Child of Stone


I MISS THE LIFE I never had.

The memory of it mortifies me. It is a bizarre life to miss. How did I miss it, though, when I was running straight towards it? I could say that I almost had it—my fingertips felt the smoothness of the fruit of my labour—but the truth is I was nowhere near it. It’s a peculiar thing, the life of your mind. You can sense it. Yet it tends to escape you, frivolously playing a joke that it doesn’t care if you understand. You’re not supposed to understand. The derailers, those self-imposing, monochromatic cycles you were born into, will lead you right to the point from which you started running. Breathless and frightened. Then your one life and the other life can laugh at you while crying for you. You will laugh at them while crying for them.

It’s all right, you say. You can start again, you believe.

“Haven’t you had enough, for crying out extremely loud?”

“And apparently incredibly close—stop yelling in my ear, you fool!”

“I wasn’t yelling, impolite jackass, merely asking—another scholarship? Do you know your age?” A woman in her early thirties was bothered by a bee on a mission to invade her overly sweetened coffee. She just wanted to enjoy the mountain air—outside of Sarajevo, yet conveniently close. “I love the countryside, but damn bees—”

“Leave the poor creature alone.”

“I’m trying—just saying, it is high time for employment. Something permanent, I mean.”

“I see. I should be earning my pension like that twenty-five year old who’s counting down the years to his retirement. Do you know how many people die before they get a chance to retire?” a young woman whose coffee wasn’t sweet enough for the bees wondered, only to add, “I refuse.”

“You refuse. Well, I refuse as well. Not like it makes any difference. A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.”

“She does, indeed. Thank you for that original gem of wisdom.”

“Which one is it this time?”

“Oh, it’s awesome! Listen to this: it’s a scholarship for two years, right, living and traveling expenses all covered, and the brilliant part—I’d travel through Asia taking photos! And they’d be published! Huh? What do you think? Oh, and I would have a mentor. Huh? Huh?”

“Sounds great.” (If she were to say, “That smile hurts” …)

“You’re awfully excited.” (… she would’ve responded, “It hurts to smile.”)

“I am excited. How many do they give?”


“For BiH?”

“For the region.”

“The region—dear God.”

“Hey, we’re lucky to get any; it’s the first year we can apply.”

“We don’t get scholarships, love, it’s just not our thing. Our family doesn’t get money. No grants, no lotteries; the best we can hope for is five pfennigs on the street.”

“Oh-oh-oh, I often find those.”

“We have to bleed earning enough money to eat, only to defecate it away in those few free hours a month, and then bleed to earn it again.”

“Je refuse.”

“We were A-grade students and couldn’t even get the municipality scholarships. You can’t fight your nafaka.”

“That damn thing keeps fighting me.”

“It’s the family nafaka you’ve inherited. Our crooked family tree is full of crappy luck. That and premature grey hair.”

“My sincere thanks.”

“Now, news! My boss is sending me to Athens next month to speak at the Global Psychoanalyst … Something … Conference … Should be fun!”

“You don’t know the name?”

“Stop laughing. I hate those pompous, ridiculously long titles. But I’m going to further my understanding of patients’ unconscious minds, the pamphlet says.”

“Ah, so exciting, sis. You’ve earned it. Soon, you’ll be your own boss.”

“Not our nafaka. Besides, I refuse to be a party member. Therefore, my lovely bottom is forever branded with ‘underling.’”

“Please, you don’t need a party backing you up.”

“You’re so cute.”

“Fine, what’s the plan?”

 “Work. Earn money, like people do. Enjoy the best of life, bitch about the rest.”


“What’s foolish, love, is chasing scholarships your entire life, crying ‘me no wanna’ at the mere reference to employment. Exams?”

“Done. Granddad was smart to build this cottage beneath the mountains.”

“You want to stay here and play?”

“Can I? I’d play with cows. They’re friendly.”

“And a job?”

“What job?”

“A permanent one. Are you listening?”

“I don’t know of one permanent thing in this world or the one beyond it.”

“Stop acting like a child. Life is what it is. You can’t make a hole in the wall with your head.”

