Laima Vince is a novelist, poet, playwright and literary translator from Lithuanian into English. Her novel, This Is Not My Sky, has been translated into Lithuanian and published by Alma Littera, the largest commercial publishing house in the Baltic States. She has written five works of literary nonfiction and five plays. Laima Vince earned a MFA in Writing from Columbia University and a second MFA in Nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire. She is the recipient of two Fulbright grants and a National Endowment for the Arts award in Literature, as well as a PEN Translation Fund grant.

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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Illustration by author. From Matilda Series


Excerpts from the novel “That Unspoken Word”, based on the diary and poems of Matilda Olkinaitė (1922-1941)



The novel, That Unspoken Word, closely follows the diary of the young Lithuanian Jewish poet, Matilda Olkinaitė, who was killed in the Holocaust in her hometown of Panemunėlis in the summer of 1941. The novel recreates the emotional truth of the last year of Matilda’s life, expanding upon the words of her diary, interweaving her poems and creative process. Through Matilda’s thoughts, memories, and writings, That Unspoken Word narrates the tragic love story of a Jewish girl in love with a Lithuanian man on the eve of the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.

During 2018 – 2021, I researched the life of Matilda Olkinaitė and spent time in conversation with her two childhood friends, who were still alive at that time, Liucija Neniškytė Vizgirdienė and Genovaitė Šukytė. These two close friends from Matilda’s childhood helped me understand in rich emotional detail who Matilda was as a girl and how her family had lived in the small town of Panemunėlis during the years of Lithuania’s first independence. The first local historian to research the life and deaths of the Olkinas family was Violeta Aleknienė. Much of the narrative of this novel is based on her research. In 2018, with the permission of Irena Veisaitė, I began translating Matilda Olkinaitė’s diary, poems, and short prose pieces into English. Subsequently my translations and my introductory essay, “The Silenced Muse” were published in the book, The Unlocked Diary, edited by Mindaugas Kvietkauskas. In those years, I delved so deeply through my work analyzing Matilda’s poetry, researching her life, and translating her words, that I felt as though I could feel her presence. I felt that she still had more to tell us. And so, I began writing this novel, That Unspoken Word, which is closely based on Matilda’s diary, written during 1940-1941, her poetry, and her friends’ reminiscences, and archival research.





That Unspoken Word

Chapter One

Beyond Three Hills
July 10, 1941



“Matilda!” Kazys called out as he pushed open the heavy wooden door and stumbled inside the train station waiting room. He leaned against the wall to steady himself, struggling to catch his breath.

“I ran the whole way here,” he uttered after a few moments.

Matilda could hardly make out his words, although he was speaking to her in her native tongue, Lithuanian. She gazed up at him from where she was kneeling on the floor, her slender arms mechanically pushing a rag in a circular pattern on the wooden plank floor. Beside her stood a zinc bucket filled halfway to the brim with dingy water.

Kazys tentatively took a step towards her. Out of respect, he did not dare remove his black suit jacket although it was hot outside. Beads of sweat slid down his forehead. The collar of his white dress shirt was soiled a yellowish tinge from perspiration. A lock of his sandy blond hair toppled forward into his eyes. He hastily pushed it back.

That suit is too heavy for this hot July day, Matilda thought.

She knew he had no other. She knew his family’s circumstances. The black suit was cut from English cloth that his peasant mother had saved for, working the fields, year in year out, in anticipation of the day her eldest son would leave for the Kaunas Seminary to become a priest, the first in their family. The suit had been made by Abrahamas Goldbergas in Rokiškis, one of the best Jewish tailors in the province. Kazys was proud of his suit. It was the only item of clothing he owned, but it exuded respect.

Kazys knelt onto the wet floor, caught her gaze, and held it. Matilda pointed at his knees. She worried he would ruin his good trousers. Matilda wanted to tell Kazys to stand up and save the knees of his trousers, but no words came to her. Words had escaped her since her family’s arrest. Her wordless silent gaze was all she had to offer him.

