Follow the Fox (Part 4)
She’s frozen stiff, the hand on her shoulder too strong. Even if she runs they know it’s her, they’ll just come to the house and then they might hurt her grandparents too. A sudden realisation she’ll never see her father again, they’ll take her away. Her body goes limp, fear quickly taken over by resignation. The hand pushes her around, her eyes are on the floor, all she can see are boots, she dare not look at the man. Anna kicks the shins of the man in front of her, he lets out a yelp and then grabs her arms and pushes her to the ground.
‘Don’t kick me! I’m not going to do anything to you! I’ll let you go but don’t make any noise.’ The soldier lets go of her, she looks up, it’s the same one who gave her the sweets earlier in the woods.
‘You won’t take me away?’
‘No, I won’t take you away. You mustn’t be here, if they see you they’ll kill you. Why are you going over there?’
‘I just wanted to see.’
‘Now you have seen, do not go again. Promise me?’
‘I won’t go again.’
‘Go home, they will be along in a minute and I can’t be seen with you or they will be suspicious.’
The soldier watches to make sure she heads towards the village. When she is out of sight he turns and walks to the fence, he looks down at the hole and shakes his head. He returns to the barracks to find a shovel, she can’t go under if the hole is not there. He has no loyalty to the people who command him, he does a job so he can eat and so his family can eat. He won’t let the girl be harmed, she’s just an innocent child whose life is dictated by the fate of where she was born.
The hole filled in, he places some rocks on the spot too, she would be too weak to pick them up. Out of the corner of his eye he sees someone moving through the fence. It’s a little boy, he’s been watching him fill the hole. The soldier turns away and leaves the hole, satisfied she won’t be able to get through again. Albert approaches the fence when he has gone, seeing the hole filled and the rocks on top he knows he may never see his new friend again.
The innocence of youth means danger is lived in the moment, when it has passed it is to be forgotten. The life-threatening danger she was in not a couple of hours ago has been surpassed by the gift she was given by Albert. She holds the pencil in her hand and studies it, she’s had a pencil before but this one is different, it’s colourful, not brown and dull like the ones they gave her when she went to school.
Anna holds the pencil between her fingers and traces a house into the dust. Next to the house she draws a tree and then a little girl, then a path and at the bottom of the path a man. She instinctively looks up from her drawing, looking down the dusty road. Nobody, she turns her head back to her drawing. She draws a small ball next to the girl. She stands up to admire her work, pleased with herself, she can’t take it to show Albert though, maybe when she’s over there she can draw a picture in the mud or even better, ask him to bring some paper!
The sun begins to set, she rubs her foot into the drawing, spoiling the picture. Frustration has come over her. For the first time she feels anger towards her father. How could he leave her here? How could he not come home just once? She rubs her foot in the dirt harder, completely erasing the picture. Her grandmother watches through the window, helpless, the girl has to take her frustration out on something.
Cyril can see Anna, he knows she is unhappy. He hopes she has not found out her father is dead. He has resolved not to tell her, when she is old enough he will let her know. He will go to the cadre tomorrow and come to an arrangement, the man has influence and can stop rumours and whispers. He hopes there is some compassion in the man. He thinks he has some leverage, there is more to his son’s death than he is being told, they don’t like questions and in return for not asking questions perhaps they will allow the girl to live in hope of her father’s return.
He quickens his pace, forcing a smile onto his face. Anna sees him approaching and runs to meet him, there is some surprise in her eyes, perhaps she didn’t think he would come back. He lifts her up into the air and spins her around. A rare moment of visible love shared between them. He puts her back down on the floor and holds her hand as they walk into the house. His wife is cooking what is left of the potatoes. She places it into his bowl, he breaks it up into three small portions and puts some in their bowls too. There is not much he can do to make their lives better but it is a small gesture.
The soldier sits outside in the still night. Fireflies light up the sky, he remembers sitting outside with his sister on evenings such as this. For hours they would sit together as she asked him questions he did not know the answers to. He knew she didn’t always believe his answers but she never questioned. He longs for home but knows it’s only a dream, this is his new home and fantasies of being allowed back are just that, fantasies.
Albert waits until the lights in the house are off, his mother and father in bed. He steps down from his bed, every movement he makes amplified by the calm night. He pulls the lever on the window and hold his breath, closing his eyes, waiting to hear a sound from his parents bedroom. Nothing. He opens the window and climbs out, pulling the window as far shut as he can. From the floor he picks up a small trowel his mother uses to tend to her plants, he pushes it in to his trousers and makes his way to the fence.
Torchlight passes by, moving backwards and forwards from one side of the fence to the other. It moves off into the distance, Albert sees his chance. He removes his shoes and runs softly to the place where the hole was, sticking the trowel into the mud, pushing down as hard as he can but only bringing up a handful of mud. He tries again but it’s even harder underneath, the trowel barely breaking through the black dirt. He spots the torch light again, turning and running back to his hiding place.
He lies in wait for the torch to pass but this time it stops. Another twenty minutes pass and still the soldier has not moved. Albert curses him for being lazy. Finally he moves off and Albert makes another run for the fence. He digs furiously but each time he breaks the ground he brings up less and less dirt. He had thought it would be easy, he’d imagined being here for a few minutes, a new hole dug and then tomorrow he could return and wait for Anna. He tries one more time, the metal snaps from it’s wooden handle. He leaves it there, stuck in the ground, defeated.
He climbs back in the window and lies on his bed, thinking of ways to solve his problem. There are none. He takes a pencil and paper from his desk and begins to write. ‘I am sorry, I can’t dig a new hole, I tried.’ He folds the paper up and climbs back out of the window, reaching the fence he realises the stupidity of his plan to leave a note. She’ll never find it, a soldier will take it or it will be blown away by the wind. He might even cause her danger. He takes the paper from his pocket and makes a small paper plane, between a gap in the soldier’s patrol he runs to the fence and throws the paper plane, a sudden gust of wind picks up the plane and carries it far over to the other side. He hopes his friend will find it.