Ana was less than pleased with the news from the embassy. Back at Opshtina the woman was less than sympathetic. She refused to budge on the marriage document. We could not get married without it, she said. Ana sank in her chair, utterly dejected.
“Of course,” the woman said cynically, “there are other ways to deal with a problem if one is creative. Perhaps we might think of some way.”
I knew what she was asking, but I had barely enough money to escape the city. Paying a bribe was simply out of the question. My unwillingness annoyed her. Out of spite she began to rattle off various and steeply inflated costs for paperwork, seeming to take joy in crushing our dream of getting married.
“You won’t have enough to get out?” Ana said, worried.
“It’s all within reason,” I tried to reassure both of us.
“Unfortunately,” said the woman, “there is still the problem with your marital status.”
“Everything is possible with money,” Keka offered. Ana rubbed her forehead, tortured by stress.
“I’m not rich,” my temper rose.
“It is the only way,” said the woman.
“I can’t finance the whole damn war!” I’d finally had enough.
Ana tried to calm me as it all fell apart before our eyes. The woman stood and retrieved a file from across the room. She opened it and handed it to me. It was a file on two British journalists married a month or so before.
“This is what we require. It is the law. You must understand,” she smiled cruelly. “It is out of my hands.” Only when she saw that Ana’s heart was breaking did she soften. “I am sorry.”
I caught up to Ana and Keka outside beside the Ali PashaMosque. Ana refused to look at me. I took her arms. The instant our eyes met I knew exactly what I had to do.
“Go home and wait for me,” I started back to Opshtina.
“Bill, where are you going?”
“I have something to do.”
I had one last chance, and it was a long shot. In fact, it was unlikely to work out the way I hoped, but what choice did I have? If it failed I knew that I would lose Ana forever.
I barged into the marriage bureau startling the women there. One of them screamed and hurried to find a guard. The others could do little more that protest feebly as I went to the cabinet and pulled out the marriage file on the British journalists. In an instant I had it open and had my journal out.
“You must leave here or we will have you arrested,” one woman complained. I ignored her and quickly copied the citizenship document.
“One document can say both things?” I asked. The blond-haired woman nodded. Johnson at the embassy had already said that I could get the citizenship paper. That was the easy part. Near the center of the page I inserted the line, “In so far as this embassy is aware Mr. Turck is not married.” Nothing about the statement was untrue. I wasn’t married, and the embassy had no idea one way or another. It was a long shot, but it was all that I had.
There was shooting in the plaza again. In fact there was a lot of shooting, but there was no time to worry about it now. I had to get back to the embassy no matter what, but as I stepped from the bombed-out storefront two bullets struck the wall beside my head. I dove headfirst back through the window and crawled up against the wall.
“Shit!” I exclaimed, my frightened breaths exploding in the empty shop.
Every heartbeat thundered in my ears. I laughed, realizing how close I’d come to being killed. Fear was a weight I could ill afford, that is if I really wanted to be with Ana, but it was a weight that kept me from moving for some time. I fought it and threw myself into the open, letting blind momentum decide my fate. I was immediately at a dead run. Ahead of me, past the hotel and a Ukrainian APC on the road, death stalked from a thousand empty windows. A rifle shot thundered in the plaza. I shouted and strained to cover the last few yards before collapsing against the back of the hotel.
Upstairs in the embassy Johnson gave the paper a quick review and nodded.
“I’m sure this will be fine,” he said. “We’ll type it up. Why don’t you come back in the morning?”
“Dave,” I said at the door, “do me a favor and get an office in a better neighborhood. Every time I come here I get shot at. I’m starting to get a bad impression of Sarajevo!”
There was a woman I knew in the lobby. Her name was Fahira, an impeccably dressed business-like woman in her mid forties. Her reddish blond hair was flawless, and held in place by copious amounts of hairspray, that must have cost her a fortune to attain through the black market. Fahira was sitting before one of the hotel’s tall windows staring out at the desolation of her city. She was there most days, hoping to make money as a translator, but no one cared about Bosnian much anymore. I sat down beside her, and knew better than to ask her how business was. She hadn’t worked in many months and was growing more discouraged by the day.
“I thought you might have gone by now,” she said, without looking at me.
“Soon, I hope.” I said nothing of Ana.
“I think the war is lost.” She said dully. I didn’t reply. “When the world no longer cares what happens here, when the Chetniks know the world is looking the other way they will come and slaughter us.”
I let the topic go. I was in no mood for politics.
“How is your daughter?”
“She asks for things. What do I tell her?” Fahira pulled a pack of cigarettes from her purse. She counted them and thought better of having one. She put them away and huffed. “I think that I have ruined her. When everyone else was starving, I could still afford food. We always had money, you know? Now we have no food, nothing. I almost wish that something terrible would happen, then perhaps someone will come and I will make a little money for her.”
I sat with her a while longer, though we didn’t say much. She did most of the talking. I stood and looked out into the plaza. The sun was setting and I didn’t want Ana to worry.
“Well,” I said, not looking at her, “good luck to you.” Fahira nodded slightly and looked off across the plaza.
Rain came that evening, falling over the city as a soft sigh that grew to a gentle whisper. By the time Ana and I left for Nadja and Hasan’s it was pouring. It was a cold autumn rain, that danced upon tiled rooftops and gurgled into failing and overburdened gutters.
Ana pulled herself close to my side. The big black umbrella did little to keep us dry. We walked slowly, savoring the peace and tranquility of the storm. I was thinking of our first steps together that first day. Ana pulled my face to hers and we kissed.
“Maybe by Christmas you can be in Chicago,” I said hopefully.
“We have to face some facts,” she said. “I have no passport or money. Where would I go? I can’t come to America without a visa, even if we are married.”
“The war is getting worse, and I can be drafted into the army.”
“Whatever happens, Ana, I will come back for you.”
“And I will be waiting.” We held each other beside the ruins of a small Mosque. “Please don’t forget me.”