“Farewell Of The Slavic Woman” March: an immigrant’s story

by Mark Sashine

When you leave the country for good you take a part of it with you forever.

I play the march named that way every day although it is not for the CD. It is a railway march and it needs an orchestra in the open air. The old country was a railway country. The first sound I remember as a child was a train whistle. Nobody played that march at the station on the day of our departure and there were no crying women or soldiers waving hands through the doors. The evening was cold and we were standing under the shadow of the overpass in a frozen silence. The mist crawled from beneath a train, red and black from the sparks and coal- fed heaters of the carriages. It enveloped us, took us in and pushed us towards the river as if not just the train but the whole platform was on the way to the great bridge, the only one leading to the capital, to the airport, to the gate abroad, out, away forever.

People hovered in the mist, angry, tired, scared. The railway bell chimed while the distant radio voice announced arrivals and departures. Whispering started to fade as people boarded the train and when the doors closed it was only darkness, rain and distorted faces glued to the greasy windows. Then the music started somewhere inside the train; maybe one of the passengers was playing an accordion. The train slowly pulled away from the platform and while it made its way through the station district and further on through the railway woods until the bridge appeared in front of us as a mechanical mass of inevitability, the music still played inside following the beat of the wheels. After we crossed the bridge the lights dimmed and the music stopped.

Again we were standing in the lighted circle in the middle of the airport hall and the customs people rummaging through our things. No money or documents were allowed and only private jewelry like wedding rings and earrings were permitted. I had a lot of books, permission and all. They looked through each of the books page by page, slowly, methodically with the persistence of a mentally disturbed. They didn’t talk. We were not worthy of talking. Weeks ago we surrendered our passports and other IDs and became invisible. They didn’t have to see us. The crowd watched us from the dark and the eyes of the people glimmered as if the hall was filled with wild animals.

The hall remembered the times when it hosted the privileged foreigners. Some of the sofas still stood there: ragged, with remnants of the expensive upholstery hanging from the sides. People didn’t sit on them anymore; the sofas were buried under the mountains of suitcases. There were several hundred people in that hall; silent, secretive, whispering in the dark. Whispers rustled through the hall, bounced at the walls hitting each other, reaching us in pieces. Ethnic Germans were leaving after 500 years of residency and their ancient, archaic speech filled the space with the gothic feeling. They were there for weeks. The government of Germany delayed the entrance visa and they waited patiently, quietly, with that eternal dignity retained through hundreds of years. Everyone was neatly dressed, clean, men were shaved; all children were attended to. They waited the same way they toiled their soil every spring awaiting for the mystery of a harvest. Maybe it will come and maybe not; all in Gods hands.

When we passed the last checkpoint I looked back through the glass wall. A tall, blond woman dressed in a long, smooth dress with ethnic embroidery was standing on the other side looking straight at me. She seemed distracted; her glance was unfocused, directed somewhere through me, further on through the airfield towards the border far away, that invisible line on the other side of which was rest, clean linen, warm bed and life of hope. In about two hours we will cross it the way the birds cross it every season, knowing that they will return. Only we will not return. And neither will they.

She smiled at me and blew us all a kiss. At that very moment I heard the music again; that powerful and tender march to stay with me forever through the years of exile.

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