That Old Man (2)Mature

Unfortunately we were betrayed, and the Gestapo were at our door within a day or two. Before we knew what was happening we were in a truck on our way to those dreaded places: a concentration camp. What could I do that would make things better? I could not turn back time and end the friendship with that idiot boy, Jack, who had betrayed us. I would have to live with the haunting memory that it was all my fault.

"Michael," whispered my mother, next to me, and I turned to her.

"What is it, Mother?" The others in the truck looked at her, too, and they didn't look hopeful. "Are you well?"

"I'm dying, Michael," she told me. Her eyes were so dim, her mouth going blue, so that I knew she was telling the truth. "No." I held her in my arms, but there was nothing to be done. Dragging her to the half-open back of the truck, I shouted at the guards. First in Dutch, then in German ... they did not listen to me, though they must have understood. "She is dying! She needs a doctor!"

"One less for them to get rid of," one of the others in the truck said. I hated him for that.

"Don't say that," I told him. "Just don't say that. She's my mother, don't you understand? She's all I've got left."

"I know," he replied. "But that's all any of us have got left. Most of us haven't even got a mother. Count yourself lucky, lad, that you've got anybody, because the rest of us ain't. We're all alone. Don't you see?"

"That's not true," I said, wondering what on earth I knew about it. "You must have someone. Nobody's completely alone, are they?"

"You'd be surprised." He laughed, a harsh, unfriendly sound, and turned away. I returned my attention to my mother, who was coughing weakly. She didn't seem to be able to breath, her face blue and her lips losing all of their colour.

"Come on, Mum," I told her. It was years since I'd called her that. "Come on. You've got to live. For me, Mum, you've got to live." But when she opened her eyes I knew she wasn't going to make it.

"What's even the point?" she asked me. "They're only going to kill us anyway. Work us to death, I expect, not feed us and let us starve. I'm dying anyway. They wouldn't let me carry on. It would be the end for me."

"No, that's not true." I knew as well as anyone that defeatist talk would be the first thing to sap her strength. People who didn't want to live rarely did, and unless she cheered up and really saw something from the optimist's point of view she wouldn't last much longer. But she would never do that. I knew that, too.

With a soft sigh I held her closer. "Mum, you've got to live. Don't leave me alone. You've all I got left in the world. I don't want to be alone any more. I want to have you with me."

Her faint smile as she looked at me was strangely upsetting. Don't worry, the look said. "You won't be alone. You'll find your father and your sisters. I've no doubt that they're here somewhere." Perhaps they were, but that was no guarantee our paths would cross. Looking out I could see that there were hundreds of barracks here, hundreds of places they could have been.

"I won't find them," I told her. "It's too late now." That's as maybe, something inside me said. But one day soon they'll turn up, won't they? When you're dead, perhaps you'll see them again, in whatever heaven can still exist in a world as evil as this. 

The End

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