The smell of fresh croissants filled her nostrils; the air seemed jollier than usual. Greetings were being passed around and she could hear “Bonjour, bonjour” being said all around. The sun was shining mightily and it was a beautiful day to be living in Paris. It seemed almost heavenly when out of nowhere, she heard a loud thud. Another one; and this one seemed even closer. She looked around and all those friendly faces turned into angry scowls. On looking closer she realised that those were not scowls but letters scribbled across blank faces. No eyes, no ears, just letters. At last, she finally figured out what was scribbled. “Die Jew Pig”. Those faces got nearer and the thuds grew louder. Just as the first pair of hands was inches from her face, she woke up. A nightmare. She’d been having those ever since the first German planes dropped their payloads on the streets of Paris. It had been several months and she was still on the run. With no news of her family, this 17 year old girl was on the run from the Germans. She was amongst the lucky few who managed to escape just before the occupation. Right now, she was sleeping below a barn in the middle of a farm and she had no idea where she was or how far from Paris. Even amidst all this, she could not help but chuckle at the fact that her nightmare was not very different from her current predicament. A Jew family of four had picked her up and she had been travelling with them for a few days when they came across this abandoned barn. She heard another loud thud. This was not a dream, the Germans had found them. In the pitch black darkness she felt around for her glasses but all she could find were the mangled pieces of the metal frame. Someone had stepped on them.
”Pssst”, she whispered. No response. ”Are you guys there?” Still nothing. She got up from her mattress and went over to where the others were sleeping and felt around. “Putain!” she cursed. The mattresses were unoccupied. Where had they gone?
The realisation that she had been left behind sunk in and she felt sick to her stomach. It didn’t come as much of a surprise though. She couldn’t believe that the family had decided to help her in the first place. A young girl who was blind in one eye and could not see too well out of the other without her glasses; she was a liability. And now, she was trapped here, like a goat waiting to be slaughtered. The Germans were almost in and it wouldn’t take them more than a few minutes to find the trap door that led to where she was. She felt like killing herself. What was the point in all this hiding and fleeing? She couldn’t see a positive end to her life, could see no meaning to her efforts. Her parents could be dead by now, or worse. There was not a soul in this world that she could claim to love. She might as well jump off a cliff and draw curtains to her miserable existence. But she remembered her mother telling her that giving up was the last resort and suicide was the worst sin. Horrors of hell awaited for the one who decides to take his own life-for it wasn’t up to mortals to decide who gets to live and die- even if the life at stake is your own.
No. She was not ready to give up. Not yet. She lit a match and tried to use the light to look around. It gave a faint flicker but it was enough to shed some light on to the small room. The German voices got closer and she realised that they had broken through. Frantically turning around, she lit another match. Out of nowhere, she stumbled over a small opening. It was covered by a small cloth. She removed the cloth and whispered, “Thank god!” It was an escape route. She hurriedly crawled through the small tunnel-like structure, unaware of what lay ahead. Anything would be better than being caught by the Germans. The tunnel was a narrow one, just enough for an average person to squeeze through. After a few minutes of crawling, she saw the opening. It was almost daybreak and faint glimmers of sunlight were already peering through. She gave a sigh of relief but it was short lived. If she had found the tunnel with such ease, so would the soldiers. With this thought in mind, she ran. She ran like she had never run before. She ran through fields and swamps until she reached a small town. She was still running. All of a sudden, she ran into a wooden object and the last thing she remembered was the crack of a door against her forehead and the dull thud of her body on the pavement.
She woke back into consciousness in a comfortable warm bed. It could not have been long past noon. It was a gift of sense to the blind, an uncanny skill to identify the time of the day, irrespective of where or what state he/she was in. One of God’s innumerable cruel jokes! A kind voice asked her if she was in pain. She couldn’t feel anything but gratitude, she shook her head and fell asleep again. He gently caressed her forehead and drew the blanket over. Blissful sleep, the curer of all alms; found her again.
It was sometime past noon, when she woke up- drenched in sweat. There was something wrong, she could feel it. She climbed down from the bed, felt her way around and opened the door. She could hear someone shouting incoherently. She carefully climbed down the stairs as the word began to get clear. She started counting the steps- One. “I have her tucked in upstairs, and I swear she was running away. What do you mean you won’t trust me?” Four. “She isn’t in a state to flee, I guarantee. Come here and take her tomorrow. And please let this be the last one. I have had my share of sin”. Seven. “Please let my daughter come home. I have done my part. I have given you hundreds. Please”. Nine. The man started weeping on the phone. She took a deep breath and with tears running down her cheeks, walked back upstairs. Her mom had told her never to cry, for the worst happened to men who made little girls cry. She wiped her tears, closed the door to the room and climbed back into bed. She hoped that her saviour would get his family back- let her life’s worth be at least that much.
Around the same time, miles away, a man overcome with guilt killed himself and his newly married wife of few hours. He looked hideous in death- with a tooth brush moustache, an almost bald head and a ghastly fear in his eyes; as though he had already seen the horrors of hell that awaited him.