Aleksandar was lying on his stomach reading the Politikin Zabavnik out loud to his whole family. Reading Poltikin Zabavnik together was one of the favourite pastimes on Saturday evenings after the end of Shabbat.
“Brick Bradford,” Aleksandar was reading the title of a comic with an exaggerated theatrical voice, “An Indian Doll with Diamond Eyes, chapter twenty-six, Brick Saves the Professor!” As he read, he made grimaces with his eyes wide open, imitating the Indian doll. Selma was lying on the floor next to Aleksandar, repeating everything to Pepi.
“Brick Bradford! An Indian doll with dianmond eyes!”
“Diamond!” Aleksandar corrected her.
“Dian…diamond eyes!” Selma corrected herself, nodding her head significantly at Pepi so that it could also understand.
“As Brick was descending the well, the professor disappeared under the surface of the water…” Aleksandar pronounced the words dramatically making gestures with his hands as if he were swimming.
“…under the water surface!” Selma shook Pepi as if trying to persuade the toy about what great danger awaited the professor.
Their mother and father were sitting aside laughing out loud at this show.
Every evening before going to bed, Aleksandar and Selma would come to father, who would be sitting at the big dining table made of oak wood. They would kiss him, wishing him goodnight. The father would pat their hair and kiss them, then the mother would take them to their room. It would be dark in their room but light would come in from the dining room making an elongated pattern along the carpet. Mother would check if the window was closed, straighten the curtain a little and then cover Aleksandar with his blanket, kissing his forehead saying “My golden boy”. Then she would sit on Selma’s bed for a while, kiss her and say “My sweetest heart”, closing the door behind her as she would leave the room. The elongated pattern of light on the carpet would abruptly disappear as soon as the door would close, while the dim, pale street light would sneak into the room, casting shadows on the part of the wall above Aleksandar’s bed. Sometimes, when it was windy, a tall oak tree growing in front of the building would rustle. Flickering shadows of leaves playing on the wall.
Aleksandar quietly pulled out his red race car from under the pillow. In the semi darkness of the room it looked mysterious, as if magical. He passed his fingers over the smooth surface of the car and then spun the wheels with a carefully measured move of his index finger. He would spin them and then listen to them rustling until they would slow down and eventually stop. Then he would spin them again.
All of a sudden he found himself at the steering wheel, convulsively shifting gears and squeezing the wheel. Lo! There was Bogdan too, sitting next to him beside the driver’s seat in the red Mercedes Benz W-154 M163, the invincible race car of world champions. Aleksandar and Bogdan were racing around Kalemegdan Park. Engulfed in a pungent smell of gasoline and scorched tires, the shouting of the excited crowd and through the noise of engines and squeaky wheels, they passed the stands where father and Pavle were watching. What a surprise it would be for father and Pavle to see the two of them! Aleksandar kept shifting gears and the engine was roaring very loudly, more and more all the time. Aleksandar turned around, something was wrong, he let go of the wheel. The engine was droning very loudly. Bogdan hid his face in his hands. Something was wrong! Cars kept racing passed them, everywhere, hundreds of cars, hundreds of engines. Aleksandar grabbed his head in both hands.
“Aleksandar!” he heard Selma’s voice. She was standing beside him with Pepi in her hand. Aleksandar sat up on his bed. He was not sure if he was still dreaming or not. All these engines, where was the sound coming from? They slowly moved to the window. Something could be heard. He slowly opened the window pushing aside the curtain. The noise of the engines rattled louder and louder. Airplanes swarmed in the sky, like dense flocks of black birds with their wings spread wide. The whole skyline was covered with their silhouettes. Selma shielded her ears with her hands. Then they heard the sirens.
“Aleksandar?” Selma whined in fear.
The first bomb exploded in a fireball with a loud bang as they felt the whole building shake, stepping back into the room with their eyes wide open. Their mother was already there behind them, grabbing their hands and pulling them inside.
“Quick, let’s go to the shelter!”
“Mother, what is this?”
“Germans. The war has started.”
Aleksandar seemed to hear the voice of his uncle Julije, a war is a terrible evil bringing out an animal in a man.