THE STORY was awarded 3rd place (adults) on 9th DAYS OF SLAINED HERZEGOVINIAN PRIESTS February 4-7, 2019

 

AND THE WORD WAS IN THE END AS WELL

Sanijela Matković

 

A DAY WHEN BIRDS WENT SILENT

Renouncing the chance of Juda’s conceal,
kissing the Bible
one by one,
To death they went.

And they were burnt.

Yet they stood burning as an unquenching bush of Sinai,
before whom Moses removed his shoes.

And since that very day
when birds went silent,
Brijeg burns witnessing
the Truth,

the Love,
by walking in the steps of slained.

 

AND THE WORD WAS IN THE END AS WELL

February is a month of fogs, some undefined cold. One of those fogs crawled on the walls of monk’s mills making that harsh night even harsher. The day was getting near its end. It was dinner time. While the smell of freshly grind flour was coming from the walls, brother Stanko was taking leftover pieces of lunch from a bundle on the floor.

– Let the children eat first, and you eat what’s left. – he said, and left outside tearfully..

Children quickly gathered around food and competed who will get the most. Only little Josip stood in a corner crying. It was clear to everybody that it is needless to ask why, hence this was the saddest night of Josip’s life. For entire day nobody told him where and why partisans did take his father and uncle this morning. They also took some other people from Brijeg and Lištica. Marko cried for all of them, knowing that they also cry for those whom they left behind.

Priests and few hosts were standing and watching the children, hoping the children will eat everything leaving nothing to them.

– Eat, and I’ll go after him, said brother Ivan to his brothers. Brother Stanko was standing outside starring at the Monastery, crying and sobbing.

– What has made you so sad? – asked brother Ivan

– What hasn’t. Sorrow upon sorrow. What a difficult time, my God. I haven’t experienced anything more difficult in my life. Little Josip is crying all day. These are tearful times. Look at this stone beauty (pointing at the Monastery) not one of us is in there and it’s night.

– There, there, the monastery is not a child to be scared alone in the night. – brother Ivan comforted him.

– It is most holy inside, brother Ivan.

– I know, but everything is locked. Who would dare to touch the Holliness. – Savages, brother Ivan, savages! They do not accept holiness. Not even God, nor people, nothing is sacred to them. Executioners, uncouth! They arrest our people, who is going to feed the children, we are scattered around, sorrow upon sorrow, I’m telling you.

– Do not worry, brother Stanko, said brother Ivan patting his shoulder – The Lady will look after the Monastery until we come back. She will guard us and the Monestary. She is a mother, right, she has to protect her children. All times carry both happiness and sorrows. Just like very day brings light and dark.

– Do you hear him, brother Stanko?

– This is not my wit, brother Ivan, I’ve learned it from the Bible.

– Do tell me which Bible have you been reading my son. Concerning my age I can surely say I know the Bible by heart and I haven’t found those words in it.

– Can I quote it? – Of course – they approved out loud. “You shall never worry about the following day, for the following day will take care of itself. Every day has enough of its troubles.” (Mt 6,25-34)

– Oh, you meant on that quote – brother Stanko said slightly confused.

– Yes, on that one. Every since I’ve read it for the first time, I am a peaceful and happy man. I do not worry about a single aspect of my life. I know God will reward each day of my life with necessary amount of joy with his rightful hand. Every morning I happily accept a new day from His hand.

– All of this is alright, my son, you incinerate in optimism. Life hasn’t touched you yet, you will speak differently in a few years.

– Why do you doubt, brother Stanko. I believe in every comma in the Bible!

– I do not doubt the credibility of the Bible, young man, but your enthusiasm.

– Besides, the night is too cold for philosophical outsmarting of each other, let’s go inside.

– Off you go brother Stanko, the two of us will have a smoke first.

– As you wish. Do not stay late, the Prayer Book is to be prayed.

Brother Ivan nods his head in confirmation and takes a young priest to the river. They were just standing there for a few moments in silence, when brother Ivan said:

– You see son, to us you are like that oak on fire next to the Monastery proudly defying everything. It witnessed many things, but it grew and aged, looking forward to every new day. Exactly like you! And you know what. I admire you. So young, so wise – it is a gift of God.

– Can I confess to you, brother Ivan?

– Of course son, I’ll keep it with me as I keep a confession secret.

– Brother Ivan, every morning when we gather together around the Altar, and as I drink from the chalice I feel as though I’m drinking all the joy of the world. I become consumed with some strange power and I feel ready to fight the Evil itself. After that, I have no fear!

– Oh, be blessed for these words – said brother Ivan with tears and embraced him onto his rope. Lucky is your mother for having you. You do not realize how lucky and blessed you are. Thank you for sharing that feeling with me. Now let’s return, the brothers are waiting for the prayer.

