Writers Abroad Magazine 6 May 2017 - Page 21

WRITERS ABROAD MAGAZINE: THE THIRD SPACE Meanwhile, the Captain reads out a list of names, as he does most nights. ‘Warsteiner, Schmidt, Schindler.’ Three men shuffle forward. Fear fills the eyes of all the remaining Jews. Deportation to Drancy is dreaded – a venture into the unknown. No word comes back, but rumours of evil abound. ‘Cruz.’ No-one moves. The Captain’s voice rises. ‘Cruz Joaquim!’ ‘There must be some mistake,’ Joaquim cries out. ‘I am not a Jew.’ The Captain cannot conceal his look of victory. ‘Joaquim is a Hebrew name.’ ‘But it’s also Spanish,’ he begins, ‘and…’ He breaks off as out of the corner of his eye he catches sight of Angelica at the front of the straggling crowd, hobbling exhausted into the Camp. She stretches her neck and peers around. A flame leaps in his chest as their eyes meet. The world stops. They are back in Valencia in a tight embrace. His heart is set to explode. His elation is short, as reality overwhelms him. This filthy, godforsaken place is no place for her. He should have insisted she lie low until the civil war is over. She stumbles and hauls herself up again. He catches his breath at the flicker of pain crossing her face. Joaquim dashes towards her, remembering his own blistered feet on the long march to France, the constant fear shadowing him – of being captured, tortured or shot. His stride lengthens. He’s almost there when the Captain’s hand grips his shoulder. Two guards grab him and force him – wriggling and shouting – into the truck heading for the station where the night train to Drancy waits. The rear door is slammed shut in his face. ‘It’s all a terrible mistake,’ he repeats a thousand times to his sentiment-weary companions. ‘Joaquim is a Catalan name. I’m not a Jew.’ Tears stream down his cheeks. His fellow passengers shrug and turn away. He bangs his fists on the door, rattling the lock. His nails tear against the metal. Blood seeps from his fingertips. He slumps to the floor. Has he lost Angelica forever? Bumping their way to the station, he closes his eyes. He can smell the lavender soap fresh on her skin after her bath, feel the soft down of hair on her arms, the luxuriance of her hair. His shriek of despair draws only stares. Eyes vacant. At the station, they are transferred – under heavy guard – into a windowless freight wagon, squashed together like turkey meat for Christmas. The door is forced shut and bolted. Joaquim inches as close to the side as possible until he can see the lock through a crack. He searches wildly for some tool to force it. His pockets are empty. As the train rumbles off, an agonised moan escapes his throat. Seconds later – with a jolt – the train stops and the door slides open again. Someone else is thrust into the overcrowded wagon. Joaquim shoves hard to show there is no room, but the new arrival pushes against him without apology. Cursing, he looks down and glimpses a small pair of gloved hands touching his knee. This is not a man. Dare he hope? This is Angelica dressed as one. The door rolls shut again, the bolt drawn across. Hands shaking, Joaquim lifts back the hood of the new arrival’s coat, his eyes accustoming themselves to the dark. Angelica stares back at him, eyes round with fear, a finger pressed to her lips. 20 | MAY 2017 WRITERS ABROAD MAGAZINE: THE THIRD SPACE Meanwhile, the Captain reads out a list of names, as he does most nights. ‘Warsteiner, Schmidt, Schindler.’ Three men shuffle forward. Fear fills the eyes of all the remaining Jews. Deportation to Drancy is dreaded – a venture into the unknown. No word comes back, but rumours of evil abound. ‘Cruz.’ No-one moves. The Captain’s voice rises. ‘Cruz Joaquim!’ ‘There must be some mistake,’ Joaquim cries out. ‘I am not a Jew.’ The Captain cannot conceal his look of victory. ‘Joaquim is a Hebrew name.’ ‘But it’s also Spanish,’ he begins, ‘and…’ He breaks off as out of the corner of his eye he catches sight of Angelica at the front of the straggling crowd, hobbling exhausted into the Camp. She stretches her neck and peers around. A flame leaps in his chest as their eyes meet. The world stops. They are back in Valencia in a tight embrace. His heart is set to explode. His elation is short, as reality overwhelms him. This filthy, godforsaken place is no place for her. He should have insisted she lie low until the civil war is over. She stumbles and hauls herself up again. He catches his breath at the flicker of pain crossing her face. 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