Bojetu Berta:
Filio is not at Home

(a segment)

     A long time passed. Nothing happened. Until last night. There was a knock on the door. I knew it was him.

     I felt like a long distance runner. I had run a strenuous race, and deserved to win. If they allowed me to open the school, two or three classes perhaps, I would achieve my purpose and would grow old peacefully. I had little time left. Not enough to leave, or attempt new changes.

     When I opened the door I was nervous like a runner before the end of the race. He carried a wooden box that concealed his face. He placed it on the floor under the window and turned to me. He put his arm around my shoulders and led me to the bed. We sat down. I folded my hands into my lap, and waited. I was certain I had permission to open the school and needed to compose myself so as not to blurt out something foolish. I had come a long way but hardly felt the sweet taste of victory. Years of hard labor, fear of not knowing where the next blow would come from, took their toll on me.

     "Here are the textbooks. You are not allowed to use anything else. Such is the condition," he pointed at the box. "Dirana is well supplied with notebooks. I have all the required documents. The seal and the forms for grading are in the box. Everything is in order. You will manage. Find help. Take over the higher grades. Let someone else teach the lower ones. There aren’t many qualified for schooling. You will find that out."

     "I didn’t expect it to be that easy. I am amazed."

     "The school is of little importance compared to the one on the continent. She is too ignorant about the life conditions here. She heard of you when she was very young. ‘Let her do what she wants,’ she said to me, ‘she cannot leave the island, and the women there could use some education. Prescribe the curriculum. She should follow it strictly. If she doesn’t, ban the school’. The factory down there," he pointed in the direction of the Lower town, "is in trouble. I have a hard time finding people to do the work. They are either stupid, sick, or running away. I don’t like it, I would like to retire. Yes, a little more knowledge. Perhaps Uri will take over. Just don’t get too excited. I worry seeing joy on your face; it always brings trouble. As long as I live, or receive different orders, nothing will change here."

     That was all. He left. And yet he was my friend.


*        *        *


    Today I walked through the town, I needed to find a suitable house for the school. It’s been a while since I had a good look at the town. I had already forgotten that each renovated house meant one more woman who was no longer at the mercy of Kata and her slaves. I thought of that year when the town was stirred up by the changes and persecution.

     I found the house behind the church. Because of the house with no railings, I hardly ever wandered there. The house looked like a school with four classes, and that’s what it probably had been years before. It had stood abandoned for many years. The unlocked door screeched and tore up a big cobweb when I pushed it open. I looked around and made up my mind on the spot.

     In the afternoon I waited for Lana. She supervised vegetable deliveries from the kitchen to the stairway. That wasn’t really her duty, but she was replacing a sick woman. We both put our everyday duties aside, and devoted ourselves to preparations for the school.

     The house was in good condition. It remained sturdy and strong behind the closed shutters, but needed cleaning and painting. I asked my women to help me. In a few days they had it all cleaned and ready for a paint job.


*        *        *


     Today I set off toward the school at the crack of dawn. When I turned around the church corner I saw Kata. She was standing by the door, waiting for me. She was bending the indispensable stick in her hands. Just like a bailiff. She did not intimidate me. I approached her, carrying two buckets of lime. Lana stood at the end of the hallway, holding a large bucket of water. She waited to see what would happen. The hideous creature by the door did not let me pass. I saw firm determination in her catlike eyes. I dropped one bucket, and held the other as a shield. I didn’t know what exactly to anticipate but I felt she would attack me at any moment. And she did. A stick came driving through the air. At that point Lana appeared at the door. She dropped the bucket and shoved Kata past me. Her huge body fell flat on the ground; her long legs and underpants showed from under her skirt. The rubber band which held her stockings was stretched and filthy, and looked incredibly distasteful. She became aware of it, and started to pull the short skirt to her knees. She looked ridiculous and helpless as she tried to pick herself up. It was then that Lana leaned toward her from the threshold, and splashed a bucketful of water into her face. She had a difficult time getting up. She was heavier and less agile than she used to be. It gave me time to collect and prepare myself. I looked at Lana. She stood upright, her head lifted high. Waiting. The empty bucket hung in her hand, the water was dripping down the doorstep, forming a puddle. That’s how we meet our destiny I thought and looked at the woman who managed to get herself on her knees, stood up, spat at us and left. It was an odd picture; she was disappearing down the street, dripping wet, thrusting her body forward in an awkward way. Poor thing, I thought briefly. Yet I knew in my heart that she wasn’t. How she would exhibit her power after this incident I couldn’t predict, but I knew she had a great deal of it left, and that she would use it to the last.


