The Last Snowfall
The Last Snowfall7 mins 426 7 mins 426
Silvery snowflakes descended slowly in a silent symphony, marred with a secret of despair. The crescent moon peeked out from under the encompassing blanket of darkness. It was almost midnight now.
Winter solstice and starry skies. The promise of Yuletide cheer, the exorbitant Christmas decorations, the exuberance, and excitement, hung heavy in the air, almost tangible. Aviva peeked out of the decrepit window, standing up on her tippy toes, her warm breath fogging the tinted glass as she wistfully yearned for a Christmas miracle, her 8-year-old brain unable to fathom it will remain, but a chimerical dream. She hummed a melody that echoed her melancholy, her hair wild and carefree like a lion’s mane, unlike her.
She sighed, mindlessly tracing celestial patterns in the twilight sky with her dainty fingers. A sudden wave of nostalgia swept over her as she reminisced about her old manor, her home. She recalled the festivities when she turned 5, the pitter-patter of tiny feet across the hallway, embracing her father in a ‘bear hug’, breathless giggles resonating throughout the house as he picked her up and swung her around, her mother fondly chastising her to not wake little Vincent up with all the commotion, she impishly mimicking her mother’s ineffective glare in defiance, and with clinquant eyes and nimble fingers she unwrapped her Daddy’s present to reveal an exquisite snow globe. She squealed and instantly declared it her most pristine possession.
Death lurked in the shadows, contemplating her fate. Those days were the best, she mused, as tears cascaded down her dulcet features, those days were fairytales and sunshine, hot chocolate and warm blankets, cuddles and bedtime stories, inglenook and snowglobes.
Those days were the calm before the impending storm.
Although only 8, Aviva was cognizant of the capricious time. She understood how fast the fleeting moments could pass by and betrayal by the fugacious nature of time was the first of the many betrayals in life that awaited her.
Somewhere at a distance, a clock struck 12. It was midnight now.
Her quiescent form shuddered as the malevolent memories succeeded the merry ones. Daddy was abruptly fired from work. They ran out of savings within a year and Mum was forced to take up the job of a cleaning lady. “Bread’s too expensive, Ave.”, her mother smiled sadly when asked why they never had toast anymore “We are lucky that we even have running water!”
They were barely scraping by on their mother’s meager income and the leftovers that she would sneak in from her employer’s pantry. Nobody would hire Daddy for work and nobody would tell Aviva why. She often overheard her Mum’s sobs from the living room at night and Daddy always seemed to have a stoic expression plastered on his face. Aviva would pray to whatever deity that was out there for things to get better with time.
As if it wasn’t mortifying enough that Aviva was forced to sit on the floor in her classes at school, the “pure” children (as they called themselves) would mock her and gag whenever she passed by. Her teachers would act as if she didn’t exist, it was still better than those judgemental, cold eyes of her classmates that she had grown accustomed to. One eventful day, she, along with a couple of other pupils, was expelled from the school. Her mother had come to pick her up but she didn’t take the usual route on the way back home.
Upon being asked, she answered in a somber tone “We will live in a new house from today. A little cabin in the woods. You will love it, Ave” she smiled but her red-rimmed eyes were devoid of hope.
That night, Mum, Vincent, and Aviva slept on the hardwood floor of the ramshackle cabin. “Mum?” Aviva interrupted her mother’s mellifluous lullaby, “Where’s Daddy?” she asked hesitantly, as if she were any louder, evil would seep in through the cracked walls and bewitch them in a spell of despair.
“Dad’s gone on a trip, Ave.”
“A long one?”
“A long, long gone.” her mother exhaled heavily. Aviva fisted her Mum’s worn-out dress.
Something told her that he wasn’t coming back.
Sometimes it felt like their death was written in the stars…and it wasn’t long before the stars fell down from above.
