I awoke later than usual on the day we left.
There had been no disruption from my father’s horse, Rosia, sending an earthquake through the floor as she normally did. Father always led her past the family room, through the orchard that I could see from the window above my bed. I had been given the best position to set up my bed when we had first moved here, because I was the one who, out of us three children, was most upset about the fire. Andre didn’t really care where he lived, as he was out most of the time anyway working on the farm, or smoking with his friends. And Michal was too little then to really understand that we weren’t going back to our old home. That the bed he had slept in had contributed to the black smoke that we had watched rise from the horizon line as Bapcia Urzula, our Mama’s Mama, had taken us away from the farmhouses to the hills. We could see Father and the others trying to put out the fire from below us, but it didn’t work.
It did not make sense to change our beds now, four years after sleeping this way in the new farmhouse (though we just called it our house, now). So I got to keep my position under the window, and every morning, when Father left with Rosia and the cart to take vegetables and eggs and meat to the markets, I would watch him walking her through the yard and then disappearing around the corner.
When I opened my eyes, they were blinded by the golden beds of straw from under my brothers’ strewn blankets. Andre’s clothes were already gone, but Michal’s scarf and cap still sat on the table in the centre of the room. From the kitchen, which was the room across from ours, I could hear Mama humming and the faint sound of gas burning and water bubbling.
I slipped into my dressing gown and stepped out into the yard. Michal was around the corner, feeding the chickens.
“Dzień dobry,” my little brother grinned, for once getting to say ‘good morning’ to me in the same sarcastic tone as I often used with him when he overslept.
I stuck out my tongue at him.
“Gdzie jest Papa?”
Michal pointed towards the outside toilet, which was still missing a roof and a working door, and was far from being a useable facility. I prefered to use the straw toilet we had set up when we first moved here, and made Father promise he would not remove it until the outside one was private enough that I might have some peace. He had laughed, called me his little księżniczka, and said I was too royal for my own good. I told him that princesses without brothers might not be so worried, but I knew what Andre and Michal would do to me if they caught me off-guard.
Father gave me a kiss on the head when I brought him out his lunch. I poured him some tea from the flask I had taken from the kitchen. He raised a hand to stroke the skin under my eyes, and his face creased when he commented on my oversleeping.
“Martwisz się, księżniczko?”
Worried? What would I be worried about?
“Będziemy tu bezpieczni.”
Safe. I thought of the bomb that destroyed the railway line just a few weeks ago, near the field where Andre worked. It was all he and Michal would talk about for days afterwards – how close they had been to getting hurt, but with excitement in their voices instead of worry. Mama had told them to stop talking about it when Father was around. She didn’t want him to feel bad; he was not able to fight for us because he’d already done his duty the last time his country needed him.
I shook my head, and turned my back to him to get his cup. When I turned back, he had crumbs collected in his beard and an arm hidden behind him.
“Nie!” I scolded him, taking the half-eaten slice of Mama’s fresh bread from his hands and putting it back in the pack beside the speck and cheese. “To nie na razie, to na później!”
He chuckled, but agreed to save the rest of his food for lunchtime. The steam from his cup rose up to meet the clouds in the sky, and I hoped that it would not rain until after I’d been around the fields to give out all the workers’ lunches. I offered him my cheek for a kiss, and took the flask back to Mama in the kitchen to fill up for Andre. As I stepped away from Father, though, he grabbed my hand.
“Jestes dobra dla swojej Mama, tak?”
I frowned. I was always being good, Mama said so herself.
“Dziś nie jest dobrze,” he said softly.
I nodded. I told him I knew that she needed more help than other Mamas, and I knew I had to be better than the other girls whose Mamas were not ill.
Father smiled at me, and told me to get on with my chores. I nodded again before spinning on my heels and running back to the kitchen.
After all the lunches had been delivered, I was allowed to take Michal into the village. Mama gave us some eggs to take to the local Co-operative shop, and told us to ask the man there to be fair with the zlotte he gave us in return for them. Mama said we should tell him our Father’s name so that he would not give us a bad price.
Inside the shop I let Michal wander the aisles as I spoke to the man. He laughed at me when I told him what Mama had said, but I did not tell him she had warned me about how many zlotte to expect to receive. I counted the coins twice, very carefully, before I was happy. While we were chatting, I heard a rumbling sound behind me. I thought that Michal might be running to show me something that he would no doubt want me to buy with Mama’s money. Instead I was greeted by a little boy of about four. His bare feet slapped against the floor as he stumbled towards me.
“Halo!” I said, bending my knees so that we were face to face.
He looked behind me, at the shopkeeper, and then slowly smiled. His chubby fingers reached up to play with the strange white cap atop his head.
“John, powiedz halo” encouraged the boy’s father, but John just giggled. I showed him my tongue, and his eyes widened as he laughed more, and then he ran around me to hide behind the shop counter.
When we got back to the farm it was getting late in the afternoon. It would not be long before Andre would be finished in the fields, and he and Father would join Michal, Mama, Bapcia Urzula and me for tea.
I gave Mama the zlotte before washing my hands and helping her to cut the cheese for later. As we prepared the food, I told her about the little boy at the store. She asked if Michal had met John too.
“Nie, Michal był zajęty patrząc na cukierki.”
She gave me a look, but I quickly reassured her that I hadn’t let him buy any sweets at the shop, though I did let him show me his favourites.
“Dobra dziewczynka,” Mama praised me. “Czy mógłbyś mnie trochę zaopatrzyć w ziemniaki?”
I jumped down from my stool and made my way to the stairs of the cellar, to collect some potatoes as she’d asked. But a shout came from outside, and Andre and Father rushed into the kitchen, followed by a crying Michal.
“Co to jest?” I asked him as he rubbed his face in Mama’s pinafore, but he was too distraught to explain what had happened. I looked up at Andre, who was about to speak, when four men came through the yard and into our house.
Father came to stand between Mama and I, and he held both our hands. Mama’s voice was quiet, and the look on her face was strange as she stared at the men in front of us. Two of them I recognised as officers from the village, though they were dressed much smarter than I’d ever seen before. The other two stood tall and serious, wearing green outfits that looked stiff and uncomfortable and holding a strap that carried something large over their shoulder.
The tallest green man looked at my father and began to talk, but the sounds he made were odd, not like words at all. Andre whispered to me that the man was speaking Russian.
Then the second green man began to talk in a different language again, and finally one of the officers from the village could translate:
“Get your family together.”
“Przyłącz się do rodziny.”
“Gather your belongings in the cart outside.”
“Zbierz swoje rzeczy w koszyku na zewnątrz.
“You must be ready to leave within one hour.”
“Musisz być gotowa, aby wyjść za godzinę.”