Moments Before Destiny

I’m at a complete loss. Not three hours ago, five of the most patriotic men I have ever had the pleasure to meet sat in these very seats anxiously waiting for their time to remove a tyrant’s grasp from the Serbian throat. Miško nervously paced the room with a grin from ear to ear, constantly looking to his worn pocket watch awaiting the moment to act. He could take no more than four steps in the cramped shop before he would stop, check his watch, turn and repeat his circuit. A few lamps broke through the smoke revealing dingy maroon wallpaper with paintings of scenic landscapes periodically placed along the walls.  Nedeljko sat in the corner smoking so heavily that I could barely see his face through the fog he exhaled. The sunlight dancing in the tendrils with every breath made him look like a dragon crouched inside his cavern watching his unwitting prey. Some morbid voyeuristic pleasure gleamed in his eye when the smoke would part for the briefest of views. He was looking at nothing, at least nothing we could see. His meditation was only interrupted occasionally with a short cough into a blood stained cloth.  Muhamed and Trifko sat at a worn table next to me speaking of revolution and Serbian nationalism in hushed voices. Danilo was flirting with some girls across the narrow dark room. I could hear his voice as he laughed and joked, but couldn’t make out the stories. It wasn’t important. Today destiny would come for one or all of us in the form of cyanide capsules in our pockets or a hangman’s noose. But it would mean the final steps for a free and independent Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Off in the distance it came the first of nine chimes from the church bell. Everyone but Danilo’s eyes rose to the window in understanding. It is time. How quiet it was. Though the patrons on the other side of the shop continued to talk, laugh, and eat, all we heard was that bell chime, Slow and menacing. One, two. My chest began to tighten and fight for breath. Three, four. I could, for the first time, feel the weight of the pistol I had been given pulling down my coat pocket. Five, six. I found myself playing with the capsule in my pocket. Seven, eight… and then an eternity of nothing. Waiting and waiting. Nine. As one, all stood and moved to the door. Trifko shouting to Danilo to get moving or you’re going to miss history.

As soon as we were out the door we split up down the narrow streets to the parade grounds. People already lined the main route in which the procession would pass. Muhamed would have the first chance to throw his grenade. Next in line was Nedeljko also with a bomb. I could see the top of his head as he stood along the river bank. If both of them missed their opportunity it fell to me to shoot the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I don’t know who came after me, but Trifko, Miško, and Danilo all mixed into the crowd past my position to insure that someone would have a clean shot at Ferdinand.

Shortly after ten, I could hear the crowd further down the road begin to become more excited. The people shouting for their hero, their future king. Soon I could see the first automobile as it bounced down the cobblestones. It passed where I believed Muhamed to be, but I didn’t hear an explosion. Then as the vehicles came closer I watched as Nedeljko jumped into the street screamed something and threw his grenade. The bastard Ferdinand saw it too. He hit the device with his cane sending it out of range of its target and it exploded underneath the automobile behind him. The driver instantly accelerated, not allowing myself or any other of my comrades a shot. Nedeljko instantly shoved his cyanide capsule into his mouth and jumped into the  River Miljacka. The river was too shallow and he landed with a scream in ankle deep water. Police began to surround him as he vomited.

The rest of us melted back into the crowd and met back here. It feels different now. Colder, darker, empty. When I walked back into the shop, Trifko was already there, then Miško shortly behind me. They both had scowls on their faces but not a word was spoken. Soon Danilo stumbled into the door wide eyed and clearly nervous. He looked at us, unrecognizing, for a moment before he finally sat down.  I could feel the vibration through the century old planks from his legs nervously bouncing. He jumped as the owner asked if we would like some tea or coffee. Trifko, the calmest of us all ordered a pot of tea for himself and I asked for a coffee. Danilo finally spoke up and what was thought to be nerves was clearly revealed to be fear. “I had no shot, did you?” he said in a much too loud voice for a public place. “Who threw the bomb? Was it Muhamed, Nedelko? Ferdinand looked to be alive when he drove past me!” as Trifko firmly grabbed his arm. “Watch what you say” he harshly said under his breath. “This is not over yet. The police will be out looking for conspirators and if we want to finish what we have started we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”  Danilo simply looked at the hand in an iron grip around his arm. Mouth open, I’m not sure he actually heard what he was told. But he didn’t say anything else. He sat eyes darting from one end of the room to the other, while touching the tip of his thumb to each tip of his fingers, over and over.

In a low voice I explained that Nedeljko had done the deed but had missed his target. “He then took his pill and jumped into the river.”

Trifko said, “That river is only a few centimeters deep.”

“I know, I think he broke his ankle when he landed and I’m not sure the pill worked” I explained. Once again the room became silent, except for Danilo’s rhythmic foot bouncing.

Someone asked, “Where is Muhamed?” but it was Danilo who answered, “I bet the police have him.” A few glances were exchanged between us and then back to silence. I don’t know when Miško lit a cigarette, but he was staring at the ember as it burned his fingers. He didn’t move, he looked like a statue of an old man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He was nineteen.

After a time Miško stood and walked to the door. “I’m going to see what I can find out. This isn’t over for me yet.” Trifko followed him out the door offering help. Now it’s just me and Danilo. We stared at each other for a moment before he abruptly stood and said “I think I will go find Muhamed.” and left me alone. I continue my writing, that no one will read, of a failed attempt at revolution. I think I need to go for a walk to clear my mind.