This England

by Oscar Windsor-Smith

Inspired by reading about the Kindertransport.

I wish Felix were here. I miss him so much since we left home.

Tugging at my brother’s sleeve, I say, “Felix would like to see the trees whiz by, wouldn’t he, Jack?”

Jack nods.

I miss Mummy and Daddy, too.

“Mummy and Daddy would love to see the trees and the fields whizzing by, wouldn’t they, Jack?”

Jack nods again. He’s turned his head away as if he’s looking out of the window, but I think he’s pretending.

Mariam is sitting next to Jack. Jack is holding her hand. She looks scared, but she’s only little. Mariam is seven, a whole year younger than me.

With his other hand, Jack is twisting the brown label hanging on string around his neck. I think he’s feeling sad.

Mariam is sniffling. She wipes her nose on the sleeve of her coat. She says, “I want Mummy,” and starts crying again.

“Jack, would Felix be able to see out of the window? If he was sitting on the train seat like us, would he able to see the trees? Jack?”

Jack lets go Mariam’s hand and stands up. Jack is really big. He’s ten and he’s taller even than the middle of the train door where the leather belt thing is that works the window.

Jack takes hold of the belt and pulls it and the window opens – crash – and the carriage is full of smelly smoke and diddledy-dum noises coming from the wheels and woosh-woosh sounds every time a telegraph pole flashes by.

“Why couldn’t we bring Felix with us, Jack?”

Jack leans forward with his elbows on the window. He’s looking out, his hair blowing in the wind. I think he must have got smoke in his eyes because they’re all watery when he turns back to me.

“Felix was only a cat, Alec. We’re together that’s all that matters now.

“You mean Felix is a cat, Jack.”

“Yes, that’s what I meant.”

“When will Mummy and Daddy come?”

Jack leans out of the window again. He’s making a sound as if he’s laughing, but I don’t think he is.

Mariam is crying louder. “I want Mummy and Daddy.”

Jack steps back from the window. He blows his nose, looks at Mariam and me and says, “Let’s play a game?”

“Yes, let’s play.”

“Will you play, too, Mariam?” Jack says.

Mariam has stopped crying. She rolls her bottom lip like when she’s sulking and then she nods slowly.

“What shall we play, Jack?”

“We’re going to play Angels and Scary Goblins.”

Mariam is smiling. She claps her hands. “I want to be a Scary Goblin,” she shouts.

“No. Me. Me. Me. I’m a Scary Goblin.”

“That’s not how we play it,” Jack says, pointing out of the window at the blue sky. “Look up there.”

When I screw up my eyes against the light I can see little dots twisting and turning, writing chalk-marks on the sky.

“Some of them are Angels and some are Scary Goblins,” says Jack. “We’ve got to guess which are which and who is going to win.”

I know Jack is pretending for Mariam. Those aren’t really Angels and Scary Goblins, they’re aeroplanes. They dive lower and I can see circles on the wings of some and black crosses on the wings of others.

Jack gets Mariam to hold up all her fingers. She’s laughing now. “When I say Scary Goblin you put down one of these fingers,” he says, tickling her under the arm and making her squeal. “And when Alec says Angel you put down one of these fingers.” He tickles her under the other arm.

And then my big brother Jack puts his arms around us both and we laugh and shout as loud as we can at the Angels and Scary Goblins until the train whistle blows.

“We’re coming to a station,” Jack says. He stands on the seat to lift our cases down from the rack, and then takes a clean handkerchief from his pocket and wipes Mariam’s eyes and makes her blow her nose.

The train stops and people are running up and down the platform looking into the windows. A lady opens our door. She’s waving and pointing at Jack, Mariam and me and saying words I don’t understand. Standing behind the lady is a man in a black uniform with shiny silver badges and a big hat. Looking fierce, he reaches in and takes hold of Jack’s label. The man nods. He says something to the lady and they both laugh.

Another man dressed like a soldier steps up. He points to the lady and then to us. His words are very strange.

“To England and your new family you are most welcomed by us,” he says, smiling.

Oscar Windsor-Smith, who has fiction, non-fiction and a smattering of poetry published in diverse places, in print and online, was a finalist in the New York City Midnight Short Story Challenge 2012 and shortlisted in The University of Plymouth short fiction competition in 2013.

  1. #1 by Eric Nicholson on January 9, 2014 - 11:06 am

    Very evocative. i wasnt sure if the soldier at the end was German? Is it an alternative history?

  2. #2 by Oscar Windsor-Smith on January 9, 2014 - 11:33 am

    Thank you for your comment, Eric. The key to the story lies in the link to information on the Kindertransport, which, unfortunately, appears below my bio. Oscar.

  3. #3 by Linda on January 9, 2014 - 12:42 pm

    I assumed the children were British evacuees (Jack and Alec seem very English names) so I was puzzled by the end of the story. I would have expected children on the Kindertransport to have German names, but then of course the end wouldn’t have been so surprising. Well written and could be the beginning of a longer story.

  4. #4 by awordofsubstance on January 9, 2014 - 2:13 pm

    the sentence “a whole year younger than me” really gets the age across of the first perspective. I like this story, it’s haunting.

  5. #5 by OscarWindsor on January 9, 2014 - 2:37 pm

    Thank you for your kind comments, @Linda and @awordofsubstance. @Linda, the children are of course Jewish and could be from Germany or possibly any one of the invaded countries. In fact the very last Kindertransport children escaped in 1940 (when the story is set) via Holland. For the purposes of this story I chose names that I believed were likely among both Jewish and non-Jewish children.

  6. #6 by Joy Manné on January 9, 2014 - 9:17 pm

    So good it hurt. My grandparents and most of my family didn’t make it out.

  7. #7 by OscarWindsor on January 9, 2014 - 9:49 pm

    Thank you for your generous comment, @Joy. I’m so saddened to hear of your family’s losses.

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