– I hate them…They are disgusting…
– Be more indulgent towards them. After all, they’re mere humans and they can’t be as perfect as we are.
(From the ants’ dialogue)
Twenty-six centuries after Zoroaster, twenty centuries after Christ and fourteen centuries after Mohamed, the whole world was divided into two parts by high and mighty walls, barbed wires made of steel and trenches full of water here and there.
Half of mankind used to live as prisoners on one side of the walls and barbed wires, while their supervisors and jailers dwelled on the opposite side. Poets and scholars, laborers and builders, executioners and doctors, saints and reprobates were born and died on both sides, but none of them no longer recollected when this division had originated or bothered to figure it out. Therefore, everybody accepted it as a natural fact, predestined since the creation of the world. They even considered it as a necessity which had existed, existed now and would exist as long as mankind continued its miserable existence.
Some philosophers, who were living and thinking on both sides of the walls and barbed wires, made their own judgments on all those things, but it didn’t occur to any of them to delve deeply into the reasons because all those things seemed as natural and regular to them as the sunrise and sunset, or else the natural succession of the four seasons of the year. It seemed as if an invisible taboo had been imposed, insofar as discussion on those questions was concerned, and nobody dared cross its imaginary limits, because the barbed wires and the walls were already constantly and forever in people’s minds and imagination. They all lived their own lives and it didn’t matter on which side of the walls the erstwhile perfect creation of the gods was located. They were called humans and, their essence was manifested in collective form, like a dense crowd of ants or locusts, in which the individual creature is devoid of a face or a role, as it could never possess them.
Nevertheless, the inhabitants of both sides felt nothing but a disguised hatred and disregard for each other, without giving any explanation for the reasons of it all. Dissatisfaction was common and widespread. Everything was predestined from above: birth, wasting away the days of life and then death. In this situation there was neither any idea, nor intention to change anything, even slightly. No perverse thought or idea could originate or bud upon that soil. That was the worst of it all. Everything had to be confined within the orthodox ideology of the walls.
* * *
It was October with its endless rains, timid sun, tiresome days and desperate nights.
In the northern regions, there was a concentration camp located in the middle of an extensive and endless steppe. It was like hundreds of thousands of other camps having the same walls and barbed wires made of steel, the same people and the same gray barracks.
It was evening. The prisoners, tired and indifferent to everything on earth, were coming back from their compulsory work. The overseers accompanying them were just as tired and indifferent. The overseers had only a few daggers and truncheons, as prison breaks and acts of disobedience rarely occurred here. Where could they go? It was the same everywhere.
Everybody stopped at the square. Each of them was registered, and then they were released so they could go and rest till the next morning. The overseers themselves checked the list as well. They were registered too. Then they went lazily to their barracks. Only one of the prisoners was detained from the crowd. Later, accompanied by a soldier, he was sent to a prison cell located inside a separately standing shabby building. The old inhabitants believed that once there had been a worshipping area here. But nobody bothered with it any more. It had been a long time since that building was used as a prison cell for those condemned criminals who stood out from the others. Moreover, it didn’t matter if the person had committed evil or good deeds. Any attempt to be different from the crowd was considered an offense. These people were punished by being isolated.
It was already dark when the soldier and the prisoner entered the punishment barrack. The former opened the door of the cell, let the prisoner in and then locked the door. He, in turn, entered the next cell, which was assigned to overseers. In fact, the cells were absolutely the same: the walls were whitewashed; the floor was earthen; the latticed door opened into a long corridor. There were also small opaque windows affording an outside view, an archaic toilet-trough, a narrow sleeping-berth by the wall, and a rough-hewn table with a clay pitcher full of water on it. Perhaps the only difference was that the doors of the prisoners’ cell were almost always locked, while the overseers’ doors were generally open. However, the majority of the latter, particularly those who were former prisoners, preferred to keep their doors locked,, not at all out of fear of the overseers. There was an inexplicable mutual contempt, but it was more a vestige of the traditionalism of camp life rather than a result of their senses.
