It was a beautiful day out. She was wearing a white floral dress embroidered with red flowers and was hopping around with sunshine in her hair. He was dressed smart and handsome as always, with his shirt sleeves rolled up and his hair slick and tidy.
The two of them made a pretty picture as she put her arm around his and he whispered something in her ear to make her laugh. Her laugh was like a jingle of bells and his smile stretched right up to his eyes, his youthful face lighted up with happiness at the sight of her.
And then, she woke up. Right in the middle of the night, she woke up from her bed with tears in her eyes. She put her head down and cried.
It had been this way for a long time now. She couldn’t get her mind off him. How could she when she knew that he was out there somewhere fighting for his life?
A type of rage took over her. Damn you, she cursed. Damn this war. Damn you and your patriotism, she thought, but it was a weak accusation for she could never get angry at him for long, and although she missed him, she knew it would have been selfish for her to tell him not to go to war, for had she been given the chance, she would have done just the same.
She peeped out from the curtains. The sky was grey and dismal and even the day smelled of war and death.
Sometimes troops came into Yugoslavia marching on, and they rested there. Vanida knew it well because she would often go to the mountains to look at them, searching for him in the crowd. It had been six months already, but never had his troop come in.
“Promise me you’ll forget about me,” he had said, always being the selfless hero that he was.
Bullshit. As if she could do a thing like that.
But could he? She bit her lip. It didn’t matter anyway. Whether he still loved her or not, she was one hell of a stubborn girl and she wouldn’t let go until she was absolutely sure he didn’t want her anymore.
She had a piece of bread, she made sure to save some, because food was always hard to find in times of war. She then marched out as usual, towards the mountain trail. She didn’t need to take water (she had scarcity of that too) because there would always be trickles of it running from the mountains.
One hour and a half later, she had reached the familiar barbed fence. The army had set up tents there and her eyes very quickly surveyed the ground, she had done this every day for the last six months, without any luck, but love raged furiously in her heart and refused to be extinguished by time and routine and the dark villain called war.
And there, her breath stopped.
She could have recognized him from a distance, anywhere, anytime.
His broad shoulders, clad in the army uniform, boots dirty, a cap on his head. He was turned sideways, talking to a troop member. His moustache had grown and his face was covered with black dust. He looked tired and a lot more serious, but this was still the man she loved.
For a moment, she just stood there, soaking it all in, his movements, the twitch of his hands, the seriousness in his face, the shape of his cheekbones. It was as if he knew that she was there, when Klahan sharply turned his head and saw her across the field. A thousand emotions flitted through him. For six months all he had seen was death and war, and the sight of her was pure love and beauty. He had dreamt of her, every single night as the sound of bombs reminded him of what lay ahead the next day. Sometimes during the war, he’d see her, clicking her tongue at the sight of his blood, putting a bandage over his wounds and scolding him to be more careful. Although the blood still bled, he felt better just at the thought of her. Then sometimes he’d wonder about whether she had forgotten about him. He hoped she did. She had always deserved better, at least that’s what he thought. And now, he was too wounded by war to ever come back.
All of this just lasted a second and reality set in. She was here. What was she doing here? It was not safe for her. He frowned and then quickly turned and walked away. Perhaps, she had come to see him, and she’d go way once she saw that he wasn’t interested in talking to her.
But, he underestimated how fierce and determined she could be. As soon as he turned away, a kind of a reflex movement caught hold of Vanida. She had seen the look on his face when he’d seen her. It was one of pure longing and helplessness and it was at that moment that she knew, that he hadn’t stopped loving her. She lifted her long skirt, jumped over the fence and ran across the field until she reached up to him.
He turned quickly for war had made him alert, horrified at the reckless thing she’d done.
Panting, she reached up to him. He immediately caught hold of her arm and brought her inside his tent.
“What are you doing?” he whispered furiously at her.
“Oh please. It’s not as if this is the enemy troop. No one will harm me. I think, I’m much braver than you, even though you’re off to war,” she said proudly.
She had a point but what she didn’t know was that the Captain had given strict orders that no visitors would be allowed inside. But she didn’t need to know that.
“Of course you are,” he smiled, letting her win without letting her know, like always. “You’re my fierce little bull.”
She smiled too, and this moment was so beautiful that it broke her. She fell into his arms and cried.
“I miss you.”
“I miss you too, every single day.”
“When will you come back? Please come back,” she whimpered as he took her in his arms and stroked her hair.
“Soon, I promise. As soon as the war gets over.”
They stood that way for a while, embracing each other, until Klahan had to unwillingly break the silence.
“You have to go now. It’s not safe here.”
“These are drunk, angry soldiers, Vanida. Enemy or not, there are no friends here. And for a pretty girl like you, it’s especially dangerous.”
“I’m not afraid. Not when you are around.”
He smiled and stroked her chin. “I know, but you still have to leave.”
“Are you chasing me away?” she pouted playfully, just like old times.
“Ah, never in my life,” he played along graciously as he carefully drew her out of the tent. They were holding hands, and for that moment, both of them felt that they were home, in a world full of chaos.
“Come on,” he walked her through the empty field, thankful that no one was around. Her bright imagination drew flowers in the empty field, the sun in the dismal sky. She imagined wearing a pretty dress and she imagined walking past the beautiful field of daisies as her lover escorted her back home. Just like old times.
They reached the fence and he helped her jump over it.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too.”
They leaned in for a kiss, warm, soft and passionate. One they’d remember for eternity.
He stroked her hair.
“Come meet me whenever you can,” she said. “Tonight, if you can sneak out.”
“Do you know where I live?”
“I’ll find you, love.”
“Write me letters too.”
From a distance, he heard some shouts.
“Quick, the boys are out,” he said.
She nodded, gave him a peck on his cheek and smiled. He smiled too, her favourite kind of smile, the one that reached his eyes.
As she left the place, she knew his eyes would follow her until she disappeared. That would be his way of making sure she reached home safe.
His heart swelled up with love for her, and when he walked back to his tent, he found his strength renewed.
Almost an hour after Vanida had left, the troop was called to order.
“There’s a war we must go to,” the Captain bellowed. “The British have invaded Poland, and they have sent urgent messages for us to leave immediately. They need our help.”
Half an hour later, the troop was ready with everything and they started their march forward to Poland. Klahan was among them, and he marched with a heavy heart.
He imagined her walking by his side as they marched and he promised her that he would meet her soon.
Back in home, Vanida hoped he would come that night. She cleaned her little cramped up place of a house, wore the best possible clothes, put on the earrings that he had given her that she had carefully kept inside her drawer. She even risked to go out to fetch some butter from the local salesman who’d carry out his business secretly in the ground floor of a nearby building.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” she chimed, buying the butter even though it cost her a fortune.
He looked at her as if she had gone mad and she left the place, with a skip in her steps.
Then she waited. She waited till hours ticked by. And she waited.
The next morning, she woke up with a neck cramp. She had fallen asleep on the table. The bread had gone stale, the butter was still unopened.
She quietly put the plates back to their places again. She undressed and took off the earrings, put them back in the drawer.
Something must have come up. Maybe that was why he couldn’t have come, she consoled herself.
Then she rolled herself up into a ball in her tiny bed and stared at nothing. Everything was quiet, and death chose this moment to whisk her away. It came dressed as fire and a loud noise. At one moment, everything was quiet, the next, a bomb had landed, turning the town into dust, and her heart into ashes.
A hundred miles away, he promised her that he would meet her soon.