Wednesday, 23 September 2009


    Stefan pressed his back against the rough wall, scrawny legs tucked up to his chest with his fingers locked around them. It was cold and he was tired, and he could not sleep in this dusty carriage. He wanted to be home and be tucked in bed and have Mama reading him a story and stroking his hair. But she wasn't here, and he wasn't at home. Shivering, he hugged his legs tighter still.
    “Papa?” Stefan ventured again. Opening his mouth filled his lungs with the stink of the dead and the dying, and so he didn't speak very much. No-one did.
    “Boy?” came the soft reply. Papa was slumped over in the corner.
    “Papa where are we going?” Stefan asked, for the hundredth time.
    “I don't know. No-one knows. We won't find out until we get there.”
    “I love you.”
    “I love you, too.”
    The silence hung in the air, and in the dark someone began to cough into their coat.
    “I'm scared.”
    “I'm scared, too.”
    The train rattled on and Stefan peered at his father. He looked so old, now. His skin fell pale against his cheekbones, draped like bits of old school books, where his proud features used to be. His lips were dry and cracked, his dirty hair fell tangled to his nose. But this stranger was still Papa, still his Papa. His eyes! They sparkled at him fiercely blue whenever they spoke, winking out I Love You in the dimness of the carriage.
    Somewhere beyond, a girl began to sob. Stefan could not see who or where she was and so he imagined that it was Analiese. But he didn't like that very much, and besides he knew it was not her. It could not be Analiese and it could not be Mama.
    “Stop crying,” rasped an invisible voice. She did not stop. “Stop it!”
    “Leave her alone,” breathed Papa.
    “What's it got to do with you old man?” the voice replied sharply.
    “I'm not... old.” Papa began to cough, but tried to hide it in the sleeve of his thin jacket. He pulled himself upright and the coughing subsided and Stefan did not know what to do to help him. A shadow moved slowly across the carriage and suddenly without warning a boot crashed into Papa's chest.
    “Papa!” Stefan cried out, but he did not move. The boot hit Papa in the chest again, and again. He screamed and slumped back against the wall, eyes gazing at the unseen attacker, pleading. Why are you doing this?
    “Please,” Stefan saw Papa's eyes stare through him, “My son.” Why didn't he do anything? But Papa could not move and he could hardly breathe, and the boot smashed into him again. This time something gave way, but it was not Papa. The lowest plank of the carriage wall creaked and groaned and the boot kicked Papa again and the plank cracked and the boot hit him again and the plank broke. Sunlight streamed gloriously through the hole, but Stefan could only look on at his Papa gasping for breath and he had never seen him like this before. His eyes weren't shining like they should but glistened wet. In the warmth of the fresh sun, Papa wept.
    “Stefan?” The boot had stopped kicking now, and the shadow had retired. Now Stefan could move, and he scuttled over to where his Papa was sprawled on the floor. No one else had moved to help, or even seemed to notice. People just like him and Papa sat or lay about, exhausted and weak just the same, but no-one would do anything. “Stefan,” Papa repeated quietly through the tears so quietly, “It's time to go. I'm so sorry.”
    Papa brought his head level to Stefan and looked at him square on.
    “I love you so much.”
    Stefan clung to his Papa and begged for time to go backwards. The older man breathed heavily into the nape of his neck as they hugged each other, but the train carried on clattering and the dust carried on swirling. Then without warning Stefan felt himself shoved towards the hole and he was through and then he was flying through the air, and the sun blazed hot on his skin again. As he rolled into the cool soft grass at the side of the track he turned and saw Papa's face disappear into the darkness, eyes sparkling like before.
    Papa, Stefan mouthed, I love you.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is my favourite of your stories so far. It is more my kind of story! Language is good and allows the mind to picture it all.