Read The Journey Back Online

Authors: Johanna Reiss

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs

The Journey Back (6 page)

BOOK: The Journey Back
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“Not here … no … no …”

For the second time he wove through town. “You must find it quickly,” he warned. “Soon it will be really dark, and you certainly won’t be able to recognize your house.”

She looked and looked. “So con used she sobbed.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll find it. Winters-wiik is not that big.

But I wish you remembered your address!”

At last he stopped at the police station. Two policemen came out, carrying flashlights. For a second they looked at her. She was covered with boils-even her scalp. Trembling, they carried her inside. She was light, although she was tall. Fifty pounds only. ‘

Ater they had checked the register and found out where she had lived for twenty-five years, they said she could not go there. “Not yet, Mrs.

Menko. Who would look ater you? When you’re stronger.” They took her to the hospital instead.

“I don’t see how she can pull through,” Father said softly. He had just been and seen.

What a beautiful summer, people said, hardly a rain. Which was lucky, they added right aw since there were so many who were still liv outdoors or in houses that had no roofs. In orchards the trees were heavy with fruit-api big enough to be almost a meal in themselves. In fields and gar deus the cabbage plants were sho Lug up as if they were being pushed. “It’s going be some harvest,” people said, laughing already, i thinking about it.

On Sundays the churches were filled, with m: people giving thanks for many things.

Rachel was there, too. She left the house v. early, before anyone else was up, closing the d, softly behind her. A few hours later she we’ come back, her face bright and happy. In the af noon the church bells rang again and once to Rachel rushed off.

With his hands jammed in his pockets, Fat watched her go. He wished the soldiers had stc the church bells, and turned them into bullets. Tl had in many other towns. The sound of them, driving him crazy. And on Sundays he began to out, too-for his business.

I had often passed them before, the group of children. I even knew in which houses along the cobblestone street most of them lived, and exactly wberc they played, throwing balls, nmnin , giggling, shrieking, or just standing around. But they had never before stopped what they were doing when they saw me or looked at me in this way, as if they were waiting for me.

They were coming over. All of them? Yes, all six. What did they want?

Were they going to chase me, shout Jew in my ears again, hit and kick as kids had done years before?

I walked faster. They did, too. Their voices. That close already? I still had a good distance to go before I’d be home-more than half.

They were right next to me now. In a second, they’d begin. Please, no.

“Were you really hidden as people say?” one of them began.

I stopped. “Yes.” Nervously I licked my lips. “Did the Germans ever catch you?”

“You escaped?”

“Any shooting?”

“They hit you?” Curiously they closer. “What was it like?”

“What did you do?”

“Nothing,” I whispered.

Unbelieving, they looked at me. “Nothing? For all that time?”

“The Germans had their local headquarters in the downstairs of the house I stayed in.” My voice sounded a lot louder now. “It was scary.”

“Did they catch you then?” one of the boys demanded.

“Well-no,” I confessed. “But don’t think it wasn’t dangerous. I had to stay in bed all the time, so they wouldn’t hear me, and once “


“A soldier saw me,” I said triumphantly. But, no, nothing had happened then, either. Ashamed, I dropped my eyes.

“Let’s go back,” I heard one say. When I looked up, they were already doing that.

But wait. One of the girls had turned around, the older one. “What school’ will you be going to?” she asked.

“The M. U.L. O.,” I said proudly.

“That’s where we’ll go,” she said. “You can walk with us.”

I laughed and nodded. Sure, I’d love to. Whistling, I continued on my way.

What a pretty day! The goldenrod along the ditch could not have been yellow et and the flower parts of the thistles as purple as could be. I was not the only one who had thought of a walk this afternoon, those two people had, too. Luxuriously they were strolling along the grassy edge of the road, the sun peeking at them through the trees, making their hair shiny—even the tops of their shoes, where the leather had not cracked.

I was going to sit down right here, in front of our house. As soon as I saw Sini, I’d tell her what had happened. “I talked to a lot of kids,”

I’d say casually as if this was. the fifty-fifth time in a week. And then, when she had already begun to look pleased about that, I’d say, “I think I’m making friends, Sini.”

Yep. She was not the only one who was. Me, too. And I had been back only-Let’s see … six weeks.

