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HOW TO BE PARTISAN
FOR a time we were unmolested. We lay all day, asleep or whispering to ourselves, in clean dry attics or barns or stables, moving upon our business only by night. Each dawn we came in the weariness of much talking and waiting and whispering to the shadow of a cottage in a clump of trees, and knocked lightly upon the window and were received in fear and trembling, surprise and then suppressed delight. The people were glad to have us as a rule; only sometimes they were afraid and would send us hastily to the silence of a barn, coming to us every hour of the following day to whisper that nothing terrible had happened yet. Those who saw us for the first time were most afraid, only their intense curiosity overpowering an immediate anxiety that we should be gone: and they would let us sit down for a moment, and then if we were wet with rain they would take our jackets away and wonder afresh at the weapons we had beneath our jackets, and step carefully over the stock of someone's rifle: and then they would warm with pride that we had chosen them and would trust them, and ply us with questions and begin to boast, and gradually forget their fears. Food would be brought and friendship sealed.
George would explain: "Look here: we don't want anything from you except shelter during the day. In the summer we don't want that even: but in this season we can't hide in the open because the maize isn't high enough yet. Only shelter." And they would sit in silent interest and nod their heads at the logic of what he said. They were greatly fond of him, and saw in his reckless and self-disregarding courage a proof of honesty: and then they knew he was from Palanka, and looked on him as their special representative in this war against their oppressors.
During the day we would lie on our jackets in the attic and watch the little mice that ran over the sacks of last season's seedcom; through the open attic door we could look across the flat green land to the hills of Frushka Gora in the distance and reflect that there lay home. The weather kept fine during all this time.
It seemed that the enemy had found no trace of us yet. Three parties had now come over from Srem, bringing explosives and other warlike stores with them and departing duly for their destinations in the north and east. George and I went into Palanka about this time in order to transact certain business there and also, as I think, so that George could test if I were willing to penetrate into the town again. This time we did not walk in blindly, chancing the patrols, but were preceded by two or three of Baba's legaltsi, young men who would signal us if they saw we were going to collide with a patrol. A few minutes after we had reached the baza which Baba had chosen we heard the measured tramp of six men marching by the window. Baba was proud of herself in missing them so neatly. The following night George went elsewhere and Baba and I moved to the cottage in which she normally lived. Now we were in the centre of Palanka and very safe, for they would not look for us so closely under their hand. During the day German transport drove along the street in a spatter of mud. It reminded me of Jazak the year before.
The cottage belonged to a family of Slovaks settled in the Bachka four or five generations ago. Only the mother and a young daughter remained. The son of the house had been killed in Srem the year before, fighting with the Odred; and it was therefore a safe house for us to use, since the Hungarian police had been informed that he was dead and would not search for him at home. But Baba was afraid to tell the old woman of her son's death in case her sorrow brought down on her the fresh suspicions of the police, and caused the cottage to be burned about her ears. She lived, therefore, in constant expectation of seeing her son, or at least of hearing from him, and she would nag endlessly at Baba for news of him from Srem. And Baba would look the other way and answer that he had gone into Bosnia, and that for the old woman was as if he had gone into another world. She made no comment on my coming: she was used to Baba's ways and took me in her near-sighted anxiety for another runaway Serb whom her son would want to shelter. She loved Baba for Baba's fearless optimism and strong will; she and her daughter regarded Baba as their special protector and friend. And Baba, who was twenty-three and a widow, assumed the manners of middle-age and soothed them and quietened their fears. Her husband, who had been a village shopkeeper, had died two years before from wounds received in a clash with Hungarian gendarmes, and Baba, then a frightened girl with no more idea of politics and war than the need to follow her husband, had taken to the movement in a fit of rage and despair, and had matured with it until now she was terrainats of Palanka, firm, capable, optimistic, unmoved. For her the movement had a personal significance that was far more than political: she had found in it the materials of a new and larger life and she cleaved to it as if she had conceived it and created it herself. She saw that she had become through it a changed individual, larger and better and stronger than before.
