The man to my right was more than eight feet away. I was going to have to move closer to him to catch my limit of four trout. I halved the distance between the two of us and noted the sideways glance he shot me. I apologized immediately and asked if I was crowding him.
“No, you fine,” he replied within a thick Serbian accent.
“You’re with them?” I asked, pointing to the crowd of people on the bridge some 30 feet upstream from us. I had heard the crowd of eastern Europeans talking earlier, and their accents were unmistakable to me. He nodded and we continued fishing.
With my new angle I was better able to pick my fish in the water, so that’s what I did. I spied one and tossed my jig toward him. It took five casts but eventually, he took the bait. As I netted it in the swift, ice-cold spring water the man beside me congratulated me on the catch. I thanked him and added it to my stringer. This made three, and I only needed one more.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Have you been in the states long?” I asked, after the pause following his short reply seemed to invite more questions.
“Since ‘96, my family live here. It is good.”
“You like living here?” I wondered aloud.
“Yes, the fishing is good. It is like back home in Serbia, or in Germany. We have this fishing there.”
“You mean trout?”
“Yes, trout...and some other fish like these, in water like this, but I can’t go home now.” He looked away momentarily. His lips pursed, and his brow furrowed. I pulled my line in, wanting to ask him more and not wanting to be distracted.
“Were you in the war?”
“Yes, I was in the Serbian police force.” My heart pounded. “When I was in the Serbian police force, we did what you see on the news. We went into villages and we killed them. We killed them all.”
I cast my line back into the water, spying another trout. Ivan shrugged and cast his own line. I couldn’t tell what he was using but it looked like cheese of some kind. “I was drafted in Serb police when I was 15. I had no choice. If I refuse, they **** me. I did what I had to do.” I nodded, and ****** my line, missing a fish. “Before the war, I fished. After the war, there were not so many people, so fishing was very good.”
The air around me was alive. The trees were greener, the water was colder and clearer, the sun was brighter, and the sky was bluer.
“I’ve been fishing for a long time as well,” I responded. My father used to bring me here as a child. He nodded and continued.
“After the war, all the fish come back, no one fished during the war, so there were many of them. You just had to be careful of the mines.” He grunted and gazed skyward.
“Yes, during the war they mined the water.”
I watched trout number four take my jig and I carefully reeled him in. Ivan congratulated me a second time, and I thanked him in return.
“You’re a good fisherman,” he said turning back to his own pursuit of the four-trout limit, as I left the water to clean my catch.
All imperial, resource-based wars are bad wars. There are not good and bad actors, only competing wealthy interests.