Looking back, she must've been in trouble already but I didn't know. I was off to do some fishing. I was walking down a street, heading out of town, carrying my tackle. In my mind's eye, sleek trout floated above bottle green water plants. Bright light danced on a smooth river. Branches of a fallen tree broke its surface. Back in town there must've been a screech of brakes but I was born deaf and so didn't hear that.
A young girl ran up and disappeared behind me. There was fear on her face. I stopped and looked around but couldn't see anything wrong, so I looked over my shoulder, in the direction she had taken. At first I didn't want to believe it, then shock took over.
A car had crashed into a lamp post. Its black bonnet had crumpled and steam rose up through the gap. Petrol dripped from the engine and stank in my nostrils. That girl siezed a door handle and pulled on it, but it wouldn't open. I could see that someone was in the driver's seat but not much detail of their appearence. I was tempted to run, but how could I leave a youngster there? Fighting my fears I set my fishing tackle aside and ran to the car. That girl stepped back and my fingers closed on the door handle. I pulled hard but the door wouldn't open.
"Go and call for help!" I signed. There was no telling if she understood but I had to try to get some assistance. The youngster ran off. Perhaps she'd think for herself to summon help. A woman came out of a shop, saw what was happening and froze. Another came running towards me, past red brick houses, but she was coming from some distance away. I gripped the handle again, raised one foot and planted it on smooth metal. I heaved with all my strength. My upper teeth pressed down on the lower ones until it hurt. Pain filled my biceps and they heated up like radiators. The door flew open and I fell backwards onto black tarmac. That hurt but I picked myself up and looked at the driver, the car's only occupant.
She was a woman of about my age (mid twenties). She lay on the steering wheel with eyes closed and one arm hanging limp at her side. I leaned in, turned off the engine and tapped her shoulder. She opened her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her and struggled to get her out, scared of damaging her spine but also afraid the petrol would catch fire. The woman found enough strength to help herself. I don't know how I'd have managed if she hadn't. Somehow we got out of that car. She opened her mouth and put both hands onto her forehead. She was clearly in pain. I placed an arm round her and, with difficulty, we got away from the car. Her skin was tanned, she must've spent a lot of time outside. Was she a farmer's daughter? Her hair was chestnut coloured, when the light hit one strand it looked like a brown flame. The smell of petrol was menecing. I expected to get blown off my feet at any moment, but that didn't happen.
A fire engine and an ambulance arrived like a red bull and white rhino. I learned later that the young girl had summoned them. Firefighters smothered the car in white foam. One man broke off and diverted other cars down alternative routes. Paramedics took charge of the casualty, sitting her down in a shop doorway and examining her thoroughly. Jumpers and balls of wool filled that shop's window. The cosieness they evoked contrasted sharply with the lady's accident. She asked for help in sign language, then stopped and moved pink lips instead. As I looked on my legs began to shake and I too had to sit down. Kerbstones flet hard on my buttocks. My lips cracked and my throat felt dry.The back of my head throbbed from hitting the road, making me wince. One paramedic noticed, came over and checked on me. I pointed to my right ear and shook my head. He put a thumb up, indicating I wasn't badly hurt.
The woman was another matter. The paramedic returned to her, then he and his colleague helped her to her feet and guided her into their ambulance. I got up and went after them. Who was this woman? What had caused her accident? I wanted to ask. Perhaps one of these people could sign. I hurried up to the ambulance, avoiding a puddle of foam, signing "please wait!" but no one replied. I repeated my plea but a firefighter came, took me by an arm and lead me away. I looked back and saw the paramedics drive away, taking the woman with them. Firemen diverted a red bus down a side street.
A policeman arrived and questioned that girl and the other witnesses. I tried to approach him but the fireman blocked my way. That police officer got on his bicycle and set off in the direction of the hospital. Being as no one wanted me, I collected my fishing tackle and left the scene. The driver's face kept appearing in my mind's eye. Blood pounded in my temples and my fingers tingled. I felt more than curious about that lady. That night I dreamt about her three times.
The next day I set out again, and this time I reached the river and managed some fishing. Trees lined earthy banks. High above a white sun pearched on the edge of grey clouds, more like platinum than gold. The woman I'd helped surfaced in my memory and my heartbeat speeded up. Wasn't it better to forget her? There was little hope of seeing her again, was there? A warm tear invaded my left eye. A sleek brown trout pulled on my line and, glad to de distracted, I reeled it in.
That's how things were until a new laboratory opened at my old alma mater, the local school for deaf children. It hadn't had any science facilities before so this was a big step forward. The magazine I work for, The Deaf Standard, sent me and a colleague to report on the opening day. Grey skies hightened the school's resemblence to Dracula's castle. At first it was a routine but successful assignment, I took photos while he interviewed teachers and parents. Then I aimed my camera at a group in the assembly hall and froze. The woman who had crashed was among them, along with a tall and well built man. Red roses on her dress contrasted with dark oak panels. I hesitated as part of my brain didn't dare to believe it. Then she noticed me and came to join me.
"You're the man who helped me when I crashed, arn't you," she signed.
"Yes I am," said I.
"I want to thank you for that; I didn't get a chance before. Thank you Mr..."
