'No! I must return to the North!' Ri shrieked, her arms flailing about her. 'Get me my walking stick,' she said to no one in particular, her face fleeting around the room with eyes robbed of vision.
The pitter-patter of distant gunfire, occasional sounds of airplanes swooshing over followed by a thunderous explosion can be heard. It was night time but the moon was...Learn More The pitter-patter of distant gunfire, occasional sounds of airplanes swooshing over followed by a thunderous explosion can be heard. It was night time but the moon was in its prime and showered its silvery light all over the desolated landscape. I was walking aimlessly on the street, hoping to find a shelter to get through another agonizing night. I was blessed with the gift of luck, something that had allowed me to stay alive until this point when I found a semi-destroyed house for shelter. Although most of the house was in rubble, I’ve managed to find a room still undamaged by the countless bombings and lied on the floor to have a rest. The icy and hard surface, the constant crescendo of explosion and gunfire was something that I’ve already gotten used to, but what I had witnessed since the war started around two weeks ago (I hope memory had served me right) was something that is going to scar me until the end of times. It was a typical day at school during a lesson of Sejarah when it had all begin. Sirens started to roar and our teacher, Mr Faizul instructed us to go under our desks and wait for further instructions. We students were confused initially but still obeyed his orders. A few moments had gone by with total silence as far as I could hear before it was interrupted by a sudden explosion that happened at the opposite block of classroom. The entire block started to crumble and then collapse into a heap of ash, I could see students with their white uniforms falling from the upper floors before being crushed and buried by the rubble. This sent everyone in the room to a frenzy but I managed to keep my calm. More explosions continued for what seemed to be an eternity but in actuality, it was only fifteen minutes. After being under the desk for half an hour since the last explosion, we were safe to get up. The first thought that zapped into by brain was my family. Were they alright? I dashed out of the classroom, ignoring my teacher’s orders to stay and hopped onto my bicycle. Boggled down with many thoughts, I started pedalling with all my might towards home. A once cheerful and peaceful town for many decades had been transformed into a barren wasteland in mere minutes. Beautiful buildings were reduced to piles of rubble and some were still blazing with fire. Mass hysteria had set within the lives of many, there were people running from and to all directions seeking shelter, some driving recklessly and paid no heed to traffic rules whatsoever. Then, what I saw had sent me into a mild shock, it was my very first encounter with a dead body. Around an hour ago there was a kid who lived within that body, a lively kid who might be having amazing adventures that we will never know. He was now lying in on pool of blood. Killed by a shrapnel by a nearby explosion, he had his left shoulder blown off. There were little parts of flesh splattered all over the pavement. His face, despite his mangled body looked so innocent and peaceful. There was no tears, no sadness or pain inside him before he died. Having that looking at that sight which lasted for only a few seconds was enough to engrave it into my memory everlastingly. As I was gaining closer to home, the number of dead bodies multiplied. Bodies can be found under mounts of debris, in vehicles and along the pedestrian walk. Some who were still breathing but incapacitated cried for help but their cries fell on deaf ears. Everyone, including myself seemed to be more interested in saving their own skins instead of others. I became very emotional and concerned for my family. I wanted to cry but no tears came out, I wanted to yell in despair but no sound came out from my mouth. I can do it, I’m almost home. My legs were sent trembling down when I saw what stood upon me. My home had turned into a pile of smoking rubble. I was such in shock that I vomited all of my breakfast onto the tarmac road and almost blacked out. I finally snapped, I cried and scream my lungs out. Why not anywhere else in the world but this very place should the bombs fell? Why not anybody else but my family? I tried to convince myself that all of these were not real and closed my eyes momentarily. When I opened my eyes, nothing’s changed, it is very real and it is happening to me right now. I went into a fit of rage and tried to remove all of the rubble to find my family members. I managed to lift the small bits of debris but could not do the same to the larger ones. Desperation started to kick in, I sprinted onto the streets and begged for help from anybody that I can lay my eyes on. But to no avail, I failed. I could not even form a full sentence from my stuttering mouth. Even if I could, none would offer their help. I attempted to calm myself down by humming some children’s melody and walk around in circles, I was a step away from being insane. Without wasting more time, I ran back to home and continued in lifting away the debris. Prayers came from me non-stop, begging to God that my family is still alive and I will be good and obedient to them. Never will I talk back to my family, never will I disrespect them. My growling of my stomach and dryness of my throat made me realized that I have been trying to find my family in the rubble for almost an entire day. It was already twilight by the time that I had come back into my senses and I need to find food and water. I cycled to a nearby convenience store for supplies down the street. Along the journey, the area around me that was usually bustling with people was now a ghost town, no sound and no busy traffic whatsoever. I parked my bicycle in front of the store and tried to grab whatever supplies that meets my eye. As my pessimistic thinking had predicted, although miraculously unscathed, the entire store was empty. I searched for every shelf and drawer but all that was left were ripped packaging of food and water. I did not know what to do, I was hungry, thirsty and tired. I was about to sit down and think about my next move when I heard some grunting and shuffling at the back alley of the store. It was my teacher, Mr Faizul who was wrestling a young man and he was trying to snatch a bottle of chocolate milk off the man. Mr Faizul wanted me to help him but I refused. He threaten me out of