as she took in the sights and sounds around them, her own nervousness reflecting in her voice.
"It's true though." Luka slid into his native tongue at the prompting of so many others doing the same before he kissed his wife lightly. "Welcome home."
"Tata...can we go now?" Maja tugged on his sleeve, her impatience rising again.
"Croatian, Beba, can you do that?" Luka kept his tone light as he found himself reminding his daughter of the small agreement that had been made.
"I forgot." She switched her words to her second language prompting a return smile from her father.
"You know why Mama and I want you to use it?" He took the moment to squat so he could be on eye level with her at the question.
"So we can practice." Maja answered quickly.
"Why do we want you to practice though?" Luka let his eyes settle fully on his daughter as he waited for her clarification.
"So we don't forget that we're Croatian even if we were born in America...in case we ever want to move here." Luka shifted his attention to his son as the answer was supplied for his sister.
"In a way, yes. It's important that you have that choice, that's one of the reasons we wanted to do this as a family. You've heard Mama and I tell you what it was like, but it's not the same as seeing it for yourself." As he explained Luka rose, looking between both of his children. "We want you to see the good things about this country, not just know the bad things that happened to us...the things that made us leave. Does that make sense?"
When his question prompted no more then a nod of understanding from the two he found himself offering them a smile before reaching for two of their bags. "How about we find our hotel and then get something to eat...maybe even do a little sightseeing before dark?"
His suggestion seemed to please both children and once the rest of the bags were gathered up and they were busy pointing things out to each other as they walked it allowed Alenka and he a few moments alone to talk. "Doing all right?" He asked the question quietly as he walked beside her.
"Better then I thought I would be. I can't believe how good it feels to be here." She found herself smiling with the admission. "Hearing the language.." He smile deepened as she paused and shook her head. "That doesn't make any sense does it?"
"More then you know, Alenka. This is home, it's where we were born, it's where we would probably have died if we hadn't lost our families and needed to go away to survive." He wet his lips as he voiced to her the truths neither could deny. "We couldn't stay...the reminders were too many...but it's different now, and we owe it to the children to show them why."
"I can't believe I was so afraid to come back...I was sure I would feel awful if I ever did." Alenka hesitated a moment before continuing. "This will always be home...why couldn't I see that before now?"
"Because you weren't ready...just like I wasn't..not for a longtime..."
to be continued...