Twenty-five crosses I count and twenty-four years I count myself.
Another thirty kilometers to the border of Bosnia. The border follows the
river Una and down the one of the branches is down here. The water is too
far away, maybe I'll step on a mine, and actually I want to go to the real
river. The next farm is as untenanted as the previous one. The backside
is black and the ceiling hangs down. As long I'm on the asphalt nothing
can happen. I'm going to sit on my saddle and search for my drinkbottle.
Only hot air comes out. Going uphill the thirst becomes worse and chanced
into giddiness when I'm on the top. The is are fields that is worked on
and there is a pile of wood. I stop and take some marmalade. When I continue
I open my mouth in the hope that the wind will take away some of my thirst.
It's maximum 10 kilometers from the border.
I'm approaching a white farm. A Croatian flag hangs out of the window. I put my bicycle against a peg and three man walk up to me. Besides it's silent, with empty jerrycans next to the road. The man gather around me and speak their own language. The smell of the verge mixes with that of alcohol. I point at my drinkingbottle and speak out the word 'water'. One of them leaves and comes back with a can of petrol. "Dangerus" they say and point to distorted road which leads behind the green hills. Behind those hills the is the Una. By putting the can of petrol to my mouth the understand I need something to drink. Now they point at my throat on a way as if they wanne cut it. 'Dangerus, Tsjetniks" the repeat. The biggest one of them gives me a half a liter of beer. I drink it in one zip. For a second the ground I'm standing on disappears and a new giddiness comes up. They give me two more cans of beer. I bind them on my bicycle and consider to drive to the Una. With their eyes they follow my moves. I look how they are standing there. The hill that I just went down I'm climbing now. Standing on my pedals and my shadow touches the road. One time I look around but I do not see the three anymore.
It is not easy to avoid the craters of the shells. My arm are stiff because of being in the same position all day. Down the same branch of the Una flows. Maybe there is a drip of water in my bottle. Condense gathers at the side of the bottle and flows down where it gathers into a drip.
Behind me O hear a car approaching me. Shall I ask if they can give me a ride? I look around and see a luxury car with a copilot hanging out of the roofwindow. Shots are fired. Than I recognize the man at hanging out of the window as one of the three that gave me some beer. The car overtakes me with high speed and in the distance more shots are heard. I feel relaxed. As if I'm falling asleep. Nothing is the matter. I'm lonely and lazy. The sun is low and the orange shine make the sight of the destruction much softer. In the pockets of my shirt I'm looking for my lamp. With loose hands I switch the button. There is no light. I try the other button but without result. When I open the thing I see there is no battery in it. 'Keep on cycling' I speak loudly to myself.
Twilight is coming and there is no place that look reliable. Far away I hear another car coming. The best would be to get of the road but there could be mines. Keep on cycling, there is no other solution. The sound of the car dies. Because it is almost dark I stop.. I push my bicycle in from of me into a field, up to 20 meters from the road. I spread my sleepingbag on the sand that is still hot from the sun. Luckily I still have some cooked rice. It brings a faint taste in my mouth. Tomorrow I will buy vegetables and fruit.
I'm on my bicycle to Bihac and for fifteen minutes a IFOR tank
drives behind me. When I look around I see a small French flag, actually
a flag that fits better on a bicycle. I show the that they can overtake
me safely but they stay behind me. I sit straight up, hang my arms and
look down. On the handle-bar I have a small globe which is turning in the
wind. The land is orange and the see is Blue. The French come next to me
and I point at the globe. One of them makes a V sign before they pass me.
The local traffic increases when I approach Bihac. Bosnian soldiers got their payment in the form of a second hand car.
Finally I see the sign of the destiny of my journey. I cycled from Prague to Budapest and from Zagreb to Bihac. The last kilometers I cycle relaxed with my hands loose on the wheel. In the Una children are playing and people are laying in the sun on the grass. I go off the road and put my bicycle against a tree. The water is green and there are trout's in the river. As soon as I lay down I fall asleep but a child wakes me up. He introduces himself in English and ask where I'm from. I tell him I come from Holland. He is curious where that could be. I point north. Vinko is fourteen and guides me through town. He speaks about the devastated city and act like a bullet that just missed him. When the bullet ended I dug it out, kissed it and threw it back into the direction it was coming from. He is smiling when he looks at me, he picks up a little stone, kisses it and throws it away. We are Muslims', he says. After walking a few steps he stops me and shows many stones. 'More bullets than stones' he insures me.
In the evening I got introduced To Ico and his wife Semsa. They offer me a room in their house. having Vinko as interpreter, I spend all night talking. This house can not be shot from the mountains. It is the safest house in The Balkan. That's why the Bosnian army made a storage for ammunition of it."
On the arm of Ico the is the name 'Lola' tattooed, he looks at me and blinks one eye to Vinko. '30 years ago he and Lola made a clownsmarriage on the Balkan. ' Vinko explains. Ico shakes his head and said that time is over. She is serbian and lives in Belgrade. Since the beginning of the war no one from Bihac has been in Belgrade. Ico looks at Semsa and says 'Nema Problema'.