desperation that if I did not help him, I would be in serious trouble. I attempted to reason with him but he did not seem to take notice of me and was getting more and more violent towards the young man. It was frightening to see that thirst and hunger was sufficient to convert a civilized man who was one of the most liked teachers in my school into an animal which has lost its ability to rationalize. I did not want to break up the scuffle in fear of them causing me harm. The only hope was that they will stop fighting with my words of persuasion, which was clearly not working. Out of the blue, Mr Faizul pinned the young man down and reached for a piece of brick nearby, he was filled with anger to the brim. Without second thought, he smashed the brick onto the young man’s head repeatedly. The scene was similar to a monkey trying to break open a coconut with a rock, it was horrifying. He crushed the man’s head until he was disfigured and some bits of brain could be seen flowing out from his cracked skull. At this moment, although all indications showed that I should scram and run for my life, I was in a state of trauma that no movement came from me. After his rage had subsided, Mr Faizul broke down in tears and kneeled in front of me. He said that he had to let madness take control over him because he wanted the drink so badly even if it costed his ex-student’s life. He said that he will be sent to hell for an eternal damnation and wanted me to have the drink instead. I hesitated at first but with sheer distress I took it and ran as far as my legs would bring me away from him. I even left my bicycle that was never to be found again. Night had veiled the pole at the time, I succeed in finding shelter in an abandoned bus. I uncapped the chocolate milk and downed the whole bottle in a jiffy. Although it was not enough to satisfy my thirst and hunger completely, but it gave me enough fuel to live to see another day. If it wasn’t for the young man’s death and Mr Faizul’s fury to murder him, I might have not survived. I had to survive the next few days in near starvation. I was so focused on finding food that I had forgotten about my home and lost the sense of direction due to my lethargies. Scavenging rubbish bins was the best way to find food because that was the least expected place for others to find food from. The experience was terrible at first when rummaging through the bin, the smell was unbearable and I even tried to vomit a few times but I did not, probably it was because I had nothing left to vomit out from my shrunken stomach. There was no other option though, I had to either adapt or perish and I must get used to it. At the cost of having dysentery and diarrhoea, I still survived by eating half-rotten food. Just after a few days, a chubby I had transformed into a skinny person. Despite always having plans to go on a diet, this was the last way that I would ever think of. While I was walking along the road to find more food, I was scared off my wits when a man that was covered by newspapers which I presumed to be dead at first grabbed me by the leg. He pleaded me in a weak voice to move him into a shelter opposite the road. I shoved his arm off and wanted to run away but for the first time towards a stranger, I decided to help the man out of sympathy. When I removed the newspapers I was revolted by his condition. Both of his legs were gone and his wounds were full of maggots and flies, it was a wonder that he was still alive. I tried shooing the flies away but they were too many. The buzzing sound of flies trying to swarm into my ears was way more uncomfortable than having to eat food out of the bin. To help this man, I grabbed onto his arm and started to drag his body across the road. It was difficult for me because I was too weak to even stand up properly, my legs were bent because of living off rotten food for some time. Suddenly, a rumbling sound could be heard from a distance when I was half way across the road. Immediately, I sprang into the nearest cover and watched what was happening. 10 minutes later, a tank appeared from a distance. I knew instantly that the tank was not Malaysian because the tank commander on top was speaking in a foreign language that I could not tell. The invasion must have started. I hid in a bush and stared helplessly as the tank was moving slowly towards the poor soul. The tank commander thought he was already deceased so he did not halt his metallic behemoth. I could hear muffled screams as the tank ran over him. There was nothing I could do, if I were to get out of cover to save him I would have been shot to death without a doubt. For a spilt second, I was conflicted with myself. Had I left him there, he would be still alive. Alas, he would still be dead but in a more sufferable way. So he being dragged onto the road to meet his impending doom was way better than being slowly feasted by parasites to death. I did not feel so guilty after that thought. My recount of events had been abruptly stopped by some noise outside of my shelter. I saw lights and chattering voices coming from outside and shielded myself with some light debris instinctively. I told myself that this is the end, after surviving for God knows how long, it was finally my time. After all of the luck spent on not being on the enemy’s sight, at last I had ran out of luck. I should make peace with God and accept my fate. As they approach closer to me, ready to meet my destiny on every moment, I was suddenly drowned with euphoria, I noticed that they were Malaysian soldiers because they were speaking in Bahasa Malaysia. I lifted up my hand with so much enthusiasm and they founded me. I was rescued at last. I was delighted to see a platoon of Malaysian soldiers as I was being helped onto a military truck to be brought to a proper shelter, safe at last. There were many smiling faces on the truck, they were people like me that had gone through it all and knew that they were finally in good hands. The ride to the civilian camp was quite fast because I was asleep during most of the journey. When I hopped down from the truck, my brain was flooded by happy thoughts, tears of joy rolled down on my cheeks, my smile was from ear to ear. My family was safe all this time. They screamed joyfully as I dashed towards them and gave them the embrace that they deserved all this while. I was relieved to see my mother, father and sister were all in better shape than I am. They were stopped on their way home by Malaysian soldiers and were moved to camp before the bombing had started. Although I had seen better days before the war, I would never love and value my family more than any other time besides this very moment. We went for another long and affectious hug before having our first proper meal since the war, a packet of Nasi Lemak and Teh Ais.... Read more
