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Find Me Again

Sarah

September 1979

Sarah felt old as the world. The buoyancy of the airport crowd dismayed her. All those expectant faces

fixed in one direction: the glass door through which would spill those they loved. There was no door

on earth like that for her. No people like that for her. Certainly not Halina. Sarah had never thought she

would see her again. Or at least she had hoped. So how had she ended up here, in the centre of the

mob, the dizzying excitement, the impatience of the young men shifting foot to foot, the brown family

sharing pizza out of Tupperware?

Through the plate glass partition she watched the passengers mill about, collecting luggage from the

rotating carousel. Waiting for Halina was like staring down a tunnel into her former life. The tunnel had

always lain in ambush, but so far she had managed to avoid falling in. Now Halina beckoned to her

from a darkness that had been waiting there for forty years.

Halina had not asked to be met at the airport, had given no other information in her letter than the date

of her arrival. It had taken only a phone call to the Polish airline for Sarah to learn the flight time. There

was only one flight a day from Warsaw.

Halina would be sixty-four now. Odd the way she had stopped aging in Sarah’s mind. All she could

remember was the way Halina had looked just before the war. Tall and shapely at twenty, she stood

behind the sparkling glass counter of the jewelry shop in Kraków, her straw-coloured hair in a sleek

pageboy. On the wall behind her hung an elaborate clock in a carved gilt frame darkened with age.

The clock’s hands had stopped at two. A broken clock will not inspire confidence in our customers,

Sarah’s father had said, coming into work one morning. Sixteen-year-old Sarah had gawked at

Halina, awed by her beauty. The clock isn’t broken, Halina said to her. It’s waiting for us, and she

began to laugh, her coral-red lips baring white teeth.

The memory was so elusive after all these years, Sarah wasn’t sure it was real. She only knew that

four years later the Germans attacked Poland and she desperately needed to get out of the city. She

turned to Halina who had worked for Sarah’s parents for six years in the store. She was the only

Gentile Sarah could trust. So she saved herself, her husband. But at what cost? She came back to

Kraków when the calamity was over. Only there was one more calamity to befall her. At Halina’s door.

Six years of war had taken the freshness out of Halina’s complexion. Her large bones kept her from

looking hungry, but the shop was gone. Everything was gone. Every one. Her precious one. Halina

stood at the door saying something she couldn’t comprehend. She heard the words but they made no

sense to her. They did not penetrate. She finally heard Halina say, You mustn’t blame me. Yusek

stood beside her, patting Sarah’s head as though she were a dog punished by mistake. It wasn’t my

fault, Halina said. There was nothing I could do.

Sarah flinched. A small Indian girl bumped into her arm, and the airport materialized around her.

She moved her head from side to side to loosen the knotted muscles in her neck. Deep breath from

the bottom of her diaphragm, the way she taught her students. Not that she was going to burst into

song, but it felt good to gain a modicum of control over something. People kept moving in front of her,

blocking her view.

What would Halina look like, at sixty-four? Sarah was pleased at how well she had aged. She dyed

the grey in her hair brown, had gained only fifteen pounds after forty years. Still, would they recognize

each other?

Passengers stepped out through the automatic doors at a slow but steady pace. Sarah spotted two

blonde women heading for the glass doors, one pushing a luggage cart brimming with suitcases. A

shock of recognition when she looked more closely at the taller one struggling with the cart. In a grey

business suit: Halina. Her hair thinner, a whiter blonde, her waist thickened but her legs still shapely in

pumps. She carried herself like a queen, head held high, her eyebrows arched critically. Her

companion was much younger, though her hair was a startling white, lifted off her neck and pinned

into a roll. Her pale face was unhindered by make-up. Sarah felt a sudden pang through the heart. It

was the daughter. Yes, she was sick, but at least Halina had a daughter. She had had a daughter for

all those years.

Sarah stepped around the crowd, keeping them in sight. Mother and daughter advancing in her

direction. The arriving passengers were separated from the waiting crowd by ropes that framed a

corridor of escape. Halina, looking haggard after the long flight from Poland, examined the faces of the

crowd and suddenly settled on Sarah. Sarah had forgotten that she’d be unexpected. Had just

assumed that Halina didn’t know anyone in Toronto and took it upon herself to pick them up.

The cautious look on Halina’s face kept Sarah in her spot. Thirty-five years separated them. That, and

events neither could control. The hands of the clock waited as Sarah searched Halina’s face for the

young woman she used to know. Halina hurriedly peered around, as if someone else might be waiting

for her, then handed her daughter the large black leather handbag she was clutching. She headed

straight for Sarah,

She placed her hands on Sarah’s arms and kissed her on both cheeks, stopping short of an embrace.

"I didn’t want to trouble you," she said in Polish, using the familiar "you" as if it weren’t a lifetime ago

since they’d last met.

"It was very kind of you," she continued. "I would’ve recognized you anywhere. You haven’t changed

at all. You look so young."

