Bittersweet Safety

“Jesteś bezpieczny  It means you are safe and it was the last words i remember hearing for certain.


It is many days, my toes have begun to frost, numb. I am my mothers daughter, she is to help me become a woman, I know she will come for me.

My father leans in to protect me he smells of rot. “It will only be a few more miles Siv. I promise.” When trains pass I see their passengers inside, smiling out, they do not see me.  I keep track of their hour, seven pass and dark falls again. We stop, we have become used to the snow but my father says “we do not need to sleep, he will meet us here, watch for his truck.”

As the lights brighten and a truck pulls up alongside our shivering bodies, the man inside is not the smiling face of the trains people. He pulls us inside the cab, it is the warmth that shocks me more than his tone as he asks my father to open his purse and give him the coins inside. His voice is one of anger, he looks Ukrainian, maybe Russian but speaks very little Polish and with a western accent. He scares me but my father reassures me “This man works for Madame LeCheval, we have reached safety for you Siv, you are safe” My fathers face, the warmest I have ever seen, a smile so wide it is burned into my memory.

I fall to sleep, my head resting on my fathers shoulder, as the truck pulls down a dirt road and heads away from the noise of the tracks and lights of the train. When I awake it is to a sharp poke in my ribs “inutile enfant, get up!” My father is gone and my lifeless arm is dragging me from the truck attached to a heavyset pasty white woman. Although very clean her thin hair is greasy and pulled back into a tight knot of a bun.

“savez-vous français?” she appeals to me. I do not speak French, I am frozen.

“Gdzie jest mój ojciec?” ‘Where is my father’ I plead looking everywhere, I am frightened to find no one, I am standing amongst a train station full of strangers, my arm still in Madame LeCheval’s grasp. She bowls me across the station “Inutile! Muet!” The man who saved us grabs me and we board the train, Madame close behind.

I never saw my father again after that. The last day in the snows of west Belgium, his final words to me before I fell to sleep, my last true recollection. “YOU are safe” I believed him then, it was years before I realized what he had done and where he and my mother were. I cried that day for the him, for what he had done, for his own sacrifice.

The End

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