The Train of Freedom:
Tap tap tap, comes the usual sound from the bedroom window. I stretch out to get my blood flowing again, I’ve been reading a letter from Father all morning. I turn around and squint to see the twins standing with a wooden stick in their hands. They are like the reflections of each other, their brown hair, hazel eyes, and even their clothes are identical. Lina and Olivia are signaling me to come outside. I slowly smile and turn to ask Mother if I can go out for a bit. She’s in the kitchen, washing the dishes we used this morning, but her eyes are staring out at the window. Following her gaze I see an unusual scene. Some tall, scary and intense looking soldiers are walking down the street checking on people’s houses.
I interrupt, “Mother may I go outside to play with my friends?” no answer came. I repeat with a little louder voice.
“Yes, of course. Don’t go out too far,” she answers with her voice meaningless and far away from this world.
The air is stiff, humid and foggy from the war that’s going on around the world. I don’t really know about it, none of the kids in the neighborhood know much about the war either. Putting my thoughts behind, I walk toward the group.
“Ada, finally!” Talia says as if she was waiting for me for years.
“We have to tell you something,” Sarah whispers, her skin glowing from the sun.
“Well what is it?” my heart pounds so hard that I feel my heartbeat in the tips of my fingers.
“I saw one of the Nazi soldiers at Mrs. Noa's home. The woman who lives one block away from us,” they all look anxious and confused, “she sobbed and yelled toward the soldiers. I thought she was going to punch them,” Sarah says stopping to take a gulp of air.
Talia takes Sarah’s spot and goes on, “Mr. Noa was being pulled by the soldiers out of his home.”
“Where do you think they took him?” Lina asks with her eyes round and wide.
“Who knows where? Before we could see anything else, one of the soldiers came and shooed us away,” Talia and Sarah explains to us all about the scene without leaving out any details.
Immediately, the hair on my arms stand, my hands covering my ears to stop listening.
Finally, Olivia lets out her voice, “The soldiers may be looking for all Jews. I heard Mother talking about it to Father yesterday night,” her voice quivers, “what if we are next?” her eyes slowly filling up with tears.
“Don’t ever say that. We’ll protect you,” I say trying to encourage her.
Olivia’s voice rises, with her eyes unable to hold the tears now, “It’s so easy for you to say because you are not a Jew,” I hear whispers from all. The words that just came out of her mouth hurt me. I shut my mouth for the rest of the time, just watching Lina, Sarah and Talia trying to comfort Olivia.
I kick off my blanket, waking up from an unforgettable dream. The room is still dark, the moon light peaking through the curtain. I jump, my heart dropping down to the pit of my stomach. The sudden streams of shouts and gunshots echos through the place. I peek through the curtain, careful not to be seen by any of the soldiers. There are people out in the cold of the night, rows and rows of people in line, walking, the Nazi soldiers leading the crew to someplace. Each of them, tall and short, old and young, rich and the poor being taken away just as Mr. Noa. The Star of David stitched into their clothes. They don’t stop, they don’t run, instead they take step after step.
I take my coat, shoes, and the light to go outside. I have to look for the twins, Sarah, and Talia too.
I open the door with an immense force and hit Mother square in the face, “Oh my goodness! Ada what in the world are-”
“Mother, the people, the Jews, they-” my sentence ends with a scream. A loud kick and knocks come from the back door. Could it be the soldiers with guns? Are they going to take us as well? I look at Mother, wondering what she’s going to do next, we both look at each other giving uncomfortable looks. I turn the doorknob. I let someone in that appears to be Lina! Lina shakes uncontrollably, she murmurs something that no one can hear. Mother brings her a coat, water and bread for starters.
I hug her vibrating small body, “It’s alright, you're safe now,” deep inside, I was afraid of the consequences of keeping her safe in this house, in my house.
Within a few minutes, Lina opens her mouth, “I’m so sorry, I hid behind the bookshelf when the soldiers came. I’m sorry I couldn’t save Olivia or my parents,” she broke into sobs, “now I put your family in danger,” Mother acts very slowly and calmly patting her soft hair.
