Saturday, September 15, 2012

Uprooted: Part XXIII ~ The Second Fastest Typist In Estonia

On Saturday mornings this blog has been devoted to the serialized telling of the Ralph Kand story. Kand, a young man with a withered leg, fled Estonia when the Red Army began its westward march in autumn 1944. When he reached the westernmost tip of Austria he attempted to escape to freedom by going over the mountains, an ultimately absurd venture. This plan was thwarted by Nazi soldiers and Ralph was jailed in Germany. After several months, as the war neared its end the prisoners were released and Ralph continued his quest. 

The Second Fastest Typist In Estonia

From the porch Ralph surveyed the damage. Bodies lay out on the open field. The farmer invited everyone to stay for a meal and spend the night if needful. The Americans had left to catch up with their company.

Ralph declined the offer. "I'll press on," he said, stepping down to the stone-terraced walk. The others chose to accept the farmer's kindness and Ralph headed back toward the road across the grassy field. Here and there he saw medics attending to wounded. Directly in his path he saw a civilian bent over a Nazi soldier whose breast was decorated with medals.

"Help me," the man said.

Ralph looked down and saw that the body lay headless. The man was trying to remove an officer's patent leather high-top boots.

"Come on. Get over there. Put your hands under his armpits so I can pull his boots off."

"Filthy cur," Ralph hissed.

"Where are you going? Look at these boots. My shoes have no soles."

Ralph was already walking away. There were more than two dozen dead from whom the man could have had shoes if he needed them this badly. Ralph rubbed the side of his nose with his fingertips and scratched at his cheek as he shuffled toward the road. He half turned his head and saw the man now on the ground with his foot pushing into the dead officer's crotch, yanking with both hands on the unyielding boot.

For half an hour Ralph continued along the road beneath an overcast sky. Suddenly an American jeep sputtered up behind causing him to jump as he was lost in his thoughts.

"Need a lift?"

Ralph studied their faces. This could turn out all right. In the next instant he was heading west answering questions and telling his story.

"Let's get you registered," one of the American G.I.'s said when they reached what appeared to be a base camp of sorts.

"Your English is pretty good," said the other who had been driving.

"So's yours," Ralph replied and the soldiers laughed.

He was ushered into a large hall where a small waiting area had been roped off. A soldier instructed him to fill out a form, which he accomplished with  minimal assistance. His scrawl was primarily block letters but all the important words were legible when the clerk reviewed it.

"Take a seat over here," he was instructed. About twenty minutes passed and another voice barked, "Kand!"

The room was full of tables and chairs where refugees were being processed. The man who called was across the way, gesturing with an open palm, "This way."

One of the soldiers who picked him up on the road came over and said something to the man processing Ralph’s paperwork. The man looked at Ralph with an inquisitive gaze. “He says you told him you were the second fastest typist in Estonia.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why not the fastest? That’s something of a bizarre claim to make.”

“I didn’t want to sound like I was boasting, sir.”

“But you are boasting.”

“Yes, I understand that.”

These Americans laughed, too. The war must be going well for them. He had a hard time grasping their easy-going manner in such a harsh world.

“You also speak three languages?”

“Four fluently. And a bit of Finnish, Czech and a few words a Frenchman taught me. Enough to get by anyways.

The Americans lowered their voices to confer. Then the one who was seated said, “We’ll have to give you a typing test. We’re short on typists here and long on paperwork.”

“Come with me,” the soldier instructed.

Ralph limped to the far corner of the room where an idle typewriter awaited him. The soldier pulled the chair away from the table, inviting Ralph to take a seat.


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