By Maniza Naqvi
‘This is the new Bosnia,’ Rahima says bitterly, looking around her with apprehension at the people crowded in the restaurant. Her fingers push back hair the color of a passing storm, all silver and mercury, just before the sun breaks through over the Adriatic. Rahima has emerged from the labyrinth of casualties at the hospital. She has come out of the constant dull green-blue light of the casualties ward for head injuries to which she is devoted and from where she seldom surfaces. The hospital preserves for her the atmosphere of war that she has lived through. The world that she confronts in its emergency room approximates the one that she frantically returned to during the war when most were desperate to leave it. That world wracked by war, she had returned to it. Hitchhiked with supply convoys; crawled back to it on her belly through mud and snow through the Igman tunnel; dodging bullets in the city’s alleyways. It was a world played out in the ER which she returned to every day during the war to keep it going, keep it alive and surviving every day. It is the world which she still years later keeps returning to and keeps alive as though the war had never ended. She has never stopped for it and it has never stopped for her.
Now Rahima, on my insistence, against her better judgment, emerges into this new world of wine glasses chinking and dinnerware clattering. In its deafening din, of loud boasting voices and short bursts of abrasive laughter that roar of power and money, we find ourselves seated self-consciously amongst the town’s self-appointed beautiful people, glancing over menus and wine lists that scream ‘let the good times roll.’ This outcome of war bewilders and buries her. How the rich have emerged with their banners of religiosity and how people like her have been ruined. Here, she is a lost being, a walking missing, lost completely after the war. In these merry-prospering surroundings, they don’t know her, these new people in her town, they were not here, then. And amongst them she thinks she is invisible. The aftermath is always an opportunity and belongs to someone else.
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By Maniza Naqvi
Just as the frigid February evening air is stirred by the imams calling out the azan from all over the valley on Monday evening —Hiya al salah—hiya al falah— “come towards worship—come towards salvation”— Rahima pulls a cigarette out from her pack of Drinas; sticks it between her lips; lights it; dials 5555 and calls a Zuti taxi to her apartment—one of the many cab companies in Sarajevo which arrive at the door a minute after being called. She puts on her coat, an oversized olive color, man’s raincoat with a corduroy collar. She double checks the pockets for her pack of Drinas and the 3 convertible marks in loose change for the fare. All set, she leaves her one room apartment. The cab arrives and she gets in to its smoke filled interior. A sevdah’s ululating blues plays on FM 89.9 Radio Zid for the short ride just down the hill to the hospital.
Her 48 hour duty has begun. She has entered her world. All morning long she has cleared her head for this—all Monday morning, after a weekend plunged in a seamless nightmare-filled fitful sleep. The same nightmares always, every off-duty. The same method of recovery. This is her routine.
Outside the emergency room she can see the usual sight: police guards with automatic weapons dressed in tight black uniforms and bullet proof vests barring the way to the ER. Police cars parked in the driveway. She sweeps past them waving them aside, saying she’s the doctor and can’t they see that?
'He’s a bank robber from Olovo! He’s shot himself trying to run away!' A cop shouts after her.
“Thank you doctor” she growls back at him and shrugs her shoulder with a jolt as though repulsed.
As she enters the ER and surveys the newest arrival it’s as though a switch had been turned on inside of her lighting up a thousand bulbs of a thousand watt each. She is on! This is an interesting one. The one last week, the victim of a burglary—the plastic surgery—the reconstruction—was successful. It seems to have worked but it’s still too early to tell, the bandages haven’t come off yet.
This one, they tell her, he has shot himself in the head. Outside, the hospital the walls are still pock marked with bullet holes. Inside for Rahima it has never ended, it goes on.
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