On that postwar morning, a different winter entered through the train station's large windows. Men walked with their heads bowed, tense, their gazes fixed on the horizon so as to avoid meeting eyes with strangers. The war had ended, but it was hard to get used to the new silence and that sky with no planes, devoid of whistling bombs that fell like streamers. There was still doubt in people's eyes; they looked at the clouds out of the corners of their eyes, afraid of reliving the horror of the explosions, the racing to take shelter in a basement as an alarm siren sounded, emitting short moos that gave you gooseflesh. Each side slowly adjusted to defeat or victory, to not rushing their steps, to sleeping through the night with few frightened starts. Gradually the dust settled on the streets, the ruins and the rubble disappeared, but another, quieter war had begun, of police sirens, of new fears, in spite of the fact that the bugle no longer sounded on National Radio with war news.
In that war which followed the battle, Isabel had lost everything.
An oily stain that smelled of lice, chicory, ration cards, toothless mouths, and filthy fingernails spread rapidly among the passengers at the edge of the tracks, tinting their existences in weak gray tones. Only a very few were spread out on the platform benches, off to one side, taking in the soft sunlight that filtered through the snow with closed eyes and trusting expressions.
Andrés observed the scene with distrust. He didn't feel part of the world of children. He felt that he had always belonged to the circle of adults. And within that to the circle of his mother, whose side he never left even when he was dreaming. He squeezed her hand tightly, not understanding why they were in that situation, but perceiving that there was a serious motive behind it. His mother was nervous. He sensed her fear beneath her glove.
A group of young blue shirts burst onto the platform. They were clean shaven and proudly wore the fascist yoke and arrows on their chests, intimidating the others with their chants and their bellicose stares, although most of them looked too young or just too green to have ever fought on any battlefield of that war that still smoldered in countless families.
The young man who shared a bench with Isabel and Andrés sank even further into his contemplation of his own feet, squeezing a wooden suitcase tied with a cord between his knees, avoiding the defiant looks of the Falangists.
The blue suits and high boots, on the other hand, fascinated little Andrés, and he jumped off the bench to salute the familiar uniforms. There was no way Andrés could grasp the anguished atmosphere created by those young men's presence, nor the trembling in the air amid the people crowded together increasingly closer to the track. The boy had always seen uniforms like that at home. His father wore one proudly, as did his brother, Fernando. They were the winners, said his father. There was nothing to fear. Nothing.
And yet those people on the platform were acting like a herd of sheep pushed toward a precipice by the wolves surrounding them. Some Falangists forced a few passengers to salute with their arms lifted high and sing "Cara al Sol." Andrés listened to the chorus of Juan de Tellería's hymn, and his lips were so well trained that they repeated them unconsciously. The impulse had become a reflex.
Volverá a sonreír la primavera
que por cielo, tierra y mar se espera.
Arriba, escuadras, a vencer,
que en España empieza a amanecer...
But his mother's singing of "Cara al Sol" lacked its previous enthusiasm. The peace she and so many others had been longing for was an illusion.
Copyright © 2011 by Víctor del Árbol. Translation Copyright © 2012 by Mara Faye Lethem
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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