What Have I Done?

Follow the Fox Part 6

Having had her fill of potatoes and carrots, finished off with a small watermelon, Anna’s eyes are closing as she lies on her bed. She wants to sleep well, the feeling of a full stomach has left her with a warm glow. She really wants to go to the fence too, she shuts her eyes and then fights to open them again. Her grandparents are asleep, her grandfather softly snoring. As her eyelids close she can see her father, he’s standing in front of her, in his hand is a teddy bear, he has a big smile on his face. She reaches out for the bear and holds it tight, her father pulling her close. She sleeps, the fence can wait for another day.

A line in the ground, a river, sometimes just a small marker, but in this case a fence mark ground between two different worlds. Such a simple thing symbolises the enormous differences between two countries. From behind the fence he came through, Albert can see light, brightness, tall buildings in the distance. In front of him all he can see is darkness, vague outlines of trees which look sad, some with their branches growing towards the fence, reaching out, lamenting being stuck in the ground unable to move, reaching but never quite making it. Even the air is heavy, there’s a sadness unlike anything he’s felt.

The soldiers have passed several times but he is stuck, he can’t move from fear. He now regrets his decision, he thinks of his parents, unsure if he will ever see them again. Fear is amplified a million times when you’re a child, small situations become mortally dangerous, huge situations become the end of the world. The hole in the ground is but twenty metres in front of him, but to Albert it looks a mile away, a mile fraught with danger. He bangs the ground with his fist in frustration, how could he have been so stupid?

In desperate situations one looks for hope, Albert’s hope is that his friend will come along and rescue him, appearing from behind and taking him away to some safe place. He listens for the sounds of feet or crunching leaves, but there is only silence. Tonight the crickets are silent, he  shivers, the only way he can escape is to run for the hole. If they catch him maybe they’ll take mercy on him, let him go away under the fence. He’ll say he got lost, they’ll understand. Then the stories his father and teachers have told him come to the front of his mind. They’ll take him away, he once even heard they eat people.

A torch light appears, the beam shining just above his head and then sweeping off in the opposite direction, backwards and forwards, he watches and waits for the light to lower and shine on his face. The light goes out, a silhouette stops near to the hole, he hears the sound of a striking match and then sees an orange glow by the shadowy head. He can’t run now. He waits, the orange glow goes out but the shadow remains, he hears the rattle of the fence, the soldier is sitting back against it.

Two hours pass and still the soldier has not moved. Light is slowly coming into the sky, black turning to a dark blue, pink and orange in the east. Tiredness is overcoming Albert, he tries to keep his eyes open but he can’t fight it, he shifts himself underneath a bush, his face falling against the ground, he falls asleep, hoping to awake in his own bed, far away from this place.

Anna awakes, she smiles to herself. She feels refreshed and light. She springs from her bed, not realising it is still early in the morning. Her grandfather stirs, muttering something and then turning his body to face the wall. She places one foot forwards on the wooden floor, it creaks, she looks up, neither of them move. She creeps over to the table, her grandmother has left a pile of fruit out, unusually neglecting to put it away. Like Anna she too could not resist sleep the previous night, overcome with the emotion of having so much food and a full belly.

She takes a banana and stuffs it under her dress, tiptoeing out of the door. She sits down on the wooden steps and peels the banana, eating it slowly as she looks up at the morning sky. The birds are chirping, a slight breeze cooling her. Perhaps there is no need to go back to the fence, she thinks to herself. She may just bring trouble to her grandparents and now they have food, bringing trouble could take it all away. Childish curiosity is hard to overcome, especially that of a child who has seen what the forbidden fruits have to offer. She grasps the pencil which she has been keeping hidden under her dress. Just one more time.

Passing footsteps wake Albert from his sleep, he’s not in his bed, he looks around not sure where he is before it dawns on him he hadn’t been dreaming, he really is stuck on the other side of the fence. The footsteps quieten, he looks up at the fence and prepares himself to make a run for it.

‘What are you doing here?!’, Anna’s voice is both excited and surprised.

‘I found a new hole, a fox. But I have to go home, I have been here all night!’

‘Stay! Just for a little bit more, please? I want to hear a story about your home.’

‘I can’t, my mother and father will be worried! They will be angry!’ She looks upset.