"I was a fat-headed peasant girl two years ago," she said to me, "with no more idea of the world than the price of bacon and the best way to get the better of tax-collectors. I could read and write, because we Bachka peasants go to school and we live well. But I didn't read books or do any more writing than to reckon up the shop accounts; and my husband was about the same. He was a good man, my husband, but he had no political attitude either. He went with the partisans because we were Serbs and they were Magyars, and gendarmes, and they oppressed us, and we hated them." She had a round red face; and she was fat and strong and healthy. Her nose was small and retrousse, her mouth wide and generous, her eyes large and brown and warm with honesty. "You went to schools and universities, I suppose, Nikola. And you've read books. But there you are, the movement's like a university for me." She sighed. "The movement's done everything for me. Or perhaps I've done everything for the movement. I don't know. But I see things differently now. I'll never be a simple shopkeeper again: I'll see more in life than that. Perhaps I'll marry again: but not yet—1 loved my husband. And then only if I find a man who'll share his life with me, and not expect me to bend myself always to him. I want to live. I want to make something in the world. There's so much we've got to do."
In the next room, through a doorway covered by a screen of threaded beads that rattled and shook with the draught from our half-opened window, we could hear Seka singing. She was happy because Baba was here. She was singing the song of the moment in Palanka, a nonsense rhyme about officers and captains and old-world courtesies, set to a traditional air:
Sedam dana, sedam kapitana:
Medju njima devet oficira
Medju njima devet oficira....
Tud se Mara cesto prolazila
I jednog se mladog je volela:
U jednog se mladog je volela....
She was like a little canary, and she wore in those days a tight yellow frock which fitted the spare hollows and little breasts of her figure of fifteen. She had a little pinched-up face, funny and rather pretty. That afternoon she was expecting an admirer for tea, a Slovak boy serving in the Hungarian army; and she was bursting with excitement because Baba had instructed her to filch away his paybook for half an hour. He came at four o'clock and sat with her and some friends who came with him on the terrace, and they gossiped about the doings of Palanka. Inside the house Baba and 1 sat beside our half-opened window and talked about her husband and her shop and the movement. There was great news, too, from the fronts. Somewhere in Italy the Fifth and Eighth Armies were in the first week of their assault on the Germans fighting before Rome; and in the East the front had moved into Galicia and a great battle been engaged; in Bosnia the Germans were in the most furious stage of their seventh offensive on partisan liberated territory, and had just dropped parachutists on Tito's G.H.Q. at Drvar. The war had shifted into a new phase. But here in Palanka everything was as before: only the currents of underground opinion had stirred and shifted with the news.
Drugarica pozdrav'te mi brate
Da nekosi trava oko Save:
Da nekosi trava oko Save....
The Slovak boy was splendid in his Honved uniform, light khaki with fresh green trimmings, his kepi still the pattern of Imperial Austria with a shiny black brim, his kid gloves laid across his knee. Masodik Hatarvadasz Zaszlo Aly, read his paybook, Signals Section, Budapest, Fokapitanysag, Palinka Geza Street, 25 ... The Second Special Frontier Battalion.
"Any good?" Baba asked. Nothing seemed impossible to her any longer. Even Honved paybooks could be made to serve the movement in one way or another. She listened avidly to the mysteries of the order-of-battle, and took notes to guide her on another occasion.
"Is he stationed here?"
