Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Jewish Girl

She was a petite young woman. It was the 1940s, and she was in her early 20s. Her shoes were chunky yet sensible, her long skirt was thick and a dull shade of light brown. She wore a loose full-sleeved white blouse under her short dark grey jacket. Her hair was dark and tied up in a quiet bun, but not many ever saw her hair because of the scarf she always wore around her head. It exposed her ears and stayed in place with the firm knot she'd tie at the nape of her neck.

I wish I knew her name. She was a serious young woman, but those were serious times. Her skin was of a pale colour that was brown, yellow, and blue all at the same time. She never spoke much. She never looked people in the eye for too long, but her eyes were dark and rich and quick. They were eyes that were meant to be looked into, and if she had lived long enough, she would have met someone who would've gently held her small face in his strong hands and looked into those eyes that never looked at anyone else for too long. He would have undone her scarf and her hair and, when she looked up at him, realised that she was the most vulnerable thing he had ever seen. She was from somewhere in eastern Europe, and if she ever spoke, you knew she'd carry the jagged edges of her native tongue to every language she ever spoke. She had been working as a secretary in a small office for the past couple of years. She was good at her job. She was efficient, neat, and kept to herself, only approaching her employer if she had a question, which she would softly but firmly ask without pretense and without raising her dark eyes. She worked like she lived - sensibly. Like her shoes.

Her shoes were making a dry scraping sound on the street. Sometimes there was a crunch. She was walking down the street with the few belongings she had had time to retrieve. She'd wrapped these belongings in a small tablecloth and was now holding them to her chest. She didn't know where she was going, but neither was the rest of the crowd. They were all women, and they were all walking down that wide street. Most of them were older than her; she was one of the younger ones. She was also one of the prettier ones. Some of the other women had too long straight legs, others had cheekbones that cast long shadows across their sunken cheeks. She had looked at the woman on her left. She looked like she was in her early 40s. A tall woman with dark strands escaping from under the scarf that covered her hair. Her face was long, her mouth was wide, her lips were thin, her eyes were looking ahead but not really looking at anything at all. She looked like she was dying on the inside, but her face never moved. Her mouth was slightly open. She looked like she knew she was condemned.

The crowd was dragging its feet, almost sleepwalking towards a destination I couldn't see. It was too far into the horizon. We were in Europe, or at least they were. I was visiting. I was dreaming. I was in my dream and watching them all.

I didn't know the young woman's name. I saw her sitting in the back of a long metallic bus in the middle of that last long seat. She was smaller than everyone else. She was neater than everyone else. Her scarf, her hair, her skirt, her jacket, her blouse, her shiny eyes, her small mouth, her little hands, her short clean nails, everything was in place. She was a neat and orderly girl. She didn't know where they were all being taken, just that they had all been asked to leave their homes so that they could all be resettled somewhere else. She had had no family for a long time now, and she had stopped feeling frightened in her aloneness sometime ago, but I felt so sorry for this proper young woman who was really a little girl who had been trying to be brave and grown-up because that's just what you have to do sometimes.

I saw her next at a campsite. It was almost dark. The people who ran that campsite wore uniforms, and they had taken all personal items from the women who had been brought there by the bus. The young woman was slowly passing by a pile of confiscated belongings. They had taken everything from her as well, everything that had been wrapped in the tablecloth she used to cover the small bedstand with in the plain dark apartment she used to live in. She had hidden one thing from the people in the uniforms - a book? I couldn't see. She had hidden it in her clothes, tucked it in the waistband of her skirt under her jacket. She couldn't let them take the book away from her. It was her most prized possession, she could never part from it. It meant too much. Then I saw it. It was my book, a scrapbook of my life that my friends in Delhi had made for me. No one had ever given me such a present before. It was one of my most prized possessions. A small scrapbook with a paper mache pink cover. She could never part from it. She couldn't let them take that away from her too.

She walked ahead some more to where the beds had been laid out in a straight line out in the open. It would get dark soon, and cold. She didn't know why they had all been brought here. The people in uniforms wouldn't tell them. Maybe tomorrow they would say something. She hadn't had time to tell her employer that she would be going away, and the landlord would wonder where she had gone. She hoped she'd get to go back tomorrow. There was so much to do, so much to keep an eye over. She would explain things to her employer and her landlord when she got back. The people in uniforms weren't saying anything, and they had taken away the things she had brought with her, but she would never let them find her scrapbook.

Who knows who this young woman was? My dream ended, I never got her name. I couldn't figure out the name of the concentration camp that she had been taken to. I know she died soon after that. She had been surprised when she was dying, because until the very end she had thought that she would be sent back to her job and her apartment, to her life. The camp swallowed her and all the others. I don't know what they did with her body, if it was buried in a mass grave, if it was cremated in one of the ovens at the camp. Her scrapbook disappeared, and her employer, who had been so happy with her work, and her landlord, who was so happy having her as a tenant, never found out what happened to her. They asked around about her for a while and then gave up and found a new secretary, a new tenant. It was as if she had never existed.

She was a good girl, she was a hardworking sincere girl. She was shy but intelligent, and she was supposed to have become a great many things. She was supposed to have met a man who would have run his great fingers through her loose hair. She was meant to have known that kind of love that makes one's body blush, and she was meant to grow old with him, her dark hair turning white because she was meant to have become a petite little grandmother. She was supposed to have family once again and to know that kind of immortality. She existed once, but before anyone could get to know her, she was taken by the holocaust. Nobody knows what happened to her at the camp - the people in uniforms destroyed all their records of the inmates when they lost the war.

I felt so bad for her, for all the things she missed, for all the things she could have been. She did exist, you know, even if there is nothing left to say that she did. But it's okay now, I know she once lived. Somebody now knows that she was once here.

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