from Dreams and Realty
by Aleksandra Ziólkowska-Boehm
Maciej sat in the train alone. A piece of paper was pinned to his jacket. He couldn't read the writing on it. The conductor had read it and led him to this empty compartment. They had already been travelling for twenty-four hours. Night was falling once again. The train stopped at a tiny station. The conductor came along and told Maciej this was where he was to get off. He led him off the train and said something to the station master. The man looked at the solitary figure, then went to his office and returned with a cup of hot coffee.
Maciej sat down on a bench and waited. An hour later, a dirty unshaven man arrived. He looked around the waiting room, then went up to the ticket window and spoke briefly to the station master, who pointed to the waiting Maciej. The man walked up to him.
"My name's Smith. Come with me. We've got to hurry. It's getting dark and we're got a long way to go ".
They went out onto the street. Two horses were tied to a post outside the station.
"Get on that horse ".
Snow, cold. They set out across the fields, not along the road. They rode for about two hours. It was completely dark when they reached the farm. They led the horses into the stable.
"Go up into the loft and throw some oats down to the horses ".
When Maciej returned the farmer showed him a barn with about twenty cows in it. He told him which ones to milk.
"Give the horses some water for the night. The well's over on the left. You can't miss it ".
When he finished, the farmer led him to yet another barn. shining his flashlight, he told him what to do the next day. The frozen manure was a meter thick. The farmer showed him where the shovels and pickaxe were kept. He explained that the manure had to be loaded onto a sled and taken out into the snow. Maciej listened, tired, hungry, sleepy. He learned that there were more horses and cows in a nearby forest. The horses were half wild. Food had to be taken out to them.
"Well, let's go in the house ".
They went inside. An elderly couple and two young girls were sitting at the table - finishing their supper. On the table there were leftovers of meat, soup and cake.
"This is my father, my mother, these are my sisters. Give him something to eat ", he said to them.
One of the girls slid a stool and small table over to the corner of the kitchen for him. She took out a bowl and put in two potatoes and some bread. She also gave him a cup of milk.
Maciej swallowed the food with difficulty. When he had finished, the farmer led him to an outer wing on the house where he was to sleep. It was cold and dark. He struck a match and looked around. He took off only his jacket and shoes and lay down. He fell asleep immediately.
Maciej didn't know whether he slept four hours or longer. It was still dark when the farmer came in and told him to get up.
"What time is it? ".
"We don't work by the hour here. Get up and go on out to the barn ", was the only answer he got.
The farmer was already waiting for him in the barn.
"Load up the manure. When the sled is full, take the horses and haul it out to the field. "
The sun had risen by the time the farmer called him in for breakfast. Maciej didn't know where to wash his hands. Maybe he should do it out by the well? He got the same chair and table in the corner of the kitchen. They gave him one flour pancake and a cup of coffee.
His anger grew. He felt like throwing the food at those sitting around the table, but he kept his temper. "Quiet, Maciej ", he said to himself. "You'll get even some day ".
That's how his job began. Maciej got up well before dawn and went to sleep at night reeling with exhaustion.
Every few days they rode out for a so-called "hunt " of the half-wild horses. Six new horses were then brought back to the stable and six tamed ones released. To break the new horses in for work and riding, they had to be mounted several times. They would buck and throw the rider until finally they gave in.
Cows and calves were also "hunted ". They were lassoed, wrestled to the ground and branded with a hot iron. Bulls were castrated and their wounds drenched with antiseptic liquid. Sometimes the injured animal would lie in the snow for several hours before rejoining the herd.
A month passed. Each day was the same as the one before. Once the farmer received a telephone call that his cows had broken through the fence and wandered into the nearby forest. He called Maciej and told him to get on a horse right away and bring the cows back. After that he was to repair the damaged fence. The farmer a led horse out of the barn for him. Maciej saw that it was one of the new horses, still wild, restive. "
"Give me another horse - yours. I always ride it ".
"No. You have to train this one to be like the others ".
