Drying Heart

An unprecedented drought had devastated the village for the last nine months.

Damian was not born to be a peasant. His family was the richest and the most powerful of the village; they possessed all the lands in the village and around it, lending them to peasants in exchange of part of their harvest. Yet their fortune had been decaying since his father was managing it. The latter had a propensity to scatter his money in vain pleasures of life…

Their house was the only testimony of their past grandeur. Its walls were imposing from outside, even though they were completely neglected; creepers and capers covered the stones. When his father was at home, he spent most of his days with his dogs – he had four or five of them – cursing and imprecating against everybody and everything, smoking and coughing hoarsely. The dogs seemed to have the same temper as their owner. They had a privileged access to the house and wandered across it barking aggressively.

He had the habit of disappearing for days and nights without giving notice. His son only suspected the nature of his amusements and past times, where alcohol and women had a title role. This rhythm of life had marked him indelibly in the last few years; he was unhealthily stout, had a yellowish face, his eyes seemed to dig into a thick layer of fat, his second chin was hanging flaccid. Coming back home, it happened to him to sleep for more than forty eight hours before being able to rise on his feet; when he woke up he was constantly annoyed and even more bad tempered respect to the usual.

The interior of the house suffered from the absence of a woman, his poor wife having died early. The rooms of the third floor had been emptied. A thick layer of dust covered the floor, riddled by dog’s paw prints. The lamp-shades were always closed, murkiness reigned. The only places giving the impression of being inhabited were the small room where Damian slept and the library. His father hadn’t yet dismantled the library, which contained a big number of old books.

Damian was an athletic and muscular nineteen years old young man; he had a large brow, blunt and deep dark eyes. He had never felt that warm affection and gratefulness that one’s usually has toward his father. He still shuddered recalling how his father had treated him after discovering he was reading a book, the Count of Monte Cristo, in the library. He had walked on the open book with his dirty outsoles, and then taken a sly pleasure in using its pages to fold and cook potatoes in the chimney for the following weeks.

“I never want to see you reading again! Stop behaving as an old maid! You should go make pregnant one by one all the young girls of the village! I expect nothing else from you, bastard!” He remembered his exact words, still shocked by their vulgarity. Since then, he was always very cautious when reading, not to be discovered. A huge amount of text had passed under his greedy eyes. Books were his only refuge, his window to the world of dreams for a better future.

The villagers’ hated very much his father. He starved them, increasing every years the tax they had to pay as lend, to keep their fields. If somebody made difficulties to pay, he went to collect by force his dues, shouting and threatening, releasing his hungry dogs if necessary. He forced peasants to pay by sowing the terror, and he granted himself generous bonuses in abusing their wives.  In theory, the law would have impeded him to behave suchlike, but the country had been at war for the fifteen last years, and nobody cared about laws being enforced in the wilderness of the country. He could thus behave as a tyrant, without fearing retaliations.

It is legitimate reader that you wonder why the peasants didn’t combine their forces together to take the law into their own hands, killing him. The answer is very simple; it is true that they all execrated him, but they were rivals between them from generations, always competing to get the best harvest, and such an idea would have never occurred through there simplistic and down to earth minds. They had lived for decades under the yoke of Damian’s family, and they had got used to this order of the world.  It was enough for them to sweat, plough their lands, pay their tributes, secretly curse the father, spit on the son and die. It was the normal course of life. The germs of rebellion had been long asleep in their blood. They had not taken History in the small village school; they simply had learnt to count and write their names.

Damian recalled how, when he was a child, he used to mix and play with the villagers’ sons. As years passed they began avoiding him, calling him rich and bad. At the time, he was still very young to understand the reasons for their behavior, and he had once communicated his surprise to his father. The latter had decided to punish one of the lads to make an example. He had trailed him grabbing him by his ear, and thrown him with violence the face in the mud, in front of his dumbstruck son.