8 Jan 1920 The benign sunlight showered through the myrtle green oak leaves and glazed upon us. Hayley and I were sitting under the leafy shed, and where I realized that she had been scribbling her notebook from the peak of the morning until then. Feeling the urge to peep on her contents, my eyes darted across her working page. Unsurprisingly, she saw i...Learn More 8 Jan 1920 The benign sunlight showered through the myrtle green oak leaves and glazed upon us. Hayley and I were sitting under the leafy shed, and where I realized that she had been scribbling her notebook from the peak of the morning until then. Feeling the urge to peep on her contents, my eyes darted across her working page. Unsurprisingly, she saw it coming. When she let out a deep frustrated sigh and flipped the book cover over it, I yanked my eyes away from evoking attention. An eerie sting of silence wrapped around us. "Brandon, it's not finished yet..." She finally broke the tension between us, as she closed her eyes, "Could you at least show some respect for a girl by reserving her some privacy?" Her voice drummed like a thousand echoes in still air. "I'm sorry Hayley. My mind wasn't syncopating with my heart," I blurted out stupid lines from my head. She flipped her book back on as soon as she saw my back facing her and delved back to her progress. A peculiar mass of giddiness coursed up my spine, when I stole several glances from her attentively-engaged expression. But looking the way she twirled her locks with her talented fingers, it wouldn’t be at all a coincidence if she had known what’s lying behind her back all these times. The irony was, I was also a diarist. ⚔️ 17 October 1923 Distinct maple leaves in various blend of red, yellow and green swiveled amidst the crisp cool air. I was on my way back home when I felt a hand rested on my left shoulder. An electricity flared through me when that contact hit me, soon got worse as I saw Hayley Brooks standing a few inches from me under the luminous lighting. “We need to talk…” her eyes met mine forcefully, not wanting to captivate me from the dim look in her eyes. I stood there, waiting. “I need you to keep this diary for me,” she muttered indistinctively, handed me a locked hardcover without any form of retreat, continued, “And here’s the key to it.” “Is this a sign of farewell?” my voice hardened after retrieving her belongings. I swore my eyes hissed with a taunting spark all along when her eyes flickered with the need to be forgiven. A silent treatment came round. “I’m leaving for Amsterdam. Tomorrow.” “Of all times, why didn’t you inform me earlier?” my fists balled into a coiled-up-aluminum, a shudder of fear and acrimony engulfed almost the whole of my anatomy. I couldn’t move, as if I was pinned by an irrevocable magnetic force to the ground. “I don’t want you to be worried because of me,” her voice sounded as she was bounded by her own inflicted fear, the type of hardship too brutal and heartless for a girl to go through. Not at a time like this… “What were you thinking Hayley? Do you think this would suppress my anxiety for you, with your propaganda of prohibiting me from penetrating your personal status?” my eyes stung when futile drops of tears cascading down from the faucet of her eyes. “Maybe you’d never trusted me!” my voice was more like screeching on top of my lungs, barely even hearing myself. Technically, the structure of my body felt like crumpling into shards, on the other half, I reprimanded myself for that intuition, which made my head reeled and my chest bombarded like ensnared molecules. I pulled myself from the ledge of this distorted event and turned away from the girl I'd envisaged with all my heart. That was when I realized my eyes were brimming with pain-staking tears. ⚔️ 25 February 1937 "Name? Age? And boarded institution?" A man, I expected he was the drill sergeant, requesting for my personal info in the registration hall. "Brandon Carmack, 19, a graduate of Kreuzberg High School," I replied, confidently. "Right," he scribbled things down without any thoughtful doubt. "Don't just stand there, move on!" The agonizing thrust from his voice shook me with no form of anticipation, like he'd already performed his strategy against me for the upcoming semester. "Assimilating into this badass game?" A riveting voice from a tawny guy laying against the paintless wall of the building. "Might as well dealing with it at the moment. The name's Brandon." I introduced myself and proposed a brotherly smile. "Christopher, just call me Chris." His smile was indeed welcoming. From the first week of the training sessions, it was already hammering burden on my shoulders. First, warm-up exercises, then for the intense unprecedented workout formality, from swimming across stench ditches to slithering on our bodies through barbed wires. What was more when we were exiled from freedom to any additional time but to be bent until we shatter. ⚔️ It has been 2 days and 8 weeks for me under this merciless National Army Reserve course, and seemingly, the phases become more extreme and challenging. In the end of the day, we would be panting without knowing why, as if we'd gotten used to choke ourselves to death. Sometimes, I'd forgotten how my life was back before I reached this training camp. After a warm shower one evening, my mind froze in brakes when I slipped into my jeans. Out of my expectation, a silvery gray locket fell off from one of my side pockets. The rhythm of my heartbeat ceased at its conscience, all over again about the girl I'd envisioned but got ignored at the same time... Where did all these passion come from? Pulling the key out of my locket, the yearning for answers constricted tighter in my chest when I felt intricately engraved words on the head of the key, written: “Prinsengracht 263-267, 1016 GV Amsterdam” Something inside me bubbled up like honey nectar aroma, dressing up the hollowness deep down my skull for the piece of information. Unlocking her diary, I found myself sinking into the depth of her contents that was mascaraed up with her fancy yet litigable handwritings. “…I'm sorry, but I can’t love you back like the way you look into my eyes. On the contrary, thank you for introducing the colors of your world to me and accepting me for who I am. Will be reaching 17 by the end of this month but still trying to find my composition and what my future will be. Maybe I’m