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Coca-Cola ® The Symbol and Taste of Freedom
by Giannina Lodato Rakoczi

About the author
A native of California, Giannina has been married for eight years to a revolutionary refugee, the protagonist of this story. She writes and teaches English to foreigners while fighting the disabling effects of multiple sclerosis (MS). Confined to a wheelchair, she has plenty of time to sit around -- a perfect scenario for writing -- and has chronicled a few of her husband's interesting exploits. She lives in Palo Alto, California and, except for a couple of years of studying, teaching and traveling overseas, has spent most of her life in Silicon Valley and Northern California. (1998)

Copyright © 1996, 1998 by Giannina Lodato Rakoczi. All Rights Reserved.

     The first recorded escape from suppression came when Moses led 
the Israelites out of the grasp of the oppressive leadership of
the pharaohs. It is human nature to seek freedom from tyranny.
It will always be. Witness just one more story of escape from
tyranny. And how Coca-Cola indicated the way.

The Fortified Border
    Only a few kilometers stand between them and freedom -- America, the 
Capitalist West, refuge from tyranny and proletariat dictators, and the
failed suppressive experiment known as "The Evil Empire."

It's taken almost two weeks to cover the 100-plus kilometers by foot in
addition to train-hopping from their city to the fortified western border of
their country. This border is heavily-guarded, keeping a significant sector
of humanity from freedom.

Evaluating the situation, Laszlo, the university student in charge of the
escaping crowd, thinks Ah! America. The unknown. Who knows about that part
of the world? All any of us know is what our almighty leadership allows us
to know:

America, all things American are decadent, undisciplined, degenerate,
Especially Coca-Cola, Hollywood, Coca-Cola,
Disneyland, Coca-Cola, rock n' roll, Coca-Cola,
Blue jeans, Coca-Cola, women in tight pants, Coca-Cola,
Jazz, Coca-Cola, modern art, Coca-Cola,
The sissy game of golf, Coca-Cola.

A tone of insincerity permeates this message the leadership forces upon
us. If America and all things American are so decadent and degenerate, why
don't we hear stories of Americans risking their lives to escape such
decadence and degeneration? We fight an enforced suppressive occupation.
Something is amiss in our distrusted leadership's message.

He continues thinking, If we succeed in escaping this existence and are
caught, we may get repatriated and executed or imprisoned -- never to be seen
or heard from again.

We'd better keep our weapons in case we have to fight our way to other
countries.

We know nothing about the world beyond our own country's boundaries.

We have only a kilometer or two to go, to another fight, a different kind,
one to be fought in capitalism with brains and courage and who knows what
else?

At the ripe old age of 23, Laszlo is the senior member of the armed
troops by six or seven years. He has been thrust into this tough leadership
role by his six well-armed troops from his city's various universities and
high schools. Maybe they're too well-armed, with too much weight to carry.
He, himself, carries a semi-automatic rifle slung over one shoulder. Over
the other, his inner voice guides him every step of the way.

He walks at the point of the column, leading the assemblage numbering 40
or so. The entire group is comprised of men, women and children escaping
together under the protection of these few armed revolutionaries. Only the
young desperados dare carry arms, the older civilians convinced that carrying
any kind of weapon would lead to instant death if captured.

His troops head the long strung-out column. Smaller groups of five or six
trail, keep a 30-40-meter separation between each group for safety in case
the lead is fired upon or captured. Those behind might have a chance.

Only a kilometer or two to go. Keep up your concentration. He dredges
up his last measure of energy and self-control. All are totally worn out
after two weeks of hide-and-seek. Repeated adrenalin rushes from jumping
onto trains.

Their papers are invalid for travel outside their city. Especially
invalid for travel toward the West. Few have valid travel permits just
covering a short distance from their residences.

The fugitives move fastest by jumping onto third-class train cars crowded
with locals just as the train accelerates away from a station. The cars are
plentiful on local trains. Comfort and privacy are luxuries which benefit
only the tyrannical leadership. Third-class, open cars with wooden benches
suffice for common folk.

Guards of the occupying forces don't dare ride the trains, finding local
hostility toward them much too threatening. They prefer the safety, comfort
and warmth of the train's station house. As trains pull into the station,
they limit their exposure to the elements by venturing out onto the platform
only to check the papers of the people about to get on the train, then
quickly duck back into the shelter of the station house. Because the
resistance fighters make this attempt in winter, they have only to jump on
and off the moving trains a few hundred meters on each side of the station.