“Kiss both his feet and ask for his mercy!” He had shouted. Damian didn’t have the presence of mind and the courage to contradict his father.  From that time, Damian had never complained again to his father. It was an open wound in his chest. He still didn’t forgive himself for not reacting.

After this incident, the young teens hate toward him had redoubled. They thought him as bad as his father, since he did nothing to stop him from hitting their poor friend. They got the habit to make fun of him every time they saw him. He had once tried to react but they completely outnumbered him, he recalled that they were at least seven, and even though he offered a valiant resistance, they left him bleeding and covered of bruised, on the floor.

“This is our revenge, swine!” One of the lads had cried.

“He will now go crying to his father, and he will harm us ten times more. You shouldn’t have hit this wimp!” Another one had complained.

Damian had carefully hidden the notice of the fight from his father. From that time, he had never answered again to offences, preferring to suffer in silence. He could understand the fact that they hated his father. He himself hated him in a corner of his heart, even if he still refused to admit it openly to himself. However, he had done nothing wrong to these farmers. They were prejudiced against him.

He recalled how, three years before, he had decided to cultivate on his own the fields around his house, which had been uncultivated for at least two decades, and covered by thorny bushes. He secretly wished to show the peasants that he wasn’t that addle boy they thought he was. His father had never been interested in planting, and didn’t want to spend any of his money on maintaining a gardener. He looked scornfully at the tentative of his son, but didn’t say anything. He had a lot of “business”- to use his word- to do in the city that year, and spent more than six months away from the village. He didn’t have enough time and energy to think of his foolish son. When he came back home it was to sleep. Damian had noticed that his mouth stunk of alcohol, and that he couldn’t walk straight.

The first year of gardening rhymed with blisters, punctures, and bathes of sweat. He had thought that it would have been easy to farm, but quite the opposite, it was the most difficult thing that he had ever done. Reading books about farming wasn’t enough to learn. The village farmers sniggered at his difficulties; this arrogant cracker is bored and thinks that anybody can farm; it will be a bitter lesson for him.

There was a group of youngsters that stopped avoiding him. On the contrary, they passed close to his lands at least once per day, feigning interest in his progress and asking him how crops were doing.

“These zucchini look awesome! What do you think of them Martha?”

“Oh I have never seen such hearty and promising plants! Tell us your secret, dear Damian!”

The group was composed of two-three hefty sons of peasants, and of two young girls; Martha overshadowed the beauty of all the other girls he had ever seen. She had very delicate features, brown eyes and light smooth hair. She was slender, and had the gait of a horsewoman. He fancied that she had come out from one of the books he read and loved. Dressed appropriately, she could pass for a noble young woman. She had once headed toward him with her sarcastic smile; he didn’t feel well that day and couldn’t impede to have tears in his eyes. He still blushed recalling what he told her halftone with an unconfident voice.

“Why are you so cruel with me? Why can’t we be friends? I think that… that… I feel something for you.”

“Listen, listen! The son of the monster pretends he can ‘feel’. Let me touch your heart!” She had placed her hand on his chest; her touch was light and burning, he felt dizzy. “Indeed it beats. Incredible!” She had pronounced her words in a very serious manner, accompanied by peal of laughter; the others were completely spelled by her charm. She had redoubled her meanness after that incident, making him regret his avowal for a long time. Mocking him had added interest to the unpalatable villagers’ life. He had become a topic of conversation in every house, at dinner hour, before the sunset. Father, he planted the potatoes without tilling the soil! Or His harvest consisted of fourteen beans! They didn’t fear his father retaliations since he very seldom showed up that year.

