A dozen of them arrived at the
small country inn; men and women in uniforms, they were mostly in their early
twenties, although a couple of the men looked older, and they all had the look
of death about them, as if it had become part of their very beings, and yet
despite this they were merry, laughing and pushing each other like hysterical
school children. They had not even sat down when they started shouting for
drinks, speaking commandingly in German, with the arrogance of conquerors,
accustomed to getting what they wanted and quickly.
Maja heard them as she checked
on Andre, who was grunting happily, tcch, tcch she said
caressingly, and stroked his harsh skin. She sighed and washed her face under
the outside tap before she walked round to the front of the inn, where Krysta
was in the small kitchen watching the arrivals through the grimy window.
How was the
Without a care in the
He is getting fat that
one Krysta said, he will soon be ready for slaughtering.
The Germans started shouting
for service again, there goes our quiet afternoon. Maja muttered
What else were we going
to do? asked Krysta, better getting serving.
Maja gave her a look; she was
not sure why Krysta was in charge; they were both virtually the same age, and
Maja had actually been working at the inn longer. Just because Krysta had lived
and worked in Warsaw she felt she could lord it over the rest of them, as if
they were ignorant peasants.
The men and women from the camp
were sat around three tables in front of the inn; it was a cold Spring, and
Maja wondered why they did not come inside where they had a fire going, but if
they had done so the four local men from the village sitting in the corner
would have made their excuses and gone, perhaps they were showing tact, or more
likely, the small inn could not contain their exuberance.
Maja felt a hand linger over
her bottom as she stood by the group waiting for their orders, she felt disgust
and wanted to punch the young soldier who was pawing her, but instead she
briskly moved aside and gave him a look. She often got such attention from
customers, but being touched by someone from the camp was far worse, and for
the briefest moments, she remembered the caresses of Josef, who had been so
kind and loving, and whose memory continually crept upon her without warning,
day and night.
Was it only three years ago she
and Josef had taken off for a fortnight? He had been studying to be an
architect in Krakow, but had come back home to see his family, and more
importantly to spend some time with Maja. They had cycled throughout the
countryside, sleeping in inns or on a couple of occasions in the fields, it had
been the summer then and she remembered the smell of their sweat and the feel
of the cool water as they bathed in clear lakes and woke in each others
arms. Oh Josef, her beautiful boy, he had been taken away by soldiers with his
parents and two sisters, and now she served drink and food to his
Beer all round said
the oldest looking man; a short person with greasy hair parted in the middle.
Maja sniffed; she noticed the strange and unpleasant smell coming from the
group, something vaguely familiar, possibly it was their thick uniforms or
something in their diet; she smiled at them vaguely, feeling sick.
And girl another of
the men shouted, something to eat hey, maybe sausage and bread.
She nodded, expressionless, and
they turned from her, although the tall, blond soldier who had touched her gave
her a wink as she left.
Maja and Krysta cut sausage and
That tall man with blonde
hair isnt bad giggled Krysta.
He already has his hands
full. Said Maja, who could still feel his fat, sweaty hands upon her
He gave me a look
earlier. And Krysta carried on cutting bread.
How can you even imagine
it after what they are doing to our country?
The four old men left quickly,
one of them spat in the direction of the Germans as he left the inn, but they
affected not to notice.
They are only people like
the rest of us, we may as well have fun whilst they are here.
Maja glared at Krysta, there
were already rumours about her and another man from the camp, Maja hoped it
wasnt true; how could you bear to give yourself to such people?
Even Krysta, who pretended to be so worldly, surely must have some loyalty to
Poland, her poor country, who once again was under the boot of an invader. Maja
watched her as she calmly prepared food, tall and still attractive, but
undernourished and tired; she wondered if Krysta had a lover in Warsaw, who she
pined for in the quiet of the night.
