TWO - Ester
I am pedalling the bicycle like there is no tomorrow. To be fair, for the reason that I am in such a hurry, there is no tomorrow. What has to be done, has to be done tonight. If we fail tonight, the little light that has dared show up at the end of the long, dark tunnel of our existence will be snuffed. Despair will once again be our only companion.
If I think about failure and its consequences, I know I will not be able to function. And I need to be in top gear tonight. So, I throw away all negativity and concentrate on getting home. I still cannot believe that, of all the days, the nurse supervisor had to pick today to ask me to type up the inventory report. That had taken the better part of an hour. Add to that, I had ended up making mistakes in my hurry to get out. Not surprisingly, I had to stay even longer to fix those up. By the time I was done, I was sure that the nurse supervisor’s eyes had eyes!
Obviously, I have been in my thoughts for too long as it is because the next thing I see is a child rushing onto the road from one of the apartments that line the streets of Žižkov. I veer sharply to the left, lose my balance and crash on to the road. But, at least the child is safe, back in his mother’s arms who had been right behind the child. It never ceases to amaze me how little children can put on bursts of speed and strength at the most inopportune moments. And it is one such inopportune moment that has ended with me sprawled on the road, with my palms and knees skinned and most likely my ankle broken.
I am furious, with the poor child, with myself and most of all with this oppressive, heavy feeling of helplessness which is sucking away all life around me. Everything always boils down to that finally. The way our lives have changed since the Nazis marched in all those, interminably long, three years ago. The cars are gone. The trams are dirty. The people are terrified. But at least, as my mother always reminds me, we are alive. Most of the Jews in the city are not. At least we think they are not. The Nazis like to tell us they have simply been ‘relocated’. I hate being angry all the time. I hate this hatred that has consumed me.
As I collect my sprawled self from the road and am about to try and stand up, a car drives up and stops next to me. A pair of shiny black boots come into my line of sight. I look up to see a pair of angry (?)...no extremely irritated pale blue eyes under straight, thick, blond eyebrows staring down at me. As if the stare is going to help me get up on my feet! I suddenly have a target for all my anger and a very deserving one too! So, I give him my own version of a death-glare.
“Are you alright, fraulein?” The deep, thick as a blanket and definitely irritated, voice rolls over me, as I see an arm extended, presumably to help me up. I hold my glare and snap back, “What do you care. You can drive around me. Or over me, which I am sure is just the same to you!” The irritation leaves the man’s eyes. To my horror, it seems to be replaced by amusement! The rest of his face, though, is still quite like a rock. I notice that the man is, for lack of a more suitable word, sharp. His eyebrows, as I mentioned earlier, are thick and sharp. So is his, a tad too long, nose and his mouth. All sharp, knife’s edge. While I am lost, once again, in my too present thoughts, I realise that the man has bent from his very considerable height, and has grabbed me by the arm. The grip is not painful, just firm, as he pulls me to my feet.
He is a Nazi and I am a Czech. So, of course, I am honour bound to kick the proverbial, and in this case very real, helping hand. But before I can do something heroic, like slap him across his handsome Aryan face, my ankle gives way. In retrospect, I realised that it was just as well. Otherwise, I might have followed through on my impulse to cause the Nazi physical harm and in the process gotten myself locked up...and...well, again in retrospect, not entirely sure what would have happened. Because, as it is nothing went to plan after that...at all!
Anyways, as I was saying, before I can vent my anger and frustration physically, my ankle folds. Instinctively, I reach out and grab the man’s coat, just as he loops his arm around me to stabilise me. I make do with continuing the death glare. It doesn’t seem to be making any difference to him, but it makes me feel better. So I keep it up.
“Tell me your address,” he commands. I realise that his voice and intonation actually scares me. But, I am nothing if not stubborn, and, let’s not forget, impulsive. So, conveniently overlooking the fact that at this very moment I am on my own two feet simply because he is holding me up, I snap back, “Like hell...” (I meant to say 'Like hell I am going to tell you' but I never get to finish.) The man holds his hand up imperiously in the age-old sign for me to shut up. And, like an idiot, I do. “Either you tell me your address, fraulein, or I will dump you at Petschek Palace. Before I count to three,” he threatens.
Well, then, when you put it like that! I so do not want to see the inside of the palace now that it is the Gestapo headquarters. I quickly tell him my address. He angles his head slightly to the left and says, "Start the car, Joachim." I am shocked when I realise that I have missed another entire Nazi, standing not two meters away from me all this time! Instantly, Joachim who must be an aide to this man, clips, “Yes, Generalmajor," turns around and gets in the car. I don’t get any time at all to think about the Generalmajor bit because he has picked me up and is striding towards the car. I decide not to display my outrage at being picked up like a sack of flour. I am more worried about the fact that I am leading the wolf to my doorstep. This is a very unsettling thought, indeed!
I was not far from home when I fell, so it does not take the car long at all to get there. The Generalmajor gets out of the car, once again picks me up and raps on the door. I pray that it is not Tomas who opens the door. He has this incredibly dangerous habit of speaking before he has seen what’s in front of him, let alone think about what he is spouting! But then I do not want it to be Klara either. She is not a clutz like Tomas, but she is my little sister and I just don’t want this Nazi to see her. I hope it is not Otto...he will blow his top, and once again try to talk me out of tonight’s operation. I just don’t want this door to open!
I redirect myself back outside of my brain, where all these thoughts are rattling around, when I hear the door open, followed by a soft gasp. It is Klara. The Generalmajor puts me on my feet gently (the man is seriously having trouble sticking to his role of the nasty Nazi here!) and says, “Her ankle is broken. She will require a doctor.” Right, I forgot, the man does not say anything. He commands. So, he commands and lets go of me when he is certain that Klara is supporting me. Now comes the tough part. I have to thank him. Oh! How I wish I could swallow my tongue, or even better close my eyes and make all this go away. But, as always, Klara helps me out. “Thank you very much for bringing her home, mein Herr.” The Generalmajor again tilts his head to acknowledge Klara, turns around and is off.
But now, he has seen me and Klara. I am worried about what it will mean as tonight’s events unfold.