*        *        *


    Lana and I have been waiting for some days to see what, if anything, might happen. We leaf through the textbooks and are bored. I don’t want to start the work until autumn. Perhaps it is best this way. I don’t quite want to admit it, but there is something else holding me back. Something troubles me. Something is in the air; it is too quiet. I cannot go on. I feel uneasy about certain women who have through the years only pretended to accept the new order; they knew well that they would otherwise go hungry.

     With the school it is different. I cannot force them to send their children to school. It was stated in the document I was given that a certain number of children were required for the elementary and secondary school. They can inflict real harm now and will stop at nothing. How to deal with this problem is beyond me. Can the women who are on my side come up with enough children to comply with the given condition? I don’t know.

     They are smarter than I thought. Whose idea was it to get back at me this way? Mare’s, Kata’s, Lukria’s? Lukria has been seen walking gloomily around the town lately. Perhaps there is more to come?


*        *        *


    An hour ago Mare entered without knocking. She approached the table with textbooks and rummaged through them. Slowly, as if at home, she picked up one after another, completely ignoring me. I hardly dared to breathe. She was aloof and impertinent. She glanced at me every now and then. Her contemptuous smile promised nothing good. After she put down the last book she opened a drawer as if she had known that she would find the seal there. She didn’t know how to use it, she turned it in her hand like a child examining a new toy. Then she pocketed it and left.


*        *        *

    Lana is apparently not giving up. She sits with me for hours, asking questions about the subject matter of the textbooks. She can write and do some math; she has the basic knowledge, and is a quick learner. Her grandmother was a teacher in the old times. Lana will do. She can help me with the first graders. Perhaps it is all to no avail. All my plans and preparations may be doomed if I don’t succeed in getting the seal back. Disheartened and disappointed I move from chairtochairtobed, trying to come up with a solution.


*        *        *


    Last morning was heavy and foggy. I was standing at the back. I still enjoy being among women, still enjoy glimpsing my Master discreetly.

     He came, a dark figure. He turned his head slightly to the right, enough to sense me among the crowd. Something travelled between us that would never be lost. I felt happy, he opened up to me for a moment, sent me a thought which had to pass me by. Why I would never know.

     Behind him walked a young man whom I did not recognize at once. Uri! I was shaken by his beauty, by his oddly dignified beauty that unveiled itself distinctively between his narrow, stubborn shoulders. Only because I knew him could I tell from a distance that he had pimples he was, so to speak, an even color otherwise. He was brown, all in brown, he looked colorless; so brown that it seemed he was trying to hide, to hide and never be found. He would be hard to spot in the fields on the hill. His hair and clothes were the same color. Only his skin was lighter, like the sunstroked soil of the fields. From now on I will avoid lingering in front of the church on Sundays.


*        *        *


    I leapt out of a dream and looked around the room. The noise coming first from the room at the end of the corridor and later from the hall frightened and paralyzed me for a moment. I got up and peeked into the hall. In front of my daughter’s room, two men were shoving each other, cursing through their teeth. I stepped closer, ignorant of what was happening. Enough light penetrated through the window for me to recognize one of them. He was the lame one who had, in his impatient manner, limped through the house before. He always came before the house settled down for the night. He was always in a hurry, looking hastily for the door, closing it behind him like the master of the house. In the door frame I saw my daughter in a white nightgown, heard her stammer and plead incoherently. Only then did I understand that the two were fighting for a place in her bed. It would never have crossed my mind that she was worthy of a quarrel, let alone a fight. The lame one obviously cared about her, for he didn’t give in an inch. He beat and kicked the other man, faltered, then finally got rid of him. He closed the entrance door behind him, and entered majestically my daughter’s room. The leg he was dragging behind lingered for a moment on the threshold. My god, how good it would be to have a master in the house.

