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Excerpt from Father of One, a novel by Jani Anttola


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   Maka had come so near to the enemy he was afraid to move. Even the dry leaves on the ground could give him away. He lay down in the brackens and waited.

   He lay still until night fell. The soldiers made a campfire, and he could see the shadows dance in the trees. He heard them talk and laugh. Some started singing: “Molim se u džamiji… I pray in a mosque… pray there were only Chetniks in Serbia,” they hollered, mocking the Bosniaks. Maka could hear more troops arrive at the campsite.

   Now I know, he thought, how rabbits must feel in the dark… He had an urge to back off, but he knew that in the night all sounds became monstrous noises.

   He tried to sleep. Afraid of donning the T-shirt, he was half-naked and swarms of mosquitoes attacked him. He tried to wrap himself in the bracken fronds, shivering in the cold and weak with thirst and hunger. He wished he could have just a sip of water. The hard roundness of the hand grenade pressed against his chest.

   Then, for the first time, he felt it: it came with sudden clarity, like the chill of the air on his back.

   He would never make it out of this alive.

   He had always managed to push the image of his own death somewhere underneath the preparations, plans, attacking, retreating, ducking the shells, foraging and plain surviving. He had refused to believe it would one day come to this. It was always somebody else’s death, his platoon members, his relatives, his friends. He had shoved it into the back of his mind where it lay buried under his will to one day start everything from anew. But he could no longer push it aside: he now understood he would die in this forest.

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