When Daniel thought of his father, he thought about his father’s peculiar means of making money as a young man. It involved blue jeans, smuggling them over the border from Italy to Yugoslavia. It would be a stretch to call that an occupation, just as it would be to call it a crime, but it made his father money. Daniel’s father did his buying in Trieste, a hotspot for the booming and prohibited blue jeans trade and close to the Yugoslavian — now Slovenian — border. The jeans were not, as Daniel had first thought, store-bought designer brands, but lower-priced counterfeits purchased at a market. The particular market his father had gone to was only a five-minute walk from where Daniel sat now, the Miramare Café, and it still sold jeans among its fruits and vegetables. If Daniel had bought a pair as he walked by the overflowing wooden stalls earlier, he would have fulfilled the main purpose of his visit to Trieste. But then he would have had to tour the rest of the city with an ungainly bag in his hand.

His father would carry up to five bags at one time, but he never took any excursions through town. He came, did his business, and left. This information came from Daniel’s mother. Daniel was aware of early events in his father’s life only through his mother’s stories, told to him numerous times, always in a poignantly longwinded way. He knew only the myth of his father, and was enchanted by it.

The Miramare, presumably named after the whitewashed castle on the Gulf of Trieste, was a small seaside cafe with polished windows, a creaking door, a cream-white cement terrace with only three tables, and a view of the Adriatic. A couple of large gulls glided across it, making gull sounds. Daniel could also see a good stretch of the pale stone esplanade before it curved and disappeared behind red-roofed houses, farther down, the moored boats in the blue marina, farther still, the boats at sea, sails flapping like flags of surrender.

Daniel, brown-haired, broad-shouldered, and nearly twenty-four, sat at the center table, the table behind him empty. At the table facing him sat a girl whose blond hair hung down to her hips. She was reading Ulysses by James Joyce, whose statue Daniel had encountered on his walk (the town was swarming with ghosts). Under the guise of reading the dessert section of the menu — cakes with names like Casanova and Caesar — Daniel stared at the blond, while also shamelessly eavesdropping on the conversation she was now having with the waiter. Daniel felt no shame because he could not understand much of what they were saying, but it all sounded brisk and vaguely poetic.

The waiter deposited the latté, and the girl went back to her book, slouching forward, elbows on the table, the book held awkwardly in one hand, licking the ring finger of the other to turn the page. Daniel’s Italian consisted of only a few touristy phrases, not enough to attempt a coherent conversation with this girl. He wanted to talk to her, not only because he thought she was beautiful, or because she read Joyce; no, there was sentimental value in falling in impulsive, reckless love with this girl, which far outweighed any of her personal qualities. His father had met his mother in Trieste.

As the story goes, his father, bags in hand and heading for the bus station, saw his mother, who was vacationing in Italy, sitting in a café and sat down across from her for the sole purpose of gazing at her foreign beauty. After exchanging glances, he went over to her table, but because each thought that the other was actually Italian, and since their combined knowledge of the language amounted to a dozen words, neither attempted a conversation, and their communication by gestures soon floundered. So they sat in silence until his father muttered something in Serbo-Croatian — he had banged his knee against a chair and cursed — and the whole misunderstanding was cleared up.

Then the smoldering romance began, and they ended up spending the entire day together — he missed his bus — promising to meet again as they parted on the train platform. Here his mother liked to go into great detail, positioning herself on the edge of the platform, misty-eyed, clutching a tissue, while his father, one foot aboard the train, shouted something inspired and unforgettable — which she did not hear — as it took him into the convenient sunset. Daniel would begin to object, accusing his mother of confusing her life with a romantic novel. She stood by her story, but he believed that what she had described was a fantastic scene that never was and could never be reenacted in reality, no matter how much his mother desired to play the part.

Daniel took out of his pocket a silver wristwatch with a black leather band that used to belong to his father. He did not like its handcuff feel, but he cherished it as a simple reminder of him. He put it on the table next to his half-eaten Casanova. “Il conto, grazie,” he called out to the young waiter after he calculated that he would have only twenty minutes or so to buy the jeans and get to Trieste Centrale, where his train was waiting. The smile that appeared on the boy’s face when he saw Daniel’s tip seemed genuine and he showed his appreciation with a hearty, accented “Thank you.” Daniel looked at the girl for one last time, leaning back in her chair, the novel sprawled on her lap, and made up his mind to casually praise the book as he passed by her table. He approached slowly, cleared his throat loudly — and she looked up. He opened his mouth, caught her blue eyes, and was struck dumb. Out on the street, he cursed his cowardliness.