The children were sleeping and adults were awake down in the mill. They were all whispering and a worried look on their faces suggested the topic of their conversation was not pleasant at all. Josip was still crying. The lanterns were out which meant it was bedtime. But everyone was awake. They were starring at the sky through the mill’s window, looking for answers to their troubling questions. Sometime at dawn, when he was sure everyone was asleep, brother Stanko went outside, looked at the monastery and prayed Seven Sorrows of Virgin Mary in her honor. He cried, moaned as a little child, and pounded his chest repeating:

– My god, have mercy, have mercy upon your people. Do not leave us in these days of trouble.

A foggy and sad morning dawned.

As soon as the church bell rang 6 o’clock in the morning, the brothers celebrated the Holy Mass. Outside, a decayed wall served as an altar. They were surrounded by a smoke from river Lištica and it seemed as they were celebrating the Mass on a cloud. Brother Ivan observed young priest during the Communion, and in one moment he seemed larger and stronger, as a giant.

There was nothing left to eat for breakfast, but nobody asked anyway.

– Wake up the children slowly, let them prepare so we can go to the monastery. This makes no sense. I would rather die hungry there, than fed here. If something happens to us, only the fowl will find us – said brother Stanko.

And off they go, quietly. The children were tired and hungry. The priests were worried for them, themselves, the people! As soon as they reached Gymnasium, they noticed a group of people under an oak tree.

– Are those soldiers? – one of the brothers asked.

– It seems so – a worried Abbot confirmed.

Yes, those were the soldiers, about twenty of them and it was clear who they were waiting for.

– Watch the children, said brother Stanko to the boys. Hide them as soon as we arrive.

Soldiers were cursing while they argued about something in the yard. They elbowed each other looking at the priest coming.

– Idlers, returning from a morning walk – one of them said. His uniform suggested he was a commander. Line up! “Who is the chief among you?”   I am, said the Abbot.

 

Line up your men if it is possible. Where were you last night, not one of you was in the Monastery.

-We visited old and ill. – And the children, why did you bring them? – They visited their relatives. – I don’t believe you a thing! Those are all stories for little children. ‘Come on, line them up, let it be clear who is in charge. The Abbot looks at the priests and they line up without a word. – Where is the weapon? – Do you hear me? Where did you hide the riffles? – We busted few cases but we found nothing but wine. Real drunks, that’s what you are ha ha ha – the commander laughed. – We do not know what you’re talking about – said the Abbot.

– You know very well what I’m talking about. You not only eat and read, but you also deal with other things as well – said the commander. – You are the biggest enemy of this people priest, yes, yes you. You are drones who poison poor people with your ideas. But here we are to free them and you as well. Do you hear me – we came to free you!!! The priests stood in silence. – Bring me the thing from the room – said the commander to one of the soldiers. The soldier returns with a crucifix in his hands. The commander takes the crucifix and tosses it in front of his legs.

 

Listen to me carefully. This is the deal. You will come one by one, step on this and say: – I renounce it. You can go to your homes freely after , as free men! I guarantee you with my life. Brothers stood there petrified as stone pillars. Voiceless. – What is it, you weaklings? It is only one sentence, at least you should be educated. Why is it a problem to repeat after me, ha? – You are wasting your breath soldier – said the Abbot. They gave up everything for Him, but they will not renounce Him for anything. They live for Him and the Truth He proclaimed, said the Abbot showing the Bible he was holding in his palm. – Give me that book – shouts the commander. The Abbot kisses the Bible and hands it to him. – This is how we’ll do it. Those of you who want to stay alive shall step on this and be free. Those of you who want to die, shall take this book and kiss it.

Brothers lined up, one after the other. The Abbot was standing at the front of the line. One by one they took the Bible, kissed it, and embraced it on their hearts, as mother holds her beloved child. And every one of them does so! After that the soldiers took them to the old shelter, which was under the monastery. And the young priest’s time was up. He gets close, takes the Bible and starts flipping the pages trying to find The Gospel of Matthew.

– Look at him, shouts the commander. He would read, ha ha ha… The young priest stops at one page with a smile on his face, reads two sentences whispering, and kisses the Bible right on that place. He puts it on his cheek, as a child puts his head in his mother’s palm. And he walks towards the shelter. The guns were heard, one by one. And then they heard soldiers throw the bodies shouting. While the old oak was snapping its branches, the children were running around saying – they are killing our priests!

Women were all in black. The bells weeped. The Sun darkened. Mothers cried over their children. As the stones were crumbling down from the old mills, Lištica flowed blood. You could not hear a bird flying, everything stood silently in a moment. With the priest they killed Brijeg as well! As they observed the smoke seeping from the shelter, a commander asks a soldier on his right:

– What could that young priest read in that book that made him so happy right before he died? – You heard what the Abbot said, they lived for that book. – Ha, ha, ha, no soldier, you are wrong. They died for that book! And they could have chosen. They could have been sitting with their families now. Death was their choice, not mine. The other soldier standing besides hence said: – True, we killed them but they are not dead. They simply fell down but seemed so alive. I don’t know how to explain it, but it is what I feel. Other soldiers remained silent and cleaned their guns. – The commander sat under the oak and started reading the Bible, searching for the page a young man kissed and went to death smiling! During this time in the empty church, somebody sang the psalms: “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I have no fear, for you are with me”

 

 

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