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Lilika Nakos: The grandmother’s sin

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Lilika Nakos: Selections on war

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Lilika Nakos
From The Children’s Inferno (1946)
Translated by Allan Ross Macdougall

“‘I want a priest so that I can make my last confession before I face God.’

“‘Don’t get such ideas in your head, grandmother. Besides, what sin have you committed that has not been wiped out by all you’ve suffered? Do not torment your soul.’

“‘Do what I ask you, daughter. Do not damn me. It is difficult to understand the soul of another. You look like a serious woman and you ought to know. Do not charge your soul with my sins. I want a priest to hear my confession.’

“‘As you wish, grandmother. But listen; the priest we have here is an old man of eighty, weakened by hunger. He cannot go climbing up the stairs unless it’s absolutely necessary. You are going to live; the doctor said so. Don’t make the poor old father come up the stairs for nothing. If you wish, do this. Tell me your sin and if it’s great and terrible I will bring you the priest. Don’t be surprised. I was a nurse in the hospital near Jannina during the Albanian war. Many of the palikars died in my arms. They confessed to me what lay heavy on their hearts and I closed their eyes. Everything they asked me to do in that moment, I did.’

“‘May you be blessed a thousandfold, daughter, for what you have done. May God keep you and yours. I have no great secret to tell you. There is only one thing that torments me and I cannot disentangle it. That is what I want to do now. If you can explain this thing to me you need not bother the priest.’

“I sat down beside her to listen. The old lady raised herself up in her bed and spoke into my ear:

“‘Listen, daughter, you surely have heard tell of the martyrdom the Bulgarians have made our country suffer. You, too, have learned what the Greeks are suffering up there?’

“‘Of course! Certainly!’ And I wondered what the old lady was driving at.

“‘I, as a mother and a Greek, ought to hate and curse them.’

“‘That’s natural grandmother. Don’t vex yourself because of that.’

“‘No, daughter, you have not understood. Pay attention to what I tell you. I said: “I ought to hate them.” My daughter-in-law – God keep her soul – said to me: “You do not hate them; that’s a sin!” So that’s what I would like you to explain to me. That is what weighs heavy on my heart. Is the great pity I feel for them a sin? I say to myself that they know not what they do. They know not what awaits them when their eyes are closed forever. They know not how terrible is God’s wrath, and that not one of our actions here below is lost, either good or bad. The mind reels just thinking they will stand before God with soul and hands dripping blood. And I pity them, daughter; I feel sorry for them. They are men! I pray God to have pity of these wretches. That is what weighs heavy on my heart, daughter. I would like to know if the pity I feel for them is a sin. That is what torments me, and before God I swear that I have nothing else on my heart.’

“Worn out, the old lady stopped; she had spoken too long. Her breathing ceased and her eyes closed. While I went to get a syringe to give her an injection her head fell back on the pillow, and without agony she died like a bird.

So ended the story told by the head nurse, and we remained silent.

After a while the doctor, who had listened deeply moved, said: “Maybe now she knows if her great pity for men is a sin or not!”

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