Saturday, 16 October 2010

Medjugorje - William Falo

  Jelena hung the new rosaries on the hook above the table hoping they would catch the sunlight coming over the hill to make them enticing to people coming to Medjugorje seeking miracles, but she knew that the beads held no real power.
Clouds drifted in front of the sun making the rosaries look dull and lifeless when the first person approached the stand.

    “Are you one of the visionaries who saw the Virgin Mary?” She remained silent hoping he would go away.
    “Up there,” he pointed in the direction of Apparition Hill. She felt heat spreading in to her cheeks and clenched her fists.  
      “Do you understand me?” He slapped his hands on the table knocking over a statue of Mary. She knew what he said because her uncle made her learn English in school so he could stay home while she sold items to the tourists.
    “This stand is closed.” She stood up so fast that she tipped the table over spilling the rosaries onto his head.

    “Why? What did I do?”
     “Nothing. Just leave me alone.”
    “I’m sorry if I said anything wrong.” He put the fallen rosaries back on to the table.

    “Just go away. I never saw any miracles. Is that what you want to know?”

    “Do you know anyone who did?”

    She continued to pack hoping that the man would disappear, but didn’t expect her wishes to come true.

    “I’m sorry,” he said holding his hand out.

She grunted and walked away from him avoiding his hand. But even her exit lacked grace; she stumbled and fell down the hill that she walked on every day to get to the village where she lived.
    When she finally reached the house she found her uncle sleeping on the couch. An empty wine bottle hung over the table dripping its remaining contents on to the floor creating red spots that looked like drops of blood. A hot wind blew through the house rattling the broken shades. She walked outside and stared at the pond at the bottom of the hill. It shimmered in the sunlight and blue butterflies fluttered along its bank searching for flowers. She recognized the species; searchers followed them to discover unmarked mass graves due to the butterfly’s attraction to death flowers that grew on top of
decomposing bodies. She watched to see if they settled anywhere, but they disappeared after a

short time.
    She started thinking about the man who asked her if she saw the Virgin Mary. The question brought up feelings of unworthiness. Below her in the pond, she saw her distorted image. Why didn’t Mary appear to her? Was it because she was a sinner? She did have a lot of unworthy thoughts and even had sex with a few boys which was definitely a sin in the church’s eyes, but others did even worse things. The stone felt good in her hand and it traveled at lightning speed toward her reflection before shattering it into a million pieces.   
  The next morning, she headed toward Mostar where she lived before her mother died and her

father disappeared. The car rattled when she drove over the cobbled streets toward the neighborhood along the front line that divided the Muslim and Croatian communities during the war. She passed Hotel Ero, and found the cemetery after few turns into a medieval looking section. The crooked tombstones behind the rusty fence looked lonely, and she couldn’t see any footprints on the sandy trail from any previous visitors. A few crows acted like sentinels and cawed at her when she approached them. 

   Weeds and brown grass covered her mother’s grave and the empty plot next to it. The sky seemed to sense her mood and dark clouds appeared on the horizon. Exhausted she left the bleak location and drove to the Hotel Ero for a cup of coffee.

    “Hi,” someone called out.

    She looked up and dropped the coffee cup when she recognized the man from Medjugorje.

    “I’m sorry. Let me help clean it up.” He grabbed napkins and wiped up the steaming coffee stopping when he reached her lap.

    “Leave me alone. How did you find me here? Did you follow me?”

    “I’m staying here.” He pointed toward the hotel.

   “This must be my lucky day,” she said.
   “I’m Colin. I never introduced myself.”

   “I have to leave.” She stood up.

   “Wait, let me buy you another coffee.”

   “I got to go,” she said.

   “Please, I don’t know anyone else here,” he said. His blue eyes reminded her of the butterflies. She wondered if he searched for something too.

    “Okay,” she said and sat back down.

    The waitress brought more coffee. “When I first started working for the magazine, I wanted to come here to cover the war, but my editor said I was too young.”

    “You were lucky. It was horrible, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

    “I understand.”

    “Why are you here now? Are you going to dig up the past?”

    “No, I.” He stopped, and looked down.

    “Oh, the journalist has a secret.”

