The next Saturday, true to his word, Dimitri pulled up at the meeting point where he said they would be. Kerima stood alone, waiting for him, dressed in the same outfit she had worn the day they met; they were her best clothes. As the long black sedan pulled up, she could sense that she was being watched, but did not turn to see by whom. She had become accustom to eyes of the deprived and how nothing was safe anymore. Yet, she prepared to go with someone who was nearly a total stranger, someone who had before, during the war, been an enemy of her people. He was a Christian and she, a Muslim. “How in the world was this going to work,” she thought to herself as the door opened and Dimitri, stepped out, grinning broadly in the bright morning sun.
“Good morning my fair lady,” he said slightly bowing as he spoke. He was dressed in a smart casual dress shirt and jacket, looking younger than the first day they had met. “I see you remembered our lunch engagement.”
“Yes sir, I did,” she replied meekly, smiling at his overt gesture of kindness. He was holding the door open for her, but looked around.
“Where is Ms. Latia,” he said with a sincere but inquisitive look on his face?
“She changed her mind,” besides, she continued, “She has a group of women she has been starting to hang out with on Saturdays. They mend clothes and talk about men in their lives. I can’t sew and I really don’t like the gossip either.”
“I see,” he replied softly. “Well then, shall we,” as he gestured toward the open door. “Sarajevo waits.”
She smiled and slid into the backseat of the car. She could see the driver looking at her in the rearview mirror. She hadn’t noticed him before. It was the same elderly gentlemen from before. He never said anything other than when he needed direction. To some degree she felt more comfortable him being there, yet then again, she felt that he was like having a chaperon along and that this was like a date from her high school days. The thought of her father escorting her in those days that seemed so long ago bothered her, so she quickly brushed it off; today was about enjoying life now, not reliving the past.
Dimitri got in, closing the door quietly and gave directions to the driver. The car pulled away and she watched as the bombed out surroundings she had come to know as home faded into the distance. It felt good to get away, even if it were for an afternoon.
They had not driven far when Dimitri pulled out a package wrapped in gold foil. “A gift for you,” he said, holding it out for her to take.
“For me,” Kerima said shyly?
“Yes,” he smiled genuinely, “Go ahead. It’s something I feel you may need.”
She took it into her lap. The gold foil reflected her smiling face. She could see herself in the reflection. Her hair was pulled back into a braid behind her head today, showing all over her beautiful face. Her lips were full, but without makeup. There was nothing like that around anymore, so what men saw was the true beauty within.
She shyly opened the pretty packaging, revealing a book with a white leather binder. She held it up and read the title, “Holy Bible,” she said out loud.
She looked at Dimitri with a questioning glance, “You know I’m Muslim, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he said with an apologetic tone, “I knew that when I picked you up the other day and I have no problem with that at all. We are both survivors of a terrible war that was due in part to our religious beliefs, yet I wanted to be open and up front with you about it. Besides,” he said with compassion, “I felt you might have not ever had the chance to read the Word of God for yourself.”
It was true; she had never read a Bible. All she knew was the hate and slander that was preached by the local Imams and political leaders against the Christians as long as she could remember. Yet, here was a man, as gentle and kind as she had ever known. His hospitality the previous trip was unwarranted, yet gentile in nature. “Even if he was a Christian, he was certainly a gentleman.” She thought to herself before responding.
“Why, thank you. It is true; I have never read the Bible. Perhaps I might find something in it that might change my mind. I’ll pray to Allah for it to be so.”
“That is good,” he said smilingly. “I’m sure God will smile upon you as you do.”
She returned this last with a slight chuckle. It was then she noticed the scar on his left cheek. The light was just right, making it stand out. She had missed it the other day; perhaps because most of the previous car ride, there and back, she had been seated on his right. Regardless, it was not a grotesque disfiguring type as many people that had survived the war wore; painful reminders of the anguish that came with surviving. It made her wonder how he might have suffered or what circumstance that caused him to be wounded.
Dimitri noticed her staring and was quick to respond, ‘Oh, don’t mind that,” he said now running his finger along its tract; obviously he could feel its route, “That’s just an old battle scar that looks worse than it really was.”
He was lying of course. He had spent months in a hospital bed after the attack on his unit. He was only a young lieutenant at the time and their position had come under mortar fire. There were only a few survivors left. Those that did live all had badges of courage to remind them of that day. The scar on his face was only a small portion of the signs that his body had to be put back together in pieces that fateful day. Following the battle, he was promoted to captain; why, he never understood other than their own captain had died in the attack. War was an odd commodity, one he never came to accept or fully understand.
Dimitri quickly turned the conversation to lighter topics and soon they were laughing and enjoying the ride as if the previous trip had never ended.
[Look for Act V to continue the story…]