JOHN IRVING CLARKE
When he woke, the woman was standing over him. He took in his surroundings – the scrubby bushes under which he’d thrown himself, the wind barging through the paltry shelter, the darkening sky – and he would have made some attempt to get to his feet, to push his way past her and escape. But he was exhausted and he could run no more.
“Come,” she said, “let’s get you out of there.”
He staggered to his feet and rubbed his thighs to bring back some life to his legs. She might help him, she might betray him, but his body and his spirit now failed;he no longer cared. She led the way to a small farmhouse with outbuildings where no external light shone.
“Perhaps if I could spend a night in your barn…”
“No.” She walked on towards the house.
“Just one night…?”
At the front door she finally turned towards him. “No, the barn is the first place they will look. Come in, this is a safe house.”
* * * * *
She’d boiled some water for him and shown him where he could wash. She’d handed him a pile of clean clothes. “They were my husband’s,” she said, failing to hide her glance towards the photograph above the fireplace.
He grasped the bowl of soup she’d warmed and he tore at the loaf of bread she’d put before him. For more days now than he could remember, he had tried to keep hidden, he’d walked at night avoiding any small towns or villages, scanning the sky for directions, always keeping alert for patrols, for partisans or vigilantes. He’d been wet, cold and filthy, but now, he felt again how warmth could run through veins.
“Wait!” When she made to pick up his pile of sodden clothes, he stopped her.
He dipped into the breast pocket of his tattered woollen shirt and pulled out a thin chain which he held up allowing a ring, attached to the chain, to dangle and sparkle.“La tansani.”
“No photograph?” she asked.
“No, no photograph. I keep her in my heart.”
“Vergissmeinnicht…Non ti scordar di me…” The woman smiled at him and then once more allowed her eyes to drift towards the fireplace. “We have many different words, do we not, but we speak the same language.”
(This short story was Highly Commended in the Wakefield City of Sanctuary writing competition and included in the resulting booklet .
City of Sanctuary is a national movement to offer a welcome and support to those who have fled war, poverty and oppression.)