As a child I was, as were many others, taught I should not lie. Of course, like any child, I did do it on occasion and as an adult, well, never mind. Yet, I do try to minimize it. After all, the truth is generally so much easier. There are no messy false details to remember. Still, there was one instance in the history of my family where a lie was not only good and necessary, even noble.
It was near the end of World War II, and my mother, Silvana, had grown sick from poor diet. Her parents, Bruno and Maria, took her to the hospital where she had her appendix out. Later, when she was better, they brought her home, walking the cobblestoned sidewalks the short distance that separated her home from the hospital.
As they rounded the corner and approached their apartment building, what they saw shocked them, my mother and her parents. Men, women and children stood facing the front of the building across the street. German soldiers, armed with machine guns, stood in the street and aimed at the people. Their officer sat in his car and shouted something. The people shook with fear, but said nothing.
“Mother of God,” Maria wonders, “What’s going on?”
“You two stay here,” Bruno said. “I’ll talk to them.”
Silvana didn’t want him to go. She knew it was too dangerous. Bruno could not stand by and watch as their neighbours died.
He walked quickly away from them. Maria grabbed Silvana and forced her close to the building, out of sight. They watched as Bruno approached the German Officer, who climbed out of his car and drew his pistol. Bruno raised his hands. The Officer shouted at him. Bruno got down on his knees and lowered his head. The Officer stepped around behind him.
Silvana gasped and started to sob. She’d seen this scene play out more than once. She knew what was going to happen next. Maria turned Silvana’s face away from the street.
“Don’t look, Baby. Holy Mother, watch over my husband.”
Bruno gestured and pointed down the street. The Officer waved his pistol around and pointed at the building the people were standing against. Bang! Smash! He shot out a window.
Bruno and the Officer continued to banter back and forth; it seemed to go on for hours. The Officer finally holstered his pistol and signalled to his men. The German soldiers formed up into a squad. The Officer got in his car and started the engine. He drove slowly down the street, his men marching after him. Bruno got to his feet. The people facing the building turned around and smiled. They embraced each other in joy.
Maria cried, “He’s all right!”
Silvana turned and looked, and cried great tears of joy. Bruno crossed back to them, and Silvana asked what had happened. He explained how the Germans thought the Partisans had hidden ammunition in an apartment building. They thought this was the address and were going to shoot the tenants one by one until someone told them where they were. Bruno convinced them they had the wrong address.
After that, everyone went back to his or her apartment. My mother and her parents had a small dinner of cheese and raw potatoes. Then Silvana sat and read “The Count of Monte Cristo” by candlelight.
The next morning, shouts came from outside, followed by gunshots. They raced to the window. Had the Germans come back? No, they’d left the city!
Racing outside, they watched as people danced about the street, singing and laughing, Bruno, Maria and Silvana joined them. Then, quite abruptly, two trucks full of men and women, each one dressed rather scruffily, pulled up in front of the building. Bruno waved to them. They entered the building and formed a chain, and began to pass ammunition and weapons out to the trucks!
It seemed Bruno had lied to the Germans. Yet, never was there a nobler lie.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.