We went en famille to the open air market, a fifteen minute walk away, but it turned out they were selling mostly small animals, hardly any vegetables. It was on once a month, on a Sunday. There were small yellow chicks, live turkeys and some strange fowl with beautiful tails which I couldn’t figure out if they were some weird breed of chicken or wild birds that had been caught and were being sold for slaughtering. “But how could people kill them?” I asked theatrically, but no one answered. As a kid with an aptitude for rhetoric, I was inclined to dramatic effects, which my parents steadfastly refused to encourage. So, then we got to the guy selling the hares and we started jumping up and down with my brother, hollering we want, want a hare and in one of the perfectly unpredictable gestures of largesse that typified our father, he bought us a hare. He was grey, of middling size and my brother carried him.
We did not develop any special kind of relationship with the hare, he lived on the balcony, he twitched his nose continuously and kept his ears flattened so you couldn’t tell them apart from his head. I considered him dumb. The few times we took him in the kitchen he either stayed stock-still or took a few tentative steps shitting incessantly. On top of everything we had to feed him. He ate green leafy things but as they couldn’t buy him fresh lettuce daily, it was our task, mine and my brother’s, to gather greens for him.
Up to this day I’ve no explanation as to why those people yelled so much. Every time I bent down, a window would open and someone would scream: “You little brat, what do you think you’re doing cutting those off? Shame on you!” There were plenty of wild greens in the large courtyard between the apartment buildings, of no use to anyone. I never understood what the problem was. But almost every single time there would be someone yelling. Up to this day I have no explanation why I was so terrified of those screams. In actual fact, they were at their windows, they could hardly do anything to me. Still, I would run off straight away. Sometimes, when the voices were particularly loud, I wouldn’t stop until I’d reached the door of our apartment. Gathering greens for the hare was a horrid experience. I tried to evade and avoid it in every way I could.
I am not sure exactly what happened that day. Possibly our mother came home from work earlier than usual and we had left it until the last minute to restore some semblance of order to the chaos we had created. Maybe it was after an extra shift. We certainly hadn’t fed the hare. My brother had been out for his meal and when he came back, I remember he’d said: “Today, the hare will have daisies.” It was my mother’s only hysterical act ever and I’ve no idea what caused it. I didn’t see it happen. I must have been in the kitchen and the two of them out on the balcony when I heard by brother scream: “She threw him out, she threw him out!” I recall us stampeding down the three flights of stairs to the courtyard. The next thing I remember is the hare on the kitchen floor and the three of us over him, in tears. He was lying on his side, his hind legs slightly moving, as if running in his sleep and then they stopped. There was no blood at all.
I don’t know when I made the decision, but it was conscious and I made it relatively close to the event: I wasn’t going to allow the damned hare to turn into a traumatic experience, and he didn’t. That if there was a victim, that would be my mother. That what will stay with me and torment me, was the expression of pure horror on her face as me and my brother were screaming next to her. In my memory, inexplicably, screaming and jumping up and down, as if with joy.
I remember that night as well. The hare was on the balcony wrapped in a newspaper. When father got back, he and mother spoke for a while in the kitchen. We couldn’t hear a thing. Can’t imagine what they might have been saying. I can’t imagine what you might say to a woman whom something has taken to that point. Afterwards we were all sitting in the small living room. I felt a sweet relief which means I must have cried plenty. I don’t know why in my memory, the light is off and we are sitting in the dark. It was a warm night, the window was open, no cars were passing and in the apartment block across the way, Leopardo was playing the piano.
Leonardo was a chubby kid forced to play the piano for hours. His name seemed unreal to us and we concocted variations with my brother. “But how could they name him Leonardo?” I had asked my father once. “His mother was reading too many novels” was his answer which had sounded very reasonable. And still does, actually. His apartment was right across and level with ours, so we’d often lean out the window with my brother and holler, moving our palms like ears by our head: “Boo-pidy-bopsy, Da Vinci!” We thought that was hilarious.
That night the window was open, it was warm and the street was quiet, Leopardo was playing the piano on and on, making mistakes, pausing and starting over again, and dad said: “Maybe we should throw him the hare?” And we all laughed.
First published in the journal Entefktirio.