These are the dreams of a refugee named Feti Musliu and his wife, Lutfie, in the last hopeful moments before their lives get even worse:
We will go to the United States, Feti is saying. Any day now. Maybe to Boston, because I heard from a man in another tent that Boston is nice.
And Feti will find a job, says Lutfie, speaking of a man whose only job so far has been to farm the same meager patch of Kosovo that was farmed by his father and grandfather.
And Lutfie will have a house again, Feti says, speaking of a woman who for two months has been cooking over an open fire and has a bad burn on one of her arms to show for it.
And the children will go back to school, Lutfie says.
And we'll be out of this tent, Feti says of the place where he and Lutfie and three of their children have been living since April 16.
And Lulzim will be with us, Lutfie says, speaking of their oldest child, who is 11, whom they haven't seen since they were attacked by Yugoslav soldiers on April 13, who they think is somewhere in Kosovo with his grandfather.
We were told a month ago we'd be going, Feti says, sitting in front of his tent. So we're waiting.
It's late June. The war is over. The second exodus is well underway. Everyone is going back to Kosovo, the place where the Muslius no longer want to be, so they watch everyone else leaving the camp and heading up the road, an entire world seeming to move in one direction, north this time, the first exodus in reverse.
Except one day someone comes in the other direction, against the tide, into Stenkovic II and toward the entrance of the tent.
It is the grandfather.
Who is alone.
And who is confused by what Lutfie is saying as she rushes toward him.
"Where's Lulzim?" she is saying.
So confused he doesn't answer.
"Where's my son?" she asks again.
Now he does answer.
"I haven't seen him," he says.
And just like that, the truth of a war that is over, but won't be over for a long time, closes in on another family.
How bad will it be in the final accounting? No one can know, not yet, which is the story of Kosovo right now. The sorting. The reckoning. Already, there have been enough answers to allow the inevitable drift in attention in Washington, in the rest of Europe, in any place that isn't the Balkans. Yes, there were atrocities. Yes, there are mass graves. Yes, the stories of fires were true, and ruined villages were true, and torturings were true, and rapes were true, and murders were true; and yes, the refugees will return.
But meanwhile, every day, come discoveries that, to outsiders, may seem numbingly repetitious -- another grave site, another collapsed house, another charred landscape -- but to the families making them aren't repetitious at all. Because beyond the broad outlines are details that make each family's journey home heartbreakingly fresh.
In the tiny village of Vlastica, where the Muslius lived until it was abandoned in early April, the first people back discover that the particular grave site in their particular collapsed house contains 13 bodies, including that of a 2-year-old boy who reportedly was shot in the forehead. Twice.
And how, they wonder, looking at bones in the rubble, does someone shoot a 2-year-old boy even once?
And the following day, when a man named Shyqri Veseili returns to Vlastica, he discovers that Serbs not only burned his house, stole his cattle, stole his tractor, stole his refrigerator, burned his hay and burned his stockpiled corn, they also stole 19 of his 20 blankets.
And why, he wonders, amid all the things to wonder about, would they leave one blanket behind?
And the following day, when a man named Besim Musliu returns, he discovers that in the ransacking of his family's house, the Serbs not only tipped over furniture, tossed around clothing, ripped books and smashed pictures, they fired two bullets into one end of a baby's cradle, the end with a design of hand-painted flowers.
And where to begin, Besim wonders -- and then he does what he was sent to do, which is to begin looking for his nephew Lulzim.
This was the family's decision, made in the confines of a hot, dark tent as a grandfather rested from his trip. There was no way of knowing where Lulzim might be, so it was decided that Feti and Lutfie should remain in Stenkovic II in case they were listed on a flight to the United States, and that Besim, who is Feti's brother and who wanted to return to Vlastica anyway, would go back and look for a boy who might be anywhere at all.
Back he went then, to a village that is a half-mile long, had a prewar population of 2,100 and dead-ends into a high hill, which is where all 2,100 people went into hiding in late March when mortar shells began descending on Vlastica from the Serbian village just up the road. Over the next few days, when it became apparent that the villagers would be living in the hills for a while, they began going back at night to get clothing, cooking supplies, sheets of plastic to fashion into shelters, even a few cows so they would have milk.
Then, in early April, Yugoslav soldiers and Serbian militiamen descended on the village and set house after house ablaze.
Then, on April 13 at 11 a.m., they came up into the hills, firing.
Two hours earlier, Lulzim had been sent down toward a stream with two cows sorely in need of water.
Now it is 2 1/2 months later, and Besim, not knowing where else to go, walks from his house into the village, and from the village up to the hill, and there, near the top, on the other side from where everyone was that day, is Lulzim.
And it takes only a moment to realize what must have happened.
That, alone when the shooting began, he must have begun running up this lonesome hill toward his family.
That the bullet that caught up with him must have come from somewhere below, because there is an entry hole in the left side of his head, just below the ear, and an exit hole in the right side, almost at the top.