In general, Damian got used to bear countrymen’s jeering; but Martha possessed the sword capable of piercing his shield. Every wound was extremely painful. He felt very lonely and suffered from it. He was at an age in which he needed to have friends, and he had nobody to talk and confide with. It happened to him not to find sleep; he strolled about his fields for hours, just elaborating plans, or thinking of things he could say to her. He sometimes spoke restlessly to bushes, to the moon, to the earth, to whichever element of nature willing to listen to him, almost expecting an answer, an advice, a solution. I am sure that she’s not the evil person she seems to be. I can feel it, deep inside of me. Oh why can’t she love me? Why can’t she content to sit close to me, admiring the marvels of nature? I am asking for nothing but a few instants of peacefulness. Life would be so sweet with you. Simple and sane and warm. But it is so bitter without you. I can’t find sleep, your image haunts me everywhere. Why are you so beautiful? Why should I fall in love with you, who are unfair toward my burning passion? 

Books were still the only way to quiet his agitated mind. He could imagine living at thousands of kilometers, in the skin of a courageous man, of a hero, who always knew how to behave, envied by everybody and loved by women.

The successive year had brought some changes in his life. Before, he was skinny and frail; he grew up into the semblance of a man getting taller and flowing off an impression of strength. His physical metamorphosis increased his confidence, exalting him in his frenzied attempt to prove to the villagers that they were prejudiced against him. He wanted to show the girl that haunted his sweetest and bitterest dreams that she was unfairly cruel.

He had changed his strategy, and instead of planting seasonal crops that needed a lot of regular labor force, like the rest of the village, he planted with fury trees like fig, olive, pine, peach, chestnut, apple, apricot and almond trees, that didn’t need to be replanted every year. The results of all his painful efforts were becoming visible. He thus gained the respect of an old peasant, Jack, who was surprised by his determination. To his wonder, old Jack invited him in his small hut, giving him many advice and recommendations on how to improve his crafts. To show his gratitude, he helped Jack to harvest; the latter didn’t have sons and was too old to compute it on his own.

“My son, you are not guilty of your father crimes, but to die in all conscience, you will have to repair all the wrongs he did!”

“I have never been loved by anybody. You are the first person who cares for me, who gives me advices.” Damian had replied. “What should I do?”

“Now content yourself to grow into a man. You need to become strong, because your life will never be easy. Later on, you may have occasions to show your true nature.” The white hair man replied.

He obtained a small victory on the whole village, in gaining the respect of one of its older and wiser elements. The peasants seemed to completely forget about his existence. They were too obdurate to recognize that he wasn’t alike to his father, but at the same time they felt ashamed and queasy to bother Jack’s protégé. He realized that indifference was even more painful than hatred and mockery. Being a center of interest motivated him to do better, outdoing himself, whereas indifference discouraged him. He was done to shine, not to crawl.

He had come across Martha a shiny morning, close to the river. He had ruminated about the moment in which he would encounter her for several months.

“Good Morning!” She greeted. He was disappointed to hear indifference and not irony in her voice. He stared in her eyes with his dark eyes, trying to make them as hard and hateful as possible. Love me or hate me! he wanted to shout.  He felt that she was a little daunted by his stare, and she said nothing.

“You sly vixen, never talk with me again! Know that you have a mortal enemy in me! I hate you as much as we can hate another person! ” He cried, stunned to hear his own voice, unrecognizable. She reddened and seemed pained, gave him a bewildered look, took to her heels and walked away.  He immediately regretted what he had said; he had pushed it too far, he had read too many books. Life isn’t like books describe it… He had reproached himself bitterly.  Maybe it was sympathy rather than indifference into her voice. He felt a burning sensation inside his chest, he might have lost her forever. At least he had some slim hopes before. Then even hope had died.

His father had showed himself very little in the village, like the precedent year. He had once come with a stagecoach, and had emptied the third floor of his house from its tasteful furniture, without a single word of explanation to his son. Gossiping concerning his shrinking purse had immediately spread in the village. Some pretended that his end was coming, that he would have to sell his lands. Damian suspected that he had sold the furniture to repay his gambling debts, or something even worse.

