Nikiforos Vrettakos: One by one into the abyss



Nikiforos Vrettakos 


One by one into the abyss


HUS A FRIEND narrated the following story to me, exactly the same I myself write it.

         «…And it was a rainy night. Christmas Eve. At midnight there was a knocking on my door. I got upset. The curfew time had long passed. It couldn’t be anything else. Nobody knew what lay ahead the next day. And indeed. A German giant entered our house. My wife started trembling behind me like a reed in the wind. The German took one more step.

        “Where is your Christmas tree?” he asks me. And takes two small toys from his pocket.

        “Our Christmas tree? We don’t have one, I reply. We’re poor. We don’t have a Christmas tree…”

        The soldier raises his head and looks from the half open door at the bed of our sleeping child and walks toward it with his wet cap in hand. He stands above it, looks at it for a while and then lies beside it, stroking its hair very softly. Five minutes go by. Me and my wife are standing by the door, waiting. Ten minutes pass. We hear the soldier snoring. My wife takes a blanket from our bed and she tiptoes into the room to cover him. Then we sit in silence.

        “We are all humans, she tells me. Think about it. Do you know what I say? If we could, for the sake of this soldier, who is a human too, buy a Christmas tree…” I look at her equally pensively.

        “No, I say. We have so many prisoners and so many men out there fighting without any bread to eat. Otherwise… I know. We are all humans. I know that too…”

        The following day, as light was slowly giving its place to dark, Charles, the German soldier who came to my house, is waiting for me at the end of an avenue. We start walking side by side along the alley with the peppers heading to a place where we can drink some wine. We sit at a table, alone at first and then two more friends of mine join us. Charles is softly singing a folk German song and his eyes are shining like two lilies covered in morning dew. When Charles finishes his song, a friend of mine starts singing the ash song. Charles is listening to him and starts emptying one glass after another.

        “Hey! Charles, one of my friends tells him. When we come up there in the Rhine, you will offer us a much better wine than this…”

        I feel dizzy for a moment and I do not understand what is going on when I see Charles getting up and slapping my friend. «You will never come to the Rhine!” he says, spitting on the table. I abruptly stand up and try to calm Charles down, holding him from his arms. He pulls out his gun with a jerky movement and sticks it on my chest. And then he immediately puts the gun back in its holster. He kicks the chair in front of him, runs and opens the door and disappears into the night. As he is running, it seems to me that a handful of sparks lashes from his angry eyes and fills the tavern. We stand still and start looking at each other, as if we lost our voices. Our hands are paralyzed. We leave our glasses filled with wine and one after another, we lift our black collars, open the door and disappear into the dark, as if we are jumping one by one into the abyss…»



Source: For Precious Freedom, Short stories of the Resistance, Cultural and Literary editions, Athens, 1961.   


Vrettakos Nikiforos  (Krokees, Laconia, 1912-Athens, 1991). Poet. He worked in the private sector (1930-1938) and as a civil servant (1938-1947), and as an editor in magazines and newspapers as well. He fought in the Greek-Italian war in 1940—41 and then joined Greek Resistance. He studied Literature in Athens. First collection of poetry: Kato apo skies kai fota [Under shadows and lights] (1929).


Translated from the Greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He studied English Language and Literature. He currently teaches at the University of Peloponnese in Kalamata.