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Last Journey Home (extract)

Mother wouldn't be happy, that went without saying. But this was a crucial task; she would understand. She was the one who taught him that school was the most important aspect of his young life. And the one thing he had forgotten was the one thing he needed — his school reports. He knew exactly where they were: he could visualise them in perfect detail sitting nestled in the little wooden box at the bottom of his wardrobe. All he had to do was get the train to Staab, walk home, collect the reports and catch a train back to Pilsen that evening. Simple. Except it wasn't. People kept looking at him strangely, making him shrink further back into his corner. Rather than risk meeting anyone's eyes, he looked to the floor. It was a dirty brown colour, with clumps of dust collecting in the corners and along the edge of the wall; trampled sweet wrappers lay despondently in the aisle and between people's feet; cigarette ends stood like tiny tree stumps under chairs, with black ash delicately swirling around them.

Gradually Oswald tuned into the conversations around him. The woman diagonally opposite was going to see her grandmother in the village just before Staab — she was talking excitedly about it with the man by her side: she told him that her Oma made the best sponge cakes in the world, try one and he'd never want to eat anyone else's cakes ever again. Oswald chuckled to himself. Liar. Mother made the best sponge cakes ever; she was renowned in Staab as the best cook for miles around. Stupid woman, telling lies to her boyfriend. The men sitting on the seats just to his right were discussing something about the Sudetenland, something about Henlein and Hitler and the Nazis... Gott in Himmel! His heart skipped a beat. Henlein and Hitler and the Nazis? That didn't sound good. He looked around nervously. No-one was looking at him. No-one he could see anyway. His heart was thumping in his ears.

Black. White. Red. Everywhere. Everyone in the carriage was wearing it, that armband emblazoned with the black, pointed swastika. Mein Gott! He had got on a train full of Nazis.

Hannah Kunzlik

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