Generally speaking, it was as if that contempt had been left over from the unwritten laws or list of rules. Nobody knew when people had started behaving that way and what the true reason behind it was.
However, it was decided so from the beginning, like the thousands of other components of the daily routine and lifestyle, and it didn’t occur to anybody to refuse it or at least to delve into its root causes. And the fear itself was meaningless, as both armies were of the same origin and spoke the same language. It happened quite often that some of the prisoners would turn into overseers or some of the overseers would become prisoners. This diffusive process was permanent, and nobody was insured against it. Just as the sun shines or the rain pours down on everybody, many things had become the same in the conditions of the concentration camp. Therefore, there was no fear as there wasn’t even the slightest risk of loss. There were birth, death and dull days of life full of all-embracing gray boredom, which was the same on both sides of the walls. October, with its melancholic rains and water dripping from the roofs, made the boredom and the physical demand of filling the endless nights with something at least, deeper and more disconsolate.
Complete silence prevailed over the camp’s area. Only the widespread cry of the rain and the lazy howling of the guard dogs were evidence that time hadn’t finally come to a stop yet on that accursed blood- and tear-sucking land.
* * *
Stretched out on a sleeping-berth, the soldier-overseer was quietly smoking and looking at the white ceiling. The dim and wavering light of the yard’s lamps penetrating through the bars on the window was drawing squares and other various geometric images upon the ceiling. The cigarette smoke was lazily spreading through the tiny cell, rising up and going out into the semi-dark inner corridor through the slits in the latticed door. The soldier extinguished his cigarette on a table leg and threw the butt on the earthen floor. He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep. According to the rules and regulations, sleeping wasn’t allowed, but all of them disregarded that clause, as sleep was the best way to kill time in a state of endless boredom. Anyway, he couldn’t sleep. He recalled a few faded images from his childhood years – he and his father grazing sheep in fields filled with flowers and listening to the sweet melody of the reed-pipe. It had never occurred to him before that the recollections of the past could be so enjoyable…But then he immediately realized that it was just a mirage. He wasn’t at all sure that such a thing had ever happened or not…As far as he himself could remember, he had only seen this concentration camp, the steppe in the vicinity, the sky and the stars. Evidently he hadn’t seen anything else. He didn’t regret his life in the past. What else could he see or do?
He lit another cigarette. He inhaled the smoke and exhaled toward the door. After a while, the voice of a prisoner was heard, “Can I have a cigarette?”
The soldier was surprised for a moment, but then he remembered the presence of his fellow prisoner next door. He stood up slowly, entered the corridor and approached the prisoner’s door. According to his habit, he inhaled from the half-smoked cigarette and offered the prisoner the remainder. A hand approached in the semi-darkness and took the cigarette; then the prisoner started puffing on it greedily.
“Thank you, brother,” heard the soldier after he had already returned to his cell.
Without replying, the soldier again stretched out on the sleeping berth, lit another cigarette for himself, and then asked his invisible interlocutor.
“Why are you calling me brother?”
A slight laughter was heard from the next cell. Then there was silence again. The voice said, “If I’m not mistaken, your name is Cain, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s true, but it doesn’t allow you to call me ‘brother.’ You know it’s prohibited according to our rules and regulations.”
The prisoner replied in a low voice:
“Certainly I know. But, ridiculously enough, my name is Abel.”
“I guess you have never heard the story of Cain and Abel.”
“No, I have never heard it. Tell me, please. I can’t sleep at all.”
“Well, it’s not even a story. It’s just an old tale or maybe a myth. Who knows? Once upon a time there lived two brothers named Cain and Abel. Cain was a farmer, and Abel was a sheepherder. They had the same mother and father. Once, they decided to make offerings to the Lord.”
“Who was the Lord? Their father?”
“Something like that.”
“Cain brought some of the best fruits, vegetables, berries of the soil as an offering to the Lord. Abel, in turn, selected some of the best sheep from his flock and presented them to the Lord. The Lord looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but refused those of Cain. So Cain was greatly affected by that and his face drooped. Then the Lord, seeing Cain’s condition, said, “Why are you angry? Why are you crestfallen? If you do what is right, you will be accepted. But if you don’t do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Cain listened to the advice, but said nothing and went away.