That he has been dead for a long time because his body is at the base of a thorny bush that has since sprouted blossoms and grown in around him.
He is on his back, in a blue sweatshirt and rust-colored corduroy pants, one cuff of which is still tucked into a red rubber boot, the other of which came free, perhaps as he ran, perhaps as he collapsed, exposing an inch of leg that is now nothing more than two clean, white bones. And his skull has become detached from his body. And his teeth have come loose and are scattered around in the dirt.
And what can Besim do other than what he does?
He weeps for a boy whose life lasted 11 years 44 days.
Besim descends the hill.
He comes back with another man to help him, followed by his wife, who brings a sheet, and their 2-year-old daughter, who is holding a photograph of Lulzim, which she keeps looking at as she also looks at his bones.
Down the hill again, this time with the body.
They stop at the mosque, burned and ruined like everything else, where they find an old coffin that they wipe clean with fistfuls of grass and wildflowers.
They carry Lulzim into the ruined house, putting the coffin in the room with the cradle, and then Besim heads back toward Stenkovic II to tell Feti and Lutfie.
Who, a day after Besim left for Vlastica, see another figure coming against the tide toward their tent.
Not Besim, but someone who lives just south of the Stenkovic II in the Macedonian capital of Skopje.
For more than the obvious reasons, it is so hard being a refugee. There is such a dearth of reliable information. Instead, there are so many rumors. There is a rumor, for instance, that the only way to get on a humanitarian fight to the United States is to pay a bribe to the tall man with the blond hair who circulates through the camp wearing a doctor's jacket. Three hundred Deutschmarks, or about $150, is the going rate for a family, Feti was told, which he would gladly have paid except where in the world would he get 300 Deutschmarks?
There were also the rumors about Lulzim. That he was safe, according to a relative in Germany, who Feti managed to call one day after waiting in line for three hours for a phone. The relative said he'd heard this from someone else, who had heard it from someone else, and Feti and Lutfie, unable to leave the camp, hung on to that particular rumor as tightly as they could.
And now comes a new rumor to consider, delivered by the man from Skopje, whom Feti knows only slightly, that Besim is waiting for him on the other side of the border. That the guards wouldn't let him back across. That he called with a message: Find Feti and tell him to come as fast as he can, and to look for a white car.
And when Feti hesitates, wondering if this could be true, the man tells him the rest of what Besim said, and that's how Feti and Lutfie find out about Lulzim, from a man they hardly know standing awkwardly at the entrance to their tent. Who tries to comfort them and then drives them toward the border, which, in the midst of this second exodus, has degenerated into chaos.
There are convoys of NATO trucks, which are trying to squeeze by convoys of relief trucks, which are trying to squeeze by convoys of gravel trucks, all of which are trying to get through a border manned by overwhelmed guards who are yelling over the sounds of grinding gearboxes and honking horns. In an attempt at control, a pecking order has been established that goes from NATO soldiers, to relief workers, to journalists, to, finally, at the end of the list, the refugees themselves, who are jammed into too many taxis to count, and panel trucks loaded down with impossible numbers of them, all staring blankly ahead in the deepening dusk as they wait to lurch forward another measly inch. Every so often it happens, the line actually moves, meaning another car has made it past the border officials. But mostly everyone sits, just sits, for hours, for most of a day, in a line stretching more than a mile, not knowing when they will get across.
And now, at the back of the line, comes the next car, this one with three children and two weeping parents. One of whom gets out and explains to the people in front of him that his son is dead, that he was 11 years old, that they are going home to bury him, and each person who hears this weeping man motions him ahead. Car by car, plea by plea, Feti and Lutfie make it across the border, and now they find Besim, and now they are heading in the direction they hoped never to go again, toward home.
Passing the first of the burned cars.
Passing the first of the minefields, and the first burned house.
Passing the first military checkpoint, and the first field that should be filled with yellowing wheat by this time of year, but contains only weeds.
Through all of this, no one talks. They just look out the windows as the sky keeps blackening and closing in, and now they are passing through Pasjane, the Serbian village closest to Vlastica, which they haven't seen since April 13 when, from up on the hill, they watched a line of cars moving their way. Followed by gunshots. Followed by panic. Followed by their screaming Lulzim's name and hearing nothing in response except more gunshots. Followed by running. Followed by Yugoslav soldiers rounding them up and herding them to the border. Followed by two months in a tent, wondering, wondering. Followed by this moment of untriumphant return as they turn down the potholed road from Pasjane to Vlastica, a moment in which there are no sounds at all, other than a steady night wind and a car moving beyond a dark village of drawn curtains.
It is darker still when they get to Vlastica, where the only light comes from several cooking fires set among the ruins by the few people who have returned.
And then they get to their house, where it is darkest of all, where the only light is from the small flame of a single cigarette lighter, bending from the wind coming through the broken windows, which is how they are able to look at their son.
Then comes morning, and they can see everything.
