Safija's story

Unlike other old stories that end in bizarre, untruthful or unhappy ways, this legend tells about happiness and pain, suffering and love, and ends in triumph. This is a story that has endured for generations and is still unfolding today … Near the Frenkluk neighborhood lived the only daughter of Ahmed-Bey Magbulija. Among all the young people of the time she was celebrated for her beauty. Everybody knew of her and everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of her … Safija was her name. Understanding the power of her beauty she used to wear blouses of the sheerest silk to show off her bosom, and waistcoats embroidered with gold to show off her hourglass figure. But this was nothing to the bright smile she showed when greeting friends and neighbors. Safija loved walking down Bascarsija’s old stone streets on her way to piano lessons in shoes decorated with pearl shell. She was like a delicate flower under the sun. But there were those who looked on her with disapproval people who could not understand the new times that were coming. There were many in Sarajevo who yearned for the past, who did not understand that their world was in the midst of a great change. But Ahmed-Bey’s daughter Safija understood this change. “Mother, I dreamed again about the wind blowing across a field and I flew with the poppies and lilac down to the cold water spring. I almost fell … but then I saw him … a man with golden hair looking at me with big eyes. If it hadn’t been for him I would have fallen down.” “My dearest daughter, no wonder you have such dreams when your father keeps telling us that one day we’ll lead a happier life now that the Austrians are here. God willing, it will all turn out for the best … Come, get up now. Your father has brought you a new coat with a color that matches your eyes. He told me to have you wear it when you rise so that our home will be even more beautiful”. “Mama! It’s so beautiful! Can I put it on and walk down to the Miljacka? I won’t be long! Please let me go. Father would let me if he were here.” The Bey’s good wife had hardly time to reply before her daughter donned the coat and flew out of the house like the wind. Safija’s mother smiled to herself; she knew that after her walk her daughter would go to her piano lessons with the Countess. Safija liked the new buildings that had begun to sprout around the city. For several days the streets had been abuzz with drummers announcing a gala concert that was to be hosted by the Austrian Field Marshal at the military barracks. It was an event that would be remembered by everyone in Sarajevo for decades to come. New carriages had appeared in the town, beautifully painted and carrying ladies in long light colored dresses and jeweled headbands garlanded with flowers … Safija had never seen anything like it in her life. The ladies were accompanied by gentlemen dressed in black, without belts or waistcoats. Their white shirts were fastened at the neck in a strange way and they had polished shoes. On their heads they wore a different kind of fez Safija knew that it was called a hat. She knew too that the ladies’ headbands were called tiaras. She stood by the barracks and watched the people arrive for the concert; some of them nodded politely to her as they walked by. And then the strangest thing happened and Safija ran home. “Oh mother, I saw him! It was him! Oh mother he took me by the hand and held me … he held me gently. I recognized his eyes.” “Dear child! Who dared hold your hand! What happened? Are you alright?” “Oh mama, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I saw the man from my dreams. I recognized him. I know it was him.” “Ah, child, you scared me. Now, hurry off to your piano lesson; you’ll be late!” Sitting with the Countess, Safija played an entire Mozart sonata without a single mistake. Safija was in her own thoughts. She smiled as she played, and when the Mozart piece had finished she continued softly humming the melody of a Bosnian love song. “Sofi,” (this was the Countess’ nickname for Safija) “I can see that you have been unhappy and because of that you have learned how to play real music!” “Today at the barracks,” Safija said, “I saw people dressed in beautiful white garments, strange but beautiful. They are called dresses, aren’t they? And hats as well. Oh, how beautiful they were! I saw him too – an Austrian officer. Who could he be?” “Sofi!” the Countess said surprised, “You must mean Baron Von Herberstein and histwo sisters! I am expecting them any moment now. Stay and I will introduce you to them!” Safija found the strength to stay calm; she could hardly wait to meet her Prince Charming. She had dreamed of this moment. Soon afterwards the visitors arrived; introductions were made and the party of five began to chat. Safija noticed that the Baron kept looking at her. She was fascinated by him. “He speaks my language,” Safija thought to herself. She noted too how handsome he was. “Miss Bey, would you like to walk with us?” Von Herberstein asked. “This city is big and beautiful and my sisters and I are not familiar with it. What say you?” “Of course!” said Safija delighted to have an opportunity to get to know the Baron and hissisters better. “I would be happy to.” That first walk was long. For Safija it felt special as though she had never walked by the Kujundziluk, or Begovat or the main street of the Old Town before. After that they met regularly for tea. The month of June progressed and Safija and her friends often watched the sun set together. Everybody was happy and Safija especially. One day the sisters invited Safija to try on a dress and a hat. “Miss Safija, you look beautiful!” they said. Safija pirouetted in front of the mirror and looked at her own reflection. She didn’t know which was more exciting … the beautiful clothes that