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A Better Place
For my birthday, I would like a yo-yo. But I doubt anyone notices.
A boy of almost 13, I’m seated in my room, if that is what you call it, merely a hall closet with a rot iron bed squeezed inside and covered in moth-eaten sheets of faded white. I glance around and glimpse various, dusty cobwebs randomly strung up around the four corners of this enclosed hovel. There is also a poster of a far off place, only seen by people like me in dreams and fantasies: America! Welcome to my room of dust and dreams.
Those are just the dreams of an untermensch boy, one of the inferior people of Poland. I don’t know much, and I’m neither intelligent nor rich by any means, as one might tell from the dilapidated pair of trousers snugly fastened around my waist, clearly an inch too short. That is what I got for my last birthday. And with them, I received the equally battered pair of leather soul shoes that now fashion a hole out the front where my big toe currently takes up occupancy. I’m itching with excitement, for my birthday is only a couple months away. I hope I get a yo-yo.
I tell Mum that I need this yo-yo. I get a smile and a “Perhaps” in return…
But there is something bigger going on beyond my city of Krakow, Poland. Whispers come from the west of a shadow soon to encompass the country, and I pray they are only whispers.
Nonetheless, I want a yo-yo.
Sept 6, 1939. This date means nothing to me now, but the world will come to know it as the day that Krakow fell to Germany. As for right now, I know it as the night Mum burst in with my night coat and quickly barked orders to ready myself to leave. I grabbed all I could; but when I asked where we were going, I was given the brief answer by Pop, “A better place.”
November 1, 1939. As the bitter Poland air carries the snow across the land, almost begging us to die in the frost, Mum, Pop and I press together under a thin and patchy blanket. The old abandoned warehouse creaks under the unforgiving Polish elements; the termite-rotted beams barely holding out, just for us. It has been this way for the past month: fearfully hiding in the old sewing factory, praying with every fiber that our existence remains hidden. My birthday is even closer now, but I doubt anyone recognizes. When I tell Mum that I can’t wait to feel the dropping motion when the ball rolls off the string, as gravity works its wonders, she simply smiles, and replies in a hushed and weakened tone, “We’ll see.”
I didn’t expect it to be long that we remained here, so when Pop woke me in the night to say we were leaving, I didn’t think twice.
The day had come when we arrived in the city of Świnoujście; we had reached the Baltic Sea, shimmering in its glory, and its promise of hope. Pop said that from here, we would hide aboard a ferry, which would carry us to Sweden, and from Sweden we would go to England, and then, perhaps, America.
My birthday, now only days away, was cause for my tunnel vision, and lack of care for the situation at hand. I had been practicing my hand motion for the yo-yo: Flick out, down, flick up; Flick out, down, flick up…
I woke on the special day: my birthday of course, and the day we boarded the ferry. We went to the docks, but strangely I noticed the absence of excitement, or for that matter, any trace of happiness in my parents’ faces. I looked hard…but nothing.
I soon discovered why. At the docs, we gathered together. At this point Pop took me by the arms, and gave me the tightest hug of my life. After Mum did the same, Pop gave me explicit directions to hide in the trailer of a work truck that was headed for Sweden via the ferry. He told me not to come out until after the truck had driven away from the port at Sweden.
By the time I realized that they weren’t coming with me, they had pushed me into the trailer, and covered me with a blanket. It must have been a popular idea; for it was here that I met a girl, no more than my age. She told me her name was Gertrude Schema. In return I told her my name was Frank Fussy.
Today was my birthday. I never got my yo-yo. This isn’t a better place.