Što U?initi

May 31, 2011
People amble by, going about their daily business more slowly than usual. The warm air is fitted more for July than June, and everyone is taking advantage of it. Men and women walk arm-in-arm with each other. This is the first day in 1914 where one needn’t be worried about a coat.

Suddenly, an expensive-looking car screeches to a stop outside the window of the café I work in. The man inside looks like the Archduke of my home country. I could tell because of his distinctive walrus mustache and the way he looked at the beautiful lady sitting next to him. What other royal couples actually loved each other? The guards in Austrian uniforms confirm my thoughts. It’s the Archduke of Austria-Hungry, Franz Ferdinand. Earlier today a grenade was thrown at him and his wife. Now they’re stupid enough to go visit the wounded in a nearby hospital. Seemingly, the driver has gotten lost and made a wrong turn, only to stall outside of my café. As the archduke’s gleaming black car slowly prowls down the street, hundreds of bodies quickly pressed in close, as close as they can.

The busy café suddenly empties as every single customer and employee rushes to get a glimpse of Austria’s Archduke. Finally, I can’t resist and follow everyone out. After all, I am the only Austrian citizen here. That’s when I see him: Gavrilo. My first friend, the only reason I live in Sarajevo. His black shoes seem to click on the cobblestones as he weaves his way to the car. No one notices; they are too entranced to care. He sees me staring and put a finger to his lips. I stand there like a statue, my light paisley skirt blowing around my slender legs, my hair unruly black hair curling in my eyes. Everything seems to happen in slow motion.

Gavrilo reaches into the pocket of his gray coat and adjusts something. He squeezes his way through the crowd, abruptly appearing in a space by the Archduke. As his hand whips out I see a gun: a silver, shinny, cruel thing that can kill a man as easy as water puts out a fire. And he does, he fires the gun. Two shots later, the Archduke and his wife are in a pool of blood. How could I have not seen this in Gavrilo?

Frozen, I watch as guards swarmed in. I can’t see anything; I don’t understand what is happening. The wind, seemingly so warm seconds before, seems to change in temperature. Suddenly, it isn’t gentle; it is painfully whipping the sounds of screams down the street. Hands shove me inside the café as the royal guards lift the limp bodies from the car.

The Archduke appears dead, but Sophie was still breathing. Everyone was rushes to revive the Archduke, leaving Sophie lying alone and forgotten on an ugly red sofa in the back of the room. Her blood drips from a hole in her stomach, slowly blending the woman and the sofa together. I could have stopped this, so I must make it better. As I walk over to help, I can hear the Archduchess talking. She was whimpering really, not aware of what ges on around her.

“I failed him!” she cries hysterically, “He told me to live to save our children! And I can’t even do that!” Gasping for air, she notices me attending to her. “Is he OK?” she rasps, “Is Franz alive?”

I can’t bring myself to lie. I shout the word behind me as I rush to get a tablecloth to use as a bandage. “No.”

Hearing this, her face twists into pain beyond what any being should have to feel. I instantly regret telling her. She should have lived the last minutes in her life peacefully, I think. But it is too late, the damage is done.

“Then promise me something. Make me a promise, and keep it!” Sophie croaks.

Moved by her pain and determination on her deathbed, I agree, still working to stop her bleeding, “What? Anything Archduchess!”

“Promise me to catch the killer! Promise that you will stop him! No one else needs to die!” she says with utter conviction.

If only she knew. I don’t say anything, merely grab her hand and hold it in comfort. What can happen if I tell what I know? Gavrilo’s powerful friends would kill me. And by betraying their trust in me, it would be a death I deserved. But how can I refuse to help my homeland? The dying woman in front of me? Neither choice is right; helping one, but hurting the other. Why can’t there be some sort of compromise I can make with myself? Isn’t there a solution that hurts no one? If only I could see it.

“Promise me!” Sophie sobs hysterically, “Do it!”

She has no doubt in me. She thinks that I will do anything to stop the killer who ended her husband’s life. Why me? Anyone else could easily help her! Anyone else would agree without blinking an eye! But no, not me. I know these people. They are my friends, the closest things I have to a family. The dying archduchess or my friends? Serving my homeland or my friends? Which is more important? My past or my present? Political or personal?”

“Please! I only want to stop others from feeling pain!” breaths Sophie. She can barely talk by now. Slowly, ever so slowly, her eyelids flutter shut. Her chest moves slower as the lumpy bandage marring her perfect figure completes its transformation into a soiled red cloth.