     I couldn’t go back to sleep, but listened to a long, loud argument for some time. Only later did I drift into dreams. Let her live her own way. She apparently has no desire for me to get involved in her affairs.


*        *        *

    I feel so isolated. It is a holiday, and I have no one to sit with, say the words which people exchange on such occasions, or listen to the Master reading certain words in remembrance. I have been forgotten among certain people, my people have forgotten me, and they would denounce me if they knew how I lived. I am therefore isolated. The empty space of nonbelonging has been created for Filio as well. Nothing I can do about it.

     I want the days of uncertainty and conflict to pass. I am tired. Before I lit the oil lamp I saw a face by the window. An unknown face. I couldn’t even tell whether it was a man or a woman. Either could be found beneath my window. One because of Filio, observing her growth, perhaps, the other because of me and the school. The pressure is silent and seemingly harmless. Nothing tangible happens, nothing explicit, but for weeks I’ve been hiding the signs from Filio, closing my eyes, trying to ignore it. The face at the window came as a final blow. I still haven’t recuperated from the morning when I was given a jolt on the doorstep a large dead fish lay stinking there. It must have been leaning against the door, since it fell on my feet when I opened it. It was still wet and completely rotten. Huge worms were crawling along the stone, making their way to the house. I moaned and turned to the wall. I went back into the house, leaving the fish on the doorstep. I sat down in front of my room in shock, stared in front of me, towards the light. I didn’t really see anything but a single thought, gnawing at me. What am I doing here? I had forgotten what had kept me on the island, so I shook my head, wondering why I hadn’t already left. I had also forgotten that I was not allowed to leave. I was simply kept there. I had never expressed these thoughts in words, and was thus unaware of them.

     I am facing a new conflict. I will deal with it just like the first time; I am determined to do what I’ve vowed to do.

     Through the light I saw Lana stepping over the fish. She turned away in disgust, like she couldn’t believe her eyes. She sat down next to me, and we must have remained like this for a long time and forgot altogether to go to the school, as was planned. The windows needed washing, and that was the last chore to be done.

     I wish I could leave. I loathe this place. Filio came running in from somewhere, all excited. She found us numb on the low threshold, holding one another, with wet cheeks, which we started to dry simultaneously. I jumped to my feet and took her into the kitchen. I gave her some bread and cheese, hoping that Lana would put the fish away in the meantime.

     It is hard. In the evening the tension thickens. I am more afraid of them than ever before.


*        *        *


    After a few days we walked to the school. Lana clung to me as never before. The town was resting in the early afternoon, gathering strength before evening. I avoided meeting other women. I could not trust anybody any longer. But I needed their children. I could not possibly school Filio alone. Composed and determined, we walked past closed shutters and doors. At the edge of the square, right next to the church, we suddenly saw a group of women waiting for us. The maid had warned us that they waited there day after day, but we had forgotten. We walked toward them. Every power is dangerous, and this one was much more so, because it was unknown. We shivered. They hated us both, and I saw they wished to insult and humiliate me. More than that. Some had thick sticks like Kata’s ready in their hands.

     "Lana, turn around and go home. This is mine to deal with."

     "You know I can’t. I will help you. None of them is young, perhaps we can handle them."

     What do they have against me and the school? It will be beneficial for the children. Their thoughts cannot reach beyond Kata’s orders, I had just enough time to think, before a stick whizzed past my head. I know Kata’s reasons, and theirs are simply a consequence. I have to fight. I swung the bucketful of water toward the woman who tried to knock me down. I turned here and there, hitting blindly whoever came close. I was lucky I had the bucket. Without it I would have been knocked down to the ground. They couldn’t come close, either to me or to Lana. Suddenly everything went quiet. They stood around us, and we were turning around, swaying from one foot to the other. We stopped for a moment, and a few of them fled. Three strong women remained, perhaps a year or two younger than us; we clenched our teeth and plunged ahead. We didn’t hesitate one bit. I picked up a stick and started beating the first one, then the second, until there was only one left. She was defending herself rather than attacking us. I was hitting all over her with all my might. I started shouting words about help and suicide. I don’t remember what I was saying. It was over only after I threw the bitch onto the ground. She fought well and long. A few times I thought that I myself would fall, surrender, but then I hit her again, beat up the stupid flesh, trying to convey the message to her that I had no intention of stopping.

