Tina's burdens, some of them at least, are lifted when the Germans flee from the advancing Allied troops. For a moment in time, the people of town are left alone with food they hadn't seen through the horrors of what the Dutch still call "the Hunger Winter."
The clear morning sky was rimmed in a half circle with thin clouds that circled over her head like the inside of a bowl, so high they seemed not to move. The air was warm. Tina's mother had said that were her father home he would certainly have the urge to work the garden, even though it was still early spring. Last year in her father's absence, Tina had done all the work, in late spring cutting the heads of the tulips herself with a kind of joy, pretending each were a German.
Across the river and through the line of poplars, she saw strange, frenzied movement, tense, almost electric. People swarmed around a railroad car, shouting and dancing. She cut across the park quickly, trying to remember how long it had been since she'd seen people move with so much excitement. Maybe fifty were there, arms raised, fingers spread as if awaiting a blessing.
In the middle of the boxcar's open door stood a brawny, suspendered man holding his arms up, trying to command silence, his massive figure cut sharply from the dark shadows behind him. He screamed out words that were lost in the voices, while around him people were leaving, one after another, their arms wrapped around some burden.
She ran up over the footbridge and came down the slope on the other side in full stride before she recognized what was going on. The stilled boxcar was full of cheese; she could see it now, wrapped in small wheels, meant for the Nazis but forgotten in the disorder of their retreat.
The buzz of people swarming so excitedly reminded her vaguely of a fair, some traveling show for children. The bitter occupation had worn on so long that it seemed there had never been a time when the cadence of the jackboots hadn't haunted her dreams, when the black presence hadn't held the city like some satanic fist, not for one moment of one single day, not even for a Sabbath. But here at the tracks the people were milling and shouting, their faces full of belligerent joy as they carried away the cheese.
"Make it last," the suspendered man shouted. "Share this now--you hear me!"
Four men stood at the door of the car, lifting out the wheels, one after another, to those who stood, arms opened. Tina found a line forming just off the edge of the railbed, and she waited patiently, moving slowly forward, hoping that surely there would be enough for her. Her mother would be so thrilled. It had been a unspeakably horrid winter without her father; there had been no food and the January temperatures had been so cold that at times Tina had to fight with her conscience not to think that God himself had taken up the German cause.
The air was crisp and sharp with the moist smell of cheese, like a blessed offering from God. That's what her mother would say: it was a sign that now the Satan had been finally overcome--a sign that now he was beaten--a sign like a rainbow, God's promise of faithfulness. Tonight they would sit at their table and eat cheese--sparingly, to be sure. Mother would see to it that they not gorge themselves. Tina moved up closer, reading the numbers and letters on the side of the car, numbers that meant nothing now that the Germans were running.
"Be orderly now," one man yelled. "There's plenty here."
They had lived without father and husband since the day he was taken off to Germany, to a place where they hadn't heard from him, not in more than a year. The preacher told Tina's mother only to trust God, and that's what her mother had told her. Trust in God was the only hold her mother had on things since the end of the summer, the time when Tina thought her mother had really given up all hope.
"And who's your father?" the woman just behind her asked.
"Peter Huls," she said. "My father had a repair shop on Front Street--maybe you remember it?"
"Oh, yes," the woman said. "Certainly, the Huls girl." They moved steadily forward. "How's everything at home?"
"My father is gone--to Germany," she said. "My mother and I are alone, but what's there to be sad about?--the Germans are gone."
The woman unloosened the knot in her scarf beneath her chin and shook her hair back over the collar of her coat. "Can you imagine--all that cheese?" she said, laughing. She looked at Tina once more as if it all were coming into focus. "I remember now. You're Albertina then, aren't you?"
"I remember you now--this high." The woman held out her hand at shoulder level. "Everything stopped for the war, but you grew up, didn't you?"
"Albertina--of course!" the woman said again, as if to remind herself. "Peter Huls' daughter, Albertina. My how you've grown."
The wheel of cheese was too heavy--five pounds maybe--to carry under her arm, so she had to hold it out in front of her on the long walk home. Several times she stopped at benches and sat to rest, always keeping the cheese in her lap. Around her the city had turned to holiday. Boys lit fireworks around the bomb shelter in the middle of the square, but the loud noises still frightened her, even though she watched them fling the tiny paper things and knew the danger had passed, the bombs wouldn't fall here anymore, no more exploding shells.
Next: Tina brings her treasure home.