The bright, shining white sun stood out against the depressing grey clouds that covered most of the sky and shined like a giant light bulb through the dirt-stained windows of the Pennsylvania Station in Newark. Jabbers of random conversations, cries of babies and footsteps hung in the blunt, dull atmosphere. Trains would screech and stop as passengers climbed off the train while in another train another crowd of passengers climbed on and the vehicle came to life. Candy wrappers, stamped cigarettes and crushed soda cans were littered everywhere on the ground and made the trash cans empty.The train station was packed with seas of people of all races,ages and colors of clothing; some people would have their eyes glued to their smartphones as they walked and accidentally bumped into other people. Slurps, munches and burps sang out in a out-of-tune song from a group of thin, young people who were chewing their Big Macs and sipping their large Mountain Dew sodas. If Cecylja could give a review of this place, she would say it so filthy that it needs fifty hours of cleaning from fifty cleaning crews!
Despite the fact that it was cloudy and that this train station was a dump, this week was the perfect week for the Pennsylvania trip. After such exhausting hours of studying in college and working in Domino’s as a cashier for a part time job, Cecylja finally got two weeks off in August for vacation. There were so many wonderful attractions in the forested state of Pennsylvania: one could bike or hike in the wilderness of the Poconos forests, see the history of the cracked Liberty Bell or splash in Camelback Water Park. Of course, waterparks, museums, and historical sites populated Pennsylvania but they were still worth seeing. What Cecylja was really looking forward to above all was the Music Festival in Philadelphia that featured the greatest rock musicians (in her opinion) Slash, Linkin Park, Green Day, AC/DC, BTS and Maroon 5. It was too bad it was only two weeks off for vacation; she missed those times when she would have two months off of school, not have to worry about going to work and just relax at home. That time is already gone.
She, her brother, her cousins and their siblings were going to Pennsylvania too; unfortunately, her parents and aunts and uncles couldn’t come due to differing vacation schedules. Cecylja, who was twenty years old, had a job while her cousins Jacek and Filipina, who were around her age, were looking for jobs. Her brother Antoni and her cousin’s younger siblings, Brunon and Lilka, went to high school and weren’t planning to get jobs until they started college. The youngest cousins, Gosia and Dominika, who were in their middle school years, couldn’t come because, according to their parents, they were too young to travel without their parents. Her cousins and their siblings were almost always free. August was good enough.
It wouldn’t be too long until the train would come to pick them up but for now, it was time to spend time with their families until they would depart. Antoni and Brunon were completey zoned out from reality; they had their earbuds plugged in as they watched Youtube videos and continuously bursted with laughter. The Gosia and Dominika, who both sat next to a bored Lilka, were playing a game on their iPod . Jacek and Filipina were chatting with their parents and Cecylja’s parents about some nonsense that Cecylja didn’t care about. Sometimes, Cecylja spent her time alone and didn’t talk to anyone; she would just sit, stare and daydream. She had friends and relatives but she had no idea how to start conversations so she wouldn’t speak to anyone. She liked the soltitude but at other times it would get really lonely.
Even though Cecylja wasn’t really hyper, she was still excited to go for this trip. Although many people probably didn’t find plane, train or car rides fun, Cecylja liked it. The feeling of any vehicle moving, bouncing or shifting gave life to the boring atmosphere. Also, you could look out the window and think about anything. Looking at thick, forested landscapes out the window made Cecylja relaxed and the landscapes would sometimes be so breath-taking that they were worthy to be photographed. If someone started an interesting conversation then one could talk for hours until the topic got old.
Cecylja snapped out of her daydream and looked took her eyes off the ground. Jacek and Filipina were standing right in front of her with worried faces.
“What?” she asked.
“What’s wrong?” asked Jacek.
“Nothing.” answered Cecylja “Why ask?”
“You look sad.”
“No, no, no, it’s just my face.”
“You sure?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered “I don’t know why everyone always says that.”
Jacek and Filipina both sat down next to Cecylja on the chipped, wooden bench and they sat in a comfortable, easy silence.
“Awkward silence” whispered Filipina with a smirk.
“I knew you guys for a decade and a half,” said Cecylja “We don’t need to talk to be comfortable with each other.”
“I know,” replied Filipina.
“It’s so weird how we’re Polish but we speak English to each other,” said Cecylja. “We only speak Polish to our parents; I guess it’s because we grew up in America that makes us speak this way.”
“It’s not like it matters,” responded Filipina “At least we know how to speak Polish.”
“You know, I wanted to go to Poland this year but I guess Pennsylvania is okay.” Cecylja said.
“Speaking of Pennsylvania, I really can’t wait for the Music Festival,” said Jacek “I hope I get to meet Slash, he is like a god when it comes to music. Also, he has been playing for decades now and you just never know when he is going to retire; the good rock stars are getting old and you just never know when they are going to retire.”