Only a short distance to go. After the 150 kilometers they had already
crossed in enemy territory, he assumes these last few meters will be easy.
The travelers are exhausted, determined, therefore dangerous. Desperate,
thus truly dangerous.

Laszlo starts to relax. "It is much too soon to be a buffoon," his inner
voice tells him. That inner voice, the great critic and poet in all of us.

Tired to the bone, shivering, he is the leader and that keeps him going.
Amused, he allows himself a little inner smile. What a good decision he made
just a few kilometers back. His troops had stopped the train in between
stations holding a gun to the head of the conductor. Getting off, they
crossed the remaining distance on foot, undetected by guards waiting for the
train at the next station.

He gets off the train first with a few of his young armed troops who
stand with their backs to the train, looking toward the West, toward
America and freedom. They wait a minute. A few more get off. Deafening
quiet. Midnight. A few more refugees disembark to join them.

People who remain on the train, looking out through the windows,
know precisely what the group must have in mind -- escape. Leader,
confident. Lead group, armed. A chance, at least. Decisions of life and
death, freedom or prison, must be made in seconds.

Everyone's inner voice works furiously and, hopefully, provides
good advice. Now, he is responsible for fulfilling their dreams.
Reaching the West and all that it stands for, real or imagined, good or bad.
Could it possibly provide a life worse than this under dictators?

Dead calm. Remaining passengers sit inert. They cannot summon the courage
to throw away their current miserable existences. Only locals
remain on the train, locals heading home to a nearby township close to the
border even more tightly controlled.

The locals know well the terrible dangers awaiting escapees -- mine
fields, machine gun emplacements, powerful searchlights, well-paid cruel and
sadistic border guards. Their silence radiates deep discouragement and
hopeless resignation. They remain safe.

He marvels at the peacefulness of the scene -- its absolute silence.
All standing and aboard look in the direction of freedom. The steam engine
makes low, mournful, rhythmic, almost animal-like sounds. In this surreal
setting, the engine seems to warn about the impossibility of escape, its
irreversibility.

He looks up and down the line of people, their backs to the train. He
signals his young troops holding the conductor at gunpoint to let the train
go. They smile at the conductor, quickly jump off. He walks to one end of
the line of people as the train slowly pulls away.

The moon shines brilliantly. He looks up at the star-filled night. We
don't need this strong moonlight but maybe it will help us see opposing
patrols. An unwanted tightness grows in his body. Of course, those patrols
also will be able to detect us with greater ease. Nothing is free in life.

Using slow, long strides to create confidence in the others, he walks
from one end of the line to the other. He stops from time to time
gathering six or seven into small independent groups, picking a leader for
each, telling him to keep a 50-meter distance from the group ahead. They all
understand why.

Finally, he reaches the end of the column, the point composed of his
young armed troops. Without even stopping, without any word or arm
signal, he starts out toward freedom, on the final leg of this desperate,
long journey. To America, he tells himself. No comment from his
inner voice. He wonders why. It is seldom without advice. Maybe it
knows better and realizes the hopelessness of the dream.

Appropriately, the inner voice jolts him. Perhaps a mortal trap awaits
him in the cold, hostile frontier aiming toward America. But where else is
there to go? he questions his inner voice. Just a cynical laugh precedes the
answer in typical rhyme:

"It is now your fight, so do not take it light, for dead you will surely
be, at the hands of the enemy."

After four hours of stumbling across icy fields in worn out shoes
and layers of filthy, smelly winter clothing they'd been wearing for the
last two weeks, the group completes the last leg of its desperate journey
westward. No food, no drink, no rest, they don't step spryly.

They slog their way through the fields guided by bright moonlight. Each
refugee's path is slightly obscured by the fog created by huffs and puffs
exhaled on the way to freedom in the the freezing December night air.

The fugitives dodge enemy armored cars patrolling the roads
bordering the fields. They must time the comings and goings of these
heavily-armed vehicles so each small group can crawl across the road safely.

They trudge on through more fields, hugging the hedgerows. Is there an
end to these interminable fields? he asks no one in particular.

"There shall be, but you must go and see." The light tone of the voice's
stanza makes him angry, but maybe that is what he needs.

