Very Short Story About Tolerance Written for W/C Contest 2003
|This short story of approx. 382 words was based on the following prompt for The Writer's Cramp, Feb. 23, 2003:
Prompt: You are traveling from Moscow (Russia) to Hoek van Holland (Netherlands) by train. Somebody is missing at a certain moment and you're one of the key witnesses. What happens next?
Reflection of the Night
The monotony of our train's journey began in Moscow and continued as I stared out at the wintry countryside of Germany, bound westward for the Netherlands.
The haunting reflection of a young man's face in the window startled me initially, as he paused in the corridor outside my compartment. I turned to meet his penetrating gaze, and I could see he was no more than a lad of middle teen years, at most.
Despite his youth, he seemed to be solitary in his travels, just as I was.
When our eyes met, there was a flicker of recognition, then relief when he realized I was a woman traveling alone and certainly no sort of threat to a healthy young man of Middle Eastern origin.
I smiled sympathetically, imagining that his lot in life must not be an easy one, even in the best of times, much less when the world was on the verge of yet another war, this time in Iraq.
He smiled back and that was that - we were silent friends, despite the difference in our backgrounds. And on he went through the corridor to whatever his destination, and I felt good about that smile and the fact that two individuals of such disparate backgrounds could share a moment of empathy on a train in the middle of nowhere.
Later I recalled to vivid memory his frightened expression, particularly the one in his eyes right before he visibly relaxed and grinned back at me.
"Palestinian terrorists," was how they described the suspects after our train was halted in Berlin and searched from top to bottom.
They tirelessly questioned each of us individually, one by one.
In the current climate of hysteria, I knew that a young Arab boy would be seized and put only God knows where until the world sorted itself out.
Wrestling with my conscience, I decided to give him a presumption of innocence, at least in my own mind, and not mention him to the authorities.
It was with great relief that I subsequently learned that the missing "terrorists" were in fact a middle aged couple and no more terrorist than I. The fullness of time has a way of dashing rumors and innuendo to shreds.
I took a leap of faith, one winter night, riding on a train to Holland, justifying the compassion I remembered in those reflected dark eyes of pain.