When my father went to join the clandestine army, Marina wept a lot. My mother and I also cried.
“I don’t want Daddy to hide,” Marina sobbed.
“Don’t worry, my dear,” her mother told her. – The father hides because he will fight in secret, along with other men. This is called “clandestinity”.
I felt sorry for Marina, who at the age of five still ignored many things that I, at eight, already knew.
Before leaving, my father wanted Marina to understand.
– Why don’t people like us? She asked.
I didn’t know why either, but I behaved as if I did.
“It’s because we’re different,” said his father. “People think this is their country and they don’t want us here.” But this country is ours too. And I will fight alongside the Liberation Army to prevent them from expelling us from our own lands.
Putting his hand on my shoulder, he said:
– Victor, you are now the man of the house. You must be your mother’s support!
And then he left.
“I’ll be back,” my father had said. But I was afraid he would come back and we were no longer here.
My mother announced that we would have to leave soon too, because it was too dangerous to stay any longer. Our enemies were razing villages, sweeping everything in their wake. They drove out the inhabitants and then burned down the houses. Every day we heard blasts in the distance and we saw smoke rising on the horizon.
And every day many strangers who had forsaken their land stopped on the way to set down their bundles, to share our meal, and to take shelter under our roof. They told terrible stories about what had happened to them and their neighbors when the soldiers had passed by. They told it to cry, and always looking at the road, if it wasn’t for the soldiers to appear on our doorstep.
When they reported things too horrible, my mother would send us to fetch water from the fountain or potatoes from the backyard. But we still heard a lot… Marina started to suck on her finger and I wet the bed for three days straight. My mother pressed me against her and calmed me down:
– It’s all right, Victor. This is of no importance!
One day a tractor family arrived. They had a son my age named Alex, and a dog who knew how to do skills. Alex liked to show it off.
“My father went underground,” I told him proudly.
He thought that having a father in hiding was better than having a dog who knew how to do skills. The next morning I watched them go. Since we had no tractor, we would have to walk when we left. A few days later, a man with a large sack arrived at his back. He had a jar full of water where two fish swam. He set it down on the table, and I had the impression that this glass jar contained all the light in the world.
“I can’t take them with me,” he said. “Do you want to be with them?” They are wonderful fish.
My mother shook her head.
“We’ll be leaving in a day or two, too.”
Marina even jumped.
– Please, mom. They are so beautiful! I already have a name for them. Moonlight and Light.
The man sighed.
– I’ll let them stay. An extra day or two is very important for a fish. Here is their food.
And handed Marina a package.
– Pour a little water every day.
“All right,” my sister promised.
For two days he fed them, talked to them, and even wanted to party with their fingers.
“I like Moonlight and Light so much,” I told our mother. – I love them with all my heart!
Three days later my mother announced that we had to leave without delay.
“Well, I’d like to stay until the hot weather comes,” he said, as if speaking only to himself. “But the cold would hurt the girl.”
I knew she was referring to the pneumonia Marina had had the year before.
– We’ll be leaving early tomorrow. Only after crossing the border will we be safe.
“And it takes a long time to get there on foot?” I asked, regretting that we didn’t have a tractor.
– Yes, it takes. But we will get there.
“Can moonlight and light come with me?” Marina pleaded. – I will take them. Please say yes, Mom.
– It can’t be, Marina. We have to leave them here. But I think we might find your father. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
I thought she was trying to instill hope, but that was not enough to comfort Marina. That night she slept with her mother, and I heard her sobbing for a long time before she calmed down and fell asleep. Lying in bed, I scanned my room to keep it in mind: the books on the shelves made by my father, a picture of me that my mother had framed… I felt how painful it would be for Marina to have to abandon the fish… [19459002 ]
When the clock struck midnight, I got up, carried the jar to the pool, and poured the moonlight and light into the water. Her reflection glowed on the shore herbs, and I scattered the rest of the food into the water.
“So you can live another day or two.” Good luck! I muttered.
We also needed luck, too…
CONTINUED … Eve Bunting On Retrograde Paris, Syros Jeunesse, 2001 (Translation and Adaptation)