12th thread: A delirious grand-father
My mother was a child when the island was taken. A ship arrived announcing that all the men were to be executed, the women and children sold into slavery. But at the last moment, a second ship arrived from the city to cancel the command. If that ship had been wrecked, my mother would have been enslaved in a far away land, instead of having been given a beautiful wedding in the city. Right now, rather than sitting comfortably in our villa, we would all be slaves, and you too, in a distant land where our race is sought after.
I expected the island to be wonderful, with pink stone houses and gardens fragrant with hawthorn, as in the bard’s poems. But as I trotted alongside my mother, I was distressed by the village streets that reeked, the houses that were made of uneven stones and timber fouled by smoke. Old men, sitting in front of the doorway, sucked on onions with their toothless gums. Little girls with their goats ran around all day and even at night. When they laughed, they did not mind showing their small rotting teeth. Their hair was unkempt, their nose dirty. They wanted to play with me, but I got scared and I ran up to my grandfather’s.
He had injured himself with an ax and my mother was taking care of him. Lying on his pallet, with his wound oozing a greenish liquid, he screamed that he was attacked by evil spirits, who had bat wings, long eyelashes, and lips all pink inside. He whined that the demons had seized him and flown to the woods. When they dropped him, he was impaled on a tree in his fall. My mother and my aunt applied poultice after poultice of plants and clay and ground roots, but he only shouted louder. Then, on the eighth day, they nailed him to the bed by the shoulders and, while his eyes tried to jump out of his head, made him drink a potion out of a tiny flask. I looked at my mother, I did not recognize her, her face was rigid as iron, her hair whistled around her skull. My grandfather became silent, his face changed color, and a few hours later, he was dead.
Every evening during the illness of my grandfather, my mother took me to see the sun setting on the sea at the bottom of the street. I pulled her arm around my shoulders.
– Mother, why is Grand-Father scared of the demons?
– Because they hurt him. People are always scared of what hurts.
– Will he get better?
– We are trying to kill the demons inside him. This is where I grew up, did you know that?
– In this village?
– Yes. I had a goat too, and your aunt had the pig. She was not happy to have the pig.
Her laughter surprised me.
– We were richer than the other families, but still we ran the streets in our bare feet. We went swimming in a secret cove. My mother wanted to keep us home all the time, and she taught us weaving and embroidery. But your grand-father said it was good for us to run. He was funny. He liked to eat and drink. And when it came to finding me a husband, he gave me most of his possessions. The old men in the village thought he was crazy.
– It’s dirty, here, and scary. Don’t you like our house in the city better?
– Yes. And I love you.
– Do you love me as much as my brothers?
She did not reply. We watched the dancing colors in silence while the divine carriage slid down the horizon. Later I lay down with my aunt in her bed. The branches of a fig tree entered her room through the window, the smell of the fruit so sweet. She sang nursery rhymes to calm my fears.
I told everything to my father when I went home. He said I would not return, even if we had a good farm there that came from my mother. I never saw again such brilliant sunsets, never the smell of figs soothed me as in my aunt’s room. And my mother, who had seemed so tame, glowed like the goddesses of the temple, who protect and terrify all at once.