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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل


The Order to Kill

Gunter Weber stood before his superior officer and, his face hard with determination, said, ‘Sir, I must request that you give this task to someone else. I cannot carry it out.’

His superior raised an eyebrow but somehow failed to feel any anger. The truth was that in this position he hoped that he would have done the same.

‘Why not?’ he asked.

‘Sir, it is against international law to murder prisoners of war. It is also wrong. I must request to be excused.’

‘They have betrayed us, their allies.’

‘I realize that, but I am not a criminal, sir, and I do not wish to become one.’

The officer sighed. ‘War is a dirty business, you know that. We all have to do terrible things. For example, I like you and I admire you for taking this position, but I must remind you that the punishment for refusing to obey an order is death. I don’t state this as a threat but as a fact of life. You know this as well as I do.’ He walked to the window and then turned. ‘They’re all going to be shot anyway. Why add your death to theirs? It would be a waste of a fine officer.’

Gunter Weber swallowed hard and his lips trembled so that he found it hard to speak. At last he said, ‘I request that my protest is recorded and put in my file, sir.’

‘Your request is granted,’ said the officer and left the room.

Weber leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette, but his hands shook so much that he immediately dropped it.

‘Let’s sing, boys,’ said Antonio Corelli, looking round the inside of the truck where his men sat, watched by expressionless German soldiers. One of the Italians was already tearful, others were praying, their heads bowed down to their knees. Corelli felt strangely happy as if he were drunk with tiredness and the absolute certainty of death. Why not smile in the face of death? ‘Let’s sing, boys,’ he repeated, ‘Carlo, sing.’

Carlo gazed at him with eyes full of endless sorrow, and began very softly to sing a song from an opera they all loved, Madame Butterfly, and soon others joined in, when they felt able to. The tune comforted them, and it was easier to sing than to think on death; it gave the heart something to do.

When the truck arrived, Gunter Weber’s knees began to shake. Almost before it had arrived, it seemed that he had known that life had called him to the killing of his friends. He had not expected them to arrive singing the tune that he and La Scala had sung together late at night at the doctor’s house, nor had he expected them to jump so lightly from the truck. He ordered a German soldier to put his friends against the wall, lit another cigarette and turned away, but finally he turned again and approached the Italians. More than half of them were praying, kneeling in the soil, and others wept like children at a death. Antonio Corelli and Carlo Guercio were embracing. Weber reached for his packet of cigarettes and approached them.

‘Cigarette?’ he asked them, and Corelli took one, Carlo refusing. Corelli looked at Weber and said, ‘Your hands are trembling and your legs.’

‘Antonio, I am very sorry, I tried…’

Corelli sucked on his cigarette and said, ‘I am sure you did, Gunter, I know how it goes.’

Weber’s face trembled with the effort of hiding his tears, and at last he said suddenly, ‘Forgive me.’

Carlo made a sound of disgust in his throat and said, ‘You will never be forgiven.’ But Corelli put his hand up to silence his friend and said quietly, ‘Gunter, I forgive you. If I do not, who will?’

Weber held out his hand. ‘Goodbye, Gunter,’ said Corelli, taking it. Allowing his hand to remain in his former friend’s, he shook it briefly one final time and released it. He linked an arm through Carlo’s, and smiled up at him. ‘Come,’ he said, ‘we two have been companions in life. Let’s go together to heaven.’

It was a beautiful day to die. A few soft clouds hid the top of Mount Aenos and nearby a goatbell rang. Corelli realized that his own legs were shaking and that he could do nothing to prevent it. He thought about Pelagia, with her dark eyes, her passionate nature, her black hair. He saw her clearly in his mind’s eye: making a blanket that grew smaller every day; arm in arm with her father, returning from the sea; kissing Gunter Weber on the cheek at the offer of the record player. Pelagia, whose form had been so sweetly rounded, now so pale and thin.

A Croatian soldier approached Weber, a man who, in Weber’s opinion, had a dangerously violent nature. The Croatian said, ‘Sir, more will be arriving. We can’t delay.’

‘Very well,’ said Weber. He closed his eyes and prayed, a prayer without words to a God who did not care.

