Rosa and the Package.

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The melting snow gave the appearance that the buildings were crying as the drip drip of tears splashed down on to the pavement. It was impossible to dodge the drops so Rosa just moved quickly along the pavement letting the freezing water hit her. Occasionally liquid icicles would find their way beneath her scarf stinging her skin and making her shiver. The thaw might have set in but Rosa was still freezing to the bone. But, the package had to be delivered, so the elements had to be ignored in the name of the cause. Rosa sniffed, at least the cold had had the effect of cleansing her sinuses which had been blocked for months. She moved quickly wondering who was friend or foe, wondering which eyes were suspicious and which were sympathetic. Not that she could do anything about it, she tended to see them all as the enemy, trust no one was the best was to survive. She didn’t trust Igor that was for sure. He believed in hiding in broad daylight and that would surely be his downfall. She just hoped he wouldn’t bring her down with him.  As she entered the bar she could see the camp bastard chatting up some large Norwegian bloke who didn’t really realise he was the object of Igor’s desires. Rosa stood back watching them through steamed up glasses, biding her time, waiting till the old man noticed her.
The Norwegian spoke like his voice was breaking, a stupidly high voice for such a large man that went up several octaves without warning. Igor’s English was heavily accented but his sexuality shone through.
Rosa was angry, Igor was expecting her but had lost himself in the Norwegian’s blue eyes so still wasn’t aware of her presence. The package meanwhile was burning a hole in her pocket, she wanted to get shot of it and to get home to her warm flat but she couldn’t approach him while Bjorn was there, he could be anyone.

Luckily for Rosa she saw the two policemen before they saw her, to be fair they only had eyes for Igor and that gave Rosa time to disappear out of the back door of the bar and back out onto the freezing street. She’d waited long enough to see the bigger policeman put his hand on Igor’s shoulder and knew this was serious, the net was closing in and if they’d got to Igor well it wouldn’t be long before they got to the rest of them. Again she hurried through the drips of the melting snow, avoiding eye contact, trusting no one. She was shaking so much through cold and fear that she had difficulty getting the key in the lock.  She eventually managed to open the door and get inside; the act of closing the door made her feel safer but not much safer. She hid the ‘package’ in her hiding place and then lay on her bed; her heart beating, her body shaking, her ears aware of every sound. She cursed that idiot, had he been paying attention she could have dropped off the cargo and been out of there, but now she was left in possession of the package. But then she supposed better her than the police.

Rosa slept badly that night, she hadn’t realised how shaken up she’d been seeing Igor being apprehended like that. The net was closing in, it wouldn’t be long before there was a knock on her door or a hand on her shoulder and she’d be led away never to be seen again. Every time she closed her eyes she saw those two policemen coming for her or saw the inside of a cell. When she did finally fall asleep she dreamt of show trials and public humiliation.  She’d seen the show trials on TV, the trumped up charges, the boos and shouts of traitor from the public gallery before the solemn announcement of the death penalty by the judge. Eventually her alarm went off and she could stop the pretence of trying to sleep and get out of bed. Not that being up was any better; it felt like the walls were watching her, the furniture was whispering about her clandestine lifestyle, the windows reporting her to the authorities. She had to get out, she couldn’t bear being in the oppressive flat any longer. She put on her woollen coat, found her umbrella and stepped out into the storm.

               Rosa had been walking for hours, but suddenly she stopped in her tracks and shivered like someone had walked over her grave. She blinked to check her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. She’d just seen a dead man walking. Walking straight into the bar the cops had picked him up from the previous night. Rain fell lightly, accelerating the thaw but it was still cold and Rosa shivered as she stared at the door of the bar wondering if it really had been Igor she’d seen. It had to be, who else had that weird gait, those short legs and long body? It had to be Igor but it didn’t make sense. Why would the police come to take him away, only for him to be back on the streets the next morning? She knew from bitter experience that they didn’t work like that. So how had Igor got out? And what did it mean?

               She thought of the package, back in her flat, should she go to get it and bring it to Igor, after all he was the intended recipient. But she felt uneasy about passing on such sensitive information to him now. She’d never trusted him but this miraculous escape made her trust him even less.  She felt alone, helpless, threatened. Rain pattered on her umbrella and gathered in puddles at her feet, she shivered again and coughed into the damp air. The cause was so secretive, she knew what she was fighting for but she never knew who she was fighting with. Igor was the only open member, the rest were shadows, ghost, gusts of wind who contacted her when they needed her but the lines of communication were strictly one way. She’d wait, she’d wait to be contacted again and until then sit on the package like a nervous, brooding hen.