Kazys shook his head, no, trying to express his feelings of exasperation that preserving his suit was a trifle, not important.

“Please, Matilda, listen to me,” Kazys spoke rapidly, glancing out the tall train station windows that extended from the floor to the ceiling, then back at Matilda, “I must talk to you…” His voice trailed off.

Kazys considered her fragile, Matilda reflected with annoyance, just like the rest of their classmates from high school. They perceived her as sensitive and fragile, a poet. They were afraid to upset her. They told her she was a great talent and that they loved her because she was a poet.

But if that were so, how did it happen that she and her younger sisters, Mika and Grunė, and Mama and Papa, were arrested by Lithuanians from their own town wearing white armbands—local men whom she’d seen around town hundreds of times. One of them had even come to Papa’s pharmacy when his father was sick and as always, Papa gave him the medicine free of charge, saying, “Only pay me if your father gets better.”

These men now served the Germans and according to them everything that had gone wrong under the Soviet occupation in Lithuania was the Jews’ fault. Her family and all the other Jewish families were held prisoner in their own hometown at their mercy.

Just a few weeks ago the same men had served the Russians, acting as their henchmen. Then they had nationalized Papa’s pharmacy, announcing that it belonged to the State. What state nobody knew or understood. All they knew was that suddenly they were homeless and had no source of income.

That morning the guard had brought her back to the train station to wash the floor. Yesterday they took all the Jews of Panemunėlis from the train station and transported them to the ghetto in Rokiškis. Only a little more than a week had passed since they took her family and the Joffee family from the train station and brought them to the stable, separating them from the others. The hay inside the stable was filthy, rotted hay, last year’s hay. Rotten beets and potatoes lay scattered across the floor. There was horse manure everywhere. Their Lithuanian guards told them nothing. They assumed they would live there now, in the stable, like animals. Mama took the sheets she had taken from home and spread them out over the hay and rotting vegetables, so that they would have a clean place to sit. “This won’t last long,” Mama whispered to comfort them.

Every day, her little sister Grunė’s Lithuanian friend, Genovaitė, pulled up beside the stable in a long horse drawn wagon. She would unload a large careen of soup that she struggled to carry inside the stable without sloshing. Then she returned to her horse drawn wagon and once again entered the stable, carrying a large ceramic serving bowl filled with potatoes her mother cooked and carefully prepared for them. Papa would take the lunch and divide it up into equal portions between the Joffee family and their family.

After they ate their lunch, Grunė and Genovaitė, who were both only twelve, would walk out of the stable right under the nose of the guard and run around the fields and play together. Yesterday, when she returned, little Grunė said to Mama, “Genovaitė offered for me to go home with her and hide on her family’s farm. But I told her, ‘No, Mama would worry.’” Mama pulled Grunė in close and held her tight. ‘You did the right thing,’ Mama said to her.

Then Grunė looked up at Mama and asked, “Is it true that they are going to shoot us?”

“No, my darling,” Mama said and stroked Grunė’s hair.

“Genovaitė said that they can’t shoot live people,” Grunė said. “Genovaitė said that her father told her that we had done nothing wrong, so there is no reason for them to shoot us.”

“That’s right,” Mama soothed.

“German soldiers came and took us from the seminary,” Kazys spoke rapidly in a hoarse whisper, breaking through Matilda’s thoughts, “all of us seminarians.” He caught his breath and continued, “They forced us to dig trenches around the airport. I heard them talking amongst themselves. I understood what they were saying. I studied German in high school, just like you.”

Matilda squeezed out the rag and dipped it into the murky water.

“They were talking about how there were orders to shoot all the Jews in Lithuania,” Kazys blurted out. “Now, I’ve said it, and it’s done.” Kazys scanned Matilda’s face.

