IV. A hand was rousing Boris Kahanowitz. A Polish conductor was pointing out the window and saying “Kabtsowz” the Polish name for Kabstiel.
When Boris alighted from the train, he looked about. There was a wide main street, only partially paved. A brick town hall and a synagogue. A few houses constructed in a modern style. But here and there, the pastiche remains of the shtetl: a tumble down shack, trees sprouting through its roof; an old chicken coop one half upright and one returning to the earth.
Out beyond the small town was a vast expanse of swamp. A long dock jutted out at the end of the main street, as if the town was meant to extend into the brown waters and had stalled and were replaced by a dozen skiffs moored to poles. There was a maze of channels surrounded by reeds twice as high as a man and as far as the eye could see. A stiff breeze blew in from the marsh. Boris clipped his nose against the stench.
He entered a café and about two dozen people were huddled around a radio broadcasting something in English. Someone translated it into Yiddish but without satisfying the crowd. The poor flustered man would try and translate again, only to be hit with a barrage of comments and questions. The line of the story was lost in the hail of conflicting, bickering voices.
“What happened?” Boris asked the man nearest him.
“As far as we can tell,” the man answered, “Russians from the east and Germans from the west.”
“Who will make it here?” Boris asked. The man simply shrugged his shoulders.
“We’re between the hammer and the anvil, as the saying says.”
“Can I get a drink in this town?” Boris asked, his head reeling.
“The man who runs the tavern has fled,” the man said, taking a few steps toward the door.
“Can you take me to Reb Yasha Shulevitz?” Boris then asked, moving forward as if to chase the fellow.
“Better to flee, landsman,” the man said, already out the door.
“Where to?” Boris asked.
“Farstuken Swamp… where else?”