A man in the uniform of the Italian army, walked down the steeply curving road away from the village. It was the eve of the epiphany. The war was over. He was on his way home.
The village was on the road south and he had not been able to avoid it. In the streets the man had found much revelry. Bonfires burned at every corner. Children ran wildly through the town. Men and women, heavy with wine and food, danced in the village square. He had walked through as quickly as he could, avoiding eye contact. But one of the men had shouted at him to watch out; now that the war was over, no uniform would protect him. And a child had thrown something at him. It was a wooden peg, wrapped in a strip of rag; a poppet. He had put it in his pocket.
Away from the village, far off in the thick darkness of the fields, he could see a light. He was very hungry. He had not eaten since yesterday evening. He looked away but when he looked back it was still there.
When he finally reached the light, it came from a hut with an unshuttered window. A man and woman stood arguing in the meagre room. The floor was hardened earth and the only furniture, apart from a cooking bench near the window, was a table and a chair. The woman was heavily pregnant.
“They are butchers. I won’t go.” The woman said.
“You cannot stay here. I cannot bring a child into the world.” The man replied.
“But we can’t leave the other one here alone.” She said. “He is hungry.”
“We are all hungry.” The man said.
He took off his belt and went to the table. The man outside couldn’t see what he did. Then the man and woman left the hut and walked away down the rough dirt track.
He waited until they were out of sight and entered the hut. As he searched for food he heard a whimpering from under the table. He lifted the edge of the dirty oilcloth that covered the table. He saw that the man had tied one end of the leather belt to the table leg. The other end was tied in a tight knot around the leg of a child.
The child was covered in scars. It shrunk away from him.
The man took a wooden bowl from the bench and filled it with water from the pitcher near the door. He held it out to the boy who grabbed the bowl. After swallowing the water down, the boy curled himself around the table leg. He was shivering.
The hut had two rooms. The man went into the other room and pulled a rough blanket from the small cot in the corner and placed it on the child. Then he took the wooden peg out of his pocket and put it in the child’s hands.
This story was published in 2014 on Radio National as part of the 360 documentaries, audio and text project.