An excerpt from chapter four of Not My Turn to Die

 

Don’t fool with us. We know you’ve stayed in the city to spy for the chetniks!”

 

Smelling of homemade plum brandy, a man named Rasim weaved back and forth in his chair as he accused my parents of vicious crimes. “You are all the same to us! Some of you kill us with artillery shells and snipers, and some of you kill us by sending information to your friends. We know you radio the chetniks with our military positions. And your neighbors told us they saw you sending flashlight signals to the hills.”

 

It was June 17, 1992. We’d heard from our Muslim neighbors that Rasim had burned down a number of Serbian houses in the area since the fighting started. A drunkard with a scarred face and a penchant for picking fights, he was someone my father would never have let into our home before the war. No rational person would trust him. Yet, the Muslim police had recruited him once the war began.

 

My parents didn’t want to let him in. His machine gun changed their minds.

 

He interrogated my parents for more than four hours; my sister Sanja and I remained silent and still between our mom and dad on the couch. Dressed in a green camouflage uniform, Rasim sat on a chair, smoking one cigarette after another. His machine gun rested near him on the dining room table, the gun barrel pointed toward us. I watched his hand move toward the AK-47 whenever an answer didn’t satisfy him. Fondling the barrel, sliding his finger toward the trigger.

 

The spy and flashlight stories weren’t new to us. My teacher, our friend Todor, and many others were accused of being spies and killed without a trial. The killers could never find evidence, and in our case the flashlight accusation defied logic. Buildings surrounded us.

 

“The police were here once and they searched the whole apartment,” my father said. “They didn’t find anything illegal. I had a gun procured with a permit and some bullets. They confiscated them and gave me a certificate.”

 

My mother almost shouted, “The police can come again and search our home if they suspect we are still hiding something.”

 

Rasim ignored them, “Better you admit guilt now, rather than later. I know people who are ready to take you to the river. A bullet in the head, they roll you into the Drina, and then you float all the way to Serbia.”

 

My parents looked at each other, then at my sister and me. I could see they were frightened. They said nothing.

 

Rasim sat for a moment waiting. Abruptly he brandished his gun and said, “If you don’t cooperate, the river will be your grave.” Then he got up and left, slamming the door behind him.

 

We sat frozen. Terror seized