On an afternoon drive, we came to a crossroads and Akif, my father-in-law, asked Jas to stop the car. At the crux was a very slight hill surrounded by pine trees. If you looked closely among the grass you could see the remnants of a building’s foundation.
“I taught here for six years, from 1966 – 1972” Akif said. He was the only teacher and had anywhere from 30 – 50 students at a time in grades 1 – 4. The pine trees? He planted them himself to make the area nice “for the children” he said proudly.
I looked between the trees and imagined Akif taking his students on science walks in sunny weather, shoveling a path for them in the snow, putting wood in the stove to keep the rows of students scribbling in their notebooks, warm. A scene from Little House on the Prairie only instead of an American flag occupying a corner of the room, there would be a photo of Tito.
While in this reverie I stepped in it–the way one who has spotted a dog turd ahead on the sidewalk and makes a mental note to avoid it, gets caught up in other thoughts and splat!
“So what happened to it?” I asked, an idiotic question because in Bosnia when something no longer exists, there’s really only one reason for it.
“It was destroyed in the war” Akif replied.
Yes, of course it was, I thought looking at my shoes and trying to come up with something profound to say.
Instead I ventured: “Tata [Dad], you were the only teacher?”
“And the principal too?”
“Ja, ja” he continued nodding.
“Well…who did you eat lunch with?”
He threw his head back and laughed.