We had heard news about the war, but as the tensions between our countries had been strained for several years, that’s what they were – rumours. Even though we lived in the village, which was about 20 kilometres from the border, life was good.
I still remember how my mother tucked me in bed that evening. She made me say my night prayers before switching the light off and wishing me goodnight.
The next thing I remember was a loud banging that woke me up.
“WAKE UP!” someone shouted as the banging continued. I pulled the duvet over my head and tried to be as still as possible.
“WAKE UP, NOW! THE WAR IS STARTED! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”
I heard someone open the door downstairs and then could hear my father’s voice saying something. And then my mother was there, switching on the lights.
“Darling,” she said, and I could hear the quiver in her voice. “We need to go for a trip. Pack your bag, like we have talked.”
I started to cry. Practising for something and then facing the reality was two completely different things.
“YOU HAVE FIFTEEN MINUTES!” I heard the man’s voice from downstairs.
I tried to remember everything that was important… schoolbooks, pen, paper, my doll. Some clothes. Ot had been much easier before because our maid had helped me, but father had already let her go. I had been told that she and her husband had already left for safety.
When we were ready, the sky was already light. I remember standing outside, at the porch, looking at our yard, the bare wintery trees, and the pale blue sky. Tears were making my cheeks wet, and I saw that mother was crying, too. Father seemed heartbroken. And then the soldier who might have been the same who shouted earlier, ordered us to the van waiting by our gate.
“It is OK, darling.” Father said to me once we were sitting in the van. “We will come back home soon.” Somewhere, from the distance, I could hear the loud bangs of the artillery. Maybe ours, maybe the enemy’s.
The van took us to the train station, where there was one of the biggest steam engines I had ever seen. Father told me that the national railway company had sent us the presidential train to pick us up. When we got in, the carriage was already almost full, and this was the first station! We found seats next to our neighbours and all of us had a good cry together.
It wasn’t long before the train started moving. It felt horrible to see the familiar village streets move past as we were heading towards safer areas.
After two more stops, the train started to pick up speed. I could hear the engine and the wheels on the tracks. And all of a sudden, there were our soldiers walking on the road towards our village. The look on their faces was grim and determined. Even then, I thought that they were so courageous. They would be facing an enemy who had used deceit to start the war, but they were determined to keep the enemy from our village and our country, no matter the cost.
The journey was long, and when we finally arrived in a small town, hundreds of kilometres from our little seaside village, the train finally stopped, and we were ordered to alight. It was the first time when we saw some officials.
After a while, it was our turn. The officials assigned us to a small house near the local cemetery. It had a small garden, which mother decided to turn into a kitchen garden as soon as the spring came.
But before we could properly settle down, Father received a letter ordering him to report for duty. It was only a few more days before we stood at the railway station again. This time, we were waving him goodbye as the train pulled off towards the front lines.
We received letters from father regularly, and dutifully mother replied to them. Months passed, snow melted, and the small leaves appeared in the trees. And the letter we had been waiting for arrived.
“I am finally coming home!” it read. “I can’t wait to see you in a week’s time.” It felt so good to know that father was coming back home.
It wasn’t a week. It was a slightly longer time before father came back. On their last night of duty, the enemy had mounted a desperate attack trying to breach the defence lines. My father had not survived the attack, but the defence had held. He had died a hero.
Years later, mother and I had made our lives quite comfortable ones in our new home town. She was working as a seamstress, and I had taken up teaching. We never returned to our little village as the areas had had to be relinquished to the aggressor as part of international agreements.
But every spring, when I smelled the new grass, leaves, and heard the larks… I remembered, so vividly, our home. Home that I will carry with me in my heart until the day I die.