فصل 11

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

An Operation

When the door was suddenly kicked open just as it was getting dark, Pelagia’s first thought was that it was the Germans, since she knew that all the Italians were dead. Like everybody else she had heard the sounds of battle and seen truck after truck pass by, bearing either cheering German soldiers or the dead bodies of Italians. At night she had gone out with her father, whose cheeks were trembling with tears of anger and pity, and looked for lives to save among those bodies abandoned in the fires.

It had left her speechless, not with fear or sorrow, but with emptiness.

When the door flew open she was frightened, but she had nevertheless, somehow been expecting it. Her gun was ready in her pocket. She stood up, her hand tightening around the gun, her face colourless, and saw Velisarios, breathing hard. He advanced to the table and gently placed his burden on it.

‘Who is it?’ asked Pelagia.

‘He’s alive,’ said Velisarios. ‘It’s the mad captain.’

She bent down to look with eyes full of both horror and hope, but she did not recognize him; there were too many holes, too much blood. She wanted to touch him but withdrew her hand. Where does one touch a man like this? The body opened its eyes and the mouth smiled. ‘Kalimera, koritsimou,’ it said, and she recognized the voice.

‘It’s the evening,’ she said foolishly. ‘Kalispera, then,’ he whispered and closed his eyes.

Pelagia looked up at Velisarios, her eyes wide and desperate, and said, ‘Velisarios, you have never done a greater thing. I’m going to get my father. Stay with him.’ She found her father at the kapheneion and dragged him out, ignoring the angry stares of the other men, and Kokolios, who roared at her.

The doctor looked at the body and knew he had never seen anything worse. There was enough blood to fill the veins of a horse. ‘It would be kinder to kill him,’ he said, but before Velisarios could say, ‘I thought so too,’ Pelagia began beating her father with both hands. And so water was put on to boil and the rags of the captain’s uniform were gently cut away.

Dr Iannis complained as he cleaned away the blood. ‘What am I supposed to do? I have no equipment to perform an operation.’

‘Shut up, shut up, shut up,’ Pelagia shouted, her heart racing with both fear and determination. ‘Just shut up and do it.’

Because the doctor was unaware that most of the blood and flesh had belonged to the broad back of Carlo Guercio, it seemed unbelievable to him that Antonio Corelli was as little wounded as he was. Once he was cleaned, it was clear that the victim had six bullets in his chest, one in the stomach, and one through the outer flesh in his right arm. But the doctor knew too much to be optimistic and it still seemed hopeless. Frightened of the task that lay ahead of him, he opened a bottle of raki, drank deeply and passed the bottle to Velisarios, who did the same. Then, with the comforting taste of alcohol in his mouth, he reached for an instrument and moved it gently around in each wound until he felt it reach a bullet.

He stood up amazed, realizing that the holes were not even deep and that the bullets should have passed right through the victim’s body but had not done so. ‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘I swear by all the saints that this man’s flesh is made of steel. I think he’ll live.’

‘Antonio,’ he called, and Corelli opened his eyes. ‘Antonio, I’m going to operate. I haven’t got much morphia. Can you drink?’ Corelli nodded, and Pelagia poured a cup of raki down his throat while the doctor injected morphia into his arm. Pelagia looked at that desperately damaged body, helpless as a worm, and knew that it was not exactly a body that one loved, but that one loved the man who shone out through the eyes and used his mouth to smile and speak. The doctor saw her dreaming and said, ‘Don’t just sit there. We need more boiling water. And wash your hands, especially under the nails.’

Pelagia discovered in that hour how difficult the task was that she had set her father. Her hands trembled, and at first she could hardly force herself to touch the captain. She looked up and saw her father cutting wide holes around the bullet wounds and had to resist her desire to be sick. The doctor started on the bullet in the stomach, since he needed to do something that was relatively easy in order to increase his confidence. He found it not far beneath the surface of the skin and picked it out, amazed by its flattened shape. ‘It’s unbelievable,’ he said, showing it to Pelagia. ‘How do you explain this?’

‘He was behind that big man, the one as big as me,’ said Velisarios. ‘The big man was holding him from behind, like this.’ He stood up and put his hands behind his back to show how one could grip another’s wrists. ‘I think he was trying to save the man,’ he said.

‘Carlo,’ said Pelagia, suddenly bursting into tears. Carlo was the first of the boys of La Scala whom they now knew with certainty was dead.

‘No man who dies like that has died for nothing,’ said the doctor, fighting back his own need for tears. Pelagia wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dress and said, ‘Antonio always said that Carlo was the bravest in the Army.’

