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Ten slow minutes pass as he stares at the sharp ridges of the powdery white stones underlying the wooden system. Squinting, his eyes follow the tracks further down the parallel trail to the point of intersection, where reality fades. The sunny early Spring morning sheds hope in the sky, but instead bitter winds and lifeless green grass under dew remain ahead beyond the unkempt fence. Six birds fly high overhead, chirping high pitched dialect and rushing to escape the cold. The bitter-sweet smells of cigars spread as the air rushes by, gently pushing a cold gust through his torn woolen sweater. Gentle tickles of chills race up and down his spine, suddenly pulling him out from his focus on the track. Dust blurs his vision of the train tracks and his eyes fill with stinging tears.
He feels a fierce rush of pain shoot through his head; dizziness and fatigue punish him ruthlessly. The view of the train in front becomes blurry. He looks down at his fragile fingers. The dirty, cut, bruised and flaking skeletal fingers question his sanity. He doubts he is in his own body. His eyelids are heavy, weighed down with disillusionment. He hears the sounds of bells, young ladies’ quick heel steps, and the shuffling of newspapers. Soon, his head falls back slowly. His surroundings disappear.
Too many noises at once; they storm in to his ears and crowd inside his brain. He can’t think. His head aches with roars that won’t stop. He cringes as he is forced to listen to the loud, high pitched bawls of babies, rumbles of metal friction, and thick winds blowing against the loose window frames. He turns his head slightly and is pushed away by the heavy breaths of a soiled, aged man sleeping inches away from him. Men’s miserable moans of panic sway his mind’s focus to different corners every few moments. He can’t hear his own heartbeat, but he can feel his chest thumping ferociously with anxiety. It is dark. He cannot see anyone, which intensifies the noise and worries him more.
Suddenly, he wakes up as he feels a light kick in his side. Faintly looking up, he sees the young face of a cleaner. The young face looks down at him arrogantly, “You can’t sleep here! This station is busy at this hour! Find somewhere else!” Feeling pleased and smug, the worker smirks and turns away to his duties. The man’s back muscles and neck ache as he moves out of his rigid position on the floor. He opens his eyes fully, finding himself surrounded by tall standing men and women, dressed in warm coats and hats, not even bothering to notice the homeless tramp on the floor against the staircase. He doesn’t know how much time has passed. He stands up and quickly walks through the warmly dressed crowd until he is in the center. Some turn their heads from conversation or the newspaper and look at the frail man standing anxiously among the crowd, trying to act calmly and ordinary, clasping his shivering hands together. They instantly sneer at his filthy unshaven face and torn work clothes and turn the other way. A few moments later the bells of the station ring. The newspapers are folded, and women look up and close their lipstick mirror cases. The crowd looks to the right as the loud rumble of the number seventy four express arrives. Thick black smoke accompanies the conductor’s front car, tracing the train’s path just above in the air.
As the commoners enter the train, he walks over to the end of the platform in the corner. Hiding from the bustling crowd, he takes a deep breath and sits down against the white-washed cement wall. Bending his knees to his chest and securing his hands in his pocket, he closes his eyes and soon falls asleep to the rhythmic rolling wheels below.
“No, I can’t do it! We’ll die for sure!” she yells to him with tears gushing from her eyes to her nose and mouth. “No! It won’t work!” The man holds her shoulders tightly and wipes her eyes with his woolen sleeve. Kneeling, they both sit together near the window as the fast moving train races past the border of a rich forest.
“Just listen to me! Don’t cry. Listen to what I am saying to you.” She looks up at him when he gently touches her and holds up her face in his dirty hands. Her tearing dark brown eyes look straight into his determined blue ones, and she listens. Holding her face tightly, he looks at her skin and eyes, still glowing with beauty after all that has passed. “I have been watching the path for hours. Stop crying! Listen to me! We’re up in the mountainous hills. I know the terrain here. Shh. Listen to me. At every curve in the train track, the angle blocks the soldiers’ view of our side of the train. We have just a few chances left. I know we are almost there. I can smell…it.”
His wife starts to whimper and shake with fear.
“I’m scared! I can’t do it!”
“Yes, you can! We don’t have time! The train will stop any minute! You must jump! Get up! You will jump when I tell you. It’s time!”
She gets up and shakes. She holds his hand and squeezes. A woman next to her abruptly throws up and begins to scream in pain. The crying babies and moans of the adults almost stop the wife’s heart. She cannot move.
She yells to him desperately, “You go first!” Her eyes look around as the crying people look to them for hope. The man is anxious and irate. The train is approaching. The smell grows stronger. She shrieks as he takes her arms, edging her closer to the window. “No! Please! I can’t do it first! I’ll go after you. I can’t go first. I’m scared!” His eyes look down to her crumbling strength and he stands up quickly.
“Look at me. Are you listening? Listen to me, my dear. You see how each time the train sways right? You know that, right?” His voice is crackling. He feels like throwing up. His adrenalin is running high. He looks out the window. They are approaching a gate just a kilometer away. “Look at me! This is our last chance! After I jump, look out for the curves. When the train approaches the curve, count to two and jump! Don’t fear! We will be together! You will have only a couple more chances to follow. Do you understand? Stop crying! My love, do you understand what you have to do? This is our one chance! I’m going! Remember count two!”
He lets go of her hands, jumps up straight into the open window edge and sticks his head outside. She feels the train curve to her right, and her head sways back slightly. Her heart beats so fast she almost throws up. She views him as he sits ready like a panther on the edge of the sill. The image blurs in the time of an eye’s blink, and when it clears, he is gone. Without turning his head, he dives out of the furiously moving train and lands on his shoulder and side, his face and hands bleeding and black from charcoal. He quickly jerks his aching neck to the train on his right running fast away. Suddenly he hears the silence.
He concentrates on the train, waiting for the moment she will jump out. Moments go by. Just wait a little longer, he tells himself. With sweat and fear running down his spine, he holds his breath. Life’s clock ticks loudly. Eyeing the soldier’s pointed gun at him from high in the tower he hastily crawls on the dusty ground until he stands up and sprints towards the shadows of the woods, his foot escaping the spark of a bullet. He runs until he is hidden in the cold misty forest. When the shootings cease he runs along the grassland between the forest and the tracks, looking for a window to track his escaping love. When he at last finds it, out of breath and with large eager eyes, through the dark shadows of the woods, he sees the large black gates. For a split second, he catches just a glimpse. For the half second he is allotted, he zooms to view the corner of the train’s rear, bearing the last curve along the track, heading for Auschwitz.