still green to all of this relationship charade, to that, I wish you the best of luck…” An uncertain bittersweet tang swept me up and knocked me off, transforming uplifting results into obnoxious downfall. Rhetorically, I could hear her from a distance, like she was motivating me to take a step forward, but oxymoronically, pushing me out of her sight. “Dude, is everything alright? What’s that in your hands?” I looked up and saw the brotherhood concern in Chris’s eyes glistening under the fluorescents. His understanding smile moved me to replace a reassured smile over my previous grimace. “Nah, it was nothing. Missing my family, I guess…” my voice vibrated like shattered fragments at the end as soon as I buried the book under my pile of laundry. His sturdy arms swooped me into an embrace, enunciated his words confidently, “We’re all in this together Bran…” Yeah, I hoped we would. ⚔️ 10 May 1940 Perhaps encroaching territory and killing innocent people were never my standstill to bravery, as a matter of fact, it had only made me shuddered more inwardly, ramming me into the worst nightmare of getting feared and aborted. Sighed, my mouthed went, feeling hopeful that this would be the finale of all episodes. In front of my fellow comrades, was the commander of our regiment, sitting like the rest of us with his arms crossed in front of his chest, preparing for the umpteenth round of battle. The glare in his eyes seemed unreadable, those hard tyrannical beads made his expression unlikely to be interpreted, yet mysterious, like he was hiding something treasurable from us. Sure enough, we’d been traveling for 3.5 hours, yet he’d announced where we were heading to. Then, an overblowing boom in the chamber woke everyone from their mindful contemplation. “Men, we’re departing for Amsterdam. Ensure your eyes are all peeled open and use that big brain of yours, eh? Last reminder, leave no mind behind! Y’all clear?” The mechanism in my thoughts struck oppressively by the destination, as cold sweat raked my skin like razor blades, by an attempt, unraveling, undoing me… Of all countries, why Amsterdam? “Yes sir!” voices from the rest of the brigade stomped in unison, as if they were habitual of getting enslaved by unruly orders. Come to think of it, their resilience could take them a century or two to be grudged. To that, I felt potentially useless as I tried to breathe, unnaturally. Unless my actions could prove what I was made of.. A lighter of hope lit me up from my lair of pessimism when a streak of idea inclined my mind. If this is what could change her fate, then I would hesitate no more. ⚔ The snow beneath my feet had weakened my legs from inching any further due to the extreme climate, but my spirit was still insusceptible, so I presumed my soul was still behind my back as well. I’d been searching for her address in solidarity in this moronic snowstorm. The address was still lingering at the wit of my head. Repetition after repetition, a mouthful of guilt began lurching my intestines, wondering how much longer would it take me to get to her. My optimism for her was about to fade away when I heard a singsong tune from a young choir from where I was situated. That song… was so familiar, as my fingers knew how the crests and troughs of the melody should be played on the white and black keyboard like it was calling me in for some reason, yet my skeptical gut was entangled in the dilemma, confused by the delusion but fall for it at the split second. Tracing the whisper from my heart, I pushed the door opened, enthralled to see children sitting on the tiled floor with their music sheets sparsed over, but eyeing me with immense devastation, which made me looked like an idiot. An emotional chaos stirred up in my chest when I recognized those cerulean blue orbs hanging across the twilight curtains meeting my gaze, her rich dark butterscotch blonde curls nestling on the side of her neck. By the time those scarlet cheeks heated up before me, I knew that it would be no one except her: Hayley Brooks. How am I supposed to get through this, alone in the doorway, dumbfounded by her indecipherable beauty? God, just tell her already! Out of nowhere in between, I remembered my stand here as one of the military coworkers working for the Government of Nazi Germany, with the aim to deport any citizens with Jewish identity back to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar. Had I felt entranced on seeing the fear in people encountering death? What am I now? The second generation notoriously acclaimed Adolf Hitler? She, no, they all need my help. “I’m sorry to interrupt kids, unfortunately, your life is not safe now, the Nazi’s military troop had landed here this morning to rule over your hometown and things ain’t pretty. I’m taking you all to a safe place where there will be no sign of social friction, provided that you all could have a little bit of faith in me…” The malice in their eyes was soon replaced with a glint of exuberant gratitude, with their mouth tweaked into a vivacious smile that not everyone could afford to guarantee a lifetime happiness. By the time the children were out in the torment snow, waiting to be escorted to their perceived heaven, a tint of thankfulness danced in the abyss of her nebulas when my eyes met hers. I smiled back. ⚔ “There’s a secret tunnel under the snow!” I exclaimed in delight. The word "Rotterdam" carved upon the metallic board on top of the entrance had, sure enough, eased them to be liberated from suffering any longer. A shudder of fear signaled my conscience to move faster. “I need you all to go through this tunnel to wherever it may bring you, and please remember to leave no one behind. Understand?” my voice sprung out the crowd despite the excruciating howl of the wind overlapping mine. “Aye-aye, captain!” their playful voices took hold of the scene. In spite of the snowstorm, they writhed in the torturing weather condition by wriggling into the snow-encrusted tunnel and yanked open the metal framed door. Although it seemed impossible to move in that seasonal catastrophe, they didn’t mourn over their fate and accuse of one’s wrongdoings to stuff the emptiness in their stomach. One after another, they dived deep down to the almost impenetrable depth of snow with the help of one another, either by pushing or pulling. Then, it was her turn to join in the bunch. But before that, I gently slid my locket over her head. She let out a gape at her first view of the locket shimmering under the weak daylight. “Hayles…” my heartbeat unsteady when I called out her name under my breath, “In exchange, I would like