The two bullet holes. The two red boots. The sheet covering the coffin, which Lutfie embroidered as a gift to Feti for their wedding. The ruined cradle, which held their children. The ruined house Feti has always lived in, and the ruined town, and the house up the road with the 13 bodies, and the burned mosque in the center, which is where Feti is heading now to retrieve an Albanian flag that someone has put near the top of the minaret. He wants it for the coffin, to place atop the embroidered sheet, and as he walks looking shell-shocked into the mosque, another villager with his own ruins, his own miseries, is kind enough to climb the charred stairway that is filled with burned birds and bring it down to him.
"I hope no one minds," Feti says, as if there were anyone around to mind that or anything at all, and from there, escorted now by several villagers, he goes to the cemetery to pick out a gravesite. It is toward the edge of town, just past the hind piece of a rotting horse on the side of the road and just before the village school, burned now, every window broken, where Lulzim was midway through fifth grade. Feti goes to the corner of the cemetery closest to the schoolyard, and that's where he and the others begin to dig.
While back at the house, the women of the village are talking about Lulzim:
That he was such a good student, an aunt says, he brought his schoolbooks with him when everyone was driven up into the hills.
That he was such a fast runner, Lutfie says, "I never believed a bullet could reach him."
While in the ruins of the house next door, the men are gathered separately, as is the custom, as if custom could bring sense to anything like this, having their own conversation:
"Do we remove the clothes?" someone asks.
No, they finally decide.
"Do we wash the body?"
"We cannot wash only bones," someone says.
"It will be easy to carry him," someone else says, "there's not much left of him," and now comes word that the grave is ready; and now the men are lifting the coffin; and now the women are gathered around Lutfie, who is crying so hard she can barely say her last words to her son, which are, "My poor boy"; and now the men hoist the coffin; and now they take turns carrying it along the road; and now an 11 year old is being placed in the ground; and now come the scrapes and thuds of dirt being shoveled and dropped; and now come the hums of mumbled prayers.
"Come out, come out of the grave," one of the villagers sings, and now comes the sound of a father in tears; and now it is later, much later, after the funeral, toward sundown, and Feti is by himself at the grave.
Earlier in the day, he'd said, "there's nothing here," and in the hours since the only change has been the creation of a new hill, which is where he now stands, saying goodbye.
Because the next morning, he and his family leave Vlastica again.
Out of Kosovo.
Back into Stenkovic II.
Where as June ends, and July begins, they remain, waiting for their flight to the United States, to Boston, to a job, to a school that isn't burned, to a house that is neither in ruins nor a tent.
Soon, perhaps in a week or so, Stenkovic II will be empty. It has been open since late March, and in that time more than 60,000 refugees have passed through. There have been 28 births. There have been four deaths. There have been 1,500 tents put up and eight tents lost to fire. There have been more than 150,000 blankets given out, and 7,000 foam mattresses, and 6,000 sleeping bags, and in one week alone, the refugees received 116,000 loaves of bread, 48,000 liters of milk, 53,000 oranges, 15,000 pounds of canned fish and 70,000 diapers.
That was in late May, when the camp was nearing its highest one-day population of all, 23,200.
And now there are only a few thousand people left, most of whom will be back in Kosovo in the next few days. The United States will continue evacuation flights every so often for the time being, but Kosovo is the destination now, and the camp, once so frantic, so wretched, so desperate, so hopeless, is at times almost pleasant. Everywhere, people are packing. Everywhere, there are squares in the dirt marking where there are no longer tents, and piles of old blankets waiting to be disposed of, and everywhere the feel is of return, of repatriation, of resolution -- except in one tent, where the exodus is still underway.
That's who the Muslius are, then, the last of the refugees.
The ones who have come to Stenkovic II twice.
The ones with the mother who is saying, "They didn't need to kill him," and the father who is so lost at the moment he is saying nothing at all.
How to describe what is inside of him now? What he feels made of? That's what Feti wishes he could explain.
Is it anger?
"No," he says.
Is it hate?
"I don't know," he says, closing his eyes, hoping he will see something to help him, but even in that private darkness there are no dreams to see, not at the moment, so he opens his eyes and, unable to stop himself, begins crying anew. Because he knows.
"Sadness," he says. "Nothing else."
CAPTION: As her 2-year-old daughter sits placidly beside her, Lutfie Musliu weeps at the casket of her son, Lulzim, which is draped by an Albanian flag.
CAPTION: A group of ethnic Albanian men carry casket containing the remains of Lulzim Musliu, 11, to a cemetery at the edge of the Kosovo village of Vlastica, where he lived with his family before war.
CAPTION: A villager in Vlastica prepares to take Albanian flag Feti Musliu wants for son's coffin.
CAPTION: Feti Musliu seems alone with his thoughts as a neighbor in Vlastica digs a grave for Feti's son, Lulzim, who was shot and killed by Yugoslav forces as he ran toward family in hills.