“Happy birthday,” chuckled Katy with her usual grin, only a million times wider.
“So, your eleven! Oh darling…” Mama cried, tears in her eyes.
“Good old days,” commented dear Aunt Beth.
The little girl stumbled towards her presents, dizzy from all the excitement, and eager for what was up ahead…
“Happy birthday,” whispered Miria to herself. She traced over the long-forgotten words that had been carved onto the old oak tree.
Miria trembled, and felt uneasy. The place was different now. The table which all the presents had once stood grandly on, the one with all of the tigers and dragons and unicorns painted on it, was just a block of wood with some childish drawings. The old gramophone which had boomed out all of the songs for the children to play musical statues, was covered in dust and falling apart, as if it too, was tired and weary. And even…
Even the good old tire swing which had comforted her when Aba didn’t get her the doll she liked, was now on the ground, no longer able to fight.
Everything around her was dead. Dead silent. Dead tired. Dead.
She blinked back the tears. It would no longer be tears anyways. Only saltiness and sad memories. She found it hard to remember that eight years ago, this had been her home.
This had been the place that she had shared all of those happy memories with her loved ones. This had been the place for tears to be shed and comfort to be made. A place that was safe.
Miria almost laughed. It wasn’t like anywhere was safe, no, not even now.
“We. Need. To. Go. Now.”
The girl’s eyes turned wide in terror. She didn’t know what was going on, but she didn’t need to either. She could tell it was bad, because of the darkness in her mother’s eyes.
She was smart for her age, quick witted and never questioning.
She raced up to her room and stuffed a few random jackets and trousers and other clothes in. They weren’t coming back.
She took one last look at her neat bedroom with all the kitten and puppy posters, and the stuffed toys lying down face first on the floor.
“Bye bye.” she muttered softly, and ran down, trying to forget.
She fingered her limp waist length hair. It was growing like always. Fast. Miria was relieved that her time with hair the length of a fairytale princess would be finally over, as soon as she found a pair of scissors. She hadn’t enjoyed it. Ever since the Nazi’s had invaded her home and taken everything away from her…
Miria bit her lip to stop them from spilling out all over again.
To survive, you must be strong.
Babushka’s last words, still echoing in her head.
Be strong. What does it even mean? Be strong… Be strong…
Miria looked at the scars on her hands.
Were they the meaning of being strong?
She didn’t understand anything anymore.
The train trip was hard. The mother held on tight to a screaming baby, trying to calm it down with hushed, quiet words.
The little girl clutched her dress and closed her eyes tightly, so that she wouldn’t see the sight that lay before her.
It was cramped, with hardly any room to breath. It was filled with all sorts of people. The elderly, the young, adults. Yet there were similarities between everyone. They all hated Hitler. And everyone wanted to go back home.
The air was filled with nastly putrid aroma that drifted into their noses. Diseases. Death.
“Mama.” she wanted to say. “ Mama, can we go back home?”
But she already knew the answer.
The girl walked slowly up the stairs. The long forgotten ones that were creaky from every step. She held her breath as she opened the door.
It was still the same. Nothing had been touched. Everything was exactly the way she had left it. Maybe it was because there was no need to search a child’s room. Not an innocent one like this.
Miria smiled, for the first time in a long time. She began to accept it.
Screams. Tears. Crys.
She pressed her hands on her ears, blocking it all out.
And yet it was still there. Like a living nightmare.
“Mama.” she sobbed. “MAMA!”
Heaved onto a stranger’s shoulder. Taken away.
The girl tried to make sense of her life. Even if it was just a little bit that she understood. She longed for the knowledge. And yet, she longed to never be told the answers. It would ruin her. She knew that all right. It would carve a hole inside of her, a hole that could never be anything but a hole. She felt the dusty old children's novel in her hand. The beautiful gold lettering with so many swirls and curves. Miria still remembered when she had taken a pad of her special art paper, carefully ripping it out, and trying so hard to copy the font exactly. She walked over to the little bedside table, the one with all of the blue moons and fairies with wild expressions and forget-me-not eyes her father had engraved. She opened the last drawer and took out a box. It was inky-black, plain and uninteresting. Probably why they missed it. She held it to her chest and blinked hard. Miria opened the box.
She thought of her mother and wept.
Eventually, she fell asleep. When she woke up, she was greeted with the smell of burnt toast and cold tea.
She wondered where she was, and how long she had been asleep for.
Then she remembered.
A man, the same man that had carried her the previous night strolled in, whistling a merry tune.
He pointed at the food next to her, and nodded at her to eat it. The girl looked at him with curiosity. Wide dark brown eyes, dark curly hair, lopsided grin, long lashes. He was no doubt Jewish.
“Where am I?” was the first thing she asked.
Miria clasped the necklace in her hand. It was made of fool's gold and had a shiny metal dolphin dangling from it. To them, it would be worth anything. But to her, it was priceless. The metal made her hands smell like fish and blood and cats. She kissed it, and slipped it over her head. At least one thing was back where it belonged.
When Miria wore the necklace, she felt as though they were all still alive. She felt like she wasn’t alone.
She felt sad. She felt happy.
The man later introduced himself as Eliyahu. He was younger than she expected, only twenty-one years old. He told her that he was saving children like her from the gas chambers. She didn’t know what they were, but she didn’t want to know either. It didn't sound like the best thing in the world. He told her that she must hide in his basement from now on. There was a hidden door there, leading to a small room where two more children lived. He showed her a map of two escape routes, and a pipe where wrapped up food and water-bottles with water inside would be delivered. They would have a notebook for drawing and writing, and color pencils. Talking was strictly forbidden. Sleep would be on a large mattress all together with a few blankets and pillows.
She was pushed in, and greeted by two thin, pale children who introduced themselves as Lila and Ezra. Lila was a tall girl with awkward limbs, a rather large mouth, and short chin length hair. She looked about fifteen or so.
Ezra was around eight, and his eyes were quite startling, the way they stared right into you.
The girl had no idea how she was going to fit in.
Miria sat. She sat and thought and daydreamed like she was allowed to so long ago. Though the war was over, so much was destroyed. Well, at least not the place that used to be her home. Part of her wanted it to be wrecked, out of her life forever, so that it wouldn't be so hard to stay strong. She hated them. Especially Hitler. He was the very worst.
Food was getting scarcer. They shared it evenly, two pieces of bread, a potato and a bottle of water each. It was hard not to sneak out and raid the fridge.
She often found herself dreaming about food.
Still, she was lucky enough. With enough to survive.
The children passed notes instead of talking. They drew silly pictures to cheer each other up. But the boredom was too much.
Even worse was the toilet issue. The room stank of poo and wee. They had to all do it in public in little bucket. Nobody complained. Not that they were allowed to.
Miria went to Mama's room. It was bad.
There were papers everywhere, and chairs were knocked over.
She struggled to remember what it had looked like.
Neat as a pin, Aba would often say.
They ran away one night. Or at least tried to run away.
Eliyahu caught them, but he didn't shout. And he couldn't shout anyways. Instead, he did the next worst thing. He didn't empty their bucket for a week.
The children stayed there, but they won't children anymore. Everyone from ten to twelve was a preteen. Thirteen to seventeen year olds were teenagers. Everyone eighteen and above was an adult. They grew up. And then Eliyahu died. Two weeks before the war ended.
She couldn’t stand it anymore, next to so many memories. It was painful, like a wounded heart. Miria listened to the beat.
Badum. Badum. Badum.
The girl remembered swimming at the beach. The soft, calm waves drifting her away, away, away.
‘My little dolphin’, her mother would call her.
Now she was trapped. Like a dolphin held by chains.