you to be the one honored to open my diary, take this locket with the key to my diary inside. Follow the address lying on the key, and when the stage is clear, unlock it.” My voice crumpled in the midst of talking, seemingly, I was already choked with tears. “Thank you for paying attention to the address, saving us all...” she murmured over my ear with such tenderness, that I didn’t want to lose her again this time. But in fact, I was banned from her. “You should probably be going, it’s not safe if you take any longer with me.” “Aren’t you coming?” her curiosity made me felt like tugging her into my chest. “As a matter of fact, no. I have to get back to my buddies where they all would be waiting for me, any moment now.” Without contemplating further in her state of mind, her lips grazed my bottom lip like a never ending fantasy and brushed the upper passionately, finishing our kiss with all the bottled emotions from the bottom of her heart freed and our relationship knot untied. My body felt numb and dizzy all of a sudden when she had gotten the chance to pull me into her ever-wanted proximity. In exchange, I held her tighter onto my torso, with my other hand ruffling her waist-long hair until I could rewind the feeling of on the underside of my fingers. But, would she be able to survive at all? ... Read more
I have been called a variety of names over the past few years. Most people call me a traitor or a sycophant, others a collaborator. A Roma woman I once arrested called me a murderer. Many also regard me as a backstabber. All these names would have almost certainly been hurtful if not for the f...Learn More I have been called a variety of names over the past few years. Most people call me a traitor or a sycophant, others a collaborator. A Roma woman I once arrested called me a murderer. Many also regard me as a backstabber. All these names would have almost certainly been hurtful if not for the fact that they were just that, names. I believe the English have a saying that goes like this, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.” After all, all that I do is merely for self-preservation and survival. What man would choose against acting in their best interest? I break people to avoid being broken myself. When the Germans first invaded Poland, I must admit that I too was wary of their intentions. We all had good reason too, considering how Germany had unashamedly displayed its expansionist tendencies through its annexation of the Sudetenland and Austria. I was serving in the police force of Warsaw when the news of the invasion first came in. A call to arms followed and many of my colleagues answered it. I did not. My refusal to serve is why I still breathe while they lay silent and unmoving in their shallow graves. The war was to ensure that I did not escape its grasp though. I was still in Warsaw when the first bombs were dropped. Those few weeks of the city being besieged were one of the most torrid of my life. Every night was spent with an eye keeping watch for German Heinkel bombers and an ear listening for distant artillery fire. Eventually, the city’s defences were overcome and the Germans marched through the streets. As the endless column of soldiers marched on Polish soil, I watched from among the silent crowd, wondering what change would their arrival would bring for my own life. While life never did return to the way it was before the war, the Germans set about to restoring law and order to the broken city. For that though, they needed assistance from people who had lived among the locals and were capable of serving Germany’s interest. Preferably folk with knowledge of both Polish and German. Someone like me. They needed collaborators. That was the reason why I received an offer from the occupiers not long after the fall of Warsaw. The offer stated that they were in need of individuals who had prior experience serving in law enforcement. The pay they offered was good and the quarters comfortable. I was well aware that my chances of survival would be exponentially high if I served our conquerors. It should come to no one’s surprise that I took them up on it. That is how I came to know the man I call the Commandant. The man was a Bavarian, and he exuded an air of strictness that would put my previous superior to shame. His eyes were a piercing cold blue and anyone who aroused his suspicion risked being whisked off to the Gestapo headquarters for questioning, and sometimes, subject to enhanced interrogation methods. Arguing with him was a futile task, for the only reply we would receive was an incessant barrage of words that we would never have reply for. I always did as I was told. Why risk the possibly lethal sting by this waspish German? My job was little quite similar to the one I held before the invasion. I still patrolled the streets keeping an eye out for rascals and scoundrels. I guarded the offices of the German army. I helped oversee their civilian operations and construction projects. The only difference that proved a constant annoyance to me was the need to say, ‘Heil Hitler!’ on a regular basis. I did not care for the man and I can certainly say that he cared little for me too. To avoid getting unwanted attention from the Commandant and his colleagues though, I still say it anyway. Heil Hitler. There was however, one additional duty that was added to my long list of responsibilities. The Jews of the city had been rounded up like cattle to be placed in a section of the city where they could be ‘contained’. I was to ensure that the Jews stayed within the ghetto and that those exiting it had the proper authorisation. Living conditions in the ghetto were far from acceptable but I will be frank here. I do not like Jews. Never did. The Jews that I have come across in my life were almost always either rude, greedy cheats. The myths about them drinking the blood of Christian children are most certainly inane garbage, but I will not deny that their actions have left quite the poor impression on me. They never cared for me. Why should I care for them? Not too long after the Jews had been forced into the ghetto, the orders from the German High Command started to come in. On numerous occasions, we were ordered to enter the ghetto to seek out people who looked capable of work. The strongest men and women were selected and then shipped out to the east. The Commandant said that they were being sent to work camps to make war material for the Wehrmacht. “For the good of the Reich and of the Polish state,” he said. And that was exactly what I told the Jews. “You will be working for the good of Poland.” Whether I