This is the second part of a short fictional story written by me. Part One can be found here.
Part 2: Love
Things in Yugoslavia were never again the same after World War II. Although peace was restored, new boundaries had been created and the country retained some of the divisions that had existed during the war. The hunger remained for a long time. Every morning one of us would have to wake before dawn and join the bread lines in the hopes of returning with something for the family breakfast. We would then have to work either in the fields or in the nearby industrial area depending on the season. At night we would return home, exhausted, dirty and hungry. And yet, I was happy.
For years Josef and I stayed living in my parents’ house as we waited for things around us to improve. Our nightly ritual as we both returned home from our respective jobs would be to greet each other with a warm smile and he would dip me as he kissed me hello.
‘Mecike!’ he’d brightly exclaim.
‘Josef! Kako si?’
‘All the better for seeing you.’
And we would giggle and kiss some more. This was our nightly ritual for many years, and when I think back on it now it still makes me smile. It is often the simple little things that stay with you, and is it not better to remember the good times than to dwell on the bad?
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that my feelings for Josef grew into love. The progression from friendship to loving him seemed to come naturally. I know that while he was conscripted into the army I feared for his safety and prayed often for his safe return, as I had known him since we were young, we had already married, and I could no longer imagine him not being a part of my life. During those long days, where every daylight hour was spent toiling, it was the thought of going home to him and having him dip me back as he kissed me that kept me going. It all sounds very romantic and clichéd, but what is love, if not one giant cliché? Our lives were otherwise miserable, more of just an existence than a life. Finding my happiness with him was important if I was to stop just existing.
It was six months after the war that I discovered I was pregnant. It was my mother who heard me being sick one night in the bathroom and who saw how pale I was when I came back out.
‘Melanija, how long have you been sick for?’ she asked with a stern look upon her face as I closed the bathroom door behind me.
She came with me to see the local doctor that day, and softened as he delivered the news.
‘Čestitamo! You’re pregnant!’ the doctor beamed.
My mother squeezed my hands and smiled at me. I know she wanted to be a grandmother and was happy for us, but was filled with the same fear that gripped me. I wondered how we would manage another mouth to feed, how we would get baby clothes and medicine. I wanted to be a mother but the timing seemed all wrong.
When Josef returned from work that night, dipped me and I didn’t give my usual response back, he promptly sat me down to find out what was wrong. He was overjoyed with the news. Despite every concern I lay before him, he stayed positive and kept telling me we could make it work. He kept saying that nothing would get in our way, that he would work hard to keep food on our table and to get a place of our own. His happiness and hope rubbed off on me, and I went to bed that night no longer feeling trepidation, but a sense of promise.
After Marija was born I learned that Josef was right. My baby girl never went hungry, even if it meant that sometimes I went without. Whenever she was sick, Josef was always able to get her medicine. I never asked him how he got it, but I assumed he knew somebody or did some work on the side for the doctor. Our lives were certainly not easy, but they were happy lives, lives filled with family, love and laughter. Things in the country were improving. We had a new President, the well respected Partisan leader Tito, and jobs and the good of Yugoslavia were the big priorities in this new Communist regime. My mother and sister helped with the baby when we both had to work, and over time we had scraped enough together to buy the small house that the Djerfi family used to occupy across the street from my parents. We finally had our own house where we could celebrate Marija’s fourth birthday. That was the night we conceived our second child.
Our little family grew with the birth of Goran. Our little house filled with children’s laughter and the years flew by. A year after Goran was born I was pregnant with our third child, and once Erzebet was born I knew our family was whole. The fear I had felt at the start of my first pregnancy didn’t follow into the next two as by then I could see we were making things work. Josef was working two jobs and I was still working the neighbouring fields when I could for some extra money, but every night he always had a smile for me. I was too caught up in the children and in my own happy little bubble to notice that smile had slowly started to wane and weaken.
I married Josef out of necessity, but I learned to love him and we built a family together. Perhaps if I had been more observant, I would not have lost him when I did…