“This is none of your fault Lina,” she comforts her with her soft and kind voice. We have a Jew in the house. Mother tells me it’s a matter of life and death now that we have Lina. Mother orders Lina to sleep in the barn, and I will be bringing food and toys to occupy her all day. She is also to keep quiet at all times and never to come out of that space. Now it will be my responsibility to save this Jew, my friend, Lina.
The morning finds us again. It’s been more than a month with a Jew in the house. No tapping on the windows or signs of children running around. The quiet of the morning is broken by Mother’s devastating voice.
“Oh no, the NKVD is coming,” Mother states looking out at the window.
“The soldiers!” I shout. I run as fast as I could to the barn. I have to tell Lina to hide as best as she can. My heart is thumping on my chest, I hear the knock, belonging to the soldiers. Mother gives me enough time to reach the barn, “Lina! You have to hide, quick!”
Lina doesn’t disobey, it seems like she knows what is happening too. Without speaking a word, she falls, behind the stacks of hay. I hear Mother’s voice, louder than usual to let me know that they are coming.
“Open the barn door,” one of the soldier with a deep voice commands Mother.
Picking up the rake and the bucket, I tense up, throwing the bucket beside me, “It’s already open Sir,” I respond, pretending to clean the barn.
“Well, hello there young lady, cleaning the barn?” what else does it look like I am doing here? I wonder.
“I’m just going to check around the place,” I bite my lips as he checks on the horses, then the storage, then the hay. Please hide Lina, please. I pray to god. The soldier lifts one stack of hay, then two, then three. Hide Lina, hide.
The soldier with the mustache stares at me suspiciously, he pauses and says, “Nothing here,” I have never in my life had a time this terrifying, horrific and spine chilling.
I wait until the door closes behind the soldiers and I whisper to Lina, “You can come out now.”
“Are you sure?” Lina whispers. I repeat for five more times and there comes Lina, pale and her eyes red from crying. Her legs give out, and the hay catches her as she stumbles.
Managing to sit up, she says, “I really miss going outside. I miss running with Olivia, poking on your window every afternoon to call you outside. When will those days come again?” she sighs, staring at the ground.
“I miss those days too, remember Talia’s Birthday party?” we share and share out memories of each other, for hours, bringing those days to come back to life once again.
After all that has happened today, Mother commands, “Ada, pick up the newspaper,” I open the creaking old door and reveal myself to the silent, cold night. The cold breeze hits me hard all over my body, I couldn’t move an inch without whimpering.
“What have we got here today?” I talk to myself, shaking from the cold. The paper has a bold title saying, Stop the Train, in big letters. Ignoring the cold, I keep rolling my eyes word after word reading the paper all to myself. I stumble into the house, screaming on the tops of my lungs, “Mother, read this paper!” I press the newspaper to her hands, she reads mouthing out the words. Her face suddenly brightens like the morning sun, “There is a train taking Jews to safety, Mother. Every 30 days. We can take Lina there and she can be free, away from this place.”
Mother thinks for a moment, “Ada, we have to plan this out thoroughly dear. If not, we’ll get caught by the NKVD,” I decide to keep this a secret from Lina. I can’t wait to see the expression on her face as she hears this news of hope. I’m going to make sure Lina will be living in a nice home instead of a filthy barn.
“I’ll come up with a plan Mother.”
Today is the day, the 30th day, I hurriedly swish through the wind, running as fast as my legs can take me. Finally the day to tell the greatest news to Lina, “Lina! Lina!” I shout through the barn.
Lina clutches her heart, “You gave me an heart attack!”
“Lina, listen to me, look at me,” she looks at me weirdly. “I read the newspaper weeks ago, it said something about a train that takes Jews to the coast. From there, you are going to go on a boat and they will be taking you to America!”
“Are you sure about this?” her voice full of excitement and hope.
“Yes, today is the 30th day. Pack as much as you can, we are going to go to the train station at midnight. I figured out a way to go past all the soldiers, there is a road...” I tell Lina my plans. The only thing that will mess up this plan will be the soldiers. Mother will not be going, less people the better.
She hugs me with all her might, “Oh, Lina. Thank you!”
