A World War II story of one family’s survival, determination, patience and love.
Sofia Savich is a young girl who lives an ordinary life until her world that she knows begins to erode rapidly. With World War Two at its height, the Nazi invaded her homeland with a mighty force, and now, they had to flee to evade certain death.
Hiding in a forest, in the middle of a harsh winter, Sofia and her family find that hunger is as much of an enemy to them as the fascists and Ustashas. Starving, and almost frozen to death, they eventually discover an abandoned place where they can take refuge until the winter is over.
Then, one day, a young soldier, Adrian enters Sofia’s life in the most unlikely circumstances. Adrian, who is an attractive, charismatic and enigmatic young man turns Sofia’s world upside down. Sofia quickly realizes how enticing he is, and she finds herself battling her own demons. Should she listen to her common sense or her heart? But soon, the past comes hunting them again. Will they have enough time to escape or will they succumb to their enemies?
Although, my parents agree on many things, how they fell in love isn’t one of them.
My father insists it was love at first sight. However, my mother tenaciously disagrees with him and firmly holds her view. For a whole year, my dad pursued her and waited outside her school with a single red rose in his hand; hoping he’d win her heart. Instead, she found his behavior amusing and bewildering. Nevertheless, he took his desperate endeavors even further. He left her atrocious amount of love notes, poems and an occasional chocolate in her school desk. Until one day, he stepped it up a notch by serenading under her classroom window.
Mom found his bold and desperate attempts entertaining, but she liked the chase even more. After what he said was a lifetime of chasing after her, he found ample amount of courage to ask her out on a date. To his surprise, she agreed. Of course, she agreed. She had other hopes; she assumed this way she would end his madness—once and for all.
In my dad’s opinion, it was their first date. In my mother’s recollection, their first date differed. According to her, she only agreed to see him so he would stop ruffling her feathers—for once. And it was merely a walk, not a date. She was convinced he was one of those types of boys that any sensible girl would avoid; he was bad news with a radiating smile.
She was embarrassed by his exasperated wooing, more so by his vexatious efforts, yet, she found him very attractive. She said, his perpetual but charming ramble throughout their entire walk was more than adorable, and that’s when she noticed his smile, which could have easily illuminated an entire city.
After their first date, as I call it, it wasn’t long before they were married and had my brothers and me. I suppose she wasn’t sensible after all, or my father had done something right. Perhaps, he wasn’t such a bad boy after all.
WE LIVED IN A SMALL VILLAGE on the outskirts of Zenica in Yugoslavia until my father moved us across the country into the heart of the capital city. He acquired a good paying job in Belgrade, and without much hesitation, we packed up our belongings. Although I wasn’t thrilled about the move; what choice do I have? On the other hand, my entire family was more than enthusiastic about it. My dad had tried to justify his decision by telling us how superior our education would be compared to a small village and how much convenience the city has to offer. However, his appeal sounded more like a decision than a choice, and usually, what he said, that’s how it was. Even if I wanted to change his decision, there wasn’t even the slightest chance of that now. It’s already set and done.
A day later, after we said goodbye to my grandparents, friends, and neighbors, we got into our car and left. I pressed my temple against the glass as the tears streamed down my cheeks. In the hushed car, I can hear Peter sniffling. Mom choked up as the car pulled away, and I watched Nana fade into the distance. “We’ll see them again,” Mom said. I glanced at her but said nothing. My parents hauled us a thousand kilometers away, chasing after modern city conveniences and quality education…. Huh? I am only eight, so I couldn’t care less, nor do I understand the value of a quality education or convenience.
After a long and exhausting drive, which took us almost all day, we arrived in the city, around late-afternoon.
The streets were clogged with children yelling and playing late into the evening. Almost every street that we pass has a throng of people still loitering outside. Every few minutes a car zooms by, honking its horn; sounding more like a strangled duck, as they do. The rest of the streets are congested with people; strolling couples, young men, and women conversing. “Are we there yet?” I asked my dad. “Very soon, Sofia,” he said, as he kept his eyes steady on the road ahead.
