The afternoon sun burns the sky, the air, the white dust covering the empty village street.
I look at Anouk's bare feet moving cautiously on the hot earth, she is making cakes out of some yellow clay found at the bottom of the garden.
She wants us to play visitors.
I have dragged half of my body under the shade of the verandah but my legs are in the sun.
My eyes close. I seem to expand ... to expand ... a large fly moves around and around and if I look up at the blue sky the house and everything else disappears and I am left alone faced with a large, terrifying mass of blue, blue space ... deep ... deep .. that seems to advance for ever.
Somobody pulls me by the legs.
- Nina, Nina no more water.
- But Anouk you have enough cakes.
- No, I haven't.
- We can't go inside for water, you know that, mother will be angry with you for playing with clay.
It's more hot than I thought, I pick up my straw hat.
- Now - I speak very sternly - you will have to stop making them because you have no more water.
I am sleepy ... so sleepy ...
- Why can't we go to sleep Anouk ? We can play visitors later.
- No, - the chin goes up and the bare feet stamp the ground
- you promised that you will play now. Let's go and get some water from the well.
Now I know that we are not allowed to touch it, it isn't even in our yard but in the neighbouring one, but nobody has lived there for years and I haven't tasted well water for such a long time. I take Anouk by the hand and slowly we move along the verandah and then run to the fence, we open the small gate.
- What a noise, close it gently, mother will hear and then?page 56
The place is full of woods almost as tall as me, all yellow and dry, they smell of hot dust and they crack at every step. As we reach the clearing on which the well stands the deserted house can be seen with the closed shutters, it looks so peaceful now and warm.
Anouk pulls my skirt.
So here I am as of old pulling off the wooden cover, the fresh air hits me and the water trembles mysteriously down.
I let the bucket fall, it hits the surface with a sudden .. splash and then it starts coming slowly up, the wheel squeaks, drops fall on the way sprinkling the surface and the bucket arrives full of water.
Years ago I used to come here and play with a girl called Tania, she lived here with her parents. The place was then well kept, the house always gay, the well covered always for fear that we would fall inside.
It was forbidden to open it.
I clearly remember the first time we did. It was a summer afternoon like this one, we came the two of us and pulled with difficulty the heavy cover and as I looked down the same cold air coming from the depths of the earth hit me and down there the water sparkled ingenuously in the light that fell from above.
The walls were covered with green moss and further down one could see small caves lost in the wall.
I could always see myself falling in, cutting through the cold air and hitting the surface of the water as if I was the bucket and I would start crying and the whole village would come and someone would throw the bucket down and I would struggle to get it and get in at last, wet and cold, and full of the darkness and the mystery of the depths, and be pulled slowly up, and look into the caves and probably discover some treasures or a lost girl who lived there for centuries ... and then I would come up into the light.
But of course by the time one had finished the nice story someone will come running from the house, pulling you from behind, giving you a good hiding for opening it and the nice fancy will be gone.
I always wanted to be able to pull the cover quickly so that I could surprise it, take by surprise whatever was going on, something must have been going on in there.page 57
Sometimes Tania's mother would let us come with her, but then it was different.
And then one summer night I suddenly woke up.
A woman's voice was crying;
"Leave me alone will you, leave me alone or I'll call for help."
I jumped up, ran out of the room in my nightgown, falling over the doorstep in my hurry.
Everybody was in the yard. I ran and opened the small gate and looked.
Tania's house was lighted with all the windows opened. In the front room I could see her father's head and his hand coming up and down as if he was hitting somebody.
"Stop it, stop it or I will call for help."
Her mother ... he was hitting her mother ...
- Why doesn't somebody go and help her - I cried - and somebody answered:
- We can't my dear, after all they are husband and wife.
And suddenly her head appeared in the window; she pushed him with so much violence that he seemed to lose his balance and she came out of the house screaming:
"I will show you beast ... I will show you ..."
She kept on running, her long hair loose on her shoulders, and as she reached the well she pulled the cover with one movement and disappeared with scream inside.
Everybody rushed, I heard the bucket falling, somebody shouting:
"A torch ... a torch .."
A woman burst into tears ... "you beast, you killed her ... you drunken beast ... you killed her. Where is the child?"
"Where is the child."
And then somebody came and took me in.
From the window I could see the torches and the bright windows of the house suddenly silent, yellow, a warm yellow and the dark outline of the roof against the sky.
After that the house fell into neglect, Tania and her father went away and the grass grew everywhere, tall, green,in the spring and yellow and dry in the summer, 'and everybody said it would catch fire one day, but nobody did anything about it.page 58
I didn't dare enter the yard for a long time, everytime I looked there I could see the woman with her long, loose hair rushing to the well and then the cry that made the walls echo.
I wondered for a long time if the well had changed, if anything happened.
So one afternoon when mother had visitors I slipped out and entered the next yard. The grass was tall as now, less yellow and still wet from the previous rain.
The trees at the end of the garden were full of ripe apples but none of the neighbourhood children touched them because since her death the place was supposed to be haunted.
I looked around with fear, hut everything looked peaceful, only the grass moved its head in the wind, slowly ... slowly ..
So I approached the well and slowly pulled the cover and as I looked down, the water was sparkling as always with the same naive simplicity and the closed air came up from the depths with the same type of freshness and mystery as always.
My head appeared on the surface of the water like a round spot.
Was she still there ? Could she see me ? ... Or had she gone to live in one of the dark caves in the wall ?
Then I heard mother cry :
- Nina, Nina where are you ? And then she added, I have never seen a child who wanders so much as this one of mine. She goes like a little vagabond around the whole neighbourhood.
I put the cover quickly down, if the grownups came I would betray it, I would betray the secret ... so I ran and cried :
- Here I am mother, I lost my ball over the wall and came to get it...