     Lana and I collapsed on some rocks. We were dishevelled, our clothes torn. Those women succumbed at the right time; I had no strength left. Blood slithered down Lana’s forehead, her hair was sticking out in all directions, her lifted skirt was torn, shortened ridiculously at one side, revealing her bare thigh.

     My sweet Lana. I smiled at her tired face. She smiled back, and then we burst out laughing. It was a relief from anxiety and tension. We laughed uncontrollably, looking around to see if anybody was watching. Who else would dare to attack us?


*        *        *


    Only today did we wash the windows. The day was pleasant, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Nothing belongs to me. Not any longer. The life I once had I cast off a long time ago. It is true that a coincidence brought me here, but I still had a choice at the beginning when I was still strong. Now there is no more of "take it or leave it".

     For a few days there was no wind. The heavy air lay upon us, pressing us to the ground. There was a stench in the school. We tried to find the source of it, but since it stank in front and around the school as well, we gave up and hurried home.


*        *        *


    Behind the windows, still cold from the night, day is dawning. Spring is taking its time this year. The wind forced us from the streets into the houses; only now and then I found relief from its sound. The windows and doors shook, especially during the night; there was no way of knowing whether it was the gale or somebody banging on them. Night after night somebody was banging on the walls and the wood with an iron stick; I heard and recognized the sound. It was both a treat and a warning. After days of this deafening noise my tired ears can only hear, but not distinguish anything any more. Lana hasn’t come to see me. Are they torturing her as well? I must go to her today.


*        *        *


    The wind has stopped, and so has the banging which drove me to a corner where I crouched, terrified of everything. They have given up for now; without Lana I wouldn’t have managed. Pained and weary, I am unable to do anything but rest and seek comfort in her.

     Days passed, and the fear with them. I darted glances from under my eyebrows, expecting more blows. There were no signs of adversity, and I decided to walk to school again. Lana came along. She never left my side.

     We opened the shutters and tried to air the stench away. It was unmistakably there. Inside the house. The shutters had been closed for some time, the smell was shut inside. We could hardly breathe. It was overwhelming. We started searching. We walked through the classrooms, examined the teacher’s room, opened closets, drawers, moved desks and rummaged through old papers. There had to be a dead animal somewhere. Except we could not find it. With our hands clamped to our noses we walked all over, when we both suddenly thought of something. The cellar! We had not looked in there yet; the stench was most likely coming from there. We descended the stairs into the darkness. The stench intensified. We could not see anything, so I ran out and opened the cellar window shutters. I heard Lana calling me. Her voice was sad and fearful; it echoed so forbiddingly that I rushed to her. I did not want to leave her alone for a single moment. I stood behind her, my hands on my mouth. I couldn’t believe what I saw. A hairy pile that had collapsed within itself rose before me. Then it dawned on me. It was a large, a very large pile of dead cats. I came apart, perhaps due to the foul air, or the cats. Where had Kata ordered them to be collected?


*        *        *


    Autumn is near. The evening is hot and stuffy. It presses down, like the darkness inside us. I still don’t have the seal. How am I to continue, whom do I turn to? Again, I attempted to talk to them. They turned me down, like a little beggar.


*        *        *


    Somebody followed me through the dusk as I was returning home from Lana’s. As I reached my door the stalker grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me against the wall. With my face against the stone I could not recognize the force bearing down on me. I felt like a rabbit nailed to a board, waiting to be skinned, pierced by a manure fork and hung on the wall. The feeling took away my will power. It bode no good. I wanted to survive, the past suddenly became clear. It had a different face than I expected. I became dizzy with anxiety.