Mother surprises us, “What is going on here?” I tell Mother about our plans. She hugs us both in her arms, proud and full of love. We take about an hour to pack everything up. I press in more than five pairs of clothes, boots, scarves and gloves for her to use. Mother packs bread, milk, water, and fruits for her journey.
“Lina you’re ready to go,” Mother exclaims, “Ada, make sure Lina is safe, she is the brightest and smartest girl I have ever seen. Make sure she gets on. I believe in you,” she turns to Lina. “I want you to know you have always been like a daughter to me. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, just keep going and do what you need to do.”
“Thank you Mrs. Anderson for risking your life just for me,” Lina hugs once again toward Mother, she gives a long, heart warming blessing. Tears trickles down on our faces. Mother opens the door, exposing us to the mysterious and quiet night. I wipe up my tears, and grab Lina’s hand. Our puff of breaths unison to each other, small icy snow slowly gliding down to our heads. Many houses are empty, darkness and despair overflowing. Fear has taken over the town. In the cold we walk, listening to the crunching of the snow. We don’t talk, we think about what our future might hold.
Crunch, we abruptly hear a big step belonging to a soldier. Lina grips tight on my hand, the soldier calls, “Hello miss, what are you up to at this hour?” he is ten times bigger than us. If he would just ignore us, that would be great.
Follow the plan Ada, I tell myself, ignore what he says, “Hello Sir, I really love your...” oh no, what can I possibly say?
“Hat!” Lina saves the dying sentence.
The intensity in her voice has to be covered, I add on, “Yes, and your boots and uniforms stand out in the snow.”
“May I see your identity papers?” the man doesn’t fall for it.
“We really respect what you are doing for the country Sir,” Lina doesn’t give up, she’s still gripping my hand tight.
“I’ve got no time for this. Just give me your papers.”
“Let me look for it Sir,” Lina looks at me, her face saying, what am I supposed to do now? She acts as if she can’t find the paper anywhere, she pretends to check her pockets, hat, gloves and try to act slow as a sloth, “Ummm...”
“What are you doing there Kile! I’ve called you a hundred times,” a man, much older than him shouts across the street.
“Oh, I-I’m so sorry Commander, I was just,” the big soldier, who stands in front of us stutters. He looks at us for a split second and debate between us or the Commander.
Because we have to use this time, I say, “Take care Sir, our Mothers are waiting for us at home,” I salute toward the soldier. Lina still acts as if she can’t find the paper anywhere.
Now the soldier is desperate, he gives up, “Go home,” he blasts and simply walks away going toward the Commander. After a quarter of a mile, where we can no longer see the soldiers, we let out a long sigh of relief.
“I thought my heart was going to fall off,” Lina comments.
Far away I see the train station, “Here we are,” I finally say, my throat hurting from trying not to cry. Lina’s expression is blank. She’s looking behind me, her face growing pale with worry, “Don’t worry, the soldiers can’t see us here, it’s too dark and we always have a way into things.”
“It’s not that. Would we ever see each other again? I haven’t done anything for you. How am I going to thank you now?” Lina’s voice shakes, her eyes looking at her boots, sparkle of tears reflecting from the moon.
“Lina,” I swallow, “You have been a sister I’ve always wanted. You are not just a friend but also a part of me. We grew up together, we learned together, we played together, we did everything together. Now there is nothing else you can do for me. So thank you...” my voice falls apart, I can not stop crying, thinking of those good old days in the past. We take a moment to calm down as the train rushes through the station. A small, middle aged woman comes toward us, asking for us to show our identity papers. She whispers in a Jewish language to Lina, “The Train of Freedom,” Lina says, “this is it, Ada. Last hug.”
“It won’t be the last. When the war ends, I’ll find you again. We’ll meet in my house again, ok?”
Now, the woman stretches out her hand to Lina and Lina takes it. They both smile and move on to the train. Waterfall of tears roars out from my eyes, they are mixture of sadness and joy. I plainly turn around and walk away from the scene. Lina will always be remembered in my heart. I’ll see you soon my friend, we’ll stand once again here in this spot, grown and free from this war. The Train of Freedom will never be forgotten and neither will you.