The Next Step*

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
They are traveling by train. What is threatening them? Where are they going? Whatever is going to happen to them?

Submitted: December 27, 2018

A A A | A A A

Submitted: December 27, 2018



The Next Step * 


When the train gained speed, he let out a sigh of relief. He, then, took a look at the young man sitting in front of him and smiled. “That was our first test,” he mumbled to himself, “We should, now, sit tight and wait for the second one. “He lay back, closed his eyes, and tried to gain control of his nerves.

Soon, however, a strange voice began resonating gloomy words in his ears. “What sort of a stupid way of life is this!?” it echoed, “Running around all the time! Leaving behind the people you love and cherish! Are you stupid or something!?”  He suddenly felt a strange pain rising from the bottom of his heart.

“You should not go now!” Dr. Taba’s voice was now reverberating in his ears. “It’s your last semester at the university! No one in his right mind would disrupt his education at a time like this, no matter what the purpose or the ‘cause’!”

“Yeah,” he murmured to himself thinking hard to find something to say to repulse that. “Dr. Taba may have been right to some extent,” he finally had to admit, “but to me…the ‘cause’ is all that counts, no matter what the consequences!”

The ear-cracking whistle of the train disrupted his dream. “It’s probably gaining speed… or approaching a tunnel or something,” he murmured to himself.

“Why…?” a girl’s voice suddenly rang in his ears .  “Why in the hell can’t I go…with you!?”

It took him a few long minutes to think of an answer. “You know quite well… how I would love to take you along!” he eventually said, looking directly into her eyes. “And you also know that…the situation has gravely changed. We are now going to take a path which is blurry, shaky and dangerous. It’s like walking on a hanging piece of rope! For all I know, I may tumble down to the depth of the crevice as soon as I take the next step. How in the world can I dare to take you along with me under such horrific circumstances?”

He paused for a few seconds to overcome his distress and take control of his nerves before he continued, “In addition, you know good and  well that I’m not the one who makes the final decisions. All they’ve told me about our next step is that we can’t go to Algeria, that we’re going to Egypt instead. They said nothing at all about allowing me to take any one along… despite the fact that I’m sure they could use your priceless assistance.”

He was feeling somewhat relieved now. He gently raised his head and took a look around. The young man sitting in front of him was staring at the door. The old man and his wife sitting next to him were dozing. The middle-aged man seated on his own side was looking at a magazine, and the young girl next to him was watching the moving outside scenery. No one seemed to be paying any attention to him.

 “Maybe,” he began thinking again, “Maybe they could only send two people at a time,” he mumbled to himself. “That’s, probably the reason why they didn’t want me to bring Lisa along.”

He took another look at the young man sitting in front of him. “Maybe, it was all for the best that they didn’t let her come with me!” he mumbled to himself. “We’re not sent to attend a party or a marriage ceremony or something! We are going to take part in a…guerrilla war!”

He closed his eyes and tried to get some sleep. “We’re here, so we’ve won victory!” someone’s voice suddenly rang in his ears.”

“Maybe, in a couple of years, we can say that, too!” he mumbled to himself, nodding his head philosophically. “Who knows!? Perhaps by that time, we’re already in power, and are getting ready to change the whole world!” He smiled. “Yes!” he said firmly, “What in the hell would be the use of a university degree in Electronics in a situation like that? This is what that Dr. Taba could not understand!”

He was now deeply relieved. He closed his eyes and gently went to sleep.

 “As soon as you two arrive in Egypt,” someone’s voice was now ringing in his ears, “Mr. Nosrat will come to receive you. From then on, you will obey his orders. He’s been with our revolutionary organization for some time now, so he can give you the necessary directions!”

“I still don’t understand why I can’t go along with you?” Lisa’s voice suddenly rang in his ears again. “Didn’t chu say that they were in need of people like me and would, therefore,welcome my joining them eagerly? What in the world made them change their minds?”

