The school yard was going to be a graveyard.
Preparations took two whole days.
Men had been hired to empty the library. I watched them slowly pile up manuals, maps and books. Considering the size of that heap, it was going to be an impressing fire.
The library must be empty by now… The librarian, a small withered woman with huge glasses and grey hair tied to a knot, ran nervously from one corner of the building to the other. That quiet, dark room has been her home, for who knows how long. Now the books were gone, and the emptiness took over the shelves, cupboards, desks.
I sat in my classroom, at the window, observed the coming and going. Men throwing books across the yard, smoking, swearing and drinking alcohol. I did not like them. Books should never be treated that way… Never…
I didn’t pay any attention to any lesson. But no one did anyway. It was an exceptional state. Everyone was discussing the last weeks, debating, pupils as well as teachers. It seemed – it seemed everyone has cheered up, like it was carnival. Laughing, joking. It was – odd…
Strange People died, that the military occupied the town, that the killing continued… How could anyone be happy with it? This remained a mystery to me, despite the talk about freedom.
“Today. At 4 o’clock.” The teacher raised her voice. “They will burn the books. We’re done for today. Don’t forget your homework! Cut out the first page in all your textbooks! And the emblem on the last page too. We are not getting new books! So be careful!”
Unable to look at her, doing that to her textbook, I turned my head. Again the men were carrying books to the yard… A grave yard. For words. It was blasphemy. I believed in books, always did. I believed in stories. Even if I was nothing more than a child, I knew, certain things were important. Books were important, stories were important. It was not about who’s picture was in the book, it was about what those words made you feel and do… A power that could not be eliminated, simply by destroying paper. What were they so upset about? It was sheer waste. Waste! Stop wasting!
I tried to convince myself, that it was an act of bravery, to save them. Even one of them. That was my goal. A mission a day. Usually it was homework or a prompt, or writing a story. But this time – it would matter… For that book. For that story, or for those facts… Maybe for me. I would find something useful, I imagined.
* * *
The odor of old paper, that had gotten wet some time ago, was overwhelming. I could smell glue too. Dust, yes. A faint aroma of mold… Balancing over the backs and covers of books I tried to get an overview.
History books. Mostly. Every class had to deliver the history books to the teachers – I gave my text book back too, after going through it again, specially through the chapter of Ancient Egypt. Now they have ended here, waiting for the fire. A lot of Philosophy and Politics too. Art, Literature and Poetry was scattered. Some books had been already ripped apart, spilling their guts over the others. Destruction was evident. Nearly every book I picked up was vandalized. Pictures added with vulgar drawings. It made me recoil. Disgusting! I let the books slip back on their grave.
* * *
The men were shouting. Everyone should stand back. People came to watch. Some brought beer and snacks. They prepared to roast some bacon, as if it was going to be just nice camp fire… There were even folks bringing their own books, waiting to throw them into the fire.
Watched, as the men went, with brightly lit torches around the pile. Laughingly lighting the fire. Paper could not possibly defend itself.
It caught easily fire, as the flames touched their surface. The destruction rushed fast to their core, burned the pages to grey crumbled petals, floating in the heat radiating in every direction. White smoke filled the yard. Filled the noses and mouthes, crept into lungs and bellies. One last revengeful strike. Coughing. Everyone.
Then the wind lifted the curse.
One lungful history, philosophy, politics, literature, poetry… One lungful dying stories and wasted words.