     "It will be over soon," I heard a man’s voice. "I have to do it quickly, without pleasure, they told me."

     He spun me around and bit into my lips. I did not scream, accepted my fate and waited. After all, it was I who decided to take them on. I knew that the seed was bad. Petunias do not grow from thistles. He dragged me into the house, to the room. He, too, knew the way. He pulled a chair from the table and threw me over it. My legs and arms hung from it like a rag. I did not resist. I let him lift my skirt and take off my underpants. I lay still, slumped within myself, oblivious of my own existence. I just waited for it to be over.

     What happened halted my thought. I don’t know what was worse. He flogged my behind with a stick until I could feel the warmth of my own blood. I clutched the chair and pushed my feet against the floor to prevent myself from pleading and screaming. Then he took me violently from behind, stabbing at me again and again like a pig that wants to break free.

     I slid off the chair when he closed the door behind him. I didn’t move for a long time. I didn’t dress, I just lay there and forgot about everything but the humiliation.


*        *        *


    "I settled it with them. Here is the seal. I never thought they would go this far." He threw the seal on the table and left. A few days have passed since that evening. I recuperated a bit. I had been feverish. It passed yesterday. That night I crawled to bed. I kept washing and washing myself, but there seemed never to be enough water in the house to wash away the disgust. It is of no avail: we carry everything with us, nothing is ever lost.

     I shuddered when he entered. Indifferent, he threw the seal on the table and left. Did I know him, my Commander? Did I love him? Yes and no. Passion, lust, strangeness and the power of a great ego? I cannot recall any feelings of belonging, but they must have existed. I no longer know what was real and what not.

     I got up after he left. I took the seal in my hands and was happy. Without anger I thought about the women and the man who had tried to prevent me from opening the school. That was the time of fear; they had rooted it in me, forever. Fate? It was the fate I deserved.


*        *        *


    School starts tomorrow. I announced it in front of the church, asking women to send the children age eight or older. Girls, that is. I had difficulty placing them. Almost all of them need to be taught how to write. A small light in the darkness. How much of it did I see?


*        *        *


    Today we opened the school and had the first classes. Everything is behind us now. The silent months of stalking and secret informing were devastating.

     How many bad things can man come up with to harm those he does not approve of? My daughter lies dead in her room. I am waiting for Lukria to take her away. The door has just opened. It must be her.

     She stood at the door when I stepped into the hall. A neatly folded sheet hung from her shoulder. She did not look at me as she clattered past. I looked after her appalled. It was hard to believe her nonchalant ways.

     I followed her. Stopped at the door. She was wrapping the corpse with harsh, fast movements, making it jolt like a hard ball. She payed no attention to me, as if it had nothing to do with me. It was devastating to see my daughter’s nude body. My chest tightened and I pressed my hands against it for support. I thought I would collapse. The bruised body belonged to me, and now I was giving it away, in the most improbable way. The woman was doing her job; the more impersonal, cold and detached she was, the more it tore me apart inside. Suddenly I let out a scream and leaped toward her. I yanked the sheet off her hands, pushing, biting, fighting her. To no avail. In the end she wrapped the corpse and left the room. I collapsed in the corner and sobbed. I had no will power left to go after her. I stayed where I was. Through tears I saw the maid coming in. I lifted my face.

     "How much longer will you just watch her carry them away, how can you be so indifferent?"

     She let me have my say, and sat down on the floor next to me. She stroked me with a gracious gentleness and forgiveness as if I were a child.

     "Those who are hurt have the right to hurt," she said and placed my head into her lap. "Cry, Helena, you can do nothing else now."

     "Did you see the man who beat her up?" I asked. "It was the one who was a frequent visitor here, the lame one, wasn’t it? He finished her off with the rock. Did you get that rock?"

     "It is there, under the table," she pointed to the floor.

     I followed her pointing finger with my eyes and saw a large stone, covered with blood, lying there like a witness, waiting to be hidden. I crawled to it and put it in my apron. I crawled back and leaned against the wall. Between my legs, in the lap, I felt the horrid weight of the blows which had killed that plain being, my daughter. She was like a chapel. Without memories. She was entered, passed by, nobody left anything in her, only a scratch here and there. She seemed to be her own purpose.