‘Velisarios, is the man’s body still there? We would like to bury it and not see it burned,’ said the doctor.

‘It’s after dark, I’ll go and look,’ said the strongman. ‘On the way, I might kill a German, who knows?’ He departed, happy to be out of that house where the sights were enough to make one ill.

When the doctor had finished cleaning out the wound, he gave Pelagia the task of sewing it up, and she did so with accuracy and care, despite her feeling of the unreality of it all. Velisarios buried Carlo Guercio’s remains that night in the yard of the doctor’s house. Just before dawn, when the operation on the captain was finished at last, and father and daughter were both utterly exhausted, they came out to say their goodbye to that heroic soldier.

Pelagia combed the hair and kissed the forehead, and Velisarios placed a cigarette in the dead man’s lips. ‘I owed him one,’ he said. The doctor made a speech while Pelagia wept beside him. ‘Sleep long and well,’ he ended. ‘As long as we remember you, you will be remembered fair and young.’

Leaning upon each other, the doctor and his daughter returned inside. Carefully, they carried Corelli to Pelagia’s bed, and outside the first birds sang.

It was only a short time before the Germans began to take an interest in loot. Not only did the doctor have to hide his valuables, he also had to hide an Italian officer who lay, unable to move, in his daughter’s bed. Pelagia made a bed for him at the bottom of the hole in the kitchen, and once again Velisarios was called in to carry him. There Corelli was reunited with his mandolin and Carlo’s papers were temporarily removed. The lid of the hiding-place was left open unless troops were in the neighbourhood.

For the first day after the operation the captain slept, but when he first woke, the pain was so bad that he could not move at all, and he felt as if he had been run over by a lorry.

‘I can’t breathe,’ he told the doctor.

‘If you couldn’t breathe you couldn’t speak.’ The captain said nothing and the doctor continued, ‘It appears that Carlo saved your life.’

‘It doesn’t “appear”. I know he did. Of all of us, he died the best. And he’s left me to remember it.’

‘You shouldn’t weep, Captain. We are going to get you well, and then get you off the island.’

‘When I am better you must move me from the house, Doctor. I don’t want you in danger. If I am caught, I should die alone.’

‘We can move you to your secret house, where you used to go with Pelagia. Don’t look so surprised. Everybody knew. And you may not get better. Remember that.’

‘My God, Doctor, please tell me some lies.’

‘The truth will make us free. We overcome fear by looking it in the eyes.’

The captain fell into a fever two days later and Pelagia remained in the hiding-place with him, wiping his forehead to reduce his temperature. The fever came to a crisis on the fourth day, and Corelli was sweating so much and talking so nonsensically that both the doctor and Pelagia feared for his life. But two days later the fever left, and the patient opened his eyes with wonder, as if realizing that he existed for the first time. He felt weaker than it ought to be possible to feel, but by the same evening he was able to stand with the doctor’s help and let himself be washed. Pelagia fetched a mirror and showed him his new-grown beard, and that night he was fed his first solid meal. Snails.

In later life, Pelagia remembered the time of Corelli’s recovery and his escape not as a period of exciting adventure, nor even as a time of fear and hope, but as the slow beginning of her sorrows. The war had reduced her anyway. Her skin, stretched tightly over her bones, was transparent from lack of food, and when she ate she chewed carefully in case she lost a tooth. Her rich black hair had thinned and lost its shine, and showed the first grey hairs that should not have appeared for at least another decade. It was hard to obtain food, and the doctor was reduced to trapping snakes and other such creatures. Things were not hopeless, however; there was always the sea, the source of Cephallonia’s being.

As soon as Corelli could walk, he went in the company of the doctor and Velisarios to Casa Nostra at night, while Pelagia remained at home in the hiding-place in which the mandolin, the doctor’s History and Carlo’s papers had been replaced. As long as the German rapists were on the island, she hardly left the house. Corelli had given her his ring, too big for any of her fingers, and she turned it round and round in the lamplight. The captain came frequently, after dark, complaining that the hut was cold, his new beard scratching her cheeks as they lay fully clothed upon her bed, wrapped in each other’s embrace, talking of the future and the past.

‘I will always hate the Germans,’ she said.

‘Gunter saved my life.’

‘He murdered all your friends.’

‘He had no choice. It wouldn’t surprise me if he shot himself afterwards. He was trying not to cry.’

‘There is always a choice.’

‘He wasn’t brave like Carlo. Only one in a million is made like that, you mustn’t blame poor Gunter.’