He wished to further enhance the yield of his land this year – working the land was not only a way to put aside his solitude, but also a warranty in case the pessimistic reports concerning his father were true – but an unprecedented drought affecting the village had upended his plans. It was formerly known for its affluence in water. Not a single drop of rain had fallen from the sky for the last nine months.

The village counted a river and several sinks, two of them were in Damian’s garden. In the desperate tentative to save crops during the past months, countrymen had completely drained the water out of the sinks. Nobody could have expected that the drought would persist for so long. It was unimaginable.

Thirst was visible everywhere! Wandering across the fields, Damian realized that countrymen had even stopped to work the earth. In this season, fruits should have made bog down the tree boughs. They hadn’t even made flowers. The sight of the empty fields was afflicting. It gave him a nauseous feeling. The soil was fragmented by large fissures. He took a small fragment of earth and crumbled it. It had the consistence of sand. There were a few yellow leafed tomato plants and sick looking corn plants here and there, that would never have arrived to maturation. He found a fig tree with a few figs in it. He picked one and tasted one; it was completely caked. There would be no crop that year, only plenty of sand. He sat on the sand for a few hours, searching for a solution.

He communicated to his father his fears. The latter was so much engrossed in his chaotic nocturne life that he didn’t even notice that there was a drought.

“It’s the last of my problems. These artful peasants have definitely found a way to grow crops and harvest. It will only be an occasion for them to make difficulties to pay.” He had a fit of coughing and spit on the floor scornfully. “This year you must come with me and collect taxes. You’re nineteen now, and should learn to deal with these hypocrite liars!” Damian wanted to protest but couldn’t find the adapted words.

He hadn’t measured the full consequences of the droughts previously. In his father’s estate, there were two sinks and a spring of fresh water, which was more than enough for the trees that had a minor need in water respect to crops. As a consequence they were still healthy, and this is what misled him. The situation in the village was far worse than he had imagined. Even though it was a small village, news arrived slowly to his ears, because he avoided public places and didn’t have the occasion to see old Jack now that his father was present.

He gathered all his courage and decided to go to church that Sunday. They had their own family chapel in their house, but no priest had stepped into it for the past twenty years. He had not gone to the church for the last eight years, since when his father had hit one of the countrymen sons.  He felt like an intruder. But now, it was the occasion to understand better what was happening.

He entered the church shyly. He was immediately struck and chocked by children thinness shuddering involuntarily. Their faces were yellow and their body skeletal. Some seemed to gaze in the emptiness, hungry.  The mood was very weird; it was quiet, but Damian could feel electricity in the air. He searched Jack from the eyes. He was on the first row of benches, he couldn’t see his face. He then peered to localize Martha. He couldn’t find her; his heart missed a beat. What had happened to her? Where was she? He turned back and gave a start; how didn’t he notice her before! Drought had also left mark on her face. It was a thinner and pale, with shadows under the eyes. There was a seriousness in her expression he had never seen before. She was more beautiful than ever, engrossed in her thoughts. He immediately looked the other way, ignoring if she had noticed him. Before ending up the mass, the parson announced that there would have been a procession two days after to ask from God to bless them sending rain.

Damian remembered the tradition that all the villagers met to discuss outside the church, since they didn’t work on Sundays. The children used to run and play cheerfully, the grown up used to gather in small groups and discuss and compare their respective crops, or exchange gossip.

However that Sunday was completely different respect to what he recalled. The looks people exchanged were grin and frozen. Children sat down gloomily the bare earth, where the grass used to be green and abundant. He was between the last persons to get out from the church; he felt a bit awkward and didn’t know how to behave. Peasants stared at him upset; he stared back. He searched old Jack between them, and tried to call his attention. The latter smiled bitterly and came to him.

“Where have you been traitor?”

“My father was here, and extremely ill humored. I didn’t want to give him pretexts to release his tensions on your old bones.” Jack nodded drily. “The situation is much worse respect to what I thought, I’m really sorry.”

