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Book Cover of Dreams and Realty

THE CROSSING

from Dreams and Realty
by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm


For four months Julian had been working as a dishwasher in a Montreal restaurant. He was quite depressed. He didn't like the work, but he knew there were many others also, marking time while looking for better jobs. Hundreds of newcomers, scattered around the world by the war, were arriving in Canada, hoping to start a new life.

One day he received a letter from a friend. Born in the same village, the two men had met again on foreign soil, when both of them had been looking for work. The friend wrote that he was employed at the Abana Mine near Abitibi, some four hundred miles north of Montreal. He advised Julian to quit his job, come north and together they would work on what be called "mining prospects". Julian's friend guaranteed him a job, and at the same time, enclosed fourteen dollars for the trip. He also sent along a sketch map of the area, which showed the road to the mine. Julian was to take the train to Trois Rivieres, then walk the rest of the way.

It didn't take Julian long to make up his mind. He packed all his belongings, including a pair of heavy mining boots, into one cardboard suitcase. For nourishment he took along an orange.

It was August and quite warm when Julian boarded the train for Trois Rivieres. According to his friend's calculations, the mine was fourteen miles by road from Trois Rivieres. This road, which led through a forest, ended at a sawmill. From there on Julian was to follow the route to the mine sketched by his friend.

Julian's train arrived at Trois Rivieres at four in the afternoon. There was a store just beside the train station, so he went inside and tried to explain where he wanted to go. He didn't speak either French or English, still he attempted to make his wishes know. One of the customers agreed to give a lift as far as the sawmill. After that, Julian was told, there was no road: you made your way through the forest on foot or horseback.

The man pulled up his car, Julian got in and they set off. After some time they reached the sawmill, and the end of the road. The sketch Julian's friend had sent coincided with the visible terrain.

"You've got about ten more miles to go" the stranger told Julian. "You'll have to do it on foot. We can't get there in the car".

"How much do I owe you for the ride?" asked Julian.

The man said something in reply, but Julian did not understand. Julian took all the money he had out of his pocket and showed it to the man. Altogether he had four and half dollars. The man was embarrassed. He took three dollars without saying a word/ Then they each went their separate ways.

The August sun was still high. Julian picked up his suitcase, which was quite heavy, and headed into the forest along a road surfaced with logs. According to his map, there was a house inhabited by a solitary Pole, a man named Golebiowski, at the end of this road. After walking for two hours he met a party of labourers headed in the opposite direction. He asked there how far it was to the Abana Mine.

"At least another nine miles", they replied.

Julian sat down to rest. He ate his orange. He was tired and hungry. It was growing dark. He was thirsty. He leaned over and scooped up some water from a puddle.

He walked on. He could barely lift his legs, his suitcase so weighed him down. Night fell and it started to rain. The road came to an end. Without stopping to think, he forged ahead, going deeper and deeper into the forest. His feet kept plunging into soft boggy ground. His shoes were soon full of water and mud. He wondered tiredly why he hadn't put on the heavy work boots he had in his suitcase. But at this point he was senseless and indifferent to everything, including his soaking feet.

He decided to rest and sat down on a fallen tree. Now his mind worked feverishly. Yet he refused to admit that he was in danger. He would not acknowledge that he'd lost his way, that he was alone in the forest, surrounded by swamp. Nothing but emptiness, miles from all human settlement. In a half-whisper, and close to tears, Julian began to pray.

Suddenly. he heard a dog barking in the distance. Julian got up. A slim hope now thickened in his tired brain. No matter that he was completely exhausted and weak, he could rest no longer. Determined to make his way toward the barking dog, he picked up his suitcase and began walking again, staggering from tree to tree.

He lost track of the passage of time. Now and then he was forced to climb hills, only to slide heavily down the other side. This sort of scrambling went on interminably, until finally he came to a clearing. In the distance he saw glimmering light. Summoning up reserves of strength he didn't know he possessed, he headed for the light. He discovered that he seemed to be in some kind of ravine.

At last he saw a house, and a human figure. The man just looked at Julian as if he were seeing a ghost. Then helped him inside, fed him and showed him he could sleep.

The following morning the man took Julian outside and pointed out the steep and overgrown ravine in the distance.

"How did you ever get through that? And at night?" he marvelled. "Nobody has ever come that way. And you.. dragging the heavy suitcase...".

Julian did not know what to say. He himself had no idea how he had got through.

The next day he set out on the last leg of his journey. He had three more miles to cover and made it without any further problems.

He began working in the mine for $2.20 an hour. Then the mining company started to lay people off. Julian's friend lost his job. Julian did not know whether he himself had been laid off: after all, he did not understand the language.

One morning, as usual, he reported for work.

"Where are you going? You've been laid off. There's not a job for you here" said one of the other employees.

Not understanding, Julian simply shrugged his shoulders and began to work. In this way he managed to stay on for a little longer.

At the end of that month the majority of the employees were let go. Julian was one of the few to be kept on. Six weeks later the mine closed and everyone was laid off.

Julian set out for Montreal. This time he was not alone. With a whole group of workers, Julian left the mine and rode to Trois Rivieres in horseback.

In Trois Rivieres he boarded the train to Montreal, wondering if his old dishwashing job in the restaurant would still be there when he got back.




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