All hopes of running faded from my mind in the darkness. In the
jostling strangers I felt oddly alone, even while clutching my sister’s arm.
It was almost five days before we were let out of the car. I was
starving. My legs stumbled from lack of use when the door finally opened. My
heart beat rapidly.
It was nearly a beautiful sight, the camp. From the distance of about a
mile, it looked lovely. Spacious. Free.
The sun opened to me, and I was impressed at the speed at which my good
spirits returned. Immediately running flowed back into my mind, and I wondered
if I could maybe get in a few miles today out in the sun. We all flowed like a
river to the gates of the camp.
As we approached the camp, a horrible smell touched my nostrils. It was
sweet, sickly sweet. Harsh. Scorched. It reeked.
I wondered what the smell could be. But I think, deep inside, that I
knew exactly what it was.
A soldier’s voice, magnified, shouted to us, “Women right, Men left!” I
looked at my dad. He smiled at me and kissed my cheek.
“I’ll see you. Soon,” he promised. I kissed his cheek back.
We split and I stuck close to my sister’s side.
Several skinny people wove through the crowd, unnoticed by most. I
noticed them, though. I was looking for them, searching for instruction.
One of them stopped in front of me and held my shoulder, forcing me to
be still. She looked me up and down and I shifted uncomfortably. “How old are
you? Say you’re eighteen,” she mutters before I can respond. “Pinch your cheeks
to make you look healthy.”
At first, the insecure girl that I was, I felt offended. I was healthy, thank you very much. An angry flush rose up in me as I took the comment personally. It was silly of me. But that angry blush probably saved my life.
We walked a little bit more and were forced into a line. I was shocked
at how many of us there were, crowded onto that little train. We stretched in
rows across an area the size of several football fields, all shoulder to
I stayed unusually still, like I would before a race. Tense and ready
to sprint away if necessary. I watched through the corners of my eyes as a man
walked in front of my line. He was a firm soldier in sharply creased pants and
a stone-solid face. I was transfixed by his hard edges.
As he came within earshot, I hear him list, “You…you…you…” like a shopper choosing his purchases. The marked people stepped forward. He pointed
at my sister. “You.” He walked by me.
“Wait,” I said, my stillness forgotten. He turned to look at me as I
continued, “We’re together.”
He paused, his face still blanker than stone. He looked me up and down
and I wanted to shrink away from his gaze. I shifted my weight from foot to
His eyes met mine for a split second. Probably his biggest mistake.
He slapped me hard across the face and I was thrown to the ground. I
picked myself up quickly and straightened, despite a violent wave of dizziness.
I didn’t want to show weakness. That was probably my biggest mistake.
If I had shown weakness, I could have gone with my sister. I could have followed her into the dark and to meet my father. And I wouldn’t have to live with this regret.