An Afternoon in Terezín

Both men shared a cheap cigarette sent by Cvjetko’s family, directly from Sarajevo. The chief guard tried to withhold the gift. The prisoner promised that on the next delivery they would send wine to the German soldiers.

“Vaso. Have you noticed what day is today? Three years since we’ve been here.”

“Three years since we haven’t seen Gravo.”

“Do you think it’s true? That he lost his arm?”

“I don’t know, guess so. That right hand was so damn good. He will have to learn to shoot with the other the same way once he gets out.”

Cvjetko smiled. He waited for Vaso to return the cigarette. One of the guards shouted something in German, letting all on the patio know they had five minutes.

“You’re too hopeful. Trifko and Nedelijko are already gone. If Gavrilo really lost his arm, then it’s a matter of time for him. And for us too.”

“Gavro is not like us.”

“Heroes also die from tuberculosis, Vaso.”

“Have you ever heard him swear? His father never cursed. Nor drank.”

“I doubt he hasn’t cursed in these three full years. Maybe no one heard it. But he did.”

“Trifko was for some time in the cell beside his. He told me stories.”

“Trifko was mad.”

“Mad, yes, but he had ears. Gavro talked from his cell. Trifko sometimes answered, but Gavro wasn’t speaking to him. He spoke to himself, or to God.”

“And what did he say?”

“That the world is going to end.”

“Big news. The world is ending. Everything is a battlefield now. Jesus, we’re almost lucky we’re here inside.”

“There’s more. Trifko heard him saying that aircrafts carrying machine guns and bombs would murder all the troops. That when there weren’t soldiers living anymore, the war would end, and all the kings and presidents would march in a big parade in Paris.”

“Trifko was fucking mad. Gavro as well.”

“And he said that from each side of the parade men would sprout, small and starved. That each of these men would kneel and puke. That from each one’s stomach would flow away not food, but a handgun. That the kings would stare from their cars, paralysed like statues. That one would finally do the correct math: for each man, a king, for each king, a bullet.”

Cvetko finished the cigarette while fiddling with a worm between the fingers of his other hand.

“We are not going to leave, Vaso.”

The two men stood up and started walking towards their single cells. Whoever disrespected the limit would lose the right to leave for the patio, one hour each day. If Gavrilo ever left his cell at any moment, they never got to hear about it.

Gavrilo Princip and his co-conspirators were sent to the Terezín prison, currently in Czech Republic, after being accused of conspiracy and murder. Gavrilo shot down Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, while they paraded through Saravejo in their car, on June 28th, 1914. This assassination is considered to be the trigger which overflew the tensions between the European nations, leading to the First World War.

[English translation of my short story “Uma Tarde em Terezín”]

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