Title: Till A Better World
Author: Nadija Mujagic
Publisher: Pioneer Publishing, LLC.
Genre: Women’s Contemporary Fiction
About the Book:
One is scarred by bloodshed. Motherhood evades the other. When two women are faced with the possibility of new life, what is the cost of conception?
Bosnia, 2008. Selma Karic can’t shake the burden she carries. With her days forever darkened by the shadows of genocide, the traumatized survivor works to pick up the pieces and redefine her sense of purpose. But trust hits an ugly low when an intimate moment of solace leaves her confused… and pregnant.
USA, 2008. Emma Harris is overwhelmed with life. Crushed by school debt and walking on professional thin ice, the newly married business woman feels further away from strength and independence every day. But her heart shatters when she discovers any chance of naturally conceiving a child is completely out of reach.
In despair of her fate, Selma dodges the baby’s father she unwittingly gave everything to. And when Emma goes behind her husband’s back to borrow funds for the exorbitant IVF prices, the foundation of her lies and desperation threatens to crumble.
With profound destinies playing out in parallel, can both Selma and Emma still bring beauty into the world?
Unflinching and moving, author Nadija Mujagic weaves a deeply impactful pair of journeys through parenthood and trauma. Authentic to its roots and intensely personal, this powerful narrative expertly dissects the human element driving persistence in its purest form.
Till a Better World is a heartrending women’s fiction novel. If you like no-punches-pulled realism, tear-jerking drama, and eye-opening poignancy, then you’ll love Nadija Mujagic’s story of hope.
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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
EMMA’S LIFE WAS GOING TO CHANGE, FOR BETTER OR for worse, in a matter of hours. The CEO called her into his oce a couple of hours earlier. She had no clue what to expect. She was nervous, as she considered the possi bility she might have done something to rattle his cage, but she couldn’t quite think of any recent incidents. He rarely called her to his oce. Something must be up.
As she approached his oce, she felt uneasy. If he had anything negative to say, she already decided she’d listen to him carefully, ask any questions, and decide later what to do. But with her work ethic, Emma would have been shocked to hear anything even slightly undesirable or negative.
When she opened the door, he was sitting behind his desk, smiling. Derek’s youthful looks belied his age. It was quite possible he was dyeing his hair, but even so, with his tall stature and muscular body, he did not resemble a man in his sixties. He had been with the company for a couple of decades already and he had reached the executive level long ago. As the CEO, he was powerful and he exuded confidence. His peers had high regard and respect for him and when Derek was highly enthusiastic about an idea, they’d be careful to disagree with him. None of his ideas failed. That’s why he seemed invincible.
Derek smiled at Emma as she gingerly opened the door. She peeked her head first, before stepping in. She was dressed in a navyblue suit by Calvin Klein, her favorite brand. She had a slim body, but it wasn’t because she was diligent in running on the treadmill every morn ing. It was because stress would eat away at her, as she worried about every single little thing. Even when things in her life were going splendidly, she’d find a reason to panic. She’d have nightmares frequently, as if she purposefully carried her worries into her dreams. But she couldn’t help it. Her tendency to worry, she suspected, was the reason she had been highly successful in her life goals. Emma knew that if she ever let her hair down, things would be dierent. She’d somehow fail.
When she stood in his oce, she wondered if she had somehow failed him. But his wide smile put her at ease.
“Well, Emma. Thank you for coming to see me. Please sit.” He extended his arm and pointed to the leather chair on the other side of his desk. “I have read reports about your performance the last year, and I have heard a lot of good things about you from your peers and
executives alike. Your customers are happy, your stats are incredible. In this tough market, we can’t aord to lose younot that you’re looking for another job. The executive team and the board of directors have decided to oer you a promotion.”
Emma’s eyes widened. She had not expected this. For her, her work ethic was simply the norm, not something she should be rewarded for.
“That is extremely generous. I’m not sure what to say.”
“The new position we’d like to oer you is an Executive Director for the Northeastern region. If you accept, you’ll be leading a team of seven professionals.”
“That’s an incredible opportunity, Mr. Shultz.” Her feet were tapping restlessly against the floor; she could feel her palms sweating and her heartbeat had quickened. She had never been oered a promotion before, and she had certainly never asked for one. Her modesty never let her demand anything of anyone or ask for special treatment.
“Oh, call me Derek.” He smiled. “Feel free to think about it. But let me know as soon as possible since there’s a lot of work to be done, and soon.”
“I’ll take it.” She responded as fast as she could. Those student loans wouldn’t pay themselves.
