Chapter 02: Trying To Accept

'You cannot say to the sun 'More sun'. Or to the rain 'Less rain'.' ~Sayuri, Memoirs of a Geisha

With a small gasps, Lotte woke up. Slowly she exhaled when she saw she was still inside the safe bus, though in her head the screams of dying people still echoed. Before her, she could see the sun slowly rising. It was beautiful. Matthew was still sleeping, thumb in his mouth and pressed close against her. She must have had her cheek against his head all the night, for her neck felt like it was smashed with a hammer. Gently she kissed his head and stroke his deep black curls. Lotte looked around the bus, most of the group was still asleep. Were they going to make it? Was it really safe in the East? Lotte wanted to trust the soldiers, but after what happened yesterday she was not so sure about the captain anymore. Did he really mean what he said yesterday? It sounded to her like he was willing to leave her behind. But did he also really mean it? On one hand she really wanted to ask him, but on the other hand she realized that in the bus there was not the place to talk about something like that. Lotte looked to her left and saw a city in the distance. Could there be any survivors there? Or would everyone be dead? Lotte thought the last, since there were only a few houses still standing. All other buildings had vanished, fallen to the ground. It made Lotte feel something, so many things at once. Anger, fear, grief, but most of all vulnerable. That on one hand almost made her cry, but on the other hand made her wish she could turn her feelings off. Yet, when she looked at the little boy sleeping against her, underneath her arm – Lotte felt such a deep and strong urge to keep on fighting, no matter what.
'Momma, momma,' Matthew murmured.
'Sh,' Lotte said, stroking his head. Slowly he sat up, opened his eyes one by one, rubbing them with both hands. He smacked a few times and looked around.
'Where's my momma?' he asked, looking at Lotte.
'Matthew, do you remember what happened yesterday?' Lotte tried carefully. The little boy wrinkled his brow for a moment and thought deep.
'I think so,' he said.
'Can you tell me what you remember?' Lotte had read about this crisis method on school, but was not sure if it could be used on children, nor if she was doing it right.
'Momma doesn't love me anymore,' he said and started sobbing again. Lotte put her arms around the little boy and pressed him close against her.
'Listen to me, Matthew, listen close,' she cleared her throat, 'Your mother – she had no idea what she was doing. I believe she still loved you, but she just did not know who she was anymore.'
'Where's mom now?'
'Do you believe in God, Matthew?' Lotte did not know any other way how to tell him else. She was not going to lie to him, despite his age.
'Yes, and Jesus too,' the little boy said.
'Well, your mom is with them now,' Lotte said, 'She's in Heaven.'
'Momma's dead?' the little boy said with big eyes.
'Yes, sweetie,' she said and wanted to swing her arm around him again, but he backed off.
'I'm not your sweetie!' he said fierce, 'And you're not my momma!'
'I know,' she said, 'And I don't want to force you into seeing me as anything. I'm Lotte, and you can call me Lotte.'
'No, I want my momma!'
'Listen, Matthew, you're mother is gone,' Lotte said and slightly bend over so she could look him straight in his eyes, 'But before she went, she made me promise her that I would take of you.'
'You're not my momma!'
'I'm not your momma, indeed!' she repeated soft, but clear, 'All I do, is take care of you. I'll be Lotte to you and you'll be Matthew to me, alright?'
'Nothing more?' it seemed like he understood now.
'We could be friends?' Lotte tried. For a moment the little boy looked around, he knew no one on the bus. 'Would you like to be friends?'
'I think so,' he said and sniffed. Lotte smiled and opened her arms.
'Can I get a hug, buddy?'
'Alright, buddy,' Matthew said and swung his arms around Lotte.
'Good morning,' Lotte looked around and saw the always smiling face of Alex. Matthew's eyes widened when they saw the soldier.
'Morning Alex,' Lotte saw the large white eyes on the brown face, 'Matthew, this is my friend: Alex. Alex, this is my buddy: Matthew.'
'Nice to meet you, buddy,' Alex said with a wink, and shook Matthew's hand.
'Are you a real soldier?' Matthew blurred, Lotte smiled.
'Yes, I am,' Alex said, 'just like the other nine here.'
'My dad was a soldier too,' Matthew said, looking a bit sad.
'Really? Did he also have strong arms like a soldier?'
'He had huge biceps,' Matthew bragged, making large arm movements.
'Do you have strong muscles like him too? Come on, let me see!' Matthew made a fist and bend his arm, trying as hard as he could.
'Wow, those are big!' Alex said, 'Hey, could you do something for me?'
'Sure, soldier!'
'Lotte-' he still had trouble pronouncing her name, '-here is a good friend of mine, and I would really appreciate it if a strong bloke like you could keep an eye on her, you know. Safety and so.'
'You think I could do that?' Matthew said gasping.
'I know you can, little buddy,' Alex said, 'You'll be like a junior soldier, if you will.'
'I think you can do that too,' Lotte encouraged him.
'I could try,' Matthew said and his face turned into a smile.
'You see that man?' Alex pointed towards Jason, he stood with his back to them at the beginning of the bus – completely blocking the passage, 'He's our captain, captain Smith, he's in charge. But, he's also a good friend of mine – so be nice to him, alright junior soldier?'
'Yes, sir!' Matthew said and saluted.
'Stand down,' Alex smiled and wanted to walk away. Lotte grabbed his arm.
'Thank you,' she said softly, he just smiled.
'Lottey,' Matthew tapped her on her shoulder, and whispered close to her ear, 'I don't have to shoot anybody do I?'
'Sweet-, I mean; buddy,' she said and took his hands, 'Protecting people is not always with guns. Sometimes the best way to protect people, is to love them – and have faith. And right now, I won't even let you touch a gun, alright?'
'Alright,' he nodded, 'and Lottey?'
'I have to pee.'