believed it however, is a different matter altogether. The rumours came in slowly, from mysterious and unreliable sources most of the time. I first heard whispers among the populace. Even my colleagues talked about it in lowered voices away from the Commandant. The details varied, but one detail stayed the same no matter what. The work camps were not just work camps, the rumourmongers whispered, they were slave camps. Camps specifically and deliberately designed to squeeze the life of inmates through unbearably torturous amounts of labour until they fell over lifeless. That was their purpose. We were partly tasked to stamp out this rumourmongering by the Germans. Still, far darker rumours persisted. That some of the camps had a far more insidious, and lethal, use. Horror stories about gas chambers and ovens of ash were pervading many a secret conversation. I chose to ignore these rumours. Sure, the Germans saw and treated the Jews and the Gypsies as subhumans, but they certainly would not bother wasting their precious resources on them, would they? Especially not with the war still raging on. I did however, personally notice one thing. Once you were loaded onto one of the many trains heading east, you would never be heard from or seen alive again. With each passing week, more and more Jews were bundled onto the trains. It seemed that no matter what course the war was taking, the Germans had no intentions of ceasing their endeavour of emptying out the ghetto. The Jews too, seemed to know this. They learnt to hide, to create hiding spots without arousing the suspicion of the occupiers. Their houses were like the nests of rats, fittingly so considering the Germans compared them to vermin. Corridors, furniture, stairways, cellars were all turned into hideaways. They used the sewers as secret routes to escape the ghetto. The German soldiers were not always capable of sniffing them out. We collaborators, on the other hand, did. We were skilled at it. I was skilled at it. Many escape attempts were hatched among the Jews as they tried to flee to the safety of the countryside, where partisans of the Resistance lurked. The Germans unsurprisingly did not take kindly to this and restrictions were severely tightened. Poles caught trying to help them faced the noose and bountiful rewards provided to those who reported suspicious activity. Raids were regular and grew in frequency. In the event the Germans felt that a searched out house was still concealing Jews; they did not hesitate in bringing out the flamethrowers. However, it was not long before the ghetto was emptied of strong, working-class men. The only people left in the ghetto are the women and children. At first, I thought that these people were to be left alone, but I was not really that surprised when I was proven wrong. Despite it being one in the morning, the Commandant called us loyal Polish police officers to his headquarters. My colleagues and I lined up before him, already suspecting that a raid is imminent. “We are to round up the women and children today,” he barked. “You Poles are familiar with the area and know the hiding spots of the Jews. Your skills will be of immense help to us this day.” I knew that if I wanted at a chance of savouring the power and luxury our masters could provide, all I had to do was take a large group of Jews. We all knew that. The raid had been planned in utmost secrecy, with only a selected few people having the privilege of knowing the details. The Jews, if provided with enough time, knew how to disappear from sight whenever the raiding parties stormed into the ghetto. This time however, there would be no escape. They were to be caught off-guard and unawares. The sewers were being patrolled by squads of soldiers, ready to ambush anyone fleeing through them. There were to be no narrow escapes this time. Somehow, the Jews still managed to get wind of our plans. I realised this upon kicking open the flimsy doors to their rooms. In each room, the same sight greeted us. The sight of a recently used but empty room. Some of my colleagues seemed to have better luck than me though. I could hear the occasional burst of machinegun fire in the distance. The soldiers that accompanied me thoroughly ransacked the place, firing their guns into the wallpaper, overturning wardrobes, ripping into mattresses with their bayonets and stomping onto the floorboards, hoping to reveal secret passages. Still, we found nothing. The Commandant soon came to oversee the operation himself. Despite my adamant insistence, he refused to believe that the house I had been searching through was empty. Ordering the soldiers to proceed with searching through the next house, he entered the house with me in tow. Once again, we checked every nook and cranny, keeping still and silent at points in hopes that we would catch a quiet, muffled sneeze. If there was anyone still in the house, they were doing superbly at keeping silent. On more than one occasion, we chanced upon a secret panel or a trapdoor, only to find that it concealed…nothing. Each one was empty. So, now I stand here on the highest floor, hands caked with a layer of dirt after having scoured through every possible hiding spot. Before me is a ladder that leads up into a dark, silent void that is the attic. The Commandant approaches and stares quietly at the ladder for a moment. “Go up,” he suddenly orders me. I weakly objected, “But, sir, if there’s anyone hiding in here, they would most certainly have taken the ladder with them.” In all honesty, I am somewhat wary of the possibility of an ambush waiting for me in the attic. Sure, the reward for catching Jews is lucrative, but I would most certainly prefer to be alive to enjoy it. His mouth quirking in annoyance, the Commandant then scrutinises me with hauteur. The sardonic smile slowly stretching from his cheeks betrays his knowledge of what it is I am fearful of. “Maybe, just maybe, that is exactly what they want us to think. And thus, we should do otherwise.” His cold, skinny fingers grip my shoulder as he draws his face close to mine, smile firmly embedded on his face. “Check it.” My hands tremble as I fumble with the lantern. It is impossible to bear it as well as wield my pistol while climbing the ladder. So, my gun remains holstered as I wrap my hands around the rungs and start climbing. The silence is deafeningly loud that it is simply impossible that anyone could be hiding in such a confined space. My objections are met with the Commandant’s pistol however, so I continue my ascent. Inhaling a deep breath, I brave myself to raise my head through the gap and peer into