Once, Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
Still boiling inside or perhaps wishing somehow to avoid inevitable punishment, Cain answered, “I don’t know. What, am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Cain was completely desperate and lost. He said to the Lord, “My sin is greater than the remission. Today you banished me from the land, and I will henceforth be hidden from your presence; I will become homeless, a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will want to kill me.”
But the Lord said to him, “If anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.”
Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.
So Cain, unable to remain in familiar places, went out from the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Then Cain got married. He had a son. Cain then built a city. But, anyway, that’s not the main point. This is that old story that I’ve heard from my mother.”
Silence reigned in the barrack for a while. The mild sound of raindrops was heard from outside, but from inside one could only hear the prisoner’s and the overseer’s breathing, plus the distinct sound of smoking. The soldier broke the silence, “But why didn’t the Lord accept the offerings of Cain? Wasn’t he sincere in his offerings to the Lord?”
“I don’t know. My mother didn’t tell me anything about that. I just remembered this old story, as I believe there is something mysterious about our meeting. You have to admit that it rarely happens that two people named Abel and Cain meet each other, especially in such conditions.”
The overseer rose from the sleeping-berth, approached his neighbor’s barred cage and said, “Listen! Take this unfinished cigarette pack and box of matches. I hope you won’t burn down the punishment cell.”
The prisoner hastily grasped the gifts offered by the soldier, as if fearing that the latter might have regrets, change his mind suddenly and take back the gifts. Sincerely he said, “Thank you very much. Though you don’t want me to call you a brother, I find your deed fraternal, indeed. Did you have some for yourself?”
“Yes, I do. Don’t worry. Let’s get along without moral admonition. That disgusts me. Especially if we take into account that I didn’t give you my last supply. Of course, I still have more.”
“Well done, Cain! One shouldn’t give the last thing one owns to other people. By doing that, you would have compelled me to take the last thing you had. I wouldn’t want to do that. That would be mean of me.”
The soldier didn’t answer him immediately. He lay on the sleeping-berth again and lit another cigarette. Only then did he ask, “Why shouldn’t one take the last thing? What’s that? Moral admonition? I asked you, didn’t I?”
“No moral admonition!” replied the prisoner. “No way! Moral admonition be damned! What I told you was just one of the truths of life. It’s not nice taking the last thing a man has.”
“Then he shouldn’t give it to anyone. After all, I could have not given it, right?”
“Certainly. But you should admit that the most difficult thing is to give the last thing you have. Everyone can give a share of what they have. But not everyone is able to give the last thing he has. That applies to very few people. That requires other human qualities, a different approach!”
“It’s stupid giving the last thing to someone else, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not. By doing this one gets richer. I mean, spiritually richer.”
“Really?” said the soldier named Cain, grinning. “You say strange things.”
“What’s strange, for instance?”
“Well. For example, your fanciful story about the brothers. I don’t know who made it up, but it’s obvious that the Lord was unfair to Cain. It’s as if the Lord himself indirectly made Cain kill his brother, but then he punished him cruelly. The Lord shouldn’t have done it.”
“It was a trial.”
“What trial? For what? Had Cain ever given cause for the Lord to doubt his love towards him?
Who gained from it all? Abel? No, he was killed. Cain? Again no. He was doomed to be an eternal wanderer and he had to struggle against the burden of his sin. He wasn’t even given a chance for salvation or expiation of his sins. Did the Lord gain? I doubt it. I guess the two brothers had lived in peace, side by side, before that ill-fated day when the tranquility of their life was disturbed. No matter what you say, I believe there’s something false and sham in your mother’s story.”
“I don’t know…My mother used to say something else, ‘Never slander your Lord.’”
“Well…,” said the soldier, perplexed.
“Judge not, that you be not judged…”
“Don’t worry. I neither judge nor slander. I’m just trying to comprehend what you’ve told me. And, no matter how much thought I give, I can’t understand what Cain’s sin is.”
“There was evil in his heart and he couldn’t banish it. Jealousy and evil.”
