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The Long Road Home. Chapter 18.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Long Road Home. Chapter 18.

The young woman tried so hard to see through the black fog that was her memory...

A young woman awakes in hospital. Who is she? How did she get there? The continuing saga of two brave young women, who risk their lives to help others, whoever they may be.

Innsbruck, December 21st 1943

 

The hours passed by so slowly as the young woman struggled to get her memory to return.

Nurse Kissling had been called to an emergency before she had a chance to tell her anything about her 'companion' as she had referred to the other Matron.

Most of the time she spent dozing but during those moments she was disturbed by vivid dreams. Unfortunately, what she couldn't determine was whether the dreams were just that, dreams, or whether they were flashbacks as her brain struggled to recover.

The one thing that puzzled her was that every time, every dream, however vague, the same person appeared.

 

As the day progressed, several people came and went. Nurses to check on her, porters who brought food and water. She asked each of them about the other Matron who had been found but none of them seemed to know anything. They were all so busy and stayed only long enough for the task that they had come to do.

Late in the afternoon, Nurse Kissling returned.

“How are you feeling?” she asked as she checked the records by her bed.

The young woman closed her eyes slowly.

“I don't know,” she said, opening them again. “I can't bear not knowing who I am, I have dreams... at least, I think they are dreams.”

“Don't they mean anything to you?” the nurse asked. “Can you remember them?”

The young woman sighed.

“Yes, as dreams. The actual events I see mean nothing but...” her voice trailed away.

Nurse Kissling reached out and held her hand.

“But?” she questioned.

“Oh, I don't know. I don't understand. Every dream is about the same person... at least, she appears in them, all of them. Each time is a different scenario but there is a common link. It doesn't matter what happens, or where, that woman is there. I don't understand it.”

“In what way?”

“Well, in one, there were huts, many huts but they were exploding and burning. The woman appeared from one of the huts looking very dishevelled but smiling. In another, it was extremely hot and very dusty. The woman was there again. The worst one though...”

“Go on,” the nurse encouraged.

The young woman stared at her.

“I was in a boat in the middle of the ocean, a tiny boat. It was hot and there was nothing but water as far as I could see. She was there too, bending over me and... and smiling as she always does. Am I going to die, perhaps? Is she my angel, coming for me do you think?”

Nurse Kissling smiled.

“We will all die sometime but not yet, not for you. The doctors have examined you carefully and you have no serious injuries. They are sure that your memory loss is temporary. Considering where you were found, a concussion is highly likely. You must have fallen a long way. I think the dreams confirm that. No. I think that the woman represents someone close to you. A friend, family perhaps. Do you have any sisters?”

The young woman shrugged her shoulders slightly.

“I don't remember,” she whispered.

The older woman looked at her sadly.

“All right, well, just take your time. I am sure your memory will return but you have to relax. Don't force it because the more you try, the more frustrated you will become.”

She raised her hand and brushed the hair from the young woman's forehead, pausing just long enough to calm her before withdrawing.

“I will bring you some food soon but, for now, I have work to do.”

As she headed for the door, the young woman called out to her.

“The other Matron, what happened to her...” but it was too late. Nurse Kissling had gone on her way.

 

As she lay, alone, in her bed, she closed her eyes momentarily but then quickly reopened them. The dreams had become something to fear although she didn't know why. They were so vivid and yet she knew that they were just memories trying to break free of their confinement. What was she so afraid of?

However, the weariness was so overwhelming that it overtook her and her eyes closed once again.

Almost immediately she found herself in an alley. She had no idea where but that woman was beside her again, just as she always was. Suddenly, a man appeared in front of them! He was holding a revolver, pointing it at her. The man squeezed the trigger and, as the gun barked, the young woman threw herself sideways, dragging the other with her.

“No!” she screamed and the image was gone!

Almost immediately it was replaced with another. This time she was standing at the stern of a ship which was leaving a harbour. A man was holding her tightly, preventing her from moving. In the distance, she could see the quayside receding but she could just make out a figure standing there, watching the ship as it left. Although she couldn't actually tell who it was, in her heart she knew it was the same woman who appeared in all her visions.

 

When she opened her eyes again, a nurse was sitting beside her, watching.

“Hello,” she said, smiling. “I heard that you were recovering well. How is the memory coming along?”

The young woman gave a half-smile.

“I'm not sure,” she replied. “I think it is trying to come through in my sleep. I know your voice... Sister Wallner?”

The nurse nodded.

“That's right. How is your vision now, and the headache?”

“I can see much better now but my head feels tight and woolly if you know what I mean. I understand about concussion. It will be the pressure in my head.”

Nurse Wallner suddenly smiled brightly.

“There you are, you see? You do remember something!”

“Goodness me!” the young woman chuckled. “So I do!”

The smile quickly faded.

“But I still don't know who I am.”

“Well, these things take time and, more importantly, you need to relax. Don't try to force it, just recover at your own pace.”

 

“Is this her?”

The young woman opened her eyes at the sound of nearby voices. She was surprised to see a white-coated doctor standing in the doorway together with a dishevelled, dusty, very tired-looking officer who had an equally dirty and bloodied bandage around his head. She had no idea who they were.

