This is the seventh part of my short story "Two Women", please would you take a look at it and correct my mistakes.
For my soldiers and myself, this house and village became an oasis of peace. We were like a large family, helping each other and sharing everything. Some of my soldiers took care of everyday chores to repay for Gordana’s hospitality. They found two scythes in the shed and sharpened them with a whetstone. Then they proceeded to cut all the grass, which had become thick and long in the last year. Some went to repair the broken fence, replacing the rotten posts with new ones. Some climbed the roof and cleaned the gutters, which had been clogged by leaves and twigs. They even took care of two cows taking them outside on the meadow and milking them. They begged me to give them permission to go hunting, and when I acquiesced, a group of them would go into the woods and return a few hours later proudly carrying a killed boar, hares, pheasants, and on one occasion, a deer. They would throw a barbecue, and we would all sit late into the warm, pleasant night around the embers of the dying fire. War stories were told and retold, and those who were not with us were remembered and praised for their courage and characters.
One day Jelena asked me if I wanted to see her paintings and drawings. When I agreed, she scampered into her room and returned with a pile of unframed paintings. We sat together on the sofa in the drawing room, and she showed me her first portrait of her father when she was just 10 years old. It was done in tempera on a cheap paper, which had become warped after the years. It was a typical child’s painting done with the inexperienced, clumsy hand, after which followed dozens of more portraits of the same man, the last one just about six month before his death. It was executed in an almost professional manner with watercolours and a thick paper. Her skilful hand had painted the face of a hardworking man who was growing old too fast, his temples turning grey, his forehead covered in wrinkles. After she had showed me more portraits of old men and women from the village, she asked me if she could paint me. I had never posed for a painter, so I accepted her idea gladly.
I sat on a chair beside the window in the kitchen, and she sat at the table opposite me, applying watercolour paints directly on the paper without preliminary drawings. After about half an hour the picture was finished. I looked at myself and saw a stranger. Although the portrait was strikingly realistic and had all my features, it was a man I did not know. He was wearing a camouflage jackets with his officer’s rank, but in the background there were roses, branches and the blue sky. It could have been a cheerful painting, but his sad, brown eyes drew all the attention to themselves. They had seen so much evil and suffering; they still had not seen any light at the end of the tunnel. Jelena gave me the painting as a present, and I promised her to get the painting framed and hang it in my flat. It would always remind me of the happy days I had spent in her home.
In the evening, I put the picture of the Virgin Mary on the bedside table, and went down on my knees. I prayed for us and our families. I prayed for these two brave women - our angels. I asked God, Jesus and all prophets and saints to give me strength and endurance, and above all, to keep me sane and healthy. I wished to come alive out of this large madhouse and return to my family, to walk with them through the streets and parks like free human beings, without hearing nationalist speeches, songs and bigotry. Who could help me to make the dream come true? No one but God, and his justice, mercy and magnificence. I was so moved that my body shook. I had tears in my eyes and felt presence of something inexplicable. Had I deluded myself again? Were these the signs of my own madness?
Every fairy tale comes to an end, and our ended when I received the order to immediately come to the headquarters. I had a premonition that the decision of the attack had already been made, and now we should discuss the details. I was hoping to sneak away an hour or two and see my wife and daughter, and at least give them hug before leaving the capital. I put Jelena’s painting into my briefcase and went into the car. Before we drew off, I could see Jelena and her mother standing in their garden and waiving at us. I rolled down the window and waived back, shouting, “I’ll be back in the afternoon.”
To be continued.