The church bells chimed at noon. You could easily notice a glint in the little boy’s eyes as he ran absent-mindedly down the corridor of his grandfather’s vast mansion. The only one who lived there now was his Aunt Sihanna, his mother’s older sister. She was only 37 years of age, but she seemed much much older. A frightful woman, who never seemed to break into a smile. He had always found ways to escape sitting with her on those rare family visits.
He opened the door of the natural solid oak wardrobe and surprisingly found two leather journals.
“Why two?” he thought to himself. Auntie had always lived alone for as long as he had been alive…
Date: 9th of June 1998
The sound of raindrops hitting the outside world continue to beat at bedroom window, but when my fingers touch my beloved filbert paint brush, I can hear nothing but peace. I limned a gentler world in my painting today: Jesus healing the ear of a servant; this was one of the miracles in the Gospels. And when I wasn’t painting, I spent hours gazing out of the window thinking about Fisnik (the man who has stolen my heart), imagining him somewhere beyond the emptiness of the moors that look like medieval battlefields, feeling proud that he was somewhere there, helping the wounded soldiers of my fair nation: Albania. He is a young trainee military doctor.
These daydreams continued until my Daddy, Mr Ajazi, an angel for soldiers, knocked gently at my door. He came in to wish me goodnight, as he always did, stroked my flaxen hair and kissed my forehead.
It felt blissfully peaceful.
The boy chuckled at the way the diary was written. He could not imagine his lonely, cold Auntie talking about paintings and love – but he felt the burning desire to hug his lovely grandfather who died many years ago, and to feel his soft hand stroking his own flaxen hair. It felt blissfully peaceful just to think about it.
The little boy was baffled yet eager to know more, so he frantically opened the other diary and started reading.
‘This diary belongs to Fisnik.’
The boy’s eyes widened with the glee of discovering a hidden secret.
Date: 11th of June 1998
I look upwards, seeking assistance from the heavens. The starless and rain-soaked sky is damnation-black and a heavy, brooding silence makes my heart palpitate with fear. Silence is never good in war.
“Fisnik! Pay attention. This is no time to daydream.”
Poppy-red blood drizzled from the soldier’s wounds and Sihanna’s father, the most noble man I know, grabbed his wrist and placed two fingers to check his pulse, but the soldier whispered: ‘You must not touch me!’ and closed his eyes lazily.
“The war has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts so they can neither see nor understand…I will heal them,’ Sihanna’s father had added.
I gazed admiringly at him as he spoke, and thought about Sihanna. She bore a striking resemblance to her father – one of the reasons I had fallen in love. Our hearts were so pure in this time of war and horror: we could never hate.”
A spritz of blood spouted into the air as I mused on these things. It tasted brackish.
The little boy’s mind raced through ideas. He was reading a journal which belonged to Fisnik in 1998, but hidden in his Auntie’s wardrobe, and he didn’t even have a clue who Fisnik was, but apparently he loved his Auntie Sihanna and obviously adored her father. But then why had he never heard his name before? An intense desire made him jump to Sihanna’s journal hoping to find an answer to the questions that continually resulted.
Date: 15th of June 1998…
An exotic, peach and passion fruit aroma arose from the jacket lying crumpled in the corner, and entered her airways and filled her with his scent. As she quietly crept into his study, she saw his eyes widen and sparkle as he read the clinical report. Sihanna loved how excited and honoured he was by his work with her father. She gazed in admiration at his broad, muscular shoulders, and as he turned and stared back at her, she saw his eyes fill with emotion. He stepped over to her, and one of his gentle caresses touched the corners of her mouth. She closed her eyes.
But the kiss never came.
Her eyes snapped open. He was suddenly silent and pale, utterly unlike her Fisnik. He clutched at Sihanna’s hand and grumbled that there was something wrong with the reports lately and that he felt uneasy and… He couldn’t say another word as Sihanna pushed her slender index finger against his mouth.
Those eyes, she could fall in them and be okay with never finding her way out.
