The door crashed open without any resistance. The soldier responsible for forcing the door open looked disappointed, as if he had expected more of a challenge. He kicked the door again. Just to be sure.
More soldiers milled in. The family of Jews residing in the house cowered in fear.
In 1943, Nazi Germany was a perilous place to live in.
The family was ordered to step out, no, herded out, like cattle, serving no other purpose but to the slaughter. Barefooted and with the children close to tears, they shuffled out; heads hung low, feet making imprints in the mud. Guilty without ever committing a crime.
It was raining outside. The captain of the troop brayed insults at them, himself completely unaffected by the steady drizzle. A little child, the youngest daughter, could not contain herself and started crying. She was immediately silenced.
Then they were taken away. Their neighbours never saw them again, though their thoughts did not linger long with the family. It became an unspoken matter but each understood that the same fate would be laid upon them one day.
A lone soldier made his way back into the house. Now eerily quiet with only the ghostly echoes of its previous occupants. He was tasked with the duty of checking the house for valuables. He was young, this soldier, could not have been older than twenty five. He had just joined the army; it was not by choice. There was nothing else that he could do.
He made his way around the house. His demeanour was careful, unlike the behaviour of some of his senior comrades. Maybe it was because he had actually viewed those people as humans, or maybe it was because he was new on the job, still wet behind the ears.
They had good furniture in the house. Sturdy, he noted as he ran his hands down the woodwork. He wasn't sure if the army would want the furniture or not, but he took it down in his notebook, just in case.
He glanced up just as he finished scribbling and noticed a peculiar wall. Upon closer inspection, he found that there was a very fine outline of a small door, about half his height, cleverly painted to make it look like there was nothing there. Indeed, if he had not happened to chance on it, he may have had missed it.
Later, he realised how good of a job they did concealing it when his hand knocked against a doorknob as he attempted to prise it open. The doorknob lay snugly in his grasp, he did not know what to expect. At the very least, some cherished oil paintings, at the most, a treasured family heirloom.
Instead, he found a young woman. The same raven black hair, the identical dark brown eyes, he knew that it was her family members that they had taken away. His only plausible explanation to her presence was that she must have been elsewhere in the house when they came and this had become her choice of refuge. If he was forced to take a guess at her age, he would have said that she was not older than twenty five.
Her tear stricken face and red-rimmed eyes did not escape him.
The sound of heavy boots in the house reached his ears. He placed a finger on his lips, conveying that she should be quiet, and slowly closed the door. He stood up just as a fellow soldier entered the room. He turned around to face his comrade.
"Nothing much of value here." He said, with a look of disdain at his surroundings.
The first time round, he brought food.
He knelt in front of the door and knocked lightly on it. Nobody answered. He chastised himself for being stupid enough to think that she would answer.
He twisted the doorknob, it opened slightly. Tentatively pushing it open, he peered inside, wondering if she was still there. She was.
But the look in her eyes made him stay away. The fear in her chocolate eyes was painfully evident. He wanted to reassure her, but it felt like she would crumble if he touched her.
He crawled into the space a little, just so he can be nearer to her. She frantically scuttled away. A look of pain and terror on her features, her body crouched into a foetal position.
Seeing her so frightened of him, he felt a pang of guilt. He could no longer face her. With only silence between them, he placed the bag of his own rations on the floor, pushed it near her feet, turned around and left.
He brought food again the second time he went.
She remained as unapproachable as ever, the previous bag of rations lay untouched. He told her that she must eat, but her fear once again, turned him away.
The third visit. He decided it was time he broke the ice. He sat at the doorway and told her tales of his childhood. She remained silent; he could not tell if she was listening.
Fourth, halfway through his stories, she dared risked a look at him. Her eyes held a million unanswerable questions. Why had her family been taken away? Why were they persecuted for having dark hair and dark eyes? He would not have known. He, himself, had brown eyes. Brown was a dangerous eye colour to have. He could only shake his head and look away.
Fifth, she placed a hand on his, just as he was about to leave, disappointed once more, and managed a very hoarse "Thank you." He looked back and gave her a smile. That was the last time he kept count.
He could not see to her as often as he liked, it was difficult to get away. But he managed to go at least once a week, she needed the food, and he'd like to think that she needed his company as well. She would have liked him to come more often, but the situation was unlikely, and she was contented.