“You know who I wanna see play?” Cecylja asked rhetorically “Green Day, Linkin Park and Eminem. They are not only the best musicians of all time but the only good musicians these days.”
“These days music just sucks,” agreed Jacek “all the music is just done on computers and its just the pressing of the keyboard that makes music. I mean what kind of music is that? There are some good artists like Eminem but there aren’t that many.”
“Eminem can beat Lil Wayne any time.” added Cecylja “ He knows how to rhyme while Lil Wayne sounds like he is high – “
“Lil Wayne sounds like someone woke him up at three in the morning and told him to start rapping!” he remarked.
Cecylja and Filipina burst out laughing but they tried to suppress it as many people shot menacing glares at the three of them. Clearly they all were fans of the famous rapper and they were angry to hear someone speak rubbish of their beloved idol. Filipina quickly stopped laughing while Cecylja kept giggling and tried to stop herself in vain. It was until a burly, tall white guy with a bald head and black “Lil Wayne” hoodie crushed his soda can and gave them a look that burned with murder that Jacek elbowed Cecylja in the ribs causing her to let out a small cry of pain. While many of the offended fans kept walking and moved on with their lives, that same guy kept staring at them with burning eyes of hatred.
The trio was silent for a couple of seconds but then they looked away from the guy and ignored him. He would go away eventually.
“When we get there, should we just leave Antoni, Brunon and Lilka back at the hotel?” asked Cecylja “I mean Antoni hates rock so he would complain if he went there and I think that Brunon would have the same reaction.”
“Yeah,” agreed Filipina, “I mean, Lilka wouldn’t mind going, she likes BTS a little, but Antek and Brunon would of course rather play on the Xbox (that Antek is bringing) at the hotel than hear music that they hate for 3 hours.”
“We’ll leave them at the hotel, they’re not little kids anymore.” agreed Jacek.
“But if they want to come, we’ll let them come.” added Cecylja.
“Yeah” said Filipina “whatever they want.”
Cecylja looked to see if the angry man was still there – and he was! He looked at the trio with burning eyes and breathing loudly and slowly like a bull about to ram a matador. Cecylja could imagine the guy cracking her bones the same way he was cracking his knuckles. He was slowly approaching the trio now; he was going to kick their behinds. Could he really be this angry just because someone insulted his favorite musician? How immature of him!
Just in time, the train tooted and it was time to leave. The trio got up from the bench, picked up their luggage, and walked away from “Lil” Wayne Hoodie as fast as they could. They didn’t look back at him and they didn’t try to run because they didn’t want to give him the impression that they were scared of him. A sea of people were shoving and cursing as they climbed into the train. Amidst, the crowds, the trio pushed and pardoned people as they looked for their parents. When they met them, they were hugging, taking selfies and saying their last goodbyes.
“Słuchaj, Cecylja,” [i]warned Cecylja’s mom as she and her daughter both met each other’s eyes “Masz pilnować twojego brata bo jesteś już dorosła. Uważaj żeby go nie zgubiłasz[ii].”
“Masz go – [iv]“
“Rozumiem, nie musisz powtarzacz sto razy[v].”
„To narażie[vi].” said her mother.
„Narażie[vii]” said Cecylja as she left her mother and father.As soon as she found Jacek, Filipina, Antoni, Brunon and Lilka, they all got together in a group and pushed their way through the crowds. Some people shoved and made rude remarks to the group of cousins and to other people. One guy pushed Antoni and Lilka, telling them to get a move on; while Lilka just sighed and ignored that rude man, Antoni flipped his middle finger. Occasionally, Cecylja and Filipina dropped their heavy briefcases but they manage to pick them up with some strain.
Cecylja and her cousins were carrying their heavy luggage as they walked up the steps of the train. All the backpacks and suitcases must have weighed a hundred pounds all together because when Cecylja was carrying them, her face grew a deep shade of red and her muscles felt like they were going to snap like weak string. While all her cousins were ahead of her, she was and her brother were the last ones in the group to go up the steps.
“Cecylja, it’s so hot, can you carry my backpack?” complained Antoni.
“Antek,” grunted Cecylja “I am already…carrying…this heavy briefcase and backpack.”
“But - ”
“Here, take it,” he said as he wrapped the backpack around his sister’s neck and walked up the steps to his cousins.
Cecylja was laying on the dirty, hard floor with her briefcases crushing her body and the strap around her chest was choking her. A sea of people were circling around her staring at her and at the entrance of the train and clamoring. She could see black spots in her vision and she had trouble breathing. The strap was hurting her neck and she was feeling fresh, sharp, pain from her back and the back of her head. Even though she was wearing her askew glasses, her vision was blurry. There were wrinkled hands that released the strangling grip of the backpack and lifted the pressing weight of the briefcases. She felt herself being lifted by the armpits by two people.