There was nothing formal about the killings, and the victims were not lined up against the wall or made to face forwards. Many of them were left on their knees, praying or weeping or begging for mercy. Some stood smoking as if at a party, and Carlo stood next to Corelli, glad to die at last and determined to die a soldier’s death. Corelli put one hand in his pocket to steady the shaking of his leg, and deeply breathed the Cephallonian air that held Pelagia’s breath.

The German boys heard the command to fire and fired in disbelief. Those of them whose eyes were open aimed wide or high, or aimed to avoid a death. The Croatian soldier shot to kill, firing rapidly and taking careful aim.

Weber’s head spun. His former friends were leaping and dancing in the rain of bullets, were crying out, stumbling to their knees, arms waving, their mouths filled with blood. But what no one had seen, even Weber, was that at the order to fire, Carlo had stepped quickly sideways in front of Corelli, and had gripped the latter’s wrists so tightly that he was unable to move. Corelli stared wonderingly into the middle of Carlo’s back as great holes burst though from inside the latter’s body, releasing fountains of blood.

Carlo stood unbroken as one bullet after another entered his chest like white-hot knives. He stood perfectly still and counted to thirty, looked up at the sky and then threw himself over backwards. Corelli lay beneath him, unable to move, so astonished by this extraordinary, saintly act of love that he did not hear the Croatian soldier’s voice.

‘Italians, it’s all over. If any of you are living, stand up now and you will go free.’

He did not see the two or three stand up and see them fall again as the Croatian shot them down. Then he heard the single shots as Weber, drunk with horror, wandered among the dead, putting those still living out of their pain. Next to his head he saw Weber’s boot and he saw Weber bend down and look directly into his eyes where he lay trapped beneath Carlo’s great weight. He saw the shaking gun approach his face, he saw the ocean of sorrow in Webers eyes, and then he saw the gun withdrawn, unfired. He tried to breathe more freely, and realized he was having difficulty, not only because of Carlo’s weight but because the bullets that had passed through his friend had also struck himself.

Corelli lay beneath his friend for hours, their blood mixing in the soil, in their uniforms, in their flesh. It was not until evening that Velisarios came across the heap of tragic bodies, and recognized the man as big as himself who had once reached a hand across the barrier of war and offered him a cigarette. He looked down into the vacant and staring eyes, reached down and tried to close them. He failed, and was struck by the horror of leaving such a brother to the wind and birds. He knelt down and with a huge effort he lifted Carlo from the ground, and, as he did so, he saw the mad captain who was staying at the doctor’s, the one whose ‘secret’ love for Pelagia was known and discussed by everyone on the island. The man’s eyes were not vacant and they blinked. The lips moved. ‘Doctor,’ said the dying man. ‘Pelagia.’

The strong man put Carlo against the wall. Then he carefully picked the captain up, felt how light he was, and set off across the stony fields to save his life.

Nobody knows the exact number of the Italian dead that lay upon the earth of Cephallonia, but at least four thousand were murdered, possibly nine thousand. The evidence was lost in flame, because the Germans, displaying knowledge of their guilt, burnt the bodies, cutting down trees that were a thousand years old to make the fires. They changed flesh into smoke, they put one dead boy after another across their shoulders and tipped them into the flames, working until their legs weakened and the flames became too hot to approach.

One of the bodies that they burned was the body of General Gandin, who trusted his enemies and tried to save his men. Another who died at this time was Father Arsenios, the priest from Pelagia’s village. He wandered among the bodies and the flames until he was so mad with grief that he began to beat the heads and shoulders of the German soldiers with a stick. At first the soldiers, who had murdered thousands, did not know what to do, but then an officer came up behind Arsenios and fired a single shot into the back of his neck, exploding his brains.

Men and women and the few Italian soldiers who had escaped approached the fires as closely as the heat permitted and began to pull away the bodies at the edge of the fires. All of them thought the same things: ‘Is this what it will be like under the Germans? How many of these boys could there have been? How many of these boys did I know? Can I imagine how it is to die of bleeding, slowly?’

At dawn a thick, black cloud hung over the land and blocked out the sun, and the people returned to their houses and locked their doors.

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