     She hated me. She made it clear she did not want to have anything to do with me. We avoided one another, she even hardly knew Filio. Now Lukria had taken her away, and I felt that the house would be empty. I loved her after all. Filio was her flesh and blood. "Is Filio asleep?" I asked.

     "She has been asleep for some time. I carried her upstairs," I heard the maid say, thinking of the girl who was bequeathed to me. The maid and I put Filio on the chest by my daughter’s bed, to have them both near when we treated my daughter’s wounds. In the morning Filio had fainted when she saw her mother all beaten up; it was the first time ever my daughter had Filio in her room. She whispered to me to let Filio stay with her.

     I brought her daughter to her. Filio didn’t wake up while we bandaged her mother’s wounds. The maid and I were shaking her, trying to wake her, but nothing worked. I left the room for a moment. When I returned, my daughter was dead, and Filio lay on the floor by her bed. She must have woken up and fainted again. Poor child.


*        *        *


    Uri comes more and more frequently. He returns books promptly and takes out new ones. It must be hard for him in the prison where he works. He looks pale and in need of sleep. It is dismal. Today his visit was brief. Usually he sits by the window and discusses the books, paces the room and when it is time to go, leaves dissatisfied. Today we just sat. No words were sought for. I sat next to him, leaning on the wall, looking through the window at the sea, my eyes travelled with him to the horizon and beyond. What places did our minds wander to today? Perhaps we both longed for towns and their splendor. But differently. He does not know the people out there. I once knew them. They are no good. And if there are any, it is too late to look for them. He can, perhaps, still find them.


*        *        *


    I felt heavy when I got up. I hurried, though some strange premonition weighed me down, making it hard to move. Somebody has been frequenting the house for weeks. Doors are being slammed inconsiderately. As if someone were angry. I don’t know what is happening, but a thought has struck me which I don’t dare to say out loud. Are they looking for Filio?

     She is fifteen. Can it be that she is already included in the labyrinth of nocturnal visits? And what am I to do if she is? Can I prevent them? To think that men might again promenade around the house, old and young, sleazy and loathsome, robust or awkward, lying with my girl. She is tall, slender and fragile. I worry about her. I believe she doesn’t care for all these bodies and smells. She is a quiet and bright girl. Deep in her thoughts she does her chores around the house. She grew up so suddenly. The years have gone by and I hardly noticed where I lived. All but a faint anxiety was erased. I am no longer included in their lives, have given up everything but the school.

     I see Uri often. We have deep discussions about the books we read. He is a man now, although he still lets me stroke his curly head.

     Where can I hide Filio? We can no longer run away. It is too late.


*        *        *


    This time, too, she stood at the door like an admonition. The years have shrivelled her, only the wickedness in her posture and the tension in her eyes reminded me of the Mare I used to know. She looked downtrodden, and yet erect. She was dried up. A loveless life will do that to you. I had not met people like these before, but here they were a frequent sight. Life left a harsh mark on them as they grew old.

     I knew why she had come.

    I was sitting at the table when she entered. I looked up from the notebooks I had just finished evaluating.

     "Do you think I will let Filio fall into your absurd whirlpool of insanity? You and Kata disgust me, and it is time you know this. You disgust me with your loathsome thoughts you swear on, and are nothing else but the product of sick minds. Get out of my house."

     "Don’t you forget that it’s our house, and that we set the rules. You will move Filio to the ground floor today, or she will be taken away and you will never see her again. We have an appropriate place for her, where she can be of use."

     Dear God, what is she trying to tell me, I thought frightened, and knew I would let Filio become part of this life. I couldn’t bear it to have her taken away. Their threats are to be taken seriously. I had no one to turn to. I haven’t seen the Commander from close by for years. I don’t seek him out, and he no longer sees me. On Sundays, he walks with bowed head past the group of women who are still waiting for him. He is as dried up as Mare. He simply has no reason to be or to take his leave. That’s about it.

