The train pulled in, last stop on the Slovak border. I leant out, the snow was pelting down but the platform was crowded with heavily wrapped up folk. A young woman in grey pressed a wrapped package into my hand and blew a kiss. I sat back and unwrapped.
Six Hungarian sausages. Nice gesture I thought, nice of her to come out, spare the time to come and give me something for the journey. I wiped the window and blew her a kiss. I imagined getting off, and being taken to her small apartment in a tenement and being given Turkish coffee and a shot of slivovice and huddling round her wood burning stove, and taking more shots, and then she would lead me into her freezing bedroom and we would get under the layers of blankets and make love.
But, I was on a journey and that wasn’t going to happen.
The train jerked off and we all, us men, strained at the windows and waved. Back in the couchette we all unwrapped our various presents. A smoked ham, a loaf of dark bread and label-less bottles. We produced knives and cut bits off and offered them round; the bottles following.
We cheered up, ignoring for a moment what lay ahead: a war.
I chewed on the spicy sausage, took some raw onions and my nose came alight. I swigged and my throat ignited, and I felt loved.
On our way to war. A war of conscience.
The full on civil war in Ukraine had been going on for six months, and the anti-fascists had called for help. So, like in Spain, International Brigades sprang up.
The media had portrayed the Revolution there as a peoples’ uprising, but it was nothing of the sort. Some reporters mentioned the Nazi influence and the platoons of storm-troopers, but no one intervened.
Only on Facebook was the real story heard. Put out by activists.
Even when fascist hordes burned down a trade union building in Odessa killing 50 people, the papers ignored the fact, that it was fascists.
So, things had gone from bad to worse, the parliament was now full of Oligarchs and fascist leaders.
In Donbass, where we were heading the media said it was Russian activists who were fighting the government; cease fire and elections failed to bring an end to the war and now it was an easy split. Right wing paramilitary inside the regular army and the government against left wing separatists.
I sank another fire water as we passed into Hungary. The train was taking the long way round, but even here in Hungary we were worried. The Hungarian government were no friends of a left wing train.
I had dreamed of this. Had read Orwell’s account of his adventures in Catalonia and had wished for this. The chance to be a real revolutionary. The chance to fight properly for my ideals, my beliefs.
Some guy with a big moustache sliced me a slab.
-Where you from Comrade?
-Manchester, and you?
-Beautiful place Prague.
-Baa! Too many tourists and too many capitalists and corrupt politicians.
-Just like Manchester then but we have few tourists but too many rich students.
-I am from Valencia.
Another guy piped up, young, athletic, well compared to me he was.
-My great-grandfather fought in the civil war.
-Really which side?
I grinned but my Manc humour was lost on him.
-The left forces of course.
He bit his sausage and frowned at me.
-What you do in Manchester? Asked the Czech
-Construction, building, when I was younger then I worked full time for the trade unions, you?
-Me, Car factory; I also am trade unionist.
The young Spanish kid spoke.
-I was a student, but then no work. I went back to work on the land, in a collective.
I looked at him and felt old, maybe too old for this fight. I was in my fifties for god’s sake! Podgy belly and bad legs and not much hair.
-What did you study?
-Political science, but it was bullshit! And then no work at all for me and other young people.
The couchette was warm now. The food and drink had woken the wagon up, and talking laughing and even singing could be heard throughout. People sat back and relaxed a bit, took more swigs and smoked; we tried each other’s various cigarettes.
-Jesus, how can you smoke these?
I coughed and tried again. The black looking tobacco was like smoking a log.
-Ah Englishman this is nothing, I get no smoke from this stick, this is not tobacco!
-Where you from anyway?
-I am Swiss.
Me, my Spaniard and my Czech all looked a little taken aback.
-No shit! Bought your knife with you I hope.
-Yes, I know all the jokes but let me tell you we have problems in my country too.
-Sorry mate, I don’t doubt it, and you are here, so good on ya.
-You ever fight before? The young Spaniard said.
-What you mean in a war. The Swiss guy replied with a puzzled look.
-I was a regular in the Swiss army.
Now I looked puzzled.
-But I thought the Swiss army never entered into conflict?
-We have been part of peace-keeping forces many times. I was in Kosova.
The young Spaniard was looking nervous.
-But did you ever shoot someone?
-And you guys?
We all said no, we had never shot or killed anyone. We all became silent for a moment, not looking at each other.
The Czech piped up.
-But what does that matter? We are here now and when we need to kill we will kill no?
I shrugged my shoulders. Before I had been blasé about the killing part. I’m gonna blow their fucking heads off man! I had bragged to my mates in the pub, but now as the Civil war loomed closer up the track I realised I was afraid.
Nick Gerrard is originally from Birmingham but now lives in Olomouc where he writes, proof-reads and edits, and in between looking after his son Joe, edits and designs Jotters United Lit-zine. Nick has been at one time or another a chef, activist, union organiser, punk rocker, teacher, traveller and Eco-lodge owner in Malawi and Czech. Short stories, flash and poetry have appeared in various magazines in print and online including Etherbooks, Roadside fiction, The Siren, Minor Literature and Bluehour magazine Nick has three books published available on Amazon. https://www.facebook.com/NickGerrardwriter/