She saw the pain and worry in his blue eyes. She saw his concern that what he had said was too brutal for her delicate nature. Matilda nodded slightly, imperceptibly, as though what Kazys had told her was something she already knew, although there was no way that she could have possibly known. Yet somehow, she knew. The poems had told her. The poems had been telling her for years, ever since 1938, when the first poem came to her in a vision, warning her of what would happen to the Jewish people. She knew since she read in the newspapers about Kristallnacht in Germany in November 1938. Then she had written her poem, “My People.” The words echoed in her mind.

A pair of dark eyes ignite once again
With a pain that cannot be extinguished.
And they—they just keep walking past, away.
But for me, Lord, there are no words.

Do you hear? Do you hear that awful laughter?
The hills, even the hills shake with the sound—
And the rivers will faint, and the seas will faint—
And the stone will cry, the stone will cry…

You are laughing? You walk past and keep on walking,
But for me, Lord, there are no words for my horror.
That laughter—that awful laughter… And dark eyes flash
With an undying, relentless pain.

And now it was about to happen here. All the visions were coming true. And she was powerless to stop them.

“Matilda?” Kazys spoke her name gently, as though trying to discern whether she had somehow gone deaf and could not hear him. She looked up.

A puddle of dingy water spread around them on the wooden floor. Matilda studied Kazys’s earnest face. She saw nothing of the lightness that was always there when they were in high school together before he left for the seminary in Kaunas to study to become a priest. The childhood they shared in their small farming town, Panemunėlis, was faraway now. Faraway and untouchable.

She closed her eyes. Why was she always so tired now? Behind her eyelids, she saw her closest childhood friend, her dear Lucia, a Lithuanian girl whose family was forced to flee their town when the Red Army arrived. Lucia’s family owned the local mill and that had made them “Enemies of the State.” She saw her younger sisters, Mika, and little Grunė, always trailing behind as they wandered through the fields, looking for new games to play. She saw the other village girls. Together they were racing towards the river for a swim on a hot summer afternoon. When they got to the river, they found that the boys were already in the water. The girls howled in collective disappointment. Now they would have to wait until the boys left before they could strip off their dresses and enjoy the relief of the cold water. Kazys shouted out to the other boys that they must give the girls a turn to swim. They listened to him. He was their leader.

She saw a golden autumn day. The yellow leaves on the ash trees were shimmering, twittering, anticipating their final desperate plunge to the ground. They had all set out together into the forest to pick mushrooms. She was lugging a basket filled with Mama’s bread, preserves, apples from the orchard to share with the others when the time came for lunch. The basket was heavy, and Matilda was petite, slender, with a slight build. She struggled to keep up, but the basket was weighing her down. With one imperceptible movement of his strong farm laborer’s arm, Kazys took the basket from her and carried it until it was time to spread out the linen tablecloth for lunch.

She saw her student life in Kaunas, a lifestyle much freer than her life had lived in Panemunėlis. Kaunas was urbane, cosmopolitan. She sang too loud and danced late into the night at the Metropolis or Versailles, or Club Tauras, always together with Him. She was often overpowered by her emotions. She loved the schlagers of the Moische Hofmekler orchestra and could dance to them for hours. The famous Litvak singer, Daniel Dolski, had died when she was still a child—he drank a bottle of cold beer after a performance and caught pneumonia. But she and her friends in Kaunas still remembered the lyrics to his romance songs and would belt them out late at night as they returned to their rented rooms, strolling arm in arm through Laisvės Alėja, the wide tree lined boulevard named for Freedom.
And then there was Vilnius, but Vilna for the Jews. Her university moved to Vilnius in 1940, after the historic capital was returned from Poland to Lithuania under the Soviets. She left again to study in that magical Jewish city—the Jerusalem of the North—where her parents had met and fell in love.

Matilda spent her evenings reciting poetry at literary evenings organized by her professor, the Lithuanian writer and poet, Vincas Mykolaitis Putinas. In Vilnius she would stay up late into the night discussing symbolism with the other young poets from the university, or she visited with her Jewish girlfriends, and together they sang Yiddish songs, gossiped, and giggled. He would take the train from Kaunas to Vilnius to see her and they would go out and dance until dawn.

