Kristina approached the internationally arranged meeting in the back of an ambulance. Its outcome depended on the whims of Kristina’s soldier husband, whom she hadn’t spoken with substantially in twenty years. Political machinations had suddenly closed their homeland’s borders while she’d been in America with her son, Peter. Her younger son, Jakob had been left behind with his father, a generation ago.
How would they feel after all this time? Had Gregor really become the hardened general he was rumored to be? Would Jakob hate her? She yearned for the impossible: to see her entire family again.
As his father paced beside him in the wintry night, Jakob smelled cologne, a brand popular many years earlier. This gave him pause; father had rarely spoken of mother in all this time. Was the upcoming meeting more than political theater?
The headlights of the approaching ambulance woke him from his reverie. Though he knew they were surrounded by unseen snipers, he felt more alone than ever. His dying mother was in there and he’d declined to see her.
His father had asked once again as Jakob drove him here. “Would you like to see her?” By now it was a more a statement with a scripted reply than a question.
A sigh, and “Fine,” was his father’s response.
Of course Jakob wanted to see her. But his sense of duty and the propriety his father demanded kept him from it. His new family life had shown Jakob how deeply those relationships touched a person, and he didn’t know if he could hold himself together once he saw his mother again.
Moments after the ambulance’s arrival, he was ensconced in the gatehouse with an American soldier. Jakob took his post at the window, barely glancing at his counterpart.
“Hey soldier,” the American said. “Want some chocolate?” Jakob turned to see a candy bar being offered. As he took it, he glanced up and knew that this soldier was Peter, his own brother. Peter embraced the stunned Jakob.
“You!” Jakob said gleefully. “It is you!” His father had said Peter would not accompany their mother due to military constraints.
They laughed and cried and spoke of their lives. Peter was single, and happy with military life; Jakob spoke lovingly of his wife, Anya, and their baby, Kurt.
A flash of light on the window behind Peter and a glance at his brother’s face told Jakob something was up. He leapt at his brother, pulling Peter’s arms from behind his back. Another flash of light hit as the object Peter was using for signaling fell to the floor.
The moment Jakob picked up the now-cracked pocket mirror, he teared up. He brought his mother’s mirror to his face, and for a moment saw, not his own visage, but Kristina’s, the way she’d looked all those years ago. His vision blurred as he realized the opportunity he’d thrown away.
As Jakob was distracted, Peter opened the window. A baby was handed through to him. He shifted his nephew to one arm and helped his sister-in-law in with the other. “Happy to finally meet you!” He said quietly.
They embraced, and over her shoulder Peter saw Jakob’s confusion. “What is happening, p-please?” his brother whispered.
“Take off your coat,” Peter said as he handed Kurt to Anya. He removed his own gear then helped his brother do the same.
“No!” Jakob said with dawning realization. “I will not leave you behind!”
“It’s all arranged,” Peter said briskly. “Put the baby under your coat.”
Anya said with gritty determination, “This is why I’ve been training! I can get to the ambulance unseen!”
Peter grasped Jakob’s shoulders. “Listen to me: Father doesn’t know! Don’t speak to him. I’ll deal with him later.” Jakob nodded wildly as Anya took position behind his back.
A hand on his brother’s shoulder as a goodbye, Peter opened the gatehouse door.
Why did they force this reunion? It was appreciated, but he hadn’t asked for it. Gregor knew politics were at play, but his rigid mind couldn’t grasp the subtler details.
Kristina had said nothing when he’d sat beside her in the ambulance. She just smiled beneath the oxygen mask, blinking at him as tears streamed into her hair. He surprised himself with his tenderness as he told her of Jakob, Anya, and Kurt.
Upon exiting the ambulance, Gregor unexpectedly called to his son, just then leaving the gatehouse. “I know you said you didn’t want to see her, but it’s your Mother; go say goodbye.”
His son seemed shocked but quickly complied. The burly American soldier kept his head down, moving to the opposite side of the vehicle as they waited.
Surprisingly, he heard his son weeping upon exiting moments later. The young man stumbled and his father caught him, leading him a short distance away.
As his son resumed his military posture, Gregor looked back to watch the receding vehicle. He turned away and walked towards home.
Jakob’s face swam in front of her eyes as darkness encroached. She heard a woman’s voice. The delicate skin of a baby touched her face. She smelled the brand of baby powder she’d used in her homeland.
The next moment she stood unaffected in the cold night air of her homeland. She watched Peter follow Gregor to an unremarkable car and open the door. Gregor looked up; his mouth gaped, and arms spread wide in surprise.
Then the most unlikely scenario she’d imagined occurred, as her stoic Peter embraced his father in a bear hug. There was an awkward pause before Gregor’s arms drew in and returned the embrace. Kristina found herself at Peter’s back, as she reached for them both one last time.
In Gregor’s eyes she saw awareness; of his own feelings, of the lies he’d told himself for years, and finally, of her there with them. He nodded to her through his tears. Then, the impossible accomplished, Kristina felt peace.
Copyright 2022 by Melani Weber