It was raining. Hard. Like the sky was crying about the war. Crying for the souls that were lost, taken, suffering, and for the ones to go. But the war had taken its toll on everyone. There was never enough food. We were living in constant fear of bombs, war, guns, death. But even in times like these, there would be joy, but tonight was not one of them.
There was a loud knock on the door. My mother rose from the dinner table to see who it was. She strode to the door and timidly turned the knob.
“Hello?” She asked calling out into the storm.
“James?” She questioned “Is that you?”
“Please come in.”
James was an old friend, he was a Jew and Jews were dangerous because of the problems that plagued them wherever they went.
” Why did you come here?”
His voiced changed. It was suddenly filled with sadness, sorrow, and longing. “I need a place to hide. Please Rosa, please just for a few days.”
Mama’s face went pale as the blood rushed towards her toes.
“Sure James, I’ll get you some dry clothes and we’ll set up a bed in the attic. “
“Thank you, I am forever grateful.”
“Come with me,” Mama said. Their footsteps faded as they climbed the stairs.
Papa turned to me.
“Annabel?” he looked as pale as mama.
“You mustn’t mention this to anyone,” he blankly stated.
” What about Emma?” I questioned. Emma was my best friend and she was a Jew.
” Especially Emma,” he said raising his hands to his temples. He began to rub them in small circles. “Go to your room, it’s time for bed.” I put my plate and silverware away and trudged up to my room. I flopped onto my bed and began to think. Why was being a Jew so bad? What did they do wrong? What were they afraid of? All that was said was that they would take them away but where? And what happened there? I thought harder. None of the Jews that had been taken ever came back. Then it hit me. They couldn’t come back. I couldn’t figure out why not but I knew they couldn’t.
“Annabel?” my mother asked peeking her head through the doorway.
“Tell anyone about James. I know, mama, papa told me.”
“OK,” she said. She looked exhausted.
“Mama will you braid my hair?”
“Sure Annabel,” she smiled and sat back down.
I found comfort in the familiar tug of her fingers weaving through my blonde hair. My safe blonde hair as mama once told me. But my vibrant green eyes were not so safe. She tied my hair, kissed me goodnight, and went downstairs. I laid in that dark silent room for what seemed like an eternity.
“Rosa,” papa said. I could hear his voice float through the floorboards. I pushed off the covers and pressed my ear to the cold, wooden floorboards.
“You know that it’s not safe to let him stay here. What if there was a search?We can take the chance not with Annabel.”
“It’s just for a few…”
“Rosa I know but you know you won’t let him leave.”
I could hear the change in mama’s voice.
“Please Markus, don’t do this,” she pleaded.
“I’m going to bed.”
“Rosa,” he inhaled, “I know that you want to save everyone but some people can’t be saved.”
“Rosa, what about saving yourself?” he was starting to get angry. I could hear it.
“What do you mean?”
“By keeping him here you are not keeping us safe, let alone yourself. You are not saving yourself,” papa’s voice changed at the end of those words. His voice broke and I could hear the sorrow flow into his voice.
“Markus some people can’t save themselves, they need…”
“ROSA!” the volume of his voice rising, “What about what we need? What about what Annabel needs?”
Mama didn’t respond. I could hear the blood rushing through my head as the house fell silent.
“I’m going to bed,” papa repeated.
I could hear the creaking of the floorboards below as papa rose from his chair onto his feet. His footsteps began the ascent up the staircase. I pushed myself off the floor and scrambled under the covers. The hallway creaked and groaned underneath papa’s weight as he clambered towards my door. The doorknob turned and the hinges screeched as papa pushed open the door. Light flooded across the floor.
“Goodnight Annabel ,” he said thinking I was asleep.
Papa shut the door and walked away. I closed my eyes really tight and attempted to fall asleep. After what seemed like hours of endless staring into the darkness my coursity got the best of me. I pulled off the covers and placed my feet onto the cold, wooden floor. I padded over to the door, slowly opening it until there was a crack large enough for me to slip through. I closed the door quietly behind me. I tiptoed down the hall passed the door to my parents room, and found myself at the foot of the staircase leading up to the attic. I surveyed the ascent in the darkness. James was up there. I put my hand on the rail and forced my foot onto the bottom stair. I looked up the stairs, took a deep breath and began clambering up the stairs until the old, oak door loomed in front of me. I put my hand on the metal doorknob, turning it I pushed the door open and slipped through the doorframe. The room was darker than I expected lit only by a small candle only a meter from his face. The attic seemed eerie,spooky, scary even. I walked over to him but I stopped a meter away, at the candle. The candle cast short, shallow, shadows across the walls, flickering with the movement of the flame. I took a step closer, then another. My foot must have hit a creaky board because as the small squeak echoed through the attic, James stirred in his slumber. He turned over and instead of facing the wall he was facing me. His eyelids fluttered open to reveal electric blue eyes.
“Hello,” he spoke softly.
“H-h-h-hello,” I stuttered.
” I see that I need to hide myself better,” he smiled.
” I guess so,” I found myself smiling as well.
“What brings you up here?” He asked.
He leaned closer, I could feel his breath in my ear as he whispered “Well I think that curiosity is the best trait we have.” He leaned away and winked. I didn’t know what to say but I found my smile spreading.
“So Annabel, do you remember me?”
“I suppose not,” he sighed, ” The last time I saw you was when you were almost three. I remember you used to toddle across the floor in the living room into your mother’s arms. She would catch you and give you kisses all over your face while picking you up. You would turn your head and bury it in her neck but she always got you,” he said gazing at me with wistful eyes. I vaguely recalled that day. My short plaid dress, my hair in two braids down my back.
“I don’t mean to be rude but how long are you staying?”
“Honestly I don’t know,” he said gazing through me.
“James?” I whispered my voice becoming barely audible.
“Yes,” he leaned closer.
“W-w-what did you do wrong?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why are Jews hated and taken away?”
“Because we are different. We believe in something different.”
“Why is that bad?”
” Differences scare people and so does change. People feel most comfortable with people who are like them. People don’t understand differences and that scares them. They think everyone who is different is in the wrong.”
“But isn’t everyone different?”
“Yes but when it’s significant it’s bad, in some people’s eyes.”
“But why?” My voice quickly decreasing in volume.
“I don’t know why we were chosen to be hated.”
“I wish it wasn’t like this.”
“Me too, Annabel, me too,” he said dozing off.
I suddenly realized how tired I was.
Pushed myself off the floor, padded downstairs and went to bed. As soon as my head hit my pillow I was pulled into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I got dressed and immediately sprinted up to the attic. James was not there. I bolted down both flights of stairs in my house and down into the kitchen where I was greeted by the smell and sound of eggs frying. My mother was cooking breakfast.
“MAMA!” I yelled screeching to a stop.
“Where is James?”
“He’s on a boat to America,” she said blankly still making breakfast.
My mother hesitated before she turned and smiled, “For good.”
“Thank you mama.”
“For keeping him safe, he deserves it more than anyone else I’ve ever met.”
“I know Annabel and that’s why I did it, to save him because all some people need is a little help.”
“Thank you mama,” I repeated.
“It was my pleasure,” she winked turning her back to me to finish cooking.
“Good luck James, stay safe,” I whispered under my breath as I walked out of the room. For now we were both safe.