Date: 15th of June 1998…
After all his hurry to get his report done on time, Fisnik realised that it wasn’t due till the following week. He was a chaotic sort of a person- always trying to do twenty things at once. All he wanted was to serve the country he loved, not as a soldier, but as a noble military doctor. He dreamed every single night of the day that Sihanna’s father would proudly say that he had earned that title.
The cuckoo clock struck 1 and he decided to organise the pile of clinical reports before Sihanna would come and grab his attention and distract him for hours.
A black file folder fell from his grasp. It wasn’t supposed to be there; it belonged to Sihanna’s father. Fisnik seemed a bit hesitant about reading it, yet thirsty for knowledge. He dived into it. He didn’t think twice.
The little boy fell in love with the anonymous character of this mysterious story. He flicked through Fisnik’s diary, hoping to journey further into the labyrinth of his hero’s story. But instead, he found a blank page. Where was the part when his Aunt came into the room?
Instead, a clue. A newspaper clipping fell out right into the little boy’s lap. The headline: “A look inside the murky world of illegal organ trade in Albania’s Civil War.”
Followed by a picture of his grandfather.
Date: 17th of June 1998…
I urgently need to speak to Sihanna’s father. Looking back, I had noticed suspicious things – but then he’s a doctor. He wouldn’t. Even so, I manically searched all the clinical reports I could get my hands on. There had to be something in them – some clue that could dispel my greatest fear.
“You are going nowhere without me, Fisnik; I am coming with you, simple as that.” The clipped and determined voice of my love interrupted my panic. This was not the time.
“I need to speak to your father so you better stay home and …” I turned around but didn’t see her. She had stormed off, probably in frustration at not getting her own way – as she always did. “Stubborn, spoiled little child!” I whispered to himself. “She knows nothing of the realities we men of war face.”
I forgot my umbrella and disappeared in a flurry of rain. Tears scalded my eyes like molten led. The little raindrops became a deluge and suddenly fear flickered across my face when I felt a dull ache in my left outer thigh and heard the sharp voice of the cyclist who shouted furiously at me to pay attention. But nothing would stop me from finding an answer. Otherwise, I wouldn’t sleep that night, or any other. So I continued to scurry and didn’t even lift my head.
The pages that followed were as blank as the little boy’s face. He felt as lost as his characters yet little did he know that the events that took place next would shape the two young lovers, and their belief in any good in the world, forever…
“I need to see Mr Ajazi. It is an emergency.”
“Good afternoon, Mr Fisnik. Mr Ajazi is not available at the moment; he is in an important meeting and is unavailable…”
“Don’t worry; you won’t get in trouble.” I turned around in surprise at the sound of Sihanna’s voice. She had come! Perhaps there was hope for her yet – for her understanding of the world her evil father commanded.
The receptionist bowed his head at the sight of her boss’ daughter. And just then, Sihanna’s father’s voice drifted out of his private office.
“The market needs more organs before I get my rewards. I have managed to arrange a few surgeries this week, but I need trustworthy people. I need more doctors and more soldiers. I need more and more. Don’t come here if you have no information, useless bastard. Now get out and find these people!”
“Yes, Sir.” A jittery voice was heard, followed by a deep, long silence.
I met Sihanna’s eyes. We needn’t say a word. A truth this awful needed no stating.
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold, when it is summer in the light and winter in the shade. She had spent the morning wandering around like a lonely cloud with a cigarette perched between her fingers. She still felt an illicit delight waking up every morning and falling asleep every night being in love then and for the rest of her life with a shadow, with an ephemeral memory. She didn’t even bother to take her trazodone tablets that day and went down to the cemetery to lay lily flowers on her father’s grave. But she never looked at his picture, never said a word or prayed for his soul to rest in peace.
Miles away from her, the former military doctor who seemed much older than he was, was sitting on a stone bench struggling to conceal his disappointment and the fact that he would never be able to believe, love and be happy again.
And all the while, two leather-bound diaries, ended on the exact same day, lay gathering dust in an old wardrobe, waiting to be discovered by the innocence of youth.