Prologue (Will soon be replaced by substantial poem, but I will let this stay for now)
Stirring from her slumber, a girl no more than twelve shook awake. Disoriented from the peaceful, yet rocky sleep the ship could offer her, the girl forced her eye lids to rise and viewed the same cramped space that was filled with the fishy smell of ocean. Travel had been hard. Every wave sent a jolt to the ship, and every storm sent an earthquake through the roof. She dreaded it.
Forgetting her own situation, she reached to grab a hand…Mama. No hand was there. As the girl remembered the events of the past month, the familiar sorrow swept through her, tearing apart her mind and soul. They’re gone. I’m on my own. While she tried to forget her past’s painful reality and tried to swallow down tears of blood, an excited shout spread through the ship. It gripped the minds of all the passengers, and sent tingles to their fingertips. “We’re only a few miles away from America!”
As the announcement got through to everyone’s tired, sea-sick minds, many people stood up with the bits of energy they had left. The girl followed the other’s examples. Her bones scraped together to work, to push herself up and to glimpse the last scrap of hope that lingered somewhere beyond the ocean. After she made her way to the yellowed-out, scratched window at the opposite end of the ship, she did not see anything. Only clouds of grey fog, looming over the darkened and sulky waves, made their appearance.
She could hear people murmur beside her. Whispers of sudden distress, “Nothing’s here! We’re doomed, utterly doomed.” The voices swam above her, drowning her. Suffocating her.
After a few minutes of fleeting distress, she saw a bright speck of mint-green hiding in the grey cloud. After a few more minutes, the speck turned into a bigger figure, parting through the fog. As if on cue, the fog dissipated, and there it was. The Statue of Liberty. Shouts of joy, sobs of hope, and the loss of fear scrambled through the ship. The girl was happy herself, and salty tears (not tears of blood) made their way down her face. The salty whisk of wind dried them quickly. She whispered to herself, “So this is America. So this is safety.”
But then she realized that New York was not safe enough to save her family.
The girl whispered again, this time looking down at the almost-torn bright blue ribbon strewn around her wrist. Her voice as quiet as a teardrop, “I miss you Franz and Papa. I miss you mama…God please take care of me!” The ocean wept with her, and rocked her closer to the green monument of hope.
Chapter 1: The Jewish Girl With Pomegranate Lips
“Ester, wake up,” a warm but husky voice moved through the room. The long legged woman with curly streaks of jet black hair repeated the command, but this time raising her voice in a stern manner and stomped her foot. “Ester Capelle. Come on, aufwachen, wake up!” It was April 12th of 1938 and the velvet curtains shielding the windows were still closed, but a soft glow of spring sunlight emanated through them and turned their dark hues into a warm red. Ester’s eyes fluttered for awhile, and seeing the soft sparkle of sunlight, she estimated that it was about six thirty. She clamped her eyes shut. “Warte ub mama, wait,” A soft murmur escaped from Ester’s low morning voice, “It’s still too early.”
“What do you mean early? It is half past seven!”
She breathed a gasp. Ester’s eyes then snapped open in a shocked, disoriented way and she saw her mother’s boxed face and the outline of her sharp jaw. Hands on her hips, her mother’s brown eyes coupled with a thick frown reflected worry, disappointment, anger, and concern, in the way mothers usually do when you’ve made a major mistake. School started at eight O-five in the morning. However, it usually took Ester an hour and a half to get ready and at least twelve minutes to walk to school. “Sorry mama, I’ll get ready as fast as I can!” Ester spoke in sharp hurried tones, and jumped off the dirty white feather fluff of her bed.
Her mama snapped, “Not just ‘as fast as you can,’ girl, quick! Move it!”
Almost tripping over the pile of books scattered over the floor, as just last night she crammed almost until one in the morning for her History exam, Ester scurried through to the closet and grabbed her school uniform. Leipzig Privat Akademie or Leipzig Private Academy, it read, the bright red cursive German words thickly threaded across the top left corner of her white and khaki School uniform. After fumbling with it for about three seconds, Ester briskly changed in her closet, first putting on the dress backwards and then clumsily fixing it. Her mother’s husky voice echoed from the kitchen, “Hurry up, Ester!”
She then made it to the wash room, and washed her face with the icy cold water from the sink. There was no time to shower, and the cold water was rough against her skin. She looked into the mirror as she brushed the thick brown wool of hair on her head, and muttered “Wie sieht das denn aus, what a mess!” After making her curly mop of hair look a little presentable, she brushed her teeth and made her way to the kitchen.
Her family’s apartment was rather small, but big enough to be placed in the middle class community of Leipzig, Germany. Passing through the narrow hallway, she brisked by her older brother’s and parent’s rooms. Family pictures graced the Capelle home’s walls. Their black and brown caps of hair were in unison for every photo, but showed only as black and dark grey on the black & white photographs. Ester had her father’s curly dark brown hair, while her brother Franz had her mother’s thin strands of black. All of them had the same Jewish brown eyes, but Ester’s was the type that could stare into your soul if you looked at her brown orbs long enough. In the small kitchen, that at the same time was the family dining room, her family was seated at the small square table in the middle of the room.
It was seven forty-six. “Hurry up Ester,” her mama chewed on a stale piece of wheat bread, “Finish your breakfast quickly, you still have time.”
