Cries on the wind
I don’t know exactly where we are, but I have a feeling, that thousands have come this way before us. The cattle truck where we have been thrust is speeding along a rutted road, thousands of potholes hidden beneath thick, churned up mud.
Reluctantly, I look around and what find seems unreal to me, as though I am looking down on myself, unfeeling. It’s best I keep it that way.
Living skeletons and their gaunt faces surround me and the unpredictable motion of the truck sends me thudding into this veritable graveyard of desperate souls.
Those who have any fight left in them, fight for their lives in this jumbled mass of tangled limbs. The small ones or those without an ounce of spirit left disappear beneath the scuttling hoard of bodies. The sounds of the truck are drowned out by the terrified screams and shouting voices of those around me, vibrating through the air, piercing into my soul, into whatever heart I have left after a lifetime of fighting.
Painfully yet somehow effortlessly, we move with the truck. Each pothole becomes our pain, the heat of the engine is our air, and always, there is the group’s collective terror, stitched into each and every moment.
Desperate for air and to escape from this living hell, I fight my way out from the jumbled bodies, climb the truck’s side planking and hang from the wooden battens, my body flapping like our Polish flag in the wind and then with every jarring of the truck, I smack against it side. I hold on with all of my life, refusing to let myself fall back into the deluge below me.
We are all so separate, yet each person moulds into the next, all fighting to control their own stumbling bodies as they are thrown around this small space – crushing, screaming, and dying. Many of the dead and injured lay piled one on top of the other; the young people, the old, the lifeless and the gone lie trampled on the truck’s floorboards, powerless and pitiful.
Allowing myself a moment of painful humanness, I gaze into the eyes of a girl no older than seven. Her vacant, dead eyes stare at me from sunken eye sockets with rings of purple and black. She isn’t looking at me; she is looking through me into an emptiness that knows no bounds, seeking a hiding place from the inhumanity she has suffered. What did she do to deserve this?
Suddenly the jar of the truck throws me from my safe sanctuary, as though I have been fired from a canon into those below me. I swim through their moving bodies and find my feet.
His body cringes and involuntary tries to move away as others around him reach out with sore encrusted hands thrust there in an attempt to keep themselves from falling, leaving their filth and puss slime over his clothing. Feelings of guilt bleed inside him that he thinks of being clean when there is so much misery kicking out from those around him.
The jar of the truck hitting a rock parts those around him exposing others he had not seen before. Horror thuds into his hidden shield put there to hide the horrors around him. Seeing the young kids with their skinny gaunt faces and bones that stick out from their skin shatters his composure. There is so little flesh on their body frame, and thick yellow mucous ran as a constant dribble from most of their noses. Weeping pus sores show on the exposed flesh and dirty brown scabs weep where their tops have been ripped off, they hardly run blood at all so little being left within their bodies.
The children with thin arms cling to one another, as though a treasured doll or teddy bear, gaining some comfort that help them forget the present for a while. However, we all know each of us lives with the terror in every gasp of breath taken. .
Why all those people are here, with saved heads, waring blue and white stripped clothes just like pyjamas is unknown and puzzling to me. I am the only one dress in normal clothes and feel out of place around them, not part of this group; however, that is not unusual, most people, I have come to learn in my short lived years, shun us gypsies.
Ahead of the truck the late afternoon sun will soon drop below the hills and within a short time night will settle in. Scuttling clouds over the hills ahead catch the golden rays of the setting sun as they build in numbers darkening and lowering around the hill tops, they carrying a heavy burden and the wind began to gust, driving the blackening clouds before it.
Within a very short time, the sun has gone hidden behind the lowering clouds and everything becomes dark around us. We continue on our way, there are no stars that shine, only heavy black built clouds overhead, and then they release their wet drops that hit the wooden sides of the motorised truck with loud plops. From the glare of the trucks red back lights, I see those around me turn their heads to the heavens, wide open mouths, showing yellow teeth sitting in red bloody gums, their tongues slither from between their teeth reaching out, seeking to catch a few precious drops of the falling rain that now pummel down on us.
It is now early evening, the rain has stopped the skies above begin to clear. Further off the rain clouds are building once again as the truck pulls into a well lit train station where thousands of other like us waits in line along the rail track. With no delay we are driven out of the motorized trucks as like sheep to the open cattle rail carriages, where once again only the living are packed tightly into them.