“Yes, I think so. I mean, it was dark and dirty in the space where she was trapped but it certainly looks like her.”

“Who is this?” she asked.

The doctor turned to her.

“Oh, sorry. I didn't notice you were awake. This is Leutnant Fuchs. He was sent to disarm the bomb which you were trapped beside.”

The young woman frowned.

“Bomb? What bomb? When I came to I was in some sort of basement. There was no bomb.”

The doctor turned back to face the soldier.

“She has total amnesia and doesn't remember anything about what happened to her. Her memory is completely blank. I hoped that if she saw you it might trigger something but, alas, it doesn't seem so. That is why I have to be sure that this is the matron that you attempted to free.”

The young woman stared at them.

“Tell me what happened... exactly. Maybe it will help me to remember.”

Leutnant Fuchs sat down on the chair beside her bed which Nurse Wallner had vacated.

“We were called by a search team, two men who had found you in the rubble. When I arrived and introduced myself to you, you told me your name, Matron Maria Kaufmann.”

He paused and looked carefully at her, studying her face.

“So you are saying that my name is Maria Kaufmann?”

He looked up at the doctor who said,

“We need to be sure, Herr Leutnant. Can you be certain?”

The soldier turned back to her.

“Don't you remember? Even now that I have told you?”

She shook her head slowly.

“No. It means nothing to me...”

Once again, he turned towards the doctor.

“I thought I was sure when I saw her,” he said apologetically. “But her voice... I don't know. She was very choked and dry, what with the dust and dirt but...” He shrugged and looked at her once more. “No, it has to be her. If it isn't, she has a twin!”

The young woman suddenly turned to him, eyes wide open.

“A twin? Why do you say that?”

“I'm sorry,” he replied, somewhat startled at this sudden outburst. “I didn't mean... I just meant, well, you know. A figure of speech...”

The doctor stepped closer.

“Does that mean something to you? A sister, perhaps?”

The young woman tried so hard to see through the black fog that was her memory but nothing surfaced. She shook her head again.

“No, Damn it! I thought...”

She sighed as the sentence faded away.

“Surely I would remember a sister. Even more so a twin sister but there is nothing.”

“And what about the name, Maria Kaufmann? Does that not mean anything to you either?”

“No. nothing at all. Is that who I am?” She turned back to the soldier. “Is it? You found me. What happened after that?”

“I... well...” He looked up at the doctor for guidance who nodded for him to continue. “One of my men placed a bottle jack under the beam that was protecting you. He only had to give us a few millimetres so that we could pull you out. He achieved that and we began to lift you but the beam below suddenly gave way and the whole mountain of rubble fell into the chasm which opened. The bomb began to move as you were pulled from us but fortunately, it didn't detonate. We couldn't begin to search for you until I defused it but given the distance you fell, two stories I estimated, and the amount of debris that followed you, I was certain that you couldn't have survived.”

The young woman listened intently, trying to picture the scene but still, there was nothing. She gripped the bed-sheet tightly, venting her frustration.

“It can't have been me!” she hissed. “It can't have been. If it was, then surely I would remember?”

The doctor disagreed.

“Not really. It is not unusual for such a traumatic incident to be pushed from one's mind. The horror being too great for the injured mind to cope with.”

“Don't you remember anything from your past? Anything that we could work with? Your parents, maybe?”

The young woman closed her eyes but still, she couldn't penetrate the fog. She shook her head and a small tear escaped from between her closed lids and slowly trickled down the side of her head.

It didn't go unnoticed.

“Don't worry, it has only been twenty-four hours, these things take time. You relax and try not to worry.”

The young woman turned onto her side as the tears continued. She didn't notice the voices as they slowly receded.

“It is her, isn't it? I know I've been knocked about myself somewhat but surely...”

 

Soon after, she opened her eyes. She hadn't slept but deep down she knew the doctor was right. What she needed was rest but her head was in turmoil. Is this how it is when you are born, she wondered. No past, just a future? Am I being reborn?

All kinds of questions were beginning to come to her. The doctor had mentioned family. She imagined she had a mother and father but who were they, where are they? Where do they live? The doctor said she was German but where in Germany did she come from? Does she have brothers or sisters? The woman in her dreams, is she a sister, a friend or just someone she knows? So many questions but not one single answer. Not one place that she could even begin to rediscover herself.

 

She threw back the blanket that was covering her and tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed. She had to find the other woman they spoke of. She would know who she was.

Firstly she slowly slid one leg over the edge of the mattress and then the other. When she tried to sit up, the pain that engulfed her was unbearable and she groaned loudly.

Unbalanced and unsupported, she rolled off the bed and fell heavily to the floor with a loud cry of anguish.

Within seconds, Nurse Wallner had appeared and knelt beside her.

“What are you doing?” she asked sternly. “You are not fit to get out of bed, you will do some serious harm to yourself!”

“I have to find her,” the young woman whispered, fighting through the pain. “She will know who I am.”

The nurse sighed with sympathy.

“You can't just walk off. You need to get well before you can do that and what if you had banged your head on the floor? What then?”