“Your sorrow will neither feed them nor quench their thirst!” He snapped, indicating the children. Damian lowered his eyes.

“I guess you’re right. What could I do for them? Ehmm…” He was cut down by an old woman screams. Many used to think that she was crazy.

“I feel dying from the inside, dying, thirsty, hungry, dying!” Somebody screamed asking to give her water. “I haven’t drunk for the last week, for the last two weeks, my old skin is drying and turning into dust. I am heading toward a place where water is more abundant than air, happy, happy me. Oh I have a vision! I see… this village… covered by fire and sand, and…” She fell on the floor. Dead.

Everybody had listened horrified to her words, crossing themselves. It may soon be the turn of somebody else, added someone. The little crowd shuddered in unison. Damian was feeling less and less comfortable, wondering what he could do. Suddenly, he was struck by an idea. He recalled countrymen attention.

“Everybody listen to me! I know that you all hate me, but I’m not the bad person that you always believed me to be. I urge all of you, especially the families to come pick water every day from our sinks. Also, we will divide the fruits that grow in my lands between all of you. Your situation is dire, and it is time to forget our disputes. The life of those children is more important, isn’t it?” Everybody was surprised by this little discourse, he included.

“I expected nothing less from you!” Old Jack muttered, with a little bit of pride in his voice. People stared at him, still diffident. Then, somebody applauded shyly and others imitated him.

“Follow me now! Don’t forget to bring jars and baskets.” Damian headed toward home, wondering what kind of explanation he could have offered to his father. The latter wasn’t there; it wasn’t uncommon for him to disappear without saying anything, and his son was too wary to ask about his secret expeditions. It was his lucky day.

The first ones to arrive were a family composed of a middle aged couple and four small children. They stepped with diffidence on his fields, almost fearing to be assailed by the landlord’s dogs; they carried a couple of jars and children had some baskets.

“Good morning Mr. Damian!” the man said. “You proposed that we pass to take water for drinking and some fruits… You know it’ not for me, it’s for our children.” Damian was surprised by the deference and the abashment noticed in his voice.

“Oh yes indeed, don’t be embarrassed, and fill your jars. You can come every day!” Children run hungrily toward the trees and picked up apricots and apples. The man filled his jars with fresh water.

“Thank you Mr. Damian, we will not forget that. And I’m… sorry… really sorry, of how we all treated you before. I … beg you to forgive us!” The countrymen, their wives and children arrived one after another. They were all too curious and too desperate not to come.  Some were sincerely sorry of how the village treated him, while the majority feigned it. They still couldn’t believe that they did a mistake.

Martha came too; she lived with her old uncle and had to take care of him. She made the same serious face. It suits her, he thought.  He gazed intensely in her eyes, enable to decipher her expression. Her deep brown eyes were softer than the usual and there was a note of melancholy into them.

“Good morning Damian. If it were for me, I would have never come here. However my uncle is very ill, and I can’t let him die without doing anything.” She said seriously, her voice shaking a bit. He didn’t answer filling her jars, and offering her a basket packed with fruits. She left swiftly, nodding as if to thank him.

It is only when night came that he realized what had happened that Sunday. His status had passed from wicked to savior. He was incredulous of how fast life could change. He had gained the respect, at least in the appearances, of villagers.

The next few days were paced very similarly; peasants passed to take water and fruits. He evaluated that the reserve of seasonal fruits would have lasted three weeks, and water six weeks.  All the country was having the same problems. Vegetables and fruits had almost disappeared from the markets; meat prices had increased tremendously since wild animals were starving, and obligated to take refuge into the forests, whereas grains lacked to nurture domestic animals.

Damian got used to climb a small hill overhanging the village every morning, just after the sunrise, hoping to discern the indices of a forthcoming rain. It wasn’t cultivated. This morning, the sky was completely azure without a single cloud, which meant that it wouldn’t rain in the next two or three days, he thought. The weather was quite warm, much warmer than it ought to be. He sat down on the golden grass, shaded by a cypress and watched the oily sea, thoughtful. He had brought a book to read but he couldn’t focus on what he was reading, and soon dropped it. He couldn’t even remember the scent of first seasonal rains, which were so dear to him.