“You’re confusing things. The jealousy and evil surfaced after his father (the Lord, isn’t he?) refused his son’s gifts. So one should find the reason for what happened with the father. If Abel’s gifts were refused, he would probably have felt the same and would have committed fratricide. Do you agree with me?”
The prisoner was silent. One could only hear him smoking and exhaling. Then he said, “Perhaps. It’s hard to understand. Perhaps your interpretation is correct. In any case, we aren’t aware of the Lord’s plan.”
“I’d rather say his intention.”
“It could be put that way.”
It was silent again. After a while, the overseer’s breath deepened and then it blended together with the sound of the rain. The prisoner realized that the overseer was sleeping and he didn’t talk to him any more. He huddled himself up at the end of the sleeping-berth and fixed his gaze upon the shapeless shadows outside the window. The rain was telling of autumn and grief.
* * *
Next evening they met again. After work, all the prisoners were counted. Then the overseer named Cain took Abel to the punishment barrack. They became situated in their space covering five square meters. The soldier locked Abel’s barred cage, entered his cell and stretched out on his sleeping-berth. He lit a cigarette and then said to the prisoner, “Do you have anything to smoke?”
“Sure. I hid them under the planks. They’ll suffice for me the whole night through. Can’t you sleep?”
“No, although I’m as tired and wet as a dog, I wonder if this damned rain will ever stop.”
“Of course, it’ll stop. Every beginning has its end.”
“Are those your grandfather’s words?”
The prisoner giggled, “Can you guess what’s going to follow the rain?”
“I have no idea.”
“It’s going to snow. The fall is always followed by the winter, at least on these latitudes.”
“That’s true. Hey, tell me, why are you here?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean how did you get here?”
“Does that really interest you?”
“Sure. Otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you, although you don’t have to answer, If you don’t wish to.”
“No, I don’t mind. I just thought you asked me for no particular reason.”
“I don’t have the desire; nor do I wish to read your personal case.”
“But every day you hear the numbers of my articles pertaining to me.”
“Never mind the articles…Tell me the real story.”
“Well, in short, it’s because of my various offense or, as the jurists say, because of the criminal assaults committed against mankind and humanity.”
“And what are they?”
“Well, let’s say, stealing…”
“What have you stolen? Gold?”
“No, not at all…What do I need gold for?”
“What do you mean? Gold is gold…”
“Would I be richer if the bars of my cell were made of gold? No, that’s worthless. I had stolen something more important: a loaf of bread.”
“A loaf of bread?” the overseer named Cain couldn’t believe his ears.
“Are you telling me that you were thrown into prison for that?”
“Yes, precisely for that.”
The soldier laughed in his cell and then asked, “But why had you stolen it?”
“Don’t you really know? Or are you mocking me?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“I was starving.”
“Starving! That’s why you were thrown into jail…”
“Yes, although I would have put it in other words: I was moved from one side of the walls and barbed wires to the other. Can you imagine? Twenty centuries after Christ, I was starving. Can you imagine? Nobody gave me any bread. I was too shy to ask it from the others. How long can one ask things?”
“You could have asked it from your father.”
“What father, Cain? I’ve never seen my father. He left me and went off before I was even born. Or maybe he was killed…I have no idea. Anyway, he wasn’t by my side. Otherwise I would have asked it from him. However, there was no bread, and I decided to take it secretly. And that is called “stealing” in criminology, along with the sad consequences stemming from it. Meanwhile, I was hungry like a wolf. Then my view became dim, my mind bubbled, but my consciousness faded. Yet I realized that if I were to die from hunger then, it wouldn’t be justified. Can a loaf of bread ever be compared to a human life?”
“I don’t know. Very often, the hollow lives of thousands of people aren’t worth as much as a loaf of bread.”
“Certainly. Today we’re here, tomorrow we’re gone. But the truth is the following: it’s the bread which is created for man, not man for it. I was probably destined to steal a loaf of bread to survive, in order to spend the rest of my life on the opposite side of the barbed wires. Once upon a time, though, I used to be on the same side as you (you might not believe me). I was running through an endless field of golden wheat on a sunny day, looking for my father. But he was nowhere to be found. Why did my father abandon me? I wanted so much for him to talk to me…I’ve felt his absence so much!”