"My God, yes. He does nothing but come here for tea. He's all right; but he's indifferent, like so many of us Bachka people. He'll do nothing against us: but he won't help us much either." We looked through the bead screen at him sitting and laughing on the terrace: even if he had known we were looking at his paybook he would not have cared. He belonged to that great mass of individuals who were indifferent to the issues of the war provided only that their own narrow framework of friendship and self-interest might survive. For him there had been no fundamental life-changing disintegration; the crust of his old life had not been broken; and therefore he felt no great need of either side and saw them both as superfluous enthusiasms to which he could be neutral. He submitted to Hungarian discipline as to a misfortune, an act of God; and thought himself no less honest than any of us. It could not be said of him that he despaired of democracy, or opposed the revolution, or feathered his own nest; for he knew democracy only as a dictionary word; was aware of no revolution, and suffered the annoyance of Hungarian conscription. Whatever might come of the war he would make the necessary adjustment that would preserve his own peace and personal self-esteem, and if in the course of the war he died it would be an individual tragedy and nothing else. He was one man, and his death could be significant of no more than that. If its shallowness could be ignored his attitude was not perhaps without good sense. He sat on the terrace in his neat khaki uniform, the perfect chocolate soldier, and enjoyed his tea.
"Well, he's a nice boy," Baba said wistfully, "but he's a baby still." The old woman came out on the terrace and began to talk to them about her son who was away in Bosnia and was one day coming home again. "What tales he'll have to tell," the Slovak boy said with sympathy.
A night or so later we departed from Palanka, partly because our business was completed, partly because we feared detection if we stayed longer. We went to Baba Matsa's; and that very morning the Hungarians raided a nearby village and, so the news that we received said, caught one of our number. And the man they were said to have caught knew that Baba Matsa's was in frequent use. Mara brought us the story from Palanka early in the morning. The question then was only whether the Hungarians would search all these farms along the Danube bank this morning or the following day. We lay all day in Baba Matsa's attic, expecting the worst. The general opinion was that the captured man ought to have shot himself rather than be taken and tortured for what he knew, or what the Hungarians would suspect he knew. In the event it turned out to be a false alarm, in that they had caught a man who was linked to us only at far remove, so that, even if the Hungarians tortured him (which they habitually did to their prisoners, with electric shocks applied to the toes and penis and other susceptible parts, and with other devices that were generally reckoned to be effective), it would have taken several days to come to the conclusion that partisans were at that moment using the farms along the Danube bank. But we learnt this only in the evening, after we had lived through all the interminable hours of that day in expectation of disaster.
In these circumstances the tension between us became alive and very tight. For the most part we lay on our backs in Baba Matsa's attic and thought of what possibly might happen. We had thirteen hours to wait until it would be dark enough to come down from the attic and move elsewhere; and there was ample time to think of every possible combination of disaster. Once night fell the whole position would change, for then we could move beyond the Palanka boundary into the Gaydobra boundary, counting on the administrative simplicity which normally deterred one district's police and security forces from operating in the neighbouring district. The situation turned on nothing happening until nightfall; but there were plenty of precedents for what would take place if something did happen before then. In that case there would be an abrupt onrush of motor transport from several directions, and the open fields would suddenly be alive with deployed lines of troops and gendarmes. These would close in on farm after farm, and search the buildings from top to bottom; if there were partisans they would withdraw to cover and shoot it out, or possibly bring up a small cannon or a mortar. This actual situation had developed time and time again, and usually meant an end to all who were trapped. In any case the rules laid down that those who could not escape and ran out of ammunition or were lightly wounded should shoot themselves rather than allow themselves to be taken alive and put to torture. It was a cheerful prospect.
We lay on our backs in the attic and looked through chinks in the roof at the blue sky. George opened a tile on either side for better vision, and every now and then one of us would get up and tiptoe over to the opened tile and spy out across the green and yellow countryside. The chimney of the power station in Palanka smoked in the distance above a fringe of trees. Some way to the right a goods train stood smoking in the station at Gaydobra. It was a peaceful scene. The sun shone brightly in the blue sky: inside the attic the air grew very warm, and we lay on our backs and sweated through our clothes.
Every hour or so of that long day Baba Matsa would climb up into the attic on some pretext to talk to us. She knew the danger but was not depressed by it; for her the movement now was almost a personal possession, and she tended to look on us rather as if we had been of her own family. She was endlessly curious.
