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28.09.2018.

Wager by Umorni

Samo moram pitati Umornog je li Valez ili Vaskez? :)

http://umor.blogger.ba/

A sunray on my forearm. A few dried conifer needles tucked between the hairs. The sun makes them transparent. An ant moving about in directions known only to him. A blade of grass in his mouth. And my gaze, still sleepy, observing all of this. My ears detect a silent conversation, without registering its meaning. I don't give a damn, I'll go on sleeping. As I'm closing my eyes, I can feel fatigue weighing me down. Just before dawn, as part of a recon operation, we came near their trenches, moved about for a couple of hours, removed a couple of mines and since the order to attack never came, we returned to our positions. Someone's hand on my forearm, a light squeeze and words: “Wake, up! You really don't want to miss this...”

Opening my eyes again and looking at my forearm, the ant and his blade of grass are now gone. As I lift my upper body to a sitting position, a combat vest falls off my chest. These caring, mother-like gestures are not exactly commonplace around here. Still, one of my comrades was making sure I don't end up with inflamed kidneys. Nice, really nice. It must've been Rale. Looking around I realize that apart from a few faces well known to me, there are several other completely new too me. Different, too. I mean we're not a sight to behold, but we're quite different from these guys. They have beards. Long and differently groomed bears from what I'm used to. They're wearing our uniforms, but from my position I can't see the insignia on the sleeves of their uniform. I ask, silently: “Who are they?” Neno leans over and replies in an equally conspiratorial whisper: “Mujos” [Transl. note: mujahideen, coll. mujos] To my next question as to what are they doing here, he shrugs his shoulders and says: “I have no idea. Đokarto seems to be striking some sort of a deal with them, but I have no idea what's the nature of this deal!” Only a step away from us Đokarto is indeed talking with one of them, with others forming a semicircle. They're listening attentively to the conversation. No smiling faces among them.

I've heard of their lot, but so far I haven't seen them up close and personal. Each and every face is unmistakably ours. That strange peasant-like shape of both head and the body. Most of them are young, ruddy youth. At twenty-five I'm not too far from their age either. I rest my gaze on their leader: bumpy head and a fiery look in his eyes. Different from that of others. Maybe the look in his eyes explains his dominant role. His body speaks of many hours spent in labor, hard physical labor. The visible muscles are lean and sinewy. Rale is holding his automatic rifle on his lap, making it look casual, but holding his finger on the trigger and with the barrel of the gun pointed at them. One of them is doing the same. I can tell that the rest of my comrades are equally clueless about what’s happening, but it’s easy to figure out that they’re not to be messed with. And then again, Đokarto is a serious swindler with con always on his mind.

I've known Đokarto since the first days of the war. Full three and a half years now. Actually, I used to see him in the years before the war in my neighborhood since he's much older than me. He was hanging around with those hard-to-define guys who were neither alkies, nor thieves nor neighborhood's tough guys, and yet a little bit of all of that. From the first days of the war, he had this ring, which apparently he was never going to sell, but given the situation he was forced to do it. No way around it. The ring was old, massive, with a stone on it, but nothing too impressive. A person to whom Đokarto decided to offer it would unmistakably like the ring, and following their brief chat, I and possibly a couple of other guys would get loaded with food and booze supplies. After we've moved on and after it's been established that the ring is no longer on Đokarto's finger, he'd inevitably remember that he'd forgotten something and head back. Upon return the ring is again on his finger and logistics on our backs. Đokarto, the magician. I myself never managed to get anything for free from these villagers, not even a bottle of whey for my jaundiced liver. There were stories in circulation that he still somehow paid for the food and booze, but I knew that he hadn’t had any money in his pockets for years. Some even checked his boots, finding nothing but the foul odor of sweat.

