The Farmstead

The upper balcony was a good three meters in length and hung sharply from the gable to the ground, with the charred end dangling at about head height. Even the walls bore scorch marks, and all that was left where the barn had once stood were remains of the foundation and some boards protruding through the undergrowth. A bit beyond the barn was a crater, still distinctly circular, but overgrown with grass. Bits of gravel and patches of naked earth dotted the courtyard, and numerous spots were ravaged with indentations of tractor wheels or tank treads, which would never be fully washed away no matter how much rain fell.

Porcelain shards betrayed the location of the kitchen, its singed and pitted walls weathered and crumbling with the passage of years. Not a single roof was intact, and every step required caution to avoid startling a rat or field-mouse.

"I remember...," the old man said, his voice brittle as he pivoted slowly around. He jabbed the end of his stick into the earth over and over, as though to test whether the ground would bear his weight. He took a few steps into the courtyard, casting a fleeting glance at the overgrown ruins. He breathed in deeply and released an audible sigh, lost in thought. His eyes were full of pain, longing, and the burden of not being able to retrieve the past. The man did not even notice when a cat jumped onto a lower wall, stared at him for a moment, and hissed before disappearing again into the bushes.

"He came out from there," he said, indicating an almost-intact doorway with his outstretched arm. "They called for him, shouted, screamed for him even. They insulted him, and he came out because he was furious." He bit his lip and lowered his head to ward off the tears which threatened to spill out against his wishes.

"He wanted to talk to them," he continued, then fell silent. He stuffed his hand in his coat pocket as he took two steps back, looked up into the virtually cloudless sky, nodded and gradually turned around. "I don\'t know anymore if the shooting started then or later."

A weak, barely noticeable wind whistled from somewhere with a sound that would only be believed near the remains of the wall. Numerous cracks, holes, and gaps made the walls porous, and many of the rotten wooden balconies which the fire had damaged, threatened to break at any moment. The troops were in possession of their practice area, which they would not abandon in spite of repeated protests from the population. The old man shoved his stick a tiny bit forward, and with the toe of his shoe, overturned a stone whose color was pleasing to him. Then, with uncertain, childlike steps, he went back the way he had come.

(From: Lose/Destinies. Translation by: Anne Holcomb, Little Rock, USA)