Vintovačka had volunteered for this action, as she often did. She was to sneak up to the German bunker outpost under cover of night, and throw a hand grenade into one of the tiny slits of machine-gun openings.
She was fully aware that the odds might be fifty to one that she would miss the tiny gun port, especially in the half-light of the winter morning, and perish on the spot. But Vintovačka had no patience left for doubt, no time for fear of detection should her aim fail. As she was approaching the bunker undetected, she realized she was in luck again: the vapor from her breath was hidden by the mist of early morning winter air. When she reached the cement wall of the yurt-like structure, she pulled the pin and threw the grenade into the narrow opening. It sailed straight through the target, a perfect aim, not even touching its walls. She waited to hear the thud of the explosion inside, then perked up when smoke started seeping from the bunker
As soon as she saw the first soldier run out, thirsty for a breath of fresh air no matter what waited for him outside, she pulled the trigger of her machine gun. To her, nothing was more soothing now than the pulsating rattle of her rapid-fire weapon. Since taking to the mountains a year before, in every partisan assault she had volunteered to head the columns of men and women, and she insisted on being the last one when they needed cover in retreat. Vintovačka. They named her after her weapon of choice -- the Russian issue Vintov. Now she had no other name.
In the mountains she’d hardly ever spoken to anyone, and everyone respected her wish to be left alone. Her best moments came with the first signs of a forthcoming battle. She’d be bubbling with excitement as she charged into it. “Rat-tat-tat,” she would murmur, “rat-tat-tat here he comes, here he falls, here he’s dead—” They wondered about her, but respected the privacy wall she carried with her.
After her group took over the mountaintop bunker, the commander praised Vintovačka both for her stealth in approaching the fortification and her aim with the grenade. She felt good about this victory celebration, except that in the middle of it she had gotten back her period—the first since the day she was gang-raped back home. Now forced to take care of that mess again, it annoyed her. She’d hoped she wouldn’t have to deal with it any longer. She had just turned fourteen.
It seemed ages ago to her—when she got and lost her first period. It was 1941 and she was Seka then. She had been packing a large first-aid kit for her big brother Bogdan, the comander of my underground Unit, who was to join the partisans later that night. She didn’t tell anyone about it. Not quite a teenager, she felt happy with her grown-up secret.
She was telling it now to Slava, my bride of 2 months. Had Bogdan been alive, he would have been the age of this newcomer she was confiding in now. Slava and I had just fled the occupation of Rome, and joined Tito's recovery and military training camp in Gravina, Italy.
As her story continued to pour out, Vintovačka told Slava of the time back in Split in 1942—it seemed ages ago to her—when she got and lost her first period. Still Seka then, she remembered the detachment of uniformed men that pulled up in front of their house, screaming for Bogdan to come out clean with his hands up.
She rushed him to the back yard, helped him scale the stone wall, and watched him disappear into the Ghetto’s Casbah-like crooked streets. Mussolini’s Black Shirts broke down the front door. They searched the house, smashing furniture and everything else. When they couldn’t find Bogdan, they raped his sister—all six of them. Seka fought them silently, scratching, biting, kicking. They hurt her, but she didn’t cry out. She wouldn’t give them that satisfaction.
Bogdan wasn’t captured immediately, but was found soon after, tortured, and eventually killed. Seka fled to the mountains, joined the partisans, and took her revenge by becoming the best machine-gunner on the southern front—the legendary Vintovačka.
She never truly recovered. Shellshock, people called it.