Arriving home, he heard dogs barking. His father was back, earlier than expected. He heard his father voice shouting.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” The latter asked. He was talking to a small group of peasants that had come with jars and baskets. The baskets were heavy with red apples. Most of them took a few steps back; they exchanged consternated looks between them. “Did you come to pay your tribute?”

“Your … your son allowed us to take some water… for drinking and some fruits to feed our children.” A peasant who had gathered all his courage replied.

“If you want water you have to pay! I don’t want to see anybody here, except if you bring with you a part of your harvest!”

“But here is the problem …there is no harvest Sir, no harvest!” An old woman replied, bursting into tears.

“You don’t have the right to do that!” Damian cried.

“How? You my son, are pretending to teach me what my rights are? If you persist in your foolishness, I will chase you away. Go live in the cowpat with your new stinking friends. Nobody will take a drop of my water without paying, do you understand? I’ll release the dogs if you all don’t get away from my sight immediately!” Without waiting for an answer, he headed toward home. Damian reddened and watched with consternation the families that were getting away humiliated and despaired.

In order to quiet down he walked without a precise destination, thinking of what he could do. He arrived to the village river. It was completely desiccated. The last droplets of water had vanished. He used to sit down on the tufted grass which was permanently wet by dew, listening to the waterfall and reading, or simply admiring the beauty of nature. He couldn’t resolve to the idea that he would no longer hear the waterfall by which he had read so many pages. He tried to put aside the dark thoughts that were rushing to him. It would eventually rain. It ought to rain! It couldn’t be otherwise!

He heard a noise of steps. Martha was coming with a jar. She screamed when she saw that the river was waterless.

“It’s tremendous! What will we become?” She dropped the jar that broke off.

He stared at her, his heart overflowing with tender and warm feelings; she just seemed to notice that he was there and looked at the floor, flushing.

“If I don’t bring water home, my old uncle will die by the night!” She knelt down and a tear rolled on her cheeks.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get him all what he needs. Go there and wait for me!” He ordered. She looked at him, half hopeful, half disbelieving.

“I promise that I won’t let him die!” He run heading toward home, without knowing precisely what he was going to do. On his path he couldn’t shut down his thoughts that resembled a prayer. Nature, oh nature! Why have you been asleep for so much time? Will you let these poor persons die helpless? I can’t believe it! I don’t want to see all what I love buried by sand and dust! Please wake up, rebel, rebel! I am sick of blue skies. I am waiting for the day in which clouds will slowly colonize the sky, blown by a light south west wind that gets stronger and stronger. Clouds will invade all the sky, first white then gray, eventually turning to dark, fast, light and low. This day nature will finally relive, resuscitating from dust and immobility. The yellow and brown will turn to green. Death and wretchedness will be swept away. The water will fall from the sky abundantly, violently and gently, filling and soothing the soil. Pines will sweet the air of their resin flavor. Someday my wish will be granted, but when? Will it be too late?

Arriving, he slowed down his path to recover his breath. He filled a few jars with water and packed some baskets of fruits.

“What are you doing?” His father shouted, unnoticed before.

“Can’t you see?” He replied hateful. “You’re letting die those people of thirst and hunger.”

“I’ve been feeding you from my flesh for nineteen years, and you thank me in such a wicked way? Ah I’m disappointed… but I didn’t expect anything better coming from you.” He sneered. “You still have an occasion to show me that you’re a man! Come with me to collect the tributes. Now! You will see how promptly these stinky peasants will pay.”

