My world was darkness. Not shadows, because for there to be shadows there must also be light, but there wasn't.
The darkness was tangible, and alive. At first I was afraid, but the darkness didn't seek to harm me.
Quite the opposite, it was my only friend, sheltering me from red flags, yellow stars, and camps of shadows that used to be people. The darkness held me in its arms, the way my mother did before...
The door opens, and I gasp. My friend, the darkness, slips away with a painful hiss as rays of light like swords of gold penetrate the room.
A small face enters the doorway, his crooked smile shining even brighter than the light.
"Good news, Halinka!" he shouts gleefully. His feet dance down the steps, eager to relay the urgent message.
"There's a boat that docks tomorrow, and there's talk that it will take Jews away so that they can be safe!"
My heart skips three beats. Safe? The word no longer felt familiar. No matter fading to shadow in a camp or wasting away in a cellar, there was nowhere in Germany that was safe anymore.
But could I be safe 'away'? "Away?" I say out loud, my voice a pitiful whisper. "Where is away?"
The young boy skips up to me, his smile getting wider and brighter by the moment. "America!" he whispers, his face incredibly close. He smells like summer air and sawdust.
"America! Can you just imagine? You're so lucky, Halinka! I wish I was going with you." He deflates for a moment, regretful, but Alfie was like a helium balloon: nothing could keep him down for long. "Promise you'll write to me, right? You're so lucky..."
His chatter fades into the background as I struggle to put my jumbled thoughts in order. I was going to America. I was going to be safe.
What then? What would I do? Would I wait for Mother? How could she find me all the way across the ocean? No, I couldn't go. I had to wait for Mother.
Surely she would avoid becoming another shadow in their camps and run back to me, arms still wide to embrace me, smile still reaching her beautiful careworn eyes like old faded buttons that still showed traces of blue?
A whimper escaped my lips, piercing a hole in Alfie's jovial ramblings: "I can't go to America. Not without Mother."
Alfie's smile falls, and it isn't recovered as quickly as usual. "But Halinka," he pleads, soft brown eyes wide with wishing, "you've got to. Papa and I can't hide you forever. Your Mama wouldn't want you to die waiting for her, would she?"
"I won't die," I said, harsher than I meant to, "and neither will Mother. I'm staying."
Alfie makes to say something, but stops, frozen. He knows there's no arguing with me now. Silently, he creeps back up the stairs and leaves me to the solace of darkness.
"America..." I whisper as the friendly darkness returns, "means safety." But safety means nothing if I have no one to share it with.
I'd rather be in danger with Mother and Alfie then safe but hopelessly alone.