A companion story to Ghosts
Their entire trip had been based around it being a time of healing for Luka and Alenka, yes, but for them as a family as well. For their entire lives Juraj and Maja had lived with the ghosts of their parent's pasts, and now, for the first time, they could openly confront them.
As a family they spent the next hour graveside, both Luka and Alenka sitting with their arms protectively around a child, offering comfort and security as they spoke of their early lives Their conversation held little back except the more graphic details of how Damir and Neven had met their deaths. For Luka his time would come as they sat with his family, for now it was Alenka's turn. Perhaps most importantly, among the sadness, Alenka found a way to share the happier times with the children. Her joy at marrying Damir, the excitement of learning she was to be a mother, the birth of her son.
Maja leaned back against her mother as the woman spoke, the fears she had felt earlier all but forgotten as she drew strength from her embrace. There was no jealousy to the feelings, for as long as she could remember those she spoke of had been part of her life as they had her parents. She understood they had died, understood that the feelings her parents felt to them would always remain strong, but even more, she understood there was room for all of them in her parent's hearts.
For Juraj it was harder, older, he heard the catches in his mother's words, noticed the things she left unsaid among the sentences that trailed off into nothingness. Even with that knowledge, sitting there surrounded by his Father's arms, he too felt his fears subsiding. This was his Mother's past, the things that had shaped her into the woman he knew and loved. He leaned back against Luka while his dark eyes read his Mother's features as she spoke, the memory she was sharing written as clearly on her face as in her words.
"It wasn't safe to spend a lot of time outside, but Neven rarely complained, he'd play with friends from the building in the hallways..." Alenka spoke softly, her eyes drifting to Luka with the telling.
"It was that way for Jasna as well, Marko too, but not so much, he was so young," Luka was surprised at how easily the memory surfaced.
"Didn't they ever get to play outside?" Juraj struggled to understand how different it must have been.
"Sometimes, Beba, before the war, but then it became too dangerous."
"How could they play ball? Juraj's priorities reflected those of his age and it was Luka who offered the reply to his question.
"They just played different games, Beba. We lived in apartments and the halls were long enough to run in."
"I wouldn't have liked that," He wrinkled his nose with the words, prompting a slight laugh from Alenka.
"Juraj," Luka waited until his son had turned to fully look at him, only to have whatever he had intended to say interrupted by his wife.
"Neven still found ways to play ball..I remember the sound of it hitting the walls when he would bounce it off of them in the hallway.
Nodding to Alenka's words, Luka continued. "You know how it is when it's been raining for several days in a row, or how sometimes in the winter it's just too cold to play outside?"
"Yeah," Juraj reluctantly acknowledged the comparison.
"You may not like it, but you find things to do inside, right?"
"Yeah..." Catching the drift of where his father was heading, Juraj smiled. "So, it's was like that just longer."
"Right. You'd be surprised, but after a while you don't mind as much because that's just the way it is."
"I still don''t think I'd like it," The finality of answer caused both of his parents to grow silent but as he once more leaned fully back against his father he felt the man's arms tighten around him again.
"Maja?" Alenka found her daughter's silence disturbing and she struggled to encourage the girl to express those things that were going through her head. "What about you?" When Maja simply shook her head and toyed with the bracelet on her wrist, Alenka began to worry that perhaps she was too young to have been put through the strain of the trip. "Maja...what is it, Beba?"
"Nothing," The reply came without a raising of her eyes and signaled unspoken concerns to both of her parents.
"Maja...whatever it is, you can talk about it," It was Luka who offered the encouragement this time, though Alenka continued to be the one to hold her.
Her silence stretched on for several minutes as Luka and Alenka exchanged glances, when she finally spoke it was obvious that her concerns went far deeper then play. "Why did God let them die? Isn't he supposed to take care of us?"
"Beba..." Both of her parents responded at the same time before Luka indicated that his wife should be the one to continue.
"God didn't let them die, Beba...it was a war."
"But why didn't God stop it? Maja turned to face her mother with the question.
"It doesn't work that way, Beba...God gives people choices and sometimes they make the wrong ones"
"But isn't God supposed to protect us?"
"Yes, but sometimes ..." Alenka found herself struggling for a means to explain the unexplainable and she looked at Luka helplessly.
"Sometimes, Beba, God decides it's time for someone to go live with him." Luka's explanation sounded weak even to his own ears.
"In heaven?" Maja turned so she could look at her father.
"Yes, Beba, in heaven."
"I don't want to go to heaven, I want to stay here." There was a note of finality in the small girl's words.
"You don't have to go, Beba, not now....not for a longtime." Alenka voiced her husband's feelings for him before pulling her daughter closer so she could kiss her, then released a sigh as she looked to Luka. Was this the worst of it? Her eyes asked the question and as if he understood his shoulders raised then lowered in a shrug that caused her to smile. Something in his expression gave her peace and she knew that in that simple gesture he'd managed to take most of her fear from her as they had taken it from their children.
The purpose of the trip had been to heal and that moment had confirmed the worth of it at least to her, she could only hope it would do the same for Luka as they bid his good-byes as well.
to be continued...