Lilika Nakos: Do I know what makes men kill each other?
From The Children’s Inferno (1946)
Translated by Allan Ross Macdougall
The Pireote sat up in his bed and began: “Do you know what the old boatman down in the Piraeus said? He said: ‘The big guys argue and the little fellows pay for the damage done.’ I worked with him. He was called Barba-Theodoro and he was a good man. He never beat me and always showed me the right way. He felt sorry for me because I was an orphan. When there was an air-raid he’d say to me: ‘I would really like to know why these foreigners have chosen this poor land to come and fight in. Why do they have to go and fight amongst others instead of settling their accounts at home?'”
“He was right,” said Ianko thoughtfully. “Did you work with him a long time?”
“Two years. I stayed with him until the day he was killed, God rest his soul. He was killed by a bomb the same day that my leg was crushed under a stone in the cafe where I was.”
“And why didn’t you go to the air-raid shelter?”
“What are you talking about? Who goes to shelters? They’re good for women. Barba-Theodoro never wanted to go either. He said to me: ‘My boy, if it’s written that Death is to find you, even if you hide yourself in the furthest corner of the world, it will find you.’ And he stayed quietly in his boat, and said as he looked up at the heavens: ‘I would really like to know why men kill each other. Who has children to slaughter? I had one of my own and I lost him in the Smyrna catastrophe.'”
“And what did you say to the old man?”
“What would you want me to say? Do I know what makes men kill each other? Once I said to him: ‘Barba-Theodoro, they want to divvy up the earth.’ He shook his head and answered: ‘Listen, son, and remember what I am going to tell you: it’s a bad thing. They all forget that the earth on which they walk is God’s. He it was who made it, and the sea. May His name be praised! And we who walk upon it are sinners, and the greatest ones are those who take the earth’s fruits and keep them while the little folk watch them stuff themselves. God never wanted that, my boy. But He is all-powerful. Let Him judge them.'”
The sounds floated about these abandoned children awakening in them strange memories, out of another world, one in which God might have had a hand in making. And their perplexed souls, thirsting for something else which we might call “A Dream,” relaxed for an instant and imagined a better world than the Inferno in which they were living.