A Memoir Excerpt Using the ‘Look Challenge’

My friend Gabi tagged me in her blog to participate in the ‘Look Challenge’. Click here for more details. I chose this excerpt from my memoir:

“Walking away from the Holiday Inn onto the open street, I imagined every sniper’s gun in Sarajevo trained on me. In theory, there was a ceasefire but the Holiday Inn was right on the front line and you never knew when a bored or drunken sniper might take a shot just for entertainment.  Wide as a boulevard, the street was deserted. It wasn’t far to the center of the city but I had never walked more than a few blocks in Sarajevo, and never alone.  I passed the towering, skeletal remains of office buildings, imagining someone watching from the dark interiors, sure a shot would ring out any moment. I wanted to run but feared drawing more attention to myself.

Ian had offered to drive me and now I felt stupid for walking alone, insisting I needed some moments of solitude before getting married.  Making my way across these sidewalks, I felt like a lost tourist who’d taken a wrong turn. In a sense, I was. I picked up my pace and tried to focus on breathing, gaze fixed on the mortar pocked pavement — these permanent marks in the concrete had been christened ‘Sarajevo roses’. How many of these scars marked someone’s death? Ian had earlier pointed out the block ahead where I’d be out of the range of the snipers.  I stepped up my pace.

I turned the corner, out of breath and steamy with sweat, heart pounding. A sign battered with shrapnel dents hung over a dark storefront.  ‘Frizerka’: hairdresser. Two middle-aged women in smocks sat on the doorway stoop.  Relieved, I greeted them, lifting my limp hair up hopelessly: “Dobor dan!  Ja sam treba hitna pomoc!”  ‘Hello!  I need emergency assistance’.  I mimed putting on a ring, and with a scramble of Bosnian words from my limited vocabulary, explained why I needed to look beautiful.  Laughing and  kissing my cheeks in congratulation, they ushered me through their dark shop to a basin in the corner. They washed my hair, scooping buckets of precious water either collected from rainwater or perhaps hauled in heavy buckets past drunken snipers. There was no running water in the city.

My racing pulse slowed. I was the only customer so both women, lit by the wan light breaking through the taped up windows, pitched in massaging my scalp, rinsing. We carried on chatting in snippets of languages.

By the time they finished I felt beautiful with my brown hair softly framing my face, blown dry with the help of a car battery.  The women kissed me again and wished me well, waving from the shop doorway. A little less nervously, I made my way down the deserted street and up sniper alley to get ready for my wedding.”

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5 Responses to A Memoir Excerpt Using the ‘Look Challenge’

  1. Great, so evocative. I recently read a novel set during the sarajevo siege, I have to say I like your writing much better!

  2. Avatar Tricia says:

    Why thank you! Would love to know the novel.

  3. It is The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (1 Jan 2009)

  4. Avatar Tricia says:

    I am flattered — I thought that was an excellent book!

  5. Avatar Lea says:

    You had my heart pounding on this….although having seen you this morning I was pretty sure you made it out of sniper range. “Sarajevo roses”….such a poignant detail. I know only bits and pieces of your adventurous life and had missed this wedding backdrop….wow. XO

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