Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter and an Extract.

We are being spoiled with a five day break for Easter. Normally there is a four day holiday at Easter with Good Friday and the Monday after being Public Holidays. This year ANZAC day (25 April) falls on Easter Monday so in an Oz tradition there is another public holiday awarded to make up for the overlap.

Now the homeless program I run operates 365 days but my staff usually like to work Public Holidays because they get bonus pay. So I get to take 5 days off straight. Sweet!

Today we went for a family picnic at the same spot as last week. The little pond was doing an even better job of being a mirror. I just had to share.This evening Deb and I went to have a look at the flying foxes I posted about a couple of weeks ago. Specifically we went to watch them set off for their nights foraging for fruit and nectar. Watching thousands of these beautiful creatures streaming over head was awe inspiring.

I did try to get some shots, but my camera isn’t up to shooting moving targets in the dark. This was about the best I could do. With the new camera I am getting in a couple of weeks I think I should be able to get clear shots of these beauties even in the dark.

Now as is my wont an extract from my WIP Veiled in Storms.
After the ordeal last week Valentina and Penelope escape through the woods looking for safety. Valentina faces an uncertain future…


Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
The guard was a big man in British Army khaki and the red cap of their military police, a huge pistol in a canvas holster on his belt.
I sat half slumped on a mattress against a ply-wood partition wall. We were in a small room at the back of a huge aircraft hanger. Natasha absolutely tired out, lay sprawled along the mattress with her head on my lap.

By now it must have been the early hours of the morning, I was bone weary as well but far too much was racing through my head to allow me any sleep.
I was still dusty from the events of the afternoon.

What an afternoon.
I must have been verging on shock because the rest of the afternoon played like a series of disjointed images in my memory.

The terror of Stepan’s ruse, followed by an unnerving walk through the woods.
Penelope and I taking it in turns to sob nervous tears of relief. Holding to each other and Natasha as we pushed our way through the trees.

Past the trees was open farmland with the houses of an outer suburb in the distance. Crossing those fields felt as terrifying as being under fire. I shook the whole way at the thought of a Red Army patrol coming past. Stepan had said we were walking into the American sector. But for all I knew he was still playing some terrible game with us.

Relief at finding a working phone box near the first group of houses we came to. More anxious minutes as Penelope struggled to get through on the phone.

Not knowing what else to do we hid, waiting behind a hedge until we heard a car coming. I peered through a gap in the hedge as I watched the car, a grey hump backed Volkswagen, slowly approaching. Then as it got near I could see Ronnie was driving. Fred crouched on the passenger seat, clad in army uniform, a machine-gun across his lap.

What a moment, joy and tears and laughter all round. All except Fred who stood with the gun tucked under his arm, scanning the hedgerows for movement.

Finally, a claustrophobic ride across the city with Penelope, Natasha and I squashed together. Hiding again, this time under a blanket in the back of the Volkswagen.

We drove straight into a hanger. They brought us into this little room at the back.
Penelope took Natasha by the hand and led her away; how it tore my heart to see her go. I faced a barrage of questions from both Ronnie and a uniformed officer; Fred standing outside with the gun.

After what seemed like hours they relented. The strange officer stepped out. Ronnie, gave me a half hug, but he seemed distracted, distant, 'I’m going to have to leave you for a bit. I've a hell of a lot to organise, then we'll get you on a plane.'
'What's going to happen to me?'
'It's alright Val, we'll sort it all out. But really I have to go, it's going to be a bun fight to organise a special flight.'

Then he was gone, leaving the guard in his place.

My head spun, I was as powerless now as I had been that afternoon. I had no choice but do as I was told.

How uncertainty for the future undermines a person.

My anxiety eased just a little as Natasha came back in with Penelope. Penelope, looked at my expression, measuring me. A warm sympathetic smile. She pulled me close, 'It will be alright Val. I've always said it will all be fine in the end.’
She brushed futilely at her filthy dusty clothes, ‘Now on a more practical note I am going to get a change, I'll bring you back something clean as well.'