“Excellent. Excellent,” Derek said, never losing his smile. “I’m planning on announcing your promotion to the whole company on Monday, and your new title will be in eect two weeks from now .”
“Thank you, Derek. I am grateful for this opportunity .”
“You’re quite welcome.” He stood up and extendedhis arm to shake her hand. “We are so happy to have you here. You deserve this promotion. I hope you’ll be pleased to hear that it also comes with a higher salary. You’re getting a twenty percent increase.”
“That’s fantastic.” She smiled.
She returned to her oce and sat down on her chair, looking at the plant in a corner of the room. It looked bright and lovely, and she was surprised to see it. She had not noticed it before. Out of excitement, she didn’t know what to do nexttry to focus on her work or call her family and husband to break the newsso she decided for something completely dierent. She went downstairs to the cafeteria to get herself a cup of coee. Out the window, she saw the blue sky decorated by a couple of cloudsthe spring in Boston was beckoning, melting the snow and making puddles and rivers that dissipated into the ground.
She hurried home to break the news. She found Michael sitting at his computer when she arrived.
“Hey, honey. How are you?” She came up to him and kissed the top of his head.
“Fine,” Michael said.
“How’s your job search?” When Michael graduated from business school, Emma had high hopes he’d land a lucrative job that would pay him six figures right o the bat to help them pay o their student loans. Before moving to Boston, he’d worked as a bartender in his home town in Minnesota. He’d get tired of the latenight shifts, the dicks and bimbos waving at him for his atten tion and people leaving meager tips. He’d resolved to make a sudden shift in his career and, having a knack for numbers and people or so he thought, he took a GMAT, scored nearly perfectly and applied to the best business schools in the country. He was astonished to learn that all five wanted him. He chose the one in Cambridge, Massachusetts because, of the five letters, it was the first one he received.
“I have a couple of interviews on Monday.” He smiled. Michael was covered in tattoos, remnants of his bartending daysand for this reason Emma didn’t think that people took him seriously. This was his tenth inter view in a month. Nothing had materialized so far. When ever she asked him if he’d consider removing the one that well reached the tip of his fingers and his neck, a grin, he’d stubbornly say that he could do his job with or without the tattoos.
“That’s fantastic, honey.” She couldn’t wait to break the news. Part of her still felt like it was all a dream. “I’m getting a big promotion at work.” She couldn’t stop smiling.
“What? You’ve been waiting all day to tell me?”
“I wanted to tell you in person. It’s a big deal. I’m getting a twenty percent raise.”
“Wow. They’re not kidding around. Congrats, baby .” “I bought a bottle of wine so we can celebrate tonight.” Now that her promotion was set in stone, she held high hopes for their future. They came closer to buying a house and growing a family .
Coincidentally, a week after her promotion announce ment, Michael ended up getting an entrylevel manager job in a tech company in Kendall Square. His salary was in the low eighties, which was okay for Boston, but not high enough to quickly pay o their student loans, which had amounted to three times his starting salary. But Emma wanted to be supportive of Michael no matter what.
When the muchanticipated day of her promotion finally arrived, Emma woke up early in the morning and started getting ready for work in her onebedroom Cambridge apartment.
One of the few apartments she and Michael, could aord in Cambridge was this one, located between First and Third Streets, overlooking the tallest building on their block: a cement edifice that wouldn’t be considered so unattractive were it not indeed a jail, not the first sight Emma wanted to have every morning.
When she and Michael had first moved in, the kitchen faucet was wobbly and water dripped rom it with vengeance. The landlord hadn’t responded to their request to replace it until they threatened to give notice and move out. Luckily he had, because otherwise, where else would they go? It wasn’t as if they were swimming in an ocean of choices; that was reserved for the wealthy. They’d scrambled to get used furniture on Craigslist, trying to cut the corners and save money whenever they could. The only good news was that her current work place was within reasonable walking distance.
On the ocial day of her promotion, her morning ritual began earlier than usual. She first made coee in the kitchen, then worked out on a treadmill in a corner of her bedroom, and then took a long shower, indulging in the extra steps of using a fancy body scrub and a hair mask to allow herself a moment before the long day. After the shower, she carefully picked from the selection of clothes lined up in her crowded and tiny walkin closet, picking jewelry that matched her new suit.
Now that the spring arrived and much of the snow on the sidewalks was gone, she decided she would walk to her oce, a twentyminute distance from her house. Before she exited the apartment, she checked herself in the hallway mirror one more time to fix any makeup imperfections. The morning was cloudy and damp, so wearing rubber rain boots became her obvious choice. She would change into stilettos when she arrived in the oce.
