Monday, September 19, 2011

The Train that Wasn't

By Mary Vee

photo courtesy teeic.anl.gov
We arrived in Tung Kwan as the sun was setting. I wasn't sure if many people lived there. Bombs had destroyed many homes and businesses.

Still we forged ahead and knocked on any door we found. One woman pointed down the street. "There's a place set up for refugees in that couryard. Go there for food."

Hah, I didn't have to tell the children to march forward, they sprang in the direction she pointed before I could take a step. By the time I reached the courtyard several of the children had their bowls full of rice. They snuggled into corners of the court and filled their stomachs.

Once the last child had been served there was little food left in the pot for me.  In truth, I didn't mind, all I wanted was sleep.  I ate the few remaining morsels while visiting with the village ladies. "I understand there is a train that leaves from this town."

One of the women shook her head. "Oh, no. You are mistaken. There is no train."

The other woman held up her hand. "Well, yes, there use to be a train but the tracks run along the river and some places the river is very narrow. Japanese are camped on the other side. Those soldiers would be more than happy to shoot across the river at any person on a train. So, the train doesn't run."

The first woman shrugged. "You'll have to continue your journey on foot like all the other refugees."

Well, this news didn't make me happy at all. I was hungry, sick, tired, and not in the mood to hike another mountain pass. I didn't usually let things bother me, I'd experience a lot of difficult situations here in China, but today, I just wanted to be mad.

I sipped my tea to keep from saying anything I'd regret. 

Later I walked to the train station and spoke with the officer. "Please. I have one hundred children with me, many are sick. We've walked twenty days from Yang Cheng before riding the train a short ways and then walking over those mountains over there. We can't walk any further."

The conductor shook his head. "I'm sorry, little woman. I can't let you take this train. It carries coal not passengers and leaves when it is dark and difficult for the Japanese soldiers to see."

"Oh, please. There must be a way. You must help these children."

He took his hat off and rubbed his head. "I can't take responsibility. If you were to put the children on the train they would have to ride on top of the coal and not make a sound. The Japanesse shoot wildly at any sound they hear. Sometimes they simply shoot at the trains for fun."

God gave me a spirit of calm--a feeling of approval. "You're saying we can ride the train? Really?"

He sighed. "I can't take responsibility if the Japanese fire at the train--you understand."

"Yes--yes.  The children will sleep most of the time. They're so exhausted and ill."

"You must promise to keep the children low and quiet and have them on the train before it wants to leave."

"Yes--yes. I promise."

He sighed again. "Very well. The train leaves for Hua Shan in a few hours. Good luck, lady."

Once again God gave me the best news ever. There was a train after all. Not a nice one with beautiful seats and sleeping compartments which would be attacked by Japanese soldiers, but a dirty freight train full of coal with reasonable safety. Praise God. He took care of us again!

Join us again on our journey.  We're getting closer to Siam!

Gladys Aylward

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