“Our apartment is just a few blocks from the center,” Mom added.
From what I can see, the city life will be entirely different from what I am used to. I sighed heavily, pressing my forehead against the foggy window. We haven’t been gone more than a few hours, but I already miss my friends, especially Ana. I miss the vast green plains where I can run freely, the mountains that stretch a tortuous distance, and needless to say, the fresh country breeze that fills my lungs with a miscellany of fragrances. That is what I know and love. I suppose I am more of a country girl than a city girl.
Though we just arrived, I already formed my opinion about the city. I find it too noisy. The streets are congested with numerous motorized vehicles, and there are too many people in a small, crowded place. Even worse, every street is concreted with only a small patches of grass thatching alongside the curbs. How can people live like this?
“I can’t wait until tomorrow,” Steven said, excitedly. I glanced at him, shaking my head at him riled. How can he love all this? There is nothing here but concrete and ear penetrating noise. I groaned with frustration.
Dad parked his car in front of the building, on the street. I scrambled out of the car and examined my new surroundings in the soft glow of the city light. I rolled my eyes, sighing exasperatedly.
My mother took my hand and hauled me into the building that resembles a Renaissance era, and we walked up the winding stairs to the fifth floor.
“I don’t like it here,” I murmured to Mom. She clutched my hand tightly. Dad unlocked the door, and before he opened it, he turned to us grinning. “This is not good,” I scoffed. Dad held the door open and said, “After you, ladies.” Mom glanced down at me and hauled me inside our new home.
“Oh, Sofia, darling. You’ll see, you will love it here!” she said, smiling as if she swallowed an armoire.
“Look, isn’t it nice?” she said, pointing at the living room. I rolled my eyes, pouting in disbelief.
“I doubt it.” I sighed strenuously.
To make matters worse, we moved from a decent-sized house to a small apartment an approximate size of a shoe box. Why couldn’t Dad find a job at home instead? I groaned inwardly at my anguish. My mother always insisted that I should be more resilient—but I am not. I’m not as outgoing and optimistic as she is. I am bashful, and cautious, especially when it comes to meeting new friends. Although, occasionally I feel an immense spark inside me craves to burst out, yet, I tame that flame, too afraid how other people might perceive me. My mother said I am too self-conscious and don’t allow my true self to exist—to shine. Perhaps that’s my crime. I can’t shine like her. Like she is now. If I had a candle, it might ignite under the enthusiastic current that she emitted. I shook my head, mopping my stray tears.
“Oh, honey,” my mother said, and squatted in front of me, gaping at me frowning.
“In life, there will be times when unstoppable changes come hurdling down at you like a force of nature. And to survive, you have to be strong and flow with it,” she said, cupping my chin.
I gazed at my knotted fingers, nodding my head. She tipped my head to her, gazing into my eyes for an answer.
“I know,” I whispered, glancing up at her.
Even though I heard that phrase from her at least a million times, I’m still not as strong as her, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Strength and courage to me are like a foreign language to a drifter.
I trundled the rest of the apartment, thinking I might as well get used to it. My mom was already planning how she’ll decorate it as she sashayed around the rooms, talking to herself like a baboon. She stretched her hands out in front of her as if she is measuring and moving furniture around the apartment.
“This will be perfect,” she said.
Here I am, what looks like a kitchen which is smaller than a matchbox. The floor is covered with linoleum from corner to corner. The cabinets are fern green, snug against the white tiles, which I find hideous. But who cares, right? Next, I find myself in the bathroom which is tiled, too. The white tiles stretch from floor to ceiling cloaking the entire room. To my right is a small window that opens to a balcony which faces east.
Across from the bathroom is a slightly larger room, which is bare. I gawked at the tawny drab wallpaper that spreads throughout the entire apartment. I turned on my heel and headed down the hall where I stumble into a smaller room. In front of me a large, picturesque window which overlooks the busy city. Curiously, I walk up to the window, holding onto the windowsill, and gazed at the view of the condensed buildings below.
