Alexy had quit smoking a while back, about two years ago. Then, the war began and things started falling apart, so now he was smoking all the time. Like now, sitting on his porch, surrounded by a chain of cigarette butts a mile long.
It was a miserable evening, the kind when even birds seem downtrodden. He raised his head to see if Maria had yet appeared over the horizon. Only the gray lines of the cloudy dusk met his eyes. The soldiers inside the house started laughing. Alexy turned around to look through the window then quickly turned back. One of them came out and tapped Alexy on the shoulder, “How longer. We wait long”, he said in broken language. Alexy replied, “Soon”.
The soldier went back in. Alexy dropped his head into his hands, as if he didn’t have the strength to keep it up, and remained frozen in that position, like a sculpted metaphor of suffering.
A sound from a distance awakened Alexy. When he saw that it was Maria, his face crumbled into a landslide of sorrow. Thousand glass beads of tears started rolling down his face.
Holding up a basket, Maria hollered,“I’m back papa! Aunty gave us some peaches!”. She saw Alexy crying and forlornly asked, “What’s wrong papa?” Alexy didn’t answer.
When Maria was close enough Alexy lunged to embrace her so tightly her breath gave out. “What’s wrong papa?” Maria asked again.
The soldiers in the house, by now aware of the movements outside, looked out the windows, like wolves looking into a cot. “Who are those men?” Maria asked, having noticed them. Alexy didn’t respond.
Maria could feel her father’s embrace tighten as he began pulling her towards the house. One of the soldiers was yelling something and Alexy started moving faster, almost dragging Maria on her feet.
Alexy let go of Maria just as one of the men grabbed her arm and began to haul her towards the house. “Papa, what’s happening?”
A seismic howl exploded from Alexy and jets of his tears flew like a geyser. He screamed, “Maria … it has to be … I have no choice … I …”
Soon, Maria disappeared into the house, with those beasts from another land. Immediately an unbearable din, mixture of Maria’s bloody screams and the soldiers’ vile shouts and laughter, could be heard through the door. The noise engulfed his head as if hell had opened its doors to his ears.
Alexy was on his knees writhing in pain he could not name. ‘Just die, Maria. Try to die!’, he kept saying to himself.
Then, a silence.
Even the winds had stopped.
Alexy slowly approached the house.
Alexy opened the door. The floor of the living room had fallen out and became the opening of a large pit, a pit so deep and malevolent it looked like it might lead right down to hell.