Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents are products of the author’s imagination. This is not to hurt/offend the sentiments of any individual, community, sect or religion or country. But to take a lesson to respect every life.
She was my friend, the best one I ever had. Her smile reached her eyes. Though her smiles are not what I remember her by. I remember her by her screams and her skeleton body.
I am Tara, but this is not my story. This the story of a girl who always smiled. We talked about everything. She was a Jew. My family despised her. I don’t know why. My mother asked me to make promises to never see her again. Every morning my mother would remind me and every time I lied, “I don’t even talk to her”. I lied for her. However, a day came when I had to lie to her.
She was the quiet, petite girl. All the teachers praised her. She was what they call the perfect girl. She always finished her assignments on time and was always ready to help people. She wanted to see the world. That was her dream. I never felt jealous of her though. I always felt proud of her. After all, I was her best friend, and she was mine.
One day they gave her a yellow star. She didn’t like to wear it. She always tried to cover it with books, scarf. The German students started avoiding her. She thought I would one day start avoiding her too. She wasn’t poor like other Jew people. Soon her father’s garment business was Aryanised- it was given to non-Jew people. Jews didn’t have any say in this. She never talked badly about Germans or what was happening was unfair. Probably she was scared, probably she didn’t care, probably she didn’t think much of it. I don’t know. I could never bring myself to ask her.
A day came soon enough when they were thrown out of their own home. I don’t know why her parents didn’t leave Slovakia. My parents always said that they would have left the country. I once questioned her indirectly, “Some people are leaving the country. What do you think?”. To which she looked down and answered, “there is nowhere to go”. I just held her hands and then we cried. I was ashamed that I was a German.
And finally, the day came which we all feared. The war broke and the Germans invaded. We were scared but safe. “We have nothing to worry about”, my mother said. Mother lied or probably she didn’t know herself. Germans were friends with no one, not even to other Germans. They started coming to everybody’s home for free food, lodging, maltreating everyone.
The last day I saw her healthy was when she asked me, “Will they find us?”. I looked into her eyes. I didn’t have the audacity to tell the truth, so I lied, “No! don’t worry. I am here”. But I could do nothing. Then she was gone, I don’t know where she went. She and her family disappeared.
After a few months, I took a job as a nurse as customary for my age girls. My first assignment was in a camp, in one of those dreadful camps. I searched her all over as much as I could, knowing it was like looking for a white cat in a snowstorm, among those thousands of camps and millions of prisoners. I questioned the camp in-charges, the government officials, and my friends- all in vain.
After working here for two months, one day a girl came running and hugged me. “Tara!”. Of course, I knew it was her. All the charm and smile had drained out of her. She still was my best friend. “Save me, my darling!”, she screamed. A couple of soldiers came and dragged her away, never to be seen again. I could do nothing. I heard her screams from distance. Over the years, her smile gradually faded away from my memories. But, her eerie scream echoed in my ear and still does. I haven’t forgiven my country, my society, my parents, and most of all- myself.
(c) 2018 PRIYA BAJPAI ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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