She never imagined the Nazis would march into their city and at the same time, she had always known it.

“Matilda,” Kazys said, glancing over his shoulder to check the door.

She nodded to show she was listening.

“I can hide you.”

Matilda shook her head, no, no, no. She hunched over and resumed pushing her wet rag across the floorboards.

“I know a family who live in the forest, the Salagalis family,” Kazys spoke rapidly. “I spoke to them already and they agreed to hide you. A peat bog and marshlands separate their house from the main road. No one can get through unless they know the path around… It’s a wet dark murky place… You’d be safe there… I told them about you, Matilda. I told them you are a great poet. I told them we must save you and they agreed…”

Matilda stood, dropped the rag into the bucket, picked up the bucket and lugged it further away from Kazys. She set down the bucket, lifted the rag, squeezed out the water, and began washing the floor again.

Kazys trotted after her, crouched down, and peered into her face. “Come with me,” he pleaded.

Matilda read the earnestness in his large round pale blue eyes. She believed he was speaking the truth, but they had been tricked once already. In those awful days in June, the Soviets arrested their professors, their teachers from school, doctors, wealthy farmers—both Jewish and Lithuanian and Polish—and deported them in cattle cars to Siberia. Then the Nazis invaded, and they began hunting down the Jews. People were running in all directions. The Jews were trapped between the Soviets and the Nazis, and they were hunted down by both.

He did not come back for her. She had begged Him, gotten down on her knees before Him and pleaded with Him to take her along, to protect her, but He had turned stone cold towards her.

Ilya told her that she must run away with him and his fiancé Liza behind the retreating Red Army. Ever since they were children, her brother always had to be right, to join the winning side. Ilya was a communist. He believed in communism with his heart and soul. But all she could think about was poor Papa and Mama suffering alone at home.

Ilya told her to come to the Vilnius train station with whatever she could fit in one small suitcase. She ran from the rented room she and her brother shared, from the house where they’d lived on Pylimas Street across from the synagogue. She ran all the way down Pylimas Street to the Vilnius train station, not even bothering to wait for a tram that may or may not arrive. But when the train heading East arrived, she did not climb on with Ilya and Liza. She ran across the tracks and boarded a train headed North, towards her family in Panemunėlis.

Peace in the sanctity of their home did not last long. Lithuanian men came to their house, wearing white armbands. The men told them they would hide them in the forest, and they trusted them. Papa thought they were friends, men from their town who would help them.

Mama immediately thought of bringing sheets and pillows and ran upstairs to strip all their beds.

Matilda took her diary and notebook of poems, which were, in her mind, the only valuable possessions she owned.

The men told them to take all their gold along with them, only, they didn’t have any gold, except for tiny gold watch Papa gave her when she graduated from high school. Matilda clasped the watch in her palm. Maria, the young midwife from the clinic who boarded with them, rushed over to hug Matilda goodbye. Matilda slipped the watch into Maria’s palm and whispered into her ear, “Keep this to remember me by.”

“It’s too much,” Maria whispered back, pushing Matilda’s hand away.

Matilda locked her gaze on Maria’s hazel eyes. “I fear we will never see each other again,” she said softly.

Maria slid the gold watch into her apron pocket.

Now Matilda knew. She would never see Maria again.

Those men delivered them all directly into the hands of the Nazis.

So, who could be sure? Matilda’s thoughts returned to the present. Who could be sure of anyone anymore?

“Do you think your life is worth anything less than mine?” Kazys pleaded, his voice crashing into Matilda’s thoughts. “You are a great poet. You must live. You must be saved.”

Matilda clenched the rag in her fist. Did he really believe that? Perhaps when they were all in school together, in those years before the War... But now?

Matilda lowered her head and gazed down at the wet plank floor. She clutched the filthy rag, gray with the dirt of dozens of Jewish men, women, and children, who had been held captive in this train station over the past few weeks. She dipped the rag into the bucket of water, sloshed it around, releasing the dirt, drew it up, wrung it out with her slender hands, and let the rag drop back onto the floor.

