Life feels normal. There is warm sunshine on my face. And soft grass under my back. Chaya is at my side.
I roll over and kiss her cheek. And then her lips. I taste milk chocolate and compote.
We get up and walk the park trails into the neighborhood where she and I and our families used to live. The building looks the same, but now feels cold and distant. Back when life was normal, Chaya and I met outside every morning at 7:30 to walk to school. Most days we’d walk home together as well. Then do our homework together. She was a math savant, I loved literature. We were both pretty horrible at much of the sciences, so our friend Aron helped us there.
Our families hoped we’d marry one day. Our parents were best friends from childhood. But I was shy, nervous to make any moves. Sometimes Chaya held my hand and looked at me with sparkles in her eyes. I wanted to kiss her. I was so scared to do so.
Finally at fifteen I mustered up the courage. It was on a school dance night in our sophomore year. We danced the whole night together. And then as we walked home along the Vistula river bank, I stopped us.
“Chaya, I like you. Not just like you, but I like you like you.”
“I like you like you too,” she said, a twinge of a smile, a twinkle in her eyes.
I leaned in and we kissed.
“Finally!” And she playfully punched my arm.
She was my first kiss. A week later I said, “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
At that point we started planning life together. We both wanted to go to college. She had dreams of being an economist. I, a journalist. We wanted to live in London or Paris maybe. Then things changed. In our junior year of high school, the Nazi’s invaded. Soon their flag was everywhere. There had been rumors of life changes. Rumors became reality. A few months after the invasion, they began building the ghetto wall.
It’s been less than a year since then, but how long ago it feels. Now we aren’t walking the main city roads. Carefully, Chaya and I walk the back alleys. If our families knew, they’d be furious. If someone discovers us we’d be taken to the police station. And from there who knows. Torture, death probably.
Sneaking out of the ghetto though was part of life for me now. Being blond and blue eyed made me invaluable to the resistance. I joined before we even moved into the ghetto. But this is my first time out of the ghetto with Chaya. I had tried saying no. She begged me. “One day without the stench of death is all I want,” she pleaded. “Please make this our anniversary gift.”
“It’s too dangerous,” I told her.
Chaya always got her way. With her it was never if, but when.
We slither past our old home, doing our best to make sure no one sees us. Enjoying a bit more of freedom, we make our way down to the river bank and settle in a nook near the spot of our first kiss. We eat more chocolate and drink more compote, luxuries I smuggled in to the ghetto for us to enjoy on this day.
As the sun sets we make our way back to the ghetto and to the tunnel. Our withered bodies have no problem sliding through a narrow gap under the walled barrier. We walk back to the apartment our families now share. Nine to a room, that’s the average ratio in the ghetto. We’re lucky as the eight of us have two rooms.
“Thank you. Happy anniversary, sweetheart.”
“Happy anniversary, my love.”
Note: “A Glimpse of Normal” is a historical fiction short story. The story, characters, and incidents are fictitious.