Barely able to breathe, she keep whimpering, “Why couldn’t I do as he asked? Live for our children!” Each time Sophie says something, it grows fainter. All too soon, no words came. Lips slightly parted, eyes delicately closed, a look of serenity steels across the Archduchess’s face. I nearly ran out of the café. What choice did I have?

The fresh spring air doesn’t seem fitting. The city was the same, but my outlook isn’t. I don’t see happy couples, I see hungry beggars. The sun casts an icy brilliance over everything, no longer bringing out beauty, but pain. I walk quickly back to the apartment that Gavrilo bought me.

I owe him, don’t I? He has helped me in the past, so I should help him. But what about my country? The place where I was born? Gavrilo works for Serbia; I’ve never even been there! But Gavrilo had gotten me a job and a home here in Sarajevo when there was nothing in Austria. Austria just wants my taxes. Austria, where I was born! Isn’t there a deciding choice? Something that outweighs everything else?

The moment I walk through my door I know something is wrong. The lights are on despite the fact that I always keep them off. I know someone is in my house, and I can hear a man’s footsteps. As he turns the corner, I see he’s dressed in Austrian military uniform and hefting a long, dangerous-looking sword.

“Astrid Zweigh?” he barks. His squished nose, squinty eyes, and whiskers make him look like an angry sea lion that is about to eat his dinner. Stunned, I nod. He knows my name, he knows things about me, maybe lots of things.

Now or never, I think, it is time to tell everything or forever regret it. Am I selfish enough to do this? Will I be able to forgive myself for saving my life, not theirs? Gavrilo would have wanted it me to save myself, I know he would have. He cares more about me, right? Either way, his accomplices deserve it.

“You’re right! I have information! I was friends with Gavrilo, I know who he was working with, what they were doing, and why they wanted to do it!” I blurt out, surprising myself nearly as much as the sea lion-man.

“Well, that’s good,” he grumbles, “because I am here to arrest you. Gavrilo paid for this apartment. By all means you are the only lead we have on anything. I’m guessing he has a soft spot for you, and think that you could be a useful tool, but that’s irrelevant. Come peacefully, it will be easier.” I hold my hands out as the man ties them.

Guess I got what I deserve, I think. I offer information on my friends, I’m going to jail. I might as well bring them down with me. Why should I waste my options? I’ll help Sophie and Austria.

“I have information.” I repeat as calmly as I can, “You might not trust me, but I swear I’m innocent. I was friends with Gavrilo, and I know who else he hung out with, his friends from school. Many of them are also from Serbia. Anything else you want to know?”

“That’s irrelevant, stop changing topics. You’re still coming in for questioning. People saw what Gavrilo did before the murder, we aren’t all unobservant.” He says haughtily.

“What do you mean?” I ask, a realization dawning on me. This is the guard who snatched up Gavrilo. His face isn’t hard to remember. That’s how he got here so fast. Gavrilo must have told him something. He is willing to sell me out, now I feel even better about doing the same to him. Guilt is no longer an emotion to me.

“I saw you look at him. I could tell you knew him. I saw that questioning look in your eyes and how Gavrilo silenced you. You knew something was happening and you stood there. You are part of the reason the Archduke is dead. Nothing gets passed his guards.”

I can tell. Sea lion-man’s eyes are twitching everywhere as he leads me down the stairs, so running is no longer an option. Not only will it make me look guilty, but I will be caught in seconds.

“I promise, I had no part in this. I may have been able to stop him, but I was just as confused then as you are now. Ask me anything, and I’ll tell you what I know,” I plead.

The guard doesn’t answer. He keeps dragging me to who-knew-where. He doesn’t slow down for anything, often jerking me around corners like a rag doll. People stare, the harsh sunlight showing horror and confusion on many faces. They know then; that the Archduke is dead. I am in custody of a royal guard. They assume I killed him. If only things were that simple.

Finally, we reach a jailhouse on the edge of the city. It looks the same as the other 13 we have passed to get here. Why is this one special?

“Here we are, emergency headquarters in the investigation of the assassination of my Archduke. Good luck. I’ve been in for questioning; I know what it’s like. You’ll do fine if you keep your head straight,” says the guard with a sudden touch of sympathy.

I nod, the blood draining from my face as a new, grandfatherly looking guard comes out to escort me. Here I am again, alone and lost in an unfamiliar place, an unfamiliar country.

I know one thing as I walk in the fortress, down into the dungeons and into a cell. It wasn’t me. My story will never change because it’s the truth. Grimly, I think about how my determination has helped me in the past, and what it can do for me now.

I can do this, I think. Anything is possible; I’ll make it out alive and sew the pieces of my life back together.

I do not know what my future holds, but I pray that I will survive.

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