Without waiting for an answer, she called loudly for an orderly. Together they lifted her back onto the bed.

“Please don't try that again. You don't want to be permanently damaged now, do you?”

“I have to find her, that 'other' woman. I need to know.”

The young nurse sighed.

“Yes, I understand that but there is time. Get your strength back and then we will see what we can do.”

The young woman grabbed her arm.

“You don't understand. I have to find her. I don't know why but I have to. There is something important about her and I need to find out what. I need to know who she is, as well as who I am.”

The nurse studied her carefully for a moment.

“Alright,” she said at length. “I will see what I can find out. Did Sister Kissling say anything about her?”

The young woman shook her head sadly.

“No, only that she had been found. She didn't say where or even whether she was alive.”

“Well look, if you promise me not to try to get up again, I will see what I can find out. Agreed?”

There was no reply.

“Agreed?” the nurse insisted.

The young woman nodded.

“Agreed.”

 

It was late evening when the doctor came to see her.

“I have some news,” he told her.

“You found her?” she asked, pushing herself painfully to something of a sitting position.

The doctor frowned.

“Found who?” he asked, somewhat puzzled. “Oh. Oh, no. Sorry, no,” he continued as he remembered. “No. The news is about you. I contacted the Red Cross in Berlin with my suspicions as to your identity. They replied surprisingly quickly. I have received orders directly from an Oberstarzt Ritter who says that you are to be given every assistance available to aid your recovery and that all previous orders relating to Matrons Maria Kaufmann and Katarina Langsdorff are cancelled forthwith. Does that name mean anything to you?”

The young woman thought hard.

“I don't think so but... it seems, well... I don't know. It feels as though I should know it but I don't know why.”

“That's all right. Don't worry about it now. Tomorrow you will be taken to the Purkesdorf Sanatorium near Vienna. We have the very best neurology doctors there. I am sure that under their care you will soon make a full recovery.”

The young woman stared at him.

“Where is Vienna?” she asked.

“Where is..? Oh yes, of course, your memory. It is about five-hundred kilometres east from here. It is a beautiful city. Perhaps, when you are well, you will have the chance to explore and enjoy it.”

A cloud seemed to pass over her face and she looked directly at him.

“I can't go there, not yet.”

The doctor was somewhat taken aback at this unexpected response.

“Why not?”

She lowered her gaze and spoke quietly.

“I can't go until I find the other woman you keep telling me about.”

“Look, Maria. We don't know where she is. Nurse Kissling told you that because she thought that you would stop worrying about her. If she was found, she may not even be here, in this hospital.”

As soon as the doctor used her name, she suddenly turned to face him.

“Is that my name?” she asked. “Are you absolutely certain?”

His face flushed and he lowered his eyes.

“No, not absolutely but...”

“Then please don't call me that. Not until you are sure!”

“But I... all right. As you wish. But tomorrow you will be taken to the airfield and you will be airlifted to Vienna. I don't have any control over that.”

The young woman turned away from him. She knew he had no choice but something deep inside her was screaming to her that her 'companion' held the key to her memory.

 

That night she didn't sleep at all, at least, not properly. When she did sleep, her mind was haunted. She saw visions of hospital beds with sick and wounded people reaching out for her. She saw soldiers being shot down and explosions. Occasionally, the visions of horror gave way to scenes of childhood. She saw busy city streets and parks filled with birdsong. There were fleeting glimpses of a man and a woman whom she wondered were perhaps her mother and father.

 

By the time the daylight began to return to her room she felt as though she had lived a life over but none of it meant anything to her. It was as though she was an outsider, looking into someone else's life.

As she sat and ate the grey bread and sipped at the ersatz coffee that the orderly had brought for her, she looked out and watched odd snowflakes drift slowly past the window. The sky was heavy and she wondered whether there would be a heavy fall of snow.

 

She didn't have long to wait. Not long after she had finished, two soldiers arrived with stretcher on a trolley. Within no time at all they had lifted her onto it and taken her outside to a waiting ambulance.

The journey of just a few short kilometres took only a few minutes. After a brief stop at the airfield gates, the ambulance drove directly to a waiting Junkers marked clearly with large red crosses within white circles.

To her surprise, as they drove around the rear of the aircraft, another ambulance was standing nearby and the medics were busy loading another stretcher on board.

Her driver saw the look in her eyes.

“There are others going with you,” he said without being asked. “From other hospitals. Herman isn't going to spare one of his precious fifty-twos just for you now, is he?” he sneered.

She could see him looking at her through the large interior mirror.

“Herman?” she asked. “Herman who?”

“Göring! Herman Göring! Good grief, don't you know anything? Head of the Luftwaffe!” He raised his eyes and shook his head.

The other medic immediately defended her.

“Oh, come on, Hans. Does she look in any fit state to be thinking straight?”

The driver relented and shrugged his shoulders.

“Probably not.”

 

By this time the other ambulance had moved away and they reversed up to the loading door from where she could be transferred directly inside.

She couldn't help but wonder, as they slid the stretcher from its rack, whether she would ever find out who she was.

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