He was just a little boy
wearing clothes way too big,
probably donated by some well meaning church in America.
He and his friends played in the schoolyard
happily kicking the ball in a game of soccer.
"Hey! NATO”, he called out
to the soldiers stopped in the road near the school.
He waved; shot them a wide grin,
and hitched his falling pants back up to his waist,
then turned to continue his game.
The soldiers, from all the countries,
had become great friends with the children.
Often I saw two or three uniformed men
surrounded by a group of laughing children,
sharing their gum and chocolates or kicking a soccer ball.
I think it's something soldiers have done throughout time.
Make friends with the children, that is.
I recall a picture of my own father
with children in an Asian country,
in another place, another time, another war.
I believe it helps fight the loneliness
the young soldiers feel themselves,
so far away from home
and everything they love,
so far away from their own families.
He was just a boy himself,
not yet able to buy himself a drink.
He stood straight and tall in his dusty green fatigues,
the required machine gun slung
casually over his shoulder.
He waved to the group of children
playing soccer in the schoolyard.
Some stopped their play and ran to join him
and the other soldiers standing on the roadside,
hugging their peace protecting weapons.
The details were foggy.
No one knew what really happened.
Everyone had an opinion, but
no one could say for certain.
Whatever actually did happen on
that Tuesday afternoon in the village Sllatina,
while the children played happily in the schoolyard,
profoundly affected two lives
and the lives of their families forever.
A shot was heard.
The little boy in the baggy britches fell.
A pool of blood appeared almost instantly
staining his shapeless shirt
A dark and viscid crimson.
The soldiers ran toward the fallen boy
and swept him away immediately
rushed him to the medical base.
But the child was gone already.
Instantly, they said, from the moment he fell.
And two family’s lives forever changed --
the family of the little soccer player,
and the family of the young soldier
who will never be able to forget
that day the shots rang out.
When they told me the story, I recalled that little boy,
his wide smile, his baggy britches.
His bright and cheerful wave.
He called me “NATO” too,
just like all the other Americans.
Such a poignant country, Kosovo.
Touched by tragedy even in peacetime.
And today I wear a scar deep, in my center,
where my own heart cracked open and spilled to the ground
on a Tuesday, in the village Sllatina.
Nancy Leigh Harless
Written on a Tuesday 2000