many years ago, 3 weeks before the end of the second World War,
late one evening, in the village of Ebbers, in the Austrian
Mountains, on the road to Suisse.
of the fire shed a dim light in the small cottage, Nani stared
into the flames and dreamt. Her elder brother John would return
some time tonight. He was still fixing a tractor on the farm.
knock on the door intruded slowly on her consciousness.
"Who is it ?" she asked.
It couldn't have been John, he would have hammered on the door
and called out impatiently.
"A stranger come for a rest" a voice replied.
Nani cautiously opened the door a crack. She could see a dirty
hat, thick beard and alert eyes looking at her quietly. Rain
dripped off the man's hat and into his beard. They looked at
each other. She wasn't sure what to do. If only he had made
a move as if to push in, she would have felt a little justified
in shutting the door on him, instead he just stood there looking
"Come in" she said finally.
He entered and had totally looked the cottage over before he
took his second step. Seeing only Nani he visibly relaxed. She
motioned to a chair near the fire and he took it.
"Would you like something to eat ?".
A faint smile and a slight nod.
He moved aside as she bent down to stir the fire and set the
soup to boil again. He was obviously a tramp. His clothes once
of good quality were now dirty and torn.
"Still at school ?" he asked her.
"Yes but not for long."
He looked at her quizzically expecting her to say more.
"Another five months" she added reluctantly.
He nodded: "Then what ?"
"I Don't really know... there are many things..."
She didn't really want to think about that topic, too many people
had been giving her advice and she did not want any more from
him. She preferred not to explain the whole confusing business
to a stranger. He did not push her, only nodded as though he'd
just heard her thoughts and agreed. She gave him a bowl of soup.
After some time he looked up and asked her
"what do YOU want to do yourself ?"
She was surprised he still thought about this topic.
"Well I'd like to .... " and she stopped. She didn't
really know what she wanted to do, of the many possibilities
put to her none had really come from her own heart. He said
nothing more and resumed eating, listening to his own thoughts.
His bowl finished he spread his hands to the fire. Nani noted
his sharp birdlike features. "Where are you going ?"
He smiled and was about to answer but the sound of a large number
of motorbikes and people outside made him halt. A look of intense
concentration came into his eyes. His eyes fixed Nani and he
slowly imperceptably shook his head. A sharp knock followed
by a loud shout to open the door sent her running for the latch.
She opened the door a crack. Outside were German soldiers and
Austrian policemen. When the Sargent saw Nani's face he stopped
barking at her to open and asked in a gentler manner if she
was all right.
"Sorry to frighten you, it being late and all. Have you
seen a man with a thick beard about this tall ? and he indicated
the height with his hand.
"Did you see anything ?"
Nani looked past him and saw the heavily armed men waiting impatiently.
"You alone tonight ?" the Sargent asked her, obviously
wanting some kind of answer from her quickly.
"Yes...yes." she stammered.
"Well then, you be a good girl and shut that door properly
...never know what a guy like that could do to you". With
a wide grin he pulled the door shut himself followed by the
throaty chuckle of his men. They rode off quickly.
Nani felt tempted to open the door and shout after them, but
instead she continued leaning against the door feeling upset
but not knowing why. She raised her eyes to find the stranger
looking at her quietly. He put on his hat and said: "You've
saved my life. Thank you !".
He moved to the door, opened it a crack and stood listening.
After a time he nodded to himself
"Don't forget, I will repay - one day.. - ...Lock the that
door" and he was gone.
later John returned, full of excitement telling her about the
soldiers he'd met on the way. In a gush of words he told her
about how many there were, what kinds of guns they had and how
desperate the fugitive was.
"I'm glad you were here" he added. "That man
sounded really dangerous from what the Sargent told me. He sent
me back to you actually." He didn't say in what words the
Sergeant had expressed himself about Nani and her need for protection.
day she heard that the man the soldiers had been looking for
was killed while crossing the border to Switzerland. Some said
he was killed just inside the Swiss border.
later Nani married Peter. They lived in Montreux on Lake Geneva.
Three children followed over 7 years. The eldest was Frank,
then Astrid and Katie the youngest.
5 years old when the family went on a picnic near the lake.
Frank was an excellent swimmer and enjoyed water sports of all
kinds. On this particular Sunday afternoon a friend of the family
had brought down a small boat. While the adults were busy talking,
Frank took his sisters for a ride in the boat. When the first
raindrops fell the dults hurriedly packed their picnic blankets
and looked to find the children.
They spotted them a long way from the shore out on the lake.
A storm was coming down in full force and the rain and wind
whipped up the lake into a tossing battlefield. The children
were in danger. Nani and Peter ran for help.
unaware of the weather until rain hit them. Astrid and Katie
thought the waves a lot of fun at first. Frank had already started
to head for the nearest landmark. Only when the wind really
increased and lightning zig-zagged across the sky did they realize
that this was a serious situation. Astrid comforted Katja and
Frank was busy keeping the nose of the boat into the wind. A
large wave caught them and capsized the boat. Frank quickly
surfaced and looked for his sisters. He could see no one. The
boat was already a fair way off. He swam towards it to see if
they under it or near it. Grasping the side of the boat he almost
cried with relief when he saw that help had already arrived.
A man with a dirty beard and thin face, held both his sisters
between himself and the boat. Katie and Astrid were a little
anxious but quite safe. He held on next to them and the man.
He looked at the man's face, No-one he knew, but there was no
fear in his face so he didn't feel afraid any more either. It
was impossible to talk in this storm so they all just held on
The wind blew them across the lake.
storm subsided a little they could shout at each other. Much
later, they saw land ahead, trees bent over in the wind. The
waves washed them into a small bay. As soon as they felt ground
under their feet the children ran up the beach. Their boat was
washed ashore behind them.
man pointed to a nearby house and the children ran to it. Frank
had to carry Katie, who was shivering with cold. When they reached
the front door they found they knew the family there. The Police
and Nani and her husband were notified. As the children told
their story Nani grew very quiet. In the description of the
man in the lake she recognized the stranger of the night the
soldiers came for years ago....
- Japan, Akita Prefecture, 1987,
- edited 1998
- revised October 2001.
Inspired by Japanese folk stories such as those collected by
Lafcadio Hearn in his book:
"Kwaidan - stories and studies of strange things"
Charles E. Tuttle 1971 Tokyo.
© 2003 heiko