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Travel Image: Rainbow Bridge - Mostar, Bosnia
Travel Image: Bosnia
 Photo: Kelley Trahan

Fireworks Over the Rainbow Bridge (cont.)

And then there was Gwen, poking my arm and saying, “Remember to kiss Mama when you go in.”

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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