The wall shattered into bricks when it finally toppled over. It caused a cloud of dust to rise up. Katerine and the other women applauded as they had done for every wall that had fallen. They then entered the cloud, picked up the bricks and put them in carts. Katerine’s fingers hurt because they were already blistered. Her long brown hair, shot through with gray, was now gray all over. She breathed dust, tasted dust; she was dust. When her cart was full, she joined a row of women pushing the carts towards the building site. There other women took the bricks from the carts, applied a mixture that was supposed to be cement and placed them on top of each other to make a new wall. An old man had told them how to do it, but he had been fuzzy about the details.
A soldier, clad in a green overcoat and wearing a green felt hat, strolled over the site. He gave Katerine a cursory glance. His gaze soon strayed to other women who were less shapeless and showed more skin. Katerine sighed with relief. She had dressed in a dull and uninteresting way. It worked well, as long as there were others around.
She had given her teen daughter Emen the same advice. “Cover yourself. Look dirty and unclean. Don’t excite them.” And every day she made sure to check the looks of her daughter.
The soldier walked up to a sprightly girl. An older woman moved between him and the girl. Other women gathered around.
Katerine didn’t join the women, instead she hurried up towards a wooden shack overlooking the site, where the sergeant had her quarters. Katerine prayed that Nessa was in, as she usually was out exploring the city. She had showed Katerine and Emen her collection of pictures of places she had visited after her army had liberated them..
Emen had offered to show Nessa around. The sergeant had agreed and had showered them with small gifts. Chocolate and canned fish. Priceless luxuries. One day she brought roses, which had made Katerine laugh. “Only husbands and men wooing women give roses.”
Nessa had blushed, but Emen had said they were very grateful. She later berated her mother for hurting the feelings of the sergeant, who was the only protection they had.
Katerine opened the door without knocking. The sun shone through the shutters on the graceful frame of Emen sitting astride Nessa. The top of her dress was undone, and her breasts uncovered. Two pairs of eyes blinked at Katerine. They seem more curious then shocked.
Katerine paused for a moment and then, not knowing what else to say, she blurted out: ”There is a soldier outside bothering one of the girls…”
The sergeant rose quickly, put on her jacket and boots and rushed outside. She avoided to look at Katerine.
Emen covered herself, then joined her mother. They looked on while Nessa barked sharp orders at the soldier.
Nessa once looked up at them. She smiled.
Katerine recognized that smile. It had of late appeared more often.
“Isn’t she marvelous?…” Emen beamed. She grasped her mother’s arm.
“I know. It was a surprise for the both of us as well.”
“So she didn’t.., like.., like, those soldiers do?”
“Force herself on me? Have her greedy hands all over me against my will?” Emen shook her head fervently. “She had no such feelings for anyone before she met me. That is what she said and I believe her.”
“I had to push her, Mom. Nessa is awfully shy. When you laughed at her after she gave those roses she felt so bad that she almost cried.”
“Oh. I am so sorry. You would not think she is like that..” Nessa had just kicked the soldier in the behinds..
“It’s a role. She outranks him, so she can kick him around. He would not expect anything less.”
“She once did that to an officer too.”
“She is a woman, she can get away with kicking men.” Emen laughed.
“So, you love her?”
“Yes..” Emen said wholeheartedly.
“And she loves you…”
“Yes… Today I conquered the enemy.” Emen giggled, a sound that made Nessa smile. “And she conquered me”
“I didn’t know you had feelings for women.” Katerine said. “Guess, it means that I won’t get to be a grandma.”
“ You might never know, Mom.” Emen patted her tummy, kissed her mother on the cheek and gave Nessa the loveliest smile.