“I really don’t have much to tell you,” he heard himself say. “You know that my ‘connection’ was just a voice on the phone. When I asked him about you, he just ignored my question. But I’m not going to surrender so easily. You should keep our little apartment here in Chicago for a while and wait! I will contact you from…wherever I will be, as soon as I can, and will give you the good news.”

 “Ok,” mumbled Lisa shrugging her shoulders, “I’ll wait here …for a few weeks. You have the phone number…”

The train was slowing down now. It seemed to be approaching a small station.  The man sitting in front of him had closed his eyes and seemed to be dozing. “They will probably come up to check our documents again, soon,” he mumbled to himself. “Maybe I’d better wake up Nasser so he’ll be prepared!”

He bent his body gently and moved forward to touch the young man sitting in front of him without attracting any of the other passengers’ attention. The man, however, opened his eyes and winked before he could touch his knee. “It’s a village,” he said rather loudly. “I don’t think we’ll have enough time to get off or anything,” he added with a smile looking at the old man sitting next to him.

“We’ll soon get to Belgrade,” the old man said. “You can go down then and have a jolly good time, if you want!” he added chuckling.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” said the old woman sitting next to him.

“All the young girls in Yugoslavia are whores,” said the middle-aged man, with a heavy German accent. “You can grab one in two minutes!”

 The young man called Nasser was now gazing at him wearing a grin. “My friend, ‘Karim’, here,” he said, “ loves Yugoslav girls. Maybe we will go down and ‘grab’ a couple of them …if the lady here doesn’t have any objections!”

“You nasty boy!” said the old woman. “Both you and Marshal Tito should be ashamed of yourselves!”

“You’re not fair!” grumbled the young girl sitting in the corner of the coupe. “I’ve been to Yugoslavia a number of times. The girls here are very poor! They need food…and a place to live! They need the money…It’s just President Tito’s fault!”

“My friend is kidding, of-course,” said the first man, now referred to as ‘Karim’.  “He never does things like that,” he added pointing to ‘Nasser’. “He has three wives and six kids. They’ll kill him if they find out!”

“Oh, Yeah!?” the old woman exclaimed. “He should be even more ashamed of himself than Tito!”

“He’s probably kidding, Madam,” said the young girl. “He’s not old enough to have… so many …wives and kids!”

“I hope so!” said the old woman. “These Arabs are such…” She stopped and began nodding her head wearing a frown on her face.

The train had come to full stop now. The loudspeaker declared that it was going to stay there for 15 minutes and  the passengers could step down and get some fresh air if they wanted. The young girl rose and gently walked out of the car. ‘Nasser’ and ‘Karim’ too, walked out of the coupe. They gently went to the washroom. They stood in the corridor and talked for a few minutes after they returned and then …walked back and sat in their places. Soon they heard the sound of a whistle and the train began to move. A second later, the young girl walked in, panting. She stopped in the middle of the coupe and nodded her head. “You can sit next to the window if you like!” she said to the middle-aged man who had moved closer to the window stretching his body to look out.

“No, no!” exclaimed the middle-aged man sliding his body back to his own place. “It’s ok!”

“I don’t mind it!” insisted the young girl. “I’ve seen enough of the scenery now. I’d rather take a short nap.”

“Oh, yes!?” said the middle-aged man turning his face to glance at Karim. “In zat case….,” he added as he slid his body towards the window. The young girl sat in his place cackling.

The train was now gaining speed and whistling at the same time.

“Are you going to …Belgrade?” the girl asked looking at Karim, after a while.

“Oh, no!” retorted Karim with a sleepy voice looking back at her shaking his head. “Are you?” he asked in his turn.

“No,” the girl said with a friendly smile. “I sometimes come here to…visit my old grandma! I am Greek, but my mother is originally from…Belgrade.”

“Oh, I see,” said Karim. “I wish I had time! If I did…I’d come and visit you in Athens…”

The girl shrugged her shoulders. “You can always make time…if you wish! Life is too short to worry about such silly things as…time!”

She was giggling now.

