The Persistence Of Memories
Diaphone was in her usual position, the position she had sat in for many years. Even when working she would often rest in the same place, looking at the road leaving and entering the village, watching for someone she had tearfully said goodbye to over fifty years ago.
“Don’t sit there waiting.”
“Get on with your life!”
“He isn’t coming back.”
“He was lost in the battles with Botchlow. Don’t wait for something that will never happen!”
Diaphone remained unmarried, unbending, and unapologetic.
“Marek was my match. He completed me. When we were together it was as if we lost ourselves in each other, and were just as one. He would never really give up on me. And I will never give up on him. I will wait forever.”
Heads shook; sadness muttered; and great compassion surrounded and protected Diaphone. Such great a love was a sign of tragic holiness. The village embraced her and looked after her: she was theirs.
Laughter and excited voices spread out in all directions like ripples on the surface of a pond. However, even from a distance, one could tell that there was a tinge of sadness about the whole event: a man, a little excited at a totally new career in the army, setting out on a coach journey that will open a whole new chapter of his life; a woman, his longstanding girlfriend, happy with her choice of boyfriend, but unhappy about the separation; and elderly parents, inwardly anxious, but outwardly happy.
“Remember, son, don’t volunteer. Volunteers die first!” his father said, as his son got on the coach.
Turning away, the father noticed his old enemy, now his friend, Jannek, watching, with a freshly tear-streaked face, sitting in front of the hovel he had occupied since being released from almost a lifetime of captivity. He nodded kindly to him. Watching this carefully was Steppa, the father’s younger son.
“Why did father give a greeting to that old devil invader again?” he thought. “He was always like that”, his thoughts continued, “What was it about father and that old invader?”
He knew there was some connection between the two. He had heard whispers about lives being saved and spared, and of some over-sentimentality staying the hand of justice, but he had also heard of mercy from the devil who had invaded, and that, although they had been enemies, he had the same blood, the same emotions, and loved in the same way.
Emboldened, on this unusual day, he followed his father to get some answers, because whenever he had raised it before, he had been brushed off and dismissed with a curt ‘you are not old enough to appreciate it’ comment. “Why are you friends with that old, foreign invader?”
His father sighed and said, “His name is Jannek, as you know, though that is not his real name. We could never get him to tell us his real name. We gave the name Jannek to him after we captured him in the last battle with Hammestan. He is human, like us, and even if you follow the fashion of hating the Hammestans, at least he deserves a name.”
“But why do you care about him?”
His father paused. Yes. Now was the right time to explain to Steppa. Gently, and yet carefully to make sure every word was understood, he said, “He spared my life when I thought he would kill me. It took great courage and understanding to do that.”
The speaking, the explanations, and the astonishment of Steppa went on for a long time.
“Good afternoon, uncle.” said Steppa, a little later, using his culture’s way of politely and warmly referring to people a lot older than himself.
Jannek was startled at this familiar and affectionate greeting from someone he knew, but had never spoken with. He was also wary. Was this just another prelude to a bout of mockery and teasing?
“You saved my father’s life. If you had not, I would not be here. For doing that alone, you have earned my respect. For all the rest, you have my admiration.”
Jannek grunted, uncertain of what to do, but spoke kindly, “Steppa. I did what I had to do.”
“But, why? You were sworn enemies in the war. Why spare him? My father would not tell me, but said I had to ask you directly because it was your story.”
Jannek paused, a lot of memories suddenly poured into his mind. If he didn’t explain it all now, he may never get another chance to, and everything he had experienced, had lived for, and had lost would be gone forever, like pipe-smoke blowing in the wind.
“We ran into each other in the final battle. Your father thought his situation was hopeless and that I would kill him, so he’d taken out a photo of the person who was to become your mother. He was so sad and tearful, looking at it. He was overwhelmed by feelings of love, regret, and despair in what he thought would be his last moments. When I looked at him, I saw myself. In an instant, my memories overwhelmed me and brought me to my senses. I couldn’t kill him after that. I was, naturally, captured. Later on because I had spared him he helped me, stopped me from being executed, and arranged for me to be eventually released into the custody of your village to end my days here, after fifty years of prison, but, still, it is a different kind of prison for me.”
Steppa thought for a while, and then, in a small voice, he asked. “Do you have someone you left behind? Was that why you were crying when you saw us all sending my brother off?”
There was a long pause during which all you could hear was the hollow emptiness of wind in the trees. “I do, or rather I did, for she’s surely either now dead, or long married to someone else if she’s sensible. God! It’s been fifty-three years since we said our farewells!”
More silence; more desolate wind in the trees; broken once only by the desperate and lonely cry of a bird. Jannek wept.
Steppa pondered all this, sitting next to Jannek. Finally, feeling shameful, he knew what he had to do. “What is your real name, Jannek? It will save my life if you can tell me, finally.”
The car moved slowly and cautiously up the small road into the village. Diaphone thought it was a curious event. It stopped next to her and a young man got out. Diaphone did not notice the other person in the car.
“Aunty, greetings!” said the young man, respectfully, “Can you tell me if there is or if there was anyone, around your age, called Diaphone living in this village? She might have married, but I think she may not have been.”
“I never married, and I am the only Diaphone here.” she simply spoke, and the simple talk of marriage and this enquiry from a Botchlow foreigner brought the weight of sorrow and the passing years pressing down upon her. Silently, she began to weep at the memories lost, of the man she would never see again, of the person who lit up her life and made it worthwhile: the person who completed her. Quickly, with tears falling, the silent weeping became sobbing.
“Do not cry, Aunty,” said Steppa, softly and gently, whilst comforting her, though with some surprise, “I have brought someone back to you who belongs with you.”
Gently, he helped Jannek, now using his real name of Marek, out of the car, holding his hand. He reached out, taking Diaphone’s hand with his other hand. Carefully and lovingly he placed their hands together as they looked, joyful and amazed, at each other.
copyright David D Stretch. Stoke-on-Trent, UK. 2015