“Never! Do you hear? Never! I prefer to die thunderstruck instantly…”

“Then say farewell to this place! Ah before you go, know that you have never been my son; I had broken the neck of my wife, your mother, with my own hands, nineteen years ago!” He laughed sardonically. “You have always been a pitiful bastard. Walk away bastard, and prepare yourself to pay taxes if you plan to say in the village.” His flabby face turned red because of anger and excitement.

Damian couldn’t believe what he had he had heard. He walked away quickly, in a state of shock, without knowing where he was going. What had happened? So many things had occurred in a few hours. His thoughts were confused and blurred.

He suddenly remembered of the promise. He had the presence of spirit to take the jar and basket with him before leaving. He run toward Martha’s thatched cottage. He knocked brusquely at the door, red because of the race. She opened, smiling very sadly. Damian couldn’t speak; he tried to express all his sorrow in his gaze. He came closer to her and hugged her. She cried bitterly on his shoulder. They stayed for a few minutes in the same position.

“I have to go to stop a slaughter from occurring! I have to gather everybody on the main plaza.” He forced himself to articulate. He looked at her for the last time; she was moving with her sorrowful face, more beautiful than ever. Her face was overflowing with sincerity; this is the true Martha, this is my Martha, the girl I always dreamt of he thought.  “In case you don’t see me again, know that… that I love you.” He added undertone.

He rushed toward the hut of old Jack, who was abed, tired and weakened. He offered him the water and the fruits. He explained briefly to him all what happened.

“Let’s gather everybody, fast! I have bad news!” In fifteen minutes almost all the healthy men of the village were gathered in front of the church, thanks to children who played the role of carrier pigeons. They looked interrogatively to him. “People, I am here to tell you that he is coming to ask from you to pay your annual tribute.” They exchanged frightened looks; there seemed to be no bottom in the mine of misery.

“We are all dying by inches, of the worst death when we are blessed with such fertile lands, and this swine of your father has the courage to come?”

“Let’s hang the young man!” Somebody shouted. Other echoed his proposition.

“Thanks to God he’s not my father! He’s not my father! Do you hear me? He didn’t conceive me! I am from your part, do you understand it? Let’s fight him together!”

“Fight him?” a peasant sneered.

“Indeed fight him. What can he do against all of us united? We can beat him!” Peasants looked at each other, speechless. Then somebody cheered, and a few instants later, everybody was cheering.

“Let’s fight this swine! Let’s kill him! We will kill him!” The rabble was uncontrollable and they marched toward his house, singing and shouting. Damian followed, not believing his eyes and ears. How all this could happen in less than twenty four hours, he wondered. He thanked the heaven not to be the son of that wicked man. Countrymen were wild with fury and despair. My daughter is dying said somebody, my father is dying said another one. They had found the cause of all their misery. A peasant proposed to cut him in small pieces and to give him as a meal to his dogs. They may die intoxicated jested another one.

They finally stepped into Damian’s stepfather garden. He was preparing himself to go ask for the taxes, and had his flock of dogs closed to him.

“We’ve come to you, instead of you coming to us!” A countryman shouted. They were more than fifty, and he looked at them abashed. He didn’t understand what was happening.

“We’ve come to kill you, animal!” He tried to run away, but it was too late. He was encircled and they were already subduing dogs.

“It is time to pay all your crimes!” Damian cried. “I think that it’s time to make your prayer; try to be sincere today!” His stepfather looked haggard, and asked for mercy on a lachrymose tone. From that moment on, things proceeded very fast, and when Damian arrived close enough to him, it was to see him lying on the floor, lifeless, his corpse was almost unrecognizable. He felt nauseous and turned his gaze away. The act of killing wasn’t enough to quiet down the fury of countrymen and they now attacked the house. He looked at them in shock. They were throwing objects from the windows; beds, furniture, books. Oh no, not the books! They were breaking and trampling on everything. He wondered how the pacifist peasants could have turned in such blood thirsty creatures. It was an awful sight; he picked up a book that had fell on the soil and abandoned the place, reeling, exhausted physically and mentally. He walked and walked without destination. The sun had disappeared and it was getting dark. He couldn’t remember all what happened that day. He had the impression that five, ten years had passed.

