Broken chair

Davor Banovic
10 min readJan 3, 2015

“I was not always a soldier, you know,” said the soldier while slowing down to accommodate the traffic speed in the village they were passing through. “I am actually a carpenter.”

David, a seasoned hitchhiker, was sitting at the co-driver’s seat. He nodded. Silent. He never starts a conversation while hitchhiking but he has no problems engaging into one. He heard so many interesting anecdotes so far that we were seriously considering writing a collection of short stories.

“How you like the chair?” Asked the soldier pointing to the chair at the back seat with his right thumb. His fingers formed a fist. David noticed a seal ring on his ringlet finger. The ring had some kind of bird engraved. Not an eagle or falcon or some sort of predatory avian symbol used in military iconography. This was rather a dove. A dove of peace with the olive branch. David could not hide a smile.

“You like it,” said the soldier returning the smile.

“Yes, I do,” said David. “I see it is broken.”

“Yes, a shrapnel got through it,” nodded the soldier.

“Ah, those villagers are crazy. He bumped right in front of me with his stupid muddy tractor. We almost got killed. Killed by the plow. How funny is that in the middle of the war? They will hammer their swords into plowshares and pierce one right through you.” The soldier hit the horn and held it for few seconds while speeding the car to go round the muddy red tractor. The tractor was the convertible type, popular among the Slavonian farmers. Big letters IMT and a bull with tractor wheels for legs formed a logo of once a famous Yugoslavian, now suddenly Serbian tractor manufacturer, livid after years on the field. The tractor was dragging a plow greased with dark brown soil. The farmer was ignoring their horn, occupied with his thoughts, driving the tractor like it is still on the acres. Slow and steady.

Pale blue aged _Renault 19_ with a soldier behind the wheel and philosophy student David at the co-driver’s seat, passed by the tractor. Two of them looked each other and shrugged their shoulders at the same time bursting into a loud laugh. They laughed for a while. The chat was getting pace. By looking into them, no one could tell that one of them is returning from the battlefield and the other from the college. They were both young and somewhat bemused. They both wore the similar clothes. Olive jackets and blue jeans. They both wore this same clothes to their jobs and for a spare time. Some old folk tune shrilled from the poky speakers. The song fitted well in their surroundings. Those songs are usually pretty sad when you listen to the lyrics. But if you just follow the tune, they are easy going and catchy. The car was now out of the village, driving along the sunny road charted in a meadowy landscape. David suddenly realized that the farmer in the tractor was a lucky one. Great part of his colleagues would not go into the field nowadays as they could easily put their life into a jeopardy because of the minefields scattered all around. Their Renault was deep into the free land, but these days you were never more than a half an hour ride of a first minefield.

David took a better look of the chair on the back seat. It was a typical brown wooden chair, worn out from years of use. But it was not the use that broke it. It was, as his driver said, shrapnel. Big jaggy hole spangled the left front quadrant of the seat. David would expect the shrapnel to rupture the back and not the seat.

“The shrapnel knocked it down from the roof terrace,” said the soldier guessing David’s wanderings. “See, it still has mud on the back. I took it from the street where it was lying,” he was showing the parched dirt on the back of the chair. The right sleeve of his jacket had a strap with letters CDC on the shoulder. Beneath the big lettering, letters — 106th brigade, was showing which unit this soldier belonged to. On the top left side of the strap, there was a national emblem of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lilies and the white sword. On the top left side was Croatian checkerboard.

“I was born in Bosnia,” he said defending himself against scorn that must have been flashed in David’s eyes. Everybody had some attitude towards the war in Bosnia, and rarely anybody can articulate it in words. This was the case with David as well. “I moved to Croatia for work. We used to make chairs exactly like this in a furniture factory in Osijek. By the way, I am Ilija,” said the soldier.

“I am David,” says David accepting the hand with dove ring for a shake. “I think that this factory is not producing anymore,” said David. One of the facts of being a student age is that you never actually know what is going on, and you are always somewhat mad about everything.

“True,” said Ilija dolefully. “We have more important business to do,” he couldn’t suppress the irony in his voice. “You know,” he continued, “I plan to start my own furniture shop after the war. One of my first tasks will be to fix this chair, make few more just like it and bring it back to its owner.”

David said nothing. He just looked at the chair imagining it fixed. Visualizing that it was never shot with shrapnel in the first place.

“This chair belongs to my neighbors. I used to sit on this chair you know.”

“Oh. It is nice of you that you will fix it,” said David.

“Heh, there is nothing a Bosnian guy cannot fix,” said Ilija cheerfully. “For example, I know how to make a chair like this and my brother, Mario, knows how to make an explosive to crash it. I wouldn’t be surprised that he got his hands on the explosive that was in that grenade that hit our neighbor’s house and knocked this chair of.”

“Interesting,” said David. “Your brother is working in explosives factory?”

“Not anymore,” said Ilija. “He is now a soldier like me. Not like me, actually, he is in a special unit, Knights.”

“Hey. I’ve heard of Knights. He is in charge for explosives, I suppose?” Asked David.

“Well, I am not authorized to tell you about his military duties,” said Ilija, with sudden austerity.

“Ok,” said David.

“We used to go to the same high school,” Ilija continued, again disposed for chatting. “Enes, the guy who lived in the house that this chair belongs to, with his sister Amila, my brother Mario, and me. First neighbors. We hanged around a lot. We went to this big high school with a lot of industry curriculums. Enes and Mario were studying to be chemical technicians, Amila hairdresser, and me…”

“…to be a carpenter,” David continued his sentence. Their Renault was already in Cepin, last village before Osijek. Soon he will have to leave the car, and he felt like he will miss some story here if a talky soldier goes too much into details.