"Parry, Chad Parry."
"Jadin," she replied, spelling it out in the finger alphabet.
"Have you recovered from your accident?"
"Yes I have."
How should I react? I'd been so sure that I'd lost her I hadn't given much thought to it. Who was that man she was with? Hopefully he would turn out to be her brother. That day was cool but my armpits felt damp with sweat. There was a tingling in my stomach. Glancing around, I saw my colleague interviewing teachers with his back to me. Good, if I started a conversation he wouldn't order me back to work. I raised my hands and signed. A portrait of the school's first headmanster scowled on from a gilded frame.
I asked Jadin "are you deaf?"
"No, but I had a brother who was."
Her face twisted with grief as she replied. Jadin signed more slowly than me, and I guessed that she was new to it.
"I was born in France, near the border with Germany," Jadin explained. "My father was a farmer. At noon, in the meadows, I used to milk our cows in the tall grass. Foaming milk spurted into copper pans. There was a forest nearby with firs and plenty of oaks. My brother Giscard was younger than I was. He was born deaf and never learned to speak, but he knew all about the forest. He cut wood, chopped it, sawed it and then Dad sold it. Giscard started making wooden toys for other children and he made a little money from it. Dad rewarded him with a bicycle. He became emboldened and went for long rides on it. I wish you could've seen his cheeky smile.
"Then Hitler invaded France and took over the country. One day a small band of German soldiers came marching to our door. I drew my eyebrows together and all of us felt afraid. What could they want with us? They'd come to take Giscard."
Jadin's hands trembled so that she couldn't sign. Alarmed, I sat her down on a timber chair. It was hard but seats like it were the only ones there.
"You don't have to go on," I assured her.
"I have to," she replied. "I want people to know what the Nazis did."
"Can I get you a drink?"
"No thank you, I can continue now.
"Giscard tried to escape. He jumped onto his bicycle and pedelled away, heading for the forest. Dad puched a soldier and knocked him down, but two others overpowered him. They held us all at gunpoint while one of them chased Giscard. I held onto hope that my brother might escape, but the soldiers caught him and took him away."
"I don't understand, why did they take him?"
"Because he was deaf and the Nazis wanted to wipe out deaf people. They sterelised many agianst their will, but in some cases they resorted to murder."
This was news to me. Why had nobody told me? I've never lived under occupation and yet I felt vunerable. I also empethised with Jadin. My Uncle Charlie died when a Nazi bomb fell on his house. Then rage surged through me.
Jadin wnet on, signing "after Giscard was taken the life was knocked out of my parents. Mum took to her bed, cried for hours and then lay there like a corpse. Dad had to be coerced into doing what it took to stay alive. He ate so little the bones of his spine stuck out. Neither of them smiled again. I took a different course. I joined a cell in the Resistance. I turned our farm into a safe house for fugitives escaping from the Germans. Several Jews found merciful safety with us, on their way to Switzerland. So did some British airmen who had been shot down over enemy territory.
Jadin looked across the assembly hall, towards that man she had been with earlier. He returned her gaze and it was like the draft from a furness. My hopes were shaken like reeds in a storm.
"Do you know him?" Jadin asked. "He's Rupert Mills and he's one of the pilots I sheltered. He thrived on the excitement of planning his escape, of perfecting ingenious stratagies. I did it because I had to, but he enjoyed it. On the final night before he left, he promised to come back for me. It was a difficult journey but after the war he did so. We came to England and then I married him. One of my cousins looks after Mum and Dad now."
I paused to take it all in. Several parents walked past, over bare floorboards. A whiff of tobacco came with them. Next I asked "why did you crash your car that day?"
Jadin lifted an arm to reply but it trembled with nerves. I flet guilty for asking but there was no taking it back now. She regained control with an effort.
"For the last few years I clung to hope that Giscard was still alive," Jadin told me. "People have survived concentration camps, and some deaf people were sterelised without being killed.Things were chaotic after the war and it was hard to find out what happened to my brother, though I tried my best. The day you and I met I recieved a letter from the Red Cross. It destroyed my last hope. He was nineteen. I was so upset that I couldn't concentrate on driving."
Mr Mills came over to us, drinking glass in hand. He spoke to Jadin in English and she replied with words.He signed "thank you" and then, in contrast to the headmaster's portrait, he smiled at me and we shook hands. Then someone else called him away.
She turned and signed "I've got to go, but thank you for following my story. I apologise if my signing was slow, but yours is different from ours. It was only when I came to England that I learned it. We hope to start a family one day, and I might have a deaf child, so I decided to learn about your special schools."
"You did well for a beginner," I signed. I wanted to say "don't go! Stay with me!" but it was clear that she would've rejected me.
She gets up and leaves me. Do you want to confort me? Are you holding back because I'm scowling?
My colleague is across the hall, looking this way and that. It looks like he's trying to find me, but I don't want to face him just now. I get up and hide behind a gathering of teachers. You follow but I ignore you. A woman blocks my path. "Get out of my way!" I think though I don't sign it. She moves. I slip out of the school and into the grounds. That hedge should conceal me.
Why are you still here? I don't want to talk to anyone, can't you see that? No I don't need a drink. Go away and leave me in peace..