Thursday, May 17, 2007

fire over lake.

We took to the mountains. A group of us. We became partisans. These were the same mountains I had come over many lives ago. They were to be a barrier, a line of defence. Now they would be a hiding place. They would be hostile terrain; a place difficult for the enemy.

She stayed in the city. She wished to be with her family. They needed her. Difficult times lay ahead.

I missed her and felt guilty. I felt I should have seen it coming. There were warnings enough. The newspapers were full of the war each day. We were as blind as we wanted to be. We were deaf in that we blocked our own ears. The question haunted all of us. Could we have avoided it?. Did it matter that we chose to ignore the signs?. Were the events in their own way inevitable?.

In the years before they marched in we had become lazy, indolent. We forgot our dreams, our beliefs. We forsook our hopes. We grew old on the land, soft in our rocky coastal home. The town was a city. It traded in steel, in coal. It had grown into a renowned port. The once small harbour was full of large ships, ships that sailed half-way around the world. We had developed. We grew and fell into a pattern. We took for granted our security, its familiarity. We became self-satisfied and did not notice the decline.

In those years I ceased to look with wonder at the world around me. I no longer noticed the blooming of the wild flowers along the shore. I no longer walked carelessly through the woods, listening, aware of the great dream of life around me. I grew stiff and retarded. My mind was only able to grasp at possibilities that were commonplace. I sat for day in rooms counting trading invoices. I spent days on the docks, watching the swing of cranes, loading and unloading cargo. I was a young man yet I felt old. And it was not an age of wisdom. Rather it was the bitter age of those who live without living. Those who do not give something of themselves.
I walked home each evening tired; tired in a way I hardly understood. Climbing the steep streets, walking under balconies, hearing the sound of families eating together, children playing, I often felt lonely. Yet I told myself it was loneliness with a purpose. I could climb above the poverty, the lowness of these back-streets. I would build a fine house and live like a king. I would become a great trading magnates. A dream that had come to symbolise the aspirations of our city. My old life had no place in this new world.

In the mountains it was different. We moved by night and slept by day. Contact with the enemy was frequent. It was always without mercy. We were mostly desperate, hungry, on the run. Our original group was quickly depleted. Arrest often meant instant execution; your body left where it fell. Betrayal was a constant threat. Our missions involved sabotage, and disruption. The cities were under curfew each night. We operated in twos and threes, working as fast and efficiently as we could.
I was a radio operator. I became an animal, my instincts reacting to every bleep and crackle of a transmitter. I was responsible for co-ordination and maintaining contact with the outside world. We had allies in other countries. We had contact with resistance groups in other occupied areas. I was nearly caught many times.
There was no question of heroism in what we did. I often felt only fear; or hatred. They were the twin motors that drove me. When I slept I brought only a cold empty hollow with me.
My bed was the pine needles of the forest floor, the stone of a mountain cave. We lived on what we could. Vegetables, cheese, milk, meat occasionally, all provided by farmers and peasants. Camaraderie was minimal and often accompanied by the ghost of an uncertain future, a future that at any moment could end. Occasionally we would get a couple of bottles of wine and sit around a fire swapping stories, memories, of those left behind.
The mountains I had almost forgotten became my home. The mountains I once crossed to find refuge, became my only refuge. I learnt to value and respect them, to live from them, appreciate their unique character. I became a mountain goat, nimbly, but unceasingly making my way among them, knowing their every mood, their every possibility.

They once again drew a line between me and danger. Between a vanishing past and an uncertain future.
They sustained me for nearly two years.

Copyright (C) Peter Millington