Maciej mounted the horse, which began jumping and bucking out from behind a bush. Frightened, the horse shied sideways, throwing Maciej heavily to the ground. He felt a fierce pain in his right arm and saw that his arm was swollen from the shoulder down. He looked around. He saw the horse about a hundred yards off, standing there waiting. It seemed calm. Maciej crawled over to it and stood up on wobbly legs. He patted the horse. It kept standing calmly. Maciej climbed up slowly and the horse started toward home.
Maciej told the farmer what had happened, showing him his swollen arm. He had to cut the sleeve of his jacket and his glove too because he couldn't get them off.
"Nothing's wrong with you. You should be ashamed, complaining about something like that. And to think you were in the army. Stick your hand in cold water for a while and it'll be alright. "
"But I know I'm injured. Take me to a doctor. "
"I don't have time to go riding off with you now ", said the farmer angrily.
Maciej couldn't sleep all night from the pain. He felt feverish. Toward morning, as usual, the farmer came to wake him.
"I'll give you an easier job today so you don't complain about me ".
"What kind of job? ".
"Oh, real easy. Go to the barn, harness four horses, take the flat wooden platform and go out to the field to collect all the rocks sticking up out of the snow. Then put them all on one place. "
"But that's hard work! You've got to have two good hands for that kind of work! ".
"I won't have you eating my bread for nothing! Get out into that field or else go back where you came from. This is Canada - you can't loaf around here! ".
"Fine, I'll go back to where you got me. Just give me a ride. And pay me what you owe me ".
"You think you've earned something?! You just loafed around. You should pay me for all the food you got ".
The farmer left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Maciej, upset, in pain, began to pack. Lunch time came. The family was at the table eating. He went up to them.
"You going to give me something to eat or not? "
"I got nothing for idlers. I hope you starve? ", said the farmer.
"Okay, that's it. You listen to me. You pay me the forty-five dollars you owe me for the month I've worked here. Then you take me to the station. If you don't do it by three o'clock, I'll set this place on fire. I'll burn down the barn, the stable, and maybe even the house. You've made a big mistake, my friend. I'll show you what a Polish soldier can do! I'm waiting till then! ".
The farmer jumped up from the table and shouted:
"You just lay a finger on any matches and I'll get my gun! ".
"It's not three yet. You've got almost two hours to make up your mind. I'm telling you again. I'm not kidding. Let me leave in peace or it'll end badly for all of us. It's the same to me, but you have a family to think about ".
Maciej left the house and went to the stable. He was feeling hungry. He found some eggs under the trough in the stable and ate them raw. He gave the cows some hay. He sat down and thought about what might happen.
Three o'clock approached and he saw the farmer watching him through the window. Maciej picked up some hay, lit a match and went to the barn.
The farmer ran into the yard and shouted:
"Wait! I don't want to play games with a lunatic like you. Put the hay down and come into the house. I'll pay you and take you to the station tonight. "
Maciej went into the house. The farmer pulled out forty dollars.
"This is for thirty days, since you didn't work today ".
"Pay me forty-five ", said Maciej stubbornly. "I don't want to argue with you. I'll lose my temper and we'll both be sorry ".
"Okay, I'll pay you. But you stay here with us. Anyway, I've got the contract ".
"To hell with you and your contract! I'm not working for you anymore. Not only that. I'm going to report you to the Department of Labor and you won't get anybody to help you around here! ".
The farmer took out five dollars and added it to the rest.
"Get your coat on. I'll give you a lift ".
He harnessed the horses and they left.
At the station Maciej bought a ticket to Winnipeg. Fifteen minutes later, the train arrived. The farmer stood watching. As Maciej got on the train, the farmer followed.
"Come back to my place. I'll take you to the doctor. I'll give you a raise. You'll be one of us from now on... ".
"Get out of here, you old bastard, or I'll throw you off the train and you'll break your neck! ".
The farmer jumped off the train just as it started inching forward. He ran alongside, shouting:
"If you ever need anything, if you want to come back, I'll always hire you... ".
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