The block Emma lived on was infamous for its narrow sidewalks, with its cracked pavement and uneven ground. Trees protruded through the asphalt and the growing and stretching roots would wreak havoc on the paths. She walked on the sidewalks by lifting her feet up high to ensure she wouldn’t trip or fall. She cracked a smile when she pictured a spectator watching the funny image of her lifting her feet up high in her rubber boots.
On her leisurely walk to the oce, she hoped she’d clear her head and find her happy space before the day turned chaotic. The streets were quiet; only a car or two would pass by her. She saw a young man running for the bus, the one that she often took to work. The man looked slim and he ran fast. The bus pulled over at the bus stop, and the young man stormed onto the bus. Emma nodded and smiled when she saw he made it.
She walked by twofamily and single houses and couldn’t help but whisper to herself, “My goodness, they’re so close to each other.” Some houses were painted bright colors, while others were in a state of disrepair. She wondered if the old houses might have been inher ited by families who couldn’t otherwise aord to live in and care for the house. The Boston area was expensive.
It was the year 2008, and the real estate market bubble was about to burst, bringing Emma hope that she and Michael could snatch up an aordable home. Even with her promotion, one thing that stood in the path of that dream was their exorbitant student loans. Emma was appalled to learn that even if she declared bank ruptcy, the ugly student loans would still hang over her brokeass head until they were paid o. Instead of her mother reading her books when she was a small child, maybe she should have taught her to bake. At least then, she might have a lucrative bakery right now, and the peace of mind that comes with it. But, sometimes, fate is not to be argued with, becausewhat was the point?
She passed by the row of houses and found herself on vibrant Mass Ave, bustling with people and traffic. Every time Emma walked on this familiar path, she noticed stores she hadn’t noticed before. It was quite possible that some of them were recently opened; though, she ultimately reasoned that she hadn’t notice them because she focused too much on anticipating seeing the restau rant where Michael proposed to her a couple of years back. After all, the restaurant brought out a happy memory, and she latched onto it more than to noticing a random store.
The restaurant reminded her of the happy days when she first started dating Michael. Ever since they met in business school, Emma had felt safer, more protected, having him around. When they prepared for exams, they studied together, sharing notes on case studies and essays. He’d oered all his thoughts and insights in a way that resembled him telling her his deepest secrets. Whenever she spoke, he’d listen to her intently, staring into her brown eyes.
Michael didn’t seem to be her type physicallyway too low a BMI on his sixfoot, twoinch body, an occa sional pimple on his face and eyeglasses one might deem too thick. But his other qualities were all she wanted in a man. Hard working, intelligent, thoughtful, kind… He constantly made her laugh. When they took breaks from studying, she would inquire about his family, often wondering how he ended up in the business school.
After their first date, which had lasted until nearly two in the morning, Emma and Michael spent more time together, not as classmates, but as a promising new couple. When that school year finished, and they both graduated, feeling that sense they were on their way to better and bigger things, Michael proposed to her in that same restaurant on Mass Ave. He had asked the hostess to put the diamond ring in her ice cream dessert.
When Emma noticed the diamond protruding from her bowl, she yelped and brought her hands to her mouth in surprise.
“Oh my god, oh my god. Yes. Yes, I do!” she exclaimed as loud claps filled the room. Without even realizing it, she added, “I can’t wait to have children with you.”
That night, as they waltzed to the music in their apartment, halfdrunk, Emma reached for Michael’s neck to hug him, dreaming about what their children might look like.
Emma’s thoughts were disrupted when she noticed a heavyset woman looking distraught, walking from the opposite direction with a child hand in hand. The girl might have been three or four; her steps seemed unstable and weak. The girl wore a yellow raincoat and black tights, tiny sneakers on her feet. The girl’s body bounced as she tried to keep up with the woman’s pace. She had no expression on her face. Her long blonde hair danced like waves, and the woman suddenly pulled her, telling her to hurry even though the girl was already making eort to do so.
I wish I could give this little girl a hug, Emma thought. She looked at her, hoping their eyes would lock as they passed, but the girl’s eyes remained focused ahead. At every sight of a child, Emma’s heart grew tender. But today, she tried to dismiss that feeling, as she had a more important task at hand.
