Some people might think that being Time might get old at times. They suppose eventually I might see all there is to see, but they couldn’t be more wrong. My job lets me see both the best and worst of mankind. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not left breathless at the tender love humans have for each other and horrified at the renewed evils of others. Needless to say, it keeps me on my toes.
Perhaps the greatest example of this took place on one winter night in 1941. Three years had passed since the fire at Mira’s home in Germany. As the Nazis cracked down on the Jews and Communists in their country, shipping them off like cargo to concentration camps, none of their friends were ever sure what became of them. No one was surprised when they vanished from their normal circles. Vanishing was a far more common phenomenon in Nazi Germany than most places today. Most assumed Mira’s family had been taken, others decidedly thought that they must have left the country while they could, but only a few knew what really happened.
Sofia woke in the middle of the night. Her bedroom was dark. She’d been dreaming again. People said that by eleven years old, children shouldn’t be afraid of the dark. She didn’t care; she hated the darkness. Quietly, not wanting to wake her parents, she got out of the covers, pulled a sweater on from the chest at the end of her bed, and tiptoed down the stairs to the main level. It was completely still.
Slowly, she made her way over to the small door in the corner which led down into the basement. It creaked loudly as it opened. It hadn’t always been a creaky door, but Sofia’s father had taken care of that now. A door which squeaks is far safer than one which opens noiselessly.
She shut it behind her and crept down the stairs, glancing around the dark basement. The only light came from a small frosted window on the top of one of the walls. Sitting right underneath it, her knees tucked up under her chin, was Mira. Her hair had grown long and straggly in the time since she and her mother had taken shelter in Sofia’s family’s basement. They had wanted to take her father and brother too, but things don’t always work like that. The basement was tight enough as it was, and food was growing scarce.
Sofia sat down beside her friend, looking up at the little beam of moonlight. “Did I wake you up?”
Mira shook her head. “I’ve been up all night.”
Sofia glanced over at the shape of Mira’s mother sleeping under the stairs and lowered her voice. “Can’t you sleep?”
Mira hunkered down a little more, letting her long black hair fall around her like a small tent. “Sure, I can sleep,” she whispered, sighing, “but who wants to sleep with dreams like that?”
Sofia sighed and leaned back against the wall. “I know what you mean.”
For a minute, the room was silent, and then, lowly, Mira replied, “No, you don’t.” Sofia glanced over at her and bit her lip. “Did you go outside today?” asked Mira, a little shakily. “Did you speak to people today? Did you see your father today?”
Sofia swallowed. “You know I did, Mira.”
Mira glanced at the ground and turned away, hiding her large brown eyes. “Then don’t say you understand.” For a moment, neither of them said a word, then Mira whispered, “I hate the dark.”
Suddenly, knowing what to do, Sofia stood up and made her way back up the stairs to the kitchen, leaving her friend to watch her go. Making sure not to let it skid on the floor, Sofia grabbed one of the kitchen chairs and moved it over to the large cabinet in the corner. Once it was in place, she climbed delicately on top and shoved her hand up over the top of cabinet, moving it blindly in the dark until her fingers closed on what they were looking for.
Mira sat quietly in the dark basement, feeling terribly alone with her friend gone. Just as she was about to crawl into the nook under the stairs to try and get some sleep, two small pinpoints of light appeared at the top of the stairs. She stared at them as they grew slowly, making their way towards her, until she could see what they were. The two silver candlesticks, which they had brought the night their house burnt down, the ones her family had celebrated shabbat with every week back when life was happy, were glowing warmly in Sofia’s hands. With a small smile, Sofia handed one to her friend and settled down beside her. For a long time, the two of them sat side by side in the glow of the candles, letting the warm wax which found its way down and over the candlesticks drip in slow little trails down their fingers. “Not so dark anymore, huh?” asked Sofia, glancing over at her.
Mira smiled in spite of herself, gazing down at the little light glowing in her grasp. “No, not at all.” Still smiling, she leaned over against Sofia, putting her head on her friend’s shoulder.
Both girls woke with a start as, up above, someone pounded on the front door. From under the stairs, Mira’s mother, Rachel, sat bolt upright, staring at them in sudden terror. Sofia looked down at the candlesticks still in their hands. Sometime in the night, some fateful draft had blown them out. It made a shiver run down her spine.
The three of them listened, like cornered animals, as Sofia’s parents opened the door upstairs and talked in hushed tones with the visitor. A few minutes later, the front door shut again and Caroline, Sofia’s mother, opened the door down into the basement, her face white. “What is it, Caroline?” asked Rachel, hurrying up to her in the darkness. “Oh, Caroline, what is it? Is it-”
“Yes,” replied Caroline, her voice constricted. “Yes, I’m afraid it is.” Rachel’s hand flew breathlessly to her mouth.
“What is it, Mama?” asked Sofia, standing up quickly with Mira only a moment behind. “What happened?”
Caroline turned to her, her eyes pained. “The Nazis have raided the house where Dan and Max were staying,” she said, her voice tight.
“They took Papa and Max?” asked Mira, her voice trembling.
Caroline nodded mutely. “That was Herr Klaus. He said it isn’t safe for you two to stay here anymore. He’s going to come back in an hour and suggests that you both get ready as quickly as you can.”
“But,” cut in Sofia, looking from her mother to Mira and back, “What does this mean?”
Caroline gazed at her daughter sadly. “It means it’s time to say goodbye,” she said quietly, looking around at them. “We’re getting the two of you out, tonight.”
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