The nurse closed the curtains as the old man struggled for breath. He’d been transferred here two weeks earlier, and the nurse had noticed nobody ever came to visit the man. She arranged the unread magazines next to his bed and filled the galls with water. He moved slightly, and she looked at him as he gestured her to come closer. ‘I need to tell you something,’ he whispered. ‘I have a confession to make.’
‘A confession? I’m not a priest.’
‘Somebody must hear this before I go,’ he whispered.
It was in early spring 1943. Marloes collected a few breads at the back of the bakery and wrapped them in cloth. Her father nervously looked at his watch. ‘Fifteen minutes.’ She smiled and hung the bread basket on her bike.
It wasn’t far from here. The point where they would drop their cargo. She biked along the canal and over the dike until she came to an open field. It was chilly, and she pulled her coat over her ears. She’d done this often enough, but every time it gave her the chills. The distant drone of the engines grew louder, and she looked to the sky. A single airplane appeared from the distance and as it came closer, it dropped the load. A small crate parachuted to the ground. Marloes walked across the field, opened the crate and removed the contents.
The weapons fit nicely under the breads. Someone else would collect the crate after she’d gone. You couldn’t leave these things out here. The Nazis couldn’t be allowed to find it.
Marloes quickly biked back to the village, past a couple of Nazi soldiers that gave her that look only a young woman needs to fear. One of them whistled, but she ignored him. They couldn’t know she was hiding weapons for the resistance in her basket. They never stopped her, never checked. The baker’s daughter was just doing the rounds.
Reaching the outskirts of the village, she followed a path to the windmill. She laid the bike against the fence, took the basket off and walked around to the back, lifted an old wooden hatch and put the weapons down. Someone would come for them after dark.
She closed the hatch and as she stood up, she heard a door open. Turning around, she saw five soldiers approach, pointing their rifles at her. In German, they asked what she was doing. She couldn’t say anything. She froze. Dropped the basket, raised her arms into the air.
‘I am picking up flour for my father.’ Her hands were shaking and the sunny sky seemed to crash down on her.
The soldiers pointed their rifles at her while the officer opened the hatch. She closed her eyes as he reached down. Knew he’d found the guns and ammunition. He stood up, a British gun in his hand, and walked over to her. Stroked her chin and let his finger run down her neck, to her breasts. ‘What a waste,’ he said and smiled.
The nurse looked at the dying man, heard him struggle to speak. ‘She died a few months later in a concentration camp somewhere. I don’t even know which one.’ The old man could hardly breathe, but he had to get his story off his chest. ‘Nobody ever knew I was the one that told them.’ He tried to cough before continuing. ‘I thought I was helping. I really believed their lies. And Marloes, I loved her, but she never even noticed me. I don’t know why I told them, why I betrayed her.’
The nurse said nothing. She stood up, opened the curtains and left the room. He would die alone.
‘I have lived with this ever since,’ he said as she closed the door.
This story is the thenth installment in the Moments series