The Informant’s Agenda
Chapter VII, Part two
Pridnestrovie Cemetery, Transnistria, Ukraine
Under layers of paper was an old book bound together with frayed shoelaces.
Brittle black leather binding no longer kept the pages intact, loosened and barely attached to thin threads from the spine when I pulled back the fragile cover. Stain, dirt, and the passing of time had yellowed the thick coarse pages making the handwriting almost illegible, but not impossible for one with keen transcribing skills and knowledge to decipher antiquated rare books. A pair of magnifying glasses from my bag brought the names, dates, and journal logs in closer as I turned carefully the fragile pages.
Oh, my… I can’t believe this!
Guessing it could be maybe a hundred years old from the looks of the scrawled German script and dated entries I realized there had to be more than one person who recorded information, judging by the name or initials at the end of each entry. It had been remarkably preserved through the years wrapped in paper and protected in the tin. Loose scraps of paper with more notes were stuffed inside the tin, all the journal pages filled up.
The words of grandmother Lisle came back to me, as I sat staring blankly out across the steppes, the journal in my lap. She had a way of teaching us kids things in life using object lessons. One especially, I remember, when I was ten. Her freshly baked batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies – my favorite – sat cooling on the stove. With no one around, I took one, gobbled it down, then took another, just as she walked in. She always told me, “Moni. First, ask. Don’t just take something, unless you have permission.” She caught me eating the cookies, and reminded me of the rule, “It’s too close to dinner time. Dinner first, then dessert. But, since you have already eaten your cookies, you will not be allowed any with ice cream after dinner.”
Consequently, I went without my dessert after dinner.
The memory was still as fresh as the smell and taste of her cookies. As I sat contemplating whether I should take it, I tried to vindicate myself from the guilt, feeling like a thief.
It is the ultimate treasure! I cannot leave something this valuable behind. It will just rot in the earth, maybe never found, the truth never learned, a story never told. If I can transcribe its contents, it may disclose vital information on the history of this cemetery and its occupants. Maybe it holds the key to some of those padlocked doors, a portal to their world, their era. When I am through with it, scanned and transcribed it all, I will bring it back and return it. No one will ever have to know what I’ve found.
An hour had passed before I realized I was running late. Irina will be livid.
Wrapping the journal up in the paper I placed it back inside the tin and tucked it down into my backpack then patted the soil down around the hole and tried to reposition the gravestone again in its place. It was too heavy, so I gave up trying. After repacking my cameras and notebook I walked out of the cemetery with my bag.
With the journal I had no doubt that whatever wealth of information and history it held it would maybe help in answering some questions I’d had since coming here. What really happened with the German Jewish groups that settled in these parts? Did they go into hiding during the Holocaust? Were they discovered? Are there any still living?
It was all I could think about, all I could focus on right now, not worry about whether I was wrong in taking the journal.
Delving into the pages of history here was like entering a long, black tunnel. A dark, cold place to be, but the only way through, to find a way out. Feeling drawn to that tunnel now, I entered it, not knowing where it would lead, determined not to turn back.
To be continued…
Joyce E. Johnson (2013)