"Now, look here," she said in a confidential tone, "how can you have women in your movement?" She went on: "I mean, you all sleep together and live together——" She giggled, squatting on her heels and looking at us as we lay in a row, George and Juritsa and Bata and Baba and me.
"Hey, Baba Matsa, what're you getting at?" Baba asked.
"She thinks we're in love with you," Juritsa said, giggling too.
"Now, shame on you," Baba Matsa said, glad we had at last taken the point. "But come on, tell me about it. Could I let my daughter go with you? I mean, how would it be?" She giggled and blushed.
"Baba, you tell her."
Baba told her. Partisans were a fellowship based on self-respect and human dignity, Baba said: the women had their part to play just like the men and there could be no goings-on between men and women in the movement because that would compromise everyone's sincerity and lose them the trust of the people, and without the people there could be no partisans.
"That's right," Bata said, winking and making the whole thing sound sententious, "we respect our women because they are brave and help us."
"No, Bata, it's not like that. We don't help the men. We fight alongside them, equal with them. We're part of the movement. We're fighting for woman's dignity. What sense would it make if we simply helped you? We might as well have done with it and sleep with you too. I daresay you'd call that helping you?"
"Well, we might," Juritsa said, enjoying himself.
"Don't talk so loud, Baba," George said.
"Shut up, Juritsa. No, we're not simply helping men like that. We're in the movement because the whole of society's changing, and it can't change without the women being there too. It's a new society we want—new right through, men and women too."
"That's right," Bata said, not to be put down. "Like when I was a clerk in Belgrade. Of course, I had to keep up appearances, and we went around a good deal. And, my God, you wouldn't believe how easy it was to get a woman. They'd simply no modesty, no self-respect. They'd do it for money—but they wouldn't do it for love, you know, not for true human feeling——"
"Bata, that's a bad point of view. That's not what I mean at all. That's Belgrade corruption, nothing to do with us peasants. The trouble with you is that you're proud of all that. You'll have to change your ideas.' You think women are inferior to 'men, only good for sleeping with you and having babies. But women are individuals, too, and they have their part in our revolution just as much as the men."
"Baba, don't talk so loud," George said.
"I'm not talking loud. No, look here, I don't want to quarrel with you. But you've got to admit that the movement can't allow that women are naturally inferior. That's a perfectly horrible idea you've got."
"Of course," Juritsa said, peace-making.
"Anyway," Baba Matsa said, squatting on her heels, "I'd let my daughter go with you. Nobody explained this to me before. I can see you're honest. But are all the others like you?"
"Yes, yes," George said, suddenly excited, as if he had remembered something important, "that's how it is, Baba Matsa, just like Baba here says. We're not running all these risks and living in lousiness and always getting wet and going hungry for the sake of sleeping with a few women. Maiku! It'd be simpler to stay in Palanka, Fascists and all. We've set aside all that: we've agreed not to think of that side of our lives until all this is over. And Bata there's wrong, too, because that's a corrupted outlook he's got. It doesn't matter if women are cheap or not cheap: if they sell themselves at all they're no use to us. We want to get away from all that trash. We want women who'll understand their value as human beings, not as whores. Isn't that it, Baba?"
"Yes, but you're talking too loud yourself now."
"That's right, my dears," Baba Matsa said, satisfied now, "don't talk too loud."
After she had gone down from the attic we lay on our backs and looked up at the blue sky through the chinks in the roof, and were silent for a long time.
"What's the time, Nikola?"
"Maiku, only half-past ten!"
And then we were silent again, and what seemed a great space of time went by, and nothing happened, and hours passed, and Juritsa said, "What's the time, Nikola?"
"It's five-past eleven."
And there were ten more hours to wait. If it was going to happen, it would happen soon.
George woke up and went over to the opened tile in his stockinged feet, and looked out and said: "There's nothing, nothing at all."
"I wonder if he'll talk. I don't think he'll talk," Bata said, who was not taking it too well. "D'you think he'll talk, George?"