“Oh…” I quickly retreated. Lightheaded, I grasped onto my brother Steven.
“Are you all right?” he asked, steadying me.
Steven is our walking encyclopedia. My grandfather calls him his little bookworm, and if any of us has a question that we don’t know the answer to, he’ll most likely have an explanation within minutes. One day he’ll be a doctor. Well, that’s what he says. For better or worse, at least he has a clear picture of what he wants to be. Me? No. I don’t even have the slightest idea. Maybe a scientist, a pilot, or maybe an engineer like my father. Ah, never mind, I have no clue. All I am sure of is that I want to try everything.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, not revealing my panic from the height. I am sure Steven would have a rational explanation even to that too. So, he can’t know I am afraid. I’m not in the mood to listen to his cogent debate or reasonable interpretation.
Peter darts into the room with a grin stretching from ear to ear on his face. He grabbed the windowsill and hopped up and down, trying to glance outside. He is three now, and for his age, he is small and willowy. While his azure blue eyes seem to be oversized for his pale face, yet, it doesn’t seem to affect how adorable he is.
“I want to look!” he said, bouncing in front of the window, stretching his neck as far as he can.
“Come on, Sis, help me!” His blue eyes with long lashes begged me. Now, who could say no to that? I picked him up, and I stepped closer to the window. Peter stretched over the window frame as far as he can and as far as I let him. Even though I was holding him tight, I felt as if he was leaning over way too far. So I tightened my grip on him—too afraid he might fall. But he didn’t notice my fear as he’s mesmerized by the view.
“Wow!” he shouted enthusiastically, thrusting himself even further. While holding him, I glanced outside once more, and I realized how far we were from the ground. The people below us look much smaller than in real life, which I have never experienced before. It’s a fantastic view, but it’s frightening at the same time.
“Okay, buddy. That’s enough!” I whispered, easing him down to the floor. “No, I want to look,” Peter pouts.
“No, Peter. That’s enough.”
Peter folded his hands over his chest and made a growling sound. I stared back at him, and he quickly retreated. He scoffed as he turned on his heel and trundled out of the room, grumbling.
Although we are only on the fifth floor, for me, it’s a dizzying height. I prefer to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground and stay away from the window as much as possible. I only admire what I can see from a safe distance. It’s not as if I could fall out if I stood next to it—I am just uncomfortable being that close.
The living room has a matching loveseat, couch, and a small, polished coffee table. Off to my right is the dining room, with a small table which has only four chairs. “Great!” I rolled my eyes. One of us would have to eat on the floor. “Not me, that’s for sure,” I murmured to myself.
Dad walked into the room, standing next to me. He smiled, patting my shoulder.
“Don’t you love it?” Dad said, squeezing my shoulder.
“No, not at all!” I mumbled.
“Why not?” he asked.
I exhaled a sharp sigh. “I already miss home,” I said, glancing up at him. “Just give it some time, and before you know it, it will grow on you,” he said, tousling my hair. I hid my face in the palm of my hands with frustration.
“Yeah, probably I will outgrow this place, and we’ll need a bigger shoe box,” I muttered. My father laughed, cupping his chest. “Well then, we’ll get a bigger one.”
“Ugh,” I groaned and stomped off to the next room.
Of course, Mom is as happy as everyone else, and it looks like I am the only one in this family who would rather go home than stay here. How is that fair?
“I wonder what kind of stores are around?” she said, standing in the center of the room with one hand cupping her chin. That’s what I call her pensive pose.
She has always done that when she is consumed by an idea, or she is caught up in her thoughts. I know she’s already planning and visualizing how she’ll decorate the apartment as she continued to mumble something, which I clearly don’t understand. I hate to say it, but it’s rather bad news for Dad’s pocketbook. If you ask me, I think he should hide it, just in case she decides to dip her fingers in it.