Ester sat down on the hard wooden chair. Her brother Franz made a statement, “What happened to your hair, pomegranate lips? It looks like a bird’s nest.” As she naturally had bright red lips the color of pomegranate seeds, Franz would use “pomegranate lips” as her nickname. Franz was three years older than her and she was twelve, so he’d said it for as long as she could remember. Slightly annoyed, Ester replied “What do you expect? I have no time.” She spread butter on the toasted piece of bread sitting at the middle of her plate, next to the glass of warm milk.
Franz chuckled, “Why’d you wake up so late anyway? You must have had a nice dream about that Schneider boy, eh?”
“No! I stayed up late last night to study for that History test,” her words were embarrassingly rushed but true, “You know, the one about Germany during the Middle Ages?”
“Ah, I’m sure,” Franz teasingly mumbled.
Her voice snapped back, “I’m not lying to you!”
Papa, looking up from his newspaper, stopped the argument, “Now children, you both have classes to go to and it is almost eight o’clock. I suggest that you both finish your breakfast, stop arguing, and hurry to school!”
“Yes papa,” both Franz and Ester’s voices chimed together. Ester finished chewing on the stiff piece of bread, and quickly gulped down her glass of milk. Almost choking, she coughed for a while, and strode to pick up her backpack full of books. As usual, lunch money from her mother was tucked in the inside pocket of the bag. Sixteen Reichsmarks were good enough for a cheese sandwich and some milk. She looked at the clock, which was above the sofa at the living room area, and it was eight O-three. “Schön,” or “nice,” she sarcastically hissed under her breath.
“Got to go! Bye papa, mama, Franz!”
“Goodbye Ester,” her parents replied, “Now hurry up!”
Franz joined in, “Bye Pomegranate lips!”
Scurrying out of the house, she ran the cobblestone roads for ten minutes, quickening her running pace every second. On her way to the Akademie, she whooshed past the General store, the Library, and the Clothing store. As she passed the clothing store, she slowed down her pace and took a quick look to see the frilly dresses decked in the latest trends. Come on, Ester, you’ll be late and Krüger will be Furious!She resumed her hurried run and could soon see the outline of her school, a big old building that was made of red bricks. It had an iron gate, with a stone path that led to the school’s rusty metal doors.
White roses that recently bloomed in its front yard greeted her as she made her way near the school. Ester wheezed and was out of breath. She was also tired, sleepy, but nervous for the big exam. As sweat accumulated across her forehead, she saw her rather short best friend Gretel open the gate to the school. Ester greeted her in a confused manner, “Guten tag, good day Gretel. You are late as well?” Gretel’s golden braids dangled against her shoulders and her German blue eyes sparkled against the sunlight. Gretel laughed her high pitched laugh, “Indeed Ester, indeed. I stayed up almost all night studying for that wretched History exam. I couldn’t seem to remember the exact dates of their wars!”
“How funny,” Ester replied, “I stayed up all night studying for it too.” They chattered and made their way into the drafty school, soon about to hear the words “You are both late! To the corner you go, and stay there for five minutes.”
The stern, rough voice of Frau (Mrs.) Krüger, their teacher, bellowed in Classroom 358…Ester’s class.
“Alright class, good job on the exam. I will return your graded History test papers by Wednesday. Now remembe–” She was about to continue as snickers cut through the room. The class clown, Henrich Schneider, was at the back of the class. Henrich, at least to most of the girls in their class, was very handsome. He possessed eyes the color of emeralds, dirty-blonde hair, and a smile that seemed to twinkle when displayed. He imitated Frau Krüger’s stiff words, and formulated her frowned, scrunched up expressions. Little did he know that Frau Krüger was furiously watching him and devising Schneider’s perfect punishment in her head.
Oh no, Ester thought, He’ll get in trouble again. I bet this time the punishment will be worse than three hand lashes with the ruler. She was right. Krüger started, “Schneider!” The class hushed to the iron metal voice of their Teacher. Krüger continued with a cynical smile plastered on her wired face and her voice sarcastically softened, “You’ve been acting up for the past week. The hand lashes haven’t been working on you, have they Schneider? Well, I know for a fact that your parents care for your good grades. They’re almost paranoid about it!” She let the words sink in and then continued speaking, “What if they find that you have failed your recent History exam? Hmm, Schneider? That will bring your grade down to a 61%. Well, you do not have to wait for much longer. You will find out by Tuesday afternoon, when I deliver the news to them myself.”
Henrich’s face went from cheeky, to a paled out white. His mouth was agape and green eyes were wide and dulled with shock. The plea words dropped quickly from his open mouth “But Frau Krüger,” he swallowed and revised the apology words in his head, “I’m sorry! I did not mean to hurt your feelings or to cause too much trouble in the classroom, won’t you–“
“No Schneider, I have made my decision. Now for once in your life, won’t you be quite?”
This was a regular school day for Ester Capelle, and she sat in the classroom bored, waiting for an escape. It was always the same; everyday, Ester would wait for some change of events. Something crazy or weird or shocking or even horrible to happen. Well yes, Hitler’s rise to power was some change, but Ester had gotten use to it. The familiar anti-semetic lashes against her family and Jewish community became the norm over the past couple years since Hitler’s ultimate rise in 1933.
Can’t something interesting occur for once? I wish I could have a dangerous adventure, or maybe a trip to a different country during the summer. A breeze from a nearby open window flicked across the freckles of her face, and she sighed. Little did she know that in a few months, everything would change.
–Thanks for reading, and God bless! 😀