“Are you all right miss?” asked one of the men that lifted her up. He had salt and pepper hair, had a black vest with white sleeves and a black cap – he was a conductor.
“Yeah,” Cecylja lied “I’m fine.”
“Let me carry those for you.” he said as he was picking up the baggage from the floor. People were dispersing and continuing to push through each other and climb on the train as the Cecylja and the middle-aged conductor both picked up the luggage. A porter came up to assist them but the conductor dismissed him with a wave of the hand.
“Why don’t I carry most of the stuff since all this is mine.” she suggested.
“No, I don’t want you falling down the steps again, I will take the heavy stuff, you just carry the backpack.” he insisted.
As soon as Cecylja climbed back on the train and found her cousins and brother standing near the doorway, the conductor set the bags down on the floor.
“Thank you,” thanked Cecylja “you are very kind.”
“Don’t mention it.” said the conductor.
When he walked away, everyone carried their own stuff into their assigned compartment and sat down. It was a small compartment, but it had blinds if you needed privacy, the seats were made out of leather and the windows were clean. It was big enough to fit all six of them.
“Cecylja, Are you okay?” asked Filipina concerned.
“Yeah, I’m fine” Cecylja lied.
“Antek, be a gentleman, you shouldn’t make ladies carry heavy stuff!” scolded Jacek to Antoni.
“Pfft, not my fault,” scoffed Antoni “she should have been more careful.”
“Antoni!” shouted Cecylja “I told you, my hands were full but no, you didn’t want to carry your own stuff. You are so selfish – “
“Shut up, bitch!” retorted Antek.
“You know you can’t just curse at her!” joined in Lilka.
“Guys, stop yelling, Antek don’t be mean.” reprimanded Filipina.
At that moment the train shook and came to life; picked up speed and in no time, the train went at full speed. Cecylja breathed a huge sigh, leaned back on the seat, and folded her arms as she stared out the window. Antoni imitated Cecylja in a mocking way but she just rolled her eyes and ignored him. It became an awkward silence between the six of them; silent,invisible steam that fumed of out Cecylja and Antoni’s ears somehow made the atmosphere warm and uncomfortable. The silence was broken when Jacek pulled out a couple of brochures from his backpack and laid them on the table.
“Okay, so when we get to Pennsylvania we will be spending a couple of days there and we’ll be going places” he said “We will be going to Hershey’s Chocolate World, Camelback waterpark, rafting in Delaware Gap, Bushkill Falls, paintballing at Skirmish, and we will go biking. What places do you wanna go first?”
“Why don’t we go to Camelback Waterpark?” suggested Lilka.
“Nah, let’s go to biking!” said Filipina.
“Biking sounds good.” agreed Jacek.
“I actually want to go paintballing,”
“No, no. no we should go to Bushkill Falls,”
“Guys, guys, GUYS!” erupted Jacek. At that last loud word, the clamor among the six broke and everyone had their eyes and ears to Jacek.
“Let’s do a vote,” he suggested “Who wants to go biking raise your hand.”
Filipina and Jacek raised their hands while everyone else kept their hands down. Jacek sighed and asked who wanted to go paintballing – only Brunon and Antoni raise their hands. Jacek felt uneasy. When he asked who wanted to go to Bushkill only Cecylja raised her hand. Finally when he asked who wanted to go to Camelback Lilka raised her hand. There was a deadlock between biking and paintballing.
“Well, why can’t we go to Camelback Water Park tomorrow?” asked Lilka as she crossed her arms.
“Well, obviously no one wants to go tomorrow.” answered Filipina.
“Fine, then we’ll go biking.” Lilka succumbed.
“I mean I don’t care where you guys wanna go but if I have to choose then I choose paintballing,” decided Cecylja “also, I always wanted to go shoot a couple of paintballs like you would shoot bullets in Call of Duty. I choose paintballs.”
The tie still remained. It was clear that they had to agree on something. Although Cecylja really didn’t care where they went, she was afraid an argument would break out.
“Why do we have to go biking?” questioned Antoni “We have our own neighborhoods to go biking. Besides, I never, ever, ever shot a paintball in my whole entire life.”
“Yeah,” agreed Brunon “ I mean come on, it’s been years since we went paintballing.”
“But I don’t know if I will want to go paintballing tomorrow.”
“Just cause you don’t want to that doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t want to either,”
“But only have of us voted for paintball,”
“You know what?” advocated Brunon “Let’s settle this over ‘rock, paper, scissors’ !”
“Alright, fine!” agreed Jacek.
Both brothers – who sat opposite of each other – formed a fist and laid it on their palms. They stared at each other a fiery look and clenched their fists tightly. Antoni, Filipina, Cecylja and Lilka stared at them, hoping that their chosen activity will gain favor.
