A companion story to Ghosts
At the completion of Mass, both Alenka and Luka knew they had one final gesture to attend to before they left the church. Even at the early hour they could see that the small alcove was alive with the flickering tributes to those who had passed from this life into the next. Too many wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, taken before their time. That the two would recognize their own losses among them seemed a natural conclusion to the service. Exchanging no more then glances as they rose, Luka and Alenka each took a child by the hand and walked towards the glowing alcove.
As they entered the small room Luka withdrew his wallet, paying the tithe for the candles they would need. Too many candles...he found the thought rising as he lit first Maja's, then his own before kneeling.
There was no way to ignore the somberness on Juraj's face as the boy lit his own candles, nor the tears that wet his wife's cheeks as she too knelt at the railing. There was no way to deny the truths, especially not here...not now, despite everything the truth remained, they were forever bound by their losses. No matter how many years passed, no matter how many candles were lit in remembrance of their memories the truth would never change.
Luka forced his eyes from his family and to the flickering candles before him. Baka, Djed, Mama, Tata, Danijela, Jasna, and little Marko...how many others had he survived? Each had joined together to shape him during their lives, no matter how short that time, and each one's death had impacted him in ways he could never have imagined. Leaning forward he lit two more candles, Damir and Neven... how did he begin to thank them for making the ultimate sacrifice? That same sacrifice that was responsible for bringing he and Alenka together, for giving him a chance to live again?
Luka lifted a hand to wipe the tears he could no longer hold back from his cheeks. Never could he have imagined that so many deaths would hold the key to the door that would finally bring him happiness again. All those years...all the pain he'd inflicted not just on himself, but on those around him. Steepling his hands he touched his forehead to the tips as he willed himself to regain control.
Even as he did he found himself asking why...weren't the feelings he was acknowledging now the feelings they had hoped the trip would stir? Wasn't that the point of coming back? Yes, they had wanted to show Juraj and Maja where they had grown up...where they had fallen in love, where they had begun families and finally where they had lost them. So why now did he feel the need to conceal those same emotions the trip was uncovering?
"Tata?" He lifted his head as Maja hesitantly spoke his name, then turned as he felt her hand on his arm. As he saw the fear on her face he sat back on his heels and drew her into his arms.
"It's all right, Beba...I'm just saying good-bye." At the admission he kissed her then tightened his hold. This was what his life was about now, Alenka, Juraj, and Maja, not the ghosts of his past and not the ghosts of Alenka's.
He rested his chin on his daughter's shoulder as his eyes moved from candle to candle, the flickering of the flames almost seeming to draw him into them. If not for her touch on his arm he was sure he would lose himself in them...but she must have sensed that too and even in her youth she realized she was his hold on the present. Their hold on him was slipping, the grip the ghosts had maintained on his heart, in his thoughts was loosening. Without looking he sensed Alenka was experiencing the same realizations.
There had been a time when they had needed to hold onto the ghosts of their pasts, when those ghosts had been the only thing that kept them sane, but not anymore. He brushed a hand through Maja's hair, feeling the wetness his tears had left there. This was his strength...his wife...his children...this was the life he had once thought never to know again. He forced his gaze from the flames to find Juraj watching him as well and he offered a smile of reassurance. For the first time in more years then he wanted to admit his heart was whole...and if that was the only thing he returned from the trip with he knew it would be enough.
to be continued...