She stretched forwards, pushing the rag in rhythmic circles, concentrating hard on every barely discernable crack in the wooden floor. How many times had her feet walked across this floor? Running to greet Papa, to greet Ilya, to greet Sheras, to greet Him… How many times had the shoes of the people she loved walked across this floor, never once thinking to look down at these floorboards, looking up instead, into the eager gazes of those who had come to meet them.

Matilda remembered the words she’d written in her diary last September:

Such a violent storm arose that we all thought that Ilya would not make it home on the eight o’clock train. We sat and waited with a delicious dinner set out on the table. Suddenly it became so dark, as though someone had drawn the curtains closed across the windows. Then lightening and rain followed. I ran outside and the wind was so strong that it almost knocked me down onto the ground. I adore storms. I pushed my chest out into the wind and set my eyes on the fields to look out for lightening. That’s when I feel that I am—alive, a Mensch. I am moving forwards.

The train was late. We all crowded into the carriage to go for a ride... All of us girls were laughing and squealing. Finally, we jumped out onto the rain-soaked platform. Ilya gave me a kiss and he smelled of beer. Thanks to his communist party friends: They treated him. Mama stood and watched as the train rolled away, and there were tears in her frozen glance.

She should have known then that a lightning storm was a foreboding sign of what the future would bring. Mama knew. She knew what the future would bring. Oh, but how couldn’t Mama have known? Before the Soviets filled the newspapers with their Bolshevik propaganda, the Lithuanian newspapers reported what Hitler was doing in Germany. Jewish friends came as refugees from Frankfurt, from Warsaw, and told them terrible things. Had they all been living in a dream? Why didn’t they believe them? They would listen to the stories, comfort the storytellers, but secretly think: Such things could never happen in our beloved Lithuania. The Jews and the Lithuanians get along in Lithuania. Sure, there are squabbles now and then, but they had the protection of President Smetona… Oh, had they known… How quickly love turns to hate.

Matilda scrubbed the floor with all her strength, as though she could scrub it clean of all the decades of muddy footprints of passengers passing through this small train station in this sleepy town on their way somewhere else—to Klaipėda beside the sea, or to Tauragė, or to Kaunas, where He lived. Her love. Or the one who once was her love… She had not forgotten Him. But had He forgotten her?

“Please look at me, Matilda,” Kazys said.

But she could not bring herself to look up at Kazys’s earnest face. Matilda dunked her rag into the bucket, drew it up, wrung it out.

Kazys crouched lower and peered into Matilda’s face.

“Did you hear me? Matilda?”

Matilda said nothing.

“We don’t have much time.”

Matilda was silent.

“Matilda,” Kazys pleaded, “the people in town told me that the guard went to the cafeteria to eat his lunch. It can’t take him much more than half an hour to finish eating. He will be back soon. Any minute. This is our chance, Matilda, do you hear me? This is our chance to run…”

Matilda stood, picked up the bucket, carried it a few footsteps away, set it down, crouched beside the bucket, and began washing another section of the plank floor. Her thick black hair came loose from the bun tied at the nape of her neck and spilled onto her shoulders.

Kazys gazed at her perplexed.

She continued scrubbing.

Kazys’s voice broke through her thoughts.

“Why don’t you answer me? Matilda? Speak to me? Say something, please.”

Matilda’s hair fell into her eyes as she scrubbed harder, scrubbing as though she could wash away the stains of hatred, of betrayal, that had consumed her beloved land.


