Where the Poppies Bloom (An Excerpt)

The following excerpt is from Fatmire Gjonbalaj Marke's book Where the Poppies Bloom

"Where the Poppies Bloom" is a story of a family torn apart by the ravages of war. Neighbors and friends became enemies, warriors and victims. Wartime rape has been a subject that few have had the ability to write about, let alone speak openly about such a topic. As Albanian women, our honor is often tied to our body. I say ability rather than courage because it would be an injustice to survivors to call it courage. They are courageous even in their silence. They bear the scars of war internally and yet they continue to live and to love. They bring forth and rise up a new generation of Albanian women. The motivation to write this book stemmed from a visit to Kosova in 2010. I met a young woman who revealed to me that she had been raped during the war. Her story is the main focus of the book. It has taken years of research, planning and barriers. It has not been easy, as the graphic nature of most of the stories I have received from willing participants has affected me physically, mentally and emotionally. When you hear another human's story, it inevitably becomes a part of your story. Some participants have backed out of the project, unable to share their part in the story. Some out of fear, and others out of the trauma that still resides within them. The main character is called Liridona. Her name is a representation of the spirit of the fight for freedom. Her family, her brothers, her sister, and the people she meets in the story lead up to a final climax in which we see the destruction of war come to a head in a family of patriots– and traitors. You will see that in times of war, nothing is clear-cut and no one is as they were before the first shot is taken. 

The flames cast long shadows and the smoke made it nearly unbearable to get to the house. As she moved through the debris, she tried her best to ignore the fact that she was stumbling over dead bodies. She had to find him. When she approached the house she saw that flames had not overtaken it yet but she could smell the gasoline and knew it was only a matter of time. Soon she was inside. It was eerily silent. Everything was as it had been left in the moments of panic after Agim had arrived to warn them of the oncoming attack. In their haste, they had left all their belongings behind. She knew that her uncle had buried the family photos deep in the garden but other than that, there was nothing else worth saving. 

She found him.

He was lying, lifeless, on the stairs. She could see a pool of blood around where his head lay. A single shot to the temple. He was perfect. She stared at him and for a moment she could pretend he was asleep. Oh how she loved to watch him sleep. There was no time for emotion and even if she had that time to grieve over his body, she felt nothing in that moment. The numb feeling that had overtaken her felt as though she had completely left her body.

For hours she dug in the garden until it was deep enough to bury him. She returned to the home and washed his body gently. She did not remember the prayers or the steps. She only bathed him as she imagined he should be. He was heavy and it took her more energy than she could muster to drag him out to the yard. Eventually she succeeded and with an undignified push, he was in the ground. Slowly she filled the grave with the warm earth. 

The sun was coming up. It was far too dangerous to remain in the village. The Serbs always returned to check to see if anyone had hidden away or returned to bury the dead. She ran back into the home to find one last thing. Her engagement ring she had hidden away before they left thinking she would return to happier days. As she rummaged through her bedroom she heard a creak. 

“Marko, I found one,” said the soldier standing tall in the doorway. He was missing several teeth and was covered in soot. He must have been one of the ones left behind to burn the village and the bodies scattered through the village. 

She froze. There were only two options, jump out of the window and undoubtedly break her bones or even die. Or, she could endure what was to come or face certain death at the hands of this soldier. The soldier called Markosoon appeared. He was young, fresh faced and clean. He seemed shocked to see her standing there. 

“Let’s go the trucks are going to leave without us,” he said not looking her in the eye. 

“What the fuck you going on about man? I haven’t had one in months,” he said, leering at her with a disgusting smirk and took a step forward.

“You carried out your orders Laz now let’s get the hell out of here before any of those bastards show up and see what we’ve done to the place,” Marko said impatiently. 
“You go. I will catch up,” He said to Marko. Marko looked at her, a glimpse of pity and weakness. He turned and left. 

Lazarus lunged forward grabbing Liridona by the neck and shoving her onto the bed. She couldn’t scream. It was as though a rock was lodged in her throat. He tore at her like a rabid dog. She forced herself to detach from this world and held her breath. Soon she passed out. 

When she awoke she realized he had left her there. Alive. Dead. Her soul torn from her. She lay there for hours. Frozen in place. At some point she rose from the bed and opened the armoire that held her paje nuserise. In it were her gowns, her traditional wear, her shoes and bags. The life she would never have with Ilir. She pulled out the red dress she was to wear to her kana. As she slipped it on she felt pain in her abdomen and nearly doubled over. Once the dress was on, she moved to her parents bedroom. 

It was ripped apart; no doubt a search for valuables by the thug who stripped her of her soul. The shame of what had happened to her enveloped her and began to suffocate her. She felt she was being sucked into a deep, dark abyss and there was no going back. This was the end of her. She was drowning. There would be nothing more of this world for her to grasp. 

With a quick movement she was able to open the loose floorboard. Slowly, she placed her hand inside and pulled out the handgun he kept there for safekeeping. He had never returned from the village meeting with the other men and her mother had not known which floor board held the gun.

She took the gun and pushed the steel against her right temple. Her hands were steady and she prepared to pull the trigger.