A companion story to Ghosts
It looks so different...that was the thought that stuck in Luka's head as they followed Juraj along the worn cobbled paths that wound their way through the cemetery. It had been a different time then...winter instead of spring...the ground covered by snow instead of the grass and flowers that framed the graves. The graves, there were so many of them now...so many that held those who had died far before their time. Most of the headstones were simple and worn, here and there a few had been replaced with newer ones..an angel stood protectively over a grave that held several children.... husbands had joined wives who had never known the joy of giving birth. He paused several times as a marker caught his eye the inscriptions unable to fully describe those who rested beneath them. Husbands, wives, father's, mothers, sisters, brothers...and those who had barely tasted life, all gone. He tightened his arms around his sleeping daughter, seeking a comfort he knew was almost impossible to find. Such a waste...all those lives..all that hope for the future.
He paused as his thoughts drifted to the what might have been's. Jasna could have been a mother by now had she lived, She could have been the one holding a sleeping child in her arms...but she never knew that joy. So many things she and Marko had missed... school, birthdays....the simple pleasure of riding a bike...
"Luka." Alenka touched his arm lightly as she spoke, giving him time to return from wherever his thoughts were. "Juraj is waiting up ahead.." She motioned to a small split of the path where the ten year old was studying the now crumpled map.
"I'm sorry...I was just thinking...it's hard to believe so many years have passed...they would have been married and had families of their own by now...do you realize that?"
"I know...it's hard, thinking about the grandchildren we will never know." As she spoke Alenka let her hand rest on his back, her touch meant to center him. "We'll have grandchildren one day...from Maja, and Juraj."
"I think about all they missed...all the things I missed showing them."
"Luka...you are a wonderful father...losing your children doesn't change that. I see how you are with ours...they couldn't ask for a better father."
"Tata! I think I found it." Juraj's call prevented any immediate response and drew both Alenka and Luka's attention to him as well.
"We're coming." Luka exchanged looks with his wife and after her nod of reassurance began to move in the direction he had yelled from.
"See, Tata...it says there is a big tree by the black stone marker." The boy pointed ahead of where he stood, unable to make himself approach.
"I don't remember that marker." Luka shifted Maja in his arms then at a nudge from Alenka handed the sleeping girl over to her mother's care.
"It's probably one of the new ones...do you want me to go with you? Shh, Beba, it's all right." She soothed her daughter as she moaned in her sleep, protesting the transfer.
"No...I should do this alone..." Even as he spoke Luka knew there were still doubts there...so many years...so many changes. Catching the worried look on his son's face Luka turned to him. "Can you show me on the map where the man said it was?"
"Yeah.." Juraj approached his father and held the map out and for the first time Luka caught a glimpse of it. "Here is the big tree..and the black stone...he said it was four away from there." The boy pointed to notations made in a shaky hand on the paper.
"Four..." He found his eyes counting, then coming to rest on the simple white marker, though he had yet to move towards it.
"Tata?" Juraj's voice held a note of concern.
"I think I see it, can you stay here with Mama and Maja while I go look? As he made the request Luka brought his hand to rest on the boy's shoulder.
"You don't want us to come with you?"
"Not yet, Beba, I think I need to see it first by myself..." Not knowing what else to say left Juraj with a more natural response and he moved to his father so he could wrap his arms around the man's waist.
"It'll be all right, Tata." The reassurance came quietly and Luka found the comfort he needed in the simple words.
"I know." He returned the boy's hug then kissed him on the top of his head before releasing him. "Stay here with Mama."
"I will." Still holding the map, Juraj watched the looks his parents exchanged, so many things passed between them in those few moments, and as his father finally began to walk towards the marker he moved to his mother's side.
to be continued...