Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Behold and See - Part Four

Hanka indeed had angels watching over her; kind, caring angels that saw to it that not a single dog reacted to the smell of a frightened child hiding across the railway tracks. Once the trucks had driven away, and the coast was clear, Hanka stood up, brushed the dust off her grey cotton dress, and crossed the tracks and the yard in front of the station. She knew that Lublin was not too far away, though just how far, and in what direction, she knew not.

Following the tracks would lead to Lublin, she figured, though she'd have to keep low, watch out for people, and hurry - as she looked back at the station, she could see its clock, it had already gone six-thirty. She still had food, enough for two modest meals, and a bottle filled with water from the well.

The first two hours walking passed without incident; no one saw her, she saw only a few people working the fields alongside the tracks or walking along the road. As the sun rose higher, the temperature rose, it was no longer pleasantly warm. The next station, Stasin, was deserted; soon after the railway line entered a small forest. Hanka figured she must have been walking for the best part of two hours. She ate a sandwich, drank some water. As the trees finally parted, she could see Lublin. A town bigger than any she'd ever looked upon. Factory chimneys, some church spires on the horizon, a town on a low hill.

Time to take extra care. She would need to find the cathedral of St. John; but first, she had to get to the town centre. The railway line crossed a river; beyond it ran through an area with many factories. Hanka decided to follow the river instead. She passed some kind of sports stadium, then walked along meadows, the town getting nearer and nearer. Finally - another bridge, but this one carrying a main road that ran right up the hill. But on the bridge were soldiers and militia-men. They were controlling everyone that wanted to cross. She could see many people turning back. It occurred to her that had she crossed the river further back, she could avoid the checkpoint. There was no other way - sadly Hanka had to retrace her steps to a small wooden bridge in the meadows that she'd previously ignored. Crossing it, she found herself on a street of low and poor-looking houses.

An elderly woman dressed in black stood in a doorway. Hanka looked directly into her eyes and solemnly asked of her the way to the Cathedral where the miraculous Madonna was weeping tears of blood. "Child!" replied the old woman. "I have been. It is true. Go - see for yourself! I see you have come far... Go - up to the end of the road, then follow the crowds!"

And there were crowds at the end of the road. And Hanka blended in with them; they were singing about the angelic choirs praising Maryja, in a measured tempo, faces turned upwards, not cowed; undefeated. As the procession approached the Old Town, it reached a crossroads at which an army truck stood stationary, surrounded by militia-men armed with pistols and truncheons. Atop the vehicle was a pair of loudspeakers, from which a voice was droning... "People! This is a provocation! There is no miracle! It is only resin seeping from the wood! The clergy are attempting to incite you against People's Poland! Go home! Disperse! There is no miracle! There is nothing to see! This is superstition!"

There was little reaction to this; the crowd shuffled on; some hot-heads spoiling for a fight with the militia had to be calmed down (Hanka learnt that there had been some scuffles and arrests the previous day. She'd also been told that the tears were not resin or sap, as the painting was on canvas, not on wood). More and more militia-men and interior ministry troops were seen blocking side-roads, especially those that led to local Party, security, militia or government buildings. And still they kept moving forward, singing, praying, or in silence.

For the first time since the Red Army took control of Lublin five years ago did the local population show such defiance in the face of their new masters. This was not counter-revolution orchestrated out of Washington or London; this was a spontaneous outpouring of faith. The power of the one institution that the Polish United Workers' Party had failed to crush, the Roman Catholic Church, lay not in the clergy but in the faithful. And together, in faith, they felt strong - not even Stalin and all his tanks and artillery could keep them from coming to pay homage to the Miraculous Madonna.

Before long, the procession had turned onto Ulica Królewska and at last the towers of the cathedral loomed over them. Hanka felt strong despite being extremely tired. For the first time in her life, she exulted in a sense of triumph.

Click here for Part Five of the story.

This time last year:
A new-found fascination for Mars
[A year on - what have we found there? Not a whole lot...]

This time two years ago:
Rhetorical question: why the fuss?

This time three years ago:
Varsovians! Ditch the car - buy a quarterly karta miejska
[Today 250zł, still excellent value at 4zł per working day]

This time four years ago:
The limited interests of mankind's geniuses

This time five years ago:
Into the fading light

This time six years ago:
Ar y Ffordd i Pwyl Rhydd

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