Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Reason They Came

      Her gnarled fingers shook as she tapped the photograph.  "I remember this day!"  The wrinkles around her eyes deepened with pleasure and she patted her mouth with an unsteady hand.
      "This little girl?  That was you?" The investigating high-schooler leaned forward, her curly brown hair falling over her shoulder in eagerness, though her voice was gentle and patient.  "You were adorable.  I'm surprised the soldiers didn't pick you up and take you home with them!"  A little bit of teasing crept into her voice.
      "I think they almost did."  The old woman chuckled.  Then her face grew serious.  "My mama..." She stroked the edge of the photo.  " mama was so frightened.  But she was so afraid of EVERYTHING.  She was afraid when Hitler came to power.  She was afraid when the Nazi's invaded.  She was afraid when the laws started changing and people started disappearing.  She was afraid when the Allied Forces arrived.  When we heard the trucks and friendly soldiers marching, she made me sit in the dark and be quiet.  Then she pulled a blanket over her head."
       "Why was your mother afraid of the good guys?"
       "I didn't understand it then, either.  I wanted to see who was coming.  My papa always said I was the fearless one."  She cocked her head at the picture and shook her head.  "I trembled in my little boots, though, even as I crept across the floor to look out the door.  What if my mama was right to hide this time?" 
     "But you kept going."
      "Aye." Her eyes widened, "and then three of them saw me!"
      "What did you do?"
     "I froze! It was too late to run. I hoped they would walk on and ignore me. But they didn't. They walked right over to my house." She tilted her head as if listening. "Their voices were strange. They spoke words I didn't understand. But I liked it...There was no anger or bitterness in it. I remember I ducked my head so my hair covered my face, but I peered sideways so I could watch them."
     "Didn't they speak your language?"
     She tapped the photograph, pointing at the man squatting in front of her. "This one did. He knelt down to talk to me." Her face softened with a faraway look. "His eyes were kind and brown like my papa's."
     "What did he say?"
     "Oh, bits of this and that. The beautiful day. My pretty hair. His little girls who were my age. And then I asked him the question I had been wondering since I first heard the big trucks rolling in."
     The high schooler swept her pen across her notebook, cautious to not lose even one piece of the story. "And what was that?"
      "I wanted to know why they came. Do you know what they said?" The old lady's chin quivered. "They came for me! For me and for all little girls like me."
       "Then what happened."
       She straightened up, leaving the memory world and returning to the business of the story. "I saw tears in this one's eyes." She tapped the photograph again -- this time indicating the standing soldier. "But then​ he laughed and shook his tears away and offered me a piece of candy. And the third man stepped back to take a picture." She lifted the photograph to her lips and kissed it. "But I don't need a picture to remember. Till the day I die, I will never forget those soldiers or the reason they came."