Seated at the head of the table, Rejna described her labors. She was quite an industrious young woman. Earning one's livelihood in rural Croatia requires both energy and ingenuity. In addition to feeding tourists, Rejna worked as a caretaker for the elderly, tended a market stall, and helped her parents on their farm. Her father was completely disabled, having been seriously wounded during the Croatian-Serbian war. Her voice wavered and her eyes moistened as she recounted how her father had advised her not to harbor hatred against their former enemies, as her hatred would damage Rejna more than anyone else. It was not just the brandy, or the fine local wine that complemented the food, that made Rejna's listeners teary, too.
Once, I might have scorned someone like Rejna, the descendant of Croatian smallholders, as a hereditary anti-Semite. Even if her grandparents did not collaborate with the Nazis, her ancestors surely could have participated in pogroms. In her apron, with her bland features and thickset figure, she could have been a Slavic peasant from Central Casting. Having broken bread with her, however, I could overcome my prejudice. I reaffirmed my resolve to encounter every stranger as an individual. When our guide and our bus driver arrived to collect us, it did not seem that we had been with Rejna for hours, but it was true. Our host embraced each of us when we took our leave. HL took a picture of Rejna standing in her aromatic, aubergine-colored kitchen. I shall not need to refer to it in order to remember Rejna.
Rejna's neighbors waved to us as we left Bileje.