There was a pause before the girl said, “My name is Talia and I live in Athens. I can show you the whole city…if you decide to make some time!”

“No vonder you vere defending…de Yugoslav girls!” said the middle-aged man with a smile. “You seem to be…one of zem!”

Everyone in the car laughed.

“Yes, I knew that from the beginning!” said the old man with a smile. “She has a bit of Yugoslav accent, too!”He paused for a few seconds before he added, “To be fair, though, I should say that…half of German girls are…whores, also. I’ve been there many times since the end of the war. I know it for fact!” He stopped, looked at the middle-aged man and added, “I hope you won’t take that as an insult Mr.….What’s your name , by the way?”

“Hans!” mumbled the middle-aged man. “Hans Schmitt!”  he said, “and I’m afraid to say zat part of vhat you said…might be true.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself, Frank!” grumbled the old woman, “calling young girls… terrible things like that!”

“Well, Germany is not fully rebuilt yet, and half of its territory is occupied… by the Soviets,” Karim interfered. “So, what do you expect?”

“What the German people need is…a revolution!” said Nasser with a smile.

“Where are you two from?” asked Talia suddenly. “I heard you talk together …in a different language in the passageway.”

“We are from…Egypt!” answered Nasser glancing at Karim who was now looking the other way.

“What were you doing…in Austria?” asked Talia.

Nasser shrugged his shoulders. “Actually,” he said, “we are studying in the United States…in California, to be exact. We’re just going to visit … our relatives…back home.”

“You did not answer my question!” said Talia with a grin. “What were you doing in Austria?”

“We were not in Austria,” cut in Karim who was now staring at the girl. “We were in West Germany. We decided to go back home by train and by boat to save some money…”

“Vhere vere you in Germany?” asked Hans who was now gazing at Karim. “I mean…vat city?”

“I was in Frankfurt,” Karim answered, “After Nasser joined me there, we did not stay very long. We left as soon as we got our passports.”

“You mean to say zat…you didn’t have passports before?” asked Hans with suspicion.

Karim and Nasser laughed together. “I meant that,” explained Karim, “we renewed our passports at our embassy there!”

“Ha ha!” exclaimed Hans. “So you went to your embassy in Frankfurt, huh?”

“You could’ve gone directly from New York…to Cairo in the old days, before Colonel Abd al Nasser took over in your country,” cut in Frank with a frown. “That old King Farough was a pretty good guy!”

“Where do you live in Egypt?” asked Talia looking at Karim.

“Well…” said Karim hesitantly. “We…”

He did not continue because someone knocked on the door of the coupe. A second later, it was opened and a uniformed man walked in. “Ve are approaching ze border,” he said. “Please get ready…your passports. Sank you!” He then said some more things in another language, bowed, turned around,  and walked out.

A short time later, the train came to full stop. Then another uniformed man stepped in, took a look around, and said some incomprehensible things before he shouted, “Velcome to Yugoslavia!”  He then turned around and walked out.

“He said they’re goino check our ID’s, soon,” declared Frank as he took out his passport and put it in his lap. All the others began taking out their documents in silence.

“I just hope,” said the old woman softly after a few minutes, “That the commi’s won’t arrest us all!”

“No, young lady!” said Frank sternly. “Yugoslavia is a different place now! It’s not like the Soviet Union. Tito doesn’t do things like that!”

Soon a new uniformed man walked in. “Passports, please” he said commandingly before he mumbled some incomprehensible things. He then walked around and collected everyone’s documents. “Danke schoen!” he then said before he walked out of the coupé.

 Except for Talia and Frank, everybody was quite tense now. Ages passed before the man returned. He took a suspecting look around and then handed Frank’s and Talia’s passports. He, then, fiddled around with the other documents for some seconds before he gave the old woman’s passport and that of Hans’s. Some centuries later, he returned Nasser’s and stopped. “You!” he then said loudly pointing to Karim. “You must come with me!”

“Why…!?” said Karim timidly? “My passport is…”

“Yeah!” the uniformed man said harshly. “Your passport is fake !”

