Monday, 5 August 2013

Behold and See - Part Two

Hanka knew she had to get to Lublin. But as a smart 13 year-old, she also knew better than to slip out unprepared; there had to be a plan. Klementowice station, from where she could catch an east-bound train, lay six kilometres from the house. It would take Jarek the best part of an hour to get there. so she reckoned it would take her 90 minutes. She was not afraid of walking; she lived three kilometres from her school. She'd need food - some  cheese sandwiches, a boiled egg or two, if she was lucky, a piece of kiełbasa sausage. And water - she'd need to drink along the way, the days were long and hot.

It was money that troubled her the most. She'd need money to buy a ticket; she did not have her school identification card with her. She didn't want to steal money from anyone. Hanka knelt in prayer and beseeched the Blessed Virgin Mary to help her in this great endeavour.

That serene voice returned to her; "Steal not - I will provide". Over the course of the next few days, Hanka squirrelled away provisions for her journey, which she planned for Saturday night; the moon was getting fuller and she could catch the early morning train to Lublin in good time for the High Mass. And with every passing day, interest in the Lublin miracle was growing in intensity. Jarek would return home each evening with new stories of crowds travelling into the city, of people leaving the city with stories of miraculous cures, of eyewitness accounts of the painting the wept blood.

On Wednesday, Hanka found under the bunk beds in which Aunt Stefa's horrid sons slept a handful of loose change. She knew the boys were intended to get old Franek to buy them a bottle of vodka for it. Stealing it would not be a sin. On the other hand, she reasoned, they'd link her disappearance with that of the money - so she left it where it is. "If it's not yours, don't touch", she reminded herself. She imagined how they'd torture her with relish to discover what she'd done with the money and then molest her doubly for weeks to come.

Finally, on Saturday night, once everyone was asleep after the last, intense day of fruit-picking, Hanka got ready to set off. The moon was full, the sky cloudless. To Hanka's surprise, the dogs out in the farmyard didn't bother barking - another sign that the Blessed Virgin Mary was smiling upon her venture.

Without a clock or a watch, Hanka had little idea what the time was. It was bright outside, the cobbled road to Klementowice ran straight through the woods, past several small hamlets that had somehow escaped serious destruction during the war. She walked and walked, she did not tire, her legs carried her purposefully on. At a crossroads, she was surprised to see that Klementowice was only 1.5km away. It was still dark, but the faintest traces of sunrise were visible in the east. She found the station without too much difficulty by walking up the track from a level crossing in the direction of the small town.

As she approached the station building, she was amazed by the sight the greeted her; the platform was full of people; most were praying earnestly, fingering rosaries. The station clock said quarter to four. Hanka asked a friendly-looking group of elderly ladies when the train to Lublin was due - she was told it would come at half past. The ticket office was closed. "Are you all going to the cathedral to see the Madonna?" she asked. One of the women answered: "Yes we are, but the communists don't want us to go there. They are scared..." Another one said: "Be watchful. There are communist spies here among us, ready to make trouble, to denounce us - be careful who you talk to. Do your parents know where you are?" "My parents are dead," replied Hanka. "We shall look after you, poor child."

Presently, the ticket office opened, and the crowd surged toward it. Everyone wanted a ticket to Lublin. Fortunately, the man at the window was old; he'd worked here before the war and was keen to give good service to the passengers and to the railway. An earnest hand pushed a cardboard ticket into Hanka's hand; she looked at it thankfully - it was a full-price return to Lublin and back. As the platform clock clacked towards 4:30, a whistle could be heard in the distance, wisps of black smoke could be seen above the tree-line. The Lublin train was coming. There was a keen sense of anticipation, hearts were beating faster as the engine could be seen in the distance. But there was also a sense that the crowd was being watched, that dark forces were there, mixed in with them. Hanka prayed a little harder.

Click here for Part Three of the story.

This time last year:
Signs of progress along the S2 - Lotnisko to Puławska
[Hey-ho, 12 months on, it's still not opened...]

This time four years ago:
Warsaw's walls bear witness

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