Danijela's Story

by Jo


I'm pregnant.

The dream drifted into her consciousness from somewhere deep inside.

I'm pregnant.

Danijela smiled and hugged herself, not wanting to open her eyes just yet; just wanting to savor the thought. There was no real way of knowing, of course, not yet anyway; no test to prove it, for it was much to soon. And yet, she thought,

I'm pregnant.

And she knew that it was true.

Danijela rolled over and opened her eyes, looking at the pillow next to her. She could still see the impression of Luka's head on his pillow; he was long gone, of course, off to work or study.

"We're going to have a baby," she said to the emptiness, and suddenly it seemed less empty. A baby. His baby. My baby. Our baby, she thought. Danijela smiled, so happy, drifting in between sleep and wakefulness, knowing it was true.

But she didn't say anything to Luka that night, said nothing as the days turned to one week, then two. It was only a dream, after all, perhaps just a wish in the half-dawn. She didn't want to say anything, didn't want to get Luka all excited about a phantom hope. And yet- she knew that it was true.

Finally, it was time; she knew she could prove her dream was real. Danijela lay nestled on Luka's chest, his arm around her. Luka was so exhausted, as usual; had been working so hard, as usual. But he never did anything halfway; it wasn't who he was, wasn't how he had been brought up. No, Danijela thought, Luka Kovac never did anything halfway. She couldn't wait to see him with their child... She laid with him in the dark, listening to his heartbeat, her heartbeat, knowing there was a third heartbeat there.

"Luka," she whispered in the calm of the dark, "You know how I am never late?" She felt him nod non-comittedly, expecting her to tell him of being late to work or some such thing.

"Um hmm," he sighed; so tired, so tired, she thought. It was no fun, teasing someone who didn't know he was being teased.

"Luka," she said again, then paused just a moment so she knew he would listen, "Luka- this month I'm late." She waited for him to absorb what she had said, for the implication to filter through the exhaustion. Danijela smiled as she heard his heartbeat quicken, felt his muscles tense beneath her. He sat up, pulling her with him, searching her face in the darkness, his eyes gleaming, wanting to believe.

"You're late?" he repeated, breathing too fast, "As in- as in-"

"As in you're going to be a father," she finished for him, beaming in the dark. He wrapped her in his arms, all the tiredness gone, banished by the joy of her news, their news, their baby.

They were so happy, so giddy; they had been waiting, waiting, while Luka was in school. This child was a not-so-accidental accident. It didn't matter that there wasn't enough money for two, let alone three; they both wanted this child so much. They stayed home all the time now, no more visits to the clubs or the movies, saving every penny. But it was spring, life was good. They were going to have a baby, and all was well.

Jasna arrived right on her due date, pink and wailing and strong. For sixteen hours, Danijela had hummed and breathed, so tired by the end, so glad that she had Luka with her to help banish the fear, the pain. And then Jasna finally came, a beautiful girl, large and healthy, and perfect, just perfect. At first, it was all perfect.

But then they went home, and Luka went back to work, to the hospital and crazy hours with little pay, leaving Danijela home alone much of the time, just her with their newborn. She had to struggle with the baby and the apartment, nursing and cleaning and changing diapers, always changing diapers or washing diapers or folding diapers. Jasna was so sweet, so perfect, and yet- and yet, sometimes she would cry, and Danijela wouldn't know why, and so she cried along with her daughter, not knowing what to do, too exhausted to do anything else.

And it was winter, dark and cold and lonely winter. Luka was so tired, too; he wasn't quite sure what to do with Jasna, either; there was no one in Zagreb to help. Danijela would get frustrated and snap at him, and he would snap right back, and the baby would cry. They were convinced that they were the worst parents on Earth; surely no one else had these troubles. It seemed forever, but slowly, slowly, they all got used to things, all three; they found a routine that worked, and things got better.

And then the offer came from the hospital in Vukovar; still not much money, but a regular job, with regular hours. They had been hoping for an offer from somewhere near home, somewhere near the sea; but it hadn't come. So Luka took the job, took the security, and they moved to Vukovar.