“No, no!” said Karim, “It…is…not…”

The man turned around and beckoned to someone. Two men with rifles appeared. He said something to them and they took Karim’s arms, and gently led him out of the coupe and closed the door.

“Jesus Christ!” cried out Talia. “I’ve never seen anything like this! Was he really a spy or something?”

“My God!” exclaimed the old woman, “The bastards are going to shoot the poor kid! I’m sure!”

Frank turned to her with a growl, “Take control of yourself, dear! We’re not watchin a movie or a television serial! We’re on a train! They just wanted to…check …” He stopped, turned to Nasser suddenly and said, “You! Don’t chu wano do something to help out your friend?” He paused for some seconds before he added angrily, “Isn’t he your buddy!? Aren’t chu even goingo give it a try…to get him out of their hands…somehow!? ”

“Vhat can de poor man do?” asked Hans. “De guy is probably a spy or a criminal of some kind! I von’t be surprised…if they shoot him dead right inside the station!”

“No!” said Talia angrily. “They’re not goino do that! I’m goio stop them, no matter what !”  She suddenly got up, rushed to the door, opened it, and walked out. As soon as she left, the others rose one by one and followed suit.

They were now standing behind a window in the train passageway looking out along with a number of other passengers gathered there watching what was going on outside. They could now see three armed guards and two train attendants surrounding Karim, apparently carrying out a hot argument. Talia suddenly began running to the exit door of the car, but, as soon as she got off the train, she stopped. 

The scene outside had suddenly changed form. They could now see the guardsmen and the train attendants standing around in silence staring at Karim who was holding his stomach, moving his body up and down, cackling!  His  noisy laughter soon affected a few of the spectators standing outside  the train, causing them to begin to laugh too. Talia , then, gently moved towards the guards. Before she could reach them, however, Karim started walking back to the train holding up his passport with two fingers, shaking it as he laughed and walked. A few minutes later, the train whistle was heard and all the passengers, who had stepped out, quickly got back on and returned to their places.

When they all sat on their seats and the train began to move, Frank,the old man,  who was still frowning, turned to Karim, “What the hell was this thing all about? Why were you laughing your head off on the way back?”

Karim suddenly burst out laughing again. “You know!” he said in between his fits of laughter, “They were telling me that …the photograph on my passport …was not my photo…it was somebody else’s!”

While everybody was smiling confusedly, Nasser burst out laughing.

“Vhat’s so funny, kid?” said the old man looking at Nasser “It was just a stupid mistake they made. There’s nothing funny about it!”

“No!” said Nasser still giggling. “It’s not really funny. I laugh because…I’m happy. That’s all.”

When they passed through the Yugoslav border, entered Greece and reached the end of the line, Talia who was leaving the place along with her family suddenly turned around and ran back to Karim who was happily leaving the place along with Nasser. “Please tell me something if you can,” she said hastily. “I promise and swear to God not to ever say this to anyone as long as I live!”

“Ok,” said Karim with a friendly smile. “Say whatever  you want me to tell you and…I will!”

“Thank you, thank you!” exclaimed the girl. “I just wanted to know…the reason for your laughter, that’s all.” She waited for a few seconds and then added, “It wasn’t because they had made a mistake and thought that your picture was fake, was it?”

“Yes, it was!” excaimed Karim bursting out laughing again. “It was because…not only my picture was not fake…but also that my picture was the only thing in that passport which was not fake!” He laughed for a few more seconds before he added, “For example, I’m not 32 years old , I’m not married, I wasn’t born in Cairo, I’m not from Egypt, and, perhaps the most important of all, I am not Karim! My name is Herman! And I’m very very pleased to meet you!”  He stopped talking and laughed for some seconds before he added, “Now that I’ve told you my whole life story, the  next step for us to take is to turn around , go our own ways and try to forget that we’ve ever seen each other before in our lives…!”





© Copyright 2020 Herman Azadi. All rights reserved.

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