The sound of laughing and shouting. They both lie down flat on the floor. A group of men, not soldiers but they are carrying shovels and pickaxes, they stop not far from where they lie and put their tools down. Their accents are thick, Albert can’t really understand them.

‘What are they saying?’

‘They want somewhere to rest. They will go later.’

‘But, I have to go home!’

‘You can’t, they will call for the soldiers.’ Albert begins to cry. Anna hugs him. He stops crying and sits down on the floor, he’s stuck and there is no way out.

‘Do you want to see my house?’

‘No! I want to go home!’

‘You can’t go home, you will be safer closer to the house. We will wait until the afternoon, they will be gone then.’

She takes him by the hand and leads him through the thick bushes and into the woods before stopping at a clearing. She looks around to make sure no one is around and still holding him by the hand runs towards a wooden house. She keeps pulling him until they are safely underneath the house. The house is held up by four wooden stilts, Anna puts her finger on her lips signalling for him to stay quiet. Above them he can hear the sound of footsteps and two people talking quietly.

‘My grandparents.’ She whispers.

‘Where are your parents?’

‘My father went to the city to work.’

‘Your mother?’ She shakes her head and doesn’t reply. Albert says nothing, not wanting to upset her more. His stomach rumbles, Anna giggles. She runs from underneath the house, leaving him there on his own. He can only see back from where they came, the front part is covered up with wooden planks. He moves himself into a corner, worried a passer by will see him. He looks through a small hole in the wood, he can see a dusty road, at the end of the road he can see the tops of another two houses. They are much the same as Anna’s, old, as if they would fall down in a strong wind.

Anna comes running back, in her hand is an apple, she hands it to him. He takes a bite, she watches him making him feel uncomfortable. She laughs again. He finishes the apple quickly.

‘What are you laughing at, Anna?’ Her grandmother, who knows she sometimes plays underneath the house.

‘Nothing, I am just playing!’ They hear a door open, footsteps moving down the steps at the front of the house and then around it. She appears in front of them, her stern looking face giving Albert little hope his situation will get better.

‘Who is this child, Anna?’ Anna says nothing, looking down at the floor.

‘Who are you, child?’

‘I’m Albert.’ She looks at Anna who is still staring at the floor guiltily, Albert wants her to say something which will make it all better.

‘Where are you from Albert?’ She can see from the way he is dressed, his slightly chubby cheeks and the way he speaks where he is from, but she can’t believe it. Albert says nothing. She grabs them both by the hands, looking around as they come into the open, checking to see if anyone can see. There’s no one around, she rushes them up the stairs and into the house. Cyril stares open mouthed as he sees the boy come through the door.

‘Anna, what have you done?’

‘He climbed under the fence, I was just trying to help him!’

‘Why did you climb under the fence? Anna have you been crossing the border?’

‘No! I found him asleep this morning when I went for a walk.’

‘It’s true, I was chasing a fox and I was silly and I went under the fence. Then there were soldiers and I couldn’t get back and now there are men. I don’t know what to do, please help me get back!’

Cyril looks at his wife whose face has turned white. People are executed for things such as this. He rubs his white hair, trying to think of a solution but none are coming to him. He can’t turn the boy in, they’d keep him, he’d be a trophy to parade, they would say he came over voluntarily because he was told of the greatness of this country. He has to try and get him back. A shout goes up outside. Anna runs to the window.

‘Grandma, grandpa, it’s the cadre! They are checking the houses for bad things! He has his clipboard, there are two soldiers with him.’

Albert looks at the boy who has started to cry, he doesn’t know what is happening. He empties one of the large sacks which the fruit and vegetables came in, he directs the boy into a corner and then commands him to get in the sack, it barely covers him. Albert tries to kneel down, pushing himself into the corner. They pick up the fruit and vegetables and push it into the top of the sack so his head is covered. Cyril looks at the sack, it is impossible he won’t be found. This could be the end of them all. The cadre knocks on the door, not waiting for an answer he opens it.

‘You know why we’re here, just a routine check.’

Continued tomorrow…

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

I’ll post the last part of the other short story tonight, I’m going to convert the whole thing into a Kindle and an ePub file which can be read on most mobile devices and touch pads so feel free to share it when it goes up.

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