Đokarto and this leader of theirs are headed now in our direction. I see the Islamic inscriptions on his clothes. His face is tanned and uncorrupt. Something tells me there won’t be any problems. But again, it’s hard to tell what’s cooking in Đokarto's mind. “Merhaba, guys”, comes the greeting from him. “Merhaba to you too”, we reply in unison. Đokarto asks him: “Which three do you want?” He points his finger at Neno, Valez and King. Đokarto says: “All right. Let's now agree on the time”. The other guy pauses for a second as if weighing different options and says: “Fifteen minutes”. Đokarto waves his head: “Too little… Really too little time!” “Is half an hour okay?”, the other guy suggests. Đokarto nods in agreement and extends his hand. The mujos' leader does not reciprocate, saying his word is enough of a guarantee. Is it really, and for what, all of us wonder. As he goes back to join his comrades, Đokarto is bringing us into the picture: “Don't ask anything. Neno, you're covering the first company, Valez the second and you King the third company. Go from one dugout to the other and take from each, how shall I put it, Vlach [Transl. note: offensive term for a Serb] his military ID card and bring it back to me... Take ID cards from those whose names can go either way too... And make sure you take all of them, from each and every Vlach!” A few quick questions are thrown at Đokarto, but he waves them off: “No questions, right... Take all such ID cards and tell them they'll have them back in half an hour. This is what you need to tell them. If need be, give them a cigarette or two, promise a pack. Do whatever you need to do, just bring them all... I'm not goofing around and trust me when I say that it'll pay off for all of us!”

The three of them get on their feet unenthusiastically, with Đokarto hurrying them up: “Hey, don't sabotage me here. The stakes are too high!” They head off each in their own direction. They'll need less than half an hour to make a round of ten to fifteen dugouts of each of the three companies. Đokarto is silent while the rest of us shower him with questions. After a short while, he finally starts telling us the story, though reluctantly as if it pains him to share the details: “Yesterday, I was in the village... well, one of the villages. I had one drink too many. The owner just kept sipping and I saw no reason to protest. These guys were passing by the shop, and it so happened that at that moment one of the villagers called me by my name. They started at the sound of my name, asking me for the name again. I repeated it for them loud and clear, and the very next moment they all grabbed their guns. Whoa, I said come on guys, we are in the same army, fighting for the same cause, showing them at the same time my military ID card. They passed it among themselves, visibly shocked and not believing their own eyes. So I asked them: “Haven't you seen a Vlach in the Army [of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina]?” This leader of theirs, whom you'd just met, said: “We did hear that there were some Sarajevans here, with a few Vlachs in their unit.” Since I was quite drunk, I riposted by saying: “A few Vlachs, you say. There are more of us than you!” His brow furrowed as he studied me more closely: “Are you some sort of their commander?” “Yes.” “Commander of what?” “Of an intervention company.” “Okay. Well, I guarantee there are more of us in my unit than your people in the company...”

At this point, Rale was shaking his head: “Have you got no brains at all in that thick head of yours! Couldn't you find someone else to outsmart?!” “That's not all, there's more”, Đokarto chipped in. “Anyway, there are 37 of them in their unit. And I made a bet with him that there're at least ten more of us. Next, we agreed on terms of this wager: a ten kilos lamb, the real thing, perfect for roasting, for the ten men exceeding their number, and for every additional man a liter of plum brandy per Vlach, I mean, per man!!” Rale is looking at him incredulously: “You're a complete idiot. What were you thinking?! There are quite many of you in the unit, but no one ever counted you. As we speak, at least one third of the entire unit is roaming the forest, picking mushrooms, begging for food and brandy in the nearby villages, and some even sneaked away to see their relatives for a couple of days. I also know for a fact that two of these, Vlachs as you call them, are now busy fishing on one of the forest creeks…” “So, all is well if we find them, but what if the number is not sufficient, what do we pay?” “Well, the same, minus the brandy”, Đokarto replied in a less assured voice.

I'd gladly burst out laughing. One of those hysterical laughs. Cramps in the stomach are starting, but something abruptly stops them. This is simply not something to goof about. What a moron, what a combination. A Serb enters into a wager with mujos on the number of Vlachs with brandy as stakes… What will come out of this stupidity?!… “And just how exactly do you mean to pay them a lamb, if we lose the wager, because we drank all our money, you idiot!” “Well, we agreed on the real lamb, not money. If need be, we'll nab one in the village, not much of a problem.” I couldn't but feel that this plan just kept getting better and better!

Valez came back. He hands over a pile of military ID cards to Đokarto who counts them one by one. Twelve altogether. “I told Hasko to do another round immediately to find a couple more... And you owe me three packs of cigarettes. I had no time to bargain.” Đokarto checks his watch, wets his lips with a swipe of his tongue and says: “Ten more minutes”. Rale adds resignedly: “You could've accepted the first option of fifteen minutes. It would've been the same for you. No, it would've been the same for us since you dragged us into this mess.” Neno comes back hurriedly. “This is all I managed to collect”, he says still gasping for breath. Đokarto counts them and a small smile escapes his mouth: “It could work out. There're sixteen here, which makes it 28 so far. We're still nine short from the figure of 37. I think that King has most of them”. I felt like throwing in a jab: “It could... only if he made it on time. He's got two more minutes. Who knows if bros are tolerant on the issue of slight modification to the contract. In the business world, these minor changes are often accepted in passing, of course if they work to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.”