Pelagia desperately wanted to keep her captain on the island, but knew that she would kill him if she did. There were people who were prepared to betray for bread, and it could only be a matter of time before the Germans became aware of his presence in their lives. She asked Kokolios and Stamatis to enquire for news of Bunnios, the English spy, and to tell him to call on her if he could.

For some time now Bunny Warren had been encouraging the owners of boats to help the few surviving Italian soldiers to escape from the island, and it was easy for him to arrange the captain’s departure. He called at Pelagia’s home one night, tapping softly on her window, and when she had removed herself from Corelli’s embrace, she looked out and saw the man whose help she had both sought and feared. He came in through the door and very formally shook her hand.

‘Who is this?’ asked Corelli, who for a moment had been fearing a visit from the Germans.

‘Bunnios,’ said Pelagia, without answering his question, ‘this is an Italian soldier and we have to get him out.’ By chance a boat was leaving for Sicily the following morning and it would be easy to put the captain on board. They simply had to go to a certain bay at one o’clock in the morning with a lamp, and flash out to sea in answer to the signals flashed from the boat.

Corelli did not go back to Casa Nostra before dawn, but stayed with Pelagia in the house. The three of them sat in that familiar kitchen, saddened and fearful, talking quietly and shaking their heads over all the memories.

‘I owe my life to you, Doctor,’ the captain said.

‘I am sorry about the scars. It was the best I could do.’

‘And I am sorry, Doctor, about the rape of the island. I don’t suppose we will ever be forgiven.’

‘As you know, Captain, I must have forgiven you, or I would not have given you permission to marry my daughter.’

Pelagia and Corelli looked at each other and the captain said, ‘We have decided that if we have a son, we will name him Iannis.’ The doctor was visibly delighted, even though this was exactly what he would have expected under the circumstances. He looked up, his eyes watering, and said simply, ‘Antonio, if I have ever had a son it was you. You have a place at this table.’

Corelli stood up and the two men embraced, clapping each other on the back, and then the doctor embraced his daughter. ‘I’ll leave you two children together,’ he said. ‘There is a little girl dying and I should visit.’

The doctor left the house and the two lovers sat opposite each other, unable to speak. Finally the tears began to follow each other slowly down Pelagia’s cheeks, and Corelli knelt beside her, put his arms around her and laid his head against her chest. He was shocked again at how thin she was and closed his eyes tightly, imagining that it was another world. ‘I am so afraid,’ she said. ‘I think you won’t come back, and the war goes on and on forever, and there’s no safety and no hope and I’ll be left with nothing.’

‘I shall not forget you and I will come back,’ replied Corelli.

‘Promise?’

‘I promise. I have left you my ring and Antonia.’

‘We never read Carlo’s papers.’

‘Too painful. We’ll read them when I return.’

She stroked his hair in silence and said finally, ‘Antonio, I wish that we had… lain together. As a man and woman.’

‘Everything at the right time, koritsimou.’

‘There may not be a time.’

‘There will be. You have my promise.’

At eleven o’clock Bunny Warren scratched at the window. He carried a knife in his belt and sounded extremely efficient as he gave detailed instructions to the doctor, who translated them for Corelli’s benefit.

It was a cold December night, there was no moon, and since most Germans preferred to be indoors on such a night, the journey to the beach was relatively safe. Nevertheless, Pelagia’s heart beat fast and a dark hole seemed to be opening in her heart. Corelli felt so sad he almost wished that they would meet some German soldiers so that he could die, fighting and killing, and end it all. He knew that to leave the island would be to lose his roots.

For warmth, the four of them stood close together on the tiny patch of sand, waiting for the flash of a lamp that would come to them from the sea. Corelli walked to the waterline and, seeing the black waves, wondered how he would ever survive the journey. He felt his love for the island turning in his chest like the twist of a knife, because he had his own village now and even his thought and speech had changed. Returning to Pelagia, he held her face in his hands and then embraced her.

When the light flashed three times from the sea and Warren returned the signal, Corelli shook his hand, kissed his father-in-law on both cheeks and went to Pelagia once more. There was nothing to be said. He knew that her mouth was trembling with grief and his throat was tight with the same emotion. He stroked her cheek tenderly and kissed her eyes. He heard the sound of the boat approaching and looked up to see the shadows of two men inside it. The four approached the boat and the doctor said, ‘Go well, Antonio, and return.’

‘May God hear you,’ said the captain, and for the last time he held Pelagia.

After he had climbed into the boat, disappearing into the darkness like a ghost, Pelagia ran into the waves until the sea reached her thighs, but though she tried to catch sight of him, she saw nothing. A terrible emptiness seized her and she put her hands to her face and wept, bent over in pain, her cries carried off in the wind and were lost in the sound of the sea.

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