There are so many people jammed into the carriage, that, I cannot move my arms they being pinned at my side with the press of bodies around me.
With a jerk and clang the carriages clash together, jumps forward and the train moves off with a blast of steam that breaks into the night driving away the cries, the moans of despair, and all other sounds.
Rumbles of thunder shatter the air around the carriage, blanketing out the click-clack of the trains wheels moving over the rails. A flash of lightening overhead does little to drive its light through the rain that now slashes down so hard, that one can no longer see any of these poor souls around.
‘Get out. Get out. Get out, escape.’
The clang of the racing metal wheels pound out the words within my head…‘Get out…Get out…Escape’ the words never let up.
The guard that I had seen sitting above each closed in carriage or open cattle truck when the trucks were loaded is lost from my sight as the rain pours down blanketing out everything. Making my move, I have to use all the strength, this body possess, in disentangling myself from the bodies that pin me here. I literally wade through the bodies about me to reach the wooden battened sides of the cattle truck, where strong dirty fingers find what they seek and I am up the trucks side faster than a cockroach on the run. Complaints, along with curses, break out from those pushed and shoved to get where I am; those curses are left speedily behind, drummed out with the noises of the beating rain. The moving air hits me and rushes past as I balance atop of the wagons side where I work on building up the courage to jump.
My body topples forward from the top of the cattle carriage as like a released stone from a great height. Every one of my senses scream out, as fear rocks me, and yet the feeling of free flight exhilarate me, however, it is driven away with the anticipated landing that I know will soon come.
My body slams into the rain sodden earth, tumbles along, rolls, and then slides along the drenched earth. I am thrown around like a rag doll. Plants and small bush lash out at me, flaying me with their limbs as though I have done some bad deed and need to be punished for it. My body slithers through the long wet grasses that now cushion and then slows its continuous motion across the earth, rolls down an embankment and then came to a stop.
I lay where I am in the long wet grass, gasping for another breath. Stars run around inside of my head, and my limbs scream their hurt at me as I fight to keep consciousness. Now, I dare not move for fear of being seen from above by one guard or another as the train moves along. If seen, the guard will enjoy using me for shooting practice. However, he will not miss, that I am sure of.
Although, I have escaped, I carry within me the echoes of the unspoken calls for help from those I have left behind…Will I ever be free from their misery… just before I had leaped for the cattle trucks side, I had looked around me…My eyes had run around the shadows cast within the truck, shafts of light drove through the gaps in the side wooden planking as we passed a single light from a signal box lighting up several small children, their gaunt pink faces flushed with the cold air running through the speeding trucks side. Were they simply sleeping; it was that deceptive. The antechamber of death thought Zack; the sleep that will become death.
He lies as a dead person; as much as his body screams out its hurt, and demand that he move to ease the pain, he doesn’t.
The trains wheels screech along the tracks as it moves on its way past where he lay and continues it’s scrunching racket for some time, before these sounds are lost to his ears as it fades away into the night and the racket of the pounding rain hitting the earth take over.
My body hurt in a hundred places but, my spirit soars as like an eagle moving on an updraft of air as it ascends into the heavens. I knew back there in the cattle truck when I heard the train crossing the bridge over the River Narew that the train would be running alongside of the Bialowieza Forest that stretches endlessly for hundreds of miles in Poland and into neighbouring country, Carpatho-Ukraine.
However, I have come to learn in my life that the animals that live within the forest are easier to confront than the men in a black uniforms with the skull and cross bone on their caps. Once over the bridge, I knew that if I did not escape then, I would never have another chance and even if one did show itself at a later time, my days without food would make escaping near impossible not having the energy to pull it off.
I lay here in my hurting state as memories of the last few days drift through my mind as though demons that cry out for attention.
‘The convoy of trucks had driven my parent’s wagon (our home) off the road and when my farther complained, a soldier smirked and shot him dead. They did things to mum that made me look away, and pretend that I had never seen what I had, and that, it was all make believe. The soldiers then threw me into one of the motorised trucks that were already filled to overflowing with tormenting souls that looked more like scarecrows than people, I kept asking myself… where are they taking me, and this horde of misery?’