the darkness. The musky smell of dust wafts by. Looking over the lip of the hole, I then carefully lift my lantern to pierce the darkness. The corner nearest to me is empty, and so is the next. When I swing my lantern to the remaining corner, then, I see them. Eyes. Twenty widened, dark pairs of eyes. Ashen faces staring at me in utter terror. Twenty women and children stay huddled at the end of the room, barely moving, barely breathing. I stare at them and they stare back at me. “Is there anyone up there?” the Commandant calls up to me. Twenty Jews. More than enough to get me a promotion. Perhaps I could get a more comfortable desk job. The Commandant’s favour would be with me, and I could live the rest of my days in splendorous comfort. Sure, twenty lives would be at stake, but everyone was struggling. Why should I care? It is their fault that they did not flee when they had the chance. These were hard times. Everyone is struggling. I am struggling. If there is a better time for me to make an attempt at securing a good life with our conquerors, it would be now. All the wealth and power. Just for twenty lives. Just twenty lives. I turn to the Commandant. He stares up at me smiling, no doubt ready to hand out my promotion as soon as I produce results. I take a good look at the trembling Jews once more. Twenty lives for one good life. For my good life. “There’s no one here.”... Read more
When I was a little girl, maybe around eight or nine years old, there was a game that my friends and I used to play together. We called it ‘Hail to the King’ an...Learn MoreWhen I was a little girl, maybe around eight or nine years old, there was a game that my friends and I used to play together. We called it ‘Hail to the King’ and this was how we played it: One kid would bring his name forward as candidate to be the leader or the ‘king’ of the group, after which he would leave the room and the rest of us will talk amongst ourselves to decide if he was worthy to be our ‘king’. For a week, that king had the power to issue orders to us and we had to follow them to the word. I know, I know, it sounds just like an extended version of Simon Says but it meant more to us at the time. Only two boys were allowed to place their names, anymore then all the boys would want to put their names. Girls weren’t allowed to participate because as Tommy ‘Runner’ used to say, “Only boys can be rulers, girls can only marry the ruler.” We were young, and we accepted it because of all the fairy tales we read. When I think back to it, the premise had consisted of a ‘king and the princess’, there never was a story that I’ve read that was ever about a ‘queen and the prince’, so all the girls, including myself accepted it. The ones who placed their names were called ‘kingdidates’ as childish as that may sound but forgive us, we were just children back then. The kingdidates would give a ‘speech’ on why they should be the king. It may remind you of politicians during elections but trust me, back then we had no idea about any of those, they just made sense to us. We became familiar with the concept of monarchs from a very young age. Anytime the image of a man with glittering clothes appeared the television, our parents and all the adults would bow to him even though he could not have possibly seen them do it. Mama and papa explained to me that the man on the television was the king; and he was our ruler, he was the one that will defend us should we ever get in danger. I remembered being enamored with him and from the way my parents described him, I felt that I was getting to know him more and more on a personal level, I felt that he was really our savior. You may be wondering; why were we so fixated on this one game? Well, my country has been invaded and occupied by a foreign power for about a decade. Our electricity, water, and food supplies had all been cut off for a long time, the people that we once knew had died in the hands of the invaders and our king went missing. Every day we lived we felt that it was going to be our last, and we understood that even as children. That was why we were so obsessed with Hail to the King. It was the one thing that was innocent in our childhoods and it allowed us to disconnect from the reality that was afflicting us. All of us genuinely believed that if we kept the memories of our king alive inside of us, he will come back eventually to save us. When I met up with my friends in our weekly gathering in Tommy’s house, they too were familiar with the king and had the same admiration that I had. So much so that they wanted to be him and that was how the game came about. We’ve been playing the game for a few months now and all the orders that have been issued were harmless and innocent, King Steven ordered us to get water for him every hour, King Michael called for everybody to sing to him and King Tommy once asked for me to be his queen for the week, to which I remembered my face blushing a violent shade of red. After Tommy was time to choose a new king. Billy Nyles and Jonston Rye put their names forward and they each gave their speech. “As king!” Billy had said confidently. “I promise to borrow all of you all the comics that I have.” The boys cheered and clapped at that. Next, it was Jonston. “As king.” He said softly, a stark contrast to Billy but I remembered his voice had carried more weight. “I promise to bring back the real king.” It was simple and it sounded so impossible, but yet it had the most effect on us. Ever since the king was removed from power by the foreign invaders, the entire nation collapsed in terms of morale. Some said that he was dead, murdered by the bullets of common soldiers. Others on the other hand, said that he was safely smuggled out of the country. Communications to the outside world was disrupted during the invasion, so there was no way of knowing for sure where he actually was but there was only one thing that kept the citizens from giving up, from surrendering totally to the invaders: hope. The two left the room soon after and we soon began to vote, but there was no discussion like before, deep inside we all knew who we wanted to be king. His promise was the most unlikely but yet at that moment, it was the one we needed. And so was he proclaimed King Jonston, the fourth king of our little kingdom that made up of hopelessly optimistic children. In his coronation speech, he stood before us on a wooden box with the plastic crown plastered with splotches of red that were meant to represent the rubies of the actual crown. Around his neck, we’ve swung a dark-green blanket that we found among the rubbles after the