We were left with our guard. He was friendly enough but still a guard. Over all a degree of uncertainty. I was not sure if he was there to protect me, or to prevent me from leaving.

Now sitting against the partition with Natasha close I shut my eyes. I must have dozed for a time because I started awake as the door opened.

Penelope bustled in, she was transformed back to her usual self, clean and elegant. You would never guess she had been through such an ordeal just a few hours before. In one hand she held a dress on a hanger, a summery floral print and in the other a small leather case. 'Sergeant, in the car outside there is a wash bowl and a can of warm water, could you be a dear and fetch them in. Oh and there's a pile of clean towels, don't drop them.'

He placed a large wash bowl on a bench at one end and half filled it with steaming water before stepping out and closing the door behind him. 'Now get out of those filthy rags and I'll help you get cleaned up.'

I climbed out of my filthy blouse and skirt. Dropping my pitiful rags on the floor it hit me, I was a refugee, a displaced person like so many others. My few possessions were still in my apartment in the Russian Sector.
Nothing of monetary value, but some of it irreplaceable. The only photographs I had of my parents, my brother. All dead, all gone now I had nothing to remember them by.

She must have seen my face, 'All a bit much isn't it?'
I held back tears, Russian soldiers do not cry, 'Yes.'
Penelope looked around the room and frowned, 'Well it's not the Ritz salon, but we'll make do somehow. Grab that chair and bring it over here. We'll start with your hair. It's not ideal but we won't hurt this floor with a bit of water.'

It was the first time anyone else had ever washed my hair.
It was just what I needed. A lot of my anxiety washed away with the grime. In maybe twenty minutes I was clean. Penelope patted me dry with large cotton towels.
'I’ve never felt such soft towels.'
'Ah,’ she smiled knowingly, ‘that’s one of the bonuses I get for being a decadent capitalist.'
I slipped on the dress Penelope had brought me. 'It's one of mine I'm afraid. No chance to buy you anything, but it's nearly new. It will be a little long but otherwise I don't think it will be too bad a fit.'
'It's lovely.'
And it was, I had never felt fabric like it. I reflected that this one dress she was passing on to me had probably cost more than my whole wardrobe.

10 comments:

Niki said...

Aw we don't get the extra holiday :( There's a bit of a stink about it too.

Linda G. said...

Lovely photographs! I look forward to seeing those flying foxes via your new camera. :)

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

aww - i wish we got days off for Easter. Le sigh. Ah well, i don't actually have much work to do at the day job so i can get some reading done

Ann said...

A five day break..how lovely. I thought your photo looked like something that could conjure up mystical creatures.

LTM said...

woo!!! nothing like paid vacation. And wow. Are those like bunches of the flying foxes? I thought it would be like one at a time or something. That looks more like bats! crazy.

enjoy your holiday~ :o)

Michelle Teacress said...

We don't get any extra days off. *sigh*
Fruit bats, huh? I like the term 'flying foxes' better. I'd like to call them that from now on. :)

Niki said...

Well that is the last time I put Vegemite on my blog!! I now look like a drunken devil worshiper! hehe

Susan Fields said...

I'm glad she got a bath and some clean clothes! I could almost feel her anxiety washing away. It made me feel better just reading it. :)

I hope you enjoyed your 5-day holiday!

Al said...

Hi Niki,
Ripped off!
They tried that a few years ago when ANZAC day fell on a weekend.
They haven’t tried again.

Hi Linda,
Thank you!
I look forward to seeing how well I can catch them too.

Hi Sarah,
What no holiday for Easter? Cheated!

Hi Ann,
It was just what the doctor ordered.
It did look kind of weird didn’t it?

Hi Leigh,
Paid vacations are the best kind!
Each of the squiggles is a flying fox (which is our name for giant fruit bats)

Hi Michelle,
Poor you, it should be a law. Mind you we don’t have a Thanksgiving holiday.
I like flying foxes better too.

Hi again Niki,
Drunken devil worshiper? Never!

Hi Susan,
I well remember how good a wash feels after a hard day, so I am with you!
Pleased you felt better!
The break was great.

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