Dangerous and slow going, so many roads, so many patrols, so many
crossings and so many fugitives. One small group at a time they manage to
cross safely. Frustrated, he considers abandoning the groups behind him,
taking only his young armed troops. They can move much faster by themselves.
But he doesn't have a traitor's heart. He sticks by the whole troupe of
forty. By now, only a few hundred, maybe only a few dozen meters remain
between their position and the border.

Suddenly it happens. He should have known. He should have been
prepared. Anticipated. What he hears first is a sinister, sizzling sound.
He knows what is coming and dreads it. His body tightens, wants to
evacuate, to be light for the fight or flight but, because the fear of
embarrassment is greater than the fear of death, he controls it. Adrenalin
floods his brain in a huge gush. One more rush.

The sound is a prelude to the light: S-S-S-Z-Z-Z-S-Z-Z, it sizzles. Then
the cold, bluish, threatening flood of light comes, enveloping him in a
narrow beam. It is totally blinding, an overture to instant death.

Instinctively, his arms rise out to the side and up. Not over his head.
Just out. A clear signal that he has no intention of going for his gun.
Also a clear signal that he is not ready to give up. He shifts his weight
from right leg to left to better hide the rifle slung barrel-down over his
right shoulder. It is visible only from the rear and just the strap can
be seen from the front.

He needs time. Time to think. Time to have his troops from the lead
group crawl away from him, away from the light, to circle around the
source of the light. He wills them without a single word, knowing that his
young, armed troops will be making the right choices, spreading out as his
arm motion commands. He holds his hands palms down, fingers slightly
downward telling the troops to stay down, remain quiet, wait, make no
rash moves and, most importantly, be ready.

Here and now at the border, the fugitives need to overcome this final
obstacle preventing them from reaching their dream, this barrier that
keeps them from telling the world about the heroic deeds of the
revolution. They want the rest of the world to honor the many young
already-dead revolutionaries. They want to set an example for the next
revolt or insurrection of suppressed people.

You must work your way out of this, he tells himself, so you can be the
messenger to America. He was ready to make a deal with the devil to
reach the free world. It is easy to make a deal like that. But there is a
price, of course, and he was ready to pay it, whatever it might be.
Descent Into Hell
    The change in the sound of the floodlight reminds him of the reality of the 
present. He notices the feeling that his arms are becoming heavy, like lead.
He has to decide on some action, and soon. The sound the light emits is
diminishing now: S-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-S-Z-Z-Z-S as if it is running out of energy.
It must be battery-fed out here in the open fields. It's a strong light and
needs lots of power. So damned bright.

"But if the light dims, the guards will surely let out a burst of bullets
before they lose you from their sights," the inner voice says soberly, no
verse this time, the occasion being too serious.

He knows his young armed troops are all in good position by now, safer
than he and ready to act under the cover of darkness. He is blinded by the
light but so are the border guards since they are undoubtedly looking at him,
now a bright object. Quick decisions. Signal the troops, give them some
command.

The searchlight flickers once but sizzles on. This cold, bluish beam of
light will at least show his signal to the troops for their next move. Or
bring his death. Either action would make the decision for the rest of the
group to flee or fight. It is all up to his silent hand commands.

"You are on the brink, so clearly you must think," his inner voice
commands. He is starting to loathe the constant companionship of this voice.
A safe critic, with no physical existence, no flesh and body to be shred by
bullets. The cunning and safe inner voice. Does it exist only for males? he
wonders.

Now, he tries to look through the beam of light toward the free world, as
if to ask for help. He waits for an eternally long second. No help comes.
None. We can't even turn around and go back, he realizes. They would take
us away as punishment for trying to escape.

The scream of the inner voice reminds him of his aching arms and
unsolvable problems at the end of this bitter journey. "Revenge," it yells
at him, "don't forget revenge. You must avenge your fallen compatriots."
Then, in a lower tone, true to its poetic style:

"You will feel no more sorrow,
When revenge is attained tomorrow."

The stanza re-energizes him and a sweet new feeling starts to flood into
his mouth, nostrils and heart -- the feeling of powerful revenge. There is
no greater energizer than revenge upon those causing pain.

He slowly moves his arms a little higher, almost horizontal. Maybe he is
signaling his young revolutionaries. A subconscious move with no real plan
behind it. He slowly turns his head first to the left, then to the right,
very deliberately. A signal to his troops hiding under the cover of darkness.

