Budai Rudolf - A Prisoner of War

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story in which someone returns to their hometown.... view prompt

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Drama Historical Fiction Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I woke up in a panic, almost choking on my saliva, coughing, and short of breath. There was not a single drop of water in the cell, and the guards on night duty were either sleeping or playing some card games, with no one to offer water. A few of my cell mates stared at me as I recovered while the others were still sound asleep.

My tolerance to the stench of human ordure, molds, rotting flesh, the barred windows, cement walls, and iron bars with a metal sliding door has progressively decreased each day, month, and year that has passed. I wish to return to my hometown, Nagypall, Hungary, where I was born and lived much of my childhood and teenage. The hope to reunite with loved ones has kept me alive so that one day before dying, I would get to see them again. I would get to speak to someone again. 

Nagypall, Hungary, is a typical village where you would find land with various farms, orchards, and animal husbandry. The town had roughly 200 people, and we know most of each other by name. 

My family has been farmers for generations, where we would grow crops and sell them to the community. We sometimes held fairs where many families set up stalls selling their produce along with us.

I remember these fairs being the best part of the summer, where our village was packed with people, and we had long party nights of eating, singing, and dancing. It was a celebration. As I grew older, the festival slowly died down to just the chirping of birds and songs of crickets. There were several empty stalls and a handful of buyers to purchase fresh meat or vegetables. Initially, I would not understand why no one was coming and constantly argued with my parents, somehow thinking it was their fault. As I matured, I realized the war's effect on our country and its people. 

War had spread into our borders. Many of the farmlands, including our own, had been destroyed in the cross-firing of ballistics. Being a village close to enemy territory, we were forced to abandon our homes.  

In 1941, Hungar joined the Axis in World war II, supporting the Germans, Italians, and Japanese. The government promised its people that the war would return Hungary to its former glory, bringing peace and prosperity. I made up my mind and decided to join the army.

Our income sources were almost nill, having lost our lands. I helped my uncle, a blacksmith, yet his weaponry was outdated and not in demand anymore. He now made more artistic artifacts and musical instruments, which were not in much need during the war. By me joining the forces, I had hoped the government would provide some kind of salary or reward to my family after the war was over. 

I tried several times to break the news to them but could never gather the courage knowing how devasted they would be. A day before my departure, we had a family get-together. Who knows when we will get the opportunity again? Seeing everyone smiling, dancing to music, and sharing the simple food we had gathered was great. We partied till late, keeping the noise low, trying not to grab anyone's attention. Everyone had gone to bed except my cousins Anna, Lena, and Luca.

"I will be leaving early in the morning. Can you guys share the news with everyone else?"

"What news?" Luca asked curiously.

"I am leaving today, and I drafted for the army. I can't think of another way to help mother and father."

"Are you dumb? How do you think this will help? It will make them more miserable." Anna added. "You are making a mistake. Have you ever trained for battle? What are you going to do?"

That is true; I have had very little training and didn't know what to expect. 

"Well, I cannot back off now. I am leaving." 

"Make sure you let them know gently and don't just blurt it all out," I warned my cousins as I loaded my bags in the truck that was picking up all soldiers in the area. 

"You take care of yourself; make sure you come back alive." They all were waving till we were beyond their sight. Who knew this would be the last time I would be seeing them?

It didn't take long till we made it to base camp. The camp was crowded with hundreds of thousands of young citizens like me who were not as patriotic, yet there were there only to fight to give their families a better place to live. There were sons and daughters of farmers, blacksmiths, and even businessmen and bureaucrats. The army was taking just about anyone who could carry the weight of a gun.

We were far from what you would call a well-trained army. We could barely correctly aim at a can of beans, let alone fire the weapon in the heat of battle. We still trained for about a month until our regiment received marching orders.

We were to face the soviet soldiers at the city of Stalingrad and capture the city. The Soviet Yakovlev Yak-9 welcomed us with missiles whistling from an unknown distance, followed by an explosion and a hail of body parts demoralizing the movement of our force.

 As the soviet jets turned around, enemy snipers fired several rounds of shots from towering buildings, leaving us with no room to run. Each image pierced through bodies and saw one comrade falling to their demise after another. We would fire randomly in the air, hoping our bullets would reach the enemy.

The German Luftwaffe helped repel the soviet artillery, and we, too, had gained momentum. The heat of battle taught us how to keep our cool and push further.

Regardless we had no support from our own leaders. After a few sleepless and starved months of fighting, our forces succumbed to defeat and surrendered. We were taken to several nearby prisoner camps and tortured endlessly for information. 

