nothing of value

Her expression is empty. It always is.

Holding that old crutch of hers, she walks slowly. She tries to look miserable too. But that isn’t really hard with those exposed and broken legs of hers.

“A cripple has nothing valuable to lose,” her father says, before burning her.  He says it, before  he  breaks her ankle and knee.  First on the right side, then the left.

    Her stretched out palm seems to be calmly begging. She avoids to look at the faces. People are easily annoyed. No eye contact, she has been told. That is important.

    „There is nothing to see,” she tells herself. Although… There is something worth looking at, maybe even staring at.

She has seen it so many times. It makes her want to puke, right on the shoes of everyone around. That something she refuses to acknowledge: disgust, mixed with pity. What a hateful thing to show her! The pang of regret she can handle, maybe the glow of relief in their eyes too.

Truly, she hates the naked gladness, she can recognize in their faces. The ease, that they do not have to share her fate; the ease, when she hobbles away.

„There is nothing important to see.“ She won’t bother. She won’t look. She breathes in, then out.

    After three seconds of waiting, she turns to the next person. Still begging with her free hand. Repeating, carefully pronounced „danke schön” and the pleading „bitte hilfe“ the best she can. She has to concentrate to pronounce the german words in the proper order. No slurring, no biting off syllables, no hastily spoken vocals. Anna, her best friend, has taught her those phrases, in the strange barking language.

    The Metro shakes violently, nearly throwing her off balance. A big hand grabs her under her armpit. It pulls her up. She doesn’t dare to move. She doesn’t dare to look. The grip tightens.

It is her guard, pulling her on her feet. He is an obese man, speaking her language, and strong enough to beat her to death. In fact, he is guarding the money, not her.

He keeps leaning on her other crutch. Naturally, he doesn’t need it, but uses it as  weapon and tool. He scratches his back with it, beats stray dogs and homeless people, beats her too. He reeks of sweat and onions. Disgusting. Her aversion grows each day. It is enough to observe him eat and drink, which he does, as often as he can. The guard keeps behaving like a pig, wasting her cripple money.

    The only good thing about being crippled is, that you have nothing of value to lose. She keeps telling herself, sometimes with her father’s voice.

    She is happy about one thing though, one thing her father freed her from. Men are disgusted by her look, and her burnt legs and back. Not one of them would touch her, not even drunk. No one would ever bother her in bed. She counts on that.

    From time to time she dreams of her home and family. She dreams, that she is back in their hut, near the abandoned dump, at the edge of an overgrown garden. Mother makes fire outside and smoke billows inside. She sits in her plastic chair, prepares potatoes and other vegetables for lunch. Her brothers play cards or sword fight, or chase each other in the one room they all have to share.

    This is where the dream takes a bad turn.

    Her father comes home, with two guests. One of them is her uncle, the other a stranger. A friendly man, with a pot belly and a big golden watch on his wrist. He is smiling a lot, winks at her. The men talk a bit before entering. The stranger is the only one sober. „You don’t need to clean those potatoes anymore,” he says warmly. „We are going on a journey now, an adventure!“ She hears her mother arguing outside. Her father screams at her, to know her place. She can hear a short loud slapping sound, then sobbing. How furious she was at her father… He was hitting mother again.

„You know.“ The man squats down beside her, looks at her knowingly. „You are a smart girl, I see that now. You are ten, aren’t you?“ She nods. „If you come with me, you will make money. A lot of money, more than you can imagine. You can do with it, what you want. Maybe send it home to your mother. So she doesn’t have to work so hard.“ The stranger’s eyes lock on hers.

    She nods again. Mother needs help, he is right about that. She knows it. So the best thing she can do in her state, is going with him. Earning money is a dream. He even helps her into his car, buckles her up. Then she turns around to look for her mother. She wants to wave her  good-bye. She’s nowhere. In the entrance of their hut, her father and uncle smile and wave at her. She wakes up sweating and crying.     

    Where was her mother? She doesn’t know.

    What became of her brothers? She doesn’t know.

    What happens with her, when she gets older?

That is not important. A cripple has nothing valuable to lose.

ink on ash

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.