“There is a crack somewhere.”

“In your head only.”

“Then let it bleed.”


Is it time to grow up?

Be an adult? Or should I take adulthood as an invention designed to keep life neatly, even if miserably, regulated? Don’t touch people’s lives, stranger. Don’t judge others, even if you are being judged. They worked hard for the right to question your maturity. Day after day of imagination-numbing replications. They used to have another existence. “But I grew up,” they say, smiling unanimously, exhaling a breath of melancholy disguised in the pride of being their mature selves. They envy your freedom, the persistence of your spirit in its desire to roam the earth, explore the visible and the hidden. You envy their satisfaction, their contentment amidst the adversities, and their joy upon reaching another predesigned milestone. Should your childish innocence be interrupted to ease the pain of resignation? I cannot accept. I refuse.

“Do you remember dad?”

“Uh-huh. Oh, you stubborn little—”

“Bees are persistent. I don’t. Even his voice is an echo of my own.”

“You’re him. Dreamers. You can’t chase a dream forever, though. He realised that when he was sent to the front lines. He grew up.”

“Was he supposed to?”


“And mum?”

“Now mum had more sense in her. She knew what life is made of.”

“Like you.” (If she were to have said, “If I could be like you”…)

“Why are you smiling at me like that?” (…she would’ve responded, “I wouldn’t know you anymore.”)

“I wonder if they would’ve got married if mum hadn’t been pregnant with you. Dad wanted to travel. Mum wanted the safety of one place.”

“You wonder about silly things. When are you getting married?”

“Uncle called?”

“Of course.”

“Of course.”

“He’ll give you a house as a wedding present if you finally sit still. His words.”

“I’d rather build my own. Why doesn’t he give it to you?”

“Because my wedding date is set, so I stopped being a spinsterish thorn in his one semi-good eye. He asked about your studies.”

“Seriously, that man. I’ll pay him back in time.”

“He’s been moping for eight years now.”

“He’s primordial. He figured if I’m not going to marry at my old age of nineteen, I should at least study something ‘proper.’”

“And then you go and learn ‘weird’ languages. Hahaha—he thinks Korean and Japanese are the same language somebody made up.”

“Good god, where did he grow up?”

“So what are you going to do with your degree? Teach?”

“Not for me.”

“What’s your part-time job now?”


“How will you earn money abroad while becoming a successful photographer?”

“Teach. You think I’m silly, don’t you? Weak.”

“Not weak. I think you’re fragile. And naïve.”

“Working ten hours a day will fix that? Oh, and I will get a motorbike license.”

“Are you insane? Your body is not exactly on the strong side.”

“My mind is strong.”

“It is not your mind that will be driving a bike, you stubborn mule.”

“Mules are cute. I’m not stubborn. Or fragile. Just persistent.”

“You’re a paradox, that’s what you are. You claw your way out of every abyss—and I admire you for that—but you still need to be protected and taken care of.”


“You’re—like a kid. I want you to succeed! I would sell my kidney to pay for whatever you want to do, but aren’t you tired already?”

“I’m tired.”

“Then why?”

“I refuse.”

“What’s wrong with ‘normal’?”

“Not a thing.”

“So why not teaching languages? You know seven of them for goodness’ sakes.”

“Not for me. I’m not for it.”

“I’ll try to find you a place at a school. I’ll ask my boss—she’ll help.”

“Do that and you’ll destroy me.”

“Bloody hell.”

“That life—it would eat into me. Don’t do that to me, sis.”

“What are you so afraid of?  It wouldn’t all be the same, my love. Things change on their own.”

“On their own, huh? You are born to live that life. You like it. It soothes people who enjoy time as mum had it, as you have it, people satisfied and happy in an existence that gently changes on its own. Days and years and decades of comfortable routines. They would destroy me.”


“You have the documents? Need my help?”

“No. Everything is long ready.”

“You’re my rock, you know that?”

“Even rocks crumble.”

That precious voice asked me, “What if it fails again, baby sis?”

“I’ll try again.”

If she had said, “Until you succeed …”

I would’ve responded, “Or until the child turns into dust.”