An hour and a half later, the bus stopped. Matthew quickly ran out, with his hands between his legs, and Lotte followed him. Most of the group quickly ran with their buddies to a private place. Lotte felt quiet relieved when Matthew told her, he could go to the bathroom by himself just fine. But still she knew she had to be with him, or at least close to him. As Matthew did his thing, he started singing a song Lotte did not know. Quickly she looked around, pulled her pants down and saved her bladder. When Matthew returned, she was already done and was waiting for him with a smile.
'You didn't look, did you?' he said suspicious in his torn clothes.
'No, Matthew,' she smiled, 'Come let's see if we can find some other clothes for you.'
'Alright,' he sighed and walked back with her to the group.
'Why don't you go and ask Alex for some clothes, I'll help Mrs. Evans with the food,' Lotte said, pointing towards Alex.
'Alright,' Matthew said and ran towards the soldier. Lotte smiled at the little running kid and walked towards Martha. Together with some other woman, Martha was cooking a large pan above a fire made by the soldiers.
'Seems like things are going well, aren't they?' Martha said, looking at Lotte. Lotte sighed.
'I didn't expect it to be so hard, so intense,' she said looking for the right word in English.
'Well, to me it looks like you're doing a good job,' Robin smiled as she was slicing some mushrooms.
'He'll be fine, child,' Martha said, 'We all just need to find our rhythm, get used to each other, to this situation.'
'I guess so,' Lotte said, 'I know I do.'
'Girl, we all do!' Robin smiled.
'Here, slice some paprika's,' Martha said with a wink.

'Our Father which art in Heaven,' the preacher began, he had ginger hair and a thick ginger beard, 'before this lovely dinner, we want to thank You for protecting us so far. We want to thank You for brining us together. Bless us, with patience and love, so we can make it all the way to the East. Give our soldiers strength to protect us, and give us eyes to look for more survivors. Let this food be to strengthen our bodies, so we can continue our journey. Amen.'
'Amen,' the group replied. Though most of the people never believed in any kind of God, in the terrifying situation they found themselves now, praying gave them some sort of hope and the feeling they had something in common.
'Bon Appétit,' Alex smiled and started eating. Several others murmured something like that, but most of them were already busy eating.
'Eat your vegetables,' Lotte said, when she saw Matthew was leaving them on the side of his plate.
'I'm not eating them,' he said stubborn.
'You are, mister,' Lotte said severe.
'You're not my mom!' he yelled. Lotte could feel the eyes of several people in the group, burning in her back.
'No, I am not, but I am the one who has to take care of you and who is responsible for you!' Lotte said loud, 'And I want you to grow up and become a strong man, but that won't happen if you don't eat your vegetables!'
'Than I won't eat anything,' he placed the plate on the ground and folded his arms. Lotte raised her eyebrows and took the plate.
'Fine with me, we have forty-four stomachs to fill,' she said, 'This plate will end up empty, one way or the other. But know: when we get back in that bus, there is not one single way you can get this food again, understood?'
'Fine,' he said fierce and looked deep in her eyes. Lotte placed the plate down and returned to her dinner. When Lotte looked up, she looked straight into the eyes of Jason. She could see no emotion in it.
'I'm sorry,' Matthew muttered.
'What did you say?' Lotte said and looked at him. Half she really did not hear him, and half she wanted him to understand what he was saying.
'I'm sorry, Lottey,' he said again, 'I'll eat my vegetables.'
'Alright, buddy,' she said and handed him his plate, 'Let's try not to fight, alright?'
'Well,' he sighed like she asked something really difficult of him, 'I'll try!'
'Great,' she smiled.

'Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four-' Ewan slowly tapped both Matthew as Lotte when they wanted to enter the bus.
'Lotte, a word,' captain Jason said and grabbed her arm. Matthew looked at her with big eyes.
'I'll be right there, save my seat,' she said reassuring, but felt the tension rising as she walked to the end of the bus with the captain.
'Look, I don't think you fully understand the situation,' he said.
'Excuse me?' Lotte said a bit confused.
'Do you even know what is going on right now?'
'What are you talking about?'
'People are dying, every single day, the Earth is torn beneath our feet, and you are just playing with that kid!'
'Don't treat me like a child!' Lotte yelled, her eyes filled with tears, 'Don't pretend that I don't know what is happening! I know my friends died. I know I will never see my family again! I don't even believe the East is really safe for us! God, I don't even know if we will make it! The only thing, the only light – the only glimpse of hope I have right now, is that little boy.'
'Lotte,' Jason was a bit startled by her reaction. Lotte now looked at him through thick tears.
'I don't know, Jason,' Lotte cried, 'It all just seems like the worst dream I've ever had – and I just can't get out of it. It just seems to endless…'
'Captain?' Alex turned around the corner and looked surprised at the crying Lotte and the confused captain. Lotte covered her face, while Jason shook his head and walked away.
'Come here,' Alex said, and wrapped his arms around her. For a moment Lotte could truly feel again. She wrapped her arms around the tall, strong soldier and felt safe. He was her friend, her brother.
'I'm sorry,' he said with a sigh, 'Jason's just…'
'It's alright,' Lotte said and looked at him, 'He's – he's our captain, he's just trying to look out for us.'
'Right,' he said and smiled, as he always did.
'I just need to find a way to deal with this, I need to find my way,' Lotte said.
'You'll find it,' Jason assured her, 'You and your little buddy.'
'I do hope so,' Lotte said and swallowed her tears.
'You'll be alright,' Alex smiled and hugged her once more, 'now get on the bus or we'll miss it!'

Let me know what you think of it!

Top quote is from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and I do not own it.