The sound of carhorns and unintelligible screaming that defined morning traffic was slowly dying down as 11:29 became 11:30 A.M. on the black digital clock pinned to the white wall. Sam watched it from behind a mahogany desk. Across from him was the woman who organized this meeting on the 10th floor of this building in the office of WorldNow magazine: Mrs. Chaskins.
“So tell me about these photographs,” Mrs. Chaskins took a pen from the box on her desk “we need a quick blurb from you about each one.”
Sam had been staring at her forsome time, at her black hair, soft skin, burgundy blazer and white dress shirt like he was preparing to take a picture. After she asked him to explain his photographs and closed his eyes something else happened. He just saw a cloud of ash and smoke, and heard the sound of gunshots echoing in the air. He would always see this when he thought of
“Hmmm…” was all that came out of his mouth.
“It’s alright, take your time. I know you’ve been through a lot in the last few years. It can be hard to look back and remind yourself of those events.”
“It’s fine.” Sam blinked and glared at her. “So where do you want to start?”
“How about this picture of Knin from far away?”
The photograph Mrs. Chaskins was holding was of the city of
“I was stranded somewhere on the road between
“So you were both in Medak Pocket? I saw the photos from there that you sent Mr. Hersch, they were very god.”
“What happened to him?”
“He wasn’t feeling too well so he took a vacation.” Mrs. Chaskins voice gave the impression that the vacation was forced. Her tone was the kind used when talking about a child who was being a handful.
“So what was it? A mental breakdown?”
“Something along those lines, yes.” Mrs. Chaskin’s eyes widened, her face turned rigid, and then she looked to her right side. She took out another one of Sam’s photographs. “Is this her over here?”
“Yeah that’s Kaitlin with the rest of her reporting crew: Liam, Richard, and Kieran. The truck that I took the picture from is behind them.”
To Sam they were the only people with whom he had felt even a remote connection. It’s why he went to photograph Knin after Operation Storm ended. Another reason was the same one he had for going to Medak Pocket; there was nothing left for him in
“So I guess they were your friends while you were there.” Mrs. Chaskins smiled.
“I don’t know. Maybe. Could we move on?”
“You have somewhere else to be right now?”
“I guess not. That’s the same reason I went to
“Okay. Let’s talk about this photograph now.” She held out a photo Sam took from within the interior of Knin. Kaitlin and her reporting crew had dropped Sam off a few minutes away from where that photo was taken.
“Take care Sam. Hope to see you again someday,” Kaitlin smiled and waved.
“Yeah someday,” Sam put an open palm in the air to wave goodbye while Liam at the driver’s seat started the car. Sam turned away and looked around at the desolate cityscape for the spot that would give him his photograph. As minutes passed the truck’s roaring engine became quieter and quieter lost in the sound of wind and fire. Walking around Sam noticed shards of glass from the broken windows of empty buildings set out all across the earth. When the sun’s light shot at the glass there was a prism effect. The moment of beauty existing in such a tragic event made Sam disturbed. Some shards led him to a building riddled with cracks and bullet holes that –based on part of a sign—seemed to be the remnants of a bakery. Sunlight went through the cracks but he had found his photo nonetheless. Sometimes rules could be broken.
Sam thought Mrs. Chaskins would ask him about Kaitlin and what their relationship was, since he gave her unnecessary details such as his departure from the BBC news reporters. That never happened, just like nothing between him and Kaitlin happened, even when they were both on a plane together. It was an indirect flight, first stopping at
Mrs. Chaskins moved on to the next photograph and adopted a somber look.
“This one’s different,” she held out a photo of a group of people.
After Sam had gotten the photo of the bakery, not far from him he saw a group of people dressed in regular clothes. An old woman and a little boy walked out together from the back of a building beside the bakery. They were followed by two armed men: one in his late 20s with an automatic weapon, the other –who probably just turned 20—had a pistol of some kind. This tightly-knit family, none of whom would move a foot away from each other is what made up the photo that Mrs. Chaskins held up. Sam quickly hid behind a wall and tried to take the shot without being noticed.
“So you didn’t try to follow them?” Mrs. Chaskins clicked her pen.
“Why would I? I’m not trying to get shot at. I moved on and took other photos.”
“I see that. Can you explain this one?” Mrs. Chaskins showed a photo of a building from the inside, full of cracked walls and bullets like any other. In this one a crow flew through the smashed window, and that was the shot.
‘That’s where I stayed that night.”
“So I guess that crow was your new friend.” Mrs. Chaskins smirked.
“Sure Mrs. Chaskins. I guess you could say that.” Sam glared at her after his reply.
“You can call me Sandra if you want. Anyway, how did you end up sleeping there?”
The sun set and Sam looked at the
“The apartment didn’t look that comfortable based on your other photos.” Mrs. Chaskins commented.
“Well I didn’t have time to find a nice bed. I did have a sleeping bag though.” Sam was referring to the one he had packed, but he fell asleep before it could be taken out.
