More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 83

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

The human toll of the siege of Sarajevo was appalling by any standards. This may have been just one death but it was also the story of Bosnia in microcosm. A family shattered by a shell which, without warning, suddenly came from nowhere. Nothing personal, of course. Thousands fell almost every day in Bosnia during the war.

But Adem, in the end, could no longer stand being closeted inside and went out into the summer sunshine never to return alive to his cosy home on the first floor. Alas, he was not unique: half a dozen people a day who dared to venture onto the streets of Breza died on the dusty pavements in the baking sun, their bodies ripped by shrapnel.

I feebly ask Zelena how she feels after the death of her only son. Does she feel different; has the death of her son changed her outlook? Even as I asked, I sensed that this wise and sensible woman would say something which would move me; which would amaze me, even.

“I am a mother. I have grieved for the death of every mother’s son in this war. The death of Adem is no different for me than the death of any other child. He has been taken because he is the best. You know when you go into the garden you always take the most beautiful flowers.”

As I leave, Alma, with all the weariness of her nineteen years tells me: “I wish it was I who had died. The death of my brother means it will never be the same.” I know she is talking of her father’s deep grief.

What can you say? How can you adequately convey in print what these people suffered with such incredible stoicism? I left, making some feeble assertion that the war would soon end: it would do, but too late for the Bajramovics.

Zelena fixed me with her sad and wise gaze. “For me the war is already over. It ended the day my Adem died.”

I got in the car and wept for two hours all the way back to Vitez. That night I got up at in the early hours, unable to sleep, and wrote these words about that terrible day. But I never, ever published the story, before now.

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