The floodlight did its work and blinded him, but it also blinded the
border guards, making it more difficult for them to see the dark areas around
them.

He hears a sound, a speaking sound, but not the sound of his inner voice.
An external sound, one he hasn't heard before. The voice of one of his
adversaries. It is so close. They can't possibly miss me from ten meters at
the most, he warns himself.

The new adrenalin surge feeds energy into his almost blown-out brain. It
starts to work with incredible speed and precision. It dawns on him that the
voice is speaking not in a foreign language but in his own. This poses a new
set of problems, worse than before. His fellow countrymen opposing the
flight of the desperate revolutionaries were members of the dreaded and
vicious enforcement police team. These men are fanatics. Smart. Best-paid
in all the Evil Empire. Among the brightest, they come from the best
schools. Bribed by occupationist devils with girls, money, success, travel
and, above all, power. These locally-born converts to the enemy's cause are
truly dangerous folk.

Then he realizes what his adversary has just said and he replays it in
his mind: "Where are you all going?" the guard has just asked, as if it
weren't absolutely obvious. Where else could they be heading, but across the
border, to freedom? And the border guards are the last obstacle --
locally-born, with high-powered weapons and a floodlight helping them aim
their gun barrels at him.

So, my opponents want to talk, he tells himself. Maybe they, too, are
afraid of a quick battle in which both sides may die. This realization buys
him a little time. His arms drop slightly as a small indication of his
renewed defiance, an indication that he is ready to deal with the enemy
guards, that he is not yet defeated. It is also a message to his young,
armed followers around him that he is again ready to lead.
The Force Of Revenge
    Even this cursed searchlight foretells a near end.  It dims more and more and 
its sound is now more mournful than sinister: s----s----s---s---s, in a very
soft tone. He imagines the finger of a guardsman squeezing the trigger. He
can almost feel the impact of the bullet and he wonders on what part of his
body the first one will land. His arms start to sag because he can no longer
hold them up and out.

"Stop this idiocy, you imbecile," the inner voice yells at him in a firm,
almost calm tone. "You are not beaten yet! Remember," it continues,
"they could have shot you anytime earlier. Instead, they asked you a
question." And a stupid question it was: "Where are you all going?" The
sentinels KNOW his group wants to escape. The only reason for this obviously
unnecessary question is they do not want a fire fight. They want to talk!

"Be calm," his inner voice warns, "they just want to begin a dialogue.
Talk back to them and try to make sense." Easy to be an advisor, he thinks.

Calmly, his arms go down to around thirty degrees from his body.

Relief, this feeling of new blood rushing into his aching arm muscles. He
waits for a few seconds, savoring the sensation in his arms. Then, with a
cynical voice in a low tone he answers the guards, "What do you think we are
doing here? Where do you think we could be going?" He hears a faint,
ever-so-slight snicker from his troops, but he can't make out their exact
positions. He is glad. If he can't determine their positions, then neither
can the enemy.

"What an exquisite chess game," chuckles the voice. This inner voice
just does not quit. He is irritated. This is a game of opposing players,
just like chess, with gambits, and feints, mock attacks and hidden thrusts.

"How many are you?" a different voice asks. More than one of them, he
deduces. Now he is certain there are two guards in the fortified foxhole
next to the light.

He muses, The game is composed of a few pieces, favoring my opponents: a
machine gun, a powerful floodlight, a well dug-in emplacement, higher ground.
My side has some lightly armed youngsters, the cover of darkness, larger
numbers of people eager to fight lying flat on the ground encircling the
opponents' position.

In the language of chess, there are two rooks on the adversary's side of
the board, and eight pawns on his side. He knows only too well that two
rooks would always win against eight pawns, the power and range of the rooks
able to mow down the slow-moving, weak pawns.

Except, this is not a game of chess. In chess, both sides see the entire
board and all the chess pieces. Here and now, out in the cold fields, the
enemy does not know the exact position of his young troops. Of course,
neither does he, but he at least knows they are there, how many of them there
are and he has a vague idea where they are. The guards are playing blindly.
Only he is visible to them, not the others.

The young troops, under the cover of darkness, have formed a semi-circle
around the foe's position, well-marked since it is at the source of light.
The youngsters trust their leader. They are ready to fight. All they need
is a signal.