The overseer didn’t reply right away. He took a puff on his cigarette and looked out the window. Then he said, “And now you’re probably unhappy…You are tormenting yourself…”
“I wouldn’t say so. In the final analysis, what difference does it make which side of the barbed wires you are on. After all, they are not going to disappear because of that simple shift, are they? In general, the misfortune is the existence of barbed wires on earth, but not on which side of them you are.”
“Do you know another world devoid of barbed wires?”
“I don’t know of one. They have always existed, and I think they’ll always be. They justify our miserable existence.”
Both of them fell silent. Each one was with his own thoughts, listening to the soft sound of the rain. Then they both lit cigarettes simultaneously as if someone from above had ordered them to do so. The smell of the cheap cigarettes blended with the damp and astringent air of the punishment barrack. The soldier broke the silence.
“Are you hungry now? I’ve got a few things to eat.”
“Thanks. I’ve already eaten. I feel more secure under the shelter of the barbed wires. In any case, I won’t die from starvation. That’s a real salvation. It’s like an almost perfect expiation.”
“Do you mean that you like the barbed wires?”
“You can say it that way, but in my opinion they surpass our knowledge and our feelings. They’re as eternal as the gods, no matter if we like or dislike them.”
“I believe I’m starting to understand you. What did you say your name was?”
“My mother named me Abel.”
“Abel… That’s an interesting name. You know, Abel, once I committed a theft.”
“Were you hungry too?”
“Don’t mock me. After all, I’m being honest with you.”
“Excuse me. Go on, please.”
“I didn’t steal any bread. It wasn’t money or gold either. I think it was something much more valuable. Though no one can compare things and say which is more important or more valuable.”
“Only you yourself. Who else?”
“What do you mean? Now that’s the business of judges.”
“Which judges, Cain? Those on this or the opposite side of the barbed wires? I know many judges. They are very different in their external appearance. They differ in terms of the color of their skin, sex, age, etc. Mainly they are divided into two kinds: one half is named Cain and the other half is named Abel. I haven’t noticed any other differences. By the way, the existence of the judges is justified only by the existence of barbed wires. If there were no barbed wires, there wouldn’t be innumerable judges. Their existence would be meaningless and absurd. Their life and work has merely one meaning: to divide the motley crowd of people into two parts and to distribute them proportionally on this or that side of the walls. Otherwise, the walls and the barbed wires wouldn’t tolerate and would eliminate those rascals called ‘judges.’”
“You interrupted the train of my thought…”
“You were telling about the theft you had committed.”
“Oh, yes…I even can’t speak about it…I stole my brother’s name. He was brave and successful, and he could tell interesting stories like you. I always used to look at him with admiration, but at the same time I was a little bit jealous. I wanted to be like him, but all his talent was innate and I couldn’t be even the slightest bit like him. But one day he became the victim of an accident. Then he was buried. Since he didn’t have any material wealth, I made up my mind to inherit his name. In other words, I appropriated it.”
“Do you mean to say that Cain is your brother’s name?”
“It’s already mine. I am Cain. After that theft, I started resembling my new name. I forgot about my dead brother and I became Cain down through the years. Only now did I remember him and my sin.”
“It seems to me that still there’s something causing you sorrow.”
“Your observation is correct. The feeling of guilt isn’t abandoning me. It’s dormant inside of me. Sometimes it wakes up and tortures my conscience.”
“All right, calm down. No one can condemn you because of it. It remains for you to become reconciled with yourself. In a certain sense, that’s not even a case of theft, but a simple change of name.”
“Don’t try and comfort me. I took something which didn’t belong to me. Besides, I took it without permission. Isn’t that theft by definition?”
“In any event, you are your own judge. If you wish to proclaim yourself a thief, then don’t waste time. At least you’ll hear your verdict and you’ll relax. On the other hand, you have a chance to acquit yourself and end the case with self-reconciliation. Or maybe you hope to find a fairer judge than you are for yourself? That’s just the delusion of a fearful spirit. You are not a coward, Cain! You’re a brave soldier. Be strong!”
