I Will Still Be Happy

Ratko Mladić is a convicted war criminal.

“Just drive,” I say to the ex-British soldier.  I wonder about his pedigree.  The mountain road is as thin as my skin and the drop on the left side a good 2,000 feet.  I do not care in the least.  If we don’t make it back, I will still be happy.  A mental autoplay runs “I will still be happy.  I will still be happy.”  The wording, the mantra is on a loop from my past and is running head on into the present, here in Bosnia.  “Read the map damn you,” but he can’t read the map and he can’t operate the shortwave.  “Remind me to fire you.”  I have to do it all, poor me, but the map makes no sense and the radio is silent against the mountains, paralyzed within the storm.  “I will still be happy.”

Our vehicle breaks down on a distant embankment.  I am in a Bangladeshi hut and Peter is pouring water on a sheet covering my naked body.  He is smiling, laughing at my condition and my temperature tops out at 106 degrees.  The Bangladeshis are huddled in the corner sitting on two beds and they take on the shape of animals with bright eyes.  The flames inside me burn everything white, gold, red, and clean, the devil’s anvil,  and I float without direction or aim.  “I will still be happy.”

The Serbs are somewhere down there and we try to find the remnants of Srebrenica.  We know nothing about the massacre of the 8,000 men.  We are ignorant of the rape and the torture.  There is only rumor.  We drive along, mostly lost and worry about the Serbs and how UNPROFOR is not with us.

At the roadblock between Puerto Lempira and Mocorón we stop the truck and everybody gets out.  The Hondurans separate us.  I go with the Indians.  It is always a bad sign when troops separate people into groups and lead one down a trail somewhere.  Never good.  “I will still be happy.”

We see our first displaced band.  There are three women and a child and they stagger along and we stop and ask what has happened.  They point down the road without speaking.  I tell them to sit and wait and we will be back to pick them up.  “Just keep driving,” I say and he frowns.

Today Ratko Mladić is a convicted man, guilty of war crimes as determined by the Hague.  The sentence is life and they don’t hang him.  I can’t sleep and then I drive away from Tuzla, to where the old women and children walk from Srebrenica.  We find thousands in a field. They aren’t dead, just exhausted. It is a cold night and we spread sheets of plastic over them and leave MREs and bottled water beside their still bodies. You can hear the breathing and it is very deep, almost eternal, as if lungs can become part of the trees and the grass and the frigid air.  I don’t fire the driver and a few months later I take a medivac out of Bosnia.

Mocorón is a joint US-Honduran airbase and my malaria returns from time to time.

“I will still be happy.  I will still be happy.”

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