"You, also, have not changed. Still beautiful." She replied in Polish, though the language felt strange

in her mouth, like someone else’s tongue forming the words. She rarely spoke her native language,

lately only in times of distress, like when David had died.

"This must be your daughter," she said in Polish looking at the younger woman who had approached

and was leaning on the cart.

"This is Natalka," said Halina.

The daughter came away from the cart and held out her hand. "How do you do?"

Accented English. Her long elegant neck, the high cheekbones, gave her the look of a gazelle.

"You speak English?" Sarah asked her.

"I studied a little."

Natalka’s green eyes illuminated her pale face, the wisps of white hair that had escaped the pins to

curl around her cheeks. The skin beneath her eyes was dark. She was striking in an olive green cape.

When Halina had written about her daughter’s leukemia, Sarah had felt an abstract kind of sympathy.

Too bad, so young to be that ill. Now with Natalka beside her, the horror of the thing became real.

Halina was going through the same thing with Natalka that Sarah had experienced with David. But

she didn’t feel sorry for the mother, only the daughter. Halina had had her for all those years. She

should be grateful.

"Was it a long flight?" Sarah asked.

Natalka looked at her watch. "We left early this morning on the train to Warsaw. Then the plane left

shortly after noon." She twisted her arm around so that Sarah could look at her watch. "This is the hour

for us." It was fifteen minutes past midnight. Barely dinner time in Toronto.

"You must be exhausted," Sarah said.

She turned to Halina, with sympathy, only to find her attention elsewhere. She appeared to be

communicating with someone at a distance. Very slightly shaking her head, giving a short jerk of her

hand near her waist where it might go unnoticed. Sarah kept smiling at Natalka but searched the

crowd for the target of Halina’s signals. Sarah was impatient with the intrigue: if Halina knew people

here, why didn’t she say so?

"Was someone picking you up?" Sarah asked.

Halina flushed and abruptly began to move the luggage cart toward the exit. "No, no, we were going to

take a taxi."

Sarah took a last look at the people still waiting for passengers: no one appeared particularly

interested in them.

"Where are you staying?" she asked them.

Halina took a piece of paper from her jacket pocket and handed it to Sarah. In a large bold hand the

name and address of an apartment hotel on Yonge Street in midtown Toronto.

It was five-thirty and rush hour when they hit the 401 highway.

"I can’t believe all the cars!" Halina cried. "Are we far from the hotel?"

"About half an hour," Sarah said.

Halina was watching out the side mirror as they drove. Was she expecting someone to follow them?

Sarah began to check her rearview mirror but didn’t know what she was looking for.

One time she checked in the mirror and found Natalka watching out the window with cool intelligent

eyes. She really was lovely with good skin, though pale, and a high forehead. Had her hair turned

white during her illness? Natalka met her eyes in the mirror and Sarah looked away.

Halina had settled into her seat and seemed to doze off as they travelled east along the highway.

Sarah drove her Camaro at barely the speed limit in the right lane, letting cars pass. She used the

highway out of necessity, but she didn’t like it. The speed frightened her. Several cars stayed behind

her in the slow lane. The one immediately behind was a blue compact. At one point it passed her,

leaving a black sedan in its wake. She didn’t recognize the makes of cars the way David had. David

could’ve named every car driving past her. He’d loved cars since he was a little boy. The Camaro had

been his until he fell in love with the sporty red Jaguar. He told her the Camaro would make her

younger, so she took it off his hands to please him. Her darling David.

It was nearly a year now since he’d been gone. She couldn’t bring herself to say "die," to even think

"die." Children were not supposed to die before their parents. She didn’t know how she had survived

it; she had simply gone on. Her heart had not stopped as she thought it would. Her lungs kept

breathing, though every now and then she gasped for air. The room would become close and

suddenly there was no air and she prayed for death. In that moment she would think: What would I

regret? My sister, Malka and her husband. Rebecca, who suffered when David died and still cannot

bear my presence because my face reminds her of his. My music... Then she began to breathe again

and the moment passed.

The car radio flickered into her consciousness. "U.S. President Jimmy Carter met Egyptian President

Anwar Sadat at his Camp David retreat to discuss plans for peace in the Middle East. Mr. Sadat

denied rumours that he has received death threats at home from factions opposed to his conciliatory

position on Israel."

Sarah switched the channel to some classical music. She exited the highway at Yonge Street and

drove south about a mile to the hotel. It turned out to be an elegant four-storey building in an art deco

style.

"Let’s see if they can help with the luggage," Sarah said, leading the way to the entrance. Halina

carried the large leather purse on her arm.

Behind a polished wooden desk sat a muscular middle-aged man with a moustache, his dark hair thin

at the front. He surveyed them without expression.

"This is Mrs. Nytkowa and her daughter," Sarah said, taking charge as the English speaker. "You have

a room reserved for them."

His brows furrowed as he glanced at some papers out of their sight. "Mrs--?"

"Nytkowa."

His thick lips pursed, he flipped some pages, shook his head. "You sure you have the right place?"

Slight accent, east European.

