Over the Rainbow Bridge (cont.)
And then there was Gwen, poking
my arm and saying, “Remember to kiss Mama when you
The Gozo house seemed large from
the outside, but the kitchen and living room were
together, cramped and over furnished. Mama was sitting
on a sofa with her dress twisted up to her panties.
They brought a blanket and covered her legs. I kissed
Mama on each cheek, as Gwen did before me. Mama smiled
like a beautiful child, too young to have teeth.
Everyone hugged and kissed in the
Bosnian custom, and then the ritual coffee was served,
the foamy, silty kind inherited from the Turks. I
knew I was staring, trying to imagine a chunky Zebra
at the 81 pounds she weighed when rescued eleven years
ago. She was losing her eyesight permanently now,
from nerve damage and glaucoma. But she was vibrant,
laughing. I had small posters of the lights on the
new bridge and the fireworks from its opening celebration.
They had pictures of Mama when she was a young beauty.
The house was being rebuilt slowly
on scarce funds. It was mortar-shelled six times during
the war and most of it had burned. But the garden
was full of flowers and herbs, and we walked in slow
steps around it, trading Bosnian and English names
for each plant. Then we ate spice cake and watermelon,
all clustered together around a low table surrounded
by well-worn sofas and gay colored pillows. And when
Mama dripped her watermelon, a tissue would gently
swipe it away, and kisses would be exchanged, so that
she knew it was all right.
We talked about the new bridge and
how difficult it had been to replicate it until the
engineers dredged the river and found that the old
stones were carved out, hollow, to reduce the weight.
In its reformation, a master craft was revived, going
back in time to find a way of balancing the elements,
like the old souls who fashioned the original crossing.
And finally, we did speak about
the war, but not about suffering. They talked of their
Serb neighbor who led them to safety out of Mostar,
and the president of the Jewish community in Mostar
who sent the first humanitarian relief packets to
Muslims, and their Croat Catholic friends from West
Mostar and Dubrovnik who sent them food when they
returned to their burned out home. “Politicians think
one way, ordinary people another,” Zebra said.
The hours passed; rain was coming.
We helped Mama into the garden for a photograph; all
of us, arm in arm, as if we had known each other for
lifetimes. I was invited to come anytime; it is the
Bosnian way. Gwen snapped a photo of smiles in front
of pink and yellow dahlias. We kissed Mama and took
her back inside.
When we left, I gave the Gozos the
poster of the bridge with the dancing fireworks. They
said the new bridge was not the same as the old one;
the stones were too clean. It was a noble effort,
but it was not the same. Still, the photograph was
beautiful and they were happy to keep it.
The Croat Army was right;
the bridge was a powerful symbol. Shaped like a rainbow,
for 600 years it stretched from East to West, inviting
people to cross the divide. Maybe, I thought, when
the new stones had aged a while, taken in the sun
and rain, local folks would learn to see in them the
old bridge, a memory, crafted by masters, sometime,
before the war or after the war, it would not matter.
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