Read What Love Is Online

Authors: D C Grant

Tags: #Pregnancy, #Young Adult Fiction, #Social issues, #World War, #Anzac

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BOOK: What Love Is
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A Prisoner of War

25 December

Monsignor had no wafers for the Nativity communion today. He blessed the crucible in the hope that the Virgin would affect a miracle and, like the day when God increased the loaves and fishes, would provide for the congregation, but the crucible remained empty. Instead the baker brought in a loaf of bread which was split into tiny portions and blessed. The piece of bread caught in my throat and I didn’t know whether to swallow or spit it out. I think to spit it out would have been a sin, so I waited until I was able to drink from the well outside and that moved the bread from my throat. Somehow I cannot get rid of the feeling that choking on the bread was a bad sign.

24 January

The British and Americans have landed at Anzio. Some say the war will be over by spring. Planes fly overhead, but I don’t know whose they are. We are scared to travel out of the valley.

We are sheltering an escaped prisoner of war in our barn, in the stall that used to house Rosetta. His name is Harry, but we call him Aroldo. He speaks English but says he’s from a country called New Zealand, on the other side of the world. He was in a prison camp on the outskirts of Parma, but escaped when the armistice was announced. Well, not so much escaped – he just walked out when the wardens fled, leaving the gates open. Some of the prisoners decided to go north and some south, but there were more Germans in the south on the line of defence, so Aroldo chose to go north.

He became separated from the other prisoners after they came under fire from a German patrol, and he didn’t know where they were or even if they were still alive. He hid with another family near Modena, but moved on when the Germans started searching the houses. Since then he has been travelling from village to village, taking refuge where he can and helping the farmers in the fields for his keep. He has learnt a bit of Italian, but at times it is hard to understand him. He is teaching me English.

But he cannot go any further. His clothes are thin, as is he, and he coughs all the time. I fear that he will die here, then what will we do? He puts our family in danger because the Germans have made it clear what they will do to people who harbour the prisoners of war, but we cannot hand him over to them – they will kill him for sure.

28 January

Papa caught me in the barn with Aroldo and chased me back into the house. He says that I am spending too much time with the soldier. It’s no use arguing with him, but I will still find time to talk to Aroldo. I want to learn to speak English so that I can go to America. I’ve seen it in the movies and it’s so much better than where we live. In America they have flushing toilets and indoor plumbing and paved roads with lots of motorcars. There are ice cream bars in every village and they have machines to do all the work on the farm.

Aroldo says that he hasn’t been to America, but he could take me there when the war is over. I would like that.

24 November

“Grandpa Harry was a prisoner of war in Italy, but he escaped,” I told Mum this evening. “I’ve read about him in the diary. They met when he was on the run and he stayed at the farm where Lina lived with her father and sister. I suppose they must have fallen in love there. Except she calls him Aroldo, not Harry. I guess that is Harry in Italian.”

“I never heard her call him anything but Harry,” Mum said. “He died when I was still young. He coughed a lot, his lungs were no good and I think that’s what killed him in the end.”

“He must have got ill when he was a prisoner of war.”

Mum rubbed her eyes and sighed.

“Sorry, Gina, I can’t think about this right now. I’ve got another place to see in the morning and if this doesn’t have a room for Mum, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The silence hung between us. I wanted to share what I had learnt about Grandma Lina, but I knew Mum wasn’t in the mood. It’s kinda exciting to learn about my family in Italy. I’ll share it with Mum when she’s in a better mood – maybe when I’ve finished reading the diary. It’s a cute love story.

17 February

News has reached us that the Anglo-Americans have bombed the abbey at Monte Cassino. Papa says that the Anglo-Americans will destroy everything in their effort to destroy the Germans. All I can do is think about Nico. We’ve not heard anything from him since he left us in October.

Aroldo has gone. Partisans came today and took him away. I was sad to see him go. I liked talking to him and hearing about his country. His Italian improved but his dialect isn’t quite right and I knew it wouldn’t fool a German soldier if he ever spoke – they would know he was not Italian. However he did look like one of us, for we’d given him some of Nico’s clothes to wear and a hat. He’d put on some weight and had stopped coughing.

He helped Papa repair the barn and chopped wood for the fire, but he never sat with us inside the farmhouse. He said he was happy in the barn where he could slip out the back if the Germans ever came. He said that if he was caught, he would say that he hid there without our knowledge and we’d be safe. I don’t know if the Germans would have believed him, they are not that stupid.

Now he has gone, taken into the mountains by the partisans. I asked the partisans if they knew of Nico but they didn’t, so we don’t know where he is or if he’s still alive.

20 March

Today we prepared the ground for planting. The ground is still hard after the winter freeze, but we need to get something growing soon. The Germans didn’t find the small store of seeds at the back of the barn so we will still be able to grow something.

