• Saša Rajšić







My mother found me in my bed, crying, with a pillow over my face, one year after we moved into our refugee apartment in Niš. She sat next to me, hugged me, and asked my why I was crying.


“I can’t tell you,” I replied.


I don’t remember exactly, but knowing my mother, she must have been crying together with me. When I finally had gathered my courage, with tears in my eyes, I said that I had lost something.


“What did you lose,” she asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I repeated.

“Can you at least tell me the first letter?”


“C,” I replied inaudibly.








Letter by letter, I sobbed the word “childhood.”

“It is still on the bench in front of our house.”

I was eight years old.









The Serbian Red Cross was helping refugees. Most often, help was in the form of non-perishable food. We received flour packed in sacks bigger than my seven-year-old body.
The Red Cross office was downtown, and we had to take the bus to bring our flour home. The Red Cross symbol on the sack let other passengers know that we were refugees.


I was ashamed of it.


I was afraid of it.


Other children bullied me daily. They would tell me that I was Ustaša and that I should go back to where I came from. I did not know what it meant to be Ustaša. Adults used that word when spoke about the war, and that could  not be good.


Ustaša was not good.


Ustaša was me.

A few months in a row, we only received flour. Our apartment was filled with it. There was so much flour, we spread it across the apartment by walking--by living. A white circle formed where my mother would bend over to scoop flour from the sack into a plastic bowl.

I found her there, once, in that circle, crying with a plastic bowl of flour in her arms.



For weeks we were hiding in an underground shelter. It was a dark, unfinished room, that I was afraid to enter. This is where my grandmother kept our winter food including her homemade šljiva (plum) jam. When she made it, she would give each kid a spoonful of boiling jam. It burned our tongues for days. We hid here with a neighboring Croatian family during the siege of Karlovac.


Karlovac was unclaimed.


Serbian or Croatian soldiers could take over the city and enter our shelter at any time. My father and our Croatian neighbor came up with a plan. I remember hearing them talking. If Croatian soldiers came in, our neighbor would speak up and claim we are all one Croatian family. If Serbian soldiers were to come in, my dad would do the same.


I sat in the dark thinking about my grandmother’s jam and how šljiva sounds the same in both Croatian and Serbian.