Sini had found a job, in a home for children from Winterswijk whose parents had been traitors and were now in jail.

How could she, said the people who gathered at the tree. ‘% Jewish girl working for them? What’s the matter with her? Doesn’t she know how many of us they helped send to concentration camps?” Their fingers shook as they went down the lists again. “No … no There’s not one other Winterswijk name here.”

“It was the-parents who did those things,” Sini protested. “The children are innocent. My God, some of them can’t even talk yet, they’re so little.”

Father and Rachel were glad about S’mi. “At I she’s doing something useful with her time,” this said.

They weren’t thinking of those poor childr Not easy having to put up with Sini, six day week yet. Well, it was fine with me. I was bus had lots of things going on.

There was the mass err at four, and the kids I h met. Sometimes when I passed them now, I walk over to them. They smiled, said hello, and the o1 girl, Janhie, always reminded me that I would walking to school with them. School-that v another place I went to almost every day, to: whether the soldiers had left and the roof ix fixed. Plus I did errands for Rachel. I would have had much time anyway for what-was-hi name-again, Sini. It was just as well she had a j But right after I told her so, I turned away. S didn’t have to see my face.

Some nights it rained. I could hear it clam ing against my window and on the roof. bong. The sound of the bell in the church el was very faint, as if it came from the next to


Not Rachel, though. She was loud, right ater night, walking round downstah, talking to herself. “A cow with hoof-and-mouth disease. Fine story. Who does he think he’s kidding? And Sini only home to eat, then off again … What am I waiting up for?” To let them in? As exhausted as I am. I must be crazy!”

Very loud now. It came from the hall, near the front door. “No more.

Let them remember their keys. And if they don’t-4hat’s too bad!”

Click, the lock. Through the rain I could hear something else. A dog, barking-not Bobbie.

A week went by. Then one morning Sini did not come down for breakfast.

Father ran upstairs to get her. “Sini, get out of bed,” he yelled. “You have to go to work.” When he came back downstairs, he said she couldn’t.

He looked frightened. “I don’t understand, Rachel. You go and talk to her. I’m late already.”

But Rachel came back downstairs alone. too. ini was exhausted and nauseous was all she said.

Instead of going to work, Father rushed off to town for a doctor. An hour later he returned with one. Anxiously we waited outside Sini’s door. When the doctor came out, he said she had jaundice.

“But the vomiting this morning,” Father said nervously. “Are you sure she’s not-Go and get the doctor a clean towel, Annie.” I got halfway to the closet. Again the doctor said it was jaundice.

“Positively, Mr. de Leeuw.” He began to sound irritated.

“If you’re sure then-” Father wiped his face. Gratefully he shook the doctor’s hand.

All day I tiptoed in and out of Sini’s room. “Rachel wants to know what you want.” No? No oatmeal? Sini only wanted to sleep? That was all right. I wouldn’t force her. I’d be back soon. Maybe then she’d eat.

Sometimes Rachel came, and stayed. Then the three of us talked. Not about cleaning, not about religion-about us. Nights were special, too.

Even Father was home, and we all sat by Sini’s bed.

“Remember, Father, when she was little,” Rachel said, “how she used to stop everyone in the stree a few days before her birthday? “Hey, you, c’mere a minute. See that house over there? “S mine. In two days I’ll be four,” she’d shriek. Two days later perfect strangers would come and ring the bell, Annie, holding a present. “Give this to the little girl who has a birthday today,” they’d say. “We think her name is Sini.”

Mother would be so ashamed.” Rachel was wiping tears from her eyes, from laughing as well as crying.

““Sini’s not like other people,” your mother used to say.” Father got up from his chair and bent over Sini’s bed. Clumsily he smoothed her Pillow. “Go to sleep now,” he said. “It’s late. Come on.” But his voice was soft, not angry-nice.

July was turning into a wonder/ul month, and not only at home. “Isn’t it amazing,” everyone said and looked at the sky with smiles on their faces. “We just can’t get over it. We haven’t had a summer like this since before the war. Not a cloud-How many days does this make now?”

And they’d hurry on, still smiling.

Then it changed. No, not the weather-Sink Every day she became a little better and stronger, which was good, of course. But she was angry.

