Hello all! Please enjoy my first short story that I am posting to this blog – a departure from my regular, and often heated, personal accounts and opinion pieces. Please leave comments!
My walls are bursting with people. A little girl leans against me, tracing shapes with her fingers. Her name is Ana. Her sister, whom I have not heard the name of, is asleep on Ana’s shoulder. Ana is careful not to wake her sister as she draws shapes upon my walls. I know that I am cold to touch, but she barely flinches when presses her little fingers against my steel. Their father stands beside them because there is no room for him to sit down. His eyes are closed but I do not think that he is asleep. I have heard that it is impossible to sleep while standing up, but I am not sure. I wouldn’t know.
They told me that I was built for a purpose. My walls are red and painted, and my wheels are brand new and turn smoothly against the tracks. I have yet to rust or grow old, but I am already tired of the tracks. I thought I would see the world, but I have seen the same thing over and over again; the same green fields, similar towns, and similar faces. The same brick walls and metal gates and men in uniform. My wheels are tired of the tracks that always lead back to the same place. I try to find something new in the people, because maybe I was not built to see the world, but to see the people of the world.
The first people I held were very loud. I opened my doors widely, ready for my first journey. There were a lot of them, and I was afraid that my walls were not strong enough. Yet they were – I was built for this. The first people were all talking, introductions and greetings. I remember a man, whose name I never caught, talked the entire time. He kept telling everybody that things were changing; that he was heading somewhere great. Nobody else seemed to share his enthusiasm.
None of them talk very much anymore. Sometimes, they fight it, but they always end up within my walls. By my fortieth trip, only the children sounded hopeful, while their parents wept. I wanted to hold them and comfort them. But my walls are made of steel, and it is far too cold outside.
The night is cold and dark. Their eyes are closed, but I do not believe that they are all asleep. My walls are far from comfortable. The children breathe steadily and the old snore loudly. The adults close their eyes but I know that they are not asleep. They are trying to stay awake. I wish they would sleep, but I suppose I cannot expect them to.
This lot came on with bread in their hands; one slice of bread per person. This happens on days when the uniformed men are feeling particularly charitable. They never leave anything on my floors; not even a crumb. Little Ana’s father pulled an onion from his pocket when they stepped into me, something he had brought from home. He split the bread and gave it to his little girls so that they would have extra. When he bit into the onion, tears began to pour down his face. Ana and her sister laughed; Ana grabbed the onion from his hands and shoved it towards her sisters’ face, threatening her eyes with the sting of the onion. Their father smiled at them and took it back, shaking his head. But when he finished eating, the tears didn’t go away. Ana laughed, thinking it was still the onion, but her sister took his hand in hers and understood something that the little one, Ana, didn’t. She has been silent since. I think she is asleep, but I am not sure. Perhaps her little mind is wide awake. I know where they are going and I wish that she would get some sleep.
Ana is tracing the shape of a dog, I think, against me. That’s what it feels like; the outline of a little puppy, repeatedly, against my cold steel. Snow falls on my roof. I worry because none of them have thick coats. The sister stirs, and Ana whispers to her: “Do you think they’ll have dogs?” Her voice carries in the silent compartment. The sister does not say anything back, but their father leans down and tells Ana: “We’ll see Rudy again.” She nods her head up and down very quickly, her lip quivering just slightly.
I don’t like to watch what happens when we arrive. I stopped watching that part many trips ago. I saw a dog bite off a man’s arm. That’s when I stopped watching. I feel the familiar tracks against my wheels and I want to stop; I want to pull myself off the tracks. I’ve tried so many times and it never seems to work.
I hear men talking about not having enough space. I hope that they will keep the people on here, with me. I like the feeling of Ana’s hands on my walls, and her father leaning against me, and the little boy in the corner who picks the bread crumbs off my floor, and the old man against my wall, who breathes so slowly I am afraid he will stop.
We stop anyways when we reach the brick walls and the metal gates. There is so much snow on the ground and in the air that nobody can see further than a few feet in front of them, not even me with my big, fancy headlights. I prepare to stop watching; I prepare to shut down. But this time, it is different.
They open my doors and stand in front of them, stopping the people from exiting. The men hold sticks in their hands and raise them to stop the people who try to jump down. I cannot hear everything because of the yelling and the screaming, but I hear one thing being said over and over again: “Men and women: come. Children: stay.”
Ana and her sister grab their fathers’ legs, but he tells them they must stay. “You will be safe,” he says. He grabs both by the shoulders. There is hope in his eyes. “Stay, stay, please.” The sister does what she is told. She grabs Ana around the waist to stop her from following. Ana punches her sister and screams, but once they close the doors, she is stuck inside of me. I hope that I will take her somewhere safe.
This happens everywhere, in each cabin; screams of children and pleading parents. A few children are beaten because they try to follow. I want to stop watching, but I can’t. The men and women are separated, as usual. I do not see more than that because, with my walls much less full, holding only the small bodies of the children, I am moving again. I am going somewhere I have never been before, and I think about Ana and his sister and hope that I am taking them somewhere where they will be much warmer. My steel can only do so much.
The children are very loud, and many are screaming. The older children hold the babies, not sure of what to do with them. “We are safe! We are safe!” A little boy cries, a boy who had arrived without parents. He does not have anyone to miss; nobody to be scared for. I’m sure he did, before, but they are gone now.
The chatter does not stop for a long time. They talk amongst themselves, they spread out, they take turns trying to calm down the screaming babies. Ana’s sister holds one in her arms, wrapping it in her shall. Ana has returned to tracing shapes. This time, I feel her draw a bunch of stars, up and down my walls. An entire galaxy upon my steel, full of planets that I will never see.
The chatter does not stop until my walls fill with gas and silence fills them all.
Soon my walls will be bursting with people again. I keep going because I cannot stop. The silence speaks louder than all the voices I have ever heard, and Ana’s hand is still against me. My walls get colder and colder as the night passes. As does her hand. I wish I could make them warm again, but there is only so much that I can do. I am only made of steel.