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Tomorrow they will take us away from here, they said us, and we are happy! It is a long time since we are living heaped up here in the bottom and I'm tired to sleep with ears full of the gurglings of the old men and of the suffocated grunts of nasal voices, I'm tired of this stink of dusty sweat, of the groans of the bony newborns and of the toothless women. Every day we say that it will be the last and waiting we chew a piece of meat so hard that it seems like a sole. Then an old man with a toothless mouth fall with his face in the mud, he tries to rise, with a blade of slobber due to the effort, until he fall again gurgling and then he stays there. And we stay, unable to move due to the weakness, to wait the inevitable stink of the death...
But it could be completely different for me if only I accepted to creep at the feet of the winner, if I accepted to barter my dignity to be a man with the condition to be a luxury prisoner. But all things have a limit and I prefer to die with the others with my head up, instead of bending ashamed the glance looking at the others, who in spite of all that generously justified and forgave me for my cowardice.
I fell prisoner during our unlucky attempt to land in Normandy, when we were deceiving ourself to overturn the destiny of the conflict. I was sent here with many others in hundreds, like the others thrown in a dirty shack full of bugs.
The first times were the hardest, without any news from our fatherland, from our dears, tired out by heavy and senseless works, yet we were still deceiving ourself, at least I knewed of a top secret project that could overturn the destiny of the war, a total weapon of unimaginable power, that would be experimented at Alamogordo, where my brother was working, so I cheered the others up without giving too many particulars and to forget the horror of the captivity, I asked to one of my comrade in arms to cut some pieces of chess in order to play amongst us in the shake during the evening. It went in this way for about two weeks, we did real tournaments and we offered as a prize a little cutted woody trophy representing the Statue of Liberty...
Then one day,when I was engaged to conquer my third consecutive trophy, absorbed in a complex final, I felt the silence that abruptly had falled around us and the difficulty of my mates, then slowly I turned around and saw on the threshold the commander of the lager, the one that we had renamed "DogFace", who was looking at me drumming with the handle of the riding-whip the palm of his hand.
«Carry on, prisoner, I'm interested.» I kept on with the game and I won. While my scared mate was abandoning, DogFace seized the trophy that was due to me, he watched it with contempt and after throwing it to the ground he beckoned to me to follow him. I didn't know what to expect, sadly, I greeted my mates of captivity, maybe I would never ever seen them... DogFace led me in his lodging and while I was looking at him amazed, he poured me a drink, gave me some cigarettes and invited me to play chess with him.
I stayed for long minutes to watch the wonderful chess-board on which we would have played, I nearly touched almost with respect the astonishing ivory pieces.
«It is very beautiful, isn't it? - he said sneering - it is a present of our english friends, ah yes, yet you don't know, the England has falled and the royal family has been shot.»
Suddenly I felt like a chasm open under my feet, it could not, it could not be the truth!
«You don't trust me, poor bastard, yet you were deceiving yourself with the hope to win, maybe you are yet believing in your final weapon. Now play, I've already moved.»
I played absent-mindedly and I lost. DogFace was only a poor player, but I was so upset knowing the origin of the chess-board that I didn't succeed to concentrate as I would do, I played with tears in my eyes due to sorrow and, as I already said, I lost, I even took a checkmate, a banal checkmate and easily avoidable. But DogFace was satisfied «Obvious that you are loosing the war, as a strategists you are not up to much.» then he called an orderly and gave him order to lodge me in a small room separated from the shacks of the other prisoners.
So I began a new life, well fed, decently dressed and with the obligation to play every day with DogFace and to lose, that was my only obligation, in fact one time that I was checkmating I noticed in time the wrath that was transforming the face of my opponent in a mask of beastly cruelty. Purposely I left a piece in an unsecure position and I threw myself in a senseless combination and easily defeatable. After that DogFace cleared up and after my defeat, he enjoyed himself to mock me for my weakness, then he stood up, took from his writing-desk a newspaper and gave it to me «Take it, read, it is too much time that you are living outside the world, there are some really funny news.»
