The Train Was On Time (The Essential Heinrich Böll) by Heinrich Böll

By Heinrich Böll

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Nothing definite … a strange wavering of the ever-vibrating needle … Stanislav? The same quivering. Nikopol! he thought suddenly. Nothing. “Yes,” said the man, “that’s where my unit is. Repair depot. ” But it sounded as if he really meant: I’m having a terrible time. Funny, thought Andreas. I had imagined there would be a plain in that area, a green patch with a few black dots, but the map is whitish-yellow there. Foothills of the Carpathians, he thought suddenly, and in his mind’s eye he instantly saw his school, all of it, the corridors and the bust of Cicero and the narrow playground squeezed in between tenements, and in summertime the women leaning out of the windows in their bras, and the janitor’s room downstairs where you could get a mug of cocoa, and the big storeroom, dry as a bone, where they used to go for a quick smoke during recess.

Strange, now that he looked closer he could see that Lvov was not far at all from this Kolomyya … he went back … Stanislav, Lvov … Lvov … Stanislav, Kolomyya, Cernauti. Strange, he thought; Stanislav, Kolomyya … these names evoked no definite echo. That voice inside him, that wakeful, sensitive voice, oscillated and trembled like a compass needle which cannot settle. Kolomyya, shall I get as far as Kolomyya? Nothing definite … a strange wavering of the ever-vibrating needle … Stanislav? The same quivering.

No”—his voice was filled with a terrible fear. The blond fellow yawned and began muttering. … They went on playing. “The 42 MG is all we need to win the war. ” But the silence of those who said nothing, nothing at all, was terrible. It was the silence of those who knew they were all done for. At times the train got so full they could hardly hold their cards. All three were drunk by now, but very clear in the head. Then the train would empty again, there were loud voices, resounding and unresounding.

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