"We are forty and well armed," he answers the question just posed by the
sentries. He answers in a more serious tone since the question is both
serious and dangerous. There is an eternally long pause, maybe even as long
as five seconds. Then, "Go ahead and pass," says the more authoritative
policeman's voice. The leader hears the unmistakable noises of his group
starting to move on the icy ground. Noises of people getting up. The faint
sound of crumbling, frozen dirt underfoot.

"It's a trap," screams the ever-knowledgeable inner voice at him.
"They'll mow all of you down if your people expose themselves." His arms
shoot out and his hands make rapid downward signals. He doesn't utter a
single word and he isn't sure why. Maybe he feels that his hand signals
speak more clearly, loudly and, definitely, in a more commanding manner.
Maybe he is afraid his voice would indicate fear, and that simply would not
do. His troops might make the wrong move if they think their leader is
afraid. And he is afraid, but more so of misplaying this devilish chess game
than of death itself.

Quiet again. He knows his entire group is safely flat on the ground once
more. He is also sure his armed youngsters are in good positions for
fighting or throwing hand grenades.

Another eternally long pause of ten-or-so seconds. Even longer than the
earlier eternally long pause. At least it feels that way. Adrenalin again
speeds up his inner clock so everything around him appears to be in slow
motion.

"What do you want?" asks an armed guard, the one who had spoken first
with the less-refined voice.

The refugees' leader can't believe the idiocy of this question. "We want
you to come out, without your weapons!" he responds slowly, in a low voice,
with emphasis on "... without your weapons."

Another long pause. The decisions are getting more and more difficult
and are taking longer to make. Silence. Stillness. The guards don't come
out of their foxhole. An impasse. Balance of terror. No possibility of
resolution.

He can feel the tension building. All around him the deadly silence
speaks eloquently. Then comes a tiny, very young voice, "Should I throw a
grenade? I'm very close to the watchmen and I wouldn't miss!" It is the
voice of his youngest trooper. The leader doesn't have time to answer
because the guards yell out almost instantly, "Wait. Wait! We're coming out!"

The sentinels emerge from their safe, fortified position slowly and
without panic. The leader admires that. These guys are true professionals.
The guards stand on both sides of the light, only an outline of their bodies
visible. His troops stand up and shoot the light out with a single shot.
The only shot fired in the entire exchange. A contest of nerves and wits,
not weapons.

It takes him a few seconds to get his night vision back. He becomes
anxious. Has to get back into control. To see what is around him. It takes
long, tension-filled seconds for his eyes to adjust since he doesn't know
where the guards are. Are they armed? Are they running away to get
reinforcements?

The two sentries become visible in the now stronger moonlight. They
don't appear to be armed. Their machine gun is strapped to the darkened
floodlight. They look defenseless, harmless, small. Young men themselves,
not so different from his own troops; two, maybe three years older.

"Turn around and walk slowly toward the border, ahead of us!" he orders
them in an almost conversational tone. To his great relief, he can finally
rest his arms. He waves his people forward, more with an upper body movement
and shoulder turn than with arm signals since he doesn't yet have the complete
use of his arms.

He walks right behind the two border guards. Grabbing his lapels, one in
each hand, he gives his aching arms a rest. A sweet, warm feeling overtakes
his arms as the blood rushes back into them and his muscles relax. He feels
calm and exhausted as the adrenalin rush subsides. His breathing and
heartbeat slow. The terrible tension in his body drains.

The goal is still the same and is as clear as ever: to America, to a
questionable future, but to a future of some kind, at least. And to freedom.
Do we really know how freedom feels? he asks. How freedom tastes? Sounds?
Smells? What it looks like? There are no more obstacles: no more occupation
forces, no more killing, no more dying, no more danger and everything else he
hates. Freedom at last. Only meters to go.

He couldn't possibly know how deadly wrong he was.

Church Bells Toll
    Walking in front of him, the two guards stop abruptly.  The sudden stop 
surprises him. Then he understands. They are at the edge of a mine field.
Of course, a stop was in order.

His arm shoots up. Everyone stops. Some of the refugees slowly collapse
to the ground. Most of them go down onto just one knee. Some whimper. All
turn toward him. In the semi-darkness he can feel, but can't see, their
burning, questioning, accusing eyes. "We can't continue. The police will
come and arrest all of us for trying to escape," is the silent message they
send him clearly. "Maybe we should just die here and now in an insane
attempt to run across the mine field."