"Maiku, how do I know? They'll screw his fingers off and he'll talk. Wouldn't you?"
Bata said nothing for a moment. Then he said: "Yes, I would.
And so will he," and he sat up slowly and moved his fingers over his brow, and repeated: "and so will he." Then he lay down again, not speaking.
Baba said: "Here, Bata, tell us something interesting about Belgrade. What you were doing there—what sort of a life did you have in Belgrade?"
"Yes," Juritsa said. "For God's sake tell us something amusing, Bata."
"Maiku, I was the hell of a lad in Belgrade. My God, I enjoyed myself then. But that's a long time ago." He sat up again, speaking slowly as if he thought his voice might tremble. "Well, in Belgrade, you see, in Belgrade we had a fine company of chaps. Of course, they were a bit wild. It wasn't always easy for me to keep up with them. I had to think of my position. I had to put on a bit of a show. My God, what a time we had! " He was silent for a moment, thinking back. Then he went on: "Yes, my God, that was a free open life, that was. My God, d'you know there wasn't a soul in the world we were afraid of. We'd go down to Nikoshka's in the evening, and there'd be drink—they'd money to burn, those chaps—and music, and the girls would be there"—he turned to Baba—"You'll think they were just whores, like George was saying. I know what you're thinking, Baba. Well, they were a bit easy, perhaps: but they were nice girls. Nice girls," he repeated slowly, as if thinking of something else. "They didn't preach and prate about what they were going to do: they were good girls. They understood life. They didn't have to talk about it."
Baba said nothing. We lay looking at his big white face as he squatted there between us. Juritsa whispered: "That's all right, Bata. You go on and tell us about it."
"Maiku, Belgrade'll never be the same again! That was a city —there was nowhere in the world, I'd say, where people were more free and gayer than in Belgrade. Of course, there was the dictatorship and all that. I'm not saying it was perfect. But, my God, what a life you could have! How they'd go it, those chaps. We used to sing and dance and talk all night—my God, what talks we've had...." His big white face was solemn and contemptuous.
"They knew how to live. They weren't afraid of anyone. That's how I thought this partisan life would be, my friends, that's what they promised it would be like. Fine and free, not this skulking in a corner afraid to spit in the air...."
He was silent again. Behind my ear the tiny scratchings of a mouse in a bag of corn could be heard. I put back my hand and the little beast scurried quickly away, its tail long and trailing as it went. When we slept they would climb over us and tickle our faces with their tails. Their little feet would be hard and cold on our faces, and we would wake uneasily, and groan a little, and turn over, conscious for a brief blurred moment of the hard boards and our aching bones, and the way the sodden cloth clung round our knees before we sank into sleep again.
"What's the time, Nikola?"
It was only twenty-three minutes to one. The sun was nearly overhead now and the attic unbearably hot. The warm air smelt strongly of the bacon sides that hung along one rafter above our heads. It should be happening any moment now.
Bata went on, drearily as it sounded in that sleepy air, his voice seeming to come from miles away. "No, it's not at all what I expected. Only two months ago I was in Belgrade, my God, and this is how we lived in Belgrade. Didn't dare to stir a muscle. And when I went up into the woods, to do my duty, as I thought, I wanted to fight in the open: yes, in the open and not stuck away in a hole like this...."
George whispered: "You mean you wanted to go to Bosnia? Well, you volunteered to come here——"
Bata's large white face opened and shut, opened and shut, as he sat there between us:
"Maiku! I don't know about Bosnia. I'm used to responsibility. They asked me to go into the Bachka, and so I go into the Bachka."
"You mean you want to be a commander?"
"Well, if you like—1 mean, it's logical, isn't it? After all, I've been an assistant district secretary in the Banovina. That's a position, you know. That's power. After all, one expects——"
"You mean you ought to have some sort of staff job?"