fit her perfectly or the beautiful room that was decorated in such a different and wonderful style. “Those clothes are for you,” the sisters said. “We had them sent specially from our aunt in Vienna.” “For me? Oh dear, I’m afraid I can’t be seen wearing such clothes. It is forbidden. But thank you, my friends!” The sisters were disappointed, but they smiled at Safija and gave her a hug and a kiss. In the next room someone stood by the window listening. He had been there the day before and the day before that… He knew everything. He saw everything. Each day, he stood there quietly and listened to Safija talk or sing one of those lovely old love songs that she sang for his sisters. He watched and listened … every moment … every second. He knew that there was no one else, and there would never be anyone else only Safija. He was in love with her. But he also knew that she was the only daughter of very religious Muslim Bey. His love grew by the day; it could not be stilled. He made a decision. “My dear sisters … my princesses,” the Baron began. His two sisters meant more to him than anything, infinitely more than the fortune his father had left him. And they felt the same about their brother. All of them had been close since they were little. “Your kind words mean you probably want to ask us a favor,” said sisters laughing. “I can’t hide anything from you anymore,” the Baron said, laughing as well. “I want you to tell me how to win her over. She must be mine. I have dreamed different dreams since I laid eyes upon her. But she is distant. I cannot endure that. My dear sisters, Please help me! I’ve written letter after letter to Safija but she has never responded to my entreaties.” The sisters looked at him in wordless amazement. They had never seen their brother like this before. They had noticed that he seemed preoccupied but they had not guessed the reason. There was a moment of silence before the younger sister hugged the Baron and said “Dear brother, is it possible that your lion’s heart has been consumed by passion! There are tears in your eyes! Tell us what we can do. We love her too; she is like a sister to us. Don’t look away. Look up. Tell us what we should do.” “Take her out for a walk in the Old Town tomorrow, near the Husref Bey spring, before noon,” he said. “Stop there and wait for me to come.” It didn’t take them long to persuade Safija. “Mother, I am leaving. My friends are waiting for me. Tell father I’ll be in Mejdan and won’t be late,” said Safija hurrying across the garden to join her two Austrian friends. More beautiful than ever, Safija walked proudly through the town. People watched her passing by. A vision. “Look at the Bey’s daughter dressed up as if she were going to a wedding,” whispered the women from behind the wooden grilles. Safija skipped cheerfully through the streets of Sarajevo, following the rhythm of the breeze that played in her hair. “It is so beautiful!” she said. “I had almost forgotten how gorgeous spring is!” She didn’t notice someone approaching her. She didn’t know that this day would be engraved in her destiny. The sisters gave her a hug and she kissed them and bent down to drink some of the cool spring water. When she stood up again the sisters were nowhere to be seen. Safija saw only him. The Baron was in front of her, tall and even more handsome than she remembered. The man of her dreams stood before her .. . but this time it wasn’t a dream. She was awake. He knelt and gazed up into her eyes. “I have been looking at you for a month; I have followed your shadow; you have burned my heart more deeply than the sun. I have called to you in my dreams; I have called you my own. You are not destined to live or die here. We will run away … far away from everything. I will give my life if need be to fulfill your desires. I will build you a paradise … a house with four rooms and each one of I will sprinkle with silver and gold. Everyone will know that you are my queen … a bird of paradise.” The petals opened and the white rose bloomed. Safija became like a drop in the ocean her world became one. “Dear Lord Allah,” she prayed. “Please shine a light on my path and show me the right direction. How can I tell them that I love a Christian? How can I tell them that I love those strange and beautiful ways?” “Do not say another word,” she told the Baron. “My heart and soul are yours. If my father the Ahmet-Bey knew that we were here alone, he would have us killed. He would send his servants and hang us like the Moric family! That is why I didn’t write back to you. I was afraid to read your letters, and yet I know by heart every word you wrote.” He was silent as he took her in his arms and kissed her. She knew then to whom she belonged. She was prepared to shame her religion, lose her reputation, destroy her father she was prepared to die. She knew she was guilty, and yet not guilty. She loved … not an Omer-Bey or an Adem-Bey or anyone she had been meant to marry. She knew she loved Johan Von Herberstein. What was she to do? “Dig our graves,” she whispered. “I have given you my reputation and myself. I would rather have you hang me here than my father.” “Oh my beautiful Safija, you will be mine” … It was a story that passed among imams and among travelers and among the people of the town. Before God and the whole world the foreigner and the Bey’s young daughter had become one and then taken shelter in the otherworld. And those who heard the story did not know whether to cry or to pray. .. Twenty generations have passed since then. Sarajevo has suffered much and changed much … But there on the corner, in all its beauty stood the house of gold. It had four rooms, rooms that still glisten, rooms that are still talked about … Stories about Miss Safija are still being told … She still exists, though everything else has gone … THE END