You love playing with trains, assembling cars and tracks, imagining they run all over your country. You make imaginary train noises, a whistle, and click-clack down the tracks. Your younger brother plays alongside, making his own sounds and games. Sometimes your parents take you to the station to watch the trains pass by. You count the number of cars. You wave to the engineer. You love riding real trains with your family, visiting relatives in the big city. Your childhood is idyllic.
An enemy has invaded your country, and you have been called up to the service. You are needed at the front. You arrive at the train station, this time to ride the troop train. Your childhood friends are with you. You are all anxious to defeat the enemy. You board the overcrowded train. The officers tell the engineer to hurry, the war is going poorly, and more troops are urgently needed. You see enemy planes approach the train and release bombs. You feel the explosion. You retch as you wake up in a pile of guts, blood, and bodies. You walk along the train tracks back to your hometown, the bucolic countryside invisible amongst the mangled trains and rails.
Enemy soldiers are rounding up the townspeople, herding them towards the train station, loading men, women, and children into boxcars and locking them in. From your hiding space, you see a soldier poking your brother with a bayonet. You hate those soldiers. You’ve heard rumors about what happens at the destination, that they are not work camps, but death camps. You think it is too horrible to be true. But what if it is and your brother must face it all alone? Should you go to your brother to help him face whatever it is at the end of the train ride? Adrenaline surges through your body, but there is nothing you can do. You’ll always feel guilty when you think of the look in your brother’s eyes as the soldiers forced him onto the train. You’ll never see him again.
You will use your rage to fight back with other partisans, ordinary people forced into extraordinary action. You will plant dynamite on the train tracks, hear the whistle, the click-clack of the approaching train. You wish your brother could hear the sounds of the exploding train as you detonate the explosives. You will feel a measure of revenge as the train flies apart. An enemy soldier will be blown clear. He will appear stunned but otherwise unhurt. You will hold your rifle against his face. Now you will have the power of life and death in your own hands.
The enemy soldier, only a child, will hold up a picture of his family, begging for his life. You will see your younger brother in his face, someone else’s brother. You will wonder if shooting a helpless person makes you as evil as those who took your brother.
Your finger will feather the trigger.