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No one said anything at first, but when they spoke their thoughts—their surprise at having found someone there, and making a fire—he explained that this was his house and these were his books.
Only one thing was unfamiliar to them, a noise; it could have been footsteps through dry branches and, coming closer to the house from which the noises were coming, they happened on a man in front of a tall bonfire with a mountain of papers crackling between barely visible flames turning into smoke.
Books; from the gate they could see that it was books.
And this was how a shared life began, a life of doing only what pleased them, passing the long, hot summer's days in games, conversations, sharing meaningful silences, savoring the minutes that went by indifferent to what would come next, putting their minds to forgetting the calamities of the recent defeat.
They pooled their remaining money; when it ran out, they'd sell anything that was of any value and with the proceeds acquire on the black market whatever was required for their well-being.
In the gardens, it was not the sound of fountains but those of a dry, broken-off branch, a well's pulley creaking in the wind, an orphaned cat whispering an astonished meow and the acacias and jasmines, the lilacs and geraniums were hushed and gave their green light, indifferent to their forthcoming ruin.
The detached houses that had once been their owners' every hope were now covered in dust; there was dust on the blue tiled staircases, dust on the moldings of the elegant façades, dust on the windowpanes and in the stairwells.
Halfway through the morning they made a succulent meal; the smell that came from the kitchen and that at midday would be carried on the air through the gardens attracted roving cats which watched at a distance as, in the shade of two leafy acacias, the trio would lay a long table with a white cloth, vases of flowers, dishes, and glasses for a long lunch.
The smiling stranger, whom they'd dubbed Falstaff, brought new and surprising things from his house every day to amuse the couple who, for their part, showed him stamp collections and talked him through the stories behind old family portraits and laughed at the rigid attitudes and the strictures of those past times.
As the mutual surprise lasted the couple contemplated the man: he was in his thirties or early forties, serious-looking and with an uncomprehending frown, and he was graying at the temples.
As for his two observers, they were perhaps about the same age, a little older perhaps, and they had similarly attentive, watchful expressions, used to having to judge, and there was a touch of disappointment in their eyes.