My name is… No… Call me Peter.
I couldn’t sleep for hours. I sat, smoked, and thought about my childhood. My eyes were used to the darkness, my ears to the quiet, tiny waves of the sea. And then I saw you, suddenly, unexpectedly close to me. You didn’t make a sound, you just watched me silently. You and I, the only ones awake, in the middle of the sea. You and I and my thought of home. We were silent for a while. And then, something inside, a lump in my chest made me start telling you a story. But before I begin, I told you: as this name of mine is invented, so is everything else in this story.
Call me Peter. Peter is a beautiful name. Somehow, when they say it out аloud, it restores my faith in me. It makes me feel secure, solid, like a rock. As I thought I was then, back at home. And I haven’t been home for a long time. It seems to me that this constant sailing on foreign seas took place for a whole century. And I don’t know why I still say home, maybe out of some old habit. There, on the land of my past, my former home probably no longer exists. Maybe they razed it to the ground. Maybe they buried it with ashes. Or maybe it just became someone else’s home. To someone who dug its foundations, who expanded them to build something else on top of them. But then, that “someone else”, must have discovered my secret… Our secret.
My mother was only twenty-eight years old. She already had three children, one war, and one husband lost somewhere in that war. Then, overnight, she became an old woman. Her hair has become gray. Her dress began to hang on her shoulders, her elbows sticking out of her sleeves became pointed, the flesh of her arms disappeared, and her fingers became bony. Her breasts hung, empty. Her cheeks fell over her jaw, her cheekbones bulged above them. From the round face in the wedding photo, she kept in the closet, only her eyes remained the same. Mild, soft, shiny. Like black stars under the white sky on her forehead.
“Now you are the man of the house,” he said to me one day, “The goat has to eat.” And I left the house. I went out that day, the next day, and every day after that. I climbed the acacias by the river, breaking branches and carrying them home. Then I found a box of shoe shine and brushes from somewhere and placed it in front of the division. Everyone who had shoes then came here, and those who came had boots. At home, I took the coins given to me by some and the slaps given to me by others, those who said we were the same. With money and beatings, that’s how you become a man of the house.
And so, we kind of patched our lives. My mother milked the goat and bought bread with the money I brought home. She collected what would sprout from the garden. At least we weren’t hungry. “Remarry, woman,” a neighbor used to say to her quietly, leaning on the fence that separated the two houses. “Two years have passed, no chances he’ll come back.” And my mother, just for a moment, would look at her sharply, almost angrily. Just for a moment, then she would quickly tame the anger in the black stars and wave her hand. I didn’t know what she was thinking, I didn’t know what she was hoping for, I didn’t even know if she was hoping at all. Our lives have turned into mere survival. Sometimes, when I went to bed at night, it took a lot of effort to remember my father’s face. Maybe I’m just tired, I used to say to myself and then quickly fell asleep.
A human being gets used to everything, to all misery, to all humiliation. They get used to surviving. To survive until the moment when the misery will disappear, when the humiliation will stop. Until a miracle will happen to make it easier for us. For me, that miracle was the thought of my father’s return. I hoped that one day he would show up at the gate, alive and well. But instead of my father, the soldier appeared. They let him stay with us. He handed my mother a piece of paper. My mother did not reach out to take it. “I can’t read,” she muttered. She lied to him. With his head bowed, she wiped and rubbed her hands on her apron. And her hands were dry and clean, there was nothing to wipe. The soldier neatly folded the paper and tucked it into the inside pocket of his uniform. He also turned to me, smiled, and stroked my head. The new man in the house.
I had no particular reason to hate him, except for the same reason I hated those who hit me and kicked my box of brushes and shoe polish. Those who wore uniforms like him. The ones who said we were the same. The soldier somehow tried not to bother me – he ate what my mother cooked for him, silently handed hir his clothes to be washed, and sometimes he sat in front of the house and smoked. He would smile at me every time he saw me, and I wouldn’t even look at him as I dragged the branches for the goat through the dust. I would just cough and spit loudly when I passed him. But most of the time I tried to avoid him – I went out early and came home late.
I don’t know when and how my mother told him about my father. I don’t even know if she asked him, or if he himself wanted to snoop and see what happened to him. All I know is that that night he handed my mother the document he found. She caught it with both hands and looked at it silently. Thinking she was illiterate, he showed her my father’s name on the list with his finger, but I knew she had already read it, for the white sky on her forehead darkened, “It’s a camp, you understand?” said the soldier. “They die there, they don’t come back from there.” On my father’s name, a single tear fell. The soldier shuddered and quickly wiped it away, so as not to smudge the ink. “It’s war,” he added. “He was in the wrong army… He should have hidden, escaped, waited for us… We are the same, brothers… He shouldn’t have fought us…”