“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things”
– Terry Prachett, I Shall Wear Midnight
By Ash Warren
High above me, a predator is circling. Its eye is on the hills below, fragrant with rosemary and the scent of pine, alive with grey rabbits fattened on the sweet juniper bushes and the trails of foxes and deer.
Rosa leads me down the rows of ancient vines to where my godfather is sitting on a low stool, meticulously cutting away the dead branches with a pair of old wooden-handled shears.
‘He’s been waiting for you.’ she whispers as she leaves.
I smile and shake the hand of my namesake, Lorenzo Alphonse Gabrelli, the man who saved my father in Auschwitz by smuggling bread to him, and the man for whom, in gratitude, my father also named me as Lorenzo Alphonse.
We walk to the little table under the trellised vines where he pours me a glass of his wine.
‘So he’s gone eh? Your father? I’m sorry about that.’ he said, taking off his old hat and putting it on the table.
‘It was a short illness. He died peacefully.’ I said.
He nodded and gave a sigh.
‘I’m glad about that.’
I leaned forward to look into his eyes, soft and translucent blue.
‘He never talked about it you know. The camp. He just told us how you saved him in the weeks before the Russians came. That’s all I know.’
My godfather raised his eyes to the wooded hills.
‘It’s like that for a lot of the survivors.’ he said quietly.
I let the conversation pause. There was birdsong and the sound of the wind in the tall pines.
‘There is just one thing though. Before he died. I was the only one with him and he was talking in his sleep. Maybe it’s nothing, but there was this word he kept saying…’
The old man stared ahead in silence.
‘Löffel…. does that mean anything to you?’
He looked at the ground and shuffled his feet.
‘It’s the German word for ‘spoon.’ he said in a low voice.
‘Spoon? Why would he say that?’
Old Lorenzo gave me a sad stare and his voice hardened.
‘Because he killed a man for one. In Auschwitz.’
‘My father killed a man?’
Lorenzo nodded slowly.
‘The guards there sometimes had these little games you see…. no food for you, unless you fight for it. The person who kills the other gets the spoon, and food.….
He hung his head.
‘And that’s when we became just like them….’ he said, his voice breaking.
‘We lowered ourselves to their level you see…. We did it ourselves….’
His voice trailed off and he spat on the brown earth.
‘And afterwards these guards used to taunt your father. They named him ‘der Löffel’. ‘Hey, Spoon!’ they would shout at him, everywhere he went. And have a good laugh.’ He paused and looked me in the eye.
‘And that’s why you are named after me. The real reason. Because they took his name…. Because you couldn’t be named after him, which was a tradition in your family I know…. They took everything from him. Even that….’
He got up and walked slowly back to his vines.
Later, on the train back to Milan, I conjured the memory of my father. And as if for the first time, I saw him clearly now. Standing in the kitchen, making his morning coffee with the sugar cubes and stirring them into his cup with the back of a knife. And how he always ate his desert with a fork, and how there was never a spoon set at his place at the table. And no matter how far back I could think, I had no memory, ever, of seeing him eat soup.