The train stopped and seventy years old Adam stepped out into the clear bright summer day. Shouldering his bag he looked around and saw that the small village had changed a lot in the last fifty years. Without asking for directions he slowly walked out of the old fashioned station. Walking down those familiarly unfamiliar paths, he recognized some places from his childhood wanderings. Two boys, in their early teens, raced past him on their bicycles while some children sitting on fences waved to him and called out cheerily, “Good day, Sir!”
He waved back and remembered another bright summer day some sixty years ago.
Eight years old Adam and Daniel were sitting on the wooden fence, having the time of their life; planning a trick on that horrible tell-tale Sophie while making patterns in the mud with sticks. Seeing an old man, look at them, they waved and called, “It’s a fine day, isn’t it?”
He smiled back and beckoned to them. Jumping off the fence, they raced towards him. It was Hans Anderson of the old log cabin at the foot of the hills. This was the first time they had met him and then they had developed a fine comradeship with each other, for youth and age often combine well. They visited him frequently after that. On pleasant days, they went for walks in the woods and climbed the hills, on sunny days they went to the cool and calm lake and in the cold evenings they would sit in front of the fire eating nuts and listening to his stories.
It’s strange that how you remember such small details after all those years. All those memories came so vividly to his mind. How he remembered those clear blue eyes of Hans and the feeling of his strong arm around his shoulder, how he could still see the laughing face of Daniel with the twinkling brown eyes.
Thirteen years old Adam and Daniel were racing towards the wooden cabin when Daniel suddenly stopped and motioned to him to follow him in another direction. There was an orchard from where they, then, stole oranges and took them to Hans. He welcomed them with a bear hug and, “Hullo! How’re my boys?”
And then asked Daniel, “What have you got in your pockets?”
“Some oranges for you,” grinned Daniel, holding them for him.
“I know from where you stole them, you monkey!” he said tweaking Daniel’s ear while Adam sniggered.
“We’ll return these oranges tomorrow, right?”
“Okay.” Daniel mumbled, rubbing his ear.
“I got some cake, we’ll have it with tea if you behave,” Hans announced, patting Daniel on the shoulder.
Then they settled for a cozy evening in front of the fire.
“Tell us some stories Hans!” Adam said.
“And sing to us those old songs!” added Daniel.
Hans was all they had in that big lonely world. Mother had died when they were born and after father’s death they were Hans’s boys. He told them stories of the good old days; some were funny, some were sad and in some, he told of his adventures. He told them about the war that had taken his family from him and given him scars that time could not erase.
Adam reached the beautiful old lake surrounded by exotic plants and shaded by tall trees. It had not changed at all. He dropped his bag and moved forward as the quacking ducks and the graceful swans came to him. He took out his sandwiches from his pocket to feed them. The lake was calm as always and a wave of nostalgia hit him harder than ever. Memories…thousands of them swarmed his mind…all those times spent in this village; father…Daniel…Hans…laughter…walks…singing…picnics…war…yeah war.
It had been a fine summer day and nine year old Adam was feeding the swans when someone pushed him into the water. He came out gasping drenched to his skin to see Daniel roaring with laughter.
“I’ll kill you!” He shouted and chased Daniel into the woods.
They had started playing in the woods losing the count of time. They went back long after dark with mud caked shoes and torn clothes and got a fine thrashing from their father. It was the last time their father thrashed them. He died a few months later, leaving the twins alone. Daniel was all he had when Hans took them under his wing.
“You have to learn to live through life, not many people live it! No matter what comes your way, do not…do not stop living!” Hans had told him once.
Adam sat down on a rock besides the lake thinking of that wooden cabin at the foot of the hills with that ancient tree, a rope was looped around a branch of it from which they swung, the big rocks on which they sat at night, arms around each other, staring at the sky, looking for father and mother among the stars, listening to Hans’ soft singing.
Then, those years of war. Daniel was always full of hope, full of dreams of the life after the war. Their small village was safe for some time but then air raids had started. The village was not safe anymore but sixteen years old Daniel was always cheerful, spreading hope and happiness.
More and more men and boys went to join the army. Hans would not even hear of it. Both of them had joined the group of volunteers who helped people around the village. One night, after a tiring day, all the volunteers were relaxing in a shed and as usual Daniel was cracking jokes when suddenly the siren went off. Everybody jumped up and ran towards the nearest shelter. The planes were overhead and the first crash came. The earth shook under his feet as he ran. Everything was quiet as he entered the shelter. The bombs had stopped falling. He looked for Daniel but could not see him. He ran back shouting for him. In the distance he saw Daniel limping and carrying a child on his back. He ran towards him making wild motions for him to hurry up. Grinning, he waved and shouted, looking up at the sky, “We got’em, Ad!”
And then motioned to him, “Help me with this…”
The air exploded. The world was rent apart. Adam felt himself flying through the air, and all he could do was shield his head in his arms: he heard the yells and screams of agony not knowing what had happened to Daniel. When the world resolved itself into pain and semi darkness, he was half buried in the wreckage of a shed that had been blasted. He dug himself out and stood there swaying and shaking his head to clear his mind.
And then everything was clear to him. He was gripped by a fear so strong; he was more frightened than he had ever been in his life. He stumbled in the direction where he had last seen Daniel. All around him he heard voices that meant nothing to him. Nothing mattered to him except that one face; so identical to his, yet so different. He was running now, despite the blinding pain in his head, which he kept shaking. He had lost the sense of direction, the sense of time.
And then he saw Hans kneeling, tears pouring down his wrinkled face and he saw, that one face he loved. He stood there as the reality crashed upon him. He ran towards Daniel and fell to his knees beside him shouting, “Daniel! Daniel!”
The pain was like nothing he had ever experienced before; worse than the worst of physical pain.
“Daniel! No, no, please no!” he whispered.
The earth had stopped its motion; the world had ended, so why had everything not fallen silent? A hand softly touched his shoulder and slowly pulled him away. He was unaware of what happened around him or who was taking him where? He was blank; nothing mattered now, nothing…now the world had ended.
It took him days to come back into the real world. Everything was a in a haze since Daniel had died. Hans was always there; silent, giving him strength.
He could not live there anymore but he had to go on living, as Hans had said:
“You have to learn to live through life…not many people live it! No matter what comes your way, do not…do not stop living!”
Hans had lived through a life of change and conflict. Life had crushed him, ground him but he was like a flexible branch bending in the direction of wind but never breaking. He taught all this to Adam; taught him to live through life, fighting it back. Hans was now all he had. He cherished him and cared for him for, no matter how strong, he was an old man. Hans was the reason he made it so far into life; four long years after Daniel.
One fine spring morning, Adam had gone to the village as usual, leaving a high spirited Hans behind. When he came back in the evening, he saw Hans sleeping in his chair in front of the cabin and went up to him.
He didn’t stir, didn’t greet him with, “Here’s my boy!”
Hans had gone as peacefully as he had lived, spreading love and affection to his last moment.
Adam had left the village after that; the reason he was there, was gone. For fifty long years he had traveled the world, spreading Daniel’s laughter and Hans’s love…fifty years! Now he was back from where he had started.
The sun had set before the old man realized that he was cold. He got up and started to walk down the familiar path to the wooden cabin, wiping his face on his sleeve as he went.
By Guest Author: Malala Umer
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The Weaver (@theweavrs) January 13, 2016
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.