Sarah was surprised when Halina began in accented English. "Sir, this is Natalka Czarnowa, famous

concert pianist. Pan Baranowski bring us..."

"Pan Baranowski?" he exclaimed, sitting up very straight. "He don’t say nothing to me."

"You call him!" Halina said.

The man picked up the phone wordlessly and dialed.

Sarah took another look at Natalka. A scrap of memory tried to surface. Natalka Czarnowa. Fifteen or

twenty years back there’d been a pianist who had caused a stir with her idiosyncratic rendition of a

waltz in the Chopin competition in Warsaw She developed a reputation in Poland, then performed in

the Eastern bloc-- Moscow, Kiev, Budapest. Every now and then Sarah came across a notice about

her but never connected it to Halina’s daughter since she didn’t know her married name.

The concierge waited through several rings, then put the phone down. He shrugged. "I got no

instructions."

Sarah had not scheduled any students that evening, knowing she’d be busy with her guests. She

hadn’t counted on putting them up for the night, though.

"I’ll take you to my place," she said finally. She turned to the man. "Here’s my phone number." She

handed him one of the cards she kept in her purse in case she came upon someone who wanted

singing lessons. "This is where they’ll be."

The man curled his lip, then studied the card as if it would be useful for killing cockroaches.

starts in her mouth. She no longer knows who she is, she no longer cares. She can't stop shaking,

even when they tire of this recreation. Goldie never knows whose finger actually pushes the button,

but she's convinced it's the German whose voice fills her dreams.

"Excuse me, lady."

The memory of pain, the need to escape from it, brought Goldie back to the Bathurst Street bus, still on

her way to the doctor's.

"Excuse me, lady."

More students had boarded, a thicket of bodies manoeuvering around her. A dark heavy man with

angry eyes was heading toward her and she knew they'd found her. He was a tall man for whom she,

all five-foot-one of her, would be candy. The words in her head conquered time and space to land in

his mouth. We will get you to talk, Jewish whore.

In a second, Goldie pushed her way roughly through some students.

"Well pardon us, lady."

Standing on the step, feeling the kidnapper's breath on the back of her neck, she pulled the cord

continuously. It chimed every few seconds.

"Okay lady, we get the message," one kid said. "Maybe she has to go to the bathroom."

When the bus finally came to a stop a block above College Street, Goldie hurled herself out the door

and began to run. If only she hadn't worn these heels. She dashed across College Street. She'd run

like this in her nightmares, aching from fear, past eyes and eyes and more eyes, in shoes that wouldn't

stay on. She could hardly breathe now after two blocks. Blisters had formed on the heels of both feet.

Danger lurked behind lamposts, windowblinds, in the most quiescent of eyes. She would never be

safe. She stumbled once, twice, finally through the blur of her exhaustion she turned to search for her

pursuer.

No one.

She stopped. The overcast sky hung low over rooftops, cast shadows on the street. Like a loose-

necked owl, she scanned in all directions at once to check for danger. The old houses whispered their

secrets, their paint in shreds, their rails studded with rust. I will follow you till you drop. I will get you

one day, I am always there.

So she was spared another day. She had surprised him and escaped. At least she had reached

College Street. Goldie limped up to the cement island to wait for the streetcar. If she hadn't been so

absorbed with the streetcar approaching in the murky distance, Goldie would, no doubt, have noticed

the swarthy little man step up beside her on the island.

When she finally decided she was standing in the right place to go east on College, she turned,

startled at the unexpected proximity. How had this one slipped through her defences so easily? The

intruder was disguised as an Italian labourer in jeans and heavy plaid shirt, carrying a lunch pail big

enough for an unassembled machine gun. How stupid did they think she was? He could have a half

dozen guns in there, or knives. And handcuffs, they would need handcuffs. He had dark greasy hair

like the other, but his skin was coarse and red as if he worked outside. They were so clever about

these things; there was nothing they wouldn't do to fool her.

Glaring at him produced no reaction. He looked back, but blankly. These were confrontations she

would rather have avoided, but she had to defend herself.

"Stupid they must think I am," she addressed the little man finally. "Stupid and blind."

The man blinked then smiled with brown crooked teeth. "You 'a trouble, lady?"

"Me you don't fool. I know they send you for to get me. I know their dirty tricks."

The man looked around, as if an explanation might hang in the air, as if someone might translate.

Failing that, he boldly proceeded.

"Ahh," he lifted his free hand (the one that would hold the gun in the lunchbox) "my hand she's a-dirty. I

no toucha. You no worry."

"You don't take me so easy. Not this time."

The little man continued to smile but it was forced now. When the streetcar stopped in front of him, he

motioned for Goldie to get on first.

She couldn't believe the audacity. Crossing her arms, she planted herself on the island like a tree

waiting for the storm.

"I'm not so stupid like that," she said.

The man quickly climbed aboard and when inside, turned on the top step to face Goldie one last time.

This was it, she thought, now comes the gun, the knife, the last pain through the heart. Hello, Enrique.

Before the doors folded shut, he opened his decaying mouth and replied, "You too olda for me, lady."