“We’re going up to five points.” announced Jacek.
“Rock, paper, scissor, SHOOT!”
Both fists slammed on their palms and unclenched a sign – both scissors. The game turned intense. Rock won against paper and then two more ties came.After that, scissors lost to paper. Soon Brunon won by scissors and Jacek won three times by paper and two rocks. Next, Brunon won two more rounds by two papers. In the last round, Brunon and Jacek were tied four to four. This last one was going to make the decision.
“SHOOT!” they both shouted as their fists unraveled a sign.
Scissor cuts paper. Jacek won the game.Although Jacek’s face was impassive, there was triumph in his eyes; Brunon’s face expelled shock.
“Nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh, nuh “ Brunon declared as he shook his finger ‘I want a rematch!”
“There is no rematch,” snapped Jacek “you chose to play this game to decide what we are going to do tomorrow and you lost.”
“I don’t care!” he argued “I want a rematch!”
“Guys!” interrupted Cecylja “Why don’t we do both tomorrow? It’s not like we’re going to playing paintball or go biking all day.”
“Well, he still lost” replied Jacek stubbornly “we have to play it fair. We are not going to do two activities on the same day.”
“So what?” asked Brunon. As the two brothers quarrelled hotly the others just ignored them and just gave in to the decided activity for the next day. The clouds became grayer than before and droplets of rain were landing on the window. Thunder rolled, flashed, and boomed on the horizon. As the argument between the brothers died down, Antoni lay his head on the window sill, closed his eyes and fell asleep. While Filipina and Cecylja were taking a selfie, the two brothers kept quiet and turned their heads away from each other. Lilka left to go to the restroom as another, lightning bolt flashed, this one so powerful that it lit up the whole entire horizon.
“No, please!” begged the middle-aged conductor. “I don’t wanna die!”
The conductor, almost all the staff of the train and five men were standing at the roof of the last car of the train. The staff were standing still and holding their hands up high while the five men were pointing their guns at the back of their heads; Everyone’s hair was wet and their clothes were damp; all the women’s mascara were bleeding down to their chin. The captives were bruised and bleeding all over. The roof was slippery, so slippery that if you weren’t careful, you would fly off the train. The sky was cadet blue and the vegetated, forested landscape around them was army green. Their gang’s leader who was tall, burly and bald was wearing a “Lil’ Wayne” T-shirt. He carefully walked to the conductor while wearing a grim face.
“Almost no one wants to die but we all die anyway,” he spoke “you are no exception.”
Another one of the men walked to the conductor with a gun pointing to his head . He grabbed the middle-aged man by the collar of his neck and pressed the pistol to the back of his head.
“Do you have anything to say?” asked the leader calmly to the conductor “this your last day on earth so why not end it with some meaning?”
The conductor swallowed hard, looked up into the sky and shed a tear. He was terribly afraid but he had the hope of eternal life.
“May God forgive you and your men for what you are about to do.” he spoke boldly “God forgive my collegues for all of their sins. God forgive me of my sins.”
The leader shook his head and looked at the sky. The scoundrel who had his pistol pressed to the conductor’s head squeezed his finger on the trigger but the leader lifted his hand up as a signal to stop what he was doing. The man who was told to stop had a confused face and loosened his grip on the pistol.
“Shouldn’t we kill them right now boss?” he asked.
“Not yet,” answered the leader “not until the lightning flashes. Also, the pilot in the train, leave him alive, we need him.”
Thunder rolled, the rain pounded harder and the wind blew against their faces. The men lined up behind the people, grabbed the collars of their necks and put their barrels to their victims’ heads. They eagerly looked at the sky and waited.
“Get ready to fire.” commanded the leader.
Light flashed in the sky and thunder rolled.
The conductor’s forehead was thrown onto the steel, metal tracks behind them all. For every boom of the thunder, the gun responded with a bang and the corpse with a thud. Finally, there was one staff member left on the roof. Before the lightning could flash, he slapped his hand backwards against his captor’s face, stood on the corner of the roof of the train and held up a hand.
“Guys!” he shouted. They all stopped and stared at him with their guns still pointing at him. He had his back to the forest. He held his hands up in a t-position and fell backwards. Then he was gone. The gang looked back at the man and saw that he wasn’t moving. They lowered their guns and his them in their front pockets. The leader stared back at them all.
“Now that those nuisances are gone,” he ordered “go and split up. I don’t need to go over this again. Let me say one important thing: keep the pilot alive.”
They all dispersed and climbed down different traps doors. They were not seen on the roof again.
Polish-English Translation of the conversation
[i] Listen Cecylja
[ii] You have to watch over your brother because you are an adult now. Be careful so that you will not lose him.
[iii] I understand
[iv] You must –
[v] I understand, you don’t have to repeat a hundred times.
[vi] Then bye