“Slow down!” A known voice muttered. He let himself drop on the bare earth, head between his hands. He began weeping, involuntarily. He had accumulated too much negative energy. He felt his body broken, unable to move.

Martha sat close to him and slipped her arm around his shoulders. He didn’t react at first. Then he motioned her to take her arm away, but she kept it firmly. He was sobbing nervously. She clenched his hand with her free hand. They stayed in the same position for some time.

When they sat down, the sky was clear except for a rather small cloud above the mountains. It was another of these fair evenings they had known for the last year. Violet, pink, emerald and turquoise ray arrays colored the sky. A warm wind had risen up. The small cloud above the mountain began to thicken and to sprawl. Slow and imperceptible at the beginning, faster and faster later. Clouds were thickening and multiplying at an incredible rate, the sea was getting more and more agitated. The wind was getting stronger.

They stayed in the same position for two hours. It was abundantly night when he stirred. They didn’t seem to notice the wind, they were too self engrossed by staring into each other eyes. They had lost the notion of time and space.

“Thank you Martha…”

“Don’t thank me. I You’re not his son, and this is what counts! He deserved this end, even though it was disgusting. My folk’s fury was frightening…”

“How do you know all that?” Damian muttered.

“I didn’t want to stay alone with the corpse at home. I followed you during all the afternoon.” She answered. “Ah how much did I make you suffer? Tell me how much? How could I ever repair that?” She placed her hand on his heart, like she did three years before. “Indeed it beats!” She smiled embarrassed and kept her hand there. “I really…”

“Shh!” Damian cut her.

“No, let me finish what I have to say. Do you remember when I used to … to make fun of you with other youngsters? At the beginning, I really thought that you were like your stepfather. I have a very deep hate for him. Did you know that he killed my parents, when… when they refused to pay taxes because they didn’t have enough to nourish me? He did that in front of me, when I was a child. There are image that I will never be able to cancel from my mind; never! They traumatized me for years. I’ve grown up with the idea to avenge from this tyrant, this devil that haunted all my dreams. Then, I saw the opportunity of avenging from him in you, a frail boy, and I unchained all my cruelty and repressed hate. When you intended to mean that you loved me, I understood that you were different, and began to like you unintentionally; but I wasn’t able to admit to myself that I had misjudged you before. I was so glad to avenge myself from the monster. I am also a very proud a person. Or I should use past, everything is changing now. I was a very proud person.” She muttered softly. “Also, I was afraid that you weren’t sincere. Nothing can excuse my infamous conduct with you. But I wanted you to know the reasons behind such a behavior. It is only after that you screamed that you hated me that I understood that… I felt something for you.”

“Listen to the wind!” He whispered.

The wind was bending the trees with fierceness and violence carrying dust and sand.  The night was very warm. The wind whistled in a frightful way, they had never lived through such a strong wind.  Nature was unchaining its wrath against the tyrant soul. Nature didn’t want to let it reach the sky!

The sky was now brown; clouds were completely veiling the moon and the stars. They laid down and slept on the dry soil.

In the early morning, Damian woke up, clenching tightly a book between his hands, incredulous about what happened to him in the last twenty four hours. He realized that he was on the on the ascent of the hill. He woke her up and told her that he wanted to take her to a beautiful place. They climbed the hill heartily, and for a few instants they seemed to forget the tragedy they were living in.

Arriving at the top, he stared at the sky which was overcastted with gray clouds. The wind was even stronger compared to the night before. They exchanged a sad but hopeful look. It was a storm indeed, it would eventually rain! There was also something else in their gaze, something soft.

Damian opened a dusty book and made it smell to Martha. It smelled of old books. It’s the only one that he had saved. As he opened it, a droplet of rain wet the page.

Rain would have washed everything; rain would have brought a spring.