EIGHTEEN - Ester
I am so angry at myself for falling for this. I never thought Tomas and Otto could have both been involved in the treachery. And what about Father Petrek? Where does he fit into this scheme? He has been sheltering the Resistance ever since I have known him. I will not believe that he has turned too.
Otto walks up to as I stand there, rooted to the spot. As he draws near, I snap. Without even realising it, my hand lifts and slashes across Otto’s face, shattering the quiet with a clap. He does not react, simply accepts it as if it is his due. He is mistaken if he thinks it is his due....he deserves so much more pain, I do not have enough imagination to comprehend it.
“How could you, Otto!” To my utter shame, my voice breaks on the last word. Mama gets up from where she is sitting in one of the two chairs in the room and walks to me.
“Ester, I will go down with Father Petrek to look at the crypts. Are you okay?” she asks, gently squeezing my arm.
I know what she is asking me, and I am not sure I am okay. Right now, I think I will kill him with my bare hands. I take a deep breath and nod. Tomas tries to slink out after Mama, but I stop him, “Why, Tomas?”
He looks shocked for a minute, as if trying to figure out what I am asking. Then as understanding dawns, he rears back, “No, Ester. I didn’t. Hear him out,” and walks out.
I step into the room. I have to do this. Otto closes the door and stands by it. I need to sit down. So, I take the chair Mama was sitting in, clasp my hands together in my lap, and look up at him. The questions are clear in my eyes. I may not be in a condition to articulate all the questions crowding my head, but I am sure he can read them in my eyes.
He sighs, then closes the distance between us. I flinch, thinking he is going to touch me. But luckily, he keeps his distance and takes the only other chair in the room.
“Ester,” he begins. I want to stop him and rant and rave. But that is not going to get me any answers. So, I maintain eye contact and wait for him. He is obviously struggling to put into words what he wants to say.
“I went and met Fuchs almost a year ago, right after you and Klara started actively working for the Resistance.” He drops the first bomb and waits for my reaction. I have nothing to say to this. A traitor for a day is not much different from a traitor for a year!
“I told him that I will inform him if I ever learned of anything that would be of value to him, on one condition. He would spare you and Klara if you were involved,” he continues.
I gape at him. I never imagined Otto to be so naïve that he’d go and strike a bargain with the devil. I hear the underlying emotion there, he did it so he could save us if we got in trouble. I can’t remain quiet anymore. I voice the question that is burning a hole in my tongue, “How many did you betray?”
He looks shocked at the question! “No one, Ester. No one before this one. I simply wanted to have an out if you ever got into trouble. I only went and informed him this time because I knew that you’d get caught doing this and there would be no way out.”
That’s it. I blow up. “So you thought, going and actively foiling the plan would be the best way to go about saving us?” I nearly screech, stopping myself just in time. I don’t have the luxury to shout my frustration and anger out. That is the surest way to get caught seeing as this church is sitting at a stone’s throw from Petschek Palace!
I take a deep breath, and start again, “This is so ridiculous, it can only be true, Otto! You planned to get me caught so you could help me NOT get caught?? What sort of twisted sense does this make?”
I stop to take a breath and he seizes the opportunity to explain further. “Ester! I told him beforehand so that he would take you into custody as soon as you arrived at the party and then let you go the next day. He assured me himself that is what would happen if I ever informed him in advance of any plot hatched by the resistance that you were involved in.”
I have had it. The fool obviously believes whatever drivel he is spouting and I have no patience for this. Nor do I wish to try and point out the utter stupidity of his plan. I open the door, turn back and say, “Just go, Otto. Leave us alone. And try and not save us again by telling the Germans where we are!”
“He is going to die, Ester,” he bursts out.
“What do you mean?” I wait just inside the door, waiting for him to elaborate on this.
“He is doing really badly, and may not survive the night.”
“Well, at least something good came of all this mess!” I snap at him. Is he feeling bad that the monster is going to die?
“If he dies, they will never stop looking for you,” he whines.
“If you had not told them about the plan, they would not be looking for us at all, you moron!” I spit at him and walk out of the room, closing the door behind me. I don’t want to ever see his face again or hear his voice!
I let out a sigh of relief when he does not follow me out. I walk around, looking for Tomas. I need to talk to him.
“How did he know we were going to come here?” I demand as soon as I see Tomas and join him on one of the pews. He looks at me and sighs. I notice that he looks really tired. he has aged by ten years in the last two days. I don’t even want to think what I look like!
“He was already here, Ester. He is also hiding from them.”
I run out of steam after that. Finally, after a long time, I mutter, “Oh! What a tragic mess!” and go in search of Mama. There is no future for any of us now, barring death. We will try and hold on to life for as long as we can. But, my mind is made up on one thing. The day they find where we are, I am going to kill myself. They will not get me alive.
I just hope that Klara gets out of this alive. I am now ready to follow Tomas in his belief that the German who took away Klara will protect her. I understand now. Desperation breeds belief!