Writers Abroad Magazine 6 May 2017 - Page 20

WRITERS ABROAD MAGAZINE: THE THIRD SPACE NIGHT TRAIN TO DRANCY BY JILL BROWN Angelica’s last words remain etched in his brain. ‘You must go, or they’ll kill you.’ With a surge of yearning, Joaquim’s gaze turns towards his beloved Spain, hidden from view behind the jagged peaks of the Pyrenees. A shout brings him back to the present. The flat, unfamiliar Roussillon plain, swept by its relentless wind, accentuates the emptiness inside him. He lets out a shuddering breath, pulls his jacket closer and starts digging again. The Captain thumps his foot. ‘Faster, boy!’ Joaquim thrusts the blade of his shovel deeper into the unforgiving soil, willing the physical effort to dull his mind. But images of Angelica strolling through the orange groves of Valencia still haunt him. Her laughter tinkles in his ears. Her lips brush his. He digs harder, until his shoulders ache and his stomach roars. And still he sees her – remembering their farewell embrace, her softness. And his words, ‘I don’t want to leave you, Amore.’ She’d gently pulled away – her green eyes full of promise. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll come when the time is right.’ Each day, he wonders when it will be right. They’d had no time to discuss it. The trigger-happy nationalist armies were already on the horizon. He’d grabbed the canvas bag she’d prepared, kissed her once more and run. Please God, that Franco’s marauding troops kept their hands off his first and only love. Months pass without news. Niggles of worry grow like tumours. But tonight, a spark of hope spreads through the Rivesaltes Camp. A group of Republican refugees are presently crossing the border into France and heading for this Camp. Could she be one of them? The news sends Joaquim’s blood surging. All night he tosses and turns, and next day is weak with fatigue, unable to concentrate on anything but Angelica. The Captain picks on him again. ‘Sharpen up, or I’ll put you on the next train to Drancy.’ Rivesaltes is not only a refuge for those fleeing the terrors of Franco’s regime, but also a temporary internment camp for Sephardic Jews on their way north, victims of another fascist’s war. ‘I’m not a Jew!’ Joaquim says, immediately regretting the anger in his voice. The Captain scowls. ‘Dig harder then.’ The man’s dislike burns into Joaquim. He digs so fiercely that soon they are laying foundations for the men’s dormitory. At least the brick walls will offer protection from the fierce tramontane wind that threatens to tear down their tents every night. A waft of fetid air assaults his nostrils from the inadequate sanitary block. He scratches his dirt-infested clothes. This so-called camp is more like a prison suited to criminals, than for freedom fighters like himself. The only thing that keeps Joaquim going is the thought of seeing Angelica again. He raises his eyes skywards and prays she will come tonight. As the sun sinks behind the snow-capped peaks, the chatter and sighs of the new arrivals reaches his ears. He narrows his eyes to scan the advancing refugees. 19 | MAY 2017