The Fuhrer’s modus operandi for extricating ‘the unwanted’ included barbaric methods that commenced from the unmitigated marginalization and isolation of Jews, Gypsies, Polish civilians, Soviet prisoners, and differently-abled people. But the public obloquy and condemnation was nothing compared to the inhuman genocide and mass execution that followed. The undesirables were taken away from their homes, loaded up in trains, sent away to concentration camps or ghettos and were never heard of or from again; the dead tell no tales. Naïve Aviva was kept in the dark about this macabre treatment and the grotesque horrors of the prejudice meted out to her community, and her mother crossed her heart that she would shield her kids from the nefarious evil lurking outside as long as she breathed.
Fate sighed helplessly.
Aviva frail limbs quivered, the fear and panic from the events that transpired a week ago debilitating her lithe form and knocking the air out of her lungs. Burly, hunky men had busted their hiding place, they were carrying guns and ammunition and her mother easily surrendered. She witnessed the pained and dejected look in her mother’s eyes as she lamented not being able to protect her little ones. They were all taken away, locked up, starved, beaten and assaulted.
They were ‘marked’ on their wrists and she cried out in agony when the needle penetrated her skin. Still her mother would tell them “Warriors. I raised warrior children” every night before she kissed their foreheads and they all huddled together to share the warmth and drifted off to uneasy sleep, their dreams plagued with lifeless bodies and blood-stained clothes.
All suffering must come to an end, and so did theirs, but the semantics varied greatly.
The next day, Aviva woke up groggily, sans her mother’s euphonious aubade. Terror seized her when she realized she was alone in unfamiliar surroundings. Her nerves felt like they had been lit on fire, the biting cold wind felt like electricity to her bare arms. Paranoia stimulated her senses, her brain running into overdrive and her unrelenting imagination conjuring up ghastly possibilities.
“M-m-mum” she croaked huskily, her voice weighed down with the fear of being bereft. “V-vincy?” she muffled her cries and stifled her tears when nobody answered.
She tried the door of the squalid room she was in, but it was locked. She pounded on it, hoarsely screaming for her last hope, her Mum.
The turning of the door lock almost gave her a whiplash from how fast she turned around, but instead of her Mum’s radiant smile that could put angels to shame, she was greeted by the cocky grin of the Nazi gunman who had captured her family.
“Guten Morgen”, he smirked.
“W-where’s my Mum? And my b-brother?” she hiccupped, cowering away from his broad frame.
“Ah! Them? They were stinking badly, weren’t they? So we took them for a nice, clean shower” he sniggered. “You will be getting one too, on the date mentioned in your tattoo” he pointed at her left wrist.
She glanced at the scrawling, it said ‘30.12.1941’ and she scratched at it absentmindedly.
“Two days from today,” he told her smugly as he left her alone with an audible click of the door lock.
Time pitied her momentarily.
She pondered, the shower chambers had always fascinated her. She had only seen people entering it. Nobody ever came out again. She hadn’t dared ask Mum about it, out of fear that she might upset her unintentionally. And although she was only 8, she had already been subjected to horrors that could easily break an average man’s will to live. Still she wished and dreamed and hoped.
“Maybe there’s a door at the other end. Maybe the punishment is over and they let people free after the shower.” she thought giddily, eagerly awaiting the day when she would be finally reunited with her family.
“Mum and Vincent are waiting for me” she mused “maybe Daddy’s there too!”
Wishful thinking, mindless dreaming …time became a silent witness.
Unknowingly, she gave in to her preposterous fate, just like millions of others had. The horrors of that ominous night were few of the many that plagued the nightmares of millions of Europeans at the time. As if uncertain war outcomes, frequent bombing by the Allies and ration shortage weren’t agonizing enough, they now feared the violation of their most fundamental human right, their right to live.
And so every night when the clock struck 12, hundreds of thousands would fall into an uneasy sleep at concentration camps, underground hideaways, tunnels, and attics, not knowing that it would be their last. Rebellion spelled death in Nazi Germany and the bystanders turned a blind eye to the open massacre, the lack of human empathy and exploitation of basic rights peaked during World War II, along with the sheer number of innocents dying every day.
It was almost as if Death had made an odious tryst with their Time on Earth and their Fate was resigned to be a silent witness.
It was 10 past 12 now. Snow continued to fall inside an abandoned snow globe, amidst the rubble.