 I’ll move Filio, of course I will, I have no other option. It is hard. Nothing has ever been harder.


*        *        *


    In the morning Filio and I stood in front of the church. She had asked me to come along. For years I’ve gone nowhere but to the school, met other people only occasionally. We stood at the back, like I used to do with my daughter and Uri. Those were good but strange times.

     She has entered the game. I sensed her confusion and thought how I had never lowered my eyes in front of the church the way Filio did today.

     She has lost the privileges I had. Is she suffering? Does she really want to be with them? Have the lustful birds of the island moved into her and changed her? Is she still mine?

     She lifted her head for a brief moment when the men walked past us. Who was she looking for? Did I only imagine she was clenching her fists and teeth? Her trepidation was so powerful that I shifted my legs. I’ve never felt the restlessness stronger than today, standing next to Filio. It was either happiness or anxiety, I couldn’t tell which. I remembered my early years here. My anticipation to see the Commander. Who are they waiting for since they don’t know which one of the men lay on top of them? They can only guess, sense.

     All this is madness. I left. First time ever I did not follow them into the church.


*        *        *


     Nothing has changed between the two of us. We talked in the mornings. I gazed at her face. She is beautiful. With her big eyes and translucent skin under them, she did not appear happy, or at ease. She searched for her guilt on my face. She won’t find it. It is not her fault. I knew it would hurt her. I am proud that she didn’t fall. Walking is easier.

 I put my arm around her shoulders and walked her to the door. She’s grown taller over the past few months, her body has become more rounded. She’s become a woman.

 "My man is at my place, Helena. And it’s already daylight," she led me to the window, "it is day but he is sitting there, by the window, waiting for me to come home from school. He says that my sons remember me when they pass by in front of the church. He pointed me out to them, he said.”

     We laughed quietly, thinking of those years when we couldn’t even fathom such a thought. Humans will be humans. They have a violent streak in them, like it or not.

     "He will stay until the evening. How I have waited for him!

    He never said it out loud, like today: ‘I will come often,’ he said, ‘and I will be the only one. Those others who may come will just sit with you for awhile, so that nobody finds out. It is not too late? The Commander allows us to make our own arrangements. He asked me to be careful, only a few of us dare, others still obey the rules. It is still dangerous,’ he told me. I really wanted him, Helena, and I got him. Do I deserve this? I guess so."

     We walked to the school. All morning singing could be heard from her classroom. Will she go through all the music material today? My dear, sweet Lana.


*        *        *


    I hadn’t seen Filio all day. I looked for her in her room. She wasn’t there. I went upstairs. She lay there, pale and quiet, covered up to her chin, and asked for food, for a lot of food. ‘I want to eat,’ she said, ‘give me the best there is.’

     After a few days she grew even quieter. She stopped talking altogether. A strange obstinacy had moved into her body, or was it rebellion? She will not last. Something is bound to happen. All I can do is wait.


*        *        *


    Filio has left. She’s been gone for a few days. Only today did they notice her absence. I knew it the very first day. I found on the doorstep a bunch of flowers from the meadow above the town where we are not allowed to go. I knew it, and I waited.

     Lana was always in the know about what was happening in the Lower town; this time as well. They launched a search for Filio on the open sea, but it was days after she disappeared, and they found nothing. I have been terrified that she might have been caught and locked up somewhere. Lana will know. I have to wait to find out. I haven’t slept for days.


*        *        *


    I am sitting by the window, just like at the beginning. I don’t stir, am interested in nothing. There is only a small detail I need to write down. Lana has made inquiries. She is certain that Filio is no longer on the island. Now I can just sit, sit.

     On the morning of her flight I went into her room. Only the furniture was left. Later I handled the objects which she had moved into her childhood room upstairs. I went to the cellar and lit the corner where I had hidden the case with gold coins. It was gone. I was glad that she had understood my hints about leaving.

     She was found on the continent. I heard news some months ago. She has bought a house and is going to school. She lives alone and sees no one.

     They will let her stay there.

Translated by Sonja Kravanja