Rosa didn’t like nasty surprises, she didn’t like seeing dead men walking and she certainly didn’t like seeing her front door hanging off its hinges, but that was the sight that greeted her when she got home from her walk. She’d been visited while she was out and it hadn’t been friendly, she thanked god she hadn’t been in. She stood in the corridor observing the gaping hole where her door once stood for what felt like hours, She could feel her pulse racing in her neck and fear coursing through her veins. She had to try to stay calm but that was easier said than done.  There was no one around, not a soul in sight, yet she felt like she was being watched by 1000 eyes through 1000 peepholes. The silence was unnerving, unnatural; there was normally noise coming from behind her neighbours’ doors - muted conversations, the clank of cutlery or the murmur of the television bit today there was nothing.

It appeared her visitors had come and gone but had they found what they were looking for? They hadn’t waited around for her, so they must have been looking for the package. She cautiously went into the flat, listening carefully for signs of life. Her eyes welled with tears as she saw the damage and destructions. She’d been visited by uncouth farmyard animals who obviously taken great delight it wreaking havoc. Rosa glanced her eyes towards the hiding place. It was miraculously intact. She had a decision to make; she knew she couldn’t stay there but should she take the package with her or was it best to leave it safe in a place the beasts hadn’t found it? She decided her own well-being was more important than any package, so she’d leave everything as it was and get the hell out of there. But where to go? Where was safe?

But Rosa didn’t have to make the decision. A squeak, a noise, rubber on the lino floor behind her, smashing the silence and making her jump. She span around ready to be confronted by the secret policemen who had led Igor away the night before. But it wasn’t large men who were watching her but a smallish, stylish woman with a pretty face that couldn’t hide a tired eyes. Rosa didn’t know her but she had the feeling she’d seen her somewhere before but she couldn’t place her.
            ‘Come’ said the stranger, her voice soft, gentle, friendly, her smile warm, friendly, welcoming.
Rosa hesitated and then nodded and followed the girl out of the flat. She didn’t know who she was or where she was going but there was something about that girl that made Rosa feel safe, safer than she’d felt since she’d first got involved with the cause.

Rosa followed the stranger out of the building and into the wet streets, the melting snow and constant drizzle meant the pavement was strewn with puddles; obstacles the stranger navigated with ease. Rosa breathed in the fresh air and heard the mixture of traffic and birdsong. It was like her senses had come alive again as she felt safer than she had done all week. Rosa was already a little bit in love with this woman who seemed so confident, so sure, so safe. They walked in silence, together yet apart, hurrying through the crowds, heading god knows where.

After 20 minutes of people dodging and puddle hopping they finally reached their destination; a small, brick apartment block on the edge of town. The stranger let herself into the building and beckoned Rosa to follow her. Three flights of stairs, another jangle of keys and they were inside an overheated flat that looked like it belonged to an elderly lady. 

‘Tea?’ it was the first time the stranger had spoken since leaving Rosa's home.
Rosa nodded dumbly, suddenly shy in front of the woman with no name. ‘Sit down, make yourself comfortable.’ the woman nodded at the sofa. Rosa did as she was told. 
The stranger busied herself in the kitchen while Rosa sat nervously on the edge of the sofa taking in her surroundings but not wanting to touch anything.
The tea was accompanied by a shot of something that fired Rosa’s belly, she really was beginning to fall for this woman. 
‘You'll be safe here.... For now.’ the woman said.  The for now carried a sense of foreboding.  ‘Igor has compromised the movement,’ the woman continued, ‘we don't know how much they know yet but they obviously know about you.’ 
Rosa nodded again, the cat still in possession of her tongue. She watched the woman’s careworn face, she looked a little older than first glance but there was a beauty about her, something special.
‘We’re trying to find out from our sources how much he’s told them…’ she looked at Rosa’s concerned face. ‘Don’t worry we’ll sort something out.’  
‘What about the package?’ Rosa asked, finally finding her voice.
The woman shifted uncomfortably.
‘What?’ said Rosa.
The woman cleared her throat.
‘We don’t need to worry about the package, it was a fake, full of false information. We had our suspicions about Igor and we wanted to see what he would do with it; see how far the false information would travel.’
Rosa felt sick, she’d put her life on the line for nothing, she’d become an open enemy of the state, lost her flat, lost everything and for what?
‘You helped us’ said the woman, reading Rosa’s mind, ‘think of the damage Igor could have done to the movement without your brave actions.’ 
There was truth in her words but that didn’t help Rosa’s tumult. ‘How dare they use her like that?’ 
‘I have to go out, you stay here and try to relax, Granny will be home soon and she'll cook you something warm.’ The woman touched Rosa gently on the shoulder as she left causing a small tremor down an angry spine. Rosa didn’t want to wait for Granny, she wanted to run, but where could she go? 

