Excerpt of The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
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She has been waiting for a long time. Through the scope of her rifle she can see
three soldiers standing beside a low wall on a hill above Sarajevo. One looks at
the city as though he's remembering something. One holds out a lighter so
another can light a cigarette. It's obvious they have no idea they're in her
sights. Perhaps, she thinks, they believe they're too far from the front line.
They're wrong. Perhaps they think no one could thread a bullet between the
buildings that separate them from her. Again, they're wrong. She can kill any
one of them, and maybe even two of them, whenever she chooses. And soon she'll
make her choice.
The soldiers Arrow is watching have good reason to think
they're safe. Were almost anyone else hunting them, they would be. They're
almost a kilometer away, and the rifle she uses, the kind nearly all the
defenders use, has a practical range of eight hundred meters. Beyond that, the
chances of hitting a target are remote. This isn't the case for Arrow. She can
make a bullet do things that others can't.
For most people, long-distance shooting is a question of the
correct combination of observation and mathematics. Figure out the wind's speed
and direction, and the target's distance. Measurements are calculated and
factored into equations tak-ing into account the velocity of the bullet, the
drop over time, the magnification of the scope. It's no
different from throwing a ball. A ball isn't thrown at a
target, it's thrown in an arc calculated to intersect
with a target. Arrow doesn't take measurements, she doesn't calculate
formulas. She simply sends the bullet where she knows it needs to go. She has
trouble under-standing why other snipers can't do this.
She's hidden among the detritus of a burned-out office
tower, a few meters back from a window with a view of
the city's southern hills.
Anyone looking would have a difficult if not impossible time spotting a slight
young woman with shoulder-length black hair concealed within the smoking
wreckage of workaday life. She lies with her stomach pressed to the floor, her
legs partially covered by an old newspaper. Her eyes, large, blue, and bright,
are the only sign of life.
Arrow believes she's different from the snipers on the hills.
She shoots only soldiers. They shoot unarmed men, women, children. When they
kill a person, they seek a result that is far greater than the elimination of
that individual. They are trying to kill the city. Every death chips away at the
Sarajevo of Arrow's youth with as much certainty as any mortar shell battering a
building. Those left are robbed of not only a fellow citizen but the memory of
what it was to be alive in a time before men on the hills shot at you while you
tried to cross the street.
Ten years ago, when she was eighteen and was not called
Arrow, she borrowed her father's car and drove to the countryside to visit
friends. It was a bright, clear day, and the car felt alive to her, as though
the way she and the car moved together was a sort of destiny, and everything was
happening exactly as it ought to. As she rounded a corner one of her favorite
songs came on the radio, and sunlight filtered through the trees the way it does
with lace curtains, reminding her of her grand-mother, and tears began to slide
down her cheeks. Not for her grandmother, who was then still very much among the
living, but because she felt an enveloping happiness to be alive, a joy made
stronger by the certainty that someday it would all come to an end. It
overwhelmed her, made her pull the car to the side of the road. Afterward she
felt a little foolish, and never spoke to anyone about it.
Reprinted from The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (pages 3-12) by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright 2008 by Steven Galloway.