Flip of the Switch
“Can’t we just turn on the lights?” a tiny voice whimpered in the dark. I reached out to the voice blindly and pulled her close to my breast, my heart trembling. Another child could be heard sniffling from somewhere in the pitch-black room, while a woman wailed in her own grief.
“I’m scared, mama.” Anna burrowed her head into my armpit as I held her tight.
“It will be alright, my love.” I replied, not truly believing it myself.
It was all I could do to protect her from her fears. But my own fears lingered near the edge, ready to overtake me at any moment. We were brought into this room from our faraway homes on a packed train, stripped of all our belongings and separated from the men and boys we loved. Shoved away in this dank and dismal closet of a room and labeled with stars on our breasts, we were left here to be forgotten.
The rations of food that did come, came sporadically, enough to keep us alive but not well. The children passed the time by peeling the paint from the walls where it cracked and bubbled with age, while the women braided each other’s hair to reassure one another that they were still remembered.
It did not take long for Anna to become ill. When she was in school, she would always be the first to catch the winter seasonal ailment. Wiping the sweat from her brow, I sang her songs as if nothing had changed. But things had changed. The filth and the foul odors of urine and feces were constant reminders of our abandonment. We had no medicine or means to nurse her to health, so we braided her hair and I held her close as she slowly slipped away.
“It’s ok mama, the lights will turn on soon,” She reassured me, as she struggled to draw in air. I stroked her head as a tear tumbled down my cheek. She moved her thumb in my hand, with the little strength she could muster.
“It will be alright.” She uttered her last words as she made her final exhale.
I didn’t let go of her for what must have been hours. Eventually we placed her body in the corner, draped with a soiled sheet, next to an older woman who had passed days prior.
In weeks to come, my lips parched and my body limp, I lay on the floor muttering, “It will be alright,” when the door opened and a light turned on. A soldier in fatigues, sporting a flag on his breast of blue, white and red, stormed through the door. In that moment, I caught a shadowy glimpse of my Anna reaching for a light switch I knew was not there.
“Yes, my love, it will be alright.”