Lying within the long wet grass, I gasp in deep breaths; my body shakes, it hurts in so many places that I can hardly move a limb without a grimace or a moan breaking out through my tight gritted teeth. However, above all of these predicaments, I breathe in, embracing a little of the freedom attained and shed my first tears for my lost parents and the life that I lived, and can never live again.
I cannot control the pictures and events that run within my head, the sights of what I have seen over these last two days horrifies me, causing my body to break out in cold sweat, along with shakes that are hard to bring under control, now, that they have started.
‘I have to let the loss, the despairing thoughts and sights go, they cannot be forever carried within me, for they will sap my will, bring me down, eating up my strength, that will then be denied me when I need it.
‘Leave your past behind…’ are my driving thoughts…
The sodden, sleeve of my jacket dash away the last of my running tears that mingle with the falling raindrops and run down my face. My driven will forces my sore, hurting body to its feet and propel it with speed across the rail tracks and into the darkness of the forest, my haven. Here, I know the animals have no guns, and at least, one has a chance against them with a stone, a club or a sharpened pole of wood that can be use as a spear.
The youth pushes forward with more haste as the ever pressing thought, that he needs to move faster, sent his heart racing and hot beads of sweat breaking out across his brow; within seconds the cold rain dash them away, sending violent shivers to rock his body as he scrimmage through the low bearing boughs of the trees close to the tracks.
The first bark of a guard dog sneaks its way through the noise of the beating rain that pummels the earth around him. He thinks about those dogs’ sharp teeth tearing his flesh, as he had seen them do to another at the railway station when being loaded into the rail cattle trucks. The images get his feet shuffling faster.
Gasping for another breath to ease his burning lungs he pushes on, never letting up. Half blinded by the darkness and the pounding rain that pummels his face, he slowly feels his way along. Guiding himself with his hands, he moves on over the sodden earth, rocks, and a hundred and one tree boughs that litter the ground between the trees. He is horribly aware, at all times, of the icy drops of rain that are falling with force now, stinging his head, face and hands. The rain seemed to strike at him, trying to pummel his body into the earth, crushing, and mangling him into the depths of the sludge through which he crawls and slides, now that he is unable to walk in this environment.
Even when he reached and enters the thick canopy of trees, the earth is still wet, slimy under foot, which constantly causes him to slip or slither here and there, as he progresses through the dark forest. His eyes try to push its way through the total closed in darkness around him, caused by the thick canopy of treetops, which do not allow any light to penetrate down to the ground. Seeing nothing but thick darkness causes him to feel introspect and horribly afraid.
My arms outstretch before me, where my fingers reach into the darkness ahead as they seek out what may be there, and should they miss what is there, my body will yet again, be brought to its knees, with my precious blood set running from one split portion of my flesh or another.
His fingers scrunch through the earth, clawed at in his effort to get a better purchase or to push myself aside as his form slivers forward in an attempt to move on all fours through this gloom, and reach a clearing in the forest without battering myself once more against one solid object, after another.
Now, that I am deep within the forest canopy, the driving rain ceases, and large droplets of water falling from the trees above land around me creating an orchestral sound of plops within the quiet closed in trees.
I move on as an animal on all fours it is the only way I can push ahead. Worry catches up with me and holds me, will I be too close to the rail tracks when the sun comes up, and the soldiers with their dogs will find me? I shake with fear as I crawl, shuffle and slide my way on, every move I make takes me further into the dark forest.
The ground dropped suddenly below the youth whilst scuffling on all fours, sending his body tumbling downwards. His falling frame is lashed at by one or another unknown object in its descent. The flesh of his hands scream at him, as they are ripped by sharp stones and blackberry vines that his floundering hand had grasped to slacken his fall, only to have them dug into and cut at by hundreds of sharp pointed barbs. The bramble barbs attack his clothes, catching here and there, tearing at wet, muddy pants, catching in one place or another halting his descent for one brief second, and then, off again he continues on his downward tumble. Wet soil and mud slime fall from above, showering his body with small stones, grass tussocks, several small plants, and of cause, more tangling brambles with their long sharp thorns.
I become aware of my body now lying spraddled out on a river bed caressing several large round stones, my mouth and cheek nuzzle on a flat river boulder, its coolness help clear this thumping, fuzzy head of mine.