He began looking for a store, passing up several he deemed too crowded. Two old men sat on the curved steps of a building, playing chess with gloomy concentration and taking long swigs from a bottle. Young boys grunted and screamed as they passed a ball back and forth in a narrow side street, while the girls, watching from the sidewalk, seemed unable to take the boys’ passion seriously. But they looked intrigued, hands shielding their lips as they gossiped and burst into laughter. In their pink and orange dresses, taken for granted by the young boys and old men, they lived only for the leers of foreigners, or so Daniel liked to imagine. He knew better. They were not interested in him despite their white-toothed smiles and the sly look in their eyes. They were not interested, but they appeared to be. That was their charm.

Signor,” a familiar voice cried out behind him, and Daniel, though he did not think he was being called, turned around, curious to see if the girl was as pretty as her voice. He turned too suddenly and she bumped into him. Her smile was slight and embarrassed. She opened her hand to reveal a wristwatch in her palm. Instinctively Daniel reached into his pocket and found nothing.

Grazie,” he said, but wanted to say more. She seemed to know it too, inclining her head to one side and looking up at him. But he only repeated his thanks, then just stared back at her, hoping that his eyes would express all that his lack of Italian kept him from saying.

* * *

Daniel ran up the basement stairs, peeked into the kitchen through the open door, then closed it. He would have locked it, if it had a lock. He was twelve and there was a girl waiting for him downstairs. Jelena lay on the sofa, covered to her neck in a green blanket. Daniel straddled her legs, then lowered his head to kiss the smooth spot between her brows. He straightened up to see what effect this had on her. It had not melted her pale face, but there was something tender in her dark eyes. This made him brave. He kissed her forehead and nose, her soft lean cheeks. His heart thumped as he pressed his lips against her silky, closed mouth, initiating their first kiss.

The kissing went on uninterrupted in the relative safety of the basement. But when he pulled off the blanket and threw it aside, she frowned and the game was over.

He got off her and sat down on the edge of the sofa, angry and not sure at what to direct his anger. They had been doing this every morning since she and her parents had come to his house, two days ago when their building got hit, and she was yet to allow him to take the blanket off without killing the game. Jelena touched his arm with her cool toes, but he did not react. He just stared at his feet, amazed by how, if he kept his eyes down, he could convince himself that nobody else in the world existed. He still liked her though, and knew, even now, at twelve, that he always would. He even liked the embarrassment caused by her making him admit that he did. He liked her instinctively, and he didn’t know when he started liking her, because he did not know a time when he didn’t. She liked him, too, he was certain of that, though he would purposely doubt it so to make the eventual reassurance all the more pleasurable.

Jelena got up and walked to the radio that stood on the bottom stair, the music drowning out the heavy movement of their parents upstairs, the slight gunfire outside. Hip-swaying to a song, she turned up the volume, then began changing the station—hips still swaying—until she found a ballad. She offered him her red-nailed hand, and he took it. They pressed their cheeks together and turned in a circle. She kept stepping on his foot, but he did not say anything. She was too beautiful not to be a little clumsy, and he could not open his mouth anyway. He was overwhelmed by a feeling of happiness and pain, which left him speechless. The love lyrics of the song were unable to mirror his emotions — but the melody said all he felt.

The music stopped. His mother stood against the banister of the stairs, pointing up to the basement door. Jelena, blushing, ran upstairs; Daniel wanted to run too but was frozen by his mother’s stare. Sometimes it seemed to him that she only existed to deny his every satisfaction. A dark figure had appeared in the lighted doorway; coming down the stairs it took the shape of his father. There was a smile on his father’s face that Daniel knew was meant for him only, because when his mother turned, it disappeared.

Daniel and Jelena got into the red Fiat, driven by his father, with his mother in the passenger seat, and they followed the blue Fiat occupied by Jelena’s parents out of the bumpy driveway. In the backseat, separated by a yellow rucksack behind which they held hands, Daniel and Jelena looked out of their respective windows while he tickled her palm with his middle finger. They were headed to his grandparents’ beach house in Croatia, driving by blue-green mountains and buildings with shattered windows, down asphalt ruined by mortar fire, past houses without roofs. In Croatia, his father had told him the night before, Daniel would finally learn to swim. But when they reached the border, the blue Fiat got off the road, and his parents were told by the patrolling soldier to do the same. They got out of the car, ordering him and Jelena not to, and joined the conversation Jelena’s parents were having with two armed soldiers. The rucksack tumbled to the floor as Jelena slid closer to look out of his window. Her mother covered her mouth and nose with her hands as if about to sneeze, while his mother paced over gravel and grass, stopping now and then to yell something at the soldiers, her every exclamation forcing a slow wave of his father’s hand, a sign for calm that Daniel knew well. It was Jelena’s father who was talking to the soldiers, who kept explaining while they shook their shaved heads, who kept offering passports and papers for their disinterested inspection. His father only stood beside them, one hand in his pocket, his head turning slowly from speaker to speaker, listening with a tired look on his face.

