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The Days of Unleavened Bread, Chapter 8

On the back of the photograph my mother had written: "Photo taken in 1935, in the fourth grade of primary school." Two of the pupils differed from the others in that they were barefoot: Anna, the third from the left in the first row, and Mishko, the carter's son, at the end of the back row.
.... Anna lived at the end of the village, several houses away from the mill. Since her bereavement, she almost never went outside her yard. Dressed in black, with her head bowed and her eyes red from crying, she looked like an old woman. She avoided people. She was a quiet woman, with a sad, beautiful face and large brown eyes, hidden behind a black headscarf drawn well forward over her face, as if she wanted to hide from people.
.... When she was sixteen, the cobbler, Jozo, had cast an eye on her, and she had avoided him as long as she could. Jozo was not a bad young man, but he dragged one foot a bit, which served him well when the war came, since he did not have to go into the army. The small hump on his back would not have been so noticeable, if he had only carried himself upright as he walked.
.... Jozo's parents owned a plot of good land, but he learned the cobbler's trade. He used the money he earned as a cobbler to pay others to plough his fields, since he could not plough them himself.
.... Anna secretly had a boyfriend, but he was miserably poor. Anna's parents had decided for her: "You'll marry Jozo, and you won't go hungry. You'll soon get used to his limp, you'll hardly notice it after a while. It's easier to get used to that than to being hungry. In these hard times, my girl, you have to think about survival. Love is not for us poor people, it's for the rich."
.... Anna watched her parents dragging themselves about their garden, half-starved, digging their small plot of barren land, which yielded only as many potatoes as they had planted, and she submitted to their wishes.
.... The war took men away from the village daily, but Jozo stayed. True, Jozo tended to be short-tempered and moody, but you get used to a person's temper with time. He watched Anna keenly, following her every move; he was very jealous. "What does he want again?" he would ask Anna whenever he saw her talking to their neighbour, Ivan. "He wants to borrow the plough again, does he? Why doesn't he buy one? He takes it away whetted and hands it back blunt, and I have to pay for the whetting. And why do you keep smiling like that when you're talking to him, you never smile like that at me," Jozo would grumble, watching every movement Anna made and listening carefully to every word she and Ivan said. Small as he was, and with his stoop, he looked much shorter than Anna. Anna would lie awake long into the night, tossing and turning in her bed, restless, while Jozo snored loudly. When she cooked a meal, Anna would go to Jozo's workshop, and, standing in the doorway, she would always see the same scene. Jozo would be sitting on a round wooden stool underneath a little window in the half-lighted room, bent over an old shoe with the sole turned upward, holding a hammer in his right hand and a tiny wooden nail in his left hand, or a crooked needle and a length of shoemaker's thread. On the corner of the table there would be a lump of resin with deep furrows in it, which Jozo would often draw slowly along the shoemaker's thread, seeming not to notice Anna standing in the doorway. On the floor and on the shelf near Jozo smelly old shoes lay scattered, filling the place with an offensive odour. Anna would see Jozo only at mealtimes, because he rose early in the morning while she was still asleep, and he would fall fast asleep as soon as he lay down in the evening.
.... Ghastly stories about the Circassians were told in the village. Stories so dreadful that we listened to them breathless, open-mouthed. The stories told of the terrible things they did to women. They would turn up even in broad daylight, sometimes at dawn, and look round to see if there were any women about, young or old, it made no difference to them. They would burst into the yard, and then screams would be heard.
.... The Circassians came to our village, too. All the streets were deserted, there was no sign of women leaning on their fences or standing in front of their gates; even the yards were empty. Front doors were locked and thick curtains were drawn over the windows.
.... Terrible rumours flew round the village, they said that not everything was known, many women kept their mouths shut about what had happened so as to avoid a scandal. Only Marishka was not scared. She had been seen riding a horse with a Circassian.
.... The sun had gone down, and people were hurrying to finish their chores and shut themselves up in their houses. Anna was drawing water, she was bending over the edge of the well, holding an empty pail in one hand, and the bottom edge of a full pail, which was still hanging on the chain, with her right. She thought she heard someone coming; just as she was about to turn around, a strong hand pushed her head down, forcing her body even further over the edge of the well. Her legs were lifted off the ground, and she almost fell over into the well. The pail dropped from her hand and splashed down into the water. This frightened her even more, and her throat was so tight from fear that she could not utter a sound. She felt a strong hand on her naked thighs, and a pair of strong knees were forced between her legs. A powerful body pressed her down against the wall of the well, so that her torso was hanging down inside the well, and the lower part of her body hanging down on the outside. A powerful male body was pressing against her. She tried to struggle, but every movement of her body seemed to excite her attacker more. Some country yokel, a strapping, brawny fellow, covered her completely, so that Anna, tiny as she was, was almost lost underneath him. He had his way with her and started moving his body forcefully, and the dilapidated well creaked ominously. Then something happened that is difficult to avoid when the body overcomes the soul; Anna grew limp and quiet, she felt giddy, and then her body started moving convulsively, like a willow switch in the hands of a mischievous boy. The Circassian felt it and embraced her waist with one hand, pushing the other into her bosom. Their bodies moved as if to a musical rhythm, more and more violently...
.... Suddenly Anna saw clearly, the bottom of the well flashed before her eyes, with the dying ripples caused by the fall of the bucket. Jozo appeared at the front door. When he saw the scene at the well he went mad. His eyes popped and the blood rushed to his head. He ran to the woodpile, limping more than ever, rushed to the block used for chopping wood, pulled out the axe and flew to the well. He lifted the axe towards the Circassian, Anna screamed, and the Circassian leaped to one side at the last moment. The axe sliced into the wooden beam at the edge of the well, and while Jozo was trying to pull it free, the Circassian pulled out a gun and fired several shots at him. Jozo first started back, as if about to stretch, and then grabbed hold of Anna, as if to lean on her. Then his body slipped down and fell to the ground.
.... Anna looked around, terrified, searching for help. At the window of the neighbour's house she saw a sudden movement of the curtain hiding someone's inquisitive face.

Further to the Chapter 09