Whilst drinking my fill of the clear sweet water, I think of those in the truck with their mouths open to the air as they attempt to catch the falling rain drops that bucketed out of the sky. Cold water trickles along my trouser leg, starting its permeation of my clothing brings shives to my body. This now get me moving amides the tangled vines that want to hold my body to these river stones. My attempts to disentangle myself from these restrainers bring me further misery as sharp thorns take the place where others have been before.
After what seems like an eternity, I can stand here, free at last from my vine encumbrances, and give a thought to my predicament, as I shiver with the cold.
‘Do, I try scurrying back up the bank, or move along the rivers bed? Up the bank is out, the thought of those brambles up there, dash that idea aside as fast as it came to me. Taking off down the river bed is my only option, going upstream only brings me closer to the forest edge and the rail tracks.’
One of my booted feet gingerly moves forward and onto something solid, but it slides off again. Trying once more my foot is on the move through the water and finds the flat gravel bottom. Progress is slow, and not for the first time, he find myself landing with a thud in shallow water, bruising yet another part of his anatomy.
I lie where I am after another fall in the riverbed where my fingers and the palms of my hands slide over slimy weed that clings to the river bed stones, making it difficult to get any sort of stable footing. Carrying on like this is either going to cause me to fall and hit my head on one of those river boulders, knocking myself out, or possibly break an ankle, even my leg, if that happens, I will be done for.
Dousing myself with a good dose of hope that those brambles are behind me, I strike out from the waters edge and start my upward climb of the riverbank.
Once at the banks top he moves ahead again, one arm out in front act as his bumper, the other arm and fingers search around so he can know what is there and then move ahead with a little more certainty, that he is not going to kill myself. Time after time, one tree trunk after another block his path, and are scampered around, over or under them. Coming out from one entanglement of sticks, logs and a good dammed up number of leaves, these further wet him from his head to his squelching boots as he moves through them.
He feels the air move over the flesh of his face. Giddy spells causes his body to wobble from side to side and his legs shake.
Through all my hurting, paining hands, legs, and other body parts this giddy disorienting factor bleed my willingness to go on. However, I have no choice, my life is precious to me and my life lived so far has only really just begun.
I slide away from my present misery, to the time my father took me into the forests on our forever journeying from one land to another, telling me…
“Find your way back to our camp.”
He would blast these words at me in a voice that made me shake and shiver in fear. He would leave me standing there on my own with tears running down my face. How many times, had I wondered for days on end and he had to come and find me. As time went on, he showed me how to read the land. Showing me the smooth side of a tree and the other side where moss grew.
“One side meets the sun the other never.” He said. And so north, south, east and west could now be read around me. As the years passed by, uncharted lands became my playground, my larder to fill my belly, and my medical chest to heal my hurts and sooth my wounds, thanks to my knowable Grandmother, bless her soul.
These intrusive thoughts drop away once more, as I fall and hit another tree, bring me back to the present.
After what seemed like days of torment the trees start thinning out, it is lighter and I rarely fall now that there is light to see ahead. It feels good to stand on my feet and stride out. I feel the delight of eating up some distance without feeling the exhaustion of being on all fours.
Now, that the youth has left the shelter of the trees, he is pummelled by falling rain drops that hit him with such force that he hides his face within his turned up coat collar and pulls his hat over his ears. The heavy weight of his wet, mud sodden clothes drag at his slight frame, bowing his shoulders and slow his shuffling feet. The bark of dogs is hidden from him with the howl of the wind that whips’ his loose clothing around him creating such a ruckus.
The sky is steeped in clouds that scud overhead like clipper ships on the high seas. A dark winters wind comes streaming in off the high peaks around me, breaking up the cloud, thinning them out and allowing a few moon beams to fight their way to the earth. A million hanging rain droplets sitting on trees, bush and grass catch the light of the moon sending sparkling lights across the land. The sight takes my breath away feeding me strength in its beauty, driving away the horrors that have dug a hole into my soul storing their sights to kick at me when least expected. However, I am free and only my own efforts will keep me that way. Good bye mum, dad, Love you both. A bright smile lightens his face as he strides forward, once more entering a canopy of dark trees……