My body sat in the chair; my mind roamed distant lands. Most of my outward wounds had healed and I could stand on my own two feet. Weeks upon weeks of treatment and rehabilitation had nurtured my bones and flesh a long way toward good health. The compassionate staff had flooded me with the care that flows out of kind hearts. They did their best with limited time and resources, but my shadowed eyes betrayed my true condition: healing body, broken soul.
During those weeks, they explained to me that I had arrived in Portugal unconscious. When I arrived I was escorted by a German man who departed shortly after our appearance, having never given his name. They would not explain why I was with him and I could not remember.
I had dreams of him. Little bits of memories that would cascade across my mind, interwoven with glimpses of Mameleh, Tateh and Yacob. Sometimes, I would wake up hearing Mameleh's voice, sure that I could smell her scent: flowers, bread and coffee, then feel the strength of the arms of the unknown man carrying me, always carrying me.
From somewhere in my reverie I heard my name, "Hadassah Herrmann," but it ricocheted away like an echo in a canyon.
"Haddassah? Are you Hadassah Hermann?"
The receptionist stood in front of me, holding a clipboard and wearing a confused smile.
"Yes, Senhora. Yes, I am Hadassah."
She put out her hand and invited, "Come with me, Pequeno."
She led me to a small, crowded office. Books, bric-a-brac , and correspondence littered the shelves and small couch. Only my chair and one other were empty. I sat down and waited opposite the rough wood cross that hung on the wall behind the desk.
Shortly, she returned with a small glass of milk and a nosh to nibble. She handed it to me and gently patted my hair as she passed by to leave. As she closed the door she said, "The Director will be with you un momento."
Minutes later, the door burst open and a woman rushed in, arms loaded with books and her overcoat. She hung the coat on a peg and stacked the books on one of the piles. While facing the wall she stopped, took a deep breath and made an attempt to tame the wild red curls on her head.
Turning around, she put her hand up in a small wave, close to her chest, and said in German, "Fräulein, pleased to meet you. I'm Director Von Hausen."
Her untamed hair and odd little wave left me unable to speak, but for the first time in so long I felt the strange sensation of wanting to laugh. That quickly gave way to alarm as her German dialect reached my ears. It had been ages since I heard the words of my country. Though I longed for my home and family, fear rose in my heart and my throat tightened.
Seeing my distress, she quickly sat down, paused brifly and started again slowly, intermingling both languages as she spoke,
"Pequeno, I am the Director. I am here to help you. Your rehabilitation is finished. You will stay here and further heal until we find you a new family."
With her words, a dormant anger rose violently from somewhere within me,
"I will not go with a new family! I want MY family! MY Mameleh, MY Tateh, MY Yacob!"
My outburst had an unexpected effect on the Director. She met my anger with tears, small ones at the corner of her eyes, that she turned to wipe so I wouldn't see, while mumbling something to the air like, "I'm really not made for this work. Please help me."
Turning back to me she said, "Sit. Please Hadassah, sit down. I will explain"
When I did, she began to tell me what had happened to me and why I had to wait until the end of the evil days to be reunited with my family, if, in fact, they were still alive. As she spoke, my eyes caught hold of the cross behind her and it blurred in and out with a memory of an Iron Cross on the lapel of a uniform - ugly and odd shaped. Her words grew fainter as the two crosses melded together, then danced apart, alike and yet not alike at all, each seeming to beckon me until one cross was gone, leaving only the rough one on the wall.
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