Matilda paused, pulled her hair back and twisted it into a bun. She recalled the permanent wave she had done last winter. How silly… Trying to change how she looked. Who was she trying to please? Him? It seemed so ludicrous now… Fussing over whether her hair was curly or straight as the barbarians were knocking at the gates…

Kazys let out an exasperated sigh. She remembered his sighs of exasperation. Growing up, they usually came when she and Lucia and Mika fell into a giggling fit so powerful, they began to hiccough.
She leaned down and continued scrubbing with all her strength. Was she scrubbing this hard for the Nazis? Or did she simply love to scrub floors? She had loved to scrub the painted wooden floorboards in their little house across the street from the train station. She always offered to scrub the floors when something was amiss, a small quarrel with Papa, a spat with Mika, an emotion that latched onto her heart and tormented her when she did not receive a letter from Him. Would she ever scrub the floors at home again? Would she ever lie under the dormers in her little attic bedroom and compose poetry in her notebook?

“Matilda,” Josesph said gently, “why you won’t come with me?”

Matilda paused her scrubbing. The knees of Kazys’s trousers had turned a darker shade from the wet floor, but he suffered patiently, as a priest ought to suffer. If someone were to see them right now, two old friends from school alone like this, with all this unspoken emotion between them, they might think that Kazys was in love with her. But it was not Kazys she loved. She loved Him. Only now it was too late. When they last parted, He believed that she had betrayed Him. And now there was no way to tell Him that it wasn’t true, that it had only appeared that way, that she loved only HimHim… Her love.

“Matilda?” Kazys pleaded.

Matilda shifted her back towards Kazys. She bent down lower. If she could only scrub the floor hard enough, she could bore a hole through to another world, another universe, far away from this one, riddled with hate and uncertainty. She could go to that place beyond the Three Hills. She could go to the Sun…

Suddenly, a light flashed in her mind and the images from her poem came back to life. It was in the autumn of 1938. It was October, the month when the world turns gold. She was still a student at the Rokiškis Gymnasium together with Kazys. It was during the gnoseology lesson. The teacher was lecturing about the philosophy of knowledge. She glanced up at the maple trees outside the classroom window. The sun peeked out from behind a wall of clouds and suddenly the yellow leaves transformed into gold. She hastily wrote the poem into her school notebook, covering her words with her hands, scrunching up her face in deep concentration, to make it seem as though she were paying rapt attention to the lecture and was writing notes. Nobody guessed that she was composing a poem.

Beyond Three Hills
The Sun went down.
It was dusk
When we set out.
A Black Angel
Carried off the Sun.
Beyond Three Hills
The Sun has set.
Farewell, farewell—
We will never return—
We’ve already gone,
Beyond the Three Hills.
And we did not find there
Our beloved Sun.
We only found
The dark night—
Beyond Three Hills
The Sun has set.
Oh, farewell, farewell.
We will never return.
And flowers will bloom
In the early morning—
In the early morning,
We will never return.

We will never return… She knew now what the poem was trying to tell her. They would never return. The Litvaks would never return to Lithuania. It was pointless for Kazys to try so hard to save her. She was going beyond the Three Hills.

Kazys stood abruptly and paced nervously across the room. He spoke rapidly now in an agitated voice, “You are such a talented poet, Matilda. We all love your poems. You must live. You must live so that you may write more poems…”

Matilda gazed at her friend, her schoolmate, the one who had chosen the path of the priesthood, the one who knew at such an early age, even while they were still in school, that God was beckoning him. He wished to serve God, but could he be so sure now that there even was a God? Would God have allowed this to happen? She wanted to say something to ease his suffering. Something for him to take away with him. Something to let him know she appreciated the risk he and the Salagalis family were willing to take to save her life. But she could say nothing. It was as though an awful silence had enveloped her, snatching away her voice, tearing out her vocal cords with ice-cold fingers.

They, with their curses, their shoving, their self-righteous hatred, had taken away her voice—her voice that loved to sing, to gossip, to chatter with Lucia and with her sisters. The voice that shared her dreams with Mama in the morning, in the kitchen, over a cup of black tea, before anyone else in the house was awake, even before Papa left for the pharmacy. The voice that egged her into squabbling with her brother Ilya. The voice that teased Papa during their long talks about philosophy, about Pushkin, Lermantov, Don Quixote. The voice that talked too much, and made Mama bade her stop, be quiet, be still, to give her a moment’s peace so that she may think. Her poet’s voice.

