Excerpt of The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
(Page 3 of 4)
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One of the three soldiers moves away from the other two.
Arrow tenses, waiting to see if the two salute him. If they do she will fire.
For a moment she's unsure, unable to read their gestures. Then the soldier steps
out of the narrow corridor her bullet can travel through. He has, in an instant
of seeming in-consequence, saved his life. A life is composed almost entirely of
actions like this, Arrow knows.
She watches them a while longer, waiting for a detail to
emerge that will dictate which one receives the first bullet. She wants to fire
twice, to kill both of them, but she isn't confident there will be that
opportunity, and if she must choose just one of the soldiers she would like to
make the right choice, if there's a right choice to be made. Ultimately she
doesn't believe it will make much difference. Perhaps one of them will live, but
he'll never understand how slim the margin of his existence is. He will chalk it
up to luck, or fate, or merit. He'll never know that an arbitrary fraction of a
millimeter in her aim one way or another will make the difference between
feeling the sun on his face ten minutes from now and looking down to see an
unbelievable hole in his chest feeling all he was or could have become drain out
of him, and then, in his final moments, in-haling more pain than he knew the
world could hold.
One of the soldiers says something and laughs. The other one
joins in, but from the tightness in his mouth it seems to Arrow that his laugh
is perhaps only for his companion's benefit. She ponders this. Does she shoot
the instigator or the collaborator? She's not sure. For the next few minutes
she watches the two men smoke and talk. Their hands trace hard shapes through
the air, physical punctuation, sometimes pausing, like knives poised in
anticipation of a strike. They're both young, younger than she is, and if she
wished herself into ignorance she could almost imagine they were discussing the
outcome of a recent football match. Perhaps, she thinks, they are. It's possible, even likely, that they view this as some sort of game. Boys throwing
bombs instead of balls.
Then they both turn their heads as though called by some-one
Arrow can't see, and she knows the time to fire has come. Nothing has made a
decision for her, so Arrow simply chooses one. If there's a reason, if it's
because one shot is easier, or one of them reminds her of someone she once knew
and liked or didn't like, or one of them seems more dangerous than the other,
she can't say. The only certainty is that she exhales and her finger goes from
resting on the trigger to squeezing it, and a bullet breaks the sound barrier an
instant before pulping fabric, skin, bone, flesh, and organ, beginning a short
process that will turn motion into meat.
As Arrow readies her second shot, in the time between the
tick of one second and another, she knows that something has gone wrong. The men
on the hills know where she is. She abandons her shot and rolls to the side,
aware of eyes upon her, that a sniper has been hunting her all along, and the
instant she shot she was exposed. They have set a trap for her and she has
fallen into it. A bullet hits the floor where she lay an instant before. As she
scuttles toward the skeleton of a staircase that will lead her nine flights down
and out of the building she hears a rifle fire, but doesn't hear the bullet
strike. This means either the sniper has missed entirely or she has been hit.
She doesn't feel any pain, though she's heard you don't at first. There isn't
any need to check if she's hit. If a bullet has found her she'll know soon
Arrow enters the stairwell and a mortar comes through the
roof and explodes. She's two flights down when another lands, sending the ninth
floor crumbling into the eighth. As she reaches the sixth floor the texture of
the situation shifts in her mind, and she veers into a dark, narrow hallway and
moves as quickly as she can away from the mortar she knows is about to penetrate
the stairwell. She manages to make it far enough to avoid the steel and wood and
concrete the explosion sends her, a multitude of bullets as interest paid on the
loan of one. But then, as the last piece of shrapnel hits the ground, she turns
and runs back toward the staircase. She has no choice. There's no other way out
of this building, and if she stays she will collect on
her loan. So she returns to the stairwell, not knowing
what remains of it. The sixth floor has collapsed into
the fifth, and when she jumps to the landing below she
wonders if it will
bear her. It does, and from there it's a matter of staying tight against the
inner wall where the stairs meet the building, where the weight of the upper
layers of the collapsed stairway has had less impact.
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.