"Well, perhaps. I mean—that's what one would expect, isn't it? There's a shortage of men accustomed to responsibility. That's clear. Now it does seem to me that I'm wasted here in the Bachka. You can do this with any young chap that volunteers. Yes, I don't think the Bachka suits me."
It was nearly one o'clock. Pretty well zero hour.
There was a tension between us that threw into relief his unspoken desertion. Automatically, I think, we registered in our minds that in case of trouble there would be weakness here, a weakness we should have to reckon with. It was as if we were bound together by common obligation; only Bata, this big white man with the sleepy distant voice, separate from us, representing all that we could not think and would not think, representing, in a sense, that part of ourselves we claimed to have discarded.
Suddenly George could not stand it any longer. He said: "All right, if you want to go back again, you can. It takes a man to stay in the Bachka."
Bata answered quickly, as if he had been waiting for this: "Ah, now you're insulting me. Now you're accusing me of cowardice. You've always under-estimated me. That's the trouble with all of you, you under-estimate people just because they speak their minds."
Baba whispered: "Don't talk so loud. And look here, Bata, George isn't accusing you of anything. He says that you can go back to Srem if you want. We don't keep people here against their will."
"No, you under-estimate me," Bata was talking more quickly. I thought there was a note of relief in his voice. "You under-estimate me, and that's another reason why I'm not happy here. I don't mind telling you, my friends, since we're being frank now"—he sat there between us and turned his solemn white face to each of us in turn—"that I've had a sense of being under-estimated ever since I came across with you. First, I didn't do this right: then I didn't do the other thing right. If anybody was at fault, it was sure to be me. Nagging at me all day, you were. Well, I know what I can do: after all, I've been an assistant district secretary, and I'm not ashamed of it. No, no, I'm not ashamed of it."
Baba was wheedling: "But, look here, Bata, you've only been with us for two months. You have to learn, you know. You should have heard how they shoved me around when I first joined a couple of years ago. My God, they didn't give me a moment's peace...."
"Doesn't count, Baba, you weren't an assistant district whats-is-name," Juritsa said, enjoying himself as usual.
"Shut up, Juritsa—Bata's got a right to say what he thinks."
Bata thought so, too.
"No, and while we're on the subject, I must say that I think there's a good deal too much politics about our movement——"
"Our movement?" George interrupted.
"George, you shut up, too," Baba said. "Go on, Bata."
"A good deal too much politics. What I want to do is to throw out the enemy and then rebuild our country. I don't say we oughtn't to be radical, yes, we ought to be radical. But we've got to realize that we can't afford to do without experienced men, experienced administrators. I mean, it takes a great deal of time and trouble to be an assistant district——"
"At Nikoshka's, I daresay?"
"There you go again, twisting everything I say. But, my God, what was wrong with Nikoshka's, I'd like to know? You can't always be prating and preaching and talking about doing good."
It was half-past two. Perhaps it was not going to happen after all.
Their discussion went on all afternoon. Once Baba Matsa whispered up the ladder that they were talking too loud, they could be heard as far as Palanka. Sometimes they asked me the time. But the discussion went on all afternoon, waxing and waning, a continuous low-pitched drone.
There was Bata on one side. It was not simply that he was a coward, though cowardice lay at the bottom of his argument; he differed from the rest of them in that he was not one of their group, did not share their ideology, questioned their certainties. He was not like the young Slovak of Palanka who let things slide over his head; because Bata had volunteered to fight, and that was a positive point of view. He felt the disruption of the old society, and yet he regretted it, looked back to it and not forward to a new formulation, not towards a new kind of society that would give him more than the old one had given him. He had lost his old bearings and achieved none to replace them. The brusque onset of the new ideas upset him, confused him, repelled him even. He was a man of the past.
