The world around me began to disappear and reappear again as the single light in the store flickered randomly above the register.
I felt uneasy and even the gentle hum of the electricity was as jarring to me as police sirens. I had never seen the store
so late at night before. It was so dark and empty. During the day the shop was so full of energy, crowds of people would gather
around to haggle over prices or just to hear the latest bit of gossip. But that was no longer the case. Surrounding me were
not elderly women desperately trying to juggle a bag of groceries in one hand and their crying infant in the other. No, what
were surrounding me now were nightmarish shadows that followed me down the aisles.
The shopkeeper lightly placed the jars of baby
food and the loaf of bread into a brown paper bag. The light shined above him casting black shadows where his eyes should
be. He was a much elderly fellow with a gentle smile. He emitted a warm presence that one can only feel around their grandfather,
which I found to be very comforting.
“I hope I didn’t wake you. My wife hadn’t noticed we were low on baby food till
a couple of minutes ago,” I said as he slid me the bag of groceries across the front counter.
“Oh no, it’s quite alright.
I was still up reading my paper,” he told me. He was lying. I could tell by his uncombed hair, the bathrobe he was wearing,
and the flakes of dried saliva on his chin. I forced a smile in his direction to convince him that his lie was successful.
The shopkeeper lived just upstairs from the store along with his wife and teenage daughter.
“I really appreciate this. I mean,
I can’t thank you enough,” I said as I lifted the groceries off the counter. The bag crackled as the result of
the weight shift. I tightly pressed it against my chest and
made my way towards
the front entrance.
“You’d better go out
the back door, son. I saw a few of those Nazis just outside shortly after you came in. I wouldn’t let them see you,
it being so late and past curfew,” he cautioned. I paused and decided to heed his advice. I exited the store through
the back, which lead me into a dark alley. It was cold. I could see my breath instantly turn into mist as I exhaled the carbon
dioxide from my lungs. I threw my scarf around my neck, tightened my trench coat, and began my walk home. I decided to stick
to the alleys, sure they were damp and unpleasant, but it was the only possible way for me to avoid any soldiers on patrol.
I began to walk fast, puddles splashed beneath my feet, and even in the cold I began to sweat. The floor was blanketed with
old newspapers. The ink was smeared across the pages making the headlines impossible to read.
I thought I heard a noise from behind me. I stopped in my tracks. I turned around but failed to find the source of the noise.
From what the darkness did not hide, the fog surely did. I stood for there a few seconds hoping to hear it again but all I
could hear was the blood pumping into my ears. A wave of panic rushed up my spine and my walking pace increased. Just after
a short while, the cold air filling my lungs began to burn. I leaned against the side of a building and decided to have a
smoke as I tried to catch my breath. I set the paper bag on top of a garbage can that sat beside me. I pulled a cigarette
from my pocket, licked my lips, and then placed it in my mouth. As I stuck my hands in my coat pockets to find a match a man
leaped out from the shadows and tightly grabbed my forearm. I immediately gasped and my cigarette fell from my lips to the
damp alley floor. At first I thought he was a mugger, but then I saw his eyes. Looking deep into his sunken eyes I could see
a sense of fear and desperation. Not the kind of desperation one can see in a criminal.
“Please, help us. We hadn’t
any shelter or food in days. I can’t even remember the taste of warm food,” he cried as he strengthened his grip.
I tried to look away and in that attempt I accidentally glanced at the yellow star sowed onto his coat pocket. He was a Jew.
“No, no. I can’t!”
I told him and tried to brake free from his hand.
“You don’t have to house me, but please give my daughter a warm bed
to sleep in.” At that moment from behind the man came a six-year-old girl wrapped in rags. Her eyes were dark and still
wet from recently crying. I tried to look away again.
“Look, I already told you. I can’t help you. Here you can take this.”
I gave him the loaf of bread and pushed him out of my way. I could not bear to look at their reaction, so I just stared at
the floor as I walked away.
Later that night as my son lay with his stomach
full in his crib, I could not sleep. I lay awake next to my wife staring at the ceiling. Even though I was covered with layers
upon layers of quilts, I still felt cold. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was that little girl in the alley.
Her short brown hair, her tear-soaked eyes, her pale whit skin were all plaguing me. I could not stand the guilt a second
more. I had to do something. I quietly slipped on my coat and boots and left the security of my home. I had plenty of room
in my apartment for the both of them. How could have I been so selfish. How could have I been such a coward? That no longer
mattered. What did matter was what I was doing that very second. That I was going to right my wrongs. I have a second chance
to make things right this time around.