The baker has run out of wheat so we will have to grow some for him in exchange for whatever is available in the village. I hear Signora Francesca still has a laying hen – I hope we get some eggs.

The big news is that Mount Vesuvius has erupted. Papa says that it shows that the mountain is unhappy with the war and showing its displeasure. Is God trying to punish us? Why would He do that when we are suffering enough already?

The armies of America had been at the airfield at Pompeii and a lot of their aeroplanes have been destroyed, as have some of the cities around the volcano. I’m not sure how many people have been killed. It seems that we are either to die at the hands of the Germans, or by Allied bombs or by the very mountains we live on.

2 April

German soldiers came to the house today, looking for escaped prisoners and Italian deserters, as they called them.

The officer sat at my father’s table and drank acorn coffee while his men searched the farm. Papa tried to appear relaxed, and smiled and answered the officer’s questions, but I didn’t like the way he had to keep answering the same questions over and over again. Neither did I like the way he looked at me, like I was a whore in the city of Naples. I was glad when he and his soldiers left.

25 November

Nonna is asleep now in her hospital bed, but earlier she was awake and talking to me in Italian. She thinks I’m Mum and keeps calling me by her name. I have to keep reminding her that it’s me, but even then she soon forgets. I wanted to ask her about Lina’s diary, but if she keeps thinking that I’m Mum, will she even understand me when I ask her about it?

There’s a sense of disquiet in Lina’s words, like the war is closing in on her and there are other things to worry about besides planting and running the farm. I sense her worry for her brother, and for her country too; everything seems to be jumbled up. I’ve read a bit about the war in Italy on the internet and I know that it was a bit crazy. Most people thought that the armistice would mean the end of the war for Italy, but instead it carried on because the Germans retreated north, while the Anglo-Americans seemed to be slow to take over the country. They kept getting stuck on different lines drawn across the country: Gustav, Caesar, Albert, Heinrich, Gothic, but I can’t figure out where Grandma Lina lived because she doesn’t mention the name of the nearby village so I can’t tell when the war ends for her. I’m tempted to read ahead to find out, but then that would feel like cheating, so instead I read a little every day trying to imagine what it was like for her.

The doctor has just been. He said that Nonna is doing well but he will have to change her heart medication.

“I didn’t know she was on heart medication,” I said.

“Yes, well she’s got a history of heart problems. There’s a note here that your grandmother was born in Italy during the war, and that she had a weak heart as a child. She’s relatively young to have this kind of heart condition – we normally see it in much older patients. Will we see you at the family meeting tomorrow?”

I nodded vaguely, wondering what a family meeting was.

The Rastrellamento

20 May

The Anglo-Americans are moving towards Rome. Some in the village say the war will soon be over because once they get to Rome, there will be no stopping them. It has taken them so long to get this far, why can they not move any faster? I just want this war to be over. I want Nico to come home. I want to be able to dance again in the village square.

At least the sun is warm and our crops are growing. We have not seen Germans for some time now but the Fascists are everywhere doing the German’s work. I thought we had got rid of Mussolini, but instead he is Hitler’s puppet, doing what he bids from his house in Salo.

4 June

The Allied armies are in Rome. Perhaps now the war will end.

26 June

Still we wait. We harvested our crops today and will try to plant more before the heat sucks the moisture from the ground. I’m so busy and so tired now that I hardly have time to write. There are more Germans moving through the valley than we’ve seen before. They go both ways – some go north and some go south. The ones going north carry the wounded while the ones going south seem to be just young boys, not yet men.

Planes fly overhead, sometimes German, sometimes American, sometimes British; it is hard to tell. The cities are being bombed by the Anglo-Americans. They are aiming for the German positions, but they are not accurate and hit the people’s houses instead. I know they don’t mean to but it angers us when they do. The Germans have been putting up posters in the village saying we should not trust the Anglo-Americans, that they bomb our cities deliberately. I don’t believe the posters. I spat at the one that had a German soldier holding out his hand as if to offer help, because I know that that is a lie.

2 July

We have heard that Nico is fighting around Turin with the partisans, although he has a different name now, one I dare not write here in case the Germans find it. The soldiers sweep through the village regularly, we call it rastrellamento, and sometimes they come up to the farm accusing us of hiding deserters and prisoners of war. They only leave after they have searched through every part of the farm. I hate them.

22 July

Someone has tried to kill Hitler! And it was his men who tried to do it. The Germans are as agitated as a swarm of bees. We have heard that they are killing people just for the sake of it, saying that they were part of the plot. And the Anglo-Americans are still stuck down south. I have heard people say that they are calling it the Gothic Line, but Kesselring, the German commander, wants it called the Green Line. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it makes us north of the line and under the control of the Fascists and the Germans. I pray this war will end, but there doesn’t seem to be an end at all.