“I think the soldiers were there to loot buildings. You were lucky to live.”
“I think you’re right.” Sam remembered Kieran had told him that Croatian soldiers stayed in Knin after the war to do this.
“So how was the morning after?”
“Well I heard a crack, like something snapped. I don’t think it was a gunshot. I’m not entirely sure what it was.”
When he heard the sound Sam looked through the window. With his Canon in hand he went out ofthe house and looked around him. From far away he saw something go into the back of a house. Sam went towards what he thought he heard. When he got there,he looked from behind a wall and saw three soldiers. Right by them Sam saw the corpses of the two older men from yesterday’s photograph. Sam took a photo of these immediately. He had seen enough dead bodies before so he didn’t flinch at the sight of them anymore. It was like watching a bunch of action movies. One of the soldiers stared longer at the corpses than the other two, just looking at the blood drenching their clothes and dripping over their faces.
I can’t find a photo of this.” Sandra interjected with a disturbed look on her face.
“I know.” Sam continued to talk. He felt that he couldn’t stop telling this story. He had to finish it and Sandra just listened.
Sam felt a hand clench his shoulder. Before he had a chance to look behind him, he was pushed out of his corner and fell in front of the soldiers and dead bodies. As he lay in the mud the smell of corpses didn’t bother him. He stared into the eyes of the dead 20-year old wondering if he would join him and his brother in the dirt permanently. He was then pulled back up, and the first person he saw was the face that looked at the corpses earlier. It was a complicated face, difficult to tell where the scars on his cheeks ended and where wrinkles began. Sam was let go and allowed to stand on his own. The man with the face and one of the other three soldiers in his early 20s pointed to a place behind Sam. The younger soldier pushed him expecting him to turn around and walk to where they pointed. It was a group of chairs around a table, the remnants of an old backyard perhaps.
The young soldier gestured him to sit down and Sam listened. The scar-faced man also sat down on a chair across from him and then said something in –most likely— Bosnian to the younger soldier. He probably told him to leave since that’s what he did. He left to help the soldier left behind with the corpses.
Sam sat surprised he was alive, waiting for the men in front of him to do something. Eventually he said some Bosnian word and offered a cigarette.
“English?” Sam took the cigarette.
“Sure” the man replied in a heavy accent that sounded like a grinder. “My name is Vojin. Yours?” He lit his own cigarette, passed the lighter to Sam and then leaned onhis chair seemingly relaxed.
“Sam.” He lit the cigarette in his mouth and took a long puff, holding the smoke in him as long as he could.
“Should I thank you for leading me to them yesterday? I’m not sure if I could get them otherwise.” Vojin took a puff as well.
“That’s your choice. So why haven’t you killed me yet?”
“Why do you want to move on already? Let’s talk.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“You don’t seem to care about what is happening now. These dead bodies or what is going to happen to you. Why?”
“I’m a photographer whose worked in
“It’s only human to be bothered by these things. You shouldn’t worry.” Vojin took another puff of his cigarette.
“But I’m not bothered and that’s the problem. I don’t feel anything for them. I try to make people see what I see through my photographs and they may be bothered but…”
“It’s only a photograph for them. You see the reality yet you still don’t feel as much as them. You just watch and do nothing.”
“Because I can’t do anything.”
“Because you don’t care to do anything.”
“And what do you do?” Sam looked into the distance where Vojin’s men were.
“Revenge. They were responsible for killing my family in Vukovar while I wasn't there. I’ve been looking for them for four years.”
“What about the other two people: that elderly woman and the child?”
“I saw only these two. They are the only one’s I wanted to kill. But I can’t say if the others safely escaped.” Vojin inhaled a large dose of cigarette smoke. “There are many soldiers in Knin who decided to stay behind.”
“So why haven’t you killed me yet? I could tell the media about all this.” Sam said this in a monotonous tone.
“I’m not the first to do this.” Vojin threw his cigarette away. “I don’t care about international law. Who does? But all I have to do is destroy the evidence.”
Whether Vojin meant him or something else, Sam soon found out.
“So they just let you go?” Sandra took a sip of her coffee and glared at Sam like she wanted more.
“Basically. I don’t have any photographs to show for it though.”
“Is that it? Why did you tell me this? You know I can’t exactly publish your story.”
“If I knew why I’d tell you. I just had to tell someone.”
Sandra took a sip of her coffee, stood up and grabbed an envelope. She put some papers in it and handed it to Sam, still sitting down.
“You’ll get your check in two weeks Sam. We can mail it to you.”
“So what’s this?’
“A list of areas we might want you to photograph. Some of them are landscape or wildlife areas since I know you’ve had experience with that. Most are war zones.”
“Thanks but I’m not sure if I’ll be in a war zone again.” Sam attempted to fake a laugh.
“You can also pick up your check in person.”
Sam took the envelope and walked out of the building. It was raining heavily and Sam had no umbrella so his grey dress shirt and black dress pants were getting soaked. He still walked to the Lexington Avenue Subway station. He would take the Subway to his apartment in the