Rosa sat in the stranger’s flat nervously waiting for something to happen, the problem was she didn’t really know what that something was. She jumped at any noise in the building, any slamming car door or voice from outside. She paced, she smoked, she tried not to think or take notice of the butterflies in her stomach and gremlins in her head. Fear and loving; when she closed her eyes she saw the horror of that traitor Igor, mixed with the beauty of the woman who had saved her. She imagined the brutal beating at the hands of the secret police and tender caresses from those shapely hands.
She wondered what the future held for her. Was she destined to spend the rest of her days cooped up in one granny’s flat or another, eternally hiding from the authorities? Or would the secret police catch up with her? In fact it equated to the same thing, if the authorities caught her, then it would be the end of her days anyway. 
She sighed a heavy sigh and the jumped as a key turned in the lock and someone entered the flat, lingering in the hall to take off their boots. That was a good sign, the police aren’t usually courteous enough to wipe their feet, let alone take off their boots. Rosa sat stock still, listening intently to the noises coming from the hallway. She guessed it was Granny but she couldn’t know for sure.
The old lady who came into the room smiled as she saw the nervous girl sitting on her sofa. 
‘Ah you must be Rosa,’ she said in a kind voice and with a smile that Rosa recognised had been passed down through the generations.
Rosa nodded, the old woman examined her carefully.
‘Klara told me you were a fiery one, you more look like a scared cat to me.’
Rosa smiled, the old woman was right, she was acting a bit pathetically. ‘Hi, yes I’m Rosa.’ Rosa stood up and shook the woman’s hand who introduced herself as Christina.
‘That's better,’ said the older woman ‘now let’s get some food inside you shall we? Klara will be here soon I expect.’
The woman busied herself in the kitchen making small talk, while Rosa stood and watched. 
‘You got yourself a boyfriend?’  Christina asked as she chopped an onion. 
‘No,’ Rosa replied honestly but not telling the whole truth. 
‘Pretty young thing like you...’ The penny seemed to drop for the old woman mid-sentence, ‘ah that’s probably why you joined the cause,’ she said with a wink and Rosa nodded.
‘I’ve often wondered if that’s why Klara did too, but then there’s that lovely young man, Daniel.’
Rosa felt a little pang in her heart. But she was pleased to note she didn’t jump when the key clicked in the front door again.
‘Hi Granny!’ Rosa recognised the voice and felt her heart race, the good kind.
But Klara was with a man,  a tall man with dark hair and a dark beard, he looked closer to  Granny’s age than her own.
‘Hi Rosa,’ Klara voice was more matter of fact for Rosa much to Rosa’s disappointment. ‘how are you?’
‘Fine.’ Rosa nodded inspecting the man Klara was with.
‘This is Daniel.’
Rosa and the man shook hands, Rosa noted his soft skin, he was probably a poet or something.
‘He’s a poet.’ said Klara.
Klara chatted to her grandmother for a short time, while Daniel sat at the table lighting a cigarette. Rosa watched him, was this man really Klara’s bloke?
 ‘We need to talk.’ Klara was looking directly at Rosa. She nodded at Granny who nodded back giving the younger women permission to excuse themselves and retire to the bedroom.
‘Rosa, I’ve sorted out a route out of the country for you. Leaving tonight at 2am. Daniel will come to pick you up from here, he’ll have a passport and a visa. He’ll take you to the meeting point where a car will be waiting.’
Rosa went pale, she’d never considered leaving the country, this was her country, she wanted to stay and help the cause defeat the party.
‘But… ‘
‘There’s no buts,’ Klara said, ‘there’s no future for you here, better you get out. You’ll be met by people who help us from outside. You will still work for us. I mean it’s your decision but really you only have one option.’
Rosa closed her eyes, she wanted to slap the woman in front of her but at the same time she wanted to lean forward and kiss her. Leaving felt like running away, it was the coward’s way out. But staying? Staying would mean being close to Klara, but what else? Ducking and diving, hiding and creeping around, that was all she could look forward to.  Leaving was the sensible option; she’d dreamt of travel, dreamt of freedom, dreamt of the chance to be who she really was. She felt tears well in her eyes, she didn’t want to cry, she wanted to be the ‘fiery one’.
‘Dinner’s ready!’ the older woman’s voice came through the walls.
Rosa sensed Klara stand up. ‘I’ll give you a minute’ she said putting a hand tenderly on Rosa’s face. Rosa opened her eyes and forced a smile. They held each other’s gaze for a moment, it told Rosa all she needed to know. Klara silently left the room. Rosa blew her nose and wiped away the moisture from her eyes. She’d made up her mind.

As the car approached the border crossing, Rosa was as calm as you like. She thought she would be a bag of nerves but she was the ‘fiery one’. The car drew to a halt and the guard put his head in the window and took the passports. No one said anything while the guard looked through the documents, they kept their faces in neutral and kept their thought to themselves. The guard handed back the passports and took a walk around the car. He seemed satisfied, he signalled to his colleague to open the barrier, the driver took the car out of neutral and drove across the border to freedom.

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