Jelena asked Daniel to explain what was going on but he did not know and felt fear at not knowing and shame at being afraid. He could only tell her that the houses were prettier here, the colors of the flag different from the ones his father had taught him were the colors of his flag. She reached across him to unlock the door and climbed over his lap to try to get out, but he pushed her back, feeling protective and scared. Their parents were coming back, his father pulling his mother by the arm as she argued, half-turned to the soldiers who ignored her. She sat down behind the wheel now and Jelena’s mother sat down in the passenger seat. His father gave Daniel a hard kiss on the forehead before shutting the door on him. He then reached his head through the window of the front door and gave a kiss on the lips to his wife. He stepped off the road with Jelena’s father, and she and Daniel kneeled on the backseat to look at them. Daniel had long been conscious of a remote threat, but only now, as he stared out of the rear window, was its dark significance revealed to him. Daniel waved at his father, and his father waved back, signaling them to go with his other hand. They drove across the border into Croatia. Daniel watched his father become smaller and smaller, then vanish.

* * *

The cemetery in Mostar was sprawling and endless. As Daniel searched for his father’s grave he was surprised to feel the same fear-fueled rush that had accompanied him on his childhood wanderings through cemeteries, even more surprised to have it disappear as soon as he found his father’s white headstone. Daniel stared at it, suddenly feeling like he had come to this cemetery by mistake, by a wrongly given direction, and was now standing over the grave of some random stranger (how could his father be here?). But he kept staring, expecting some kind of disclosure, only to realize the futility of such an expectation, the futility of this final destination and his entire trip. Impatient and hopeful, he had come here to learn something about his father that his mother’s stories could not teach him. To resolve every mystery of his father’s life. But he could never complete such a task — nor abandon it.

When they had heard of his father’s death, his mother had gone back to Bosnia to bury him, while Daniel stayed in Croatia, waiting for her, and somehow his, return. A few days after coming back, his mother told Daniel with tears in her eyes, and without him asking, that his father had died by stepping on a landmine. What side planted the landmine mattered as little to his mother then as it did to Daniel now, and to know would only further complicate his already complicated sense of resentment. His father, a patriot even at the worst of times, an optimist despite being Bosnian, had taught him to respect Muslims and Christians before Daniel became aware of their differences, and he remembered once overhearing his father say that taking sides in war meant defending the bad against the worse. He remembered those words not because they were right — they weren’t always, not in this war — but because he had taken them seriously when he first heard them, and now they were the only words of his father he remembered.

Daniel stood over the grave for a while longer, then left. Outside the cemetery, a beggar sat, leaning against one of the cemetery walls. Hurrying, Daniel dumped some change into the man’s upturned hat without looking at him. It was beginning to rain. As he was about to cross the street the beggar shouted a question after him that made Daniel stop and turn. He came back to where the man was sitting and looked down at him with a smile. He wore a faded overcoat and had dirt on his cheek, but there was a certain dignity to the way he sat, how he held his head, to his high-cheeked, angular face. Like the dignity of a ruined sculpture.

“Where are you from?” the beggar asked again.

“I live in America,” Daniel answered, debating whether or not to describe Mostar as his home. “But Mostar is where I was born,” he finally said.

“You had the look of a tourist about you, no offense,” the beggar said, laughing.

“None taken,” Daniel responded, speaking his mother tongue and laughing too.

* * *

Jelena stood looking out at the sea, her hands at her side, one leg slightly bent. Daniel was fascinated with the dip of her back, with the beauty of her pose. She wore a red dress, its straps sliding off her shoulders. The waves washed over her feet before retreating, then surged forward and repeated the absentminded embrace of her ankles. She bent over and bathed her hands in the blue water. Daniel did not like her anymore. What he felt for her now was stronger and more mysterious.

He threw a pebble into to the sea to hear the plop; it was a sound akin to a tongue click. He picked up another pebble, but let it fall from his hand to cover a yawn. Jelena yawned too, raising her arms above her head, revealing the peach-colored hollow of her armpit, and reaching skyward with her spread fingers. She resumed her wordless gazing, hands clasped behind her nape, a pretty frown on her face. Daniel wondered what she was thinking but did not dare ask. She would either answer with distracted simplicity, which he no longer found charming, or with complete indifference, which he hated. He didn’t even really care. All he wanted was to be the object of her gaze.

There were only the two of them on the beach, and being with Jelena was sometimes like being alone. Daniel sat down on the jabbing pebbles, looking out at the sea. Suddenly, he was splashed with water. Jelena ran, giggling and looking over her shoulder at the one who should be chasing her but wasn’t. Daniel saw an advantage in restraint and remained sitting. She came back and sat down beside him, spreading out her legs and crossing them at the ankle. A drop of water trickled out from under her dress and down her thigh but could not surmount the knee. She caught him looking and smiled. He smiled back, unembarrassed, but when she leaned in to kiss him, he stared at her chin, unable to risk a look into her eyes. They bumped noses as they kissed. He wanted to tell her something but felt too exhausted, too happy, too vulnerable to say anything.