Đokarto is looking in their direction. If up to this point it hasn't been entirely clear to him what he got himself into, just looking at them explained the full extent of the fuck-up. Their gaze is fixed on their watches and none of them are smiling. In fact, they’ve all assumed somber expressions and seem fed up with this nonsense, now that they've had a chance to absorb imbecility of the wager. At this moment, King exits from the thick forest. The thirtieth minute is ticking away. Doing his best to make it look real, Đokarto smiles nonchalantly and shouts: “Run King, run!” King doesn't hear him and is dragging his feet over the clearing. “Run you moron, run!”, all of us are shouting now. Although he doesn't understand the reason behind our shouting, he recognizes the edginess in our voices and runs the rest of the way. Đokarto impatiently snatches the ID cards from him… Next, their leader comes closer: “Bro…, bro…”, he was going to say brother or brothers before biting his tongue. For a second or two, he's at a loss of how to address us, thinking of a suitable term: “Sarajevans, the time is up. We won the wager.” “No way, my watch shows two more minutes”, Đokarto stretches his arm to show him the time. He managed to return the clock when no one was looking. “Besides, that's not the point of the wager. We're all interested in the number, aren't we?” He's looking at us with those fiery eyes. And then without saying a word, he turns and goes back to his people. They're talking in whisper now, which signals danger. Rale is no longer the only one with automatic rifle in his hands. Doing our best not to be noticed, we've all taken our weapons, unlocked them and placed them nonchalantly on our laps. Fuck you Đokarto, fuck you big time! The last thing we needed was to have a shootout with these guys within the radius of ten meters. If the shooting starts, chances of survival for both us and them are below zero.

Đokarto is counting the remaining ones, one by one, eleven altogether. I detect a relief on his face. Valez is smiling as he takes another four out of his pockets. He's now talking to Đokarto in a low voice: “Try these too. You have Zlatan, Goran, Damir, but they have Muslim surnames. And this Jasmin has a Croat surname. Just mix them up with others.” Shuffling the ID cards in his hands, Đokarto turns to them and exclaims: “You decide what you want to do, but I'm starting the reading out loud and the count…” He then proceeded to read from and show each and every individual military ID card in full voice to his befuddled audience: “1. Boris A.; 2. Slaven D., wounded twice in combat; 3. Goran B., 4. Zoran B., these two are brothers …. 37. Viktor G, this one is a Jew, the only one in the Army that I know of … 42. Nenad M, the guy with the moustache, one of those who brought the ID cards, and 43. That would be me, and you saw mine yesterday.”

He turns on his heel and returns to us. He's content as he senses victory. After a couple of minutes, their leader comes over: “We accept this as proof. Come in three hours to K., to Osman’s house. There will be a skinned lamb on spit waiting for you there and brandy too. There'll be an extra bottle from me. We're not going to try it. No grudges, okay? Alahimanet bro..., Sarajevans!” “I have to tell you that you are at least two years late. If you came by at that time, there'd be at least twice as many of these names. Just so that you know“, Đokarto says as they leave. Murmur among us is getting louder now. An entire lamb and 7 liters of brandy for us... how many? I count to eleven. Enough for all of us, even for some uninvited guests… We're chatting amidst the thick smoke of cigarettes. No sign of tension from just a little while ago. We figured out the place for a spit, allowing us all to lean against the trees. Duties have been distributed. Đokarto and I are in charge of small logistics, others will pick up wood from the forest and prepare some mean embers. Valez will try to get a kilo or two of potatoes from that widow of his. And some salad too. Neno is already off to the kitchen to steal some salt and margarine… Hooray for imbecile bets! … Yippee, we're having a party, party, par-ty!!

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- Ne valja biti prijek. Treba ostati smiren. Uvijek promisli prije nego što planeš i uradiš kakvu glupost. Ne zaboravi, za glupost nikad nije kasno. Važno je ponašati se racionalno. Odbrojati do deset, tako eliminiramo ishitrenost i glupost. Duboko disati. Ostati hladan i kad sve vrišti u nama. Uvijek iznova moramo gledati Kuma i nadahnjivati se mudrošću starih Sicilijanaca. Michael Corleone bio je majstor sabranosti. On prvo izbroji do deset, pa tek onda ubije brata.” Ozren Kebo

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