Almost every time I came upstairs, she began: “Look where I am. In bed, missing out on all the sun. I’m becoming as pale as I used to be. I want to get out.” Furiously she sat up. “If that doctor says I have to stay here much longer, I’m sure I’ll lose my job . And the soldiers will have been sent home. Then what will I do? Hang around the house day and night? For what?” She flopped back onto the low.

Silently I plucked a piece of thread off her blanket. It was an old one.

It even had little holes

“And where are Johan end Diantie? Why haven’t they v’ted us this sununer?” Sini asked.

That’s exactly what I wanted to know. I got up. Slowly I went downstairs, looking I didn’t know for what. Maybe I’d keep Rachel company for a while. She was sitting at the kitchen table with three books in front of her, open, every one of them. She was doing her work for the minister, for when she got baptized. For a second she looked up.

“I want you to ask the masseur some tiring she said.

What! Going once a day was not enough?

“See whether he’ll let you ride a bicycle, Annie. And make sure you ask whether you can ride a lot.”

What was the matter with Rachel? The only bicycle in the house was Father’s, and he was always on it. Crazy people, all three of them. It was all the same again, just as it was before Sini’s sickness. She should not have gotten better. There-I slammed the door as I left-that would show them.

-8The next morning Rachel called me to come outside. “Hurry up, Annie.

I have a surprise for you. You’ll never guess what it is.”

I rushed out. She was holding a bicycle, with tires that looked almost new, a bell, and just a LITTLE bit of rust here and there.

“Do you like it, Annie?”

“Yes.” Who was it for? Me?

“Try getting on it, and let me see if it’s too high.”

No, it was just right. Now what? Confused, I looked at her.

“Would you like to go to Usselo?” she asked. Did she mean it?

“Rachel?” She did. I put my arms around her neck and kissed her. And I had almost not asked the mass cur

“Practice as much as you can,” Rachel said, “and on Monday, after the doctor comes to look in on Sini, he’ll take you in his car as far as Haaksbergen. He’ll let you off there, and you can ride the rest of the way.”

“I wish I could go with you.”

I looked up. Sini was standing at the window. Well, she couldn’t come.

She was still a little sick. Besides, Rachel had only borrowed one bicycle-for me.

Carefully, I sat down on the seat. For a second I raised my hand and waved. “Cxood-bye, Rachel.” Slowly I began to move. Look, how I was riding -very straight, nowhere near the trees. Oops, careful, that was a little close. But look now. The road was becoming shorter and shorter..

behind me all, cady. I raced across the tracks and onto the cobblestones without even slowing down.

Too bad the kids weren’t there to see me. Maybe later, when I’d be out practicing again.

It was crowded along the main road from Winterswijk to Enschede, even now, this early in. the day. There were almost more people on the road than there had been in May.

“Can you take us?” shouted the ones who wanted to go in our direction.

The doctor had to keep shaking his head, no.

I leaned forward. In a couple of hours I’d be there. Sure, it was not that far. Ussdo came long before Enschede, and at our speed … Johan and Dientje would be so surprised to see me, they’d probably think they were dreaming. “Can’t be. Our Annie can’t have ridden forty kilometers,”

and they’d rub their eyes and go back to work. I smiled; I couldn’t wait.

The car stopped. “This is where I’ll let you off,” the doctor said.

Haaksbergen already? It had come awfully fast. “Ready, Annie?”

Sure. I had to laugh myself. I took the bicycle from him.

“Meet me here on Friday, at noon.”

“I will.” Carefully I studied the house he was walking toward. Then, with my body bent over the handlebars, I took off. I could go fast, too.

Just give me a minute until I really get going. Yes, like that.

Not bad, right? Almost like a racer. That’s what I think. Down, legs, down. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. Down, down, down, down, past’ one white stone marker after another that said how much farther to Enschede.

Better not forget to subtract all those kilometers for Usselo. Still, that many more to go? Six? After all of this? Maybe I’d take a rest soon. I’ll do it right now. Panting, I got off and sank down on the grass. I was going to take it easier after this. Even my head hurt. For a few minutes I lay perfectly still. There, I had started to feel better. Now I could see where I was. A nice spot I had chosen, right by a mass of broom brushes. I touched one of the yellow puffs-silky.

BOOK: The Journey Back
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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