Once, while pacing the streets, a leaf fell unto his shoulder. It was a fiery red. Faintly recalling that she had not been out in the sun for a very long time, he made a bold decision. He would bring the outside to her.
That week, his gift to her was a shower of red, brown and orange. Leaves sprinkled over her as she kept her eyes closed, like he asked her to. She said she loved the feel of the prickly vegetation against her skin. He was happy that she was. Her laughter stay carved in his mind.
In the time of transition between autumn and winter, one particular visit stuck to his mind.
It started with just one question.
What did they do in the concentration camps?
His throat constricted and he found it difficult to swallow, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down, his mind blank. He had no idea on how he could possibly tell her.
Treat it as an anecdote, she told him. If only it was that easy, but she wanted, needed to know.
He had never been to the camps personally, but there were tales. He had to put on a brave front as his army buddies regaled stories of trains arriving at the camps, half of its occupant already dead; the gas chambers, spewing their poisonous vapours, where women and children were cramped into. The hard labour survivors were put through - their faces impassive despite the pain, the hunger and the thirst - and what struck him as most cruel, the constant shovelling of dead bodies into the ever hungry furnaces, the work done by the family members of the dead themselves. They laughed and told jokes; he smiled and tried not to vomit.
He told her everything, the ugly truth, unmasked, pure in its terror, and she listened.
For a long time after that, he held her, expecting her to burst into tears at any moment, but she remained unbearably silent. He gathered the courage to look at her and he saw, written on her face, a grief that was beyond tears or words. He wished he had not looked, her grief scared him.
The harsh winter that came saw her shivering under the thin blankets salvaged from her home. Her petite frame not built to sustain the cold. He could not bear to see her in that state. He gave her his wool coat. They huddled under it, sharing in a warm embrace.
The street where her house still stands had long been deserted, its' people forced out.
One day, he received news that a person had been found. He rushed to the scene.
She avoided his eyes, he avoided looking at her. Both knew the consequences if he was found to be sheltering her. They forced her onto her knees, the snow bit into her legs. His heart ached.
The coat he had given her was discarded to the side. The heavy material had a large tear down the back, the sleeves were ripped. They had pulled it off her forcefully. She must have clung on, oh how must she have clung on. Clung on to the wretched coat her beloved had gifted her. The coat that had kept her warm and which still carried his scent long after he left.
With any luck, they would not notice the fabric of the coat, no Jew in these hard times could afford a coat as such, all belongings of theirs had been confiscated a long time ago. With any luck, they would choose to send her to the concentration camps. With any luck, he would be able to sneak her off halfway through the journey, off to somewhere safe and warm.
With any luck, they would both survive this ordeal and grow old together.
"Shoot her." Never had these two words shaken him so much. His surroundings became a blanket of silence. Jumbled thoughts rushed through his mind. They can't do that. He needed more time. They needed more time together. What if he pleaded with the captain? That would only put him in trouble and then there would be no chance of salvation for either of them.
Every question that he posed in his mind, every plan that he came up with that could possibly ensure their survival was shot down. Despair welled in him. Outside noises began to filter in, he realised that the captain was talking to him.
"What are you waiting for? I ordered you to shoot!" His captain barked at him, voice rough from so much yelling. The captain's face was red, the veins stuck out visibly, and he noted with little humour that the captain's moustache quivered with every syllable.
"Shoot her, you dog!"
His hands shook so badly, the gun in its grasp, the muzzle pointing at the back of her head, it was so obvious. Why won't his hands keep still? Why won't they stop shaking? He needed them to stop shaking; they could not betray him at a moment like this.
"Are you fucking scared?!"
He wished the captain would shut up, he wished he could hug her, he wished they hadn't met.
The gunshot resounded in the stillness of the air.
She slumped forward, blood trickling out of her nose. Her eyes were wide and glassy.
Soft snow fell. The year was 1943.
A/N: It isn't much, but I really like this piece. What brought it on, I can't say for sure. I hope that people can appreciate this story as much as I do. I'm not one for happy endings. A review is much appreciated.
NOTE - This is a revised version of the story. I have updated and changed it to a different year. 1939 wasn't the right year, at that time they haven't begin shipping the Jews to the camps yet. It only started in the early 1940s. Sorry about that.