3 August

The German officer again came to our farm together with three of his men. He gave Papa a piece of paper. It was an evacuation order, but Papa refused to leave the farm, saying that it belonged to him and he was not going to abandon our crops.

The officer said that it was better if we left, that the war was coming and we’d be safer away from our home. But Papa didn’t listen to him. He said that we were too high up the valley and that the tanks would not reach us.

The officer warned us that artillery and bombs would kill us if we stayed but Papa threw the paper of the evacuation order back in the officer’s face, and I could see that the officer was really angry about that.

“Don’t say that I didn’t warn you,” the officer said as he left. “It’ll be bad for your daughters if you stay here.”

I didn’t like the way his eyes lingered on me.

10 August

In the village today they were talking about a partisan attack on a company of German soldiers in the village of Ceserano. Sixteen Germans were killed. I couldn’t wait to carry the news to Papa. I just hoped that the men who were killed included the blond-haired officer who came to our farm yesterday. But Papa was displeased with the news. He said that the Germans would not let the deaths of their men go unpunished. He said it was best if I didn’t go back into the village for a while.

I knew he was right, we’d heard of the rastrellamento that had been taking place throughout the country – the Germans sweeping through towns and villages searching for partisans and killing anyone thought to either be a partisan or to have harboured a partisan. I’m afraid that the rastrellamento will come to our village.

I wondered if Nico was amongst the partisans that had killed the Germans. We still have no news from him.

Papa waved his hand in dismissal. “Who knows where my son is. I pray that he is safe and that God will protect us too.”

26 November

Mum didn’t want me to come to the family meeting, but once she knew that I knew about it, she had to let me. The meeting was with the doctor and the social worker and someone called a needs assessor. The doctor explained what was wrong with Nonna, basically her heart is not good and the reason she fell in the first place was because the heart medication she was taking wasn’t working as well as it should. The doctor said that they had looked at all the options but surgery was not possible, and her condition could only treated with medication.

“Unfortunately at some stage that medication will lose its effectiveness as well.”

“What happens then?” I asked.

The doctor looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing more that can be done at that stage.”

“My grandmother’s dying?” I asked.

The doctor gave a tight smile. “There is no reason to think that she couldn’t live a few years yet, especially if she is in a care facility where she will be well looked after. The social worker here is working to help you find somewhere for her to go, and the needs assessor will undertake the paperwork that will get her admitted. You’ll need to make arrangements for her to be transferred when you find a room.” He turned to Mum. “Have you found somewhere?’

Mum shook her head. “I’ve tried everywhere but they’re all full. I’ve put her name down at all the places on the list that Sarah gave me.” She indicated the social worker.

“We might have to look at places outside of Hamilton,” the social worker said. “I’ll work on another list.”

“Good, are there any further questions?” the doctor asked.

I had a thousand questions running around inside my head, but none of them made it to my mouth and I just stared at him in silence.

“Right, I’ll check in tomorrow and see if there’s been any progress.”

He left the room.

 

14 August

News has reached us of a terrible massacre at Santa Anna. The Germans have killed all 560 people living in the village, even the priest who stood in front of the people to protect them. He was cut down first then they turned the guns on the people, and killed them all. The village has been burnt and everything has been destroyed. There is fear in our village. We are unprotected from whatever action the Germans decide to take. Mussolini is not protecting us and neither are the Anglo-Americans. We are at the mercy of the invaders, the Germans, who are trapped between the Anglo-Americans at their front and the partisans at their backs. They take their frustration out on us, the rightful occupants of this land, killing defenceless women and children.

Will we be next? I pray for the Lord to protect us.

19 August

Anna and Papa are dead. I am as good as dead. I write what happened here so that whoever finds our bodies will know and can take revenge for our deaths.

I was in the barn when they came, the officer and three of his soldiers, with weapons in their hands and menace in their faces. They shot Papa in front of the house and dragged me inside. I screamed at Anna to run but she just stood by the table, like a statute. The officer dragged me into Papa’s bedroom and I fought him but he was too strong. I heard Anna crying and I called out to her but the officer punched me and made my head spin. He took my womanhood on my father’s bed, as if killing Papa wasn’t enough. When he finished, he drew out his pistol and I welcomed death, but the bullet struck the pillow next to my head and sent feathers flying.

“No more of my men will die at the hands of the partisans or this will be the result. Do you understand?” I nodded desperately. “Let this be a warning to you and the other peasants – help the partisans and people will die!”

I didn’t dare to speak. Bleeding and torn inside, I watched as he did up his belt, and put his pistol back into the holster. It was only when they had all left that I crawled off the bed and staggered to the main room where Anna lay dead on the table where they had taken her. Papa is still outside. I don’t have the strength to go down to the village and get help; I have only the strength to write this so that when I am dead, you who read this will know on whom to take revenge.