Cain didn’t reply. Abel preferred to say nothing, since he knew from his own experience: if there’s much to say, it’s better keep silent. He lit one more cigarette. With his fingers, he counted the cigarettes remaining in the pack. Then he fixed his gaze on the pane of glass, upon which raindrops were trickling down.…
The sky had cleared and was bringing a new flood to mankind.
* * *
Darkness was falling quickly in the north. The lead-colored clouds and the rain seemed to contribute to it. The prisoners and the supervisor-overseers, who were tired and indifferent towards everything, were returning to their barracks, where they had been born, had grown up and would pass away some day. That was their life, and it didn’t cross any of their minds that life could take them along another path. They had only seen one thing: the walls and the barbed wires. And it didn’t matter who had seen them from which side. They were the same from both sides.
The overseer named Cain again accompanied the prisoner named Abel to the punishment barrack. It was the last night they would spend next to one another, because provision had been made for Abel to stay in that barrack for three days only. They both entered their cells almost instinctively. Then they took off their wet clothes and shoes and situated themselves on their sleeping-berths. The monotonous sniveling of the rain had mixed with the tired light of the searchlights, and a widespread hopelessness was drizzling down over the world.
Cain remembered that he hadn’t locked the prisoner’s barred cage. More so due to a feeling of obligation than anything else, he arose, went into the semi-dark corridor and twirled the huge iron key in the lock. Then he threw a half-full pack of cigarettes and matches through the bars onto the little table in his neighbor’s cage and returned to his cell.
“Thank you, brother,” said Abel. “It’s the last night. Scheherazade is not going to tell you fairy tales anymore.”
“It’s an old story. A woman, named Scheherazade, used to tell stories to the mighty ruler of the East.”
“Mainly about love. All fairy tales are about love. There’s no other subject.”
“I don’t know. My grandfather used to say that about the relationship between a man and a woman.”
“I get it. I had such a relationship a few years ago. I have to say it’s a very pleasant relationship, but it lasts only a few minutes or, more accurately, a few seconds.”
“And what happened then?”
“What else could happen? I went my way, she went hers. That’s all.”
“Apparently you’re confusing things. People say it starts like a bolt of lightning and it lasts till the end of life.”
“It’s not possible. How can it last that long? I’m telling you, it lasted only a few seconds and that was all. Of course, it’s possible to meet again.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a woman.”
“Would you like to have one?”
“I don’t know. I’d like to have a try. At least then I would know what it is. You say it’s pleasant, right?”
“Very. The body of a woman is a pleasure itself, and the possession of that body is the most perfect manifestation of that pleasure.”
“I think you are talking about something else, Cain. If I’m not mistaken, that’s called fornication.”
“Fornication? Why fornication?”
“If it’s only a physical connection, then dogs too do the same.”
“How do you know what kind of connection dogs have? Who told you that?”
“A great thinker, who was also a judge, told me that.”
“But how else one can relate to a woman if not physically?”
“One should also love her with all his heart.”
“First, you should like and love her with your heart in order to be able to have her physically.”
“I can’t get a good picture of it, as I’ve never had a woman.”
“I hope that having a relationship with a woman isn’t criminally punishable.”
“Don’t be afraid, you won’t be in my place,” laughed Abel.
“I’m not afraid. Is there a difference being in your cell or in my cell? It’s the same cell, the same sleeping-berth, the same view from the window, the same food, cigarettes and water. The air is the same too. There’s nothing to be afraid of. What else has that judge said?”
“He says, ‘Don’t steal. Love the Lord.’”
“Namely your father? Well said!” exclaimed Cain.
“I don’t know. How can I love him if I have never seen him before?”
“Love your friend and your brother.”
“That’s good too. What else?”
“Love your enemies.”
“I have no enemies. What else?”
“He says, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’”
“I have no wish at all. Every day I judge and condemn myself.”
