Look down, never look in their eyes. Keep looking down.
As my icy, blistered feet splash the mud below, I keep telling myself to never look up. Never into their eyes.
My frayed dress is now sticking to my ankles as I slowly wade from my rooms across the yard. The flutter of the hem is so soft on my raw skin, it almost tickles.
It feels like a butterfly.
I let my mind wander back to my daughter. We used to have pastel pink Mallow Flowers all over the back of our yard. Butterflies would gather every season, mating, pollinating, and fluttering about, putting on the most beautiful show for my daughter, Hannah. She would scream, jump, and dance alongside them. After the performances were over for the afternoon, Hannah would run up and give me her butterfly kisses, smooshing her face into mine, blinking as fast as her little eyes could manage.
A tear falls onto my threadbare dress.
Stop thinking, keep walking. Don't look up.
My husband, Samuel, and I had only moved recently from our home to this country.
"Think of all the great opportunities! We can raise Hannah closer to your family, show her more culture and let her experience all the amazing food! Think of the food, honey, think of the food!" I laughed and laughed at him. He was so energetic, so happy, so full of hope.
When we bought our first house here, Hannah was excited too. With the butterfly flowers, grassy space, and travel ways, she finally had a proper place to play and grow up. That first Christmas, Sam made her a bicycle. We couldn't afford those "real ones" yet, but he made the next best thing! Finding scraps behind the warehouse he used to work at, he fused together this little orange bike. She was so excited unwrapping it Christmas morning that Sam and I had to actually cover our ears. She was screaming so loud.
With the ache in my heart so sore my stomach churns with nausea, I remember my family. A cry moves up my throat in a dry knot, I blink back the sting of tears in my tired eyes.
I must not break. I must have hope.
After what seemed like hours trudging through the bitter rain, I finally got to the tiny warm kitchen. I inhale the buttery, floury scent of fresh bread and walk over to my workstation. This month, Laura, our resident green thumb, has harvested as many winter vegetables as this weather allowed. We have cabbage, wild garlic, mushrooms, fennel, and potatoes. Sometimes we get lucky with a few berries, but this month has been particularly hard on our garden.
I start chopping, dicing, and preparing the potato and fennel soup we are going to pair with the bread loaves for supper. I decide to mash up some of the wild garlic Laura harvested and sprinkled that into the boiling pot for added flavor. That’s my trick, if I am low on ingredients and my dish needs an extra umph, I add garlic. Once my garlic smashing is completed, I raise my blistered, weathered hands to my face and inhale. The smell of garlic reminds me of Hannah.
Whenever Sam and I made a supper with garlic, Hannah would scurry with her tiny little feet and make camp under the table. If a piece of garlic or spare hunk of bread fell, she’d slather the garlic over the crusty bread and take a big bite. She loved garlic and bread together. Sam and I always found it so odd, how such a teensy human could create such a big smell after eating garlic! We would have to make her chew mint while sitting in the bath to just tone down the smell even a little!
I find myself softly smiling down at my workstation, fading back into reality, now realizing how my hands have completely stopped working.
Keep working, keep going. Do not let them see you stop.
Laura shuffled in. Most of her hair has fallen out now and her skin is so papery-thin that I can see her muscles pull and shift beneath as she lays out today’s pickings. I know she’s stopped eating, that’s why she looks so weak. I’ve tried and pleaded to her to keep going, keep eating, to keep fighting. She never says a word. I know why. She hasn’t seen her son or husband in over 3 years and deep down I think she knows. I think as mother, you can feel it. That pull deep down in your belly. And once it’s gone, there’s nothing much to keep going for. Especially here.
It's only been less than a year for me. I think that’s why I have more fight.
After finishing up the loaves of bread for the evening I start to clean down my table. I wipe the powdery flour on my soiled apron when the speakers sound…
The men in green flood in grabbing Laura by the arm, almost pulling it out of the socket as they drag her into the bus outside.
I haven’t been here a year, I am okay. Laura is the sick one. I can still work.
As I continue to clean my table, tears fall into the powdery substance, creating little clouds of flour. I am cleaning has fast and as hard as I can. I want to show them my worth. That I am useful here. I start to set out the cooked breads, vegetables, and soups on the table to display that I am needed here, that women would starve without me.
ALLE VON IHNEN! (all of them)
My stomach drops as my mouth turns to sand. Bile rises into my throat and sweat prickles the back of my neck. I grab onto the table for support as my lunch is spewed all over the newly prepared food.
This cannot happen. There’s a mistake.
My head spins and my vision fades.
Now, the men in green are yanking my arm along with the rest of the kitchen team. Pushing us on to the cattle bus, I stumble in and find an empty spot. I nearly crash down into one of the other women.
That’s what they call it.
The young woman seated next to me started soiling herself. Her shrieks rip through my ear drums making my skull vibrate.
We all know where we’re going. We’ve all been here long enough to know procedure.
My eyes focus on the passing landscape outside. As I watch the world one more time, I rest my hand over my chest. Pressing down, trying to calm down and focus on prayer, Hannah and Sam. I send a prayer up to God to watch over Hannah, Sam and the rest of the prisoners. Pleading that this will be the last shower time. Because now I know, no matter how hard you work to prove your value here, it doesn’t matter.
Standing inside the cement room, I close my eyes.
Orange bikes, garlic and bread, butterfly flowers, Hannah, Sam….
...and as drops of gas vapors started to trickle in, they felt like butterfly kisses.