Swamped, a novel by Manolis Aligizakis

Excerpt

             It’s a dark windy night. Eteocles is about three years old, Nicolas five, and their mother as old as the worry about how to feed her children has made her, as old as any mother who lives in the ruins of war, a woman whose husband is on the front line. It’s a windy night, and the gaps around the frame of the door and the lone window make an apocalyptic music, as if the inhabitants of this hovel are walking through the hallways of hell. Eteocles remembers the scene well. They are sitting around the metal bucket their mother has made into a heating element. She burns wood in it, and the heat reaches out perhaps a meter all around it. They are sitting warming themselves, listening to the wrath of the tempest just a few meters away beyond the frames of the single door and the courageous lone window to the north.

       Suddenly from the deadly war of the elements outside a sudden wind floods the room as the door opens. A man stands in the frame gazing inside. It’s their father returning from the war. He stands there for long time, not knowing what to say, how to greet them; he hasn’t seen them for thirty six long months. Their mother lets out a cry, a cry that sounds like the name of the standing man, her husband, the man who had gone to war when Eteocles was just a few months old. Her husband is home at last, and she gets up and calls him inside and walks up to him and hugs him with a fierceness that expresses the emotional volcano boiling inside her. She hugs him for a long time, then she pulls away, and their father kneels and calls his sons to him. Neither of them dares approach this stranger. Eteocles doesn’t know this man at all, while Nicolas, who was two years old when his father left his sons, perhaps has some faint memory of him.  

Neither of the two dare move toward the man in soldier’s clothes who calls them again and again until Eteocles observes his feet making small steps toward the open arms of their father and Nicolas follows soon after. The soldier clings tightly to them, saying words the two brothers only feel, the soothing words of a father who has missed his sons, a man who had gone to war without knowing if he would ever see them again. They feel those words, and they cuddle with the man who has come inside their house and ignore the wind that has entered with him and turned the room into a frozen habitat in which the small metal bucket with the burning wood cannot warm more than a meter in diameter around it.