last siege on the city, we’ve managed to clean it as best as we can before we decided to use it as the royal cape. In his right hand, he held a long tough stick that Tommy had found in his backyard that was meant to be the scepter. As we sat down in front of him, Jonston stood scared but strong. His eyes stared into each of ours as he said, “The real king is still alive! I know it because I saw him in my dreams!” Those were words that any of us would have snickered or laughed a year ago but the condition of everything was so bad had warped our views. Instead, we listened and we believed. “He is safe in a faraway country, and I promise all of you that I will bring him back to us!” We all clapped and cheered. It was then that we felt a rumble from the outside and all of us stared at each other with immensely frightened eyes. We stayed quiet but we could hear our parents scrambling in the kitchen and saying rapid hushed words. Another rumble, this time it was closer and louder. My mother burst into the room with panicked eyes and told us all to go out to the tunnel hidden across the canal. We’ve been trained to find our way to the tunnel should the adults told us to do so. Our movements were fluent and mechanical but deep down inside we were still terrified beyond anything we’ve experienced. The thought of being bombarded with explosives was not something one can get used to no matter how many years we’ve experienced it. We shuffled quickly out the backdoor but when we noticed that our parents were not following us, we stopped. They said that enemy soldiers were seen going from door to door looking for children so they will delay them until we get to the tunnel. At that moment, I was more terrified of being separated from my parents than being killed, at least if I’m killed, I could die knowing that I would be with them in the afterlife but the thought of living without them was not something that I was ready for. My eyes were blinded by tears as I begged for my mama and papa to come with us but they said that it would be more suspicious if there was no one in the house as it was past curfew. At least with them in the house, they could try to convince the soldiers that the children were in another house but had to stay there because of the curfew, or if left with no choice, they would at the very least attempt to delay the soldiers. It was a sight to see the parents of seven children attempting to hush their children all at the same time. Some of the adults were smiling, assuring us that they will come and find us, others were crying hard, trying to appear strong in front of their children but was too difficult for them. As the soldiers got closer to us, the adults finally managed to convince us that they would in fact come and find us. So all seven of us crawled down into a hole that the adults dug months before under the fence and we got to the other side. I rubbed the tears from my eyes as I heard a loud knock on the door, followed by a shout of commands in a foreign tongue. Against all our senses, we stayed near the fence as we forced our ears to listen to the other side. It was a fluctuation of voices ranging between soft and screeching loud. Then, we heard signs of struggle and finally, a gunshot, followed by a scream that was silence immediately by another gun shot and another and another. Little Lily, the youngest of us began to scream and the boys tried to cover her mouth but by then it was too late. The foreign tongues had heard the scream and they were scrambling to the fence. Our parents were dead, now we had no one else and they were coming after us. For that one moment we could only stand still until we were ushered to flee by our new king as he shouted orders for us to make it to the tunnel. His once soft voice was turned into a commanding one as all of us started to run. As fast as we could, we picked up our small feet and made it to the dark and putrid smelling tunnel. One by one we crawled inside and when we turned back, a realisation came upon us: in the chaos, Little Lily had tripped and sprained her ankle. There she was crying in the street as we could only stare as the soldiers moved in closer. This was when the miracle happened. The miracle that would change the fate of our country. King Jonston crawled out of the tunnel and ran to Little Lily who had given up and was wailing on the street. King Jonston picked her up and quickly dragged her across the street as she yelled in pain. Eventually they reached the tunnel and passed Little Lily over to us. The soldiers were getting closer. King Jonston just looked at us and said, "This is my last command to you all. Run and don't look back." His voice began to choke and the tears flooded his eyes as he struggled to speak. The others were confused but I knew what he wanted to do and I begged him to just come with us. He then said, "You guys picked me as king, and as king I cannot abandon my people." He turned back towards the street, and we ran. I wasn't there to witness what happened after that. We were loyal subjects; we just ran to the end of the tunnel and didn't look back. We eventually found a community hidden in the forest and we stayed there for about five years before we heard the news happened that the king had at long last returned to the country to liberate us from the invaders. I could remember the cheer that had erupted in the community, I could never remember the last time I've experienced such happiness. Over the radio was where we heard the king's voice; he sounded strong and passionate. He told us how five years ago, a video appeared on the Internet showing a group of soldiers executing a boy on the street. The boy wore a dirty dark-green cape around his neck and had a plastic crown and was pointing a scepter to the soldiers as he demanded that the soldiers would go no further. The boy further bellowed that he was the king and as king he will die for his people. The soldiers laughed at that until finally one of them shot him in the neck. The video had sparked outrage among the international communities and had greatly garnered the support that the exiled king needed to return to his country. The king condemned these child murderers on the radio and vowed to take back the country. King Jonston had fulfilled his promise; he had brought the real king back but there was only one question on my mind at that moment; if it only took the death of one boy to stir the morality of the world, then what did the deaths of the other men, women and children meant before him? Whatever the answer may be, at that moment I could only say, Hail to the King.... Read more