“This is the room but it’s been changed,” I said softly as the old wooden door swung open with a push of my trembling hand. Beside me, my daughter Nadia firmly grasped my shoulder, lending me her support. I led her into the territory that I envisioned every night before I went to sleep. Nadia scanned the bare walls with her eyes and I could still make out the blue smudges on the pillar where Dana and I used to mark our heights, trying to prove that both of us were equally tall. “This is the room where both of us spent our childhood and teenage years, frolicking and playing, gossiping and laughing, indifferent to the world outside where fate awaited to part us forever,” I blankly addressed Nadia, staring at the ceiling where a slimy green lizard curiously looked down at us.
The old dirty paint on the walls was cracking and peeling off in places. The gray cement floor lay bare at our feet. Walking along the perimeter of the room, I narrated, “Every piece of furniture was removed by the Nazis back in 1945, thirty years ago. Now, only the walls remain as solitary memoirs here.” As I spoke it out loud, the walls echoed back my words. Nadia sat cross-legged on the floor underneath the window which was boarded up. She had insisted that she hear the story right here, in this empty room, which seemed to come to life as memories flashed before my eyes.
I sat down beside her, recalling, “We used to sit down here by the window and share our deepest secrets, our desires, give each other advice about anything and everything that bothered us.” Nadia listened intently, focusing her eyes on me as I sketched out the painful narrative of my past. “Dana was closer to me than a best friend, as close as the soul is to the body.” I choked on my words as a well of emotions rose up inside me but Nadia put an arm around me, shaking me lightly. She was realising that the past seemed more real than ever as I recalled it in this room.
“The only difference between us two was that she was a Jew but I had never even thought about that. It was a very trivial thing to think about, as trivial and unimportant as when you see an ant walking along the grass, and leave it on its own,” I went on. “We never knew that such an immaterial thing would ultimately become the cause of our separation.” Nadia nodded her head slowly, as she began to realise what had happened. Pointing to the windows, I told Nadia, “These were boarded up by Dana’s father. The Nazis had spread throughout Europe and sparked the Holocaust, the notorious genocide which wrested away Dana from me.” I quickly wiped away a tear that had made it through the barrier I had put up inside myself.
“Every night, I slept with Dana, never leaving her for even a minute. I did not want her to be taken away from me. Both of us were sixteen at that time, old enough to understand and imagine the worst possible scenarios, ” I replied to Nadia’s questioning look. “The world’s so cruel, Mum,” Nadia whispered, tears welling up in her eyes, as she leaned her head on my shoulder. “It is indeed cruel, dear, ” I agreed. “The war snatched away our fantasies, our hopes and our dreams. We lived in constant terror but we never spoke about it to each other. Silence was like a potion that temporarily calmed our fears inside us.”
“Fate proved itself invincible. Our fears did come true, Nadia,” I murmured. My voice was barely a whisper now. “One fateful night, the soldiers found this house as they located all the French Jews. Dana was sleeping peacefully beside me when they barged into this room. I held Dana close to me and both of us kept screaming, ‘No!’, sobbing wildly, but one of those cruel men pushed me away roughly.” Nadia squeezed her arm around me as I continued to narrate in a bitter tone. “The events of that night are crystal clear to me, Nadia. That same man hit me on the head with the butt of his gun and I instantly fainted. They… they left me alone..” I couldn’t stop the flood of tears now. Nadia wiped them away, saying, “I’m so sorry, Mum.”
However, I wanted to go on, I wanted to complete it there and then, the emotions inside me had been battling for years to be let out. “All the Jews were taken to those fatal concentration camps, Nadia. The rare who came out alive contacted their friends and families. Even today, I still wait for Dana, Nadia. I know that if she is out there somewhere, she will come to me.” Nadia started sobbing too and this time, I held her strongly. I whispered to the bare walls of Dana’s room, “I know it is a childish fantasy, but I have to depend upon it, to survive.” I gently pulled up Nadia, and she led me out of the room. As I closed the door behind me, it seemed that Dana was standing in the doorway, waving goodbye.