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Showcasing creative writing by university students around the world.

Illustration by Mariska Wiraatmadja

Illustration by Mariska Wiraatmadja

Published Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Words by

Black Olives Part II

the verse’s repetitiousness calmed me. i sat by the door on the cold stone floor and listened for the clink of plates in the basin, the creak of doors, and apostolos going to bed. i don’t know how late it had got before i gathered the strength to go back to the storehouse. i wrapped myself in several blankets to keep out the wind, and crept out through the window.

the shelves were bare, but a bible lay open on the windowsill:
וַאֲכַלְתֶּם יָשָׁן נוֹשָׁן וְיָשָׁן מִפְּנֵי חָדָשׁ תּוֹצִיאוּ
“you will eat very old [produce], and you will clear out the old from before the new.”
– leviticus, 26:10
 
the verse’s repetitiousness calmed me. i sat by the door on the cold stone floor and listened for the clink of plates in the basin, the creak of doors, and apostolos going to bed. i don’t know how late it had got before i gathered the strength to go back to the storehouse. i wrapped myself in several blankets to keep out the wind, and crept out through the window.
 
the door to the storehouse had been left unlocked in the moment of panic, and it opened easily. for some reason i was still surprised by the sheer volume of black olives which covered the floor. the chill wind of early autumn carried through the clear sky on the beams of moonlight filtering into the storehouse. i bent down and picked up a handful of olives. the oily liquids immediately began to run between my fingers. i shoved it into my mouth, and in a second had swallowed the whole lot. i wretched. i reached. and i drew out another handful.
 
i was now on my hands and knees. wool from the blankets came loose in the wind and stuck to the oil dribbling down my chin. i gorged my way through the first pile, now managing to suppress my wretch reflex with ever larger handfuls of olives. the deep blackness glimmering in the moonlight seemed impenetrable. it was impossible to tell how far back it went.
 
reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. how many olives can one girl possibly eat? reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. how many olives can one girl possibly eat? reach, eat, wretch. by now i had forgotten my hands, left and right, and face first i proceeded into the old produce.
 
by the time i was sixteen i had left my father’s house. i had a sister four years younger than me. our mother died giving birth to her. i used to wrestle with her for fun.
 
reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. reach, eat, wretch. how many olives can one girl possibly eat? reach, eat, wretch. by now i had forgotten my hands, left and right, and face first i proceeded into the old produce.
 
i had a sister four years younger than me. our mother died giving birth to her. i used to wrestle with her for fun. when she started getting stronger I had to hit her hard to win. i was so shocked, i would beg her to stop crying. then my father would come in and demand to know what happened, what have you done? what happened? i would silently shake my head in fear and he would remind me, “you don’t know very much do you?” by the time i was sixteen I had left my father’s house.
 
as i came up for air i wretched so hard, that turning my face back to the floor i thought i could see my lungs, grey and deflated, on the stone in front of me. the wool blankets were sticking to my hair and face: an adhesive of vomit, saliva and olive secretion held the fibres in place. one wool strand stuck to the roof of my mouth, but i hardly noticed. for at that moment, as i swung my hands forward into the darkness and dragged my knees behind me, i felt no resistance. the ground before me was clear. i swept around me with my hands, like a child who has lost her glasses. nothing.
 
as i swung my hand round one more time, a rope brushed against it. i was so weak, i held onto it to steady myself: it bore my weight. i felt round it and discovered it was a handle, a curved rope handle, attached at either end to wooden panels. i pulled at the handle, but whatever it was attached to was very heavy. i heard a scuttling noise. i pulled again, this time summoning strength from whatever was left of my stomach. the morning sun began to creep in through the cracks in the storehouse door.
 
i heaved a final time and the wooden panels revealed themselves to be the panels of a trap door, which i held open with my arm before me. i screamed. or at least i thought i screamed, but between the wretching and the vomit, i’m not sure any noise came out. there in the hollow beneath the trap door, huddled and shivering, were two eyes. the flickers of sunlight that had made their way through cast themselves in flashes across the face, yellow and sickly, to which those eyes belonged. the small boy didn’t move. i turned in shock and dropped the trap door. i wheeled round, unsteady on my feet, and stumbled through the door into the bright morning light now beaming over the mountains. a searing pain went through my head and i fell to my knees, vomiting profusely. with nothing but my guts themselves left, i rolled onto my back.

 
dust choked me. bright sunlight burned holes through the backs of my eyelids, and the putrid smell of my own vomit//i can smell it right now//rose from the ground. a voice, solitary and horrific, spoke, i have no idea what language it was, let alone what was said. blinking, i rolled over on to my stomach to push myself up, and even before i had done so, i caught the glimmer of wheel spokes out of the corner of my eye. a car. two cars. a car, two cars and an officer. a car, two cars, a nazi officer and a nazi captain. a car, two cars, nazi officers and captains, and angelos. a car, two cars, nazi officers and captains, and angelos in nazi uniform. a car, two cars, nazi officers and captains, angelos in nazi uniform, and apostolos, bleeding from the side of the head, handcuffed and kneeling before one of the nazis. a car, two cars, nazi officers and captains, angelos in nazi uniform, apostolos, bleeding from the side of the head, handcuffed and kneeling before one of the nazis, and a small boy in angelos’ grip. and that small boy was the small boy, and that nazi officer was officer bergsteiger.
 
sputtering words, i cried “apostolos!” he looked up, forlorn. “that man is innocent, there is no waste here!” i vomited on to my blouse, “all the olives are sold in the port!” bergsteiger laughed, angelos tightened his grip on the boy, and that first voice spoke again. this time i discerned it as the heavily accented greek of bergsteiger: “no, we found no wasted produce here, no wasted produce.” he bent down to speak to my face. i was on the ground, my neck craning towards the sun, my eyes staring straight into it. crouching on his haunches, bergsteiger removed his hat, and with it shielded my eyes from the sun. he almost whispered// “we found much more than that. hiding a jew is a capital offence”// he turned round to look at the boy, struggling now in angelos’ strong, fair arms. turning back to me, this time even closer, he inquired: “did you know that?” i shook my head//“well, you don’t know very much, do you?”//he reminded me.
 
a car, two cars, nazi officers and captains, angelos in nazi uniform, apostolos, bleeding from the side of the head, handcuffed and kneeling before one of the nazis, and a small boy in angelos’ grip. and i threw myself//screaming//at angelos. kicking, vomiting, punching, scratching, spitting, writhing, flailing. he raised his arms up in defence. his blonde arm-hair caught the light of the sun. the jew[19] wriggled free, and ran no more than three or four paces forward before slumping to the ground like a sack of potatoes, revealing bergsteiger replacing his pistol in its holster. blood began to pool on the dusty ground around his head.
 
there was the body of the young jew, not mangled or deformed, but soft-slumped and heavy in an almost foetal curl. he lies there in a still moment between me, apostolos, angelos, bergsteiger, and his men. there was a jew and there was a greek; there was a captive and there was a freeman; there was angelos, male, and there i was, female.[20]
 
angelos spat on my head, before scooping up the dead body and flinging it into the back of his truck, where those glass bottles had rattled around on that first day. apostolos was led into the back of the nazi’s vehicle and bergsteiger climbed into the passenger seat, tipping his hat to me as they all drove away.
 
—————————————————————-

[19] *as i – in those five minutes – had learnt to call the boy.
 
[20] *‘there is neither jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in christ jesus.’ – galatians 3:28

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