I didn't understand their language, and I believe they didn't understand me either. I kept repeating that I had no information, yet they continued their brutality, hoping to get any sort of information. 

The army assumed I was mental and moved me to an asylum where I was to be treated and then requestioned. 

My treatment never finished, and I was still a prisoner of war. It has been several years, from what I can tell. My body has aged, my skin is covered in wrinkles, my bones crack at each movement, and I can barely see with my worsening eyesight. 

My only fear is what state my family would be if I ever got to go back home again. I have tried again and again to explain who I am, yet no one here understands me; my screams and call for help fall on deaf ears. I don't know what they are saying. How can there not be a single person who speaks my language? How can I relay my plead to them? I might have better luck communicating with rats in my cell than humans who would not try to find my origin.

The doctors at the asylum would seldom change, yet they all assumed that I was still mad and my "treatment" would continue. The staff tortured me through electric shocks. They tried to have me sign documents and read foreign documents. In return, I was starting to forget my language.

To my surprise, I witnessed nothing short of a miracle one morning. Dr. Sasha was going to be my new doctor. 

"Hello, how are you? What is your name." Dr. Sasha greeted me in her language.

"I can't understand, but can you help me," I reply. 

"Tell me, what is your problem." She replied this time in Hungarian, and I was stunned. The sound of a familiar dialect was almost as good as going back home. I cried with joy, tears running down my cheeks. I may have a chance to go back home after all. I wanted to jump up and scream in pleasure and happiness but controlled my reaction as she, too, might assume I was mad. 

Sasha was astonished by my reaction and didn't understand what had happened. I shared my experience with her and what I had to go through.

"I can't believe this." She replied, appalled and angry at the same time. "I promise you I will try my best to get you home. Till I get you home, you can stay in this room. It is slightly better than your current cell."

"Thank you, Sasha. I cannot thank you enough." The room had air conditioning and heating, a nice bed with soft cushion, blankets, water, and some snacks and food.

My blood samples were taken and compared to local Hungary citizens looking for their lost relatives. My DNA matched my brother Gabor who was still living in Nagypall.

"Yes, my brother's name is Gabor," I responded to Sasha. 

I bid farewell to Sasha and left for my hometown of Nagypall, Hungary, and thanked her for her help in the last few weeks. She ensured to escort me to the railway station and helped me find my seat. She instructed me that Budapest would be the final stop. 

 As I traveled home, along with the excitement, I was bothered by several thoughts. I am not sure who will be at the station to receive me. What would they look like? Would I get to meet my parents there? Are they still alive even? What happened to the family while I was gone? I almost did not have the boldness to face the answers to all these questions. 

As the train pulled into the station, my body was petrified in fear and anticipation. I could not move a muscle. I am so close to home; I should run and embrace my loved ones, yet here I am, sitting at the edge of my seat, not knowing how to react.

I felt a hand grab my shoulder.

"Brother, what took you so long? We thought we lost you." Gabor stood by me, smiling with joy.

He had grown a lot older, his hair was turning gray, and his skin had wrinkles. I should have embraced him, yet I say, "You have grown so old."

"It's the year 2000, my brother. It's been 53 years. You are finally home. We missed you."

As We left the train station, I looked around for the others. Gabor looked at me and shook his head. He told me how the family fell apart after I left, and mom and dad died a few years after I left. They were attacked by local robbers trying to get their money and food. My sister and her husband died in a plane accident a few years ago, and Gabor took care of his children. 

"They were always proud of you and your decision. You have made us proud." 

Despite Gabor's words, I still lived with the guilt that I was not there to save them.

Most of our family was scattered. My cousins had all moved to the United States.

We were the only family left in Hungary. 

Nagypall had changed entirely; it was no longer a village. It had been rebuilt and was now a city with tall buildings, busy streets, and a much larger population.

A tall condominium building had replaced our house, and Gabor owned one of the flats in that building given by the government in return for my services. Gabor was now an engineer working for a company whose headquarters were in London.

Living in Nagypall was no longer the same. Most of my friends perished in the war, and my health was declining. Knowing that my end was near, I asked my brother to bury me beside my mom and dad after I died. I still owe them an apology. 

September 24, 2022 01:17

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2 comments

Delbert Griffith
09:35 Oct 10, 2022

Good story. I can tell that English is not your first language, yet you still write well in English. Great job, Monu!

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Monu Singh
19:51 Oct 10, 2022

Thank you!!

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