    “No,” he said. The silence lingered.

    “What is it? You don’t have enough money for America.”

    “Something came up. I had to leave.” She smiled at how she managed to turn the interview around.

    “You can tell me,” she said. “Why are you here?”

    “To investigate the miracles at Medjugorje.”

    “But why now?”

    “A boy drowned at a lake where I live.”

    “How does that affect you?”

    “My brother drowned in the same spot. It was a long time ago but.”

    “But what?”

    “Never mind.”

    “I have to go anyway,” she said, and stood up.

    “Wait, where are you going?”

    “To my old neighborhood. There is nothing worth writing about there.”

    “I would love to go,” he said.

    She stared into the blue of his eyes, and signaled for him to follow her.

    The houses became smaller the farther they went into Mostar until they turned into a narrow lane. They passed an old woman in a shawl working on a garden in front of a small house.

    “There it is,” she said. The house looked vacant, with a crumbling porch and boarded up windows.

    “Nobody lives there?”

    “Nope. I bet it’s not quite up to your American standards.”

    The lady walked over. She stared into her eyes. “Are you Jelena?”

    “Yes,” she answered.

    “I remember. You look like your mother.”

    “I do?”

    “I’m glad you don’t have your father’s eyes.” The old lady moved closer to her.


    “They were cold. He was not a nice person.”

    “What did he do?”

    “No one told you?”

    “No,” Jelena said. “My uncle is always drunk, and nobody else talks to me in Medjugorje.”

    “I shouldn’t say anything.” The lady turned and started to walk back to the garden.

     Footsteps came from inside the vacant house. “Who is in there?” Jelena asked.

    “He might have come back.” The lady started to retreat.


    “Your father. He was high up in the Serbian army and is wanted for war crimes. He is

responsible for killing many people.” The lady disappeared into her house.

    The curtains moved from inside her old house. Jelena walked toward it. A face peered out and a shadow passed by the window.

    Colin pulled her back. “Let’s get out of here.”

    Jelena let him lead her away.

    They left without looking back. Jelena stopped at the end of the lane and wiped away fat tears that rolled down her cheek. “No wonder I never saw an apparition. I’m the daughter of a murderer.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “I guess you have a story now.”

    “No, I understand how you feel,” he said.

    “What do you know about it?”

    “My brother died because of me. I pushed him in. I was jealous of the attention he got from my parent’s because of his bad leg. I did try to rescue him, but it was too late. He drowned.”

    “Nobody knows about it?”

    “Nope. That’s why I came here. People started talking about it again. I couldn’t handle it.”

    The next day, the sun rose over Apparition Hill when she set up the stand. The thought of her father made her restless and she left without packing away any of the religious items.    

    The road looked different and dangerous. The garden wasn’t tended by the old lady. Weeds

grew between the flowers and she wondered if the lady was real. She slowly approached her old

house. Each step she took made a creaking sound, but she didn’t care because she wanted

to confront him. Could it really be her father?

    A dog barked from behind the house and a door slammed. She pushed against the front door and gasped in shock when it swung open.

    The sound of breathing came from the back room. “Is there anyone here?”

    Nobody answered. Chills ran up her arms causing goose bumps to pop up.

    “If you are my father, I want to tell you something.”

    The silence continued when she looked around at the bare walls. After the war, they took everything to her uncle’s place. Her mother died soon afterwards of cancer, but now she wondered if it wasn’t for another reason.    

    “I hate you. You destroyed my mother. You killed people. I wish I wasn’t born if you are my father.” The footsteps came closer. “I’m going to call the police,” she yelled.

   A clicking sound sent chills up her spine. She tried to hurry out, but stumbled on a loose board. The man came out of the darkness and laughed. “You can’t be my daughter. You’re too stupid.”

    He pointed the gun at her. The front door burst open and someone yelled out. “This is the police. Drop the gun.”

    The man ran out of the room, and they heard the back door shut. Colin bent down to her. “Are

you okay?”

   “No,” she said. I couldn’t do it.”

    “Do what?”

    “Tell him how much I hate him.”

    “It’s okay. You’re the bravest person I ever met.”

