November Mist

It was a freezing, gloomy morning, a true November sunrise. The mist was almost impenetrable, thick and heavy. In the roads, could be heard the tired, still forced, steps of who was going to work. Sometimes, a light showed up in the mist, trying to get through. It was the Militia’s car, patrolling the roads, assuring that no-one caused any problem.
 
Behind the grey buildings, with no colour or joy, all alike, in the closed corner where the back gate of an “Alimentara” (food shop), we could see a queue that seemed to have no end; a long queue of women and children, and very few men. Three people could stand side by side. Some were standing, but the most of them were sitting close to each other because of the freezing, cruel cold of the dawn. It was still dark and the mist felt like an ash cloud; there wasn’t a single light shining in the streets, not even in the windows. This was the system. Saving energy was the rule. Only the common citizen had to save, though; the direction of the Party and their relatives lived a different life, without the lack of essentials to the daily survival that was normal to everybody else.
 
In the second row of this queue, there was an old lady sitting. She had white hair, a tired face from all the suffering she had endured all her life, but her eyes were an angel’s, staring at the little boy who was still sleeping, holding her arm.
A few metres ahead, the gate moved, the heavy locks opened slightly. The crowd agitated a little, in the queue, but no-one abandoned the position where they were.
 
Above the gate, a weak light flamed and a strong, cold voice of a woman yelled. That voice had no feelings; it was like the voice of an officer in the Army, yelling at his privates.
“Attention!”
Silence.
“Today, maybe I decide to open the door and to distribute the oil and the sugar!”
The expectation raised, still everybody kept silent.
“I still don’t know if it’s enough for everybody!” she continued yelling. “I just know that, if I hear a loud voice, someone yelling, a complaint or a pushing, I close immediately and I don’t open any more this week! You can be sure that I’m not playing around! Yesterday I didn’t open because I was still nervous from the day before, when that pregnant woman bothered me.”
She waited.
“You shouldn’t have children if you can’t wait for your turn. But you want more children, to receive more ration! Here, that woman won’t come any more, because if she does I will give her nothing!”
Indifferent to the desperate people looking at her, she still said:
“That’s it! Is that understood?…”
Nobody answered.
“Now you must wait, because I’m going to drink my coffee, so that I can be in a good mood. Any questions?… Uh?”
A man’s voice sounded, from behind, hidden by the morning mist.
“With respect…”
“Say!” she yelled. “Quickly; I don’t have time!”
“The ration for each person… Is it the same?”
“Now, that” she said, exasperated. “Of course it is the same! As to me, I think it is already too much!”
The ration per person is a half litre of oil, and one kilogram of sugar per month.
“Sorry!” the man replied. “Thank you!”
The man sat down. His leg was amputated below the knee.
 
The child, who was sleeping before in his grandmother’s arms, was already awake, listening to the conversation. He was five, maybe six years old, an age at which children, nowadays, still don’t understand much, but at that time children were forced to grow up and become more mature with the problems of life and the need for survival.
 
The little boy was thinking that his granny was already there for two days. He had gone to his neighbour’s house to eat and sleep, but the old lady had stayed there all the time, to avoid losing her turn.
His granny was already old, around seventy, tired and hardened by the storms of life, but she had a heart full of love and sensibility.
The boy was also thinking “Could it be that all the world lives this way?”
He knew nothing of the world outside the walls; nor knew anybody. People just weren’t informed. Who had a T.V. or a radio could only listen to the local news.
 
The iron gate was closed and the light was turned off. In the cold of the morning, people sat down once more, hoping that finally, in that day, they would receive the monthly ration.
The child didn’t how long it elapsed. He saw the grandmother fall asleep. He stood there, awake, waiting for the moment when he would hear the iron gates opening.
The gate opened once more and the light cut through the mist.
The aggressive woman’s voice sounded again, stridently.
 
“Come on! Everybody stand up!”
“A queue of two! Not a word!… Move!”
The child stood up and pulled his grandmother.
“Let’s go, granny! It opened!”
The old lady didn’t answer and didn’t move.
“Come on, granny! You can sleep at home, afterwards!”
Nothing.
 
The little boy bended his knees to hold her, trying to wake her up. But, suddenly, he stopped. The tears filled his eyes and he screamed, with a voice that refused to come out.
 
“Granny!”
His grandmother didn’t answer… She died.
 
Another child, around the same age, two rows backwards, held tightly his grandmother’s arm, feeling his throat tied and his eyes flooding with tears. He looked at his granny, feeling the fear, in his heart, that one day, it might happen to her.
 
This second child was my husband.
  
In memory of all those who lived and died in dictatorship, around the world.
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