I heard his men say the officer’s name – Oberleutant Fischer. Find him and kill him for what he has done to me and my family!

27 November, morning

I can’t read any more. My great-grandmother was raped and her family killed!! But what about Nico? I know that Lina didn’t die because she became pregnant with Nonna, so she must have survived this. But how could she survive something so horrible? This is unreal, so totally unreal. And here I was thinking that I was reading a cute love story. Instead the war came to Lina and destroyed everything. I should get back to sorting out Nonna’s stuff, maybe it will take my mind off that terrible scene. But I have to know what happened, I have to carry on reading, I just have to, no matter how horrible it is.

19 August, evening

Death didn’t come. The partisans came instead. When I heard their footfalls in the house, I thought it was the officer come back to finish me off. I welcomed that – it would end my agony. A strong hand on my shoulder made me cry out and a voice shouted “This one’s alive!” in Italian, not German. “Amelia, in here.”

A woman came into the room where I was curled up on my bed, holding onto the hurt inside me. She sat down on the edge of the bed, brushed the hair from my face and asked me my name. I told her, and then she asked if I had any family that they could take me to. There is only Uncle Silvestro in the village, and that’s when they told me that there was no one left in the village, that they had all been killed.

The news shocked me. The rastrellamento had come to us and I was the only one still alive, except maybe for Nico, but these partisans didn’t know him either.

As it was getting dark and they have an injured man with them, they’ve decided to stay in the farmhouse for the night, in spite of the danger, and leave in the morning. They say that I can go with them. I’m not sure that I want to.

Amelia stripped off my clothes and washed me with cold water from the well, using a cloth to scrub at the dried blood between my legs before helping me to dress in fresh clothes. I could hear the men, but it was only when Amelia led me outside that I realized what they’d been doing – digging a grave for Anna and Papa. They stood around it, caps in their hands, one holding a rosary as he recited a prayer. Two of the men had their backs to the grave, looking outwards, their rifles at the ready, constantly surveying the fields. When we reached the edge of the pit I looked into it and saw the bodies wrapped in sheets, and I fell to my knees and wept. Amelia held onto me. If she hadn’t, I would have fallen into the grave with them.

I wanted them buried in the cemetery in the village, but the partisans said that it was too dangerous to go there as the Germans were still in the area. It’s dangerous for them here too, but the wounded man needs treatment before they can move on, and rest of the men need to rest.

I think of the bodies in the makeshift grave outside and know that there is nothing left for me at farmhouse now, and that if I want revenge on the men who have done this, then I’m best to go with the partisans in the morning.

I will take this notebook with me – a reminder of the life I had before I was destroyed, before my family was killed. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the time or the place to write in it, for my life will be in the hands of this band of partisans and I don’t know where they will take me.

I shall leave a note for Nico in case he ever comes back. I must gather a few things to take with me, only as much as I can carry, but I will be leaving this life behind me. Now I shall become a partisan and help to kill the enemy in our country for Papa and for Anna and for me.

20 August

We have stopped in a cave for the night. They haven’t lit a fire but have allowed me a candle, as I don’t want to be left in the dark. I write by the light of the flickering flame. I had to force food down. I had no appetite. Patricio came to speak to me as I ate, because I am walking too slowly and holding them up, but I can’t walk any faster, I hurt too much inside.

I feel dirty too. No amount of scrubbing will make me feel clean again. Most of all I weep because I know I will never have a husband. No man will have me now that I have been made dirty by Germans.

Amelia says that she felt the same afterwards and that she cleanses herself by killing Germans. I don’t want to kill all Germans, just the ones that defiled me and murdered my family, but I’m not sure that that is going to make me clean again.

Patricio won’t tell me where we are going or how long it will take to get there in case I’m captured, then I won’t be able to tell the enemy anything. I am slow and there is a chance that I will fall behind or will be unable to flee if we come under fire. It is a discouraging thought. I asked Patricio if they were the ones that attacked the Germans at Ceserano and he said that it wasn’t them. I was grateful for that, because I believe it is that attack that brought the rastrellamento to us.

But I know that I cannot give in to the despair that threatens to overwhelm me. I can’t let them see that I am dying a little inside, for I know that they will not tolerate any weakness. This band of partisans fights a vicious and relentless enemy, and for that everyone has to be strong, including me. If I want to have revenge for what has happened to me, if I want to find Nico, then I must become a partisan and I must show that I can keep up with them. I will walk faster tomorrow and I will ignore the pain and the sorrow.

What else can I do? I have no family now and I don’t know how to find Nico. These people are my only chance of salvation.

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