    The police couldn’t find him, but believed that he was Dragon Sarnovic; a wanted war criminal responsible for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

    In the fields behind the house, blue butterflies gathered around flowers in a clearing.

    “Do you know what that means?”

    “Graves,” Colin said.

    The number of butterflies increased until the whole field seemed covered with them. Later, the

police roped off the area and brought in equipment to dig for remains.

    “I may have a story now.”

    “Please, don’t put me in it.”

    “I wasn’t planning on it, but I may need to spend more time with you to ask more questions.”

    “We’ll see,” she said.

    Later in Medjugorje, she walked until she reached the steep trail to where the teens first saw Mary in 1981. Bronze reliefs representing the joyful and sorrowful mysterious of the rosary lined the path. She reached the blue cross and stood in silence. The feelings she hoped for alluded her. “You give me nothing,” she said. A few religious pilgrims stopped praying and looked in her direction. She hoped for a vision or at least a few words. But why should she expect anything; her father is a mass murderer.

    In town, the small humble church filled with people. It stood in the shadows of the larger St.

James church, but the priests used both of them to handle the large number of worshippers. The

crowds never diminished, people constantly looked for miracles. She knew it was futile. There

were no miracles here.

    A few Vatican officials walked among the people asking questions still trying to decide if there was a legitimate miracle here or not. Why couldn’t they see that it was all a lie?

    Her uncle snored loudly on the sofa making sleep impossible, and she walked out back looking down at the pond. Clouds prevented any reflections in the water below. With one step off the cliff, she could end all the pain. Would they wonder why Mary didn’t save her? Would the Vatican declare Medjugorje a lie if she died while they were here?

    A flash of blue caught her eye. The flashes became more numerous, and the pond filled with

blue butterflies. They fluttered in different directions until they made an outline of a person. It

resembled the shape of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms. The wind increased causing her to waver on the edge of the cliff.

   She stepped back. “Not today,” she said. When she looked down there wasn’t a butterfly in sight. Did she imagine it? The answer eluded her.

    The next day, a steady rain pattered off the canvas above the stand; despite the weather, people still filled the streets. She hung the rosaries up on the bent nails, and dried off the small statues on the table.

    “I’m glad to see you're okay.” Colin said when he picked up a statue of the Virgin Mary.

    “Thanks to you,” she said. “You saved my life.”

    “I was just in the right place at the right time. I was actually terrified.”

    “Now, you really have a taste of what the war was like,” she said and looked into his eyes.

They sparkled despite the lack of sunshine.

   “I think it must have been terrible.” He paused while people passed close by them. “Did they ever find him?”


   “Maybe he’s not really your father.”

    “I know he is. I can feel it.” She noticed his bags. “You’re leaving.”

    “I am. I’m going to write about the area. Without the excitement of the confrontation, and hunt

for a war criminal it may not get published. Plus, I never got to talk to anyone who saw the apparition. The Vatican investigators got priority.”

     “I might know someone who can give you a firsthand account, but you will have to come back.”

    “I think I just might do that.”

   “I promise you the whole story if you do.”

    “Why did you change your mind?”

    “I heard that penance is good for the soul,” she said.

    “It made me feel better to tell someone about what I did, but I always believed that penance never worked unless love was involved. After all, love may be the only true miracle.” He bought a rosary and walked away stopping once to throw a kiss.



   The Vatican announced that although some mysterious events occurred in Medjugorje, there was no evidence of any miracles there. The investigators claimed that the apparitions were exaggerated and people took advantage of the stories to make a profit. But the stories of miracles continued to spread: A German woman regained use of her legs, a man from Slovakia regained his sight, these claims and others brought more visitors to Apparition Hill every day.

    In Mostar, a girl led the police to the hiding place of a highly sought after war criminal. She claimed to follow blue butterflies to the location. However, she declined to give her story to the media in Bosnia saying she wanted to save the story for someone special. 

-William Falo’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Delinquent, DeliveredMississippi Crow, Bottom of the World, Cantaraville, 34th Parallel, Skyline Review, First Edition, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Oak Bend Review, The Linnet’s Wings, Open Wide Magazine, The View From Here, and many others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Photo: Kevin Dooley , Texture : Paree