You see something particular about me?' Ico asks. I answer that he is a beautiful old man. He laughs and said I shouldn't make fun with his ugliness. Something different as my prettiness is my hair'. I notice that he is almost bald. 'The Serbs like my hair that much that every time when my head was above the trenches, they shot at it. When it didn't grow anymore they went home.
The next morning Ico wakes me up with a cup of coffee as black
as the night. The first draught I spit back. Nema Problema', he says and
brings me a glass of water. As long as Vinko is not here we speak a sign
language. On TV they announce a football match between Zagreb and Belgrade.
The idea to go there crosses my mind. With no-one in Bosnia I have a special
connection but football players are my sports colleagues. As soon Vinko
arrives I ask him if Bihac has a football club. 'On the edge of the town
there is a stadium' he says, But the team is not complete so they can not
join the competition'. Let's go there' I suggest.
Bihac is red and green. The football field is straight and good and is one of the smallest on in Kraijina. The dressingrooms are rebuild but the tribune is unsafe to enter. The roof is broke and the seats are pulverized. All guys are my age and speak English. I can join in right away. The game is played and the guys call me. I'm a cycler, not a football player. At the end of the training we leave the field and go to the cantina. With my bike in my hands and Vinko besides me we follow them. In the cantina they play billiards. Before the war the first team played abroad and the trophies are hanging on the wall.
During the war Bihac was surrounded by Serbs. A Muslim unit succeeded to get behind the Serb lines. The Serbs ran and with the conquered artillery weapons, the unit liberated the town.
The smoke in the cantina it getting too much and the music of Smashing Pumpkins makes it hard to understand each other. The red and yellow balls hit each other. It's my turn. The billiard cue rests on my hand and I try to see all corners of the table. The stroke that follows gives me another turn. A second time the balls hid each other. I hear applause. After the third time I have to give the cue to the next person.
On the verandah it's cool and in the twilight there is the smell of water the field is sprinkled with. A guy followed me. When he inhales his cigarette his face lights up. He looks at he and raises his glass. 'Why did you come here", he asks. 'The conflict", I answers, 'attracts me.' I wanne see to what people are capable of. If I speak with the people over here, they all defended themselves. Bihac liberated itself. The Muslims in Vallpari joined the Serbs because they thought that was the way they could survive. 'But what are you doing here?' the boy asks. "You will not see me driving a car over here. Only on a bicycle you are not seen as a danger for the surrounding and almost never you will be robbed.'
'We killed with our hands' the boy says. It's not difficult. The Cetniks make sport out of it. If you don't kill them they will kill you. Now they play football as before the war. If we have enough players we will join the competition again. All clubs had big suffers but we can not live without each other. Nobody wants to have the war between the clubs. From the cantina I hear the sounds of the billiard balls and Vinko come out. He says he wants to go.
Today I became member of Bihac Football club. The captain gave me his shirt. At my turn I give him my orange shirt.
With my brand new shirt I walk into the cantina. The eyes of the guys are pointed at the television screen. It flickers and the reported announces the match between Zagreb and Belgrade. The camera zooms in to the trainer besides the field. Last instruction are given before the match will begin. Just before half-time the Croats make a goal. The broadcast is interrupted by commercials. The guys are hanging at the bar, The bartender switches to Belgrade TV. On of the players make the serbian liberation sign. The bartender switches back. There is commotion on the tribune. Croatian and Serbian flags hang around everywhere. You can hear a loud sound. The tribune disappears in pink smoke. Second half is started by the Croats. The Serbs stipulate the match but cant surprise the Croatian defense. Five minutes before time the Croatian goalkeeper tackles a Serb attacker. The penalty is scored and the match end in a draw.
It is dark when I cycle through the streets of Bihac. The night
has different temperatures. Under the streetlamps thousands of mosquito's
gather. I cycle with my arms against my chest not to lose temperature.
Today is the last day. Vinko takes place on the bar of the bike and waves at everybody. When we pass the sign of the city I stop and put the saddle down. Vinko looks strange when I put him on the bicycle. His hands embrace the handle-bars and his feet are stuck in the clips. The first hundred meters I walk with him and after that I let it go for 5 meters. Suddenly he drives of. The sun is at it's highest point and a car leaves behind a lot of smoke. Far away I see Vinko coming back with the bicycle in his hands. He says he doesn't understand why I want to go back to Holland like this. I shake hands and say good-bye
Ico filled by bottle with slivovic and lubricated the chain with
sunfloweroil. The backside of my splint bone has a print of this cog-wheel
immediately. If I'll ever have a tattoo it will be this one on this place.
The farms next to the road are deserted. Every half an hour I take a zip of slivovic. At the end of the day I only see a white line on the road between my arms.
Climbing I avoid beetles but when I go down it becomes much harder
to do so. The tire take up chalk. When I miss the line the tire becomes