Even the two sentries look at him now with doubt reflected in their body
language. They aren't sure what he might do in a sudden rush of anger.

"Do you know the position of the mines?" he asks the two guardsmen slowly,
in a deep, guttural voice. Only a very few around him hear his question.
They nod almost in unison. But he senses they aren't very sure of
themselves. The watchmen have no real choice. It is better for them to take
a chance even with a minimal knowledge of the mine field's layout than to
face the alternative of certain death at the hands of these young, rash and
desperately resentful revolutionaries.

The border guards carefully look for the secret markings left by the
original mine-laying forces. This secret code is known only by the
occupation's guards at the border. The complex code tells them, square meter
by square meter, the pattern by which the mines are placed and where the very
narrow safe passages are.

Another deadly chess board, he thinks in a rather dark mood, but this
time only the opponents know the rules, and then only vaguely. They also
know they will be the first ones to blow up if they take the wrong step.

He motions the watchmen on toward the border, across the wide mine field.
This time there is a clear threat in his hand signal. He watches them for
the first few meters as they take one step forward, and one or two to the
left or right, then three forward and two to the other side. He follows
them, the long column of forty people following him, single file. A hundred
meters to go. They move excruciatingly slowly, out into the moonlit open,
exposed, potential death all around them.

This is the first time in his nine years under this suppressive
government he genuinely hopes the border guards have been well-trained. He
smiles to himself, What irony. He considers firing a long burst of bullets
across the field ahead of the guards in order to explode a clear path through
the mines. The danger: the noise would bring other border patrols from
nearby right down on them. The fugitives wouldn't even have an opportunity
to scatter. They would have to move in a long single file, an easy target
for a sweeping machine gun burst.

The watchmen are across the field, at the edge of a bushy area. Safe.
They turn back toward him with a little relieved smile. He is only two or
three meters behind them so they can't take the chance of running into the
bushes or he would have cut them down. He steps up to them with a long,
final step, almost a jump. He turns back to his long column of people and
motions them forward, one at a time, next to him. With a grab of each one's
shoulder, he shoves them one-by-one toward the border. They all take the
same long, final step-jump, copying him as if that were a magic movement.
Made it.

For a long moment he thinks there may not have been any mines at all, the
guardsmen were just play-acting, slowing down the escape process to allow
other border guards to show up. They were just playing for time with their
deliberate slow dance across the last hundred meters. No way to prove it,
but most likely both possibilities were true: no mines and the guards were
playing for time.

Perhaps the mines really were there but were very old and therefore duds
by now. They were originally laid in 1947 when the border was first
fortified to keep people inside the Evil Empire. This empire had become more
like a huge prison restraining a third of a billion unfortunate individuals.

He looks at the two watchmen again. They are facing him and his troops.
Their body positions and their little ironic smiles tell the story clearly:
he and his entourage had been misled; there were no mines; there was only a
threat of mines and that was enough to keep most everyone well away from the
border. There must have been mines many other places along the border
killing earlier escapees and frightening others so they wouldn't even attempt
a run across the field.

So the guardsmen almost won after all: his group was slowed down
significantly and for no good reason. Slowed so there was plenty of time for
other guards to come and capture all forty of the escapees.

His young troops look at him questioningly. They have doubt in their
faces and make small shuffling motions with their feet. Their leader is in
question. His leadership qualities are in doubt. Can they trust him for
future decisions? He senses their agony and despises the oppressors even
more for putting him into this predicament.

A new taste swells up in his mouth, one of bitter anger and self-doubt.
The opponents have almost outfoxed him. He looks at them now with a
different, colder, more threatening glare. Both sentinels sense his feelings
and become motionless, shrunken, their shoulders hunched.

He looks toward the border and in the strong moonlight sees his group of
forty people all bunched closely together in a small opening between the
shoulder-high bushes. They believe they are safe, finally, after all this
danger. Safe.

But they are wrong again. Very wrong.

The boundary is not marked. The mine field may have been positioned still
hundreds of meters from the border with the country next door. There may
still be other fortified positions ahead of them. The guards may have just
brought them right in the direction of one of these traps. He once more
motions the sentries to turn toward the border and walk, at gunpoint, ahead
of him and past the tightly bunched-up group of escapees. He makes them sit
on the ground a few meters from the group.

