I’m sorry, but I hate you

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman more beautiful than Mama.

That’s all that I could think about as I stood in the heart of the local market downtown. I was surrounded by a rainbow of food stacked obediently on wagons and shelves of street vendors. An incessant stream of people shuffled past my immobile self: children, frail elderly couples, working men, charming women. Everything was rich with color, a vivid complexity, and Mama simply blended in with the bustling crowd—a simple woman, neither bold nor loud in appearance.

Yet, it was her grace that caused my immobility. Her hair, although an unremarkable brown, hugged her face kindly and glistened in the early afternoon light. Her hands, although fairly rough, grabbed each fruit with purpose and persuasive confidence. Her eyes, although neither brilliant nor abrasive, radiated a sincere warmth.

Tata once whispered in my ear, telling me that she is a woman made out of gold. “Her beauty is not bold. It is giving. It is kind. It is bright.”

And in the midst of the lower city, that’s how Mama almost appeared: warm and kind. I wanted to say she looked like gold, except something was off.

She left the fruit alone and walked towards me, consequently interrupting my short session of admiration, and that’s when I could see it. She moved slower than usual like she was weighed down by her own sadness, and her eyes, barely alert, appeared almost unaware of the life of her surroundings.

“I almost grabbed a few apples, but they didn’t have the greens ones, which were the only type that Damir liked,” she said, displaying her empty hands. She looked at me apologetically. I could see then. I could see that she lacked light. She lacked brightness.

She was undeniably still beautiful, but at that moment, she no longer looked golden.

Her beauty is not bold. It is giving. It is kind. It is bright.”

“Mama, why does that matter? He’s dead.” I bluntly stated, flinching in response to the bitter taste the sentence left in my mouth. But, she either didn’t hear me or chose to ignore my question, continuing to sluggishly meander down the street. It’s been a week, and this is her first time out of the house since the soldier arrived; I almost thought for a moment she’d stay home indefinitely.

“Leave your mother be,” Tata replied instead, softly grabbing my shoulder. “She needs room to grieve.”

“And the market is the place to do so?” I rolled my eyes. We all need room to grieve. The world needs room to grieve. There’s just not enough space for everyone.

Disregarding my sass, he continued to guide me down the street, slowly parting ways with Mama.

“You need a new notebook, yes? Isn’t that why we came?” he stopped walking for a moment, looking down at me, hand resting on my shoulder. He was a man who believed in human touch, always standing close by, unafraid to express his thoughts physically.

“Thanks to the stupid bird I need a new one,” I said dejectedly. But now that Tata was willing to buy me a new one, shiny cover and all, I didn’t want it anymore. I longed for my old notebook, the one with my unread letters to Damir, the one with memories, the one stored with hope.

I expected him to respond by lightly scolding me. But instead of another “Mila, be nice” comment, he just sighed and continued to guide me down the street.

“Sometimes,” he said, then paused like he was searching for the words in his head. “Sometimes, you have to just keep looking up.”

It pained me, however, to keep my head up. I tried to admire the humming flocks of people and the crisp, light air and the stunning carts of flowers that could be found every few meters. But, all I saw was a world that was happy but, more specifically, a world that wasn’t unhappy. I envied the joy I couldn’t grasp.

“But, Tata, why did Damir have to leave so soon?” I stopped walking and looked at him, genuinely filled with curiosity and an inadequate understanding. “Some people have been in the army for years, and he just turned eighteen.”

He took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. His voice adopted a stillness, an overwhelming calmness. The weight of his thought was conspicuous; I could see it penetrating his skin and dragging his body down, yet its weight was more bittersweet than dark, despite its depth.

“I don’t think I can answer that. I don’t think anyone can answer that,” he said gravely.

But his vague response agitated me. How could he say that? He always knows what to say and when to say it. Always.

“I hate Bosnians. Why couldn’t they die instead of Damir?” But even then I knew, I didn’t hate anyone. I hated my dampened world. I hated my loss of peace. I hated my situation.

Tata quickly and harshly tugged my arm and crouched down next to me. “Mila, how could you say that?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen his face so sunken as he frowned at me at that moment, disappointingly staring me down.

“I hate that you were happy when he left.” I continued, unabashed.

“Mila, please stop.”

“And, I hate Damir for leaving.” But I could barely get out the last sentence through my sputter of tears. Everything blurred—a dull haze that wrapped itself around my body. Oh, how it drove me absolutely mad.

It was a madness too intoxicating to ignore.

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