“That’s good. Unless you are pure, how you can judge other people? One measures his corn by his own bushel.”
“Look, Abel, neither are you Scheherazade, nor am I the ruler of the East. It’s better if you tell me real stories instead of fairy tales. You haven’t told me yet why you are on that side of the barbed wires.”
“I’ve already told you. Because of the theft…”
“I got that but you’re still hiding something from me.”
They were silent. The snap of a match was heard from the prisoner’s cell. He was smoking. The overseer lit a cigarette too. Then he said to the prisoner, “Tell me the truth, Abel. Is there anything to hide?”
“I have nothing to conceal. I just hate recalling and telling others about it.”
“I’m no longer just another person. After all, you call me ‘brother,’ right?”
“If you want to hear it straight from my lips, then I‘ll tell you. I’ve killed a man.”
Abel fell silent. He took a deep breath, exhaled and inhaled the bitter smoke of the cigarette.
Cain was silent too. Although he was expecting such an answer or approximately such an answer, nevertheless it was unusual hearing such a confession. He didn’t dare ask something else because he sensed that even recalling it was painful for his neighbor. Talking about it would be much more painful. He mentally cursed for having allowed himself to pry into the prisoner’s soul. Then, remembering something else, he got up the nerve to ask him, “Can you sing? People say a song cures many wounds. Both of us have got pains buried inside us.”
“I know only one song, Cain. My mother used to sing it for me. The song is about two brothers. I’ve already forgotten the words, but I can sing the melody if you want.”
“Of course. Sing, please.”
“Now…May I ask you something before singing?”
“What had your name been before you appropriated your brother’s name?”
Silence reigned in Cain’s cell.
Abel realized that his interlocutor didn’t want to answer. He slowly extinguished the burned-out cigarette. He was probably stalling in order to recall the melody. Then he started singing in a low voice.
Reality gave way to fairy tale. The melody filled the cell with an inexplicable light and nostalgia. Cain’s heart shrank from joy and stingy teardrops ran down from his eyes. He recalled some dim images from his childhood years. He recalled his father’s face…
As soon as the song was over, neither one dared to even utter a whisper. They were sitting motionless as if in a trance. A few minutes passed before Cain got up the courage to move. After wiping his tears with his coarse hands, he rose from his sleeping-berth and went up to the bars of Cain’s cage. He gazed upon his eyes shining in a dim light. Then he unlocked the cell with his key and went back to his own cell. He lay face down on his sleeping-berth, buried his head under the pillow and started weeping silently…
* * *
The rain was drawing rivers and roads on the pane of glass. It had no beginning and no end, like the sunrise and the sunset, like the world and the barbed wires around it. The desperation was hopeless and endless too.
The prisoner named Abel sat on his sleeping-berth. He lit the last cigarette he had. His glance shifted to the window, then the white-washed wall, and the unlocked bars, finally ending at the crimson glow of his cigarette. He stared at it until it burned out and everything became buried in the semi-darkness.
He passed through the barred door noiselessly like a sleepwalker and entered the soldier’s cell. The latter was sleeping on his back. There was a cold smile and carefree dreams on his face. Abel bended over him, kissed his forehead and whispered, “My brother, Cain, my dear brother Cain…”
Then he took the soldier’s dagger from the small table, put the sharp edge on his heart and thrust it sharply all the way in.
Cain barely cried out and opened his eyes, only to have them shut forever. Abel stood there, watching how the blackish blood was flowing from the soldier’s chest, spilling on the earthen floor and getting absorbed into it.
Abel came out of the punishment barrack, tossed the dagger aside and started walking eastward, singing quietly under his nose. The dawn was lost in the rain. The raindrops were gradually turning into snowflakes.
* * *
Then the barbed wires corroded, became pulverized and mixed with the soil. The walls crumbled and became sand and memory. But nobody noticed that. People continued living the way they were living before — divided into two armies. Nothing changed, as nothing could change.
Twenty-six centuries after Zoroaster, twenty centuries after Christ and fourteen centuries after Mohammed, the rain was still coming down, trying to quench the soil’s insatiable thirst for blood.