He senses his outfit holds him responsible and doesn't completely trust
his judgment any longer. He is not willing to take any more wild chances.
He tells them all to sit on the ground so they won't be easily detected under
the thick bushes. He instructs them firmly to be absolutely quiet. He
signals his young armed troops to encircle the two guards. When he sees
everyone is motionless and quiet he ventures toward the border, taking only
two of his smallest armed youngsters with him.

The three refugees move slowly so as not to rustle the bushes. They
walk, crouched down to stay below the tops of the bushes. The leader is the
first to notice the faint outline of a village as a hint of fog starts to
drift toward them. It is a cold, unfriendly fog, with a wet, frosty bite.
It rapidly gets denser as it approaches.

A cheap-looking building on the edge of the village in the distance is
just barely visible. It is clearly a block-shaped building. This could
still be our imprisoned country, not the freedom we seek, he warns himself.
It could be a fortified village. A trap. We should plan to go around it.
But in which direction? Left or right? Either one could take us back into
enemy-held territory. The border winds its way back and forth among the
hills and through the fog-covered valleys. I'd better check out the village.

He and his two young troops move ever so carefully, walking and crawling
toward the distant building on the edge of the village. Finally he sees it
clearly: a block-shaped two-story building. On the upper right- hand corner
of the second floor, facing oncoming travelers, is some kind of massive, red,
circular sign. Red -- the color of our oppressors, he tells himself. It
is a strange sign -- raised, round, with an emblem through the middle of it.
Maybe it is an enemy emblem, but he can't detect the precise shape.

As his eyes adjust to the fog, he discerns a white stripe across the
middle of the red circle. He has to move a few steps closer to be sure. He
is very curious now. But he doesn't want this curiosity to stand in the way
of making a good decision. He just wants to know once and for all he can
still make good decisions. Be a leader and deliver his entourage to freedom.

A few more careful steps toward the building before he sees clearly what
is written on the white stripe: Coca-Cola. Dirty white, or maybe yellow
letters stand out on a shabby red, raised, button-shaped monstrosity. The
entire image is ugly, decadent-looking and not ever seen in occupied
countries where Coca-Cola is forbidden. As far as the tyrannical dictators
he had been living under for nine years were concerned, Coca-Cola was an
evil, capitalist drink. Not like vodka, the true and honest pacifying drink
of the proletariat, those unhappy citizens in the workers' utopia. So, this
is what freedom looks like, he deduces.

The three escapees look at the conspicuous red sign for a long minute,
then at each other. What can this mean? The leader asks the key question,
"Is this a trap?" A long silence ensues.

Almost at the same time, all three scouts break into an all-knowing,
sneering laughter. It is loud, with a disregard for its potential danger,
trumpeting a deep disrespect for the opposition. It builds to hysterical
proportions. Raucous, venomous, a tremendous release, an idiotic display of
carelessness. All of them in unison, say: "This is no trap." It can't be a
trap. Our enemy isn't smart enough to set up a trap like this, he finally
realizes with regained confidence.

Then he hears it, just barely: three bars of a tune rung out by the bell
of the church tower in the village just behind the ugly block house with the
Coca-Cola button. The sound of freedom?

The leader and his two troops continue their quest for freedom all the
while staring and pointing at the building with the Coca-Cola button.

The International Red Cross provides the bus to transport the fugitives to
a displaced persons camp. As the refugees board, they are greeted for the
first time by the leader of the escape with a glance and a nod. Nothing more
familiar: no handshake, no hug, no exchange of names or words of any kind
even in the camp that followed, the ubiquitous enforcement police having
infiltrated every aspect of their lives in its constant quest for spies and
agents.

Climbing onto the bus, the refugees are handed a survival kit of snack
foods and a bottle of Coca-Cola. The leader trades his rifle for a survival
kit and a Coke as he boards the bus after everyone else. For some reason,
he notes the feel of the Coke bottle in his hand: the shape, its ridges and
weight.

As the bottle opener is passed around, he pops the lid off his bottle of
Coca-Cola, chugs down a generous and lengthy swallow of the sweet, bubbly
drink and savors it as the coveted, long-sought and hard-won taste of
freedom.
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3.23 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."