And they, on their side, were passionately for the future. Their group loyalty made them coherent, a continuous circuit through which the current of their ideas could play. They needed no longer to question their ideas and beliefs: it was enough to relate themselves entirely to this common loyalty. Within the shield of that they needed no further justification. Only this could explain their unheeding self-sacrifice, their great enthusiasm, their overwhelming belief in a new world. Only this could explain the people of Racha who saw in the massacre of their village yet one more reason to support the people's army. Only this could sanction their decision that only by what a man did, and not by what he believed or said that he believed, could a man prove his goodwill and his worth.
By five o'clock, now that we saw that nothing was likely to happen, Bata's spirits had risen and he argued with more conviction. He would admit that he was new to the movement; yes, that he wasn't morally as strong as they were—life had been hard; but he was clear that he had been insulted, criticised, under-estimated. He thought it unlikely that he could continue with the Odred in the Bachka: it wasn't that he was afraid, no, it was simply that he didn't like the personal atmosphere.
Baba seized on him. "Look here, Bata, if you've been criticised, we'll see it's put right. Yes, we'll have a meeting with you, and with George here, and with anyone else you think's insulted you, and we'll get it right."
"No, no, Baba, it's not that. I don't mind being insulted. But I can't throw myself into the movement when I feel that I'm underestimated, you know: one's simply got to feel that one's properly appreciated."
Baba at last became a little heated. With a change of tone:
"Look here, Bata, we're not a bunch of coffee-house talkers; we're people's fighters. People's fighters, d'you understand that? We can stand criticism if we've got to. We'll do anything that'll strengthen the movement, and we won't put up with anything that weakens it. We can stand what people say about us. We need criticism. That's how we learn." She sat up in her excitement, her soft round face flushed and smiling, persuasive, contemptuous. "But I can see clearly that you're demoralized—anyway, something like demoralized—and that you don't like conditions here. That someone's criticized you"—impatiently and yet kindly—"no, wait—let me say what I think—is no reason for leaving the Odred. My God, d'you want Srem people to come over the Danube and fight for our Bachka? You were born in the Bachka, weren't you? My God, I say that would be a shame." She went on, merciless, hitting the nub of his cowardice: "Bata, here we don't want speculators. We want brave men; yes, brave men. Men who are willing to give their lives. My God, it's the terrain that's demoralized you, not the Odred—look here, of course it's different in Srem, it's easier. There's the Frushka Gora. But you're a partisan. D'you want to go promenading in Srem, and look pretty over there? No, of course you don't. But. Bata, even fighting in Srem is a promenade compared with what it is in our Bachka. Isn't that what you're really thinking?" Bata said nothing. Baba went on: "Yes, well why speculate? That's pure speculation-trying to get us to send you back to Srem because you don't like us for some silly reason or other. You can't do that. You're an honest and a brave fighter"— she lent towards him, smiling— "you can't speculate on how or why you're going to live or die. Fat lot that matters! This is a people's war we're fighting. We're fighting for our movement, our people, our future. We'll take any risk for that.
Through a chink in the attic door we could see the green and yellow countryside. The sun was still high in the sky, and very hot Baba whispered: "D'you want to go back to Srem and be laughed at' So that they'll say: -What, you Bachka people— Hungarians chased you over here again. ' My God, that'd be a shame! D'you know how we've lived here? What we've suffered? Ask George here, nobody knows better than he does. I can remember once when four of us had to pass the day in a baza that someone had betrayed; and there was one of us, a bit young he was, and perhaps a bit of a speculator too, who said he'd rather die than sit in a baza that was known to the Fascists. And at once-but at once-Andrija, who was with us, said—What, d'you want us to build bunkers for you to sit in?' You see, Andrija'd spotted right away that there was demoralization-and he jumped on it at once. That put us all in good heart, just him saying that. And that's why I say you re demoralized, Bata: and we can't afford to have men who are demoralized, we can't afford it. If you want to go back to Srem, back to Srem you go: but don't make any mistake-it's only demoralization that'll cause it!"
In the evening we came down from the attic and the countryside was now grey and friendly. The relief from long hours of tension made us jubilant, and we crowded into Baba Matsa's room, all talking together. It was good to be alive.
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