“Exactly,” said Ilija. “Please tell me where you want me to drop you off. I am heading downtown, near to central bus station.”
“This is just fine with me,” said David. “I will take a bus from there. Thanks”

“I had a thing going on with Amila you know. She is very beautiful and cheerful, you know. Full of energy, as they say. She left to visit her cousin in France right after high school. Decided to stay to finish some hairdressers’ academy there. She had plans to go back and open a modern hair salon. I know that because she used to write me letters, you know. She sent me this,” said Ilija showing the ring with the peace dove.

“Sounds serious. A ring,” said David.

“Yes, but then the war came,” said Ilija. “She never came back to Bosnia. Opened her salon right there in France.”

“But, war will end, and she may come back. You know that you can never go wrong with opening a hair salon, even here,” said David trying to be helpful.

“Yeah, whatever,” said Ilija. “But even if she comes back, I doubt she will want me. You know that bad things are happening in central Bosnia.”

This was a claim, not a question but David didn’t know anything about bad things in central Bosnia. He was hardly aware that there was even war in Bosnia. All were pretty occupied with handling the war in Croatia in their minds and trying to live normal lives in spite of that.

“Well, no,” said David. “I rarely watch the news.”

“Who knows what they tell you in news. I would be surprised if they say anything useful, let alone the truth,” said Ilija with irony in his voice. “Mario and Enes,” he continued his story, forgetting about bad things in central Bosnia, “went to live in Vitez right after the high school, to work in an explosive factory there. Do you know that they have the big explosive factory there in the middle of nowhere?” Ilija asked with a strange grin.

“No, sorry. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know anything,” said David sincerely.

“Ha, me neither,” said Ilija. “I’m not sure anybody honest can grasp what is going on, really. Whatever. They were both working in the factory. Both of them found girls there and got married. You know how things are going?”

“One thing is leading to another,” said David with a smile.

“Exactly,” Ilija agreed.

“But then the war came,” said David and they both burst into a puny laughter.

“Yes, and both of them decided to join the army. But which army to join? We have three armies there fighting on the same side. But it is never quite the same side you know. So, they joined one army, and now they are officially part of the other. They fought as allies to one army, but now they are engaged in fighting against it. Soon, they will be fighting against each other. Not bad for possible brothers in law, eh?” Ilija’s voice was not bright anymore. His hands were firm on the steering wheel, fingers deep in soft leathery cover. Peace dove looked like it will pop out of the ring.

David was silent. He was suddenly not feeling comfortable. He just wished to go out of the car and this war if possible.

“I see you don’t know what I am talking about,” said Ilija. Renault was slowing down. David realized that they are near the central bus station.

“No. Sorry,” said David but he could deduct enough. Enes and Amila must have been Bosnians. Those were Muslim names. Weren’t they talking on TV about fights among Bosnians and Croats in Central Bosnia?

“Ok. Here we are,” Ilija said while pulling over to a sidewalk. Several buses were on the bus station. People were coming in, and others were going out. Some were coming out of a white bus with the lettering BIHTOURS, obviously refugees. They were dragging big checked bags. Their relatives were helping them to put the bags in cars. All their belongings were left somewhere far. They do not have a chair to sit on.

“Thanks for a ride,” said David bending to wave to Ilija. He was already out of the car, throwing his backpack on back. He’ll take a bus home.

“Thank you for your company,” said Ilija touching his temples with two fingers like in the military.

David slammed the door as a car passed by him. Broken chair legs visible through the back window.


He has almost an hour before his next bus, so he decided to go for a coffee. He sat in the coffee shop that faced the central bus station with a big window. The long high table in front of the window usually filled with people waiting for a bus today was half-empty. By the still smoking cigarette in the dirty ashtray and several glasses of the beer and coffee cups on the table, he could tell that a hurried group just left the place. They were probably sitting now in one of two buses that were just leaving the bus station.

He dragged the heavy bar chair. The crew that took coffee was obviously standing, but he felt like sitting. Daily paper was on the chair. Great. He will have something to read. He grabbed the newspapers and threw it on the table, mounting to a sitting position on a chair. It was not an easy task as the footrest was broken, so he had to lean on the desk in order to sit correctly. Big red lettering covered the better half of the newspaper cover: “THE EXPLOSIVE FACTORY WILL BE OURS OR NO ONE’S.” Beneath, smaller subheading continuing “Fights between Bosnians and Croats continues in central Bosnia. Croatian Defense Council command ordered mining of the explosive factory plant in Vitez.”

It felt funny to sit on a broken chair. His legs were dangling while he was reading the red letters.

“What will be your order?” The waitress asked him with strong Bosnian accent. He felt like crying, but he just says, “A coffee please, and a glass of water.”

“We serve Bosnian coffee also, would you like it?” She asked.

“Very much,” he said honestly. An espresso I can drink anywhere, he thought but said nothing more.

The helpful waitress was already two steps away dragging another bar chair. “You can use this one. The one you are sitting on is broken Ilija; please fix it already. You promised to do it last week,” she said to a young man behind the bar,

“Will do,” said Ilija loudly. “You know that there is nothing a Bosnian guy cannot make.”

David helps waitress with the chair and sits. Much better with the footrest.

She smiled at him, and he smiled back.



Davor Banovic

Author, philosopher, theologian and poet. @shoutem fan and software tester. I ride bike and enjoy reading and writing (not while riding)