Danijela fell in love with the city right away. The apartment was just as small as the one in Zagreb, but it didn't seem to matter as much. Maybe because it was spring again, or maybe because Jasna was sleeping through the night, or maybe because Luka was working regular hours. Or maybe it was all that. It was after they had moved to Vukovar that she told him of the dream, of knowing Jasna was coming. Luka didn't believe her; he even laughed- but she pointed to their daughter as proof, and he finally gave in. Or pretended to give in- Danijela was never quite sure.

And then the dream came again. Jasna had just turned two when the thought filtered in again.

I'm pregnant.

And she knew that it was true.

This time she told Luka right away; he smiled and doubted her, until the tests came back and proved her right.

"I told you," she said gently, and Luka promised to defer to her dreams in the future.

Marko was more joy, round and pudgy to his sister's angles, with a smile that belied the temper underneath. Things were easier, this time. Danijela was more comfortable, knew more tricks to soothe him, to entertain him. And Jasna was there, eager to help- at least until Marko learned to crawl and so could get into her toys. Jasna would cry and complain, but Marko would just ignore her and stubbornly go after what he wanted. Just like his father, Danijela thought, just like his father.

Money was tighter still; Luka was still considered a student, his stipend wasn't much- but it didn't matter; they were happy, all was well. They went to visit Danijela's parents for Jasna's fourth birthday in the fall of 1990. Grandma and Grandpa gave her a big party, took pictures of mother and daughter, and generally spoiled the children as much as they could. Every night Grandma presented Marko with a huge bowl of ice cream; every night Luka had to give him a bath because he ended up chocolate from head to toe. It was the first real holiday they had taken, all four together, and it was wonderful. They returned to Vukovar, rested and happy. Luka was a doctor officially now, though he was still learning, and all was well.

Until the next spring. Slowly a noose was being drawn around them, though they didn't realize it. Danijela and Luka sat up talking through the night when they heard of the policemen being executed, debating what to do. The tales from the road that filtered back where terrifying; surely it was safer in the city, safer than the idea of traveling with two small children past terrorists and rapists and murderers. So they stayed, and the noose closed tighter, closed off any chance of leaving.

Eventually it became dangerous to go outside; Danijela stayed inside with the children, even though it was summer and the weather was perfect. She and Luka made it a game, staying inside, staying away from the windows. The children played in the hallway, not happy, but accepting their parents' rules. Children can adapt to anything, she told Luka.

But it was harder for Danijela. Every time Luka left the apartment, to go to the hospital or to get food, she prayed with all her might for his safety. Each time he returned unharmed, she held him too tightly, thankful he was all right. Every night, they clung to each other, desperately holding on to each moment. They never spoke of their fears, they didn't have to; they both knew how dangerous it was, how each night might be the last ever.

July turned to August, and things got worse. It was harder to get food; it was the same thing, day after day; they certainly didn't have extra money to get much more than bread and cheese. Marko was the only one who didn't complain; he rather liked having the same thing day after day. And at least they were never hungry.

But Luka brought home stories of people moving to basements, to shelters. The bombs hadn't landed near them, not yet, but soon, he told Danijela, soon we will have to move.

"Surely it can't get that bad," she said, wanting to believe. "Surely they won't bomb the whole city?" But Luka just shook his head.

"It may come to that," he answered softly, "We have to start planning for it, soon. Very soon."

That night, the dream came again.

I'm pregnant.

She tried to push it away. Not now, she thought, not here. We can't. We can't. But she knew that it was true.

The others were up early, all three wrestling, laughing. He's so good with them, Danijela thought, so good as a father. Despite everything, she was happy.

She smiled at him all through breakfast, pleased with her secret, planning how to tell him.

"I'll go to the market now," Luka said after breakfast, "They usually have more early."

"Let me come!" Jasna pleaded, grabbing her father's arm.

"Let me come!" Marko parroted, grabbing Luka's leg.

"Now, now," Luka said, softly but firmly, "You need to stay here with your Mama, where it's safe." Reluctantly, they let go and went to where Danijela was sitting. Luka came and kissed them both, then kissed Danijela as he always did now, as if for the last time.

"Be careful, " Danijela whispered, her hand lingering on his cheek.

"Don't worry," he promised, kissing her again. "I'll be all right." She managed to smile at him as he opened the door.

"I love you," he called quietly.

"We love you, too," she answered for all of three of them. All four of us, Danijela thought as the door closed. When he gets back, she vowed, cradling her children in her lap, I'll tell him about the dream.

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