That voice was gone.

Kazys strood over to one of the tall windows that faced the street. On the other side of the station three tall windows faced the platform and the train tracks. Those windows seemed enormous to Matilda when she was a little girl, stretching from floor to ceiling, they welcomed in the entire world.

Kazys anxiously looked out across the meadow towards the road that connected the two sections of their town. At one end of the road the Lithuanian farmers lived, clustered around the red brick Catholic church and the rectory, where a little less than a hundred years ago under the reign of the tsars the Lithuanians maintained a secret theater. At the other end of the road a few Jewish families and Lithuanian tradespeople lived, their houses in a cluster around the train station and the mill.

“The guard is heading towards the train station!” Kazys’s voice exploded. “We don’t have much time. Please, take my hand, and we will run.”

Matilda sat up on her heels.

Kazys stretched out his hand.

“I, I, won’t harm you, Matilda. You know me. You can trust me. We grew up together. I’m not one of them… I’m almost a priest…”

Matilda’s brown eyes met his pale blue eyes, blue eyes, eyes like His, Lithuanian eyes. Only, His eyes were a shade of blue so deep they were almost violet. His eyes were like the first forget-me-nots of spring. She shook the thought of Him away, that look of love in His eyes when He gazed at her and called her by her pet name, Matinka. Where was He now? Did He even think of her? Remember her? Had they taken Him away too? Had He joined the anti-Nazi resistance along with Jonas Pajaujis and the other architecture students in Kaunas like he had promised he would? Or had He joined them? Was He somewhere out there now guarding a girl like her?

“We must run now, or we will lose our chance!” Kazys shouted.

Oh, how she wished she could run… So that she could live… So that she may write… So that the poems that came to her in dreams would never stop coming… And so that maybe, just maybe, one day she could see Him again…

“Matilda…” Kazys pleaded, clenching his hands together, as though to stop himself from reaching out and grabbing her hand, pulling her, no, dragging her out of the train station together with him. He was a priest, after all, a seminarian. He knew about free will. God had given them all free will to choose their own destiny. That could never be violated. Not even now… Not even when the choice was…

“Come…” he pleaded.

Matilda shook her head, no.

Kazys’s face turned ghastly pale. He glanced back at the window nervously. The dark silhouette was moving closer.

“Please let me save you,” he said softly, gently, as though he were coaxing a small child, or a wild animal, to safety. He extended his hand towards her, the same hand that took her picnic basket when her shoulder stooped under its weight, the same hand that pushed open the classroom door for her every morning, the same hand that grasped hers in a firm congratulatory handshake after a new poem had been published in The Little Sparrow or Little Star and the class gathered around her to read it together.


Matilda shook her head, no, no, no.

No, she was not going with Kazys. No. And it was not just because Papa had forbidden any attempts at hiding that would risk their friends’ lives. It was not because it would be unbearable for her to be separated from her family, from Mama. It was not because she would never abandon Papa, who was weak with worry and illness. It was because of Him. She wished, no, secretly hoped, that He would come and rescue her. Rescue all of them. Maybe He still would? What if she fled with Kazys now, and then He came, and she was gone? It would be another betrayal. She had to give Him one more chance to come for her.

“Matilda!” Kazys’s voice quivered with anxiety.

The rag felt wet and cold in her hand, but she would not release it, because if she did, her hand might betray her, and grasp hold of her dear friend Kazys’s firm palm.

“The guard is coming closer towards the train station,” Kazys said nervously.

Matilda leaned back on her heels. If only the guard crossing the street would freeze in time. If only she could be back in her room across the street from the train station in her cozy attic room. If only she had a few moments more to write words in her diary. Then she would know what to do.

The train station door opened.

Kazys fled towards the open door, pushed past the guard, and was gone.

Matilda closed her eyes, and the world went dark. your social media marketing partner


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