He discharged me and gone into my room, I opened the newspaper and the world falled upon me. In the first page there was the picture of the Alamogordo's team, hanged... Neither of the old Albert they had got pity. Only at that time I understood that it was the end, more ahead other scaring news, Stalingrad had fallen and Moscow, after it had been plundered, it was set on fire. The lagers were growing like poisonous mushrooms everywhere: Philadelfia, Leningrad, Boston, Cambridge, my own Cambridge a lager, even Washington where the president himself was imprisoned waiting to be shot. Desperately I searched for a piece of news from which I could understand that not all the hopes were died and I found it, New York, many time bombed, was still withstanding!
That night for the first time after many years I prayed...
The next day also this last vain hope felt in the most cruel way. DogFace was enjoying while he was spitting in my face these last terrible news.
«Do you remember that final weapon of you? The atomic bomb? We have tested it and it works fine, New York no more exists...»
Yes, now really all was gone, desperately I looked at the picture, the city was a heap of ruins and our symbol, the Statue of Liberty was lieing crushed in the harbour.
I also saw the pictures of the people with their bodies ravaged by that bomb that ourself had been created and I asked myself why, why God had permitted that all... I felt desperate, I knew that by now on also the hope was died, maybe forever.
«So the war is practically over - said DogFace - and we have won, take this, we must celebrate» and he offered me a champagne glass full of Dom Perignon Führer Reserve and he let me play with the white.
I drank and I began to play, while a freezing calm seized me. While I was moving my pieces I saw again the images of my brother hanged at Alamogordo, of New York nuked, of the killing field in Cambridge, of Moscow in flames, of the President of the States waiting to be executed, I thought to my fellows of captivity that every day were dying, while I was living quite well only because I was accepting to be defeated every day by the lager's commander. Maybe in the future I would have been again a free man but at what price? The freedom for my dignity? No thanks, it was a price too high and so I played to win. I played angrily, with hate, I sacrified the Queen and a rook and I gave him checkmate.
DogFace turned pale, then whined «I got distracted, it was enough that I didn't take your rook and with the advantage of the Queen I would have smashed you.»
«Do you really think so? - my calm was as cold as ice - then let's have a look...»
I rebuilded the match and showed him all the series of his stupid mistakes, I showed him all of my menaces and I showed him also that he could not avoid to take the rook, because I would have given him the checkmate the same.
Immediately he claimed for a new match and in a few moves I imprisoned his Queen and defeated him again. We played all night long and I always defeated him. At the four o'clock in the morning DogFace overturned the chess-board and abruptly he stood up «You fooled me, bastard, but now you will pay, you could have been a free man, now instead you will return in the shack and you will share the same fate as the others.»
«Ok, DogFace - I replied him with sarcasm - at least I will return with my head up.»
He hit me with the handle of the riding-whip and I felt the blood begins to flow on my lips. I stayed impassive, then I turned around and I went to the door, but before leaving off I turned back to say him this more «Remember DogFace that the dignity of a person could not be bartered with an existence like servant - then I smiled - moreover playing with one that was hardly able to move his pieces didn't amuse me - I moved my head in order to avoid the piece that he had thrown towards me and I kept on - to bear those silly matches with a poor beginner I was playing them like they were some sort of tutorials or autocheckmates and some times I had to commit myself to lose because never I had meet an incapable opponent like you.»
DogFace listened in silence then coldly said «You have spoken enough - he indicated the sky that was clearing towards the east and kept on - enjoy this dawn because it is that of your last day.»
Outside two guards were awaiting me and they took me in that pit where now I'm waiting my destiny...
They had come with their trucks and they had loaded us like animals, they had hit us with spades in order to close the edges of the trucks, to a people next me, a chess player, they had broken the forehead and the blood is flowing on his stupid smile, but I cannot find the force to complain and I stay here to watch the others, happy like me to go away. Sometime someone whines because he cannot breath, but no one listen to him and after a while he calm down.…From now on our life will change, because nothing is worse than what we have undergo and for this reason today we are happy...
At first written for Due Alfieri, it remained unpublished when i realized that the magazine was no longer interested in my stories.