Drawing his knees to his chest, he felt the rock with his hand. The air stunk of campfire. A suffocating fog was rising from the rugged hills below.
Alerted by a stir in the scrub, he made out a wounded bird beside him, limping. A pigeon. The bird looked him in the eye as if trying to pass on a message, then scampered away.
After years of war, first against the Italians, then the Germans, now their fellow Greeks, even the fertile valleys in the Grammos mountain range below had been exhausted. The fighters had eaten everything that could be eaten, even the homing pigeons that they used as messengers when they had to maintain radio silence. Hunger drives men mad.
His eyes searched for the bird, absurdly worrying that it might be shot.
His hand caressed his breast pocket, where he kept his postcards to his wife. Poor Eirini, he thought. She didn’t even know he was still alive; still fighting.
He had been “writing” to her without words since they retreated to the top. The silence, the isolation and above all the awareness of approaching defeat robbed him of words. He drew on the rough paper the hills, the scrub, rocks that looked as if made by God, scree; the few cypresses, plane trees, and pines he remembered from his village. Recently, the faces of men who died in his arms.
One day, he thought, his postcards to his wife would be found – these drawings would be his last words to her.
I am fond of this short story, as it touches on themes from my forthcoming novel, Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree.
A version of this short sotry appeared in 52/250 A Year of Flash, on the 26th of November 2010.