Once again a train station, once again a choice.
"I wish we could have met them before the train, Magdalena."
"Si, Pequeña, my heart would hammer less painfully if I knew better the people who will be your new family. But, I believe you have chosen wisely."
Magdalena held a sign with my last name, Herrmann, written in large black letters. I held my small suitcase, the few things I owned barely filling it. I put my hand up to keep my hat from flying off in the stiff wind that swirled around us and billowed the hem of my dress.
The Director had arrived in my room on the last day, a fresh excitement reddened her cheeks. She handed me a package and stood back waiting for me to look inside while her toes tapped an impatient cadence on the floor.
I pulled out the dress, green with purple ribbons and sash. A matching hat completed the ensemble. It was the first new dress I had held since I left my home through the back window those many years before.
"Oh Director, I...I can hardly believe my eyes. This must have cost too much! I cannot take it."
The Director's brows furrowed and she took a step toward me, "Hadassah, you'll not deprive me of this one joy. I will not allow it."
I held the dress, fingering the soft fabric. I walked to my one small mirror and stood in front of it, swaying side to side as if I was wearing it. In that moment, I felt like a woman and my throat squeezed to realize how much I had come to look like Mameleh.
I ran to the Director, throwing my arms around her before she could protest. Her body stiffened, then relaxed. She put her arms around my shoulders and silently rested her chin on the top of my head.
"Director, this is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever given me. I will never forget your many kindnesses to me."
After our goodbyes, I stood at the train station with Magdalena, looking through the crowd for people who looked like me. When a family approached us, I assumed that they were simply waiting for the same train until the man spoke in Portuguese, introducing himself as Abraão and his wife as Mariana. Their four small children: Mateus, Daniel, David and little Sara, clustered around their mother's floor length skirt.
My heart plummeted; there was nothing familiar about them at all. I turned to Magdalena, panic rising in my chest,
"Magdalena, I can't."
Grabbing me gently and burying my head in her bosom, Magdalena spoke in hushed words,
"Shoosh, shoosh now, Pequeña. You must take hold of your future, take hold of the hand of the Father. I will write to you. Promise you will write me in return?" Fighting the tears that threatened, Magdalena walked away.
There were few words spoken as we boarded the train. The children looked at me in uncertain silence and Mariana passed Sara to me without a word. Sara looked at me with innocent, child-eyes and put her fingers in my mouth to inspect my teeth. This made the other children giggle quietly, but Mariana shushed them with a stern look. There was no joy behind her eyes, only pain. There was nothing familiar in them at all. Fear crept into my heart and took hold.
One day blurred into another and with each mile we were farther from my home. I could not escape the feeling of being an alien in a foreign land. They were not unkind, my new family, they simply didn't know what to do with me in the midst of their sadness. No words were better, it seemed, than the shadowed words of loss and heartache.
On the fourth day, after the sun dipped below the horizon, Mariana told the children to sit with me. Finally familiar, they clambered up and sat layered over each other on my lap. Mariana pulled out two new candle sticks and a white shawl from her carpetbag. Handing the candles to Abraão to hold, she withdrew a tiny box of matches that were wrapped within the shawl.
Shabbat candles...memories danced of love and warm, happy evenings at home and of Magdalena's Jesus, Light of the World. As Mariana prayed, my heart returned to the days before the war when Mameleh would cite the Friday evening invocation. At last, the road home bid me welcome.
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