Mary Irvine, Writer’s Blog – Bosnia

DSCF1160International Success

Last year I entered an international short story competition with the theme ‘Impossible Dream’. I was pleased when I was short-listed and the story was subsequently translated into Greek and published in an anthology.  If you’re interested scroll down and read it – it is in English.
Because of the short-listing I was entitled to free entry in this year’s competition. Now, I find it difficult to write to order so was pleased when I saw the theme of this year’s competition, ‘Getaway’. I believe in Jung’s Synchronicity – some people would call it coincidence. A few year’s ago I was in Croatia and took a day over to Bosnia. Wondering around a small town I came across a cemetery and was struck by the large number of headstones recording the deaths of men in their late teens/early twenties, all dying on/about the same date in a recent conflict. The name of the village, the ethnicity of the men, their creed/ belief is immaterial as is the protagonist’s of my story. Some time after I made notes ‘Idea for a novel’, based on that visit. These notes had started with the sentence: ‘Getaway. I must get away.’ When I saw the theme as above it brought these notes to mind and the story wrote itself. Less than a hundred words I checked the word count but there was only a maximum of 2,500, no minimum. Everything pointed to my sending it off. Then, for reasons which I won’t go into, I missed the deadline. I sent it anyway, with a suitable explanation and it was accepted.  I recently heard that it had been placed third. I wryly commented to a friend that I was moving in the right direction!
It is now being published in both an English and a Greek anthology (after translation).
I don’t normally blow my own trumpet but, on this occasion, I knew this was a strong piece not least because I feel so passionate about conflicted people caught up in conflicting situations.
 Two of the photos show evidence of war damage whilst the third shows the tranquil beauty of the same town, now hopefully at peace.


Keep running – I can’t anymore – keep moving. Stop and you die. Stay amongst the trees. Keep off the skyline. Remember your training. It’s getting dark. I can’t run anymore. Have to sleep.  Must rest at least. Just can’t keep my eyes open……..
……..I must have been so tired I slept where I fell. It’s still early. I look at my watch. The watch that isn’t there. Of course – I remember. They took it – along with my wedding ring. The wedding – the whole village turned out. A joyous time – such happiness. Grandpapa driving the buggy through the village. The happy couple throwing sweets to the children. Plans – so many plans. Hopes – so many hopes. All gone. All destroyed.
We all knew each other – we were all friends. We’d grown up together – played together. Everyone knew we would marry – have children. Farm the family land – grow old together. Enjoy our grandchildren and finally lie together in the earth of our homeland. The cycle of life just as it should be – just as it should have been. But now. My wife – my children – the one yet unborn when I left.
The sun is rising higher in the sky. Must be about ten in the morning. I have slept for too long. I should have been moving hours ago. I look around. I am hungry. Most of all I am thirsty. If only I had woken earlier there would have been the dew. But it’s too late for the dew. Too late for many things. I am very near the edge of the wood. I listen. I hear nothing but the rustling of leaves. The scurrying and grubbing of tiny animals. But no human sound. Only my own breathing. Now slow and measured. Not the panting and gasping of yesterday. Oh lord. Yesterday…
DSCF1165Why was I sickened? What had been done to my village? The pall of smoke – the smell of burnt flesh. The unrecognisable bodies. God forgive me. Didn’t I do the same to their villages? My wife – my children. Their wives – their children. Men I knew – playing together as children – teenagers teasing the girls – revelling in each other’s happiness. How could they do that? To my family. How could I do that? To theirs.
I need to get to the mountains. I know the mountains. They’ll protect me. I’ll be safe there. In the mountains. I can’t see them but I know they lie north. The sun will give me the way. This is my country. My family’s country. For many generations. Why do they say we no longer belong? Have no right to be here. I don’t understand.
 My gold chain – where… The symbol that I always wore – a symbol of my faith. They took that too. I still hear their jeers as they spat on it before grinding it into the mud. But they couldn’t take my faith. Faith – we each had our own. But we served the same Being. Didn’t we? We both practised love – tolerance. Where did it all go wrong? What changed? When did our love and tolerance turn to hate and violence? To atrocity – us on them – them on us. I don’t understand. Is he the same god? A god of love allowing such hatred? Yet I cling to my faith. I have to. I have to believe I will see them again. Not as I saw them yesterday – blackened – distorted – indistinguishable. As we were in happier times. Oh my god – why – why? I have to believe. One day we’ll be together again. The happiness will return – but not in this life.
Don’t look back! Keep going! I don’t want to look back! Ever! I’m free now! Am I free now? Free – to do what? It’s so long since I was free – really free. What do I do with it? Get away! Away from all…….. that. Don’t look back! They’re not there. You know they’re not. What was them. What you loved, hugged, kissed does not exist anymore. They’re all gone now – all of them. Why have I survived? Why have I been left? To mourn them? To remember? As long as I live?
I’ll rest for a while – move on when the sun goes down. Maybe I’ll find a stream. Thirsty – so thirsty. Tired. It’s so hot. Now there’s no shade. My mouth is so dry. I must rest – for a little while. What’s that in the distance? It can’t be. They’re not here any more. But my wife singing, a lullaby to soothe a child. They are there – I can see them. It is them. I recognise my wife’s smile. She’s holding a new-born babe. My children – they’ve seen me. We’re going to be together – again – free – for all time…

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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