By: Marie DeFreitas
Ruth’s hands were cold. They only gave us one blanket here. I knew this place was worse than the last one. A lot worse. Her little fingers fumbled around in the dark until she found my arm.“Where’s mom?” she asked. I turned over and shushed her. “I don’t know, but you have to be quiet.” I sounded meaner than I wanted to. She started sniffling. She was about to cry. I put my arm around her. She was skin and bones in a dirty uniform that was too big for her.
“Don’t cry,” I whispered. “If you cry we’ll get in trouble. Just try to sleep.” She reluctantly let her head fall into my chest. I could hear the other kids’ whimpers, but no one said a word. The room was quiet but I could hear heavy footsteps just outside. I waited for them to burst through the door.
A light circled outside too, gleaming through the shutters at us on the bottom bunk. I watched it. It jumped in and out through cracks. It passed right over me and lit the little black numbers on my arm. They still hurt.
She still shivered, even with my arms around her and the blanket tucked tightly. I tried to calm her, but every creak made me jump. My eyes shot towards the door with every little noise. But it was still closed. She lifted her head. “What’s going to happen?” She tried to whisper. Her skin was so much paler now. Her eyes were too many shades of purple and grey. Gaunt from too many sleepless nights. “We’re going to be okay,” I said. A bang came from outside. She started to cry. The door was still closed. I couldn’t hide how scared I was. She saw right through me. “Shh, shh, shh…don’t cry,” I told her. She didn’t listen. I tilted her chin up and looked at her swollen, teary-eyed face. “Hey,” I said. “If you stop crying, I’ll let you play with my hair.” She looked confused. They shaved both our heads a couple weeks ago, she cried then too. Ever since Ruth was a little baby she loved playing with my long hair. She’d rub it and twirl it in between her fingers until she was fast asleep. I hated it and told her to stop but I’d do anything to make her stop crying now.
I pulled out a handful from my pocket that I managed to save. Her eyes, still wet with tears, lit up. Then she nodded. I handed it to her and pulled her close as her little fingers pawed it. Tears fell on my chest. Cold little droplets through my uniform, but at least she was quiet. The room was silence.
Then the footsteps came back. They were louder, closer. They were accompanied by yelling in German that I didn’t understand.
I held my breath and listened. The door flew open. It took everything in me not to jump up, but I gripped Ruth’s leg, pulling her even closer. She didn’t make a sound. Thankfully. Heavy footsteps walked in. My heart pounded. I sat up just enough to see. It was only another kid in stripes being shoved in. Then the door shut.