The young people stayed for the
rest of the afternoon; eating and drinking, and becoming more and more raucous,
and each time Maja went to serve them, the tall blond man would try to touch
her, and when she skirted his advances, he would look at her with surprise, his
eyes insolent and lustful.
I could not touch someone
like that said Maja later, horrible things go on at that
Krysta laughed; I
dont care. I dont suppose it is as bad as people say
anyway the Jews
. And then she remembered and muttered an
embarrassed apology. Tears starting in her eyes, Maja glared at her and went to
collect more glasses.
The camp was not far away from
the village, it had appeared suddenly over a couple of weeks, and then the
soldiers came, large and noisy, but when alone or drunk they often appeared
ashamed and lost. And now day and night, the villagers would hear the trains
arriving, and occasionally the moans of the people inside the carriages, when
Maja heard them she wondered if Josef and his family were inside one of the
carriages, hungry and thirsty as they prepared to meet whatever monster lurked
in those buildings.
One of the men had a harmonium
and was playing some kind of dance, and when Maja came out, her admirer stood
up and came towards her.
Come and dance with
She shook her head and tried to
avoid him, but he was too quick, and he held her, and for a moment they swayed
in time to the waltz. He squeezed her tight, and she felt the buttons of his
tunic hard against her breast, and then he bent down to her and she felt his
lips on her mouth, and she gagged as there was that smell again, sickly and
nauseating, stronger than even the taste of beer and sausage. Revolted, she
pushed him away, and freed herself, and there was laughter from the group,
whilst behind her she could feel the eyes of Krysta, jealously glaring at
You can serve them
she said to Krysta as she walked back into the kitchen with glasses, I
have had enough.
But it was getting dark now,
and they were putting on their jackets and standing up. The two young women
watched from the window as they walked away, arms around each other, shouting
and singing, a brave new race, full of confidence and ruthlessness.
They havent even
tipped us Krysta told her, if you hadnt been so cross we
might have got something.
I didnt see the
blond one go.
Krysta shrugged probably
just having a piss.
Later Maja walked around the
back and into the shed to feed Andre. He was snuffling about looking for food,
and Maja, stroked him before throwing him some acorns from the basket, and
lazily he got to his feet and started munching. She breathed in the smell of
the sty; ripe but somehow pure compared to the smell of death from the
soldiers, she sighed, and watched the ever-hungry Andre devouring his food.
And then she heard it, a deep
snoring close by, she looked around the dark shed and soon found him; the
German was lying in a corner, his mouth open and his long blond hair streaked
with something vile. She stood there regarding him for a moment, large and
scruffy, his trousers wet at the crotch, he seemed helpless, and for a moment
she wondered if he had a mother somewhere in Germany, a little sister and
perhaps a lover. But she could not humanise him and she put away such
A unconscious survival instinct
must have activated within the man at her feet, and he tried to raise his hands
to protect himself, but it was too late as she already had the spade in her
hand and it was going down hard into his face
She heard something behind her
and there stood Krysta.
I wondered if you were
okay, she said, and then she saw the body and gasped slightly.
What have you done?
she asked, but Maja was silent, staring at nothing, come on we cannot
leave him like that.
Without a further word
the two young women stripped the body and burnt the uniform before doing what
they had to do with the body. As they left, they heard Andre crunching on
his supper, and grunting with pleasure.
Wont they miss
him? Maja asked, imagining the angry German voices, banging at doors and
the sound of screams and gunfire.
Krysta nodded, We need to
leave tonight, head towards the East. My brother knows some people perhaps he
can help us.
Maja was scared, thank
you and I am sorry.
It is okay, but hurry, we
have very little time.
Hand in hand Maja and Krysta
walked swiftly back to the village in the dark, planning their journey to the
East. Behind them, the large building stood dark and cold, whilst from it
came the murmuring of thousands of voices; babies and adults, men and women,
the good and the bad; the sound dispersed over the lakes and hills like mist,
where a young couple had once been happy and in love.