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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945

There are no Neutrals in Hell

page 21

There are no Neutrals in Hell

I Walked with the friend of my enemy through the streets of our own city

And it was humming with life.

Trolley-buses hummed swiftly along jangling the wires above them.

At the junctions as they halted or re-started they sent flashes of fire from the cables.

From inside stepped girls in summer dresses, light as coloured cloud. And the men had brown faces and white shirts, and there were children who laughed.

We saw shopping baskets and umbrellas, and the cheeky grin of the conductress.

The friend of my enemy spoke to me as we twisted our way through the crowd and his words seemed separated from me, as if they came from another planet.

Pale blue eyes he had, and when he looked at me they seemed white, almost colourless.

"I cannot hate as you seem able to hate," he said.

I answered him.

"Fascism," I asked, "you don't hate Fascism?"

The idea of Fascism is repulsive to me because I believe in individual liberty," he said. He spoke as if of something remote and far-away, academically, like a man speaking of Iceland,

"But I don't hate it," he added. "How can one hate an idea?"

"But men have armed themselves with this idea which you say is repulsive to you. What about these men? What about the Fascists?" I asked.

Great spots of rain began to fall and the sky overhead became dark and grey. People began to hurry. The street cleared a little.

"Now you are trying to involve me in a political discussion," he said. "I take no sides in politics. I am a neutral."

Glancing at him I saw that he was serious.

I also saw on his face the look of a smug and shallow man, and in the greying light it seemed strange and inhuman.

I saw that in his mind was the thought that he was superior to the quarrels of men. That he was Good and Righteous.

I began to hate him.

Still I simply said: "You know what the Fascists have done to Europe. To the world-There is no home untouched by their hand. You know of the earthquake of death and misery with which they have shaken Europe. You know that their plan is to conquer the-globe and to rule it as the Master Race?"

The rain was developing into a steady downpour now, and I pulled up my coat collar.

"Yet you face the prospect of slavery; you witness the slavery of others," I said, "and you take no side? Not even your own side?"

He smiled—a superior smile.

He looked up at the sky and answered smoothly, as if the answer had been in his mouth for a long time, ready-made.

"I am doing all I can to alleviate the suffering," he said.

"How?" I asked.

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"By sending bread and food and blankets and medicine to the people who suffer," he said. "I support all such efforts. Without discrimination my friends and I do what we can to soften the blows of the war." He spoke condescendingly, and added: "I am a humanitarian

"The shortest way to end suffering is to annihilate its cause," I answered. "Annihilate Fascism

"Politics," he said, and sighed, like a man who is tired of explaining to a child.

"If you like," I said, and gripped his arm. "He who is not with us is against us. Today there are no neutrals. It is either them or us. Fascism or freedom. We must kill in order to save life; bomb that the children may be fed the quicker; strike with our soldiers that the nations may not be exterminated

The rain had stopped now, and only from the roofs drops of water fell on to the pavement making no impression on the grey stone.

And looking at them, and looking at the friend of my enemy, I thought that they were like my words. The effort was wasted.

* * * * * *

I walked with the friend of my enemy through the streets of Athens.

On all sides was the desolation of purgatory.

In real life, in those streets, what to all men before had only existed in imagination, opened before us like a spool of film.

And it was more horrible than imagination.

The city of antiquity stunk like a long-dead body in a room with no windows.

Shadows of children plucked at our coats and asked for bread. Their legs were spindles, and the bones thrust their way through the parched and yellow skin.

Under their eyes were black hollows, and on their arms and legs were open sores, running with yellow pus.

They cried aloud to us for bread.

We hurried on, averting our faces, and pulling our coats about us we were ashamed that we could give them nothing.

From every doorway the haggard face of men and women watched us, and on those faces was a little wonder.

We knew in our hearts that they were wondering to see people who were fed, wandering in the streets without uniform.

And behind their glances we could feel hatred.

We heard behind us the rattle of an old lorry, moving slowly along near the pavement.

The sound of it scattered the Athenians like ghosts.

The lorry passed us and stopped in the shadow of a wall.

From the front of the lorry two men stepped out, and came round to the back where we were standing.

They were dressed in black uniforms, and on their arms was the sign of the swastika.

They released the tail-board of the lorry. It fell with a rattle of chains.

Then the friend of my enemy gripped my arm. I saw that his eyes were fixed on the inside of the lorry, and he was holding his breath.

My gaze followed his.

And I saw that the floor of the lorry we stacked with the bodies of what had once been men, women and children.

They had been tossed haphazardly in, o o on top of another.

My nostrils rebelled at the stench of death.

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Then I saw the two men bend down and lift from the gutter the corpse of a child.

They lifted it with a curse, like men who are bored with a monotonous operation.

It was light as a wisp of smoke, and they flung it carelessly into the lorry, among the other bodies.

The body of the child fell well to the front, with its head down. Its legs, like thin knurled twigs, stuck fantastically upwards; astrip of tongue hung down from between the bones of the mouth.

It fell with a faint sound, and settled.

The two men banged up the tailboard. One of them glanced at us and muttered.

Then they climbed into the lorry and it rumbled slowly away.

From their houses the Athenians came, and their eyes followed the lorry;

The children came up to us again, and repeated their cry for bread.

And one girl, bearing in her face the grey signs of old age, came to us.

She moved the bones of her jaw ghoulishly and spoke to us.

She invited us to her room.

For bread only, she said. The price of a cup of coffee.

An old man passed us muttering, and we saw that there was no flesh on his cheek bones.

Through dry lips I spoke to the friend of my enemy.

"This is what Fascism has done," I said, and the words came out cracked and hoarse and my voice sounded like that of a witch.

He made no answer. Staring at the children he retched.

The blood came to my head and I shook him angrily.

"You are neutral," I shouted. "You take no sides?"

Still he stared at the children, a thin trickle of clotted spittle poured from one corner of his mouth.

"You are above these things," I shouted. "You would send these people bread; so much bread as their conquerers will allow. But you will not lift a hand against the satans who have done all this?"

Now he became sick in earnest, and it poured down the front of his jacket, steaming.

"They would do it to you. They would do it to the whole world. Yet you take no sides."

Still he was silent, looking at me fearfully, he wiped the side of his mouth with his hand.

"Men have died for your right to live," I shouted. "Children have been brought to the rack, and women have been branded. Nations have been sold into slavery. Boys have poured out their red blood, and whole peoples have been robbed of the right to love, to laugh, to be happy."

In three weeks my case comes up. I've got my statements ready. The thing was cu. and dried. It isn't as if I hadn't thought about prison before. I have, plenty. We used to talk about it at meetings, it was a sort of challenge, but usually it was a thing we joked about. We didn't mind at all. I think some of them rather liked the idea. New experience. And now it is already today. I am seeing Judy today. Hell, if I could only think straight just for a minute. It was so clear before, and yet—why did she say when I was kissing her, it's so firm and brown now. She touched my face and said, it's so firm and brown now, in that sad tired voice.

So firm and brown—now.

They won't accept my appeal. I know they won't. From their side why should they, after all?

It's the army or prison. Hell,—I can't think. . .