Twenty young people sat there petrified, with staring eyes full of questions, full of bewilderment.
I had tried to explain Bosnia to them, what was going on there, every day, for they saw it, didn't they, saw the pictures every evening on the television screen and many of them zapped them away.
They did not want to know about the disaster going on there, so far away from here, it was those other people's business, not theirs. Theirs was Michael Jackson, or was it Guns n' Roses, or Claudia Schiffer?
Or perhaps not after all.
Sarajevo? They'd heard of that. That was where the fuse was lit, that eighty years ago set Europe on fire.
Then one said we were all to blame for what was going on down there in Bosnia, in the mountains.
Tito? They knew that name too.
I told them about Ante Pavelic, the Croat butcher, blessed by the Pope and Hitler, who had a basket on his desk, full of "Dalmatian oysters", or so Curzio Malaparte believed. But, if you please, it was forty pounds of human eyes.
They stared at me, horrified.
One of them went red and bit her tongue, a pretty girl, with sharp features and long dark hair she wore loose.
I said I thought it was a good thing that Tito was a Croat, otherwise Yugoslavia would never have existed. They were dumb. They remained silent.
One of them went red and bit her tongue, a pretty girl with soft features and long chestnut hair she also wore loose. And I said, war was always terrible, but civil war was most horrific of all, then I heard a wild cry: "It's the Serbs. The Serbs are the murderers!"
I started. The others sat there petrified, with staring eyes full of questions, full of bewilderment.
But the girl with chestnut hair was on her feet. It was she who'd cried out so wildly. Now her face was white, white and transparent, like the fine snow falling on the school roof, just as white and transparent. Slowly, she sat down again. She had only just realized she was standing.
But the dark-haired girl had swung round, was facing her:
-That's not true, she screamed, and her skin had gone white too, white and transparent. Why did the Croats desert Yugoslavia? We've got the same language, haven't we? The same language! Here in Luxembourg, they say language is part of Luxembourgers. Then why isn't the language part of all Yugoslavs?
- Because Milosevic is a dictator. That's why we separated from Yugoslavia.
- You had no right.
- You've got no right to try and crush us. Why are you occupying Krahina? Karadzic is a murderer.
- Tuchman's an idiot, and the Germans are idiots for supporting such an idiot.
- You're an idiot too. You're all idiots, that's all you deserve, to get killed, you're all going to die, and the Muslims first, their women, their women, their women, the Muslims must die, or they'll kill us all, or they'll rape me, Azid's already threatened to, but I'll defend myself, I'll kill him first, then I'll kill you, my father's already packed, but when he's called up, then he'll shoot, he can shoot, my father, he's a fantastic shot, my father, he's not scared, he'll shoot first, before someone else can shoot him. POW, POW, POW.
She stretched her left arm out, and crooked her right. POW, POW, POW. There was a brief crackle, they were dull thudding shots, then a whispering. Another shrill whisper, a crack. That was a hit. Smoke burned in their eyes. A silence and in the anxious silence the cackle of machine-gun fire. They all cried out and ducked. They tried to draw their heads in, to bury themselves in the wooden floor. The benches splintered, bullets bored into the wood, one hole appeared beside another, like a pearl necklace, white and round, and the splinters flew.
And another hit and a cry, a terrible cry and then silence, more terrible yet than the cry. And suddenly, there were little spurts, little red flecks, that got bigger and bigger, redder and redder, filled the room, filled the courtyard, silently steeped the school in a hideous red. Nothing was left but the terrible red and no sound came from any throat, their eyes burnt with red smoke, and the spreading silence, the smoke, the red.
And still the silence, the smoke, the red.
Just the silence, the smoke, the terrible blood red.
Translated from German by Ariel Parker . © Guy & Ariel Wagner, 1995