They walked up the sloping road to the beach-house, its lemon-colored walls visible from a distance. They went into the backyard, in the middle of which, on a wooden table, unguarded, lay a pack of cigarettes. Daniel watched the back door as Jelena tiptoed to the table, snatched a cigarette, and strolled back with an air of nonchalance, before bursting into laughter. She held the cigarette between index and thumb as they walked down to the beach again, where in a secluded spot under a marked tree, further concealed by leaves, a translucent yellow lighter was hidden.

Jelena let out a sudden moan, and Daniel instinctively looked for a bird or butterfly, the usual objects of her cooing adoration. But it was a person, ascending the steep road at a quick pace and nothing but a gleam of white to squinting Daniel, that Jelena was pointing at. She took a few steps forward, inclining her head and straining her eyes to see. By the time she began running, Daniel, too, had recognized the mysterious man as her father. He cautiously approached the embracing couple, their laughter like the murmur of the sea, remote sounding even though it was very near.

* * *

A stupid but persistent thought echoed in Daniel’s head as he walked across the bustling, tree-lined and pigeon-overrun square on which he had driven miniature cars as a child. He thought he was being perceived as a tourist and it made him feel vulnerable. He had felt it before, this vulnerability, in Trieste and other places, but that he should feel it now, here in Mostar, was painful and strange. He could no longer laugh it off. What imperfection, he wondered, revealed him as an outsider? It could not be his wobbly Serbo-Croatian, the clash of accents, because he had not said a word. It wasn’t what he wore either; his clothes and their clothes were identical, and the white bag with the fire-engine red of the Levi’s logo on it did not betray him because one could now buy Levi’s here as well. He possessed no foreign odor and must have naturally inherited whatever distinct Bosnian physical characteristics there were. What then?

He himself was uncertain about whether he was actually a tourist or not, and perhaps his own uncertainty was the imperfection. He did not feel Bosnian, whatever that meant. Did not feel American either. Somewhere in time he had simply ceased being Bosnian without becoming anything else. And why should he not be considered a tourist? Mostar was not really his home, only the place where his father had died.

The rain had been short and light, but had left its mark — the cobblestones gleamed like coins in the beggar’s hat. The slightly dilapidated building in which Jelena lived was much smaller than Daniel remembered — everything was — and it didn’t have balconies though he distinctly recalled Jelena, afraid of heights and extremely pretty when afraid, clutching the railing as he tried to pry her fingers open. He sat down on a wooden bench, from where he had a view of the building’s entrance, not really wanting to see Jelena anymore, whom he had last seen through a train window, waving and seeming both bored and devastated by his departure. He didn’t tell anybody he was coming here and so wasn’t expected. He got the address from his mother, who had long ago lost touch with Jelena’s own. He hoped that maybe they had moved, though he knew that nobody left their home in a country like this unless they were forced to.

The bright sun, flanked by orange-blue clouds, was setting, and Daniel decided to leave, come back here later, at night, if at all. He would go see the Old Bridge now, which he thought to be somewhere near. As he got up, the door of the building opened, two wheels peeking out, then the entire carriage with a baby inside, then a woman, pretty and tall. It was not Jelena. Daniel wondered what if it had been her, Jelena, pushing a carriage and coming his way. What would he have done? What would he have said? What if she saw him and couldn’t recognize him? What if she looked into his eyes and passed without saying a word? And what if it didn’t matter, because it didn’t. He wouldn’t have looked back.

Daniel checked his father’s watch, now on his wrist, and set out toward the Old Bridge.

The street became narrower and narrower. It was full of people, their faces sinister and mask-like, until they smiled. Small shops, selling worthless knick-knacks, stood on either side. Candles blazed in archaic lanterns. Brassy music played out of cafés, laughter and the tinkle of glasses on the terraces. Further along, more laughter, the robust, Slavic-toned laughter, and more music, songs that reminded Daniel of nothing, though he felt they should. Then, the Old Bridge, its white stone as bright as the emerald of the mountain in the background, the amber streaks of the sky above.

As he looked at the bridge, arched over a green river whose name he could not recall, Daniel felt what he felt when he looked upon anything here — a radiant pleasure with a dark tint of pain. The actual Old Bridge, Ottoman built and standing unharmed for three centuries, had been destroyed during the war. This was a reproduction, an exact duplicate, mostly built from the old stones, now literally as well as symbolically bridging the two sides of the conflict. Despite the recent reconstruction it was still called the Old Bridge, and, perhaps, for all intents and purposes, this really was the Old Bridge. But Daniel knew it was not the Old Bridge. It was not nor would it ever be the bridge over which his father had walked.

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