MOSHE and MARIA
By Alvin Alexsi Currier
Inspired by characters from the novel, “The Night” by Elie Wiesel.
It was pouring rain on that Thursday night in early May of 1944. The pitch blackness of the sky and the steady roar of the storm, made it easy for Maria to slip past the German guards and into the Jewish quarter. After all she had grown up here. In childhood games she’d learned all the ways to dodge and dart, in and out, of the jumble of houses, yards, paths and fences that lined the narrow lanes of her town.
Softly she tapped on the boarded up window. Even though a Christian, she had become part of this family. She had worked in their store for years. She even spoke a competent Yiddish. Softly, steadily, but insistently she tapped until the familiar voice of Mr. Fleishman, whispered: “Who is it?”
“It’s me. Maria!” she whispered back. “Let me in”
Chains rattled and bolts slid. The door opened a crack and she slipped in.
“Maria, Maria! What are you doing here?” the old man muttered in hushed tones. He lit a single candle. His face was flushed and contorted with anxiety.
“Oh Mr. Fleishman, please, please come with me! Don’t trust them! They are lying! Look how they treat the people they’re loading on the train.” Her words gushed out into the room. Mrs. Fleishman came in wrapping a robe around herself. Maria’s eyes implored her.
“Listen, listen, my family has a cottage not far from here but hidden deep in the woods. It’s high up on the mountain side, near the Ukrainian border. You’ll be safe there. The Germans and the Hungarians will soon be gone. The Russian troops are closing in.
Already you can hear their artillery. Oh please, oh please Mr. Fleishman, Mrs. Fleishman, come with me!”
Earnest conversations flew back and forth in Yiddish and Romanian. The children peeked around the corner. Suddenly it was over. The candle was blown out. The door opened again and Maria slipped out into the blackness.
The answer was “no”. They would not; they could not leave or go.
Maria slipped across a muddy yard, wedged a board loose on a back fence, and slipped silently out of the Jewish quarter, into and across the yard of her uncle’s place and out onto the road to the country. She did it all by feel, and if there were Germans nearby they couldn’t see her any more than she could have seen them.
She stumbled along the slippery road, occasionally wrenching herself to catch her balance as her feet slipped. She cried as she staggered along. Suddenly her foot twisted. A searing pain shot through her. She plummeted forward and found herself bruised and sprawled out in the mud. She gave way to uncontrolled sobbing.
As she dragged herself to her feet again her tear-filled eyes groped through the luminance at a form not too far distant. Of course she remembered. There was an old barn or shed near here, a few meters off the road. There she could rest and weather out the rain. She dragged herself toward it and soon fell down on the dry hay inside.
In the bubble of her silence she rocked her troubled body and soul in a cradle of hardly audible groans and prayers.
“Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy” she repeated.
“Why wouldn’t they come with me?” she asked of God.
“They’d be safe in the mountains”, she explained to God.
“Oh God, why?” she sobbed.
A voice answered her.
“Don’t be frightened”, it whispered.
It was deep and resonant, but soft and assuring. It was the voice of a man. Not a young man but a mature man. It was a fatherly voice. It instantly dissolved the twinge of fear that it had elicited.
“I am Moshe.” The voice explained, and then after a long pause it added: “the madman.”
“You have often seen me in old Jakob’s store,” he said softly, and after another long pause he added: “and I have often seen you.”
He offered her a blanket and he sat down next to her. He held her naturally as a father holds his child. She remembered him clearly. He was tall, blond and muscular. He didn’t look like the other Jews. He had been deported with the other foreign Jews when the Germans came and took control of Romania from the Hungarian Fascists. A couple of years later he had returned with horrible stories of how they had been slaughtered. He had been left for dead.
No one believed him. They told him that Germans wouldn’t do things like what he was saying. They told him that Germans were cultivated and had culture, even if they were Christians. They mocked him, made fun of him, and called him mad.
She sank silently into his companionship and warmth. She intuitively knew why he was hiding here. He was here because he knew what was coming. He knew just as she knew. She shuddered and her silent prayer hung in the thick darkness of the night.
“Oh God, why, why?”
In pitch blackness a long silence ensued. Finally Moshe broke it. He spoke slowly, drawing out long pauses, sometimes between his words and sometimes between his phrases.
“The smell of the Sabbath bread, the Challah loaf, is like perfume. You can feel the fragrance when the warm loaves come out of the oven. It is the heavy aroma of home, of where I belong. It is the odor of goodness. It is everything to me, but it is also dangerous. It is seductive. It is narcotic. It does contest with the caution fathered by the stench of a hundred pogroms”
A long pause followed before he uttered the barely audible epitaph; “It was ever so and so it will ever be.”
Then silence and darkness swallowed everything.
When Maria awoke with the dawn he was gone.