Arriving at work on the first day she’d have her new job title of Executive Director, she felt all eyes on her the eyes of her coworkers. She could tell they were wondering what special skills she possessed to have been promoted. For as long as Emma worked for corporate giants, she had known that whenever a woman got a job promotion, it was questioned. When a man got a promo tion, it was expected, no big deal.
Emma didn’t care about those looks and continued walking toward her new oce, which was situated in a corner of the building, two doors down from Derek’s. When she entered the oce, the CONGRATULA TIONS banner placed on the wall immediately caught her eye. She touched it gently, as if it were the Holy Grail. She sat at her desk and stared at her computer, trying to feel the joy and success surrounding her. Even though she now felt accomplished professionally, she still felt an emptiness; something was missing, something in her heart she wanted more keenly. As she was daydream ing, a knock on her door startled her.
“Good morning, Emma. How are you?” A short, middleaged woman with permcurly hair and eyeglasses appeared at her oce door.
“I’m good.” Emma had to pause for a second. She didn’t recognize the woman at all. “Can I help you?”
“Oh, I just wanted to say hi. I’m Mary. Derek said I’m going to be your assistant. You will share my time with another executive director, but not to worryI’m quite
good at time management and I’m super organized.” She smiled.
“Excellent. Thank you, Mary,” said Emma. “If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been with the company? I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember seeing you here before.”
Mary laughed. “Oh, no worries. I move so fast that I’ve become a blur in the oce.” She laughed again. “About six years.”
Emma couldn’t help her reaction. She exclaimed, “Wow, that’s a long time. Have you always worked in this department?”
“Yes, I have. As a matter of fact, I’ve been in the same position since I arrived at the company. You know, I don’t really care about promotions and all that career development stu.” She then lowered her voice and continued. “I’m a single mother.” Her head nodded in approval to indicate that this was the most important thing Emma should know about her.
“I have three children, and I raised them all alone. One is still a teenager, while the other two are in college. I needed a safe job and benefits, and I have both here.” She looked around the oce to rearm what she meant by here.
“That’s incredible, Mary.” Emma reached for a pen on her desk and began to twirl it in her hand. She stared at Mary, studying her with an empty look on her face. Emma thought that Mary seemed too chubby and short; her hair looked oldfashioned; her slacks wedged deep in her rear and her blouse with flower prints looked too shortand what was with her eyeglasses? But she was a mother. Of three, no less.
To break the awkward silence, Mary continued, “And so you know, I’ll be connecting my calendar to yours so I know your availability for meetings.”
“That’s great. I appreciate it. I’ll be doing my best to do my own scheduling, though. Otherwise, I’d forget all my meetings.” She didn’t want Mary, or anyone else, to run her life. She was in full control.
“That’s no problem. Whatever, whenever you need anything, let me know. I’m around.” Mary turned around and disappeared from Emma’s sight.
Emma relaxed in her chair, closed her eyes and breathed in and out slowly, sucking in all the good vibes she was feeling. She patted down her long red hair and quickly pulled a mirror out of her purse to check her makeup.
As she looked at her face, she noticed her expression slowly turn into a grimace. Emma’s life would be happier and more successful if it were completed by having chil dren of her own. She couldn’t quite pinpoint where her strong desire to have a baby came fromher family wasn’t a good role model and she was certain it didn’t come from her childhoodbut it was something that consumed her every waking thought.
She’d grown up in a suburb of Chicago with a mother who was a preschool teacher, and a father who was a notsosuccessful car salesman. Their house was tiny, two bedrooms, one bath, and its slight stature stood out against the minimansions of the neighborhood. When Emma’s little sister Belinda was born, her parents talked about buying a newer, roomier home, but ultimately could only daydream. They couldn’t even always pay their bills on time. Her father, Russell, wasn’t the best salesman and his commissions often fell under expecta tions. While her mother’s monthly income was steady, it was still a teacher’s salary, just above minimum wage.
While his youth still bloomed, her father lost his purpose in life. His parents weren’t there when he needed love the most. Emma’s grandfather often called him strange depreciating names, like Milkman or Mr. Goofy, and those images distorted his selfworth. The nicknames didn’t match his looks, though, since he was a goodlooking boy, with a cheek dimple, deep blue eyes, and luscious hair. Her father never really understood why he was given those names. Girls eyed him, but he would only duck his head, wanting to hide, and when he was a teenager, he found his love of the drink. He had his first beer with his neighbor Perry, a boy a few years older than he, a loner whom he saw as a kindred spirit. From there on, her father drank often and much; maybe he should have been a fish.
As a grown, married man, her father would frequent a bar a couple of blocks from the dealership. He’d order one, two, three shots until he’d lose a sense of time. And then he’d order a couple more until he could barely walk. He’d come home, zigzagging the streets of Chicago, and crash on the couch. Emma had gotten used to him being this way. He wasn’t violent. He never raised his hand on his children. And even though he was a heavy drinker, he’d still get up in the morning and go to work.
It took years for her to realize that her dad was depressed, lacking selfesteem. She knew he felt like he could have done much more for his family, but he just kept on failing. His life would have been better o had he chosen to visit a therapist and sort his anxieties out, but he was a baby boomer, and didn’t see the value in it as it would be an admission of failure. He just soaked in the feeling of hard work and success of his generational peers.
When Emma moved to Cambridge, she often feared the dreadful phone call informing her that her father had been found in a ditch somewhere, in his infamous blue suit, the smell of alcohol emanating from his body. Ulti mately, she didn’t see her father as much of a parental figure, but more like a live rubber doll disheveled and lost in time and space.
Emma’s mother, Bella, never showed disgust or disap pointment towards her husband. She’d held so much empathy for him that at night, she’d cry for him. When her mother was younger, she’d frequently visit the local church and Emma recalled some of the prayers her mother would repeat as her father lay on the couch looking lifeless.
Almighty God, we entrust a who are dear to us to thy neverfailing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
But the prayers didn’t bear fruit. Her father remained his old dident self.
Regardless of her upbringing, Emma’s desire to have children was a simple fact, a part of her being, equaled to her desk being made of wood or the ocean being blue. She had no other explanation for it.
There was something about having children that Emma thought was sacred. The instant they are conceived, the mother feels an indescribable connection to the new human inside her. The baby grows like a seed for which a woman serves as earth, water, and sun. When baby’s heart comes alive, those beats pump love through woman’s veins to her brain. And when the baby is born, the mother’s love is undeniable. Unconditional. It is rooted in her being forever.
Emma and Michael had been trying to conceive, but to no avail.
A few days after she started her new job, she visited her physician for a routine appointment. She had sched uled this appointment several months in advance. During her visit, the doctor took her blood, urine, checked her blood pressure, and did a pap smear.
On her way home, tired from the ordeal, she stopped by a local bakery and grabbed a couple of her favorite delicacies, hoping that they would make her feel better. She came home and curled up in bed by seven p.m., fast asleep, and did not wake up until dawn.
Her test results came out a few days after her appointment.
“Your tests results are all normal.” Her physician announced over the phone. Emma took that as good news, but they puzzled her at the same time.
“So, why we have not seen any results, doctor?”
“I can’t tell why,” the doctor said. “I suggest you see a gynecologist, who can work with you closely and tell you about your options.”
A few weeks later, on her doctor’s suggestion, she went to an OB/GYN. Filled with hope all over again, she told the OB that she must have kids or else… Or else? Emma didn’t know how to end this thought. If she didn’t have kids, she’d be lost. Her world would remain empty .
“Emma, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with your body,” the gynecologist said over the phone. “Your blood test didn’t show any abnormalities. The ultrasound turned out normal, as well. Your egg count is where it should be for your age, which means you still have plenty time left to have children.”
“That’s good news, doctor.” She paused. “So, why haven’t I been able to get pregnant?” She clenched her fist and closed her eyes, as if to prepare herself for the worst possible answer.
“It doesn’t mean you canít get pregnant. It just means that you need to keep trying. If you’re not successful within the next three months, call me and we can plan the next steps. Does that sound good?”
She wasn’t sure if that sounded good. In fact, she thought three months was way too long. She felt morti fied that another potential failure could be ahead of her.
“Stay away from stress and don’t think too much
about all this,” the OB continued. “If you relax and enjoy the process, you’ll increase your chance of conceiving.”
They hung up and Emma began to cry uncontrollably. Three months. The world could flip upside down in months. In August, she was turning thirtyeight and her biological clock was screaming at her. She stormed into the bedroom to hide her tears from Michael, crawled into her bed, and whispered prayers.
About the Author:
Nadija Mujagić is the author of the Teenage War Survival series, two memoirs on war survival, human resilience and determination. She was born and raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, what used to be the former Yugoslavia back in the late 1970s. In 1997, she moved to the United States shortly after the end of the Bosnian War and has lived